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Taking a Stroll Through Time Within the Realm of Greek Children's Literature

(Loosely translated from Katsiki-Givalou, A. The Marveled Journey: Studies in Children's Literature (1997). Patakis Publications. " Greek Children's Literature: Historical Background "pp. 15-23.)

Although children's literature has existed for over 150 years (if one takes into account the first magazine specifically published for children, “Children's Storeroom” published in 1836 [Delopoulos, K. (1989)]), it has only truly blossomed in the last twenty years.

It hasn’t been pure chance that texts written especially for children didn’t exist right up until the end of the 19th Century. Before then, only "adult" books (whose content reciprocated the educational views of the times) were allowed to be used by children as readers. [Sakellariou, H. (1987)] Examples of this during Ancient times may be Aesop's Fables as well as excerpts of Homer, whilst children's magazines during the 19th Century included poetry by such prominent poets such as Dionysios Solomos, Alexandros Rizos Ragavis, Ioannis Karasoutsas, Andreas Laskaratos, Achileas Paraschos. [Karpozilou, M. (1987)] Books with historical content were also considered as "child-readable", ie. “The Heroes of the Greek Revolution” (1852) by Stephanos Xenos, “Louky Laras” (1879) by Dimitri Vikelas.

During the 19th Century, Greek literature was characterised by patriotic elation, religiousness, and didacticism and this in turn was used as literature for children. Towards the end of the century, various poetic collections and prose written especially for young readers (but with the same morphological and ideological elements as those of "adult" literature) began to appear. The use of mythology prevailing in children's poetry of the time could be easily explained by the fact that it not only had an entertaining nature but also maintained a mainly didactic character.

The ultimate creation of literature exclusively for children was directly linked to the state’s interest in the child and its education. The reasons for this being directly linked to the changes in direction taken by the cultural and literary world in Greece during the last two decades of the 19th Century. Literary themes, for example, moved within a space of intimacy and everyday happiness, forgoing the exaggerated tones of Romanticism. Thus, texts for children written towards the end of the 19th Century, were free of unadulterated didacticism as well as contexts of religious morality. Patriotism still remained, however not in the same asphyctic manner previously used to.

Main characteristics of Greek children's literature such as etho-didacticism, rationalism and the projection of the triptych "fatherland, religion, family" continued to dominate children’s books in the beginning of the 20th Century. This is supported by Herbart’s theories which dominated both educational and psychological fields of research at the time. [Frangou, H] Thus, socio-political and historical events shaped a context of values influencing Greek spiritual life and especially its literature. Historic romanticism which reinforced the need of national reconstruction, the maintenance of the GREAT IDEA as well as the Macedonian Struggle, all brought on a rise of national morale and nationalism. The advocation of the popular language by the Educational Association, and later by educational reformation, expanded into education. All these ideas, thoughts and feelings were expressed and presented by authors such as Pericles Gianonopoulos, Iona Dragoumi and Penelope Delta, and thus merging the events within their work. Gregory Xenopoulos' and Penelope Delta's literary offerings to the field are inestimable and priceless just as Zacharias Papandoniou's prose and poetry for children acts as one of the major stepping-stones in the history of Greek children's literature. These three authors combined their struggle in upgrading children's literature. Further authors, who followed their example later, have used these same thematic, aesthetic and ideological frameworks. Outside of socio-economic conditions, pedagogical and psychological notions of the child and its place in society, as well as the ruling aesthetic currents in Greece, the Women's Literary Society (created in 1955 and began to occupy itself with the important literary genre of children's literature from 1965) today awards works of children's literature each year. In addition, the Circle of the Greek Children's Book (which began to concern itself with Children's Literature in 1963 but was only officially created in 1969) awards authors and illustrators since 1974 and has promoted the Greek children's book internationally through IBBY. Both these groups have greatly contributed to this very rich literary generation. In addition, the institution of the Athens Academy's yearly "Urani Award" to works of children's literature and the organisation and operation of children's libraries throughout Greece have contributed to the upgrade and spread of children's literature.

Since 1970 and especially after a dynamic governmental change of policy in 1974, there has been an impressive, and rather explosive production of children's literature. New social classifications, the cultural renaissance, political conflicts, new political situations and educational reforms, the domination of educational notions of psycho-sociology and of psycho-pedagogy, the emphasis on anti-dictatorial theories, as well as the development of techniques and technology, and the ecological disorder of the environment have all brought about “suitable” material for the creation of a children's literature which responds consciously to contemporary eduational perceptions of the child and its personality. The ethodidacticism which marked texts during the first part of the century have almost completely retreated. The child is no longer a miniature adult, and as an equal member of the community, he/she takes part in all socio-political events, observes scientific developments and shapes his/her own personality. The subject matter of children's texts has broadened due to authors' realisation that all subjects and problems can be presented to a child. What plays an important role in the latter is the way in which they are presented. [Zena Sutherland's viewpoints on realism in children's literature found in Petrovits-Androustopoulou, L. (1983)]

"In the books of this time-period, weight is place on the shaping of children and young adults who are socially and scientifically conscious and where their development and character is shaped in correlation to social relationships.

"Alki Zei [whose books have been translated into English by Edward Fenton, won the Mildred Batchelder Awards for translated children's books, and are included in the Bibliography on this web-site] is a pioneer in this new wave of child perception, and dared to cause an incision in children's literature in 1963 with her book "Wildcat under Glass", where recent historical events were spherically presented to the child and where the point of view was, for the first time, "heard" from the "other side". Political thought (no longer an adult privilege) is introduced into the children's literature with Alki Zei's book, as with Georges Sari's as well."

Except for the political - objective - historical element, which preoccupies many authors (there is a plethora of historical books), the subject matter broadens significantly into varying themes: social (death, divorce, drugs, disabled children, sexual relationships, AIDS), anti-war or peaceful, protection of the environment, return to nature, ecological consciousness, science fiction, and adventure. The machine/electronic age along with its positive and negative consequences also preoccupies contemporary authors for children. This contemporary thematology does not exclude voyages (physical or mythological) which often enter into the contemporary life of children, or biography.

This subject matter is supplied to children through the following ways: the contemporary story, which retains its mythical element, but mixes reality with fantasy; the short story, which is more child-centric and almost not at all ethographic; the novel, which these last years has blossomed par excellence; theatre, which has an effect on the child in a variety of ways; and poetry, which has redeemed itself from traditional versification and is characterised by internal harmony and rich pictorial language. [Anagnostopoulos, V. (1983)]

It is not, however only thematology which has broadened in the last twenty years. The aesthetic manner of writing has also varied itself. A large amount of contemporary children's literature authors have placed special emphasis on the aesthetic value of their texts and the aesthetic pleasure which they hope shall be experienced by the young reader, since literature is basically an aesthetic composition of life, it "talks" through feelings, through emotion, and that which makes literature count is its emotional and not only its cognitional and intellectual element. In this way, authors feign away from naive narration with transparent didacticism. They are more honest with the young reader. Aesthetic joy and emotion is offered to the child through refined rather than fake or affected language, humour, rich illustration especially attracting the younger ages, and "humanistic realism". These authors acquaint their readers with reality and its problems, they help them mature cognitively and psychologically and prepare them not only to enter the social environment, but to shape them into a creative, active citizen.

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