The Critical Reader in Children’s Metafiction

Joe Sutliff Sanders. “The Critical Reader in Children’s Metafiction.” The Lion and the The_Lion_and_the_Unicorn_3Unicorn 33, no. 3 (2009): 349-361


Scholarship on children’s metafiction has tended to praise metafiction for its subversive possibilities, but this paper argues that the potential for subversion is necessarily limited in children’s novels about the relationship between children and books. Using China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun, the author emphasizes instead metafiction’s ability to open spaces for critical reading. This model of reading encourages evaluation and reevaluation of authority while leaving room for the affectionate relationship so often portrayed in stories of readers and their books.


Scholarship on children’s literature tends to distrust work for children that is too warm or too comfortable. When Geoff Moss, for instance, argues that in children’s literature “technique and structure are backgrounded so that the message of the text is conveyed through an apparently neutral or transparent medium which allows the utmost identification with the author’s intention” (50), he is gearing up to make the complaint that such literature encourages children to be “easily manipulated” (51). Virginie Douglas echoes this sentiment when she complains about “classic children’s literature,” which has “tended to maintain [the reader] in an infantile state” (86), and Ann Grieve has warned that “the dominant model of children’s stories has produced stable, knowable, readable texts which set out comfortably to seduce the child reader” (5). While few scholars would quibble with the idea that children’s literature should provide delight for its readers, there is also a certain reluctance about children’s literature that is too soothing.
My purpose in this paper is to think carefully through one area of children’s literature—fiction about the relationship between readers and books—that has traditionally been seen as a source of suitably challenging literature. As I will demonstrate, the tendency in scholarship on children’s literature is to privilege this kind of metafiction for its subversive qualities, its ability to prod readers out of the comfortable, “infantile” position about which others have complained. But it is my contention that children’s literature featuring readers and their books provides at best a muddled form of subversion. Rather than argue for a way to sharpen the subversive potential of children’s metafiction in general or this branch of metafiction in specific, I will argue for a focus on the unique potential of such fiction to encourage critical interaction. To illustrate how a novel for young readers can embrace critical reading, I will read extensively from China Miéville’s 2007 novel, Un Lun Dun. [End Page 349]


