Divided Worlds: Studies in Children’s Literature.Edited by Mary Shine Thompson andValerie Coghlan. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007. 224 pages

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This third publication of the Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature (founded in 2002), a collection of commissioned articles and selected papers from its 2005 conference, bears witness to the remarkable growth in the numbers engaged in the study of children's literature in Ireland today and maintains the high standard of scholarship and breadth of scope established by the previous volumes, Studies in children's literature, 1500–2000 (2004) and Treasure Islands (2006). About two-thirds of the seventeen contributions address Irish subject matter, from definitions of Irishness in the fiction of Katherine Tynan (Colette Eppli), reconciliation in Maria Edgeworth (Ciara Ni Bhroin), interconnections with the `big house' genre in Somerville and Ross (Anne Stevens), through Irish primary readers as `manuals of modern nationalism' (16) (James Bennett, Áine Carroll), ideologies in Our Boys magazine (Dáire Keogh, Michael Flanagan) to political division in modern Ulster fiction (Robert Dunbar) and contemporary children's publishing (Celia Keenan). The international focus extends from Luigi Bertelli's treatment of fascism (Lindsay Myers) and Gianni Rodari's communism (Francesca Califano) to the English contexts of Cecil Alexander's English hymns and their depiction of class (Carole Dunbar), masculinities in Rosemary Sutcliffe's Roman Britain (Patricia Kennon) and migration in Japanese-Canadian literature (Eimear Hegarty). Divided Worlds includes an erudite thirteen-page introduction by the co-editor Mary Shine Thompson who, in the introductions to all three ISSCL publications, has sought to identify the parameters of contemporary children's literature studies and its place in literary and Irish studies. Her reflections in this volume on the notion of `division', from the negative association with the imperialistic `divide and rule' to the pragmatic and neutral denotation of ordering and classifying knowledge, are stimulating, and her case for the range of `divisions' addressed in the articles constituting a common theme is spirited (geographical divisions, divisions within readerships, genres, fragmentation of childhood along political and national lines). However, the title is ultimately too general to create a meaningful focus and the link between it and some of the articles is tenuous. What most of the essays do have in common, however, whether they address British, Japanese-Canadian, Italian or Irish literature, is that they are framed within the academic discourses of cultural studies, most of them addressing either theoretical questions or combining textual analysis with a study of historical contexts which recognise postcolonial tensions and social and gender inequity. They analyse the `political divisions, the class structures, the gender and other identity issues that impact on the experience and articulation of childhood' (11).

The collection closes with a strong piece by Celia Keenan (co-editor with Shine Thompson of the previous volumes), `Divisions in the world of Irish publishing for children: re-colonization or globalization', in which she addresses the policies governing the recent production of Irish books and attendant issues of identity. Looking closely at the work of such authors as Maeve Friel and Eoin Colfer, she registers a qualitative change before and after their migration from Irish to British publishing houses, an elimination of culturally specific references, a loss of country and loss of culture, and she makes strong case for indigenous publishing of material relevant specifically to the Irish market. These reflections on identity issues and globalisation will resonate with many readers of IRCL.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Research in Children's Literature
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)103-104
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 01.07.2008