Margaret Zeegers


Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-21 16:00-18:00 Room I

Speaker:Margaret Zeegers (Australia)


Paper for CBBY in Macau, 2006

Title: Investigating Parody and Forgery in Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Exploring the implications of Bakhtin and Chronotopes


Dr Margaret Zeegers

School of Education

University of Ballarat

University Drive, Mt Helen


Australia, 3353

Ph: +61 3 5327 9327

Fax: +61 3 5327 9719

Mobile: 0418 499 212


This paper explores a number of children’s and young adults’ books in relation to artistic representations of the world of young people. It considers such explorations in relation to what may be considered parody and/or forgery in literary representations of young people, based on the work of Bakhtin. Related pedagogical considerations in classrooms in primary and secondary schools are also explored. A number of works is examined as to ways in which parody and forgery figure in the writing, and ways in which these connect with adult concepts in their response to literary works which children and young adult readers engage throughout their years of schooling. The paper presents such conceptualisations in relation to children’s books as affording new ways of approaching reading and writing in classrooms and opening up spaces for literary and pedagogical responses that takes teachers and students beyond traditional and conventional referents. It explores the possibilities of creating spaces for exploring cultural, social, personal and critical identities by young people.

Author Details

Dr Margaret Zeegers, is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Ballarat. She is an experienced English teacher and academic. She has taught English and Language Development in universities and schools in a number of countries, and her research focus is the pedagogies associated with the teaching and learning of English language and English literature, particularly children’s and young adult literature.

Word Count: 3625

The chronotope

Literally ‘time space’ (Bakhtin, [1937-1938] 1981) the chronotope is ‘the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships that are artistically expressed in literature’ (p. 84). In giving us the concept of the chronotope, Bakhtin (1981) gives us the literary artistic chronotope where spatial and temporal indicators are fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole; where ‘time thickens, takes on flesh, becomes artistically visible’ and space ‘becomes charged and responsive to movements of time, plot, and history’ (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 84). Space, depending on the chronotope, may be distant and fantasy-filled in foreign lands and/or extra-terrestrial spheres. It may be filled with concrete, real people and events negotiating lived experience of day-to-day household goods and matters, speaking the language of the everyday or in pronouncements of higher order beings with special powers. The fantasy chronotope, such as we see in Lord of the Rings (Tolkien, 1974), fills its space with that which is distinctly not the everyday.

The time-space nexus is part of generic attributes evident when applied to close scrutinies of epic novels, of romance novels, of historic novels, of parodies, and so on. Particular types of time and space (say in the epic where there is the beginning and end time points, but no matter what goes on between these points, there is little bearing on the character[s] involved, for they do not even age throughout the trials of their epics) have long served as models for children’s books and stories (Zeegers, 2006). As Nikolajeva (1996) suggests, the chronotope allows specific discernment of text types, which as applied to children’s literature shows it as becoming more and more complicated as works in this field develop from relatively simple structures based on epic story models (that provide ample scope for didactic approaches by adults) to complex personal and social interrelationships (that provide enormous scope for young people to explore their world and thereby gain some meaning as to their experience of it) (p. 151).

Thus we may consider the chronotope as the organising centre for the fundamental narrative events of the novel (Johnston, 2001, p. 347), giving us a tool to use in opening up for ourselves and the children with whom we work opportunities for enriched engagement in explorations of text types, of characterisations—of discourses in fact—in ways which may expand horizons of literature and what it means for the reader in terms of enjoyment, appreciation, and pure reading pleasure. Developments in recent years suggest that particular types of time and space connections have seen the emergence of a particular chronotope, that of the children’s literature chronotope.

Children’s Literature Chronotope

While we may not label it as such, the children’s and young adult literature chronotope exhibit features of the works that are not new to us as readers of these works. If we take a reductionist approach, we are able to give it as a formula. We are able to identify a place that belongs to the child/children alone. The place is constructed as such by the authors as a result of accident, design, or unfortunate circumstances. The very title of They Found a Cave (Chauncy, 1948) suggests such a place, and so many of Blyton’s Famous Five, Secret Seven and Adventure books employ this device (Blyton, 1942see for example ; 1960) often through the ubiquitous ‘hols’ periods, where the children go off somewhere without their parents. Harry Potter’s (Rowling, 1997) boarding school in a parallel time and space accessed by crashing through an invisible-to-ordinary-mortals barrier in a normal London train station to take the Hogwort’s Express takes this a step further, but the parallel time and space principle is part of the chronotope. The time of this chronotope is the period of change and development associated with maturation from some stage of childhood to some stage closer to adulthood. The space is that space remaining once adults are removed.