Prodding the Reader

The disdain that much scholarship on children’s literature has for comfortable fiction is balanced by its celebration of the discomfort provided by metafiction. In the field’s ongoing effort to distance itself from didacticism, children’s literature scholarship embraces the subversive potential of metafiction enthusiastically. I will soon narrow my analysis of metafiction, but it is first worth noting how metafiction in general—fiction that momentarily foregrounds rather than obscures the fact that fiction is a construct, not an ingenuous and spontaneous drama unfolding in the reader’s head1—may elicit a reaction that is a direct threat to the warmth and comfort of traditional fiction. Douglas, for example, argues that metafiction can pose initially as traditional fiction, offering a comfortable reading experience, but the metafictional component of a novel will profitably frustrate that experience. As Nichole E. Didicher says in her reading of Mary Poppins in the Park, the chapter of the novel in which the characters become aware of their own fictional status “is a very unsettling and yet exciting chapter” (147). Because the book “unsettles both its readers and the whole of the Poppins universe” (148), “we, too, are encouraged to think of our own world and our own selves as fictional creations” (144), with all the revisionary capabilities such a shift implies.2 In short, scholarship on children’s metafiction argues that this sort of literature forces readers out of comfortable narratives. Metafiction provides a pea—or, if that fails, a pumpkin—beneath the mattress that causes the formerly comfortable reader to stir.
In typical discussions of children’s metafiction, children’s literature scholarship holds this discomfort up as revolutionary and subversive. Douglas, for example, celebrates how metafiction “reverses the traditional pattern of adult/child relationships as they are enacted in children’s books,” the “infantile state” of which she again complains (86). In her discussion of Geraldine McCaughrean’s A Pack of Lies, Douglas praises the novel’s “subversive kind of pedagogy” (84), and Claudia Nelson echoes the assertion, going on to say that “A similar point might be made of children’s metafiction in general” (230). Nelson then celebrates metafiction’s rejection of adult hegemony and promise of turning children who read metafiction into authors themselves (233). In these and nearly every other exploration of children’s metafiction, the mode is read as liberating, anti-didactic, and consistently subversive.
Perhaps it is true of some or even most metafiction that the mode is inherently subversive, but there is a particular kind of children’s metafiction that wraps its subversive tendencies in a velvet glove. This kind of metafiction [End Page 350] retains the potential to unsettle the reader and provoke the reader into an active role, but even as it prods, it provides a comfortable authority in whose wisdom the reader is told to rest. This branch of metafiction does exist in literature for adults, but it is uniquely popular in children’s literature. The mode of metafiction I address is that sort of metafiction that documents the relationship between books and their readers. In this mode, the relationship between reader and text is generally ennobling for the imagined reader; it is an uncomplicated, benign relationship that implicitly argues that whatever else might need subverting, the reader-book bond is sacrosanct. If metafiction succeeds in creating moments in which the child is jolted by the self-referential stance of the fiction being read, children’s metafiction that portrays a relationship between readers and books then immediately papers over any discomfort by promising that books are safe, that they are to be trusted.
Any number of books for young readers can illustrate this pattern. Consider for example Markus Zusak’s Printz honor book,The Book Thief, in which emerging literacy over secret books provides the bond between members of an adoptive family. One book in particular then becomes one new reader’s first exercise in authorship, a beloved object for a supernatural being, and a way of transcending the tragedy of the Holocaust. Or consider Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which features cartoons of empowering, private self-expression supposedly written into the diary-novel by the protagonist. Books also open opportunities for the Spokane Indian protagonist, including the formation of one of the boy’s few deep friendships with a white child. In these and countless other books for young readers, any discomfort inspired by metafiction is blunted by the solace and empowerment that come from relationships with books, books that are true both in the sense that they are factually correct and that they are loyal sources of support for their readers. This is the broad nature of portraits of readers and books in fiction for children.
The pattern is more central and still clearer in the specific example of Robert C. O’Brien’s Newbery medalist, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971). The titular viewpoint character is a mouse whose husband and his rat friends are former test subjects from a laboratory they know only as NIMH. There, injections and training grant the mice and rats the ability to read, a powerful development considering the growing reading abilities of the novel’s own target audience. For the rodents, reading is not an ambivalent skill. As Nicodemus, the leader of the rats in their post–NIMH community says of the humans who once kept him captive, “by teaching us how to read, they had taught us how to get away” (129). In this way, the act of reading is clearly liberatory. The rats also find wonderful reading [End Page 351] material soon after their escape. In the home of a wealthy family gone for an extended vacation, the rats discover food, tools for accessing the food, and something even more important

But the greatest treasure of all, for us, was in the study. This was a large rectangular room, with walnut paneling, a walnut desk, leather chairs, and walls lined to the ceiling with books. Thousands of books, about every subject you could think of. There were shelves of paperbacks; there were encyclopedias, histories, novels, philosophies, and textbooks of physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, and others, more than I can name.


Nicodemus’ tone is one of wonder, of stumbling into an unguarded vault, and the other rats must feel the same, for Nicodemus recalls that “all winter, far into the night, we read books and we practiced writing” (148). Literacy is a unique pleasure, one that outweighs—even for rats!—the pleasures of food and sleep. Literacy therefore grants freedom and pleasure, but it also grants empowerment: when the rats leave the mansion, they are able to build an expansive underground lair complete with electricity taken from a nearby farmhouse. Moreover, this cherished relationship with books helps the rats discover why human beings hate them: because they steal (160). Scientific and philosophical treatises help the rats understand what their role is in the world and that if they are to be anything more than thieves, they must become a self-sustaining community (157). When their lives become hollow, they discover the reason and its cure not only from books in general, but from fiction in particular (169). The relationship between readers and reading, specifically between newly literate readers and books, occupies a central place in O’Brien’s novel. And what is the point of the portrait of that relationship? That reading is empowering. That books are friends. That books are to be trusted, to be turned to in time of need, duress, and ethical quandary.

