Volume 2, Number 4

Editor's Note

Welcome to the American Journal of Play special issue on children's literature and play, another in our series of theme issues that will appear from time to time. Each focuses on an important topic in the fast-developing study of play. Each is guest edited by a distinguished expert on the topic. And each includes work by the leading researchers and thinkers on the topic. Guest-editor Mark I. West—president of the Children's Literature Association—has assembled this issue, which begins with an interview of John Morgenstern, author of Playing with Books: A Study of the Reader as Child. Anne K. Phillips discusses the implications of play in Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women. Jan Susina reviews Lewis Carroll's use of games and other forms of heady play in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Our guest editor explores the lingering impact of imaginative play in Mark Twain's novels and Walt Disney's theme parks, especially when it involves pirates. Elizabeth Gargano uses Eleanor Estes's novel The Witch Family to consider the nature of fantasy play. And Christiane Bongartz and Esther Gilman Richey employ theories of generative grammar to help explain the extensive play in Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Together these make a case for reading (and by extension, writing) as a form of play, something that is both its own reward and a necessity for a healthy childhood.



John Morgenstern has taught literature and literacy at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for more than thirty years. He traces his interest in children's literature and play to his boyhood experiences: he read four novels a week—the maximum he could take from the bookmobile that served his Toronto suburb—and incorporated the stories into his play in the nearby Scarborough Bluffs. As an adult, he approaches children's literature with a more academic bent but remembers his boyhood responses to children's novels well. They inform his thinking in his Playing with Books: A Study of the Reader as Child, published in 2009. Noteworthy for its consideration of reading as play, the book is a short but sweeping volume in which Morgenstern explores the history of children's literature, literacy and the modern conception of childhood, the role of play in the psychological development of children, and narrative techniques in children's novels. In this interview, he discusses how children's novels serve as an entry point for play.


by Christiane Bongartz and Esther Gilman Richey


The authors use Noam Chomsky's theories about generative grammar to discuss the notion of linguistic creativity they believe lies at the core of storytelling as Salman Rushdie pictures it in his novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The production of meaning through the use of narrative helps explain the rules of the literary game, presented in part as a fantasy chess match, for the young readers at whom the work is aimed.

by Mark I. West


Like many a modern play theorist, both Mark Twain and Walt Disney were enchanted by the way children act out stories, in particular pirate tales. For both Twain and Disney, this fascination grew out of their small-town, midwestern boyhoods, where avid reading and fantasy play helped stave off boredom and fill emotional gaps for both of them. Even while remaining true to their literary convictions, both men understood how children incorporated and changed printed stories to fit their imaginations, and both wove this insight into their adult creations—Twain into his novels and Disney into his theme parks and theatrical productions. Indeed, the pirates that haunted The Adventures of Tom Sawyer became the focus of Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland and Disney World.

by Jan Susina


Mathematician Charles Dodgson's love of play and his need for rules came together in his use of popular games as part of the structure of the two famous children's books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, he wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The author of this article looks at the interplay between the playing of such games as croquet and cards and the characters and events of the novels and argues that, when reading Carroll (who took a playful approach even in his academic texts), it is helpful to understand games and game play.

by Anne K. Phillips


Nineteenth-century literature offers insights into the history and sociology of play in American life. Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women contains especially rich period depictions of childhood games and amusements and provides some of the earliest scenes of American girls at play. The author discusses the various depictions of play in the novel, places these in the context of Alcott's life and work, and contrasts them to other works of the period. She contends that Little Women, detailing and celebrating play from start to finish, demonstrates how play was both valued for itself and served a socializing function. She also presents scenes from Little Women to illustrate specific aspects of nineteenth-century American play—its use of furniture and the place of dolls, for example. In short, the author treats Little Women as a privileged example to discuss play more generally, and she uses the study of play to look more carefully at the novel itself.

by Elizabeth Gargano


The author contends that reading some narratives of make-believe can become for many children the ultimate form of fantasy play, providing them with a sense of control absent in their real world. She employs terms from French structuralist critic Gérard Genette, from Austrian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, and from English pediatrician D. W. Winnicott, to discuss Eleanor Estes's classic 1960s children's novel The Witch Family. The author shows how the embedded stories of the work engage its young readers in narrative games and offers them a complex picture of children at play, one they recognize and enjoy. She contends that young readers come not only to relish the structurally transgressive manipulations of the story but that, because they do so, they are better able to face the world at large. As children learn to handle the monsters and witches of Estes's narrative fantasy, they learn to cope with the doubts and worries of childhood itself, and this proves key to the book's longevity and continued popularity.

