Oh, golly, what a happy family! Trajectories of citizenship and agency in three twentieth-century book series for children.
Concerns about the quality of such texts tend to obscure two other important realities: first, material items have also spawned literary texts since at least the eighteenth century, and second, the commercialism and consumerism inherent in these texts converge with notions of child citizenship today. As David Buckingham and Verbjorg Tingstad observe, "the idea of the child as sovereign consumer often slips into the idea of the child as citizen, as autonomous social actor; and it is often accompanied by a kind of 'anti-adultism'" (3). (1) This slippage emerged by the nineteenth century, according to Courtney Weikle-Mills, who argues that "the freedom to participate in government could be re-imagined as the freedom to participate in the market" (138). She also points out that "definitional crises involving children and citizenship continue to arise in times of internal conflict" (8). Sarah Banet-Weiser is more explicit in her analysis of the cable network Nickelodeon, insisting that "[c]ommercial media play a pivotal role in creating cultural definitions about what it means to be a citizen--indeed, our sense of ourselves as national citizens emerges from (not in spite of) our engagement with popular media" (2). The concept of child citizenship, as these and a variety of other critics suggest, has increasingly found itself at the intersection of rights discourses, protectionism, and consumerism. (2)
In this article, I explore three British picture-book series for children through the lens of debates regarding quality, quantity, and consumerism that highlight some of the stakes involved in discussions of child citizenship today: Florence Upton and Bertha Upton's Dutch Doll and Golliwogg books, published between 1895 and 1909; Enid Blyton's initial Noddy books, published between 1949 and 1963; and Allan Ahlberg's Happy Families series, published between 1980 and 1997. These series not only spawned material goods for children but were themselves created out of such goods, given that each series originated with children's playthings: the Uptons' books centre on the exploits of a doll Florence Upton had as a child, Blyton's Noddy books borrow the Uptons' doll figure while also creating their own Pinocchioesque toy, and Ahlberg's Happy Families series is based on a nineteenth-century card game of the same name. These three series, I argue, serve as snapshots to situate changing notions of child agency within shifting ideas of child citizenship throughout the twentieth century. In this way, child citizenship, like the historically and culturally constructed concept of "child" itself, is a flexible term, available for use for a wide array of adult political and ideological purposes. Notably, the picture-book series that I examine both participate in and defy such purposes as they evolve. The Uptons' series acknowledges--if not critiques--turn of the-twentieth-century views of children as citizens-in-training (3) and resists gender-based constructions of citizenship while indulging in freedoms of nationlessness and fantasies of global citizenship that were initially enabled by views of children as lacking (national) citizenship status. Blyton's series, by contrast, envisions post-World War II consumerism as a civic responsibility and thereby reveals the potential as well as the limitations of such views. Ahlberg's series displays tensions inherent in adult-child relationships, the pressures put on parents for "quality" family experiences at a moment of burgeoning focus on the child as consumer "citizen" and on significant shifts in family life and composition. Considered together, these texts highlight a narrowing in scope of agency from notions of transnational citizenship, privileging attitudes of progress and modernity through technologies that defy national borders at the beginning of the century to local, community-based citizenship rooted in village authority, economic ties, and fiscal responsibility during the middle decades of the century to citizenship based nearly exclusively on familial interests and the social-family unit at the close of the century.
"Nationless" Citizenship in the Uptons' Dutch Dolls/ Golliwogg Series
One of the most striking features of the Uptons' picture books is their hybrid, international origins. Florence, the American-born creator of the series, illustrated the books in England while her British-born mother Bertha supplied verses while living in the USA. As a result, critics differ about whether to call Florence and her creation "young American" as David Rudd does (Enid Blytort 137), "Anglo-American" as Marilynn Olson hints (81), or British. This ambiguity is complicated further by the internationality of the golliwogg doll itself: as Florence remembered it, the toy "came from an American Fair" (qtd. in Davis 10) but was forgotten on a childhood trip to visit relatives in London, where it was stored in an attic before being rediscovered when she was an adult. The doll then became the foundation for the books, which were published in Britain, and an icon of British childhood. (4) A result of this hybridity is the suggestion throughout the texts, through attitudes that alternate between patronizingly colonial and notably deviant, that its characters operate beyond a realm of national citizenship. Instead, the texts offer a notion of citizenship based on modern, supposedly progressive ideas and on a form of global travel that was enabled, at least for Westerners, by colonialism and technology rather than national affiliation. At the same time, in their insistence that identity--particularly gendered identity--is changeable, the texts demonstrate how much any notion of citizenship is a performance that can be shed or transformed with the close of an adventure or the advent of a new exploit.
This hybridity facilitates seemingly radical features of the books: their frequent borderlessness and their characters' own indeterminate nationality. While the initial book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls--and a "Golliwogg," may be set in a toy-shop in the USA, later books ignore the prescriptions in this book about "the midnight hour / When dolls and toys /Taste human joys, / And revel in their power" (2), and are frequently set in "Doll-land," which itself seems to be located in Britain, as is demonstrated by the proximity in the second book to the English Channel and to France. In the final book, Golliwogg in the African Jungle, it is clear that the dolls, though aware of American events, are not actually in the USA, for the Golliwogg dreams "that in a newer world, / A man well known to fame, / Had started for East Africa /To shoot its biggest game" (4). The dolls, then, are in an "older" world that is likely England, but their precise location is not disclosed. By having their home be alternately or simultaneously a toy-shop, "Doll-land," England, and the USA, the dolls eschew national affiliation. In this way, the texts seem to follow Weikle-Mills's notion of "[taking] literally Locke's view of childhood as having no country" so that children, and by extension children's animated playthings, "would not even be subjects of the nation" (19). The dolls' nationless identity status is emphasized further by the frequent punning on Germany and Holland and the Dutch (Deutch) Dolls' name.
Ironically, even as the dolls resist a specific national identity, they participate in the nation-building activities of exploration, if not those of conquest and colonization. (5) For example, the dolls cross between "real" and "fictional" spaces easily and repeatedly. In Golliwogg in the African Jungle, real time and fictional time are mocked in the opening pages, which depict the Golliwogg dreaming a "grand dream" of Theodore Roosevelt's planned safari and waking up to realize that he "must have been asleep / For two full years and more," given that the Dutch Dolls are covered "thick with dust" and cobwebs (2). The allusion here is to contemporary events, to the fact that the dolls wake on Christmas Eve after a year-long sleep in the first book, and to the fact that the previous book in the series was published two years before. The series also makes light of geographic spatial constraints: the dolls discover the North Pole before humans manage the feat, visit Holland, go on safari to Africa, land on a desert island, and explore the British countryside. In the second book alone, they visit--on bicycle--Paris, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and another "Eastern land" that seems to be a strange blend of India and North America (Bicycle Club 62).
