Conference theme

Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature

The idea that “children should be seen but not heard” is widespread and deeply rooted. It can, for instance, be argued that the discursive silencing of children has been particularly influential in educational practices, even extending towards the regulation of “free” time and after school-­activities. Children’s fictions have been, and are still, implicated in this discourse (e.g. Perry Nodelman, Deborah Thacker). If Orientalism is a discourse that silences non-Western perspectives, and patriarchy is a discourse that works towards the disempowerment and silencing of women, one can certainly maintain that children are othered, disenfranchised and muted in similar ways. Hence, in traditional didactic children’s literature we can find texts that advocate that children should be silent, either directly or indirectly.

But children’s literature is not just a discursive practice for silencing children. It can poten­tially also be a tool for empowerment, a means to giving children a voice. Thus, texts that challenge the silent child ideal are also key to unpacking the theme.

Silence, moreover, can have to do with what is left unsaid and that which is explicitly censored. In other words, which subjects are tabooed in children’s fictions? And what is banned? We believe that the silences and lacunaes within children’s literature should be examined and voiced. And such an examination should also extend to reading practices. For it can be argued that reading itself may be an effective silencing strategy – a reading child causes no disturbance – an aspect of reading often overlooked and rarely critically examined. Ultimately, by interpreting the ways in which silence and silencing (alternatively “sound” and “voicing”) in children’s fictions work through representations and reading practices we hope to cause an “alarum” that will be noisily heard throughout the world of children’s literature – and beyond!

In this vein we suggest the following topics, but also invite other paper and panel topics inspired by the congress theme:

  • Taciturn and unresponsive parents
  • Adult silencing strategies in children’s books
  • “Hush little baby”: lullabies and other soporific children’s genres
  • Tabooed or silent subjects in children’s literature
  • Children’s literature as agents of silence
  • Censorship
  • Children as a “silent majority”
  • The mute, the silent and the tongue-tied: silent child characters in fiction
  • Noisy, talkative and raucous children
  • Reading as a silencing strategy
  • The uses of children’s voices
  • Silent movies as children’s fictions
  • “Silence of the Lambs”: child murder as silencing in crime and horror fiction for children
  • “Silent knowledge” in children’s fictions
  • Silencing of languages
  • Silencing by the children’s literature publishing industry
  • Market-driven silencing of specific types of research
  • Silence as a theme in children’s literature: ‘where words fail us …’, silence and trauma
  • Silence as a positive attitude: to be wonderstruck/awestruck
  • Silence as a reading strategy: to listen to, to be attentive to, the silences in children’s literature, the not-said, in short: the aesthetics/poetics of silence
  • Silence and disability in children’s literature
  • Silence and religious/transcendental motifs in children’s literature
  • Silence as a reading attitude: to be completely wrapped up in/immersed in a book
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