Children's literature in (Czecho) Slovakia: ideological inheritance from a communist past.
Analyzing children's literature from the perspective of how social power structures within a society are being reflected implies a specific way of reading texts. This approach to "reading" refers to a reconstructionist discourse with its ideological roots in neo-Marxism (Kascak & Pupala, 2009). The socio-political influences in children's literature and textbooks are evident throughout critical pedagogy (Apple, 1979; de Beauvoir, 1967; Giroux, 1981, 1983; Kohl, 2007; Lehr, 2001). Reproducing power structures in society through literature is not usually a matter of explicit indoctrination. Thus, conventional reading may not suffice to uncover the deeper ideological messages of social power in children's books. The messages are mainly included in texts as implicit pictures, something that is typical of the "hidden curriculum" (Kasck & Filagova, 2007). Structuring texts in such a way ensures systemic transmission of societal norms, values, and beliefs to children (Giroux, 1983). Consequently, the ideological messages in children's books help maintain the current distribution of power and inhibit potential conflicts and cultural emancipation in society (Apple, 1971).
Within this context, two specific children's books--well-known to generations of Czechs and Slovaks will be discussed from a critical pedagogy standpoint: Josef Capek's (1929) All About Doggie and Pussycat (in Slovak: Rozpravky o psickovi a macicke) and Maria Durickova's (1961) book Danka and Janka (in Slovak: Danka a Janka). Because the (Czecho) Slovakian society is still ethnically monolithic, these texts reflect intracultural diversity and social stereotypes rather than intercultural ones. Therefore, the discussion focuses on critical analysis of political ideologies as well as gender roles. These books serve as excellent examples of how children's literature may be used as a tool for political and ideological manipulations.
Frames of Power in Traditional Books for Children in (Czecho) Slovakia
The authors rely on the work of Giroux (1995) as a conceptual framework for children's literature in (Czecho) Slovakia. Giroux provides the prototypical, methodological, and thematic example for critical reading of children's literature, explaining the need to analyze institutional practices and social structures that shape such texts. Traditionally, dominant regimes of power have severely limited the range of views that children might bring to reading. Pedagogically, one major challenge is to assess how dominant themes are reinforced over time through popular texts and contexts.
Ideological Messages of the Original Danka and Janka Series Prior to 1989
The story of twin sisters "Danka and Janka" has been popularized in a variety of formats, including several book editions as well as a cartoon series regularly broadcast on national television. A unique feature of the book series is its framework, which was one of the first to include a child's point of view (Kopal, 1970).
A structure of indoctrination is incorporated in the original text as a specific approach to the psychogenesis of children. Danka and Janka, 7-year-old twin girls, are the main characters; their basic identity is contextualized within compulsory schooling, the medium through which children are connected to Communist institutions. In effect, Danka's and Janka's identities are not primarily those of children attending school; instead, they are first and foremost "iskricky" (introductory-level members of the Communist children's union), with an expectation of becoming "pioneers" (members of an ideological union for children). The book builds a foundation in the reader's consciousness concerning the importance of loyalty to political authority as the natural course of development. This ideological framework within the context of schooling aligns well with Giroux's reference to human beings as "being in the thralls of ideology ... schools as social and cultural reproduction that embody cultural capital" (1981, p. 3).
Danka and Janka reveals implicit ideological messages in three specific themes that continue to appeal to young readers: holidays, greed, and egotistic behavior. Pre-Christmas fancy party masks concealing the identity of children are thematically selected to symbolize the power of the Soviet Union during the Communist era (e.g., masks of the dog Lajka or an astronaut), thereby representing a "hidden agenda" for legalizing the power of official authorities, rather than explicit propaganda. The themes of greed and egotistic behavior are portrayed in Danka and Janka as both characters carry balloons that they are expected to release and send to other parts of the world on May Day. Danka wants to keep her balloon, displaying inappropriately greedy behavior. The explicit message of this story is obvious, but a few questions would serve to illuminate the hidden, ideological messages. May 1st is the traditional Communist Labor Day celebration. Releasing balloons is an outward manifestation of devotion to the Communist Bloc (of Eastern Europe) and the related goal of spreading Communism around the world. Danka's withholding her balloon illustrates the perception of greed found within the capitalistic West.
