Kimberley Reynolds is Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University, UK. In 2013 she received the International Brothers Grimm Award for her contributions to the field of children’s literature research. She conceived and was the first Director of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature and was involved in founding the UK’s Children’s Laureate and setting up Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. She is a Past President and Honorary Fellow of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature and was the first Senior Honorary Fellow of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions at the University of Western Australia. Between 2016 and 2021 she was Senior Editor of International Research in Children’s Literature, and she is on the scientific board of the Centre for Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature, University of Wroclaw. She was awarded the Children’s Literature Association Book Award for both Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction (2007) and Left Out: The Forgotten Tradition of Radical Publishing for Children in Britain, 1910-1949 (2016). Her most recent book-length publication is Reading and Rebellion: An Anthology of Radical Writing for Children, 1900-1960 (co-edited with Jane Rosen and Michael Rosen, 2018).
From crossfire to crosscurrents: war as a transnationalising driver of Western children’s literature
'…one has only to look at the names of some of the greatest American picture-book artists – Rojankovsky and Provensen, Artzybasheff and Sendak, Duvoisin and D’Aulaire – to realize that the national borders are down, the heritage a common one.'
So wrote Bettina Hürlimann in her impressive overview, Three Centuries of Children’s Books in Europe (1957, xviii). Hürlimann highlights the way children’s authors, illustrators, and books have consistently refused to respect the sanctity of national boundaries. At no point was this incipient transnationalism more active and influential than in the years immediately pre and post the Second World War. This was, of course, a time when great numbers of people were forced to leave their homes and countries, leading to one of the great paradoxes of that war: the way its nationalistic roots resulted in transnational collaborations. Without in anyway underestimating the trauma, challenges and losses it entailed, for those working in the arts, the upheaval of forced migration could be aesthetically invigorating. Moving through and to culturally dynamic centres such as London, Paris and New York, artists met, interacted, and influenced each other, creating networks that transcended borders, cultures, and languages. Building careers in new countries often required writers and artists to take on the perspective of those in host countries, a process that Gayatri Spivak identifies as central to transnationalism (1992, 6). However, these émigré artists did not erase the particularities of their background, training, and experience. Rather, cultures, languages, and artistic styles mingled, merged and entangled in ways that were often enriching, not least for the rising generation of artists and storytellers. Arguably, this transnational activity and its legacy in the work of the succeeding generation of illustrators and authors, helped make children’s books ‘a powerful factor in international publishing’ in the mid-twentieth century (Hürlimann, 271). It undoubtedly resulted in what Brian Alderson, in his introduction to the English translation of Hürlimann’s book, describes as ‘crosscurrents of influence among the writers and producers of children’s books in Europe’ (x).
This talk will trace the movements, careers and impacts of selected children’s writers and illustrators whose work reflects the transnational activity arising from the war, among them Judith Kerr, Lewitt-Him, Jan Pieñkowski, Rojankovsky, Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, and Fritz Wegner. While it will identify the shadow of war which haunts so much of their work, it will also take account of the benefits of addressing an audience of children who were not implicated in the conflict. These case studies will foreground the transnational characteristics of publishing series such as those produced in Soviet Russia, the French Albums du Père Castor, the UK’s Puffin Picture-Books, and Little Golden Books in the USA. Finally, the talk will consider the postwar context in which much of this activity began, with its vision of how children’s books could participate in fostering international understanding as embodied in the work of Jella Lepman.