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Posts tagged ‘childhood reading’

Comic Book Surge in India

According to an article in the Times of India, there has been a recent surge in new comic books and comic book popularity in India. At Comic Con India, it was reported that at least 22 new book launches are expected this month. Some of these titles include familiar Western heroes, such as the Watchmen, but many Indian publishers are putting out their own original stories with their own characters. The article claims that the surge is a “growing niche” but it has not yet “arrived”, meaning that it is still a growing movement, and has not become completely mainstream yet.

In class, we discussed comic books from the 1950′s and explored the themes and content that made them unpalatable to parents and other authority figures back then in the United States. They were concerned about the adult story lines, violence, and disdain for authority. As comic books became more popular, this backlash gained traction, and led to comic book burning and bans from state and local governments. It will be interesting to see, as comic books become more popular, how parents and other adults in India respond to this new form of entertainment. India has a history of placing high importance on family values, which comic books, especially those containing Western characters, may not always embody. As the world becomes more globalized, this concern over Western ideals taking over their children may be lessened, but it will still be interesting to see whether this surge leads to a moral panic.

 

Little girl reading comic book

Image from PopGun Chaos

Eminem

 

Eminem wanted poster

Eminem wanted poster (poster.net)

When the white rapper Eminem, formerly known as Marshall Bruce Mathers III, came on to the hip-hop scene in 1998, he quickly became every parents’ worst nightmare; he was overtly homophobic, excessively violent, and blatantly misogynistic, but most importantly, in a hip-hop culture largely dominated by African Americans, he was a face that middle-class, white children could relate to.

For a mere fifteen dollars, which could easily be saved up from allowance and lunch money, any kid (myself among them) could purchase one of Eminem’s albums on their own, despite the Parental Advisory sticker on the cover of the album, which was supposed to prohibit children under seventeen from buying the album but which was loosely enforced.

Much like the moral panic of the 1940’s and 50’s surrounding comic books, the controversy surrounding Eminem and his impact on children became a national talking point, with much of the public split between whether he should be considered a poetic genius or whether he was simply corrupting the minds of the youth. Just as comic books were thought to have been “the direct contributing cause of many incidents of juvenile delinquency and to the imbedding of immoral and unhealthy ideas” (144), so too were Eminem’s vulgar lyrics, though perhaps with a bit more merit.

Following the release of Eminem’s second album, The Marshall Mathers LP in 2002, the Eminem controversy boiled over even further as Eminem began to receive criticism from an audience he had not expected: kids. Students at Sheffield University decided to ban their own radio station from playing any of Eminem’s songs because, according to Dan Morfitt, the head of music at the station, “three people out of a student community of 20,000 complained.” This event, similar to the comic book burnings cited by David Hajdu, begs the question of whether kids themselves were actually offended, or whether the decision to ban Eminem was actually just “the puppetmastery of reactionary adults exploiting children too sheepish to defend their own enthusiasms” (119).

The controversy surrounding Eminem hardly hurt his sales, however, as he went on to be the best selling artist of the decade, proving, just as comics had during their golden era, that the more parents hate something, the more kids can’t get enough of it.

 

 

The Baby-sitters Club

Illustrated characters from Ann M. Martin's popular series The Baby-sitters Club.

In my experience as a devoted reader of The Baby-sitters Club, these books were quite popular among girls my age during our elementary school careers in the mid 1990s. Each week when our class would go to the school library we would scour the shelves for The Baby-Sitters Club novels, seeking one that we had not yet read. If memory serves, these books always had very tattered covers. This could be for a couple of reasons: One, that elementary school children are incapable of not destroying something as delicate as a paperback novel; or two, that these books exchanged hands between many elementary school girls. During the summers the search for unread Baby-sitters Club books would be transplanted to the public library, which always had a much larger selection of tattered cover books about a certain group of babysitters. Through the years and many dedicated search efforts, I never came across any boys who read the series. If boys did, they certainly did not advertise their interests.