Conditions for Becoming Readers

Yet the role of adults in children’s and young adult literature is not to be discounted. The engagement by children and young adults with literature is premised on children’s and young adults’ literacy skills, that is their knowledge and understanding of language and how it works. The work of Cambourne (1988) has given us a useful set of conditions under which children’s literacy may be developed. Briefly, these eight conditions are immersion, demonstration, expectation, responsibility, use, approximation and response. These are based on concepts of Zones of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978) and the social contexts in which children’s language skills are supported by more knowledgeable Others, support which Bruner (1986) calls scaffolding. Immersion, then, has children surrounded by language in supportive environments, when more knowledgeable Others demonstrate the range of language possibilities as they model engagements with language. That engagement is then extended to children’s own engagement with language, with the unquestioning expectation by more knowledgeable Others that the children will learn what it is that is expected of them as fluent readers and capable writers. To effect this, of course, children are to take on responsibility for their own learning, and supported by their more knowledgeable Others, to use the developing skills. An important aspect of this is the idea of approximation; that children will approximate adult literacy behaviours, and the response that they receive from their more knowledgeable Others will reflect the understandings suggested by the conditions for literacy and language development.

In this paper, I draw on that notion of the approximation of adult behaviours in a consideration of the chronotope, and parody and forgery in children’s and young adult literature. For a parody to work, it must have a sound grasp of that which it is parodying. Thus, if children’s and young adult literature is not to result in a less than adequate parody, that is, a forgery, it must be able to engage those approximations of adult reading behaviours that we, as not just more knowledgeable, but indeed responsible, Others wish to have our young readers to develop.

One could argue that the wish itself is a strong impulse in us as adults, ‘the impulse to teach’ is the way that Johnston (2002, p.143) puts it. It is the irresistible human need to enculturate the next generation as to our own values, beliefs, stances on social, economic, cultural and political issues. Chairman Mao’s exhortation to the children of China: ‘The world belongs to you’ (Farquhar, 1999, p. 3), is a good example of this, as it focusses the world of the children as the rationale for the work of the entire new order established at the time of the Revolution that changed not only the whole of China, but the rest of the world as it had to deal with the enormous changes wrought in that one country. Even as we formulate images of the adults we want our young to become, and even if we do it deliberately and systematically or unconsciously, we take as a reference point the adults that we want young people to become.

Aries (1962) in his consideration of mediaeval attitudes to the child and childhood has opened up to us considerations of different eras and ways in which things change in this regard. His work has not been beyond critique (Goldson, 2001; Stainton-Rogers, 2001), but it has formed the basis of valuable discussion and debate on constructs of the child and childhood. Lassén-Senger (2002), for example, presents us with the proposition of the myth of childhood, one evolved out of Victorian era Romanticism that exaggerated the differences between adult and child to such an extent that unrealistic images of childhood emerged not only in everyday relations between adults and children, but in the fictional young of the fictional texts in which they were represented. Lesnik-Oberstein (1994) has gone so far as to pronounce that the child does not exist. What she means, of course, is that what we see as that little creature in our midst, while it is no doubt a living, breathing human being, is only a child insofar as our society has determined its characteristics, its properties, its configurations, even, as being non-adult.

What we, as more knowledgeable adult Others then have to deal with is the realisation that there are no naturally occurring universal descriptions that apply to all situations and contexts in relation to the child or to childhood in the field of children’s and young adult literature (see for example Bennett, 1979). What we do have is multifaceted and structurally influenced experiences of childhood within heterogeneous societal variations of the type explored by Goldson (2002, p. 53). These are themselves parodies of adult worlds, and the literature offered to children, as the title of Saxby’s (1998) work suggests, is an essential feature of those parodies. In this sense, childhood itself becomes what Johnston (2002) has referred to as being ‘a narrative chronotope’ (p. 136). As responsible and more knowledgeable adult Others that have constructed the narrative chronotopes of childhood, we then have the related concepts of dialogics, parody and forgery to draw upon in our considerations of the literature that we generate for our young people.