But these points are not in keeping with the revolutionary aspect of metafiction typically praised in the scholarship. The familiar argument is that metafiction is good because it is disconcerting, but the consolatory aspect of children’s books about readers who treasure their books at least deadens the thrust of metafiction’s disconcerting potential. Previous arguments also contend that metafiction is good because it is anti-didactic, but surely stories telling readers to trust the authority of books is atleast didactic—we might even call it propagandistic.3 This is not somehow to imply that these books are bad, but it is to state that there are serious limits on the subversion that has been celebrated in them. As Nelson herself points out at the end of her article on children’s metafiction, “It is nonetheless impossible to overlook the fact that these are still adult-authored texts, in which the child’s rebellion against its parents is inextricable from its [End Page 352] dependence on them.” “Self-consciously radical,” she concludes, “these children’s metafictions have their conservative aspects as well” (234).


Critical Reading

I have shown how children’s literature scholarship tends to privilege metafiction for its subversive energies, and I have made clear my frustrations with the severe limitations that exist on those energies. There is another term frequently used to describe the value of children’s metafiction, a term that, unlike subversion, I want to embrace with some revision. This term is critical, usually used as an adjective to describe a way of reading or approaching a text. “Critical” often appears in the scholarship in ways that connect to subversion, but I think the two terms can be separated with some work.
The critical way of reading that scholarship on metafiction promises holds great potential. John Stephens and Robyn McCallum’s thoughts on metafiction provide a strong example of how a critical reading might yield important benefits. Stephens and McCallum note particularly promising examples of novels that

presuppose critical feminist reading positions. Their engagement with and disruption of canonical texts and genres, from Shakespeare through fairy tale to the modern school story, together with their historical perspectives, offer the present generation of young female readers reading positions and strategies with which to question textual and social discourses apt to disempower women. Through their different uses of intertextuality, genre mixing, and narrative focalization, they demonstrate that a reader’s subject position can be double, and hence interrogative, so that conventional formations such as romance are transformed into possibilities, rather than scripts, for living. Thus although the novels do not offer neat formulations for being female, or even feminine, they do offer strong positions from which to interrogate what that might mean.


From Stephens and McCallum’s comments on “intertextuality, genre mixing, and narrative focalization,” the connection between metafiction and a critical reading strategy becomes evident. Through their argument, it also becomes clear that “critical” means “interrogative.” The resulting viewpoint will be characterized by a new kind of prodding. The metafiction is not necessarily prodding the reader out of a comfortable position, but giving the reader a solid position from which to prod dominant ideology. The subversive potential is so obvious that in Stephens and McCallum it goes unlabeled as such, but surely subversion of an oppressive patriarchy is what is at stake in “strategies with which to question textual and social discourses apt to disempower women.” The connection is more explicit [End Page 353] if we return to Douglas’s reading of McCaughrean’sA Pack of Lies. She calls McCaughrean’s novel “one of the books which best illustrate the move from the long-established, conformist didacticism (aimed at social integration) of children’s books to a new, subversive kind of pedagogy, whose purpose is to teach critical distance through the questioning of all values, certainties and norms” (84). Again, critical comes to mean a position one uses to approach a text, an interrogative position designed to provoke change. That change will enact a scattershot subversion: the critical distance will question “all values, certainties and norms.”

