A group of children live in relative poverty, often going hungry. One day they are kidnapped while overcome with sleep after eating more than they are used to. They escape by a stroke of luck, even giving their kidnapper a taste of revenge. They return to home without changing their fortune.
The day dawns on a child’s birthday. The entire well-fed, happy community pulls together a lavish birthday party for said child, who has already received several gifts. The day ends quite happily for everyone.
The above are synopses of The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter and Spring Story of the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem, respectively. One often overlooked element of children’s literature is the influence of economics. These two books offer a stark comparison of this element.
In Potter’s book, the children are referred to collectively, and lack a good bit of agency. They don’t save the day. They don’t destroy the evil kidnapper, Mr. McGregor. They are rescued because a kind mouse is curious and nibbles a hole through their bonds. The parents of the Flopsy Bunnies fill the sack with marrows and watch marital strife ensue between the McGregor-which results in one of them getting hit by a marrow chucked out the window.”It was rather hurt.” Yes, it. No he or she here. Children in Potter’s time were not viewed with the same individuality they are today.
Barklem’s Wilfred also has little agency, but for different reasons. I’m not saying he’s a spoiled brat, but he’s the perfect illustration of the childhood ideal in the late 20th century: let’s all pull together because it’s our job as adults to make sure our kids have the best childhood possible. Brambly Hedge is a thriving, agricultural community who, at worst, faces “very hot” and “very,very cold” temperatures. Drought is not a problem. Neither are starvation or natural disasters. The world of Brambly Hedge is a romantic, well-oiled machine in which everyone puts their hard work in and predictably gets their rewards out the other side. (Interestingly enough, in Flopsy Bunnies, it is the mouse who is rewarded with “enough rabbit wool to make herself a cloak and a hood” at the story’s end.)
Both these stories are fascinating in their own unique ways. They illustrate just how much cultural norms and expectations make their way into children’s writing, and particularly how much economics plays a role in creating fictional worlds.
click this source for a picture of The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies. (incidentally an excellent site for free online books!)