This focus on exploration--an extension of the endeavours of Western colonization--allows the series to supplement a sense of national identity with a "global" one. Indeed, rather than view its characters as citizens of any particular nation, the series seems to cast its characters as citizens of the world at large, as citizens of nowhere and everywhere simultaneously. Their passports are modern ideas of technology, achievement, and progress--even as the texts periodically critique such ideas. Golliwogg in the African Jungle, for example, mocks Roosevelt and his African safari by having the five Dutch Dolls and the Golliwogg arrive in Africa first and convince all of the animals to leave to join their zoo so that "when that other hunter comes /--There's nothing to begot!!!" (64). As Olson observes, the books "embodied the 'spirit of the age'" (73). Nowhere in their pages are fears of other peoples, technology, modern achievements, or progress allowed to stand or overcome. The adventures they undertake tend also to be timely and include the already discussed African safari and North Pole expedition, along with engaging in a battle referencing either or both the Spanish-American War and the Boer Wars and visiting the seaside and a circus. The dolls build and travel in a notable array of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century transportation achievements: a bicycle, an airship, and an auto-go-cart. These trips and technological conveyances imply that the world is a small, easily traversed (if accident-prone) place where national borders no longer hold sway, at least to those privileged enough to be able to take advantage of modern conveniences and travel methods.
The acknowledgment in these texts of current events makes more remarkable their lack of emphasis on national identity. At the time, such events helped patriotic notions of citizenship reach levels of frenzy. Much patriotic attention was in fact directed at children, for as Weikle-Mills notes, "the emerging legal rhetoric of citizenship emphasized adult qualities of reason, rights, and property ownership. However, children represented other qualities that were central to the ways that citizens were understood, such as affection and patriotism" (18). At the time the books were published, waves of immigration in the USA and fears of imperial competition in Britain were inspiring tremendous patriotic "citizen-in-training" movements for children on both sides of the Atlantic. These movements, which include the Anglo-American playground movement and the Scouting movement, used understandings of child affection and patriotism to instill a "love of country" in children as they played. As they attended playgrounds in the USA and play centres in Britain, and as they participated in Scouting events, children were asked to partake in patriotic military drills that highlighted national allegiance and to engage in play activities that sought to encourage properly gendered responsibility for future citizens: nurturing skills for girls and military, survival, and empire-building leadership skills for boys. The subtitle of Robert Baden-Powell's original Scouting manual, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship, makes its citizen-creating focus obvious.
These "citizen-in-training" movements, however, also reveal ironies and contradictions inherent in views of children and citizenship at the dawn of the twentieth century, if not still today. A seeming contradiction of both the playground and Scouting movements, for example, is their focus on national citizenship even as they became worldwide, transnational phenomena: the playground movement in the USA sparked the creation of similar play-space efforts elsewhere, especially in Britain, while by 1910 at least twenty countries participated in Scouting. The focus of these movements on "instruction in good citizenship" also underscores children's nebulous citizenship status. Weikle-Mills reminds us that children in the USA were not legally citizens until the ratification of the fourteenth amendment, which granted citizenship to all those born in the USA. Certainly, not all children throughout the world today are legally citizens of their respective nations. Even in the USA and those countries that technically do grant children citizenship, children do not tend to have the full rights and privileges of citizenship until they are adults: instead, they are often considered, as children in both Britain and the USA were viewed at the beginning of the twentieth century, as citizens-in-training, as individuals being prepared for citizenship but not fully citizens or even necessarily citizens at all. The Uptons' series highlights the indeterminate citizenship status of children by transferring it onto its toy characters; moreover, the series acknowledges the patriotic moment of its origin by embracing transnational elements evident in citizen-in-training movements while dissociating its characters from nationalistic views of citizenship and at times even critiquing them overtly. One of the very first acts the two initial Dutch Dolls engage in, for instance, is the desecration of an American flag. They use it to create dresses for themselves, an act Olson drily remarks took place "in an era that could not have been more aware of flag etiquette than America at the time" (82).
Through its de-emphasis on national patriotism and its emphasis on a seemingly transnational citizenship, the series creates for its characters agency that real children lacked or were often envisioned as lacking. Susan Honeyman observes that "puppet-like characters once reflected concerns of industrialism and the automation of labor in use of machinery and mass production--anxieties about becoming social puppets or beasts of burden" (40). These concerns, however, are never displayed by the Dutch Dolls and Golliwogg, who seemingly embrace both industrialism and the automation openly, at least when it comes to means of transport. Importantly, too, while humans make periodic appearances in the pages of the Uptons' books, their appearance is tangential. The dolls themselves, who are invested with their own agency, have no need of humans to exist, to plan, to make decisions, or to have adventures. They belong to no one but themselves. Tellingly as well, while the few critics of the books generally claim for the Golliwogg the position of leadership and commend his role as one of the first generally positive black characters in children's literature, this attention to the Golliwogg tends to obscure the female Dutch Dolls' own strong roles, which Lois Rostow Kuznets admits "would hardly be considered ladylike" (105). Sarah Jane, in particular, is bold and brave: among her stunning feats is saving the Golliwogg from the jaws of a lion in Africa and training another lion for their toy circus, in addition to serving eagerly in war against toy soldiers and bringing it to an end. Time and again in the Uptons' Golliwogg books, male and female characters share responsibilities and leadership roles and contribute fairly equally in adventures and group dynamics. A theme of fairness and equal agency is taken up with the very first book in the series, which observes that Golliwogg in a snowball fight "does not like the way girls act / For five to one's not fair," concluding that "if girls will play with boys," "equality" and "equipoise" must hold the day (Adventures 55, 55*).
The series' portrayals of equality and agency give its child readers an image of identity, including citizenship identity, as an act of play, a performance; this image is therefore mutable, a view made possible by the fact that, like many series texts, the books frequently follow an established formula. Generally, Golliwogg has an idea to build something new or to go on an adventure or both; the characters pack and plan, with the Dutch Dolls creating or obtaining new clothes and costumes that will suit the purpose; they embark on their adventures and meet with a set of misfortunes that usually involve explosions or crashes and that frequently involve a lost member or members of the party; and they end by cheering themselves up and heading home. Delight in new clothes and gear for nearly every exploit--often delegated to the Dutch Dolls, especially Peg and sometimes Sarah Jane--may seem a conventional form of gendering (the assumption that girls, dolls, and especially girl dolls like clothes), but these notions of convention ignore Golliwogg's frequent interest in clothes. More importantly, they ignore the role-making and gender-defying possibilities that clothes offer.
