My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the book I’d have wanted before I did my MA in Children’s Literature. That’s not to cast aspersions on my MA (which was, to be brief, one of the best accidents that ever happened to me), but rather to illustrate the differences that occur when researching children’s literature as opposed to, say, interrogating Romeo and Juliet.
Split into six parts, with several chapters in each, this book covers a substantial amount of ground. It discusses children’s literature research skills, looks at how to best utilise and find resources in libraries and archives, how to work with and manipulate visual texts, how to carry out historical research before delivering a penultimate introduction of key theoretical concepts and summing up with a brief but potent section on the changing form and format of children’s literature which is, as Reynolds states, “potentially the area where the greatest change in what constitute’s children’s literature will in the next decade” (206).
That quote is a particularly useful one to frame discussion of this book due to its awareness of the malleability of the nature of children’s literature. It’s spectacularly necessary for researchers who are beginning to work in an area, whatever that area may be, to understand the context of their creative practice. We stand on the shoulders of giants in whatever we do, and you need to know and to be able to comprehend and to rationalise where your point of view fits into this world. That’s something this book does very well; it introduces and frames a fluid, changing world, one that changes substantially depending on whichever reader may read the source text, and it also validates the necessity for us to engage in that dialogue.
There’s an inevitability in the world of research to see reference to the books of Judith Bell for research guidance. Whilst something like Doing Your Research Project: A Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education, Health and Social Science certainly helps to prepare you for the experience of research and dissertation / thesis writing and does so with classiness and verve, the generalistic nature of it cannot hope to address the subject specific nuances of children’s literature. As this book states: how do you transcribe a quote from a picture book? How do you reference a cut out teddy-bear? How do you rationalise the adult vs child reader and how do you understand the role you play in both instances?
It may not have all the answers here, but it helps you in figuring out how to frame the question. And that’s one of the greatest skills you need when you start to question and look at children’s literature, you need to be able to understand what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Children’s Literature Studies : A Research Handbook is an excellent start in that process.