Reviews 2016

Rozpoczęta opowieść: Polska literatura dziecięca po 1989 roku wobec kultury współczesnej [A Tale Begun: Polish Children’s Literature after 1989 with Regard to Contemporary Culture]

Rozpoczęta opowieść: Polska literatura dziecięca po 1989 roku wobec kultury współczesnej [A Tale Begun: Polish Children’s Literature after 1989 with Regard to Contemporary Culture]. Krystyna Zabawa. Kraków: Akademia Ignatianum, 2013. 332 pages. 26 PLN (paperback).

Rozpoczęta opowieść: Polska literatura dziecięca po 1989 roku wobec kultury współczesnej [A Tale Begun: Polish Children’s Literature after 1989 with Regard to Contemporary Culture] is Krystyna Zabawa’s first monograph in the field of preschool children’s literature and literary education. Its main goal, as defined by the author, is a historical and literary description of the two decades (1989-2009) of Polish children’s literature. Zabawa attempts to present and analyse the phenomena which occurred in this regard against the background of the dynamically changing modern culture, with special attention given to general Polish literature. It is worth noting that this period is considered to be very crucial: the year 1989, with its Autumn of the Nations, opened a new era in Polish history, economy and culture. These changes obviously had also a major impact on children literature. In her research, Zabawa had to take into consideration a large number of the quite recently published diverse children’s literary books. Hence she limits her selection to the literature primarily addressed to the younger children (3-10 years old).

In her analyses, Zabawa relies on what she describes (quoting Jadwiga Szymkowska-Ruszała) as "methodological universalism," a concept which employs all earlier developed methods and ways of general literary research. Zabawa begins with a very basic initial thesis that children’s literature and books are integral part of literature and culture of a particular epoch and therefore they might be affected by all tendencies and trends in the general philosophy, aesthetics, and literary criticism. For the sake of her study, Zabawa analyses both a broad selection of thoroughly chosen scholarly texts (mainly Polish, but also a number of foreign ones) and relevant works of Polish children’s literature (poetry and prose).

The monograph is divided into three parts. The first part ("The contemporary book for young children – an integral work") is quite an innovative (in Polish scholarly literature) attempt at presenting literary books for younger audience as a product of the inseparable cooperation between author, illustrator and editor, i.e. as an "iconotext." Zabawa focuses not only on picturebooks (presenting shortly most important theoretical concepts of Barbara Bader, Maria Nikolajeva, and Carole Scott), but also on illustrated books, modern pop-up and novelty books as well as sound/audio books. Zabawa successfully defines and presents the complex image-text relations which occur in the contemporary children’s books as a result of the influence of visual culture and the development of electronic media. The author devotes special attention to so called "author’s books," editions created by just one person who provides both illustrations and text (and in some cases also graphic design). The primary sources discussed in this part of study are Polish picturebooks (which started to be published more frequently at the beginning of new century), for example O zebrze, która chciała być w kwiatki [About a Zebra Who Wanted to Have Flower-Patterned Skin, 2004] by Anna Onichimowska and Joanna Sedlaczek) or books of names by the most famous Polish illustrators and creators of "author’s books" (Józef Wilkoń, Paweł Pawlak, Iwona Chmielewska). Zabawa concludes the first part of her study with a chapter dedicated to the concept of crossover literature directed (on some levels) to differentiated audience ("from 3 to 103 – towards all-ages-literature").

The second part of Zabawa’s book deals with Polish poetry published in the years 1989-2009 ("'Pleasant-sounds' ('miłodźwięki') and deeper meaning: Poetry for children with regard to contemporary poetry topics and trends"). The author presents the results of her research in six chapters devoted respectively to the general characteristics of modern children’s poetry, poems on eternal issues, prose poems, linguistic poetry, poets’ self-portrait and self-references. The second part of the book finishes with a chapter presenting an iconotextual analysis of selected poetry editions. Zabawa presents a rather pessimistic diagnosis of modern Polish children’s poetry. It is still (at least to some extent) dominated by the authors of the older (and oldest) generation (e.g. Zofia Beszczyńska, Dorota Gellner, Joanna Papuzińska, Wanda Chotomska). The linguistic poetry of the discussed decades, the essential subgenre of a children’s poetry, fails to offer anything very new in comparison to artistic standards once raised high by the "old masters" from the first half of the 20th century, such as Jan Brzechwa and Julian Tuwim. On the other hand, Zabawa presents the interesting new phenomenon of prose poem picturebooks, which she analyses on the basis of the outstanding and highly acclaimed Zielony i Nikt [The Green and Nobody, 2009] by Małgorzata Strzałkowska and Piotr Fąfrowicz.

The third part of the study is focused one issues raised by the modern prose directed to the younger audience ("Narrator – author – character: Prose for children with regard to contemporary tendencies in literature"). In its first chapter, Zabawa argues that – contrary to poetry – there is clearly visible generational shift in a group of authors writing prose for young readers. Zabawa refers to such young and popular younger as Paweł Beręsewicz, Grzegorz Kasdepke, and Renata Piątkowska as contributing the genre with a "trademark" sparkling sense of humour, the characteristic feature of their novels. The other new trends in Polish children’s prose are new subjects undertaken by authors (war and post-war history) and breaking the taboos (connected with sexuality, death, and illness). Two chapters in this part of Zabawa’s study are written from the perspective of narratology: they discuss different authors’ strategies (the author as a narrator and a child narrator). The last chapter of the monograph is dedicated to gender issues in Polish children’s prose. As the author argues, male perspectives and male "voices" still prevail (e.g. boys are more frequently narrators than girls even though a given book was written by a female author). However, more and more often boy and girl protagonists are set in untraditional gender roles.

In conclusion, it should be stressed that Krystyna Zabawa’s book offers a very rich and accurate introduction to the different aspects of Polish children’s literature of the discussed period. As a such, it is a very useful, and perhaps even indispensable, reading for researchers, students and practitioners (librarians, educators, journalists) interested in this field.

Michał Zając
University of Warsaw, Poland