"How does one determine the gender of a toy?" Kuznets asks. "Rarely by its genitalia, mostly by its clothing, hairstyle, and the language used to signify it. This absence of biological sexual markers in most toys calls attention to the arbitrary assertion of constructed gender differences in the depiction of toys as characters, especially in those texts that reflect gender roles from the world outside the text" (6). Surprisingly, instances of gender-bending in the Uptons' texts are not noted by Kuznets or others, perhaps because the Uptons did not call attention to these moments in the texts themselves but let them slip in unannounced in Florence's illustrations, observed if at all in the accompanying poems by absence. In the books, three of the Dutch Dolls are generally identifiable by size and dress. Peg is the largest doll and tends to wear red stripes, Sarah Jane tends to wear blue stars, and Midget is the smallest doll by far. The remaining two dolls--Meg and Weg--are frequently interchangeable, a fact their very rhyming names (which accord with Peg's) indicate, as does their frequent "nude" appearance. Yet it is with these dolls and Midget, all of whom are consistently gendered as "she" in the poems accompanying the illustrations, that Florence challenges the borders of gender and its recognized or assigned agency. In two of the texts, Meg/Weg dresses in male costume, calling attention both to the "play" of the adventures and to the arbitrariness of gender. In The Golliwogg's "Auto-Go-Cart," the narrative calls attention to Weg's bow, cloak, and feathered bonnet: "But Weg is irresistible, / What do you think of her?" (13). A glance at the accompanying illustrations, where Weg is in close proximity to Meg, reveals that it is Meg who is actually the more remarkable figure, if not "irresistible," for she is dressed in a man's costume: hat, tie, umbrella--and mustache (12, 14) (see fig. 1). This type of "transgression" happens again in The Golliwogg's Fox-Hunt, in which Meg or Weg (it is not clear which) is dressed merely in hat and boots with spurs and, like the male-labelled Golliwogg, is not riding sidesaddle on her horse. A close inspection also reveals that Midget does not ride sidesaddle either and mimics the Golliwogg in dress in remarkable ways. These clothing shifts indicate that clothes script not only gender but also roles such as a driver, aviator, and seaside holiday traveller as well as national or cultural identity, such as when the dolls revel in dressing in garb from Holland. Revealingly, as the formulaic repetitions of the texts emphasize, all these identity markers can be changed in an instant simply by altering one's clothes. Again and again, the series reflects the apparently mutable, transformative potential of childhood--as well as its envisioned lack of determinate identity, including citizenship--and frames that potential as liberating rather than limiting, supplying its toy characters with agency, adventure, frolic, and fun.
Community-Based Citizenship and Authority in Enid Blyton's Noddy Books
The Uptons' books are liberating and at times transgressive; they are also of notable artistic merit. Despite these facts, they are mere collector's items today. Blyton's Noddy books, by contrast, sold twenty million copies by 1960 and 100 million by 1992 (Rudd, Enid Blyton 64-65), but they are frequently disparaged by critics. Brian Alderson, for instance, details Blyton's impressive output of over six hundred books, including "more stuff about Little Noddy than one would care to enumerate," to assert that "to any sane reader, surveying this monstrous literary excrescence, it soon becomes clear that much of it is piffle" (58-59). (6) He describes Blyton's "genius" as "I tying] in what might be called the reductive spontaneity of her authorial methods," whereby she "descended upon the genres of children's literature, sucked out whatever gave them a distinctive character, and returned them to the readers as zombie essences" (59). Alderson's term "zombie essences" hints nicely at a prevalent "elitist" attitude toward series texts described by Ellen Seiter (10) and at the refusal of the Noddy books to be confined to a literary graveyard. (7) Despite the dismay of Alderson and others, the series, unlike the Uptons' books, continues to be read by children today because it serves adult and child audiences simultaneously. In doing so, however, it quells deviant identity and citizenship possibilities. Instead of using its repetitious familiarity to envision such potential, the series fashions its characters' own indeterminate citizenship and identity statuses as productive for consumerism and community welfare and, at the same time, as rife with power inequalities and with true child agency appearing only through disobedience.
Limitations appear from the beginning. In the very first book, Noddy Goes to Toyland, the eponymous doll figure is discovered and named by Big-Ears the brownie and is promptly taken to Toy Village. The first act the two engage in upon their arrival is to procure clothes for Noddy, who is informed bluntly and disconcertingly by Big-Ears that he does not "look very beautiful with just [his] wooden body to go about in" (16). (8) The use of clothes to define identity is certain here: once Noddy is given shoes and trousers, Big-Ears reflects that he is "beginning to look a very nice fellow" (24). Within a few pages, however, that "nice fellow" identity is threatened by Noddy's lack of knowledge of gendered identity markers. Tellingly, Noddy gravitates towards a "rather nice" "blue doll's bonnet," causing Big-Ears to exclaim, "You can't wear a bonnet! You're not a baby doll. Really, you don't know very much, Noddy" (26). Although the books seem to offer the occasional defiance of gender norms--such as when Noddy and Big-Ears wash dishes or do laundry--more often mid-century gender values are reinforced, such as when Tessie Bear and Mrs. Tubby supply food and male characters provide leadership and authority.
Big-Ears's influence over Noddy in the opening scenes of the first book not only mitigates potential for gender transgression but elucidates a reason for adult comfort with the series, namely its main character's indeterminate though frequently childlike identity status and obvious respect for parental surrogates. While the Uptons' series seeks freedom in the indeterminate citizenship status of childhood, Blyton's Noddy series delights in indeterminate age-identity status. The Uptons' books offer hybrid, autonomous doll characters who act as fully empowered beings (adults, even if the texts once or twice refer to them as children) capable of exerting their own opinions and following their own decisions. Blyton's Noddy is left in a hybrid limbo: not fully empowered, not fully an adult nor fully a child, an "intermediate" status Robert Druce claims "oscillate[s] between his adult function ... and that of an infant" (128). (9) Indeed, while he is called "Mr. Noddy" in the second book (Hurrah 48, 59), he is consistently referred to as the "little nodding man" as the series progresses and, increasingly, as "little Noddy." More revealingly, unlike the Uptons' toy characters, who have complete control over their lives and obvious agency, Noddy consistently defers to adult authority figures such as Big-Ears, a fact that may well appease adult authority figures (such as parents) who often purchase children's books.
Rudd, one of few scholars to study Blyton's work seriously, praises it for "address[ing]," among other things, "children's own fantasies of power and honour" (Enid Blyton 169). Noddy does manage to eke out inklings of apparent agency through his purchasing power, his living in a house of his own, and his freedom to drive around in his car, features that may well, as Rudd suggests, attract child readers. Rarely does Noddy actually demonstrate power or honour, however. He relies upon authority figures to help him find a house of his own, to take care of him while he is ill, and to get him out of trouble. In the second book, Hurrah for Little Noddy, Noddy tries to retrieve some stolen cars but ends up in bed recovering from a crash while Big-Ears locates the cars instead. Big-Ears must rescue Noddy again when Noddy is mistakenly put into prison for the thefts, and it is Big-Ears who craftily arranges for Noddy to receive all the credit and reward for saving the cars, which results in Noddy's gaining a car of his own. In other words, while Noddy offers child readers the allure of potential agency, the reality of his position is far more limited, constricted by parental and generally "paternal" authority figures. Noddy originated as an answer in Britain to the American threat of commercialization and domination of its children by Disney and quickly became the focus of a licensing company specifically designed to handle the immense merchandising industry that the series heralded, not only commodity items on display in the series through Father Christmas's introduction of Noddy and Big-Ear dolls but the consistent call to readers of each volume to "[l]ook for the next Noddy Book" (see Rudd, "From Froebel Teacher"). Indeed, Blyton's purpose for the books seems to be founded strongly on what Honeyman describes as "children being guilt-tripped into cherishing toys in order to reciprocate their supposedly unconditional love (not just by playing with and taking good care of them, but by collecting more). The texts also construct future consumers to be loyal from childhood" (39). It is well documented that Blyton strategized to capture the reader at every stage of child development and intentionally wrote her books for a variety of child ages in order to hook young children and keep them consuming for as long as she could, just as much, perhaps, as she aimed to use her child readers and their spending potential to bolster the mid-century post-war British economy.