Beginning in 1986, Ann M. Martin began writing novels centered about middle school aged children who ran a babysitting business. These middle school children worked to fulfill the need for babysitters in their neighborhood. Her novels were published from 1986 until 2000 and sold approximately 170 million copies. 131 novels were published; this number does not include the special edition novels or subsequent series that sprouted after the initial success of The Baby-sitters Club novels. Of the ten main characters that Martin developed in her novels, only one of them was male.

A typical cover style seen in the publication of The Baby-sitters Club series.

In Elizabeth Segel’s discussion of gender and its relation to childhood reading, she suggests that “boys [venture] into the territory of girls’ reading only with considerable trepidation” (73). The Baby-sitters Club series was quite obviously marketed to girls. If the flowery and brightly colored covers did not dissuade boys from reading the series, the cast of main characters that only included one male might have. The series seems to reinforce the gender role of females as caretakers; in her writings Segel discusses how literature that is specifically catered to girls tends to reinforce ideas such as these. It appears that in writing the series Martin does attempt to reach out to male readers through the inclusion of a male babysitter. However, whether or not this was enough to induct male readers into a predominantly female following is difficult to say. As Segel plainly puts it: “reading a book about a girl is still cause for embarrassment for many young readers” (76).

Goosebumps

A "Goosebumps" series favorite among readers.

 

The Goosebumps book series is a mammoth collection of children’s horror novels published by youth literature giant Scholastic and written by author R. L. Stine (real name Jovial Bob Stine) between 1992 and 1997. The series rocketed to popularity and inspired a few spin-off book series as well as a TV show that had me glued to the set in the same vein of programs like Are You Afraid of the Dark and So Weird. While the series is supposedly intended for middle school readers (or older readers in terms of some of the spin-offs), I seem to recall there being a certain pride and competition in comparing the number of Goosebumps books in your repertoire early in elementary school while cautiously avoiding the eyes of disapproving teachers.

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The “American Girl” Franchise

The original line of historical "American Girl" dolls.

When I was little, one of my favorite book series was the American Girl series. This collection of chapter books followed the lives of several young girls from different time periods and classes in American history – all hinging upon the common denominator of their titular national identity and exploring the story directly through the girls’ viewpoints. These books were created chiefly to advertise to children (more specifically girls) the line of character dolls upon which the American Girl company was originally built, in the same vein of such toy lines as Transformers and My Little Pony. Selling for upwards of a hundred dollars (and initially only available by mail-order) when you factor in toy accessories and doll dress-up, the American Girl dolls were expensive enough to require additional persuasion in the form of books, movies, and even games. After all,  parental resistance in the face of cost to satisfying a child’s preference for a particular character or story tends to wane the more enamored the child becomes with the pageantry of  a full product line.

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The New Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley

The New Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, The Case of the Dog Camp Mystery (2001) book cover (click for source)

When we were discussing our favorite female protagonists from childhood literature, somehow it slipped my mind- I used to be obsessed with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. I had almost every book from their series, The New Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, and I read them over and over, entertained by each mystery they undertook. I would look forward to the next release on the shelves at grocery stores. I remember each book had cards with pictures to be torn out. I had a large stack of them that I would flip through, admiring my idols.

Written by various authors, the series ran from 1998 to 2005 and was published by Harper Entertainment. While most of books in the series can now be purchased on Amazon for a penny used, their suggested retail price was $4.50.

These were girls’ books. The few boys who did venture to read the series risked looking feminine. This loss of masculinity is what keeps boys away from books and activities considered “girly,” as we discussed in class. While some of the individual titles like The Case of the Cheerleading Camp Mystery have an obvious appeal to girls, some of the titles like The Case of the Weird Science Mystery have a non-gender-specific appeal. Titles like the latter could have appealed to boys had the series not been based on two of young girls’ biggest icons. This supports Elizabeth Segel’s conclusion in “As the Twig Is Bent”

“…Many boys are missing out on one of fiction’s greatest gifts, the chance to experience life from a perspective other than the one we were born to—in this case, from the female vantage point.” (p. 76)

In contrast to the earlier books discussed in the Segel reading, the series doesn’t prescribe roles of domesticity and obedience to its adolescent girl audience. Instead, they are the heroes. They go on adventures. They solve crimes. They get the bad guy. And all before dinnertime.