ARTICLES HCA and contemporary children's literature

Hans Christian Andersen published his first Fairytales told for Children in 1835. But he was not the only author who wrote for children, nor was he the first, neither in Denmark nor in other countries.

By Professor Torben Weinreich - Center for Children's Literature

When Hans Christian Andersen wrote his fairytales for children between 1835 and 1872, he was by no means the only one who wrote for children, neither in Denmark nor in other countries.

Some of the best ever literature for children was written in this period, and everywhere the literature for children was assuming the shape that we today associate with children's literature. The genre was being treated innovatively and in an original manner in countries as different as Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Russia, the US and Japan, just to name a few.

When working with Hans Christian Andersen in school, you might find it inspirational to work with contemporary literature for children from your own country.

You will undoubtedly find both similarities and differences, and it might become easier to point out the peculiarity of Hans Christian Andersen.

This article will list outstanding children's literature from several countries from the 1840's, 1850's, 1860's and 1870's, together with the fairytales that Hans Christian Andersen wrote in that period. Finally, the article will present the concept of "contemporaneousness" as a pedagogical method.

Even before Hans Christian Andersen gets his first fairytale published, he has been exposed to important works like the Brothers Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen from 1812-15 and E.T.A. Hoffmann's Nussknacker und Mausekönig from 1816.

In the 1820's James Fennimore Cooper publishes his famous Indian novels in the States, e.g. Last of the Mohicans in 1826. And when discussing "contemporaneousness", we must not forget that the famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was contemporary with Andersen, as he lived from 1813-1855.
The 1840's:
From this period stem as famous Andersen tales as The Swineherd (1842), The Snow Queen, The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep and The Bell (all 1845), The Shadow (1847) and The Little Match Girl and The Story of a Mother (both 1848).

In Germany, Heinrich Hoffman's Der Struwwelpeter (1845) is published, in England: Captain Marryat's The Settlers in Canada (1844) and Edward Lear's The Book of Nonsense (1846), and in Norway: Asbjørnsen and Moes' folk tales (1841-44).

The 1850's:
Hans Christian Andersen writes, among other things,
It's Quite True (1852), She Was Good for Nothing and Thousand Years from Now (both 1853) and Clumsy Hans (1855).

 In the United States, Harriet Beecher Stowe writes Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), which becomes very influential for the discussion of the emancipation of the slaves, and England sees the publication of Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's Schooldays (1857).

The 1860's:
Hans Christian Andersen writes What the Old Man Does is Always Right and The Snowman (1861), The Teapot, The Toad and The Rags (1869).

The same decade sees the publication of Comtesse de Ségur's Les Malheures de Sophie (1864) in France, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) in England, Wilhelm Busch's Max und Moritz in Germany (later translated into the American comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids) and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868) in the States.

The 1870's:
Among Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales from this decade are Chicken Grethe's Family (1870), The Gate Key and Aunty Toothache (both 1872).

At the same time we have Jules Verne in France writing one novel after another, mostly for adults. But they end up everywhere in the world, often in adapted versions that turn them into children's literature. As a curiosity we might mention that the writer Edgar Rice Burroughs is born in 1875, the year of Hans Christian Andersen's death. Burroughs went on to write the Tarzan books.

Add to this that in Italy in 1837 a special encyclopaedia written entirely for children is published: A.L. Parravicini's Gianetto, and people like Dazzi and Thouar are writing books for children. In Spain, a number of children's magazines are published that go on to become extremely popular, e.g. Los Niños.

In Russia, which goes on to publish approximately 1,000 children's books a year before the 19th century becomes the 20th, Boris Feodrorov dies in the same year as Andersen, after having written, edited and translated large numbers of books for children.

And in Japan, Fukuzawa Yukichi publishes Gakumon no susume in 1872-76, that is, "Encouragement to Learn", a book addressed to children.

When you work with literature of an earlier date in school, the students will usually first learn something about the age in which that literature was written ? the 19th century, in Hans Christian Andersen's case.

And there is usually a good reason for that. The purpose of this article is to encourage teachers not only to communicate common historical knowledge but also to include the literature of the period, especially the children's literature.

But there are many ways to go about this. The most common one is the one described in the above, where the students are introduced to the historical period a week or a couple of days before they begin to work with the literature. But the teacher might also encourage the students to go and seek knowledge by themselves.

If you for instance read The Princess on the Pea from Andersen's first collection of fairytales (1835), you might ask the students to gather all kinds of information about what happened and how the world looked in 1835.

They might use encyclopaedias and other works of reference, but today certainly also the Internet, if they have Internet access. In that way, all the students will contribute with elements of knowledge about the period.

Thus, the knowledge gained by the students becomes more unpredictable and less fixed (as opposed to the knowledge they would gain from merely listening to the teacher or reading a textbook).

The knowledge becomes a patchwork put together by the students themselves. This will probably inspire them more, and give them a greater insight because they have played an active part in making the past come alive.