What is encouraged by this focus on consumerism in the books is a narrower sense of citizenship that is defined by purchases, fiscal responsibility, and a good work ethic. The series is incredibly focused upon financial transactions: everything has to be paid for in some way. The very first Noddy book sets up what is to be a major theme of economic motivation and responsibility throughout the series. When Big-Ears explains how he is going to acquire clothes and a house for Noddy, he discovers he has to explain what money is: "it's something you get when you work hard. ... Then you put it into your pockets and wait till you see something you want. Then you give it in exchange. You will have to work soon, then you can get money to buy heaps of things" (23). Noddy demonstrates immediately that he comprehends the situation and his own responsibility in it: "I see. . . . Well, I'm strong. I can work very hard. I'll be able to pay you back quite soon, dear Big-Ears" (23). This is precisely what he proceeds to do in the remaining books, in which his hard work is consistently praised. He pays people back for kindness, if not for loans, and earns money constantly to spend it. Indeed, saving is virtually unknown in the pages of these books--it is advocated at the beginning of Do Look Out, Noddy! but abandoned by the end.
Although Noddy is shown as having spending power, he is shown just as often as being disempowered by it: he does not work necessarily to buy things but to survive, and he worries about what he will do for food and other goods if he does not have work. Moreover, the impetus of the books does not seem to be to gather money to gain power, but to gather it in order to spend it immediately on perishable items. When Noddy needs items to furnish his house, he resorts to the charity of the dolls who are employing him, asking them if he can have the furniture they are discarding (17-18). What he actually spends money on is food of the most frivolous sort. (10) Items such as boiled eggs and sandwiches make their appearance, but most often the meals eaten by Noddy and his friends involve hot cocoa, cakes, biscuits (cookies), and ice cream--a collection of sweet things that, given the history of children's literature (think gingerbread houses and Turkish delight), may make readers wary. Such short-lasting treats turn out to be the norm in the Noddy series, as many of its books end with a feast of them.
Ultimately, while privileging consumption of food and other goods, the texts also show how consumption creates unequal power structures; (11) crime such as theft leads in turn to general mistrust as well as a fear of others and especially of the unfamiliar, which proves further limiting. Noddy is frequently constricted by the insular nature of village life. He rarely leaves his village beyond the initial book, and outside places are shown to be far away and dangerous. When he loses his car and clothes in Here Comes Noddy Again, it is because he has entered the "Dark Wood," which is shown to be far away even from Big-Ears's house. The point of the books seems clear: unless on vacation or otherwise engaging in an extraordinary indulgence, it is best for citizens to stay in their own hometown. Unlike in the Uptons' series, exploration of Toyland or the world is not encouraged here. In these books, good citizens do not wander about the world but stay home and become prominent, consuming members of their community, like Big-Ears, Mr. Plod, Mr. and Mrs. Tubby, and even Noddy himself.
As a result of all this narrowing of world view, civic responsibilities, and privileges as well as the diminishing of overt child/doll agency, the books resort to surprisingly devious, covert means of supplying child power. Colin Welch notoriously described Noddy in 1958 as a "witless, spiritless, sniveling, sneaking doll [in which] the children of England are expected to find themselves reflected" (qtd. in Druce 37), and certainly we may cringe at Blyton's success in creating a toy that gave British children their own commercial enterprise at the expense of independent thought, agency, and alternate views of what it might mean to be British. Yet it isn't merely the sugar trappings of the series that may lure child readers to the books. It is their stark portrayals of disobedience, which hint at possibilities of agency even as it otherwise seems to be denied, a feature already on display in Welch's final view of Noddy as "sneaking."
Noddy's sense of responsibility in the books extends beyond economic obligations: he is consistently shown, in comparison to childlike toys like Tubby Bear and Gilbert Golly, to be a model of ideal behaviour. Even that breaks down, however, in what Druce refers to as Noddy's "insolence" and "gleeful selfishness" that are "applauded by his author" (222). Repeatedly throughout the pages of the books, Noddy is delighted by the punishments of other naughty toys and engages in naughty acts of his own, such as erasing Bert Monkey's tail and frequently running away from Mr. Plod when he is in trouble. The authority figures admit this tendency: Big-Ears remarks with justification in You Funny Little Noddy that Noddy is "naughty sometimes, but he's very very good at heart" (38). While the authority figures and the author may strive to rationalize Noddy's periodic naughtiness, its importance for the books consists in the power it offers. For a few minutes--or pages--Noddy has some control over the authority figures in his life: denying their desires (to punish him, to have answers), forcing them to come after him, taking over their time, defying their expectations. As James Kincaid observes, children "can still seize power by their very aggressive naughtiness, taking over the law by regulating its most dire penalties" (262). Or, as Henry Jenkins phrases it, "we frame such localized moments of resistance in moralistic categories of 'naughtiness' or in developmental psychological terms as 'testing limits'" without necessarily "recogniz[ing] that children's disobedience ... might originate in a context of economic or racial inequalities, might express something of the frustrations of coping with a world that devalues your interests and seeks to impose adult values onto your activities" (31). Through what the series describes as "naughtiness," its childlike toy characters consistently display their potential for actual agency within a world set to constrict them to community- and family- based consumer citizenship that is reliant on the economic prowess of others. (12)
This is perhaps most prominent in the character of Master Tubby Bear and in the arrival of a figure called Bunkey. As the series progresses, Master Tubby grows more and more naughty, so much so that Mrs. Tubby admits in Noddy Goes to Sea that "[h]e's been naughty again.... I really don't know what's the matter with him these days" (9). By the end of the book, Tubby seems to have had a change of heart and repents of his naughty ways, but the change is short-lived, as later books show. Indeed, Master Tubby's naughtiness becomes a recurring theme in the series, its repetition enabling more bouts of agency on the part of child characters and, one would suspect, more delight for child readers. Delight and empowerment may also explain the presence of Bunkey, a character who turns out to be a trickster (a monkey who hides under bunny ears) who is constantly engaged in mischief. The narrator ultimately approves of Bunkey because, like Noddy, he is "loving" and likeable and seems to mean well (Noddy and the Bunkey 58-59), but the effects of his naughtiness are extraordinary. Within a short time, Bunkey has managed to turn the entire village upside down: "borrowing" lampposts, benches, and flowers from around the village, polishing Mr. Tubby's boots with gravy to attract dogs, hiding Mr. Plod's police helmet, and forcing the fire engine to descend upon the police station. Declared a "nuisance" (49), he is essentially driven from town, though not before he has demonstrated his power over authority figures, gained the affection of admirable characters like Noddy andTessie Bear, and proved his lastingness: the narrator ends the book by assuring readers that Bunkey will find another circus to join (60), keeping his memory, spirit, and power alive in spite of physical absence. Ultimately, the series resorts to sending its troublesome characters out of communal societal bounds--the sea, the circus--but doing so merely accentuates contradictions at the heart of the texts. Truly independent, empowered child characters have no place within the presented community, but they are pivotal to commercial ventures--entertainment, mercantile shipping--at large. In other words, even as it seeks to limit child agency, the consumer citizenship on display in Blyton's Noddy series continues to offer its readers a tantalizingly alluring sense of agency potential, if only under the guise of disobedience.
