Reviews 2016

Serialität in Literatur und Medien [Seriality in Literature And Media]

Serialität in Literatur und Medien [Seriality in Literature And Media]. Ed. Petra Anders and Michael Staiger. Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 2016. 356 pages. €29.80 (paperback).

Children's and youth literature and film have been components of language and literature classes from primary school up to college and university. Many exceptional novels and films have made it into school curricula; by contrast, series often have not. Their absence from curricula is often simply because of such factors as the length of the narratives or a high degree of repetition, which seem incompatible with short school lessons and the relatively short course of a semester. As a result, most series have been neglected in teaching and instead shape young people's private entertainment. With such a clear division between school curricula and private entertainment, young people's extensive experience of series runs the risk of remaining overlooked if it is not brought back into the classroom.

Petra Anders and Michael Staiger's outstanding edited double volume on Serialität in Literatur und Medien [Seriality in Literature and Media] explores the rich potential of serial formats in literature and film for teaching. The editors offer a collection which is split into two parts and contains essays on theoretical backgrounds, up-to-date discussions about didactic approaches towards series, and concrete illustrations of teaching methodologies. The collection succeeds in showing an undoubtedly wide spectrum of narrative series—from young adult fiction and international TV shows to picture books. Many different forms of series are mentioned, although admittedly not every subgenre is covered—for example, it is regrettable that radio and any other audio series fall short have not been mentioned.

The first volume focuses on theoretical approaches towards serial narratives, while the second is particularly concerned with the pedagogical potential of series. In both introductions to the volumes, Anders and Staiger emphasize that young people's interests should be included in school curricula. After giving a short introduction to different series formats, the editors discuss the history of the genre from Arabian Nights to today's hybrid subgenres. Following that, they look into the potential of series for classroom activities, particularly spelling out the impact many series have on literacy and the motivation of children and adolescents to engage in long narratives. Most importantly, Anders and Staiger identify serial formats in literature and TV clearly as international phenomena. The two volumes focus not only on German series, but also on international series available to German audiences, thereby acknowledging the status of global literature and the media market, at least in the western world. Although all articles look into the subject from a German perspective—and clearly address the German school environment—the edited volumes play into the international nature of the subject. This approach makes the two volumes especially relevant to modern and diverse classroom teaching that goes beyond outdated ideas of purely national-oriented literature and film classes. Last but not least, diversity comes into the picture when today’s classroom diversity is considered in terms of ethnicity, cultural backgrounds, and learning capacities. For example, the very first essay, by Judith Riegert, discusses the potential of series for students with special needs and disabilities. Taken together, both volumes demonstrate a fruitful and interdisciplinary discussion in literature and film theory, children’s and youth literature studies, comparative studies, and education.

The first volume on theory opens up the discussion in an inclusive approach, thus laying the groundwork for a complex understanding of series as an aesthetic form. Mirroring this richness, the presence of popular youth literature series is reflected in many articles and is theoretically shaped in Ute Dettmar's and Birgit Schlachter's articles on series in contemporary popular media cultures, to name the most outstanding essays. Both point to the importance of children's and young adult fiction for serial formats, identifying series even as a sub-system of its own within the field of young people's literature (100). Schlachter's essay offers a systematic view into global mass culture, identifying series as a formal principle, whereas Dettmar's essay focuses on serial implications in transmedial narratives.

Besides articles on young adult fiction, many essays pay particular attention to successful TV shows such as The Sopranos, The Simpsons, and Emergency Room [see Andre Kagelmann, Andreas Seidler, Florian Schultz-Pernice]. Apart from those well-known examples, it is even more interesting to look into the essays which highlight less commercialized narratives. That is particularly evident when it comes to picture books which often soon disappear from the book market. Friedemann Holder illustrates impressively serial strategies of texts and images in picture books. One example is Shaun Tan's Rules of Summer, a book which is without a doubt often understood as a piece of art, but—maybe even therefore!—less as a great children's book. Holder beautifully combines the theoretical premises of Gilles Deleuze's approach towards serial text-image strategies to demonstrate the rich potential of picture books. His results are striking and help the reader understand how stimulating picture books are for young audiences.

Many of the 26 articles are strong pieces within their specific field and manage a well-balanced perspective on theory and pedagogy. This is the case in Mirjam Steinhauser's discussion on teaching the Norwegian Garmann picture book series by Stian Hole, Felix Giesa's profound interpretation of comics and their attraction for children, and Kirsten Kumschlies and Tobias Kurwinkel's article on animation series and their influence on gender constructions. Jana Mikota's teaching unit on a literary detective series taking place in the 1920s Berlin and Stefan Born's essay on a satirical short film series in German TV from the 1980s both demonstrate the narrative quality which leads to meaningful goals in classroom activities. Less inspiring are those parts which replace essential thoughts on the relation between narration and didactic potential with overly detailed accounts of teaching methods and classroom material. Although these papers might help young teachers, they rather neglect to answer why one should include series in teaching.

Other than that, Anders's and Staiger's two volume edited collection on series is surely an outstanding work, especially since it presents such a strong focus on the complexity of young adult fiction and film. The most important achievement of the essays is first and foremost their consistent emphasis on the dialectical relation between theory and pedagogy: they demonstrate how both fields need each other when it comes to teaching and interdisciplinary discussions on young adult culture. Considering the richness of the volumes and the diverse approaches to this field, I highly recommend this double-volume to everyone who works—and especially teaches—in the field of young adult fiction and culture.

Ada Bieber
University of Sydney, Australia