University of Florida professor of children's literature Kenneth Kidd virtually joined a group of graduate students and faculty yesterday for a discussion about his book Freud in Oz, among other topics. SDSU Children's Literature faculty Joseph Thomas, June Cummins, Phillip Serrato, and Mary Galbraith eagerly asked questions of their UF colleague Kidd, who answered with eloquence and the occasional self-effacing humor.
Belying his modesty, though, is Kidd's work itself, which takes a thoughtful look at children's literature through a psychoanalytic lens. The chapter under discussion, "Child Analysis, Play, and Pooh," progresses chronologically through the early stages of psychoanalytic research into children's behavior, from Freud to his daughter Anna to Melanie Klein to D.W. Winnicott, and looks at the links between child psychoanalysis and the inherent themes of children's literature. Kidd aligns these links with "Poohology," which he describes as "a form of popular psychology and child analysis and literary criticism and theory"that "refashions the children's classic into a plaything for adults, supporting the interiorization of childhood and of childhood's forms." As Kidd describes, Winnie the Pooh, with its straightforward narration and its playful themes, is an ideal backdrop for examining how play shapes childhood.
Specific questions that came up during the brown bag session with Kidd focused largely on Kidd's treatment of Frederick Crews' The Pooh Perplex, which satirizes the intensity of literary criticism while also highlighting the promise of what literary criticism can uncover. The discussion with Kidd unearthed how Crews' work leans toward sarcasm and in fact shut the door on literary criticism of Pooh for years, but conversely may also have paved the way for analysis of children's literature. By illuminating the shortcomings of taking children's literature too seriously, Crews also may have inadvertently proposed a way of looking at children's literature with both intellectual rigor and self-awareness.
Also up for discussion was the idea of the "inner child" and how much of that is extended adolescence or performative adolescence. The group talked about how contemporary young adult authors in particular seem to be both adult and adolescent at once. Kidd discussed the later chapters in his book that trace the American fascination with adolescence from the 1950s onward and try to explicate a broader history of what we now call the YA novel. Kidd described YA authors as potentially "both therapists and an older young adult," an identity that makes them adept at writing for a teen audience.
In addition to fielding scholarly questions, Kidd also discussed the PhD program at the University of Florida (where a student can specifically focus on graduate work in children's literature) and the job prospects for nascent scholars in the field. While job openings specifically recruiting children's literature scholars are relatively scarce, Kidd pointed out that children's literature PhDs coming out of UF are also well-positioned to talk about their research in broader terms. His assertion supports what we all discover when studying children's literature: the themes and ideas that we analyze may start in children's literature, but they translate to numerous other genres within literature. And as the group also discussed in the brown bag session, we were all children once.
Overall this was an engaging and enlightening discussion with one of the premier scholars in the field of children's literature. Thanks to Kenneth Kidd for joining us via Face Time, and thanks to Joseph Thomas for arranging this brown bag session!
Addendum: An actual corporeal visit from Kenneth Kidd is tentatively planned for the Spring 2013 semester. Stay tuned for more details!