"Family" Citizenship and Child Agency in Allan Ahlberg's Happy Families Series
Disobedience also has a role in "Happy Families." The card game came into existence in the 1850s or 1860s and is thought to include caricatures drawn by John Tenniel. One of the most prominent features of the cards is their grotesque illustrations, which were meant to amuse through their very ludicrousness and defiance of reality, as with the illustration for "Master Bun the Bakers' Boy" in which a bun appears in place of a head. Such exaggerated features call attention to the fact that the ideal nuclear family seemingly portrayed by the cards might itself be a ridiculous, or at least a comic and not entirely realistic, concept. (13) The popularity of "Happy Families" produced knock-offs and parodies of the cards almost immediately, including "Cheery Families," "Merry Families," and "Funny Families," which offer alternate views of what British families might look like, views that are sometimes startling in their transgression of societal norms (see fig. 2). Like "Happy Families," "Funny Families" (circa 1870-1 910) depicts families from a variety of classes and makes clear that members of these families can fill traditional family roles both happily and successfully; it also portrays disobedience, however, through rakish behaviour and particularly through a defiance of gender expectations. A butcher's son cries when his goods are stolen by a dog, a beadle's son cries after a presumed caning, and both families' daughters are decidedly mischievous and do not play with their dolls in presumably gender-appropriate ways (one uses hers as material for a meat grinder while the other joyously beheads hers). (14) Girls consistently display supposedly atypical forms of gender behaviour: Miss Churn the Milkman's Daughter seems to be sampling butter mischievously, Miss Saw the Carpenter's Daughter is building or improving upon a dollhouse, Miss Bobby the Policeman's Daughter is playing at being a police officer while her brother steals apples, and Miss Tommy Atkins the Soldier's Daughter marches in play just as her father does at work.
The cards offer such family portraits in the face of what Buckingham describes as "long-term growth of the children's market" within "the context of broader changes in family life, and society" (Material 84). Citing "unevenly distributed . . . affluence and prosperity" in industrialized societies over the last half century, a factor that has contributed to smaller families, delays in having children, increases in working and single-parent families, and longer life spans permitting more grandparental relationships, Buckingham suggests that, as a possible consequence, "children becom[e] more prominent, both as consumers in their own right and as influences on family decision-making" (Material 84). It is within this context of nuclear ideal and industrialized reality that Allan Ahlberg's Happy Families/Wacky Families picture-book series situates itself. Taking its premise and variability (15) from the nineteenth-century card game and its parodies, the series offers frequently unconventional notions of families and behaviour. Through portrayals of disobedience in particular, the Happy Families book series presents striking depictions of child agency and family citizenship, including influences on family decisions. As new titles were added to the series throughout the 1980s and 1990s, however, real-life family dynamics continued to shift, and children increasingly became a marketed entity. (16) Such shifts in the commercial focus on children arose, as critics of consumerism note, at a time when parents felt additional pressures to ensure "quality" family experiences for their children. They therefore placed increased attention on children and their roles in the family unit, becoming not only more interested in consumer goods for their children but more concerned about their children's roles as consumers. Within this environment, where considerations of consumerism and citizenship are returned to the family, (17) possibilities for tensions in adult-child relationships abound, and such tensions are on display in Ahlberg's series, which has sold at least 2.5 million books (Jones). Those tensions become manifest not only in the containment of child agency (and therefore of citizenship potential) but also, as the series progresses, in the replacement of child views with adult perspectives and needs.
Ahlberg's books make clear that family dynamics have changed and that citizenship transcends a multiplicity of other identity markers: they emphasize that families of British citizenship consist of a variety not only of classes and configurations but of ethnicities. (18) Indeed, a two-page group spread in Miss Dose the Doctors' Daughter, a 1988 title, showcases a variety of possibilities of British citizenship and family: these include a black father and son, a punk woman, a young South Asian family, and what appears to be a white family group of mother, daughter, and grandmother (18-19). A more recent book, Mrs. Vole the Vet, follows a British family of South Asian descent and highlights the reality that women as well as men are citizens who hold occupations while insisting that non-traditional families do not warrant much discussion. (19) The book begins quite bluntly: "Meet Mrs. Vole the Vet. Mrs. Vole has one son, two daughters, three cats, four dogs and no husband" (1). It continues, tellingly, "Mr. Vole has three stepsons, eleven rabbits and a new wife. We will forget about him" (2). The book promptly does just that. Still, the series offers more than just expanded notions of British ethnicity, gender, and class in its considerations of citizenship and identity; it indicates that family expectations involving occupation are not inescapable. Like Miss Dose, earlier books in the series take their inspiration directly from the original cards. In Master Bun the Bakers' Boy, Master Bun lacks his original bun head but retains his title and the butcher's son's sausages are stolen by a dog, just as they are in the Funny Families card series. Despite the overt homage in the book to original versions of the card game, the purpose of Master Bun's story is to showcase the ability of individuals to determine their own futures and occupations. Bertie Bun trades places with the butcher's and barber's sons to learn that he really does prefer his own family and its occupation--until the very last pages of the book when Bertie decides to be a conjuror's boy. At this point, the book takes on a postmodern perspective, suggesting that what Bertie does after this realization "will have to wait" for "there's no more room in the book. And, besides, it really is ... another story" (21-22). The open ending allows for Bertie to have a future in which he may become a baker or a conjuror or something else entirely. Though family is initially based on occupation, it is clear that it does not have to remain so.
