The Transatlantic Junior Novel Divide

Michael Cart opens From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature with the following:

If it was in Victorian England that “a separate state called ‘childhood’ was envisioned,” as Canadian critic Sheila Egoff has argued, others would agree it was neither there nor then but in America, instead, where another separate state, “young adulthood,” was to be envisioned. (3)

By and large, America was also the site of that precursor to canonical young adult literature: the junior novel genre.

For a long time, I questioned this American dominance. Was the US really *that* dominant when it came to the genre, or was it just that no one had searched out or made the connection to other, non-American junior novels?

The answer is, I think, a bit of both… but mostly the former.

I recently came across a 1954 letter from junior novel writer Anne Emery to Mont L. Haible, the administrative assistant to the general manager of the Westminster Press. In it, Emery ponders publishing her novels in the UK. She quotes a fan letter, in which the fan acknowledges that “here, from the ages of 13 to 17 there is nothing for us to read… Well, I hope you will write more books even if it is only for the benefit of those lucky American teenagers, while we have to be content to suffer the classics.”

Emery then quotes an English librarian that she had met a couple of years earlier, who noted that “there are almost no teen-age books published in England.”

The junior novel genre would, indeed, appear to be almost entirely North American, and particularly American. Looking at my bookshelves, however, I realized an important distinction I was forgetting to acknowledge: the English-language junior novel genre is almost entirely American.

I’ve already seen numerous hints that junior novels were popular worldwide. Mary Stolz’s and Anne Emery’s international publications suggest it. Betty Cavanna’s fan mail from girls in Japan suggests it. Still, these hints are all based on American-published junior novels in translation. Were there original junior novels published elsewhere, in other languages? And how would I find them?

Imports, my bookshelf advised me, and I reached for my translated 1972 Scholastic copy of Aimée Sommerfelt’s Miriam.

original cover of Miriam
1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover

This first image is from the original 1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover (I think), from Norway. The illustration design is typical of late 1950s/early 1960s painterly illustration found in American junior novels and Whitman-style series books.

The following three images are from the 1972 Scholastic reprint, from the US.

1972 Scholastic reprint front cover

While the original cover emphasizes the teen setting that forms the base of the junior novel genre, the 1972 Scholastic cover–appearing, importantly, within the early period of the New Realism–contextualizes the story with the conspicuous red of the Nazi flag.

1972 Scholastic back cover
1972 Scholastic copyright page

In the end, searching for imported (and translated) junior novels isn’t a full or ideal solution to the question of whether or not the genre existed in its own right in other countries, but it’s a start.

Published Sources:

Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature, HarperCollins, 1992.


I love the junior novels, but…

…sometimes they make me want to slam the book shut and throw it at the patriarchy.

Case in point:

“But that’s one thing I can say,” she cried. “I have never never been in love with anyone but you, Cliff. Not ever, not even a little bit.” Forgive me, George, she thought. I did love you in a way, but not like this, and I have to be able to tell him that he’s the only one I ever loved. (Mary Stolz, And Love Replied, 1958).

Mary Stolz is my absolutely favourite junior novel writer, but COME ON, MARY.

(Actually, Stolz’s letters back and forth with her friend and editor, Ursula Nordstrom, suggest that she’s actually pretty progressive, with some clear feminist tendencies. And, as sad as I am to admit it, this paragraph really does fit the somewhat manipulative nature of Betty, the protagonist of this particular novel, so it may just be an added aspect of characterization. But… it still rankles this twenty-first century reader).

/end rant.


On articulating the necessity of lying…

I love Louise Fitzhugh, but for the record, Mary Stolz also told young people that sometimes they had to lie. That was in Who Wants Music on Monday, published in 1963–a full year before Harriet the Spy.

And both were edited by Ursula Nordstrom. Hmm…

(Of course, Stolz was writing for a slightly older audience, but still!)

In which Maureen Daly supports my archival findings!

FOUND IT! (Which is to say: Daly’s archive didn’t lie about the early gendering of her fan letters):

“Daly recalls that in the first few years following publication, ‘All the mail was from boys, perhaps because of the attractive girl on the cover. Later, the girls started writing, too.'”

Thank you, now-obscure author interview from 1986!

To be clear, the archive suggests that girls *were* writing from the beginning, but I suspect that Daly remembered this version because the girls continued to write to her, whereas the boys stopped.

Source: Daly, Maureen, and Kimberly Olson Fakih. “The Long Wait for Maureen Daly.” Publishers Weekly 229.26 (June 27, 1986): 36-39.

What Maureen Daly’s Mother Did…

Now that the summer semester has ended (whoop!), I’m back at work on the letters to Daly. I didn’t take a total break–I was able to talk about different aspects of the letters at two conferences (PCA/ACA in Chicago; Children’s Literature Association in Columbia, South Carolina), but now it’s time to focus on an article!

