CHRISTINA SCHÄFFER, The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 60 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter Lang, 2012), 536 pp.;   GARY D. SCHMIDT, Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960 (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013), 318 pp.
Jan25

CHRISTINA SCHÄFFER, The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 60 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter Lang, 2012), 536 pp.; GARY D. SCHMIDT, Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960 (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013), 318 pp.

Christina Schäffer, The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Mainzer Studien zur Amerikanistik 60 (Frankfurt et. al: Peter Lang, 2012), 536 pp. Gary D. Schmidt, Making Americans: Children’s Literature from 1930 to 1960 (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2013), 318 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 Christina Schäffer’s The Brownies’ Book and Gary D. Schmidt’s Making Americans are only two of the many recent contributions to an increasingly interdisciplinary field of research, which intertwines the study of children’s literature with children’s culture and a host of other academic disciplines, such as gender and media studies or the social and political sciences. In light of the explosion of publications related to children’s literature and childhood studies, Sarah Wadsworth has proclaimed another “Year of the Child,”[1] and according to John Wall this dynamic field is presently entering its “third wave.” After a first struggle for the recognition of children as social agents and subjects of human rights in the 1980s and demands for social equality since the late 1990s, children’s studies now aim to radically transform social structures and norms (Wall 70-71).[2]   As a result, there has been a steady chipping away at one of the most cherished myths of the late twentieth century—childhood innocence. In his seminal introduction to The Children’s Culture Reader (1998), Henry Jenkins explains that this powerful cultural construct, which developed from Romantic notions that children were not yet corrupted by society, served as a critique of the injustices and inequalities of Western industrial societies. By the late twentieth century, these ideas had given way to an understanding of children as pre-social, apolitical beings who needed to be protected from the dire realities surrounding them. Jenkins therefore calls for alternative models of children’s culture which acknowledge the ideological battles waged over such popular constructs and which recognize and advocate “children’s cultural, social, and political agency” (32).[3] Schäffer’s, as well as Schmidt’s, book responds to these developments and challenges, albeit in different ways.   With The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Pride in African-American Children, Schäffer provides a long overdue, comprehensive study of W. E. B. Du Bois’s efforts at launching the first monthly magazine by black authors for black children. The study contains five major chapters. Chapter two, “Genesis of a Magazine for the Children of the Sun,” introduces Du Bois’s objectives and, using the first issue from January 1920 as an example, the chief concerns, themes, and philosophical concepts behind it. Chapter three, “Taking Pride in Being Black: Strategies of Composing an African-American Children’s Magazine,” gives an overview of the magazine’s contributors and categorizes the contents of both text and image. Here, Schäffer highlights...

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ROBIN BERNSTEIN, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York and London: New York UP, 2011), 307 pp.
Jan25

ROBIN BERNSTEIN, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York and London: New York UP, 2011), 307 pp.

Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York and London: New York UP, 2011), 307 pp. Amerikastudien/ American Studies, 62.3 The idea of childhood innocence has become a naturalized element of discussions over race and rights, and, as Robin Bernstein shows in her discussion of Keith Bardwell, a justice of peace in Louisiana refusing to wed a white woman and a black man, the notion of having to “protect the children” oftentimes trumps other concerns within social debates—even if, as was the case in the Bardwell controversy, these children are wholly imagined at that particular point of the discussion (see 1 – 2). Arguing that the concept of childhood innocence has been central to the construction and negotiation of race since the nineteenth century, Bernstein highlights the binary construction of racial innocence in children: White children were imbued with innocence, black children excluded from it, while other children of color were erased from this racial binary altogether. Using a rich archive of written texts, illustrations, theater performances and artifacts of material culture (such as handkerchiefs or dolls), Bernstein traces and analyzes how “scriptive things” invited and shaped practices of conformation to anti-black ideology but also of resistance and re-appropriation.   In the introduction, Bernstein traces the development of the negotiation of childhood innocence from the Calvinist doctrine of infant depravity to the celebrations of childhood innocence such as by Locke (who famously declared children to be tabulae rasae) or Rousseau (whose Émile celebrated the idea of children’s uncorruptedness by civilization). The idea of children’s innocence took on an important turn in the nineteenth century, and it is this turn that lies at the base of Bernstein’s investigations of the role of racial innocence in the political processes of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Children were no longer seen as merely innocent, but became considered the embodiment of innocence itself, and as such were thought of as holy angels who could lead (inherently corrupted) adults to heaven. Importantly, however, the abstract idea of childhood (and childhood innocence) was comprised of white childhood, and the idea of the white angel-child both needed and created the need of its counterpart, the black “pickaninny.”   Methodologically, Bernstein works with a material culture approach of reading “scriptive things” (see 8–13, 69–91): an analysis of lived behavior in which cultural artifacts and the way they are used or denied to be used play a crucial role. In trying to read past performances of everyday objects by using archival and historical knowledge to determine which actions the scripted object invited and which ones it discouraged, this approach aims...

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