The early books also offer plenty of child disobedience and agency: in Master Salt the Sailors' Son, the youngest child stows away on the voyage his parents and sister say he is too little to go on and promptly proves them all wrong by providing for himself and saving their lives in a storm. Unfortunately, the promise offered by open endings and by frequent child disobedience and agency in the early books disappears almost completely in later books. While Miss Dose does fill in for her doctor parents while they are sick with "spots," the illustrations demonstrate that her doing so is really only under parental supervision (16-17). Mrs. Vole's children believe their hard-working mother needs a boyfriend, but the book indicates that adult figures or larger powers are in charge. Mrs. Vole consistently shows them the errors of their ideas, and when a potential boyfriend does appear at the end of the book, it seems more due to fate, chance, or Mrs. Vole's own change of mind and agency than to the children's efforts. Children may have influence and roles to play within the family in these texts, but adult authority and power regularly undermine those roles and that influence. This undermining affects conceptions of children as citizens, for being viewed as able and responsible is often a prerequisite of citizenship that adults are generally presumed to be capable of having and children able to be "trained" to have.
Sadly, too, the two books in the series that may be the most initially deviant are also the most disappointing with respect to child agency: Ms. Cliff the Climber and Master Track's Train, both published in 1997. (20) Both books present strongly non-traditional family views: Ms. Cliff, who is neither a Miss or a Mrs., creates a mixed family with stepchildren and half siblings, whereas the adopted Master Track is an only child. (21) Ms. Cliff is not really a story about children, however, but a nostalgic reflection by an adult about life, its "downs and ups," and its "tangles" (9, 20). It begins with an adult Clara Cliff and follows her through her marriage, the birth of her first child, her divorce, her remarriage, and the birth of her second child. It ends with descriptions of her children, now grown up, and with one of them about to meet the person likely to be her spouse--in other words, with the beginning of another adult life cycle. Children are almost entirely forgotten and are remarkably decentred, except in their relationship to adult lives; in many ways, the book seems written more for adults than for children, or perhaps for children to get a glimpse at adult thoughts. Master Track's Train offers more disobedience as well as more agency: Toby Track gets up in the middle of the night when he hears a train being stolen and, without letting anyone know, sneaks onto the train and restores it by capturing the Creep family of crooks single-handedly. This feat on the part of the child is buried within the narration and within concerns of adult authority, however. The book begins with an announcement from "British Rail" (1) about the impending return of the stolen train and ends with the presumably adult announcer trying to begin another entirely different story and wanting the attention of the customers. The announcer, in other words, wants both to control the story and to capture an audience. The book ultimately is not so much about Toby Track's agency and success as it is about the author(ity) telling the story.
This adult co-opting, focus, perspective, and need are on display with another legacy of the Happy Families game, a legacy that underscores how notions of good citizenship are still tied to childhood and how, as Buckingham phrases it, "for those with a wide range of motivations, adult politics are often carried out in the name of childhood" (After 12). It also illustrates Robin Bernstein's useful consideration of the connections between children's literature and other material objects: "Book-toy combinations are powerful as both marketing tools and shapers of culture because they hinge a consumer product to a narrative and thus transform both books and toys into scriptive things" (152). As she explains, "a scriptive thing, like a playscript, broadly structures a performance while allowing for agency and unleashing original, live variations that may not be individually predictable" (12). Moreover, she discerns, "to describe elements of material culture as 'scripting' actions is not to suggest that things possess agency or that people lack it, but instead to propose that agency emerges through constant engagement with the stuff of our lives" (12). Not only has Ahlberg transformed the "Happy Families" game into a book series that presents conflicting ideological concerns and tensions in adult-child relationships and conceptions of agency, if not in citizenship potential, but the game has been parodied for adult political uses repeatedly. A 2008 cartoon uploaded to the Toonpool website illustrates this well. The cartoon features reconstructed "happy families" of "Sad[d]am," "the exterminator," his "wife" "Bin Laden," and their children "Milosevic" and "Gaddafi," along with "Bush" ("the Lollypop man"), his wife "Powell," and their children "Rice" and "Rumsfeld" (GrahamFox). Only a year earlier, the British conservative paper Daily Mail gave the game a similar "makeover" and included lampooning of citizenship possibilities with figures such as "Mr. Smuggit, the New Labour government minister," who has a daughter whose "state school didn't fit her 'special needs,"' and "Miss Lilith," "who daren't tel I her parents"--"Ms Butch" and "Miss Femme"--that "she's straight" (Thomas and Argent). These modern parodies create fictional family groups to promote contemporary political agendas, including Britain's role in world affairs, the at-times xenophobic and homophobic citizen-restricting views present in the Daily Mail version, and the gender-bending but emasculating depictions in the Toonpool version. By recasting politicized notions of citizenship onto familial structures, these parodies demonstrate limited views of citizenship envisioned today, as well as the reliance of those views on children's place in a hierarchical family structure. In this way, inequalities in citizenship and power balances are hidden in plain sight. Despite recognition by many, for instance, that children, like adults, are not simply passive recipients of consumer culture, children and their associations are often presumed to be powerless. As a result, adults sometimes take special glee in appropriating or reappropriating them for their own political uses, of using the supposed powerlessness of childhood as a cover in the name of "protecting" the less or unempowered, and of imbuing their own sort of "power" into something supposedly lacking it otherwise.
Parodies like these that rely on notions of child power and powerlessness can remind us of how far we have yet to go in views and acceptance of what citizenship might mean, especially for children. Portrayals of child agency apparent in series books based on children's playthings throughout the twentieth century remind us not only of connections made frequently between children and their inanimate, supposedly powerless play items, but of how very narrow ideas of child agency and citizenship have become. While the Uptons' texts at the opening of the century imagine a world similarly open to toy/child endeavours, with constructions of citizenship overcoming national boundaries (if not colonial ideas), Blyton's mid-century books insist that toy/child roles must be more local and more community- and consumer-based, whereas the more recent Ahlberg books contain them even further to the social family unit, if not to adult control. Such limitations on child agency and considerations of citizenship reflect the changing roles of Britain and the West on the world stage, including the decline of the British empire, but they also reflect evolving notions of citizenship based on the commercial empire of the later twentieth century and of connections increasingly made between consumerism and family and child identity today.
Although the roots of a focus on family belong to the mid-nineteenth century, the real culprits in the narrowing of child citizenship and agency, as evident in all three series discussed here, seem to belong to the twentieth century. Original card games based on the Dutch Dolls/Golliwogg and Noddy books indicate this further. While the Dutch Dolls/Golliwogg round game consists of collecting sets of character cards, much like the Happy Families game, its portrayals are not of "families" but of actual scenes from the books and frequently of the dolls and Golliwogg engaging in action. The Noddy books, by contrast, were developed into a fascinating version of Happy Families that insists on creating nuclear families and introduces characters rather than actions. The result includes notable inventions and omissions: Mr. Plod gains an entire family not mentioned in the original Sampson Low series, Master Tubby Bear acquires a sister in the same way, a complete wooden doll family unrelated to Noddy surfaces, and although Noddy offers a moralistic introductory preface to the game and appears in the background of a few of the cards, neither he nor Big-Ears appears on a card of his own because neither has a family. The Noddy card game of mid-twentieth-century Britain is not allowed to suggest alternate family possibilities, it would seem, though the books themselves almost hint at them. Ahlberg's series tries to break away from a reliance on nuclear families but keeps families front and centre. Taken together, all three series seem to imply that the world may be changing, but any agency or citizenship potential those changes afford children can still remain under the watchful gaze of adult authority. Yet if we recognize that, in a world where distinctions between quality and quantity are perpetually muddy, where power and citizenship can be reconfigured as consumerism and as commercial sway, where moments of agency can be carved out of bouts of disobedience, and where scriptive things like books and playthings connected together reveal the performative basis of identity markers such as citizenship, we must also realize that adult authority is itself scripted, performed, and limited, able to maintain control only, as with the trajectories of these series, within smaller and smaller realms.
