K. Keeling and S. Pollard, "Table Lands: Food in Children's Literature" (U Mississippi Press, 2020)
Table Lands contributes to a growing body of scholarship in the subfield of literary food studies, which combines the methods of literary analysis with the interdisciplinary theories of food, culture, and identity. Keeling and Pollard explain that they were first interested in food in children’s literature as symbols or metaphors, but in Table Lands, they have complicated their understanding of these moments as important cultural work. The didactic nature of children’s literature makes the genre a unique window into processes of cultural and identity creation as children learn manners, morals, food taboos, and appropriate behavior through the rewards and punishments doled out to fictional characters.
Arranged roughly chronologically, the chapters explore food as a cultural signifier in familiar texts for children like Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit, and Little House on the Prairie, along with some less canonical texts like 19th century cookbooks for children and Alice Waters’ books about her daughter Fanny. They range from the edgy YA series of Weetzie Bat novels to Maurice Sendak’s picture book In the Night Kitchen and the hit animated Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille. The book also attempts to represent the diversity of children’s literature in the US. The authors argue that Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark novels actively write against The Little House books which devalue, misunderstand, and erase indigenous culture to offer a counternarrative of the American West focused on Native American experiences of land stewardship and relationships to food. Similarly, the final chapter devoted to Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again argues that Lai is writing against the representation of the refugee experience written by non-Vietnamese authors for non-Vietnamese audiences, revising and refuting what they call the “gratitude narrative” expected of refugees. Throughout Table Lands, Keeling and Pollard contextualize literary characters’ experiences with food into relevant literature on how food shapes the practice and performance of identity in everyday life.
Kara Keeling and Scott Pollard are Professors of English at Christopher Newport University. Kara is Director of the Childhood Studies Minor and teaches courses on Children’s and Young Adult literature. Scott teaches courses in World Literature and Food in Literature. Together they have authored a number of articles on the subject and edited the 2011 essay collection Critical Approaches to Food in Children’s Literature from Routledge.
Carrie Helms Tippen is Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature. Her 2018 book, Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press), examines the rhetorical strategies that writers use to prove the authenticity of their recipes in the narrative headnotes of contemporary cookbooks. Her academic work has been published in Gastronomica, Food and Foodways, American Studies, Southern Quarterly, and Food, Culture, and Society.
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