It is possible that there is inherent in a critical reading position a truly subversive energy, but because I have been so dissatisfied with the subversive potential of metafiction elsewhere, I will not try to rescue the value of subversion now. Rather, I would like to tease out a meaning of “critical” that is not quite so thoroughly pegged to subversion. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that the meaning of the word critical to express one who is “involving or exercising careful judgement or observation” is no longer a clear meaning for the word, but it does seem to me that this is the way scholars of children’s literature want to use it. The OED also provides definitions for the word that imply a sort of cantankerous opposition, and that meaning seems to be implicit in the most pro-subversive (“questioning of all values, certainties and norms”) uses of the term, but it is this version of the word that I want to strip out. In the kind of metafiction I am studying, the friendly relationship between books and readers is a setting unsuited to such an antagonistic stance. Any sustainable critical approach in such a sentimental story will have to allow for a camaraderie between book and reader that also permits—or, ideally, encourages—interrogation. In fact, the friendly relationship in this kind of metafiction might provide a more useful mode of critical reading. The antagonistic form of critical reading promises a one-off battle between ideology and the subversive reader, a reader who sees through the lies of hegemony and is forever liberated from the oppressive status quo; having defeated ideology, the reader now moves beyond it, a disavowal more possible between enemies than between friends. But in the friendly narrative of children and their books, the relationship must be assumed to continue after the reader has begun to ask questions of the book. In such a relationship, there may still be a moment of liberation, but the child will not be required to refuse the give-and-take of information touched by the hand of the status quo. Information and ideology will not merely be communicated by the hegemonic text and discarded by the liberated reader; instead, it will be continually reevaluated. In this more sustainable relationship, new and [End Page 354] better information may be gleaned from the text that is being questioned. Such a result is not possible with a text that has been defeated.
My purpose in reading stories about readers and books, then, is to determine the qualities of a critical reader. I am particularly interested in identifying those qualities as distinct from those of a subversive reader (or subversive experience, which seems more to the point in typical approaches to children’s metafiction). In a kind of metafiction that presupposes friendly relations between books and readers, subversion is at best limited, but critical readings can exist. Such interrogative relationships can even prevent the infantilizing of the reader that concerns scholars of children’s literature.
The novel that first started me thinking about critical readings in friendly book-reader relationships is China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun. For the remainder of my argument, I would like to turn to a close reading of Miéville’s novel with an eye toward how a sustainable critical relationship might work in the context of a story about friendly readers and their books. The novel imagines a relationship that is critical in the sense that I am endorsing. For example, when the protagonist reads, she takes little on faith. She continually turns to her book for information and even guidance, but she requires of the book confirmation, testing, and evidence. When her reading provides answers to questions after cross-checking, those answers are later tested again to see if they should be revised.
Un Lun Dun tells the story of Deeba Resham, a young London girl who is swept into a bitter fight in the “abcity” of Unlondon, where Deeba’s best friend, Zanna, is prophesied to play the deciding role. Zanna and the prophecy are, however, struck down, and Deeba takes Zanna back to London to recuperate. While there, Deeba realizes that her friends in the abcity have been duped, that at least one of their greatest allies is not who he claims and is in all likelihood an agent of the Smog that is threatening to destroy Unlondon. Deeba finds one of the hidden roads back to the abcity, forces a revolution within her circle of friends, and leads a successful coup against the powerful Smog.
At the center of that circle of friends and indeed central to the culture of Unlondon is a book with which Deeba forms a lengthy and complicated friendship. The book, never named, is a sentient creature capable of speech and limited movement. It can taste, reason, and, we discover, be wrong. A close reading of the relationship between Deeba and the sentient book reveals a model for children’s metafiction that, whatever its limited potential for subversion, encourages critical reading. [End Page 355]


