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Looking at the literature where children rule


The previously unchartered territory of child rule in children’s literature is explored in a new book co-authored and co-edited by Malmö University professor, Björn Sundmark.

‘Child Autonomy and Child Governance in Children's Literature’, or ‘Where Children Rule’, the book’s unofficial title, delves into a world where children are portrayed as a ruler, or an independent in charge of his or her destiny.

A world without adults

Bjorn Sundmark “It is a very common trope to find the child as being independent, where there are no parents around and they are in charge of their own little society. We wanted to explore that idea more fully,” Björn explained.

The book has 15 chapters written by academics from around the world. Along with co-editing the book, Björn himself contributed two chapters, one on the Robinson Crusoe narrative and the other on the zombie narrative.

“I look into the idea of what happens when we portray children as being in charge. In a way, it can actually be a bit scary because it upsets the social order. Human society is constructed on the idea that there are adults and children, and if you suddenly take out one or the other from the equation, then things become scary.

“That is a source for horror stories where children kill their parents, like in Stephen King’s ‘Children of the Corn’. Then you have the zombie narratives where the adults become zombies, like in Charlie Higson’s’ The Enemy’ series.

Disempowered, but with a difference

Björn draws a comparison between children and other marginalised or minority groups who share a sense of disempowerment.

“If you are a woman in a patriarchy, or an ethnicity which is not the majority culture, or a religion which is shunned, you belong to a minority which is disempowered. Childhood share a lot with those and you can make a power analysis. The difference here is that you are only a child temporarily.

“And that is something you cannot do in any other type of literature in the same way, it is the only unprivileged state of being which is actually only temporarily.

Child Autonomy and Child Governance in Childrens Literature book cover“So what is this kind of literature’s function? Well, it both displays the inequality but it also shows the child how it is going to matter; how it is going to get from childhood to adulthood, and that is one of the great paradoxes. It should teach a child what it is to be a child but at the same time it should teach it to be an adult.”

The Robinson Crusoe story served to be problematic for educators, Björn explains:

“Robinson was an ideal but he actually disobeys his father and becomes independent. Do we want that? For children to disobey parents and still be able to cope on their own. In certain versions of that story, he is made more obedient, or given help somehow.

“I also looked at Hansel and Gretel, you have two adults – a father and a step-mother – who try to kill their children and send them off to die in a forest. In the forest, they encounter another adult who tries to eat them. Then the children kill the adult and gain control. It is horrible not just because of the story per se, but because our society rests on the assumption that adults take care of children.”

“The whole metaphor of child rule is interesting because when we sent in our book proposal we thought people must have looked at this before. Actually, as far as I know, there is no one who has looked at it literally and looked at children’s literature where they are independent, where they rule and investigate what the consequences are. That is our achievement with this book, we unpack this metaphor.”

The book launch and presentation will take place at Orkanen in room D222 on February 8, 3:15pm - all are welcome.

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Adrian Grist