Constructions of childhood in award-winning children's novels from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States

Melissa Wilson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This study explores the connections between childhood and children’s literature. In this connection there is an inherent tension between writing and reading “real” childhood, as it is being lived by children now, and interacting with an adultnormative, adult-reconstructed childhood that may or may not have existed in the past. The purpose of this study was to address this tension by analyzing fifteen recently published award-winning children’s novels, from the United States, The United Kingdom, and Australia, in order to ferret out how present-day childhood is constructed within this text set. Using a hybrid methodology called critical discourse analysis, buttressed by the frameworks of postmodern childhood studies and critical children’s literature studies, the novels were analyzed in a hermeneutic, reader-response oriented approach in order to excavate themes that addressed childhood in the narratives. Findings are presented as a meta-plot, wherein the child protagonists leave a failed home, set out on a journey of knowledge and experience gaining a sense of agency, and, at the end of the novel, construct a new home replete with the child protagonists’ personal meaning. This meta-plot includes instances of the child protagonist performing parrhesiatic acts (Foucault) as well as developing non-hierarchical relationships as conceptualized by an I/You relationship (Buber). Other findings include the construction of childhood as a time of “becoming” and a time of “is-ness,” childhood as a time of resilience, and childhood as a time of difficult decisions. Conclusions of the analysis speak to the idea of the child
serving as a Modern bringer of hope, who manages to create moral order from within an 13 adult-created postmodern milieu. Implications relate to the fields of literacy education, replications of the study with an interpretative community of children, and continuing to define the burgeoning methodology of critical content analysis.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Arizona
  • Short, Kathy, Supervisor, External person
Award date13 Oct 2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Postmodern childhood studies
  • Critical children's literature studies
  • Critical content analysis
  • Postmodern childhood
  • Buber
  • Meta-plot
  • Parrhesia


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