Monday, July 9, 2012

Genres in Children's Literature, La Trobe University, Lecture 5: Postmodern Picture Books and Lecture 6: Anthony Browne

Genres in Children's Literature is a course taught by David Beagley at Australia's La Trobe University. Lectures from the Spring 2012 semester are available for download on iTunes U. As I listen to the lectures, I am recording my reflections and responses here on my blog. This post focuses on Lecture 5: Postmodern Picture Books and Lecture 6: Postmodern Picture Books: Anthony Browne.

The first lecture on postmodernism focused mainly on the historical movements and events which led up to the postmodernist movement beginning in the 1960s. Beagley talked about the fact that in postmodernist works, all absolutes are challenged and many different readings can be valid. He said that postmodern books can be ironic, with layers of meaning, and that often they turn well known stories on their heads, making them into something new. Postmodernism, this lecture tells us, is marked by three things:  subversion, when the stable elements of a story are cut away; deconstruction, where what makes up a story is more important than the outcome of the story itself; and meta-fiction, where a book has a self-conscious awareness that it is a book. Beagley mentioned several times that postmodernist books are playful and filled with inside jokes.

In the second postmodernist lecture, Beagley dug deeper into these concepts using the work of well-known picture book author Anthony Browne. In particular, he focused on two of Browne's picture books, a traditional, linear story from 1976 called A Walk in the Park, and a postmodernist retelling of the same story entitled Voices in the Park. Unfortunately, I think all this lecture did was explain why I tend to dislike stories that don't follow a traditional path. Beagley pointed out that postmodern picture books deliberately keep the reader aware that he or she is reading a work of fiction. The reader is never able to just lose himself/herself in the world of the book. I tend to judge books based on how well I am able to immerse myself in them, and how easy it is for me to let go of myself and live vicariously through the characters. I don't know if I've ever really known what to do with books where things don't come to one, clear, emotionally satisfying ending.

While I don't think I'll ever be a fan of postmodernism, these two lectures gave me some idea of how to approach books of this type. I am a bit puzzled as to how I might review a book that is so subjective and so dependent on each individual reader's experience reading it, but it also seems doubtful that I will begin reviewing them any time soon.I think it's safe to say I'm glad to be done with picture books and moving onto the next segment of the course, about graphic novels.

Want to listen along? Click here. Read about David Beagley here. Read my previous lecture responses here.
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