A related aspect of the chronotope is that of dialogics. If we think of intertextuality here, we come close to what is meant, for dialogics acknowledges that no text exists of and by itself. The text is dialogic: multiple openings and anticipations of incompleteness, the juxtapositioning of temporalities—all requiring participation by the reader(s) of the text. The notion of time is wound up in the work. The work asks us to unwind these temporalities, adding our own in the process. Dialogics thus anticipates the rhythms of other works, of other readers and readings, other epochs, providing places to add them in. Chronotopes, Bakhtin (1981) suggests, are mutually inclusive in that they may interwoven with each other, replace each other, oppose each other, even contradict each other. The involvement of the real people (not just the characters) in an artistic work—the author(s), the listener(s), the reader(s)—‘may be (and often are) located in different time-spaces, sometimes separated from each other by centuries or great spatial distances…all located in a real, unitary, and as yet incomplete historical world’ one which is not at all the same as the represented world in the text (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 253). This real world cannot be chronotopically the same as that represented world. Yet that real world induces responses to the text as readers and/or listeners, more than passive receivers of any text, engage in more than one-way, multiple processes, allowing the emergence of at least two (the author’s and the reader/listener) meanings. Such meanings are only created against a background of previous texts, and each engagement by each reader is part of a dynamic process of interactivity between the author’s reality, the text’s fictitious reality, and the reader’s reality (Nikolajeva, 1996). What develops is multiple, probably contested meanings, perhaps most evident in literary works in general where the language displays a high index of dialogism (Webster, 1991) and the novel in .particular, which ‘exploits, celebrates, revels’ in its scope for the interplaying of multiplicities of voices (Dentith, 1995). It may be seen as ‘artistic transaction’ (Bleich, 1989) between the people involved, where interpretive strategies are not natural and universal, but learned (Fish, 1989).


Such multiplicity has an edge to it, in the opening up of fields of literary parody, which may be seen as ‘a special form of a more general communicative possibility’ (Morson, 1989), and evident in the carnivalesque works offered to us by Bakhtin (1981) for consideration. In children’s and young adult literature in particular, it opens up fields of parody of adult worlds. The chronotope contains close connections to adult worlds, with only temporary removal from them. Morson (1989) suggests that the question of parody gives rise to other questions, and for our purposes one of these is most pertinent: what function does parody serve for the parodist? (p. 64). Parody is not being used here in terms of ridicule, mockery, or laughter (Hutcheon, 1989). Parody here is being used in the sense that it allows a focus, even a childist one (to take up the term given us by Hollindale, 1997) on the subliminal, unspoken, taken-for-granted aspects of, in this case the adult world. The purpose is to allow a temporary inversion of that world, and to hold up the world of the young as mainstreamed, not marginalised, when they occupy the time and space of the void created by adult absence. Thus they become decision makers, actors, agents, responsible. Pitting or matching their own skills and resources against the odds they encounter, they win, lose, or reach compromises that adults in the inverted target world might envy, such as the little troupes of special children and their associates in the books given us in such delightful works as Funke’s Dragon rider Inkheart, and Inkspell (Funke, 2001, 2003; 2005).

Individual young people may be represented as negotiating their world with all the fine qualities that those books have, and some more. Macleod’s (2006) book delivers the reader clever understated and subtly interwoven humour where we find social workers being aligned with Medea and the destruction of children (p. 17). We have the love talk between the two would-be young lovers, Seth and Miranda, based on their mutual admiration of various well-defined muscles rather than of the conventional representations of adolescent attractions and attractiveness: 'I told Miranda I admired her gastrocnemius muscle. She told me she liked my sternocleidomastoids' ( Macleod, 2006, p. 163) at the end of their telephone conversation. It is the sort of humour that shows a great deal of respect for the intelligence of the readers.

At the same time, we have works that explore aspects of children‘s and young adult worlds that contain within them fear, and loss, and grief, and despair every bit as much (and perhaps even more in the nature of their intensity) as those to be negotiated in adult worlds. One work which does so with great insight and sensitivity is that of Burke (2005) and her depiction of the consequences on the rest of the family members of a boy who kills and cripples friends and family in a drunken car crash. In this book, the modern world fact of young people having to live with the horrendous results of young people’s figuring so largely in road death tolls is a painful subject approached not only with writerly skill but also some courage. The impulse to blame and condemn is always at the edge of Burke’s writing, but the overwhelmingly personal tensions that she deals with in order to try to understand the situation keep didacticism and preaching firmly at bay.