When the Book Is Wrong

The first step in deconstructing the conventional relationship between readers and their books is destroying the assumption that books can be trusted without question. This is one of the strengths of previous approaches to metafiction: the insistence of prodding readers out of a comfortable relationship with their books allows distance necessary to a critical reading. But in metafiction that imagines happy relationships between books and readers, the initial prodding must not be of a reader out of a comfortable position, but of books out of a privileged space in which critical readings are not necessary. Therefore, the most important plot twist of the first act of Miéville’s novel directly addresses the trustworthiness of Unlondon’s book of prophecy.
The book first appears as a character upon whom the adventurers can rely. When Deeba meets the book, she and Zanna have only recently entered Unlondon. Zanna is the subject of much speculation, all of it fueled by the high expectations of the prophecy contained in the book’s pages. An organization of “Propheseers” has formed around the book, working for the day the Chosen will appear to defeat the Smog, and scraps of legend have penetrated daily life in Unlondon. The book is therefore at the center of a citywide desire for Zanna; the book, as one of Deeba’s new friends puts it, “is Unlondon’s seat of knowledge” (212). Accordingly, the book’s voice is “self-important” (84); it speaks “grandly” (89) and repeatedly reminds the Propheseers that it is the source of their knowledge (see 92 for two examples). All these early references build an expectation for the traditional relationship between reader and book. Deeba arrives in Unlondon confused and disoriented, and the confidence radiating from the Propheseers’ book in addition to the confidence placed in the book by this last line of defense against the Smog is a much-welcomed source of comfort during Deeba’s first visit. In these ways, the sentient book is as consolatory as other books in this branch of metafiction.
But later in the novel, the book’s early self-confidence operates mainly to highlight its collapse. Before Zanna’s first battle with the Smog, a key line of the book’s prophecy comes to light: “She shall prevail in her first encounter, and again in her last” (93). When that battle arrives, although one of the Propheseers repeats this line with a voice that “was resonant with tense triumph” (102), Zanna is unceremoniously whacked on the head and falls into unconsciousness. The friends manage to drive off the Smog, but Zanna is badly hurt. From this point on, Deeba is forced to criticize the book, driven to action because of her friend’s pain even when the adults (and book) around her are paralyzed by confusion, fretting that, as one [End Page 356] character says, “this isn’t what’s written” (105). At first the book reacts with outrage when Deeba dares to say, “The book’s wrong,” but the evidence is clear, and the book’s attitude changes dramatically. Through the rest of the scene, the book becomes miserable, whimpering that “The stuff in here. In me. It’s wrong” (106). The rest of the novel relentlessly reminds the reader of this problem. Over and over again, the book acknowledges: “My prophecies are bags of nonsense!” (212); it second-guesses itself (229); it has to plead for respect (278). The book’s early smugness is not a sign that it should be trusted, but a set-up for its humiliation.

