Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me, Anna Kirwan, Ellen White Emerson, Julie Johnston, Kaiulani: The People's Princess, Laurie McNeill, Roderick McGillis, Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of being a Wallflower, The Royal Diaries, Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia
A lot of books in Children’s Literature are in a diary format. There’s something personal about a diary, the idea that it can hold the deepest of secrets, and the most honest of thoughts. The diary format is used often in Children’s Literature. The Royal Diaries series, The Dear Canada and Dear America series are geared towards girls who enjoy historical fiction.
While diaries are a useful tool for gaining insight into past times, that is only true if the diaries are genuine. This way of writing for children can be detrimental. (The reasons I list below are not including the argument I made in this post.) These are written in the voice of children around ten-twelve years old (roughly). They often start off their diary by stating their name, and give a reason for writing: the most common being along the lines of “I must have a place to pour out my curious thoughts privately and sort through them. I never truly get to be alone.” (Kirwan, 4) or “Who can I tell my most private thoughts, especially when I feel troubled? I suspect it is best just to write them down in this small book and keep them to myself.” (White, 3). It’s troubling, the reasons given by the authors for these characters having a diary: They are unable to turn to anybody if they are worried. The problem with diary writing in these instances is that it replaces adult and child communication, instead of being used in addition to such communication. Sometimes adults give these children diaries, stating that “maybe [they’ll] relate to it. God knows [they] don’t relate to people.” (Johnston, 3) This implies that children can not be taken seriously by anybody and as a consequence they have to use a book to write their thoughts, problems, fears, dreams and ambitions. Relating to a book is particularly problematic. A book is an object, to relate to it would dehumanize children.
It is important for communication to be open between adults and children. By cutting off that communication it reinforces the idea that children have their own world and adults have their own world. They have completely different interests, fears, hopes, which are too complicated or trivial for the other group to understand. Children are made the other. “Children have little or no power and they are vulnerable to social and cultural forces. We used to call this, and perhaps still do call this, “innocence.” From an adult perspective, children are the “Other,” mysterious beings who in turn attract us, repel us, and bedevil us.” (McGillis). Most of the time when the children write to a “friend”, the object of the diary acts as a substitute person. The inanimate object stands in for something real. “I just need to know someone out there listens and understands…I need to know these people exist. I think you of all people would understand that because I think you of all people are alive and appreciates what that means. At least I hope you do because other people look to you for strength and friendship and it’s that simple. At least that’s what I’ve heard. So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” (Chbosky, 2) Although this boy actually is writing to a person, the letters are written as if in a diary, which is why I’ve included The Perks of Being a Wallflower in this post. Just like the character however, “the diary is a social outcast, of no fixed theoretical address,” a problematic profile that has caused one of the most widely practised autobiographical forms to be largely ignored or misrepresented.” (McNeill). The diary format exists because of the binary thinking. Adults write these books as an attempt to enter into the minds of children. “Literature is not life. In short, each attempt at story is an attempt to understand what it is like to be an “Other.”” (McGillis). Because children are often Othered by adults, the diary format is successful, but only serves to enforce the binaries.
These characters are often trying to figure out who they are. Instead of turning to their parents who exist in the “adult world” they have to turn to these books because there are no other options. The characters “reconstruct their past” (McGillis) through the use of the diary format, and so “take control of it.” (McGillis.) It is about children being able to take control of their lives. The only problem is the diary format acknowledges that they have to be separate from the adults in order to do so. Children are only in control if they are independent. With adults present, they are constantly under scrutiny. So, they turn to a book, a blank slate; they can record their own lives as they imagine it without adults intruding. The diary is very much, in that sense, a fantasy space. However, unlike Narnia where the Pevensie children have to step into a closet, and Wonderland, where Alice has to fall down a rabbit hole, the fantasy space can be entered simply by opening a blank book and putting pen to paper.
IMAGES (In order of appearance. Everything else in alphabetical order.)
- Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Pocket Books. 1999.
- Johnston, Julie. Adam and Eve and Pinch-Me. Toronto: Lester Publishing, 1994.
- Kirwan, Anna. The Royal Diaries: Victoria: May Blossom of Britannia. New York: Scholastic., 2001.
- White, Ellen Emerson. The Royal Diaries: Kaiulani: The People’s Princess. New York: Scholastic, 2001.
- Nika Likes Maps. “”The Other”” Web log post. WordPress. WordPress, 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. http://nikalikesmaps.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/the-other/
- McGillis, Roderick. “Self, Other, and Other Self: Recognizing the Other in Children’s Literature.” The Lion and The Unicorn, (1997) 21.2 MUSE Web. 15 Mar. 2013
- McNeill, Laurie. “Rethinking the diary.” Canadian Literature 207 (2010): 153. Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.