All these works are good examples of Morson’s (1989) point in relation to parody. That is, if parody is to be successful, it must draw upon a certain verisimilitude, or it turns into a forgery. In works that we may consider forgeries, we have some sort of recognition of the representative nature of the literary work. When such works distort this and invest it with adult values that have not yet been developed by young people, or worse still, with adult hypocrisies that are abhorrent to young people, they stop short of the intent of parody. Forgery, just a parody does, foregrounds certain assumed features of a target world and exaggerates them as characteristic of that which is selected, but it does this with an intention to dupe and deceive. To represent the young people and their place in the foregrounded time and space as more or less than they are, or perceived to be, smacks of adult dishonesty. Night birds on Nantucket (Aiken, 1969) serves to illustrate the point. Despite the attractiveness of its title, serves up to the young reader a most improbable story. The English child, Dido Twite, is pulled from the sea onto a whaler, remains asleep for ten months on the deck, and ends up trapped on the island. Dido stumbles upon an improbable plot to fire an enormous gun at the residence of King James III (who never existed) and move the island (as a result of the recoil) closer to the mainland of America, with the unwitting help of a pink whale who remembers and is remembered by her human friend, Captain Casket (here we have dialogics in the overtones of Moby Dick and Captain Ahab). This story is hardly expected to be read as historically accurate: it gives an English king who does not exist, a gun capable of firing to England with deadly accuracy from the United States, and whose recoil can shift an island. Its blatant inaccuracy and untruthfulness sets it firmly among the ranks of forgeries.

Let me take another example, that of a book with another such appealing title: The pastures of the blue crane (Brinsmead, 1982).. The female protagonist who has just finished Year 12 at school goes out on a date with a young man of similar age, dresses up nicely, takes in the detail of the people at the venue so that, ‘The warmth and colour excited her. She had a wonderful time’ (p. 122), and the section of the chapter ends there. There is not even the suggestion of a chaste goodnight kiss. There is no physical contact between these two young people, so concerned is the author to develop the racial conflict theme in this book. I would suggest that this again is a forgery, an instance of passing up the opportunity for parody that the protagonist’s circumstances offer. I read it as an attempt by the author not to muddy the issue with young sexual activity and further complicate it with issues of racist concepts of miscegenation, yet in its denial it is offering its readers no real insights as it retains its thematic focus at the expense of a reality one. Nonetheless, it is the sort of writing that some in the field of children’s literature endorse, even as that which deals with truth and romantic vision (see the cahpter title in McVitty, 1981).

They fail to live up to expectations of engagement with the world and the range of concerns that young readers may rightly look for in works with ones that treat their implied young readers to parody, rather than forgery, based as they are on close approximations to adult reader behaviours, as suggested by Cambourne (1988). Wilkinson’s (2003) Dragon keeper, for example, takes some pains as to the historical fiction aspect of its narrative to ensure veracity of the story, taking care of such details as whether or not the daffodils to which she refers in the story really would have been growing in a Han Dynasty garden, and does not disguise the unpleasant fact of children being sold into slavery by their parents. Wilkinson (2003) includes these details in her book even as it presents as a fantasy. It is a position that is similarly maintained in the sequel, The garden of the purple dragon (Wilkinson, 2005). Other books such as the Chinese Cinderella: The secret story of an unwanted daughter and Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society (Yen Mah, 1999; 2004) work through painful childhood issues that deal with the sorts of things implied by a title of truth and romantic vision with a focus on veracity that accord young readers authorial respect in the form of parody rather than forgery.

The Animorphs series (see for example Applegate, 1996) too have their appeal for young readers, and are certainly popular, but their explanation of the ways in which the children take on the characteristics of the animals they touch is rather stilted, smacking of forgery. Far better, more in the line of parody, are the Lion boy books (Corder, 2004a, 2004b) with their nice, simple explanations of how Cat language got into Charlie to begin with, and even more, the intertextual references to Kiong’s (1963) Stig of the dump to explain the appearance of the Smilodon in the narratives.


I have discussed elsewhere educators’ tradition of engaging in pedagogical dialogue, that sort of teacher-instigated question and answer routine where children try to guess the answer that is sitting inside the teacher’s head as the right one (Zeegers, 2006). Given this question-and-answer tradition, I would argue that teachers taking up concepts of dialogics, parody and forgery in their literature and literacies pedagogies increases scope for meaningful learning. Literacy educators decry the ‘guess what’s in my head to get the answer to the question that I have asked’ approach. Rather than debase the dynamic and vibrant possibilities of adult and child dialogue by revealing that the teacher has had the answers all the time as suggested by Emerson (1989, p. 152), it is possible to exploit the potential of the chronotope to enable young people and their teachers to find that they really have something to say. Through the chronotope and related concepts applied in evaluations of the works of children’s and young adult literature authors, we may engage young people in the dialogic world that is open to us (Emerson, 1989), where meaning is linked to specific positioning with regard to truth for the individual personality of each reader/listener engaging a text. We reject forgeries ourselves as adults when we engage in our own reading. Engagement in reading is not the place for universals, for each personality and point of view has its own valid part in the dialogics. It is a place in which we may most productively fulfil that urge to teach the next generation, and a place where our children may learn to approximate our adult reading behaviours. It is in stark contrast to a monologic world where truth is impersonal and distributed in much the same way as lesson handouts.


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