Heartaches and Nightmares: the Death of American Childhood [Extended Deadlines]

deadline for submissions: 
June 30, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
James Curtis/LSUS
contact email: 

Call for Paper Proposals:Heartaches and Nightmares: The Death of American Childhood

Submission Deadline: June 30, 2022

In the introduction of his children’s masterpiece, The Wizard of Oz (1900), L. Frank Baum outlines his vision for the narrative—one that specifically entails creating “a modernized fairy tale in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares left out”. Following closely on the heels of his European Romantic predecessors’ efforts to create a new, sacrosanct vision for childhood in the 19th century, Baum’s introduction makes his investment in perpetuating the myth of the “innocence” of childhood clear. From a larger, critical perspective, Baum’s directive is historically significant to American culture, as many popular American children’s narratives which appeared up to the end of the twentieth century seemed equally committed to protecting the image of American childhood as a sanctified space of “innocence”— whether or not that idea bore much resemblance to the actual, lived experience of American children. 

Although scholars of children’s literature and culture have long debunked the legitimacy of the “innocence” of childhood, only recently have experts outside the field begun to question the state of childhood in America today. This more contemporary cultural investigation owes itself, no doubt, to the vast proliferation of technology—and, in particular, technology which is not only accessible to but is marketed for children—in the twenty-first century. Victor Strasburger, Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics emeritus and the Founding Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the University of New Mexico, has spent years studying the developmental effects of technology and media on children; in his 2019 study The Death of Childhood (2019), he argues that our current cultural climate—one in which toddlers have tablets and much of a child’s developmental years are spent in a virtual world of social media and entertainment—is one in which the “innocent” vision of childhood that was so prevalent in twentieth century American culture is effectively dead. Indeed, in a cultural environment where children can easily access the world of “adult” knowledge through online technology, it would seem that we have reached a historical and cultural moment in which the labelling of content as too “mature” for children seems almost asinine. For this collection, potential contributors are invited to submit paper proposals that approach the deconstruction of 20th century “childhood” from a wide variety of critical lenses. 

Possible topics include (but are not limited to): 

  • Historical and cultural manifestations of childhood “innocence” in 20th century American culture

  • Successful twentieth and early twenty-first century children’s narratives which openly question or subvert prevailing cultural constructions of childhood

  • Children’s texts that challenge popular constructions of childhood specifically through diverse perspectives centered on marginalized groups of children

  • The (positive or negative) effects of technology on children as represented in popular children’s narratives across a variety of platforms

  • Modern children’s narratives that attempt to negotiate a new space for children and childhood in America

  • 21st century children’s texts that offer a more contemporary vision of children and childhood

  • Children’s narratives (print, film, or television) at the center of public controversy

  • The role of Disney in perpetuating the sanitization of American childhood

  • The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the creation of children’s narratives and on cultural constructions of childhood 

Potential contributors should send a 450-500 word abstract (including proposed article title), along with a separate document which contains a short bio, institutional affiliation, and email contact to jcurtis@lsus.edu. The deadline for proposals is June 30, 2022. Decisions will be made by July 15, 2022, and completed chapters should be submitted by December 31, 2022.