A site for the study of twentieth century British children’s books, particularly historical fiction, and their relationship to social change
Clive Barnes

1999-2004 M.A. essays: Social Change in Various Twentieth Century Children’s Novels

M.A. essays: Social Change in Various Twentieth Century Children’s Novels 1999-2004

These essays on aspects of twentieth century children’s books were written as part of my work on the distance learning M.A. course at Roehampton, 1999-2004.

Nearly all of them reflect in some way my interest in the connection between children’s literature and social and political questions.

There are two types of essay. Formative essays were written as part of course work and were not assessed. There is only one of these. Summative essays were assessed and counted towards the final course mark. They are fuller pieces of work. None of these essays have been published in any other form. I have provided a short introduction to each essay.

Eve Garnett, The Family from One End Street

To what extent does The Family from One End Street reflect the assumptions of the period in which it was written? [Formative assignment]

This is an attempted re-appraisal of a critically maligned Carnegie Medal winner from 1937. The Family from One End Street has been criticised for what has been assumed to be its condescending portrayal of working class life and has also suffered retrospectively from the fact that it was apparently preferred for the Medal by the Library Association to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, published in the same year. This reappraisal seeks to place it in the context of the popular culture of the time of its publication, to consider it in the tradition of comedic portrayals of working class life (including George Bernard Shaw), and to link its author to an informed philanthropic middle class interest in the life of the poor and the working class in the 1930s. George Orwell figures here as he does in the essay on Lively’s Going Back and Bawden’s Carrie’s War.

The Family from One End Street continues to be popular. It was voted one of the Carnegie all-time top ten in 2007 and has been cited by Jacqueline Wilson as one of her favourite childhood books.


Penelope Lively Going Back and Nina Bawden Carries War


The Second World War and Social Change in Penelope Lively’s Going Back and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War [Summative assignment]

Rosa Guy, The Friends and Virginia Hamilton, The Planet of Junior Brown

Children, change your parents…Social Change and African-American Identity in Two Children’s Novels of Harlem life: Rosa Guy’s The Friends and Virginia Hamilton’s The Planet of Junior Brown [Summative assignment]

These two essays each take a pair of novels which were published at much the same time. Each pair of novels has themes in common. While British authors Lively and Bawden look back to the Second World War from the vantage of the 1970s, African American authors Guy and Hamilton are writing about life in Harlem, New York City, in the light of the turbulence of the Civil Rights Movement. An aspect of each essay was to show how the preoccupations of each pair of writers could be connected to urgent contemporary social and political questions: a reviving feminism in the case of Bawden and Lively and African American aspirations with Guy and Hamilton. It was also to show how the perceptions and literary techniques of each author offered to readers different ways of considering the same issues. To anyone who wishes to trace the influence of social and political questions on children’s fiction, this kind of comparison, in tracing similarities and differences in approach in works (contemporaneous or otherwise) that deal with similar subjects, can be revealing.

The portrayal of masculinity and craftsmanship in Alan Garner’s Stone Book Quartet

Masculinity in Alan Garner’s The Aimer Gate [Summative assignment]

This is a consideration of Garner’s portrayal of a particular working class view of masculinity embedded in the notion of the skilled craftsman. The theme of masculinity is one that features in other work on the website. Particularly relevant to this essay is the essay on Richard Armstrong, which focusses somewhat differently on the notion of craftsmanship and apprenticeship as a key to understanding his writing.

Gender in Peter Pan

“Boy or Girl?”: Gender in J.M.Barrie’s Peter and Wendy [Summative assignment]

J. M. Barrie’s life, in which he became friends with the Llewelyn Davies family and subsequently adopted the five boys when their father died, continues to colour consideration of his work, and to fuel speculation about his sexuality. This essay examines the portrayal of gender in Barrie’s children’s novel that he developed from his ground-breaking and extremely successful stage play. For him, Wendy appears to have been an equally significant figure in story, which was the reason for adding her name to the title when it was first published as a novel.