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The Environment Between Idyll and Terror - Haunted Territory: The Landscape of Fear in Children's Literature (Trish Brooking)


This paper explores how nature and the seismic environment in New Zealand features in literature produced for children. As a medium for cultural and ecological awakening, children’s literature offers a pathway to enhance literacy development and intellectual growth. As a teacher educator I am interested in how we mediate literature to encourage children and young adults to engage with rich texts which relate to their interests, and draw on, and affirm, their social and cultural identities.  In response to recent criticism that the explicit nature of some current literary content is too confronting in the way it normalizes violence rather than validating children’s experience, this paper suggests a contrary view. The fact that children are consumers of an exponential array of texts from film to facebook, underscores the need to be critically literate. By confronting landscapes of fear in some of their literature, there is scope for enhanced learning opportunities. In the two texts I have chosen, humour and fear are used in contrasting ways to offer nuanced insights into explorations of ecological responsibility. An examination of two New Zealand publications, McKinnon’s When the Kehua Calls, and Mahy’s Kaitangata Twitch, illustrates the potential for deeper engagement with text. A postcolonial lens both sharpens territorial focus, and considers global implications for the child confronting social and cultural diversity and inhabiting spaces dominated by rapid and continuous change.

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