For my first secondary source, I’ve been reading Tim Morris’ You’re Only Young Twice. Mr. Morris presents very detailed analyses of a number of texts and what they stand for in the development of children’s lit and its relations to the adult world. The text is directed towards adults, primarily, and is written from the perspective of an adult professor and parent. The books and films discussed are therefore often presented through the lense of what Morris has taught and what he has discovered through reading with his young son. It makes for a very intimate take on the texts.

The first area Morris addresses, and one to which he frequently returns, is the power dynamic between adults and children. This appears in every children’s book. How could it not when the books are written by adults? There is always the undercurrent of social expectation and duty, and the adult world is either dismissed or noticeably doctored. This trend is altered slightly by the many books intended as adult or “serious” fiction that have been relegated to the children’s literature shelves (here Morris references Black Beauty, Peter Pan, Lad, and numerous other “classics”). Here the adult world becomes even more frightening, powerful, and inexplicable than ever. Even my use of the word relegated reflects this dynamic, since all things childish are assumed to be inferior to those of the adult world.

Curiously, Morris notes, there are certain issues that appear to be taboo in children’s literature. Often these issues (the most predominant being sexuality, but including racism, elitism, religion, and politics, among others) are implicit in the text, or referred to obliquely. In Black Beauty, perhaps because of its Victorian context, sexuality is conspicuously absent, although graphic violence abounds. Many relationships would naturally have at least some sexual element–such as gelding, breeding, or Beauty’s friendship with Ginger–but are either never mentioned or completely stripped of sexuality. Other children’s texts exhibit varying degrees of this omission, and when any desire or romance is present, it is presented not as a child would approach it, but as an adult imagines they should.

Violence is curiously not taboo, and Morris suggests that this is part a function of the original audiences and part the pervading power dynamic. Adult cruelty is often taken for granted as part of being in a physically superior relation to the child. However, the persuasive elements of adult-child relations (as displayed by characters such as Willy Wonka) are equally prevalent and every bit as disturbing. Inequality based on age, gender, size, race, or class is rampant, and affects even the most benign relations. Morris consistently finds the beaten becoming the beaters, even making a convincing case that children are frequently equated to animals (and here I find out about the dogs). All in all, he presents a provocative argument for the complexity of children’s literature, and it raises a number of questions that I’ll have to go explore.

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