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Suspended Animation

Children’s Picture Books and the Fairy Tale of Modernity

2010
Author:

Nathalie op de Beeck

Suspended Animation

An innovative analysis of children’s picture books from the interwar period in America

Suspended Animation analyzes the phenomenon of American picture books and what their imaginative form and content reveal about the modern nation. With engaging color and black-and-white illustrations from influential texts, Nathalie op de Beeck shows how these word-and-picture sequences provide deceptively simple stories within the specific historical and cultural contexts of the period between the 1910s and 1940s.

Deeply researched and richly illustrated, Suspended Animation foregrounds the crucial and contentious role of the children’s picture book in a conflicted twentieth century. It highlights the tug of nostalgic innocence against the complexities of industrialism, war, gender, and battles for ideological domination—with the stakes nothing less than actions and beliefs of the generation(s) of the future.

Cecelia Tichi, Vanderbilt University

Through a combination of nostalgia and new printing technologies, picture book publishing in America became a popular enterprise between the wars. Suspended Animation analyzes the phenomenon of American picture books and what their imaginative form and content reveal about the modern nation.

In this insightful and nuanced work, Nathalie op de Beeck argues that pictorial literature intended for young readers presents a paradox. Children’s picture books are at once fairy tales that uphold middle-class traditions and modern commodities that teach children about their changing world. With engaging color and black-and-white illustrations from influential texts, op de Beeck shows how these word-and-picture sequences provide deceptively simple stories within the specific historical and cultural contexts of the period between the 1910s and 1940s.

Suspended Animation contends that children’s picture books reflect adult ideals and provide visual and written information in contemporary, colorful packages. Although they are outwardly earnest and easy to read, picture books express questionable attitudes on ethnic and racial difference, nature and technology, and history and the here and now. By examining the production of picture books, their modes of storytelling, and their nods to both the avant-garde and mass culture, Suspended Animation traces the development of the American picture book in the history of modernity.

Awards

Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Best Book of 2010 from the Children’s Literature Association

Suspended Animation

Nathalie op de Beeck is associate professor of English at Pacific Lutheran University. Her scholarly projects include Little Machinery: A Critical Facsimile Edition.

Suspended Animation

Deeply researched and richly illustrated, Suspended Animation foregrounds the crucial and contentious role of the children’s picture book in a conflicted twentieth century. It highlights the tug of nostalgic innocence against the complexities of industrialism, war, gender, and battles for ideological domination—with the stakes nothing less than actions and beliefs of the generation(s) of the future.

Cecelia Tichi, Vanderbilt University

Lavishly illustrated, this panorama of picture books from the 1920s and ‘30s opens an expanse of brilliantly executed visual narratives that set the context for some of the most cherished landmarks of American childhood, from Millions of Cats to Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. Much of the material we encounter in this book springs from a modernist New York between the wars, where experiments in drama, design, or dada had an impact on the design of picture books. Nathalie op de Beeck’s extended readings make us eager to explore the energetic, droll, technologically innovative texts for ourselves.

Margaret R. Higonnet, University of Connecticut

Suspended Animation stands to make a major contribution to the field of children’s literature studies, and its impact will also be felt in American studies, art history, material culture studies, and the history of the book. . . . This is an ambitious, provocative, and important book.

Children’s Literature Association Quarterly

Op de Beeck provides a meticulously researched and articulately developed survey of picture books from this era, clearly situating them within a modernist context and expanding the field of modernism to focus on an area often neglected in academia.

Journal of American History

A fascinating amalgam of social and economic history allied to the development of a significant, and sometimes underestimated, art-form is presented by Op de Beeck. This is a significant contribution to the history of the picturebook form, not just in the United States but also internationally.

Journal of Children’s Literature Studies

Suspended Animation provides a valuable model for how to conduct thorough, convincing scholarship about how the picture book functions as a distinctly modern medium.

Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

Suspended Animation is a must-read for anyone interested in picturebook aesthetics, history and complexity.

Children’s Literature

Suspended Animation

Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction

1. Here and Now Fairy Tales
2. Picture Book Ethnography: Representing the Other in Picture Books and Illustrated Texts
3. Sentient Machines: Lonesome Locomotives and the Mechanized Modern Body
4. Murals in Miniature: Regionalism, Labor, and Obsolescence

Postscript: The Picture Book After 1942
Notes
Index

Suspended Animation

UMP blog: Rethinking the American children's picture book

The New York Times recently published a piece on children’s reading that caused much grumbling and debate among my colleagues and students. In Julie Bosman’s “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” (7 Oct 2010), which cites a downturn in picture-book purchases, adults report that children now grow out of (or are forced to abandon) picture books at an early age. “We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books,” says a children’s publisher, suggesting a public perception of onward-and-upward intellectual growth and of picture books as inconsequential. Although another publisher points out picture books’ interactivity, hinting at playful practices like reading aloud, sharing the reading experience, and toying with the visual-verbal text, hers is a minority viewpoint among those who want children to sit down, shut up, and read quietly. Read more ...