Ahlberg, Allan. Master Bun the Bakers' Boy. Illus. Fritz Wegner. London: Puffin, 1988. Print.
--. Master Money the Millionaire. Illus. Andre Amstutz. London: Puffin, 1981. Print.
--. Master Salt the Sailors' Son. Illus. Andre Amstutz. London: Puffin, 1980. Print.
--. Master Track's Train. Illus. Andre Amstutz. London: Puffin, 1997. Print.
--. Miss Brick the Builders' Baby. Illus. Colin McNaughton. London: Puffin, 1981. Print.
--. Miss Dirt the Dustman's Daughter. Illus. Tony Ross. London: Puffin, 1996. Print.
--. Miss Dose the Doctors' Daughter. Illus. Faith Jaques. London: Puffin, 1988. Print.
--. Miss Jump the Jockey. Illus. Andre Amstutz. London: Puffin, 1980. Print.
--. Mrs. Jolly's Joke Shop. Illus. Colin McNaughton. London: Puffin, 1988. Print.
--. Mrs. Lather's Laundry. Illus. Andre Amstutz. London: Puffin, 1981. Print.
--. Mrs. Plug the Plumber. Illus. Joe Wright. London: Puffin, 1980. Print.
--. Mrs. Vole the Vet. Illus. Emma Chichester Clark. London: Puffin, 1996. Print.
--. Mrs. Wobble the Waitress. Illus. Janet Ahlberg. London: Puffin, 1980. Print.
--. Ms. Cliff the Climber. Illus. Fritz Wegner. London: Puffin, 1997. Print.
Alderson, Brian. "A View from the Island: Time to Go Home Now, Little Noddy." Horn Book Magazine Jan.-Feb. 1998: 57-62. Print.
Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Kids Rule! Nickelodeon and Consumer Citizenship. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. Print.
Bernstein, Robin. Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights. New York: New York UP, 2011. Print.
Blyton, Enid. Do Look Out, Noddy! London: Low, 1957. Print.
--. Here Comes Noddy Again. London: Low, 1951. Print.
--. Hurrah for Little Noddy. London: Low, 1950. Print.
--. Noddy and the Bumpy Dog. London: Low, 1957. Print.
--. Noddy and the Bunkey. London: Low, 1959. Print.
--. Noddy Coes to School. London: Low, 1952. Print.
--. Noddy Coes to Sea. London: Low, 1959. Print.
--. Noddy Coes to Toyland. London: Low, 1949. Print.
--. Noddy and the Magic Rubber. London: Low, 1 954. Print.
--. Noddy and the Tootles. London: Low, 1962. Print.
--. Noddy Meets Father Christmas. London: Low, 1955. Print.
--. Well Done Noddy! London: Low, 1 952. Print.
--. You Funny Little Noddy. London: Low, 1955. Print.
Buckingham, David. After the Death of Childhood: Crowing Up in the Age of Electronic Media. Cambridge: Polity, 2000. Print.
--. The Material Child: Crowing Up in Consumer Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 2011. Print.
Buckingham, David, and Verbjorg Tingstad. Introduction. Childhood and Consumer Culture. Ed. David Buckingham and Verbjorg Tingstad. Hounclsmills: Palgrave, 2010. 1-14. Print.
Cross, Gary. Kids' Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997. Print.
Davis, Norma S. A Lark Ascends: Florence Kate Upton, Artist and Illustrator. Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1992. Print.
Druce, Robert. This Day Our Daily Fictions: An Enquiry into the Multimillion Bestseller Status of Enid Blyton and Ian Fleming. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1992. Print.
GrahamFox. "Political Happy Families." Toonpool. N.p., 15 Aug 2008. Web. 13 June 2013.
Hade, Daniel. "Storyselling: Are Publishers Changing the Way Children Read?" Horn Book Magazine Sept.-Oct. 2002: 509-17. Print.
Hade, Daniel, Lissa Paul, and John Mason. "Are Children's Book Publishers Changing the Way Children Read? A Panel Discussion." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 28.3 (2003): 137-43. Print.
Honeyman, Susan. Consuming Agency in Fairy Tales, Childlore, and Folkliterature. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Jenkins, Henry. "Introduction: Childhood Innocence and Other Modern Myths." The Children's Culture Reader. Ed. Henry Jenkins. New York: New York UP, 1998. 1-37. Print.
Jones, Nicolette. "Allan Ahlberg: 'The Fun Thing Is Still Making the Book.'" The Telegraph 31 May 2008. Web. 17 June 2013.
Kincaid, James. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.
Kline, Stephen. Out of the Carden: Toys, TV, and Children's Culture in the Age of Marketing. London: Verso, 1993. Print.
Kuznets, Lois Rostow. When Toys Come Alive: Narratives of Animation, Metamorphosis, and Development. New Haven: Yale UP, 1994. Print.
Olson, Marilynn. "Turn of the-Century Grotesque: The Uptons' Golliwogg and Dolls in Context." Children's Literature 28 (2000): 73-94. Print.
Rudd, David. Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children's Literature. New York: St. Martin's, 2000. Print.
--. "From Froebel Teacher to English Disney: The Phenomenal Success of Enid Blyton." Popular Children's Literature in Britain. Ed. Julia Briggs, Dennis Butts, and M. O. Grenby. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. 251-69. Print.
Seiter, Ellen. Sold Separately: Parents and Children in Consumer Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1995. Print.
Thomas, David, and Philip Argent. "Happy Families Gets a Makeover for 2007." Daily Mail 16 July 2007. Web. 17 June 2013.
Upton, Florence, and Bertha Upton. The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls--and a "Golliwogg." London: Longmans, 1895. Print.
--. The Golliwogg at the Sea-Side. London: Longmans, 1898. Print.
--. The Golliwogg in Holland. London: Longmans, 1904. Print.
--. Golliwogg in the African Jungle. London: Longmans, 1909. Print.
--. The Golliwogg in War! London: Longmans, 1899. Print.
--. The Golliwogg's Air-Ship. London: Longmans, 1902. Print.
--. The Golliwogg's "Auto-Go-Cart." London: Longmans, 1901. Print. --. The Golliwogg's Bicycle Club. London: Longmans, 1896. Print.
--. The Golliwogg's Circus. London: Longmans, 1903. Print.
--. The Golliwogg's Desert Island. London: Longmans, 1906. Print.
--. The Golliwogg's Fox-Hunt. London: Longmans, 1905. Print.