Book Reviews

by Emily Dane

This detail-rich exploration into the organization and gendered trends of youthsport coaching in Southern California provides a timely discussion of issues critical to many communities. It's All for the Kids is not an exposé of problem parents or the benefits of sport participation. However, if you are a parent, coach, or advocate of youth sports, this book provides insights into the involvement patterns of coaches for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) and Little League Baseball/Softball (LLB/S). As a parent involved in South Pasadena youth sports, author Michael A. Messner combines personal observations with participant interviews, then adds elements of sociological and gender theory to provide an insider's perspective on how parents and coaches view their own and others' behavior.

by Christine J. Ferguson

In The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley, Patricia M. Cooper presents a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the work of Vivian Paley, play advocate, earlychildhood educator, and author. Through reflective practice, stories, and dialogue, Cooper captures the very essence of Paley's pedagogical approach. This approach centers on two overlapping principles: pedagogy of meaning, which is mainly curricular; and pedagogy of fairness, which is primarily relational. Cooper identifies the relevant developmental research supporting Paley's pedagogical ideals as well as their significant theoretical foundations. Paley's contributions to early-childhood education are highly regarded by many professionals—educational philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, play therapists, and teacher educators, among others. However, Cooper argues Paley's philosophy of education and pedagogical methods are "underutilized in schools" and in the teacher-education community.

by Elisabeth R. Hayes

The concept of "participatory culture" has become increasingly associated with new forms of play made possible by digital media and the Internet. In our so-called participatory cultures, players do not simply play with toys and games designed by corporations, but become co-designers, modifying play practices as well as the objects themselves and sharing them with other players. Participatory culture has been lauded for its presumed shift of players from consumers to producers, the democratization of cultural production, and the increasing freedom from the dominance of corporations and industry in shaping and commodifying play. But a growing number of critics argue that such participation is not as open or liberatory as it seems. The Place of Play is a welcome attempt to tread a middle ground between hyperbolic praise and exaggerated censure. The book takes a careful look at the advantages and disadvantages of participatory cultures, locating the changing world of toys, games, and play in the (Western) social and cultural processes of commodification, domestication, and urbanization from the 1850s to the present.

by Peter K. Smith

This book is written by two lecturers in playwork from the United Kingdom who have both academic and practitioner experience. These authors have reviewed "the research and literature on children's play, with a focus on evidence-based research that can inform policy" (p. 11). The book has a number of positive features.

by Erna Imperatore Blanche

Luciano L'Abate, a world-renowned expert on family therapy, has produced a comprehensive review of the literature on play, ranging from an examination of play across dozens of cultures to an analysis of the implications of technology on leisure time. The inclusion of the topic of adult play solidifies its must-read status for scholars interested in understanding diverse expressions and functions of play.

by Linda E. Homeyer

In Play Therapy for Preschool Children, Charles Schaefer again brings together a collection of mental-health practitioners with expertise in areas of play therapy. A long-time advocate for play therapy, Schaefer specifically addresses working with this young population. When it comes to mental-health issues, early intervention is vital. Studies that Schaefer cites indicate that 50 percent of preschool children with serious internalizing and externalizing problems will take these issues with them into elementary school and beyond. This volume addresses many of these critical mental-health problems.

by Warren Buckleitner

If you’re looking for a thrilling tale of corporate espionage and rags-to-riches (and rags-to-rags) careers, you need look no further than the business of making children’s software over the past two decades. In Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software, cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito opens the door for a closer look at children and technology during this time period. Limited in scope for reasons described below, the book breaks new ground in the way it attempts to interpret what happened during this period of optimism and frustration, when publishers were competing to produce and market 979 commercial products per year during the peak year
(2001) and trying to market them in retail settings.

by Gary Cross

The behind-the-scenes stories of toy makers have repeatedly inspired journalists and even those in the toy industry themselves to write highly accessible books for the general public. Jerry Oppenheimer's Toy Monster plants itself firmly in this tradition. Oppenheimer is the successful biographer of Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, the Clintons, and the Kennedys. A mark of his standing in today's market for tell-all biography comes in the backof- book endorsement from Kitty Kelley, famous—some would say infamous— writer of unauthorized biographies of the Bush family, British royalty, and media celebrities.

