Death, Violence & the Monstrous in Children’s Literature Focus of Exhibition

Death, violence and the monstrous in children’s literature are explored in a new exhibition at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street, Dublin 2 to mark the end of a two year project by the National Collection of Children’s Books (NCCB) project which has seen the development of a new online catalogue ( detailing over 250,000 children’s books in over 90 languages from five libraries in Dublin. The project is a joint initiative between the School of English at Trinity College Dublin and the Church of Ireland College of Education, and was funded by the Irish Research Council.

The exhibition Come Closer: The Darker Side of Children’s Books, offers a glimpse of some of the sophisticated and complex ways in which writers and illustrators of children’s texts have engaged with controversial subjects. The exhibition features 40 children's books from the 17th century to the modern day which have dealt with controversial issues such as death, fear, sexuality, depression, and violence.

“For hundreds of years, many of the books written for children have dealt with complex and seemingly dark themes, yet the popular myth persists that such themes cannot be found in children’s literature,” explains Dr Pádraic Whyte, Assistant Professor in English at Trinity College Dublin.

“From the cruel and violent misogyny of The Little Mermaid (1837) and the depiction of a child’s emerging sexuality in Alice in Wonderland (1865) through to the engagement with violence and xenophobia in Armin Greder’s picturebook The Island (2007) and the treatment of child death in Siobhán Parkinson’s All Shining in the Spring: The Story of the Baby Who Died (1995), children’s literature has not shied away from dealing with dark and disturbing themes. With this exhibition we ask people to think about what is deemed appropriate or inappropriate to depict for particular age groups, and why? And are there certain realities of childhood experience that children shouldn’t encounter in literature?,” he added.

The catalogue highlights include more than 10,000 items from Trinity’s Pollard Collection of Children’s books (dating from the 17th century to the early 20th century), a substantial collection of Puffin Story Books from the Church of Ireland College of Education Library, and educational texts such as the beloved Ann and Barry series from the 1970s and 1980s.

“The catalogue marks a major step towards a comprehensive detailing of collections of children’s books in Ireland. It provides scholars, both national and international, with the means to search across collections and libraries from one online platform. It is hoped that the NCCB project, as a whole, will help to further establish Dublin, and Ireland, as a world centre for children's literature research,” explains Dr Keith O'Sullivan, head of English at the Church of Ireland College of Education.

Featured libraries in the catalogue are the Library of Trinity College Dublin; the Church of Ireland College of Education Library; Cregan Library, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (DCU); the National Library of Ireland; and Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street. The website also includes a more detailed database analysing 500 texts of particular interest, including books from Ireland or about Ireland, and books explicitly targeting boys or girl readers.

The website and exhibition was launched by Timothy Young, curator of the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children's Literature, Yale University, who gave a public talk entitled Happy Deaths and Urban Dangers: The Darker Side of Children's Literature.

Media Coverage:

Irish Times, Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Interview, Dublin South FM, Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

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Fiona Tyrrell, Media Relations Officer | | +353 1 896 3551