Over at slate.com, Erica Perl recalls her favorite books from childhood:
The first time I heard the word recession, I was 10 years old. It was 1978, and my parents, like everyone we knew, were cranky and stressed out about gas shortages and rising food prices. One of the ways I coped was by burying my nose in books and discovering kids who had it worse than I did. Like Ramona Quimby, whose dad got fired and took up residence on the couch. And Laura Ingalls, whose dad kept hitching up the wagon to drag his bonneted brood to the middle of nowhere. Many of the books I discovered during the late ’70s featured themes of economic hardship that made my circumstances seem manageable by comparison:a happy coincidence, I thought at the time. Looking back, I’m not so sure this was an accident. A review of popular American children’s books of the past century reveals a recurring theme in the children’s publishing industry: When times are tough, cue the stories about times that were even tougher.
The full article is here. Perl looks at 2008, with the release of the movie version of Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, noting that “plot points in the movie include lost income, foreclosure, and rationing.” Apparently Ramona Quimby is headed for the big screen, too, and a stage version of Little House on the Prairie is likely bound for Broadway. Perl’s point: in financial hard times, stories of harder times are “in” in children’s literature.
Without more data, I’m not willing to embrace Perl’s thesis. After all, the company that brought us the American Girl series got its traction in the late 1980′s/early 1990′s — which weren’t all bad financial years. And Ramona and Laura…they’ve been popular forever. My question for those more knowledgeable of children’s literature is whether there is a gender angle to the “financial hard times” narratives and books marketed specifically to girls?