A Different Kind of Reading

Operating from the premise that books are not inherently trustworthy, Miéville’s novel requires a different kind of reading. If Deeba cannot rest in the truth and omniscience of her book, typical children’s metafiction offers few options for her. The most obvious reaction would be a knee-jerk rejection of the book, and this reaction would make some sense: if the book was wrong about the Chosen One, then, as the book itself says, “What’s the point?” (106) But the novel does not endorse a rejection of a relationship with books. Instead, it argues for a more critical relationship with books, a more robust form of reading that does not reject reading or even the pleasures of reading, but that requires evidence, confirmation, and argument.
This kind of reading is first modeled after the book of prophecy has been forced to admit that it is wrong. When Deeba returns to London and sets Zanna (who has now forgotten her time in Unlondon) on the path to recovery, Deeba finds that she misses her Unlondon friends, so she turns to the Web for hidden traces of connections with the abcity or people who have visited it and returned (131). In so doing, Deeba enables the second act of the novel, because it is while she is researching Unlondon that she discovers that one of her supposed allies in Unlondon has given the Propheseers a bit of mistaken—perhaps even malicious—information (137). She does, therefore, benefit from a kind of reading, an interactive reading, one with false starts, one that the reader approaches knowing there will be false hits and possible paths of interpretation that must be regarded skeptically. Deeba soon returns even to the humiliated book, reading a page from it that was sent along with her. The page contains garbled information (133), most of which has to be disregarded, but there is one phrase that Deeba mulls over until she decodes in it instructions on how to return to Unlondon (149). In the abcity, Deeba and a friend connect to the “afternet” in a city of the dead to confirm the research Deeba has [End Page 357] done in London. As Deeba makes these discoveries and produces research that will enable the novel’s happy ending, she is modeling a strategy of reading, a relationship between readers and texts, that will supplant the complacent attitude toward books seen in many other instances of metafiction and in the reverence with which the Propheseers have always treated the book. Typical of her new reading strategy is not comfort, but research that requires double-checking and hard evidence.
The hard reading Deeba performs requires an ongoing reevaluation of information, and again, the information gleaned from her book is particularly subject to such reading. The first example of this ongoing reevaluation is the dialog Deeba maintains with the book as she and her friends work their way through the conflict. In its depression, the book refuses to help on the quest, but Deeba proposes a new way of approaching the book’s information that presupposes both skepticism and a faith in research: “You might not be wrong about what needs doing,” she says, “[j]ust about who” needs to do it (226). What Deeba proposes is rejecting information that has been proven wrong, but refusing to reject information that may still be right. Together, Deeba and the book explore the information in the book and subject that information to repeated acts of hard reading. Deeba forces the book to forge a more rigorous relationship with itself that abandons faith in the authority of its authors (228) and in a literal, passive interpretation of its contents (273), and together Deeba and the book use the information yielded by their acts of hard reading judiciously to plot a course that will give them the weapon they need to defeat the Smog.
It is worth emphasizing here the argumentative but nonantagonistic tone of Deeba’s interactions with the book, the interactions that are critical in the sense for which I am arguing. An oppositional stance—in the sense given by another definition in the OED that defines a critical person as one who is “given to judging, especially given to adverse or unfavourable criticism; fault-finding, censorious”—would be more subversive and certainly more liberatory, since it would discard the most important ideological text in Unlondon and set Deeba free of any restrictions on her adventure. However, those victories would come at the cost of a source of information. What’s more, they would require the forfeiture of Deeba’s growing friendship with the book. Because Deeba—in the tradition of most imaginary children in stories about the relationship between readers and books—is sentimental about her connection to the book but also begins to require, as the narrator says, “independent verification of everything [the book] was saying” (274), she is able to adopt a critical stance that yields useful information through cooperation with the book. Again, working with the book can hardly be called subversive, but it can certainly be called critical. [End Page 358]
Deeba’s ripening relationship with the book comes to fruition in an example from the end of Miéville’s novel. Here, Deeba is left to face the Smog with the UnGun, the weapon her party has spent so much energy to obtain. Earlier, Deeba has decided on the UnGun as her goal because she has been able to confirm with an outside source that the UnGun is all the book claims it to be. During this conversation, Deeba and the book have a seemingly innocuous exchange that will become important at the novel’s climax:

“Smog’s afraid of nothing but the UnGun, eh?” [asked Deeba.]
“Yes,” the book said, then added nervously: “Well to be honest it actually says ‘nothing and the UnGun,’ but we realised that must be a misprint.”
“You’re kidding me,” Deeba snapped. “So you did know . . . there could be mistakes in you?”
“It was three letters,” the book said forlornly. “We didn’t think anything of it. . . .”


Appearing as this passage does in the middle of the novel, it seems to do little more than reinforce the theme that the book can be wrong. But at the climactic faceoff, Deeba remembers the book’s interpretation of this misprint and puts it to her use. Deeba, facing the Smog at the height of its powers, has already spent all the bullets in the UnGun and waits for the Smog to consume her. But at the moment of her greatest hopelessness Deeba commits another act of hard reading, in this case not only realizing that the book can be wrong, but that it can be wrong about when it is wrong. Deeba recalls the contested passage and concludes that the “and” was not a misprint, that empty chambers—“nothing”—are exactly what she needs to defeat the Smog (408). She fires the unloaded weapon at the Smog, and the UnGun draws in the Smog’s massive body one chamber at a time until the Smog is wiped from the skies of Unlondon.

