Writing for Children: A Study of Two Authors who Truly Understood what Children Love to Read

June 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

Both Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows are honored and cherished children’s classics. Though the two stories were written over a hundred years ago, they are still popular and widely loved today. Questions have been raised as to why exactly these two books have turned out to be incredible classics and staple bedtime stories for children everywhere. Many believe the reason for the two stories’ success lies in the core of their meaning – the fact that they deal with basic needs and experiences of children everywhere, no matter the time period. Though the tales are very different, they have some very important likenesses that make them both timeless and relatable to children. The most principle of which is subversion. All of the characters in these two stories celebrate, as Alison Laurie states it, “Daydreaming, disobedience, answering back…[and] running away” (Lurie)¹. For example, both stories deal with the concept of a desire to escape from the ordinary, and rebellion against authority. The four main characters in Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows personify these aspects, and Alice in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland embodies different characteristics of all four.In The Wind in the Willows, the first character the reader is introduced to is Mole. He is doing spring-cleaning in his underground home, when suddenly he is seized with the urge to be aboveground, carefree and enjoying spring. Then, “he suddenly [flings] down his brush on the floor, said…“Hang spring-cleaning!” and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put his coat on.” He knew he was supposed to be taking care of his house and being responsible, but “something up above was calling him imperiously” (637). Likewise, we first meet Alice outside sitting with her sister, trying to behave, but distracted from that boring task by the appearance of a white rabbit running by. Gripped with curiosity, she finds she must run after it, and so begins her adventure. Alice, like Mole, is very cognizant of the call of escape and adventure, and is eager to follow it wherever it takes her, even if she should know better. A child can easily relate to this as he is constantly being told “what grown-ups [have] decided [he] ought to [do]” (Lurie) when he would much rather be doing something simply for fun. Also like Mole, Alice is – at times – very naïve. When Mole decides he wants adventure, he is determined to have it, even against the warnings of wise counsel. When he travels into the Wild Woods, he is sure he will be able to handle whatever he meets there, but soon finds it is all too much for him, and is terrified (652). Similarly, Alice often lets her knowledge of decency and etiquette get in the way of her common sense. For example, when she approaches the house of the duchess, she is stalled going in by her attempt to reason and be polite with an irrational footman. It would be expected that, once one realized the man did not make sense, one would enter the house himself. In Alice’s case, however, she wastes much time at the door, wanting to do things properly in a very improper world (344-45). In these instances, Moles subversion is disobedience, which initially seems to bring a bad consequence but ultimately brings about a positive occurrence – they find Badger and have more wonderfully fun adventures – such that the message is given that his disobedience was a very good thing after all. In Alice’s case, the message is put across that she should have flown in the face of what the adults at home had taught her was proper. Obviously, trying to politely deal with the footman was a waste of time and rather stupid, when it was quite apparent she need just walk in herself and not bother with the silly and pointless ritual of manners that grown-ups put such importance on.The second character introduced in The Wind in the Willows is Rat. He is a sensible creature, but lives a carefree and fun-loving life in which the “only thing….worth doing [is] messing about in boats” (638). Some parents consider this very subversive, as it condones a pleasure-filled life with little to no responsibility. This fact is also what appeals so grandly to children. Alice – like many children – also experiences an affinity for that type of life. For example, when she is on the riverbank with her sister, she is frightfully bored and tries to remedy this by sneaking peeks at her sister’s book. However, she soon finds this is no good because the book has only words and no pictures. After all, Alice concludes, “what is the use of a book without pictures?” (325). That sort of book is what Laurie describes when discussing books that taught its child readers how “to be more like respectable grown-ups.” These books often had no use or time for pictures, and certainly not pictures that did not assist entirely in reinforcing the “lessons disguised as stories” (Lurie).The next character that appears in The Wind in the Willows is Toad. He is very much like a child in the sense that he is incredibly impulsive and self-indulgent. Unfortunately, these characteristics often lead to self-destruction. In Toad’s case, his addiction to motorcars pulls him into a life of recklessness and crime, where he was before a dignified heir of great wealth and status. He also demonstrates great subversion in his tendency to see himself as above the law. He constantly questions authority, as he refuses to see himself as guilty and constantly finds a way out of punishment – whether from his friends (676) or from the law (687) and often proclaiming things like, “Toad again! Toad, as usual, comes out on top!” (707). Alice is also very impulsive, as demonstrated in the fact that she never fails to eat or drink any food that magically appears before her. She does this even if she recognizes that it may be poison, and remembers what she learned – presumably from a book much like the books “that hoped to teach…manners or morals or both” which Lurie discusses – that “if you drink too much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later” (327). Both Alice and Toad seem to know better, but do the potentially harmful actions anyway, serving as examples for the assertion that children have a desire and compulsion to behave subversively whether they have been taught differently or not, and this is why these books resonate with children.The last main character in The Wind in the Willows is the wise Badger. He is highly respected and his words are often heeded without question. When the animals have gathered at Rat’s house to decide what to do about Toad’s captured home, all the animals shout out ideas or fall into despair, but it is Badger, in his wise way, who reprimands Toad, putting him promptly in his place, and then calmly announces, “There are more ways of getting back a place then taking it by storm. I haven’t said my last word yet” (714). He then goes on to describe the underground tunnel that they can enter the house through, and – without argument – that is exactly what they decide to do. Though Badger is the character most resembling a grown-up in this story, he is still far from the vision of adults that children experience in some literature. He does not recommend “depend[ing] on authority for help” (Lurie), but rather that they take the situation in their own hands in order to right the matter. He also does not hold in his excitement for the coming battle, as, after the final plan is made, he joins in with his other three comrades in jumping about the room and shouting excitedly about the battle to come. Alice can also be considered a wise character. Though she does not always listen to her own advise, she often has some very good bits of wisdom that she reminds herself. She even seeks to punish herself when she feels she has acted foolishly. For example, “once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet” (327). Though she is only a young girl, Alice often quotes what seems to be lessons she has learned from the very sort of instructional books Lurie discusses, such as when she is asked to repeat different verses she has learned, and promptly assumes her reciting stance and begins. However, she is still a picture of subversion, as she usually ends up not getting the verses correctly and saying something nonsensical that would be comical and pleasing to child readers.Throughout Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, examples of subversive behavior are abundant. This is the essence of why both tales are so cherished by children even in modern times. Alice, Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger are all characters used by Carroll and Grahame to delve into different aspects of subversion that children most identify with. Though they all have very different personalities, children can relate to all of them because at their core are the subversive ideals children love to read about and let their imaginations run wild with. Lurie calls books like these “sacred texts” because of the authors’ ability to appreciate a child’s interest in tales of rebellion and an easygoing world in which the main characters have all the abilities and resources of adults but must follow none of the silly rules. That Alice personifies various attributes of all four of Grahame’s main characters is further proof that these beloved classics are so highly regarded for their appeal to children’s’ love of subversion and that they fall under Lurie’s description of the wonderful and enrapturing books of her childhood.

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