Little Geographies: Writing Place for Children

 

Although it's a small word in length and denotation, little has a far reach, conjuring a wide variety of signifiers: snugness, physical size, subjective value, contingency, and vulnerability among them. To be little is always to be understood in contrast with what's perceived as bigger or big. To be little is to conjure the ghost of the large.

 

In this book project, I show how childhood and place in twentieth-century works of children's literature defy traditional definitions of little, as two constructs that demonstrate the inadequacy of familar hierarchical scale-based analysis. This book examines the centrality of place to literary depictions of childhood, arguing that child characters' participation in the production of their lived physical environments plays a central role in how they negotiate larger adult-imposed structures. Writing for children often depicts place through the lens of locality, a "little" sociospatial formation constructed through child characters' immediate interactions, physical motions, range of mobility, and everyday experiences. These actions, however, are also large ones; they take place within a much broader network of discursive practices. Locality in children's literature therefore functions as an accessible node for a number of competing interests and desires that structure the racial, gendered, and classed performances of childhood on multiple levels simultaneously. Ultimately, this unresolved and constant geographic oscillation in children's books exposes the extent to which spatial scale is something that depends entirely upon subjective perception, rather than something naturalized or innate.  

 

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