--. The Golliwogg's Polar Adventures. London: Longmans, 1900. Print. Weikle-Mills, Courtney. Imaginary Citizens: Child Readers and the Limits of American Independence, 1640-1868. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2013. Print.
My thanks to the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in London for allowing me to examine its collections of children's games, including various versions of "Happy Families," and to the Cosmos Club Foundation for a generous grant that enabled me to conduct research at the Museum. My thanks in particular to Catherine Howell, Collections Manager at the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood, and to Jacob Bruni for help in locating resources for this essay.
(1) Reactions against this apparent "anti-adultism" form much of the critical discussion of childhood and consumerism offered by Gary Cross and Stephen Kline.
(2) Rights discourses relate to notions of consent, the idea of the social contract, and citizenship conveyed by birth, while protectionism includes both responsibilities of the state and of adults to children. Consumerism is portrayed as both empowering and victimizing.
(3) I am indebted to child citizenship scholars such as Sarah Banet-Weiser for the use of this term.
(4) The Uptons' failure to patent the character enabled others to capitalize on it (generally under the name "golliwog"), and so the figure served as the image of Robertson's jam until 2002, while golliwog dolls are still sold today. As Olson reminds us, the books "are perceived as icons of racism" (73), and it is certainly difficult to redeem them from such a charge. Florence Upton's biographer Norma S. Davis notes the Golliwog(g)'s origin in the USA "associates him undeniably with the minstrel shows so popular earlier in the nineteenth century" (9). Florence's own descriptions of her childhood treatment of the doll link it to the racist game of "Aunt Sally," which involved throwing cudgels at the representation of a female black figure (for an analysis of additional games that involved harming black dolls, see Bernstein). The portrayals in the books of other black figures as varied iterations of "Sambo" or as supposedly savage natives also demonstrate racism, and those who try to defend the Golliwog(g) figure from charges of racism today do so at a cost of ignoring the lived experience of twentieth-century and twenty-first century Britons, given that the term "golliwog(g)" has been and still is used as a slur.
(5) Following in such a tradition, the texts suggest that those from non-Anglo-Saxon cultures should not be either feared or despised at the same time that they offer stereotypes and caricatures of "natives" and "foreigners."
(6) Given the daunting quantity of Blyton's oeuvre, my study here will confine itself to the original twenty-four Noddy books published by Sampson Low.
(7) Despite decades of controversy regarding the racism, sexism, classism, and colonial attitudes that surface in them, Blyton's texts are still read. This is in part because later publishers were willing to make judicious changes to these texts, replacing all golliwog references lifted from the Uptons with goblins (when bad), a character named Mr. Sparks (when good), and a figure named Martha Monkey (when troublesome). This does not, of course, eliminate other problematic references from the texts, as, for example, the term "noddy" has come to signify a simpleton, and "plod" is a slang term for a police officer; monkeys, too, carry racist overtones.
(8) Sadly, an embarrassment over bodies and body parts is commonplace in the books, which register significant discomfort with tails (which the books frequently detach from their owners) and nudity while delighting in vigorous head nodding and threats of spanking. Jokes about phallic symbols and undercurrents of (repressed?) sexuality in the series are overplayed, I think, but not necessarily amiss.
(9) Druce's "infant" comment could apply to the emotional instability of all the characters: tears, temper tantrums, and general cantankerousness are characteristic not only of Noddy but of "adult" authority figures like Big-Ears and Mr. Plod. This, I suspect, is another aspect of the appeal of the series for child readers, who may take pleasure in adult-identified characters behaving like children.
(10) In this way, Noddy seems to bear witness to Honeyman's caution that "foods are constantly held up as lures to children and bartered for agency" and that "consumerism reduces youth agency within the family and the larger social community" (5, 7).
(11) This, of course, parallels citizenship as well, for as Banet-Weiser emphasizes, "despite the lingering salience of rights discourse, the inequities in the social and cultural world (often determined and enacted based on personal identity categories, such as class, race, national origin, gender, and in this case, age) mean that 'officially' possessing political rights does not always correspond with citizenship" (29).
(12) This is particularly true of children whose monetary means tend to be supplied by parents or other adults.
(13) The cards are also remarkable for portraying lower-class, working-class, and underclass families as legitimate family units, a depiction rendered more radical when we remember the expectations of middle-class visits to the homes of the poorer classes. This is not to imply that family depictions in the original game are always laudable: the game certainly puts forth caricatures of working-class parents as occasionally inept, portrays a Brewer family suffering mightily from association with drink, and offers a mocking caricature of a family of sweeps, connecting race with class so that the family covered with soot strongly resembles blackface minstrel characters. It also includes critiques of gender and occupation that are linked to critiques of class. Mrs. Chip, the carpenter's wife, has a surprisingly strong, masculine chin, while the Dyer father and daughter bear a strong resemblance to one another. Association with trades, it seems, results in the defeminizing of women.
(14) These cards surely offer a class critique with the butcher and make use of a stock Dickens character by modelling the beadle figure on the famous child-beating "Mr. Bumble" in Oliver Twist.
(15) Unlike the Uptons' and Blyton's series, Ah I berg's books are not particularly formulaic; they reflect the family and occupation linkages inherent in the original game but are otherwise as open as the multitude of cards users could hold.
(16) This is equally evident through the rise of what are sometimes dubbed program-length commercials like He-Man and My Little Pony in the USA and television programs like Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends in the UK.
(17) This "return" is a striking, if not disturbing, reminder of conceptions from earlier centuries of subjecthood (upon which definitions of citizenship were initially based) as being akin to a family structure, with a monarch, for example, as father or head of the family.
(18) Non-Anglo-Saxon ethnicities, it should be observed, are not always portrayed unproblematically: in Mrs. Jolly's Joke Shop, for instance, the illustrations seem to rely on Asian caricatures.
(19) Unlike in the original cards, women hold both traditional and non-traditional occupations prominently throughout the book series. These occupations include plumber, doctor, jockey, launderer, waitress, and builder.
(20) Both books reflect Ahlberg's own life to some extent: he was adopted, experienced the loss of his wife (although not through divorce), and remarried.
(21) Master Track's adoption, after being discovered in a train station handbag, seems to be a wry allusion to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.
Michelle Beissel Heath is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Kearney, where she specializes in children's literature and in nineteenth-century British literature. She has articles on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century children's play and literary texts that appear or are forthcoming in Childhood in Edwardian Fiction: Worlds Enough and Time (Palgrave, 2008), The Oscholars (2009), Critical Survey (2012), Oceania and the Victorian Imagination (Ashgate, 2013), Kidding Around: The Child in Film and Media (Bloomsbury, 2014), and Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth.
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|Title Annotation:||Florence Upton and Bertha Upton's Dutch Doll and Golliwogg books, Enid Blyton's Noddy books and Allan Ahlberg's Happy Families series|
|Author:||Heath, Michelle Beissel|
|Publication:||Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
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