Hana Miloslavic: Keyword-Popular
In Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s Keywords for Children’s Literature, Julie A. S. Cassidy addresses the breakdown of the keyword “popular”. A simple breakdown of the adjective popular is “Cultural activities or products intended for or suited to the taste, understanding, or means of the general public rather than specialists or intellectuals.” (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/popular) The word originated as a political and legal term, then shifted into having a negative connotation of meaning “low” or “common people”. However, by 1608 the word had more of a positive connotation when it meant, “…acceptable, and pleasing to numerous people.” (ch 36) Today the word “popular” is still a term that can be very ambiguous; for this instance I am going to be using it in the sense of something that is widely liked and accepted. I will be comparing “Little House on The Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Just Like Me” by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, looking at what makes them two of the most “popular” books of their time, and discussing what cultural relevance has to do with popularity in children’s literature.
Popularity is not something that can be easily measured, but for the purpose of this blog post, I am going to base a book’s popularity by the number of copies sold. Popular books in most circumstances have to be culturally relevant in order for a large number of people to purchase them. As culture is cultivated rather than inherited, popular books reflect cultural norms and constructs. (lecture Jan-29) Little House on The Prairie is a book about a young girl who is immigrating to America in the 1800s, and the stories that follow immigration. The book Just Like Me is based on a young black girl’s life in a big city with teachings of self love, kindness, and stories of other young children from many walks of life. The main differences between the books are race of the main character, inclusion, exclusion, intended audience, geographical area, period in time, and culture. Similarities include girlhood, overcoming challenges, and relationships. Although Little House on the Prairie has passed the test of time selling 60 million copies and is still widely known, it would not be as popular if written today because it does not resonate with today’s life – with exclusivity to non-white audiences and with racist commentary towards Native Americans. Whereas Just Like Me is popular today because it reflects girlhood with many of today’s ideals, literature will keep adapting to the principles of cultural relevance.