Ideological Neutralization in Newer Editions of Danka and Janka, Post 1989
With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the Eastern Bloc countries began adopting more democratic forms of government. Consequently, the latest edition of Danka and Janka (2007) was revised to obviate any indoctrinating tendencies of the previous era. For example, the previous developmental stage of "pioneer," which referred to Communist membership, was substituted with "boy." In the most recent edition, the father character is not shown arriving home from a business trip in a Russian airplane marked "Iljusin." Instead, he arrives by unmarked airplane. Now, Danka and Janka are no longer releasing May 1st balloons or wearing the pre-Christmas masks. Although the original ideological messages have been sanitized, the revised editions still contain the word "SPARTAKIADA" (a word referring to special celebrations organized as mass performances in socialist Czechoslovakia). Yet Danka and Janka remains appealing to children in (Czecho) Slovakia, leaving adults puzzled about how to deal with the ideological remnants of the previous political era. On the other hand, Henderson and May (2005) note that readers must understand that stories are tied to "specific cultural and sociopolitical histories" (p. xii).
Gender Stereotypes as a Tool for Analyzing Themes in Children's Literature According to Lehr (2001), understanding the role models and gender stereotypes in children's books is imperative. Koppermann (2000) provides specific criteria for evaluating gender stereotyping in terms of character descriptions, including traditional male and female roles, attitudes, psychological characteristics, and frames for acting. Although applying these criteria is beyond this article's scope, a few themes will be discussed.
In All About Doggie and Pussycat (Capek, 1929), Pussycat is portrayed as a stereotypical housewife who is skillful at executing everyday household chores. Doggie, on the other hand, is a stereotype of masculinity, unhelpful with household chores. Pussycat provides Doggie with emotional support and care. Interestingly, the gender stereotypes are broken when Doggie uses emotional language or shows loving care, which is extraordinarily rare in traditional books from this era.
Likewise, in Danka and Janka, both male and female roles are depicted in stereotypical terms. Danka and Janka's father is absent in the story and is the main economic provider for the family. Both the mother and grandmother are financially dependent and are tasked with caring for the children and the household. Any individuality of Danka and Janka is negated by their wearing identical clothes within societal uniformity. As a result, people are unable to distinguish between the girls. Since the intent of the story is to emphasize their similarity, their mother buys them the same cap, albeit in different colors. Unfortunately, these stories do not provide depictions of women as strong, independent individuals for the (Czecho) Slovakian cultures. Amid what Stanislavova (2009) refers to as the resurgence of literature for young children in Slovakia, however, these books are notable for their continued appeal.
Across generations, All About Doggie and Pussycat and Danka and Janka have withstood the test of time to emerge as touchstones of children's literature in Slovakia and the Czech Republic today. Historically, the continued success of these books is strongly connected to significant political changes influencing their respective ideological messages across time.
Revisions in the book Danka and Janka were intended to covertly remove political diction from the text in order to make it more neutral and appealing to current generations not familiar with the previous ideological regimes. Conversely, the revisions of All About Daggie and Pussycat (2000), aimed at removing values, are politically overt. These books provide a strong example of the historical impact of societal contexts on the ideological messages in children's literature, similar to what Luke (1988) found in an analysis of the ideological sanitization of such children's books as Dick and Jane to make them more appealing.
Children's literature is both the medium and the message for continuity between generations. Consequently, Danka and Janka and All About Doggie and Pussycat have survived years of political and ideological changes in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. These books, although revised, are notable for remaining within the cultural context of modern society despite radical social and political change. The two books highlight what Luke (1988) describes as the complexities of forces and conditions that contribute to the literacy history of any given society through different eras. The power of children's literature to convey intergenerational values and ideological messages cannot be disputed.
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Branislav Pupala is Professor, Ondrej Kascak is Associate Professor, and Zuzana Petrova is Assistant Professor, University of Trnava, Faculty of Education, Department of Preschool and Elementary School Education, Trnava, Slovakia. Tata J. Mbugua is Associate Professor, Education Department, University of Scranton, Pennsylvania.
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|Title Annotation:||Children's Literature: A Global Montage|
|Author:||Pupala, Branislav; Kascak, Ondrej; Petrova, Zuzana; Mbugua, Tata J.|
|Date:||Aug 15, 2011|
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