Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How Do We Feel About The Term "Kidlit?"

On the kidlitosphere listserv we've been hashing out whether or not the term "kidlit" is offensive, to whom, and should we do something about it. Oddly enough, sometime in the last month or two someone in my carbon-based world asked me if I was offended by the term "kidlit" because he or she (I truly can't remember who it was) had heard it was derogatory.

I've heard it's derogatory, too. Unfortunately, I didn't hear that until the term had become part of my vocabulary. For me it expresses the idea of a culture that includes writers, readers, publishers, reviewers, academics, and everyone else involved in any aspect of children's literature. I think of it has a descriptive term for a working/reading culture. And it's a term that many people, especially here on the Internet, recognize and understand immediately.

Within the academic world and, I understand, the field of library science, the term has often been used to demean those who work in the field of children's literature. There really is no such thing as separate but equal. If two groups are not the same, one must be inferior to the other, and a field that involves children, who are powerless in our society, gets the inferiority label. Over the years, women have been associated with children's literature--in publishing and in academia. Historically, they've struggled with the power thing, too. Dr. Francelia Butler is an illustrative case. (I was what was essentially an administrative assistant in the College of Extended and Continuing Education at the University of Connecticut when Butler brought Margaret Hamilton to the campus.)

So "kidlit" has a history, and I respect history. It also has a new life here on the Internet where children's literature bloggers have claimed it. For them it is all new and represents their literary life networking with other children's literature people all over the globe.

A search of my blog indicates I've used "kidlit" 202 times over the last nearly nine years. It also appears in the masthead to this blog. I'm going to eliminate it from my writing in the future out of respect for the people like Butler who came before me and for the people who even now are struggling with lack of respect for their work. After all, I jump up and down in indignation when people use "suffragette" instead of "suffragist," and don't get me started on using "girl" to describe females of voting age.

I will have to leave "kidlit" in the masthead, though, because I'm part of the contemporary Internet kidlitosphere, and there just isn't another term that describes that world.

So that's how I feel about the term "kidlit."

UPDATE: Author Katie Davis covers this subject at her most recent Brain Burps podcast. She had permission to quote from the e-mail discussion at the listserv. She quotes primarily from the people in favor of using "kidlit," though she did question Betsy Bird on the subject (A line from one of Betsy's Fuse #8 blog posts inspired the whole discussion.) and Betsy did a good job of explaining the position of the people who object to the term.

This was my first time listening to Brain Burps. It made me wish I had a more sophisticated method for listening to podcasts, something beyond sitting in front of my computer while the sound pours out of it, with nothing to do but stare at my screen.(I have played solitaire while listening to podcasts, but not this time.) That being the case, I only listened to the terminology discussion, which came during the first fifteen minutes.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

I once heard the same thing about the term “juvy.”

The problem is that every group develops a brief way to refer to itself (“kidlit” is four syllables shorter than “children’s literature”).

Meanwhile, the field will still be about children, with the power imbalance you note.

Therefore, it’s likely that whatever disdain people sense or embarrassment they feel about the field will attach itself to the new term, and in another twenty years it will carry the same connotations.