by Roy Kozlovsky

Children's play, so goes the story told by historians, is a universal phenomenon, a force of nature considered by adults as too trivial to describe or disturb, a fact which secured its autonomy and transmission from one generation to the next. Aside from a few classical references (Plato and his Renaissance followers), play was first "discovered" by the Enlightenment and made into a fundamental philosophical entity supporting the modern ideal of the self as spontaneous and free. Since play does not require the use of compulsion, it was refined by social reformers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a successful social, educational, and therapeutic practice. The golden age of public play ushered in by these developments, as Joe L. Frost argues convincingly in his timely and alarming A History of Children's Play and Play Environments, has come to an end. "Even under the most terrible conditions children played their traditional games in their traditional ways—until now," writes Frost. "Now, for the first time in history, the children of entire industrialized nations, especially American children, are losing their natural outdoor grounds for play and forgetting how to engage in free, spontaneous outdoor play. The consequences are profound" (pp. 269–­70).

by Jeffrey Trawick-Smith

From Children to Red Hatters: Diverse Images and Issues of Play, edited by David Kuschner, shows that play scholars are as inventive and wide ranging in their ideas as are children and adults at play. What topic other than play could inspire such disparate areas of study as the interactions between a monkey named E.T. and some young sheep, the origins of play among atomic particles, or the dress-up play of elderly women? The diversity in this book makes a fascinating read but poses a challenge to a reviewer. The book defies synthesis. Like play itself, variability is the defining feature of this volume.

Christiane Bongartz is Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English at the University of Cologne in Germany. She has taught at several American universities and lectured internationally on research related to language learning in bilingual settings. Her publications include Noun Combination in Interlanguage, Languages across Curriculum (cowritten and forthcoming), and numerous articles in anthologies and in journals such as the International Journal of English Studies, Modern Language Journal, and Southern Journal of Linguistics. She has also served on the boards of several scholarly organizations, including the European Second Language Association and Europaische Rechtslinguistik. Esther Gilman Richey is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. She specializes in Renaissance literature and culture and is the author of The Politics of Revelation in the English Renaissance. Her many articles have appeared in English Literary Renaissance, Studies in English Literature, Southern Journal of Linguistics, and Journal of English and Germanic Philology.

Elizabeth Gargano is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, where her primary interests are Victorian literature and culture, children's literature, the novel, and women's literature and feminist theory. She is the author of Reading Victorian Schoolrooms: Childhood and Education in Nineteenth-Century Fiction and articles in Women's Studies, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Children's Literature, Studies in English Literature, and other journals. She received the Sara Henderson Hay Prize for Poetry and the Willow Review Annual Prize for Fiction and has presented papers at professional conferences on topics as diverse as video-game images of Iraq and linear and errant trains of thought in Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend.

Anne K. Phillips is Associate Professor of English and Assistant Head of the English Department at Kansas State University. Her research and teaching interests include American children's and adolescent literature. She is the author of numerous articles and essays and the coeditor of Children's Literature: Volume 21 in the Children's Literature Series and The Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia. Currently, she is coediting the Norton Critical Edition of Alcott's Little Women. Her professional activities include having served as president of the Children's Literature Association and chair of the Modern Language Association Division of Children's Literature.

Jan Susina is Professor of English at Illinois State University where he specializes in adolescent and children's literature and culture, as well as in Victorian literature and culture. He is the author of The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children's Literature and has written chapters in a number of books, including Critical Approaches to Food in Children's Literature, The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Myazaki, and Second Thoughts: A Focus on Rereading. In addition, his essays have appeared in Marvels and Tales, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, The Lion and the Unicorn, Jabberwocky, and other journals.

Mark I. West is Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He has written nearly a dozen books, including Trust Your Children: Voices Against Censorship in Children's Literature; Psychoanalytic Responses to Children's Literature; Children, Culture, and Controversy; and Before Oz: Juvenile Fantasy Stories from Nineteenth- Century America. His articles have appeared in, among others, The Dragon Lode, South Carolina Review, The Lion and the Unicorn, and Journal of Children's Literature. He is former president of the Children's Literature Association and currently book review editor of its Children's Literature Association Quarterly.