A few days ago, a student in one of my children's literature classes came to get help with her term paper, a critical analysis of one of Elaine Konigsburg's books. In looking over the paper, I noticed references to Rebecca Lukens' A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature; and when I asked Susan what she thought of it, she said, "I found it very helpful with lots of insight." Susan expressed simply two of the virtues of Mrs. Lukens' recent book, for from the first chapter to the last, it is helpful and perceptive.
A Critical Handbook is helpful because it fills a need that general textbooks do not as they lack the space to present the terms and supporting details that Mrs. Lukens does. It is one thing to say that plot is "what happens" in a book, but it is another to explain the ramifications of plot in several pages with examples drawn from familiar children's books. Mrs. Lukens gives many critical terms and their meanings, but what makes her book unique is that she uses children's literature to exemplify the terms and definitions with more of them than in most textbooks on children's literature. That she has chosen her examples from well-known and distinguished books for children is one of its most helpful features. Such exemplification makes the book more meaningful and functional for students—and for professors—who may not be familiar with the large number of less-known children's books and who will usually be familiar with most of the books Mrs. Lukens uses for illustration. The book presents its information in considerable detail in ten chapters of 200 pages while most textbooks devote only a few paragraphs, or at best, one chapter to the principles of evaluative criticism.
Among others, Mrs. Lukens has chapters about character, plot, setting, theme, point of view, style, and tone, and each chapter follows a similar format, beginning with a definition of the topic, then presenting the various aspects of the topic, explaining its functions and importance to literature, and concluding with how to evaluate the topic in children's books. At the same time, Mrs. Lukens shows how each topic functions in all kinds of books from traditional folk tales to modern fantasy and realism. For example, in chapter five, she defines theme, describes several kinds of themes found in children's books, shows how to evaluate themes, and also includes a discussion of didactic themes in children's books.
Tone, style, and point of view are aspects of literature difficult to explain to students, yet Mrs. Lukens has taken these three topics and explained them satisfyingly, citing several examples reflecting the different facets of these topics. In the chapter on point of view, she presents the various view points a writer may choose and explains the value and function of each in specific kinds of books. Her examples are fine essays in miniature, revealing not only the function and value of point of view, but also explaining how it can contribute to the overall quality and artistry of a book. We may realize, for example, that Meindert DeJong's The House of Sixty Fathers is a remarkably good book, but how many of us have taken the time to appreciate the fact that it is DeJong's use of a "consistent, child-like point of view" that helps to make it the good book it is? In the chapter on style, Mrs. Lukens shows how Scott O'Dell uses figurative language in The Island of the Blue Dolphins appropriate for a girl of Karana's background and knowledge: "Karana's brother Ramo has eyes 'half-closed like those of a lizard lying on a rock about to flick out its tongue to catch a fly.' An invader's beard is combed until it 'shines like a cormorant's wing.' Karana says the enemy's mouth is 'like the edge of a stone knife.'" I wonder how many reading O'Dell's book note the just-right images that he has used?
Informing and stimulating...
Meindert De Jong was an award winning children’s book author. He did not start writing books until he was 32 years old. He did so, because a local librarian felt he had the potential to be a good writer. De Jong’s first book, entitled, “The Big Goose and the Little White Duck”, was published in 1938. The timing was fortuitous because the demand for children’s books was probably not strong during the abysmal economic depression of the 1930’s. And in 1938, there might have been some hope for better times.
During the World War II years, De Jong joined the United States Army Air Corps, and served in China. He fortunately was able to survive that dark time period, and following the war, he returned to writing children’s books.
De Jong was an educated man at the age of 32 in 1938. Although he was a child of apparently poor immigrants, he was able to go to college, and he graduated from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. But during the depression, work was scarce, and De Jong supported himself by working on a variety of jobs. The term “variety of jobs” may not be sufficient or descriptive. De Jong worked as a college professor, probably as an adjunct professor, as a grave digger, as a mason, as a tin smith, as a sexton in a church, and as a bricklayer. In other words, he was a man of all trades. But fortuitously, De Jong then met a local librarian, who steered him into the direction of writing, from where he was able to become a highly successful author of children’s books.
A measure of his success was the number of prominent book awards he received during his life time. The most prestigious award, in 1962, was the Hans Christian Andersen International Children’s Book Medal. The award was for the contributions by De Jong to the literature for young people. De Jong was the first ever American author to be awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.
Other honors awarded to De Jong were for specific books authored by him. In 1954, two of De Jong’s books entitled, “Shadrach” and “Hurry Home Candy”, were both named Newberry Honor Books. The following year, in 1955, the De Jong book entitled, “The Wheel on the School”, was awarded the Newberry Medal. The book covered a story about six youngsters in a small Dutch fishing village. So in the brief period of two years, three of De Jong’s books were recognized for their contributions to children’s literature.
In 1956, the De Jong book entitled, “The House of Sixty Fathers”, was awarded the Josette Frank Award. The award was also named the Children’s Book Award of the Child Study Association. In the following year, in 1957, the same De Jong book was also named the Newberry Honor Book. The plethora of awards, for the 1950 decade, was not over yet. In 1959, the De Jong book entitled, “Along Came a Dog”, was named a Newbury Honor Book.
The series of honors awarded to De Jong was capped off in 1962, when he was awarded the National Book Award, for his book entitled, “Journey from Peppermint Street”. The book was a story of the wanderings of a 7 year old Dutch boy. As a 7 year old, De Jong was still living in Holland, before migrating to the United States with his parents in 1914. Could the story have been somewhat autobiographical?
The above listed seven books were by no means the only books written and published by De Jong. The De Jong titles listed below are still available to day through Alibris.com. Considering that De Jong passed away in 1991, and stopped writing in 1986, it is rather amazing how well the De Jong books have stood up in popularity with the younger generation. Here is the list, among others, of some of the available De Jong books: “A Horse Came Running”, “Easter Cat”, “Smoke above the Lane”, “The Tower by the Sea”, “Dirk’s Dog, Bello”, “Puppy Summer”, “Nobody Plays with a Cabbage”, “The Little Cow and the Turtle”, “The Singing Hill”, and “Good Luck Days”.
Meindert De Jong was born in Wierum, in the province of Friesland, the Netherlands, on March 4, 1906. He immigrated with his parents to the United States in 1914. He retired from writing in 1986, and he passed away from emphysema on July 16, 1991, at the age of 85. He was survived by his wife, the former Gwendolyn Jonkman Zandstra, and by a brother, Corneil De Jong.
Meindert De Jong, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meindert_DeJong
Books by Meindert De Jong, http://www.alibris.com/search/books/author/DeJong,Meindert
Meindert Dejong, http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,0_1000042661,00.html
E-BOOKS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON; GOOGLE: Kindle Store Pegels
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FIFTEEN PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICAN FAMILIES: THE VAN BURENS, KOCH BROTHERS, VOORHEES AND OTHERS, 2015
PROMINENT DUTCH AMERICANS IN U.S. GOVERNMENT LEADERSHIP POSITIONS, 2015
DUTCH PEGELS INVOLVED IN WARS
ALLIED EUROPE CAMPAIGN—1944/1945: TACTICAL MISTAKES, 2017
THE SECOND WORLD WAR IN THE NETHERLANDS: MEMOIRS, 2017
FRENCH REVOLUTION, NAPOLEON AND RUSSIAN WAR OF 1812, 2015