In this way, Miéville’s novel reinforces the idea that information is never out of the reach of reevaluation. The book is proved wrong in the novel’s first act, then found useful, then found wrong again on multiple accounts, and finally found correct in spite of itself. The key to this chain of productive re-readings is not some beloved tome dispensing wisdom through trivia and moralistic fiction, but a reader who can engage both fondly and critically with her book.
Acts of hard reading and re-reading enable Deeba’s success. They force the premise that books can be wrong, from which it necessarily follows that however comforting books and the experience of reading may be, readers must not rest in the authority of their books. Importantly, though, readers are not called upon to reject books. This is an important point, because for all the previous emphasis on the unsettling experience of reading metafiction, [End Page 359] the fact remains that if these books were too unsettling, they would go unread: even children’s metafiction is successful because it provides enough pleasure to the reader that she or he completes the task of reading. What is important is that Deeba’s relationship with her book is also characterized by a confidence in the reader’s right—indeed, obligation—to return to the text again and again with questions and reevaluations.
The potential for such books is enormous. They undercut their own authority by refusing implicit trust, but they do not, as Deeba’s frequent renegotiations with her book show, preclude readers from gaining verifiable information from their pages. They map out a strategy for enjoying books and questioning them at the same time. To borrow a point already made by Nelson, “children’s metafiction contemplates the psychology of reading while simultaneously functioning to define what reading should be” (223). This function is compounded because it is a definition of reading that children “consume” as they read the pleasurable novel (227). The definition that metafiction in the mode of Miéville’s novel gives for reading relies on a critical relationship. If we read in part to find out—as Nelson implies—what kind of reading is valuable, then metafiction about readers and their books has the capability to define the purpose of reading as both critical and pleasurable.

Joe Sutliff Sanders   Joe Sutliff Sanders is an assistant professor in the English Department at California State University in San Bernardino. His most recent publications focus on young adult science fiction, women’s writing, and novels about orphan girls.


1.  See Grieve 5 for a similar definition.

2.  For example, John Stephens and Robyn McCallum imply that seeing life and culture as constructs—the parallel of seeing through to the constructed nature of fiction—provides a unique tool for critiquing patriarchy itself. See 134 and 141 for places where this implication is most explicit.

3.  Julie Sinn Cassidy also demonstrates that relationships where the reader and book are too cozy might not really be relationships between child readers and books anyway, even if the books are famously children’s books: they might be books that have been co-opted for adult purposes. Again, this is a reason to think that books featuring such a relationship are less than subversive. [End Page 360]

Works Cited

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown Young Readers, 2007.

Cassidy, Julie Sinn. “Transporting Nostalgia: the Little Golden Books as Souvenirs of Childhood.” Children’s Literature 36 (2008): 145–61. [Project MUSE]

“Critical.” Def. 1 and 2. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. Web. 18 Aug. 2008.

Didicher, Nicole E. “The Children in the Story: Metafiction in Mary Poppins in the Park.” Children’s Literature in Education28.3 (1997). 137–49. [CrossRef]

Douglas, Virginie. “Storytelling and the Adult/Child Relationship in Geraldine McCaughrean’s A Pack of Lies, or the Dilemma of Children’s Fiction.” New Voices in Children’s Literature Criticism. Ed. Sebastien Chapleau. Lichfield, Staffordshire: Pied Piper, 2004. 79–87.

Grieve, Ann. “Metafictional Play in Children’s Fiction.” Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature 8.3 (1998). 5–15.

McCaughrean, Geraldine. A Pack of Lies: Twelve Stories in One. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988.

Miéville, China. Un Lun Dun. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.

Moss, Geoff. “Metafiction and the Poetics of Children’s Literature.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 15.2 (1990): 50–52. [Project MUSE]

Nelson, Claudia. “Writing the Reader: The Literary Child in and beyond the Book.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 31.3 (2006): 222–36. [Project MUSE]

O’Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. 1971. New York: Aladdin, 2003.

Stephens, John, and Robyn McCallum. “Discourses of Femininity and the Intertextual Construction of Feminist Reading Positions.” Girls, Boys, Books, and Toys: Gender in Children’s Literature and Culture. Ed. Beverly Lyon Clark and Margaret R. Higonnet. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999. 130–41.

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf, 2006. [End Page 361]



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