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Imaginary Citizens

Child Readers and the Limits of American Independence, 1640–1868

Courtney Weikle-Mills

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How did Ichabod Crane and other characters from children’s literature shape the ideal of American citizenship?

2015 Honor Book Award, Children's Literature Association

From the colonial period to the end of the Civil War, children’s books taught young Americans how to be good citizens and gave them the freedom, autonomy, and possibility to imagine themselves as such, despite the actual limitations of the law concerning child citizenship. Imaginary Citizens argues that the origin and evolution of the concept of citizenship in the United States centrally involved struggles over the meaning and\u2026

How did Ichabod Crane and other characters from children’s literature shape the ideal of American citizenship?

2015 Honor Book Award, Children's Literature Association

From the colonial period to the end of the Civil War, children’s books taught young Americans how to be good citizens and gave them the freedom, autonomy, and possibility to imagine themselves as such, despite the actual limitations of the law concerning child citizenship. Imaginary Citizens argues that the origin and evolution of the concept of citizenship in the United States centrally involved struggles over the meaning and boundaries of childhood.

Children were thought of as more than witnesses to American history and governance—they were representatives of "the people" in general. Early on, the parent-child relationship was used as an analogy for the relationship between England and America, and later, the president was equated to a father and the people to his children.

There was a backlash, however. In order to contest the patriarchal idea that all individuals owed childlike submission to their rulers, Americans looked to new theories of human development that limited political responsibility to those with a mature ability to reason. Yet Americans also based their concept of citizenship on the idea that all people are free and accountable at every age. Courtney Weikle-Mills discusses such characters as Goody Two-Shoes, Ichabod Crane, and Tom Sawyer in terms of how they reflect these conflicting ideals.

Reviews

Reviews

This tightly argued and convincing book reflects the extraordinary ambiguity that has almost always surfaced in thinking and writing for and about children, and it shows the extent to which the study of history and literature can inform each other.

Well researched and engaging, filled with both factual information and insightful analysis.

This book is impressive for its breadth of scholarship, and it should stimulate discussion among its intended audience of academics and advanced undergraduates about children and childhood as metaphors for how citizenship was, and can be, defined.

Weikle-Mills provides a fascinating new way to look at American conceptions of citizenship... Historians of childhood will find this book useful, as will anyone who wants to understand the changing position of children and the concept of responsible citizenship.

The main strengths of Imaginary Citizens are its clarity of expression, explicit definition of terms, and easy interaction with multiple fields, including children's literature, early American literary, religious and political studies.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
280
ISBN
9781421407210
Illustration Description
9 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: From Subjects to Citizens: The Politics of Childhood and Children's Literature
1. Youth as a Time of Choice: Children's Reading in Colonial New England
2. Affectionate

Acknowledgments
Introduction: From Subjects to Citizens: The Politics of Childhood and Children's Literature
1. Youth as a Time of Choice: Children's Reading in Colonial New England
2. Affectionate Citizenship: Educating Child Readers for a New Nation
3. Child Readers of the Novel: The Problem of Childish Citizenship
4. Reading for Social Profit: Economic Citizenship as Children's Citizenship
5. Natural Citizenship: Children, Slaves, and the Book of Nature
Conclusion: The Legacy of the Fourteenth Amendment: LimitedThinking on Children's Citizenship
Notes
Index

Author Bio