Barbara Wersba Janice M. Bogstad - Essay

Janice M. Bogstad

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[As] much as I like [Twenty-Six Starlings Will Fly Through Your Mind], I have to make some criticisms of its content. There is far too much reinforcement of passive-female imagery, especially in the illustrations, but in the text as well. "A, the secret and determined guide," is pictured as a man with moustache and feathered hat, while "C, the moon's cousin," is female where the text indicates no gender distinctions. "G is an old-fashioned girl" while "I is pale and discouraged," and also female, as is "V, pointed and shy," in opposition to "W," who is male and who "wanders the woodlands." In roughly half the cases, gender is not assigned to the letters by illustration or text even when activity is associated with them. I find these passages eminently more acceptable than the others.

A second reservation which comes to mind is the audience for which this book is intended. The vocabulary is quite unusual, to the extent that one would not expect a child who needs to learn the alphabet to comprehend the book even if it were read to her or him. Hence if fails, perhaps not to its detriment, as a piece of didactic poetry. On the other hand, it succeeds in creating an imaginative and interesting approach to the mysteries and positive qualities of reading as a potentially private and liberating activity. (p. 91)

Janice M. Bogstad, "Is There Poetry in Children's Poetry?" in The Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter, 1980–81, pp. 83-92.∗