But that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I simply wanted to share Peter D. Sieruta’s excellent Seventeenth Summer blog post that I came across today. Check it out here. If you’re interested in Daly, it provides some great backstory. In particular, here’s what Daly’s mother did with young Maureen’s first-place winnings from the Scholastic context:

When the fifty-dollar prize money arrived from Scholastic magazine, my mother signed my name on the check, cashed it, and bought herself a dress costing exactly fifty dollars, a high price at that time, at an exclusive women’s shop called Minnie Messing’s. I remember clearly the dress was a soft silk in a color known as “powder pink,” with a matching jacket in heavy lace.


“Social Status of Writers”: Fan Letter Analysis, 1939

In an effort to contextualize the fan letters to Maureen Daly, I turned to a little then-contemporary fan mail analysis. This stuff is waaaaaay before the fandom analysis of Jenkins, Sandvoss, etc. In particular, I came across the following wee article:

Sayre, Jeanette. “Progress in Radio Fan-Mail Analysis.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 3.2 (April, 1939): 272-278.

Now, Sayre is obviously looking at radio fan letters, rather than letters to authors. Still, both the stats she generates (and her methods for gaining and interpreting those stats) are weirdly fascinating. First, we have the obligatory “fans are crazy but not really, really crazy”:

In recent years fan-letter writers have been thought to be the neurotics, the deviates, the abnormal among the listeners, and so it has been cautioned that fan mail should be disregarded as an index of anything. As an answer to this, the theory has been proposed that fan-letter writers were not neurotic in what they thought, but in the fact that they wrote at all. They merely expressed attitudes held by other listeners, but different from them in their ability to transgress the barrier between themselves and the impersonal broadcasting company. (272)

(Seriously, this sounds so, so familiar when one looks back over the three generations of recent fandom scholarship).

Still, Sayre establishes some truly interesting stats. For example, she tabulates fan letter writers based on who wrote letters to “America’s Town Meeting of the Air.” In total, there were 26,008 separate names of people who had written at least one letter over the course of the previous listening season. People from Oklahoma, then, were not overly into writing fan letters to that particular radio broadcast in 1939, whereas people in both Washington State and, waaaay across the country, in Washington, D.C., were SUPER into fan letters:


Sayre also noted a difference in the number of writers living in cities versus small towns:

the proportion of writers living in cities of over 100,000 population is significantly high. This is especially curious in view of the fact that commentators on fan mail feel that in most cases fan-letter writers are in small towns. (274)

And then she turns briefly to gender:

Women’s letters are different from men’s. In an analysis of the April 28 program, it was found that the women who wrote were much more likely than the men to add gratuitous comment: The men merely requested the bulletin; the women added some word of praise or blame. (276)

Finally, Sayre comes to the aspect that I find equal parts most fascinating and most disturbing: the “Social Status of Writers”:

In an effort to divide the remainder of the fan mail according to some criteria which would be fairly objective and fairly reliable when used by other analysts, the following criteria were used to classify letters according to the social class or sophistication of the writer: (1) Paper: quality–cleanliness–letterhead; (2) Forms: spacing of writing–punctuation–form of salutation–signature–spelling; (3) Content: words and phrases used.

I’ll admit that my eyebrows were already a little raised when I read this bit. Sayre’s methodology, however, only gets more interesting (and by “interesting” I actually mean “disturbing”):

If a letter fell down on two of the three counts, it was put into the “low” social grouping; if on only one, it went in the “high” class. Under “paper,” such things as kitchen memos and ruled paper were considered “low” while engraved letterheads and personalized stationary were considered “high.” Under “form,” poor spacing, as when the entire letter was written in the top inch of the page, or when the salutation was inches away from the letter, was considered “poor.” Flagrantly incorrect punctuation was considered “low.” Such salutations as “Gents” and such signatures as “always your friend, Jim H.” were also in the lower class. Content in the letters varied from the jovial “Gee! Did I get a thrill out of your last meeting” to “Permit me to compliment you on your extremely judicious handling of a difficult subject.”

Wow. Wow. Wow. Have bad spacial sense? You’re therefore “poor,” and thus “low.”


(or at least your letter has).

Anyway, I’ll admit it: I love reading all of the fan letters to Maureen Daly, but sometimes studying the secondary sources of the same time period can be equally fascinating!

Documents that Matter: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Integrated Bus Suggestions,” Dec. 19, 1956.

It’s MLK Day here in the US, so I thought I’d take a break from posting archival documents about female junior novels to highlight a very different archival document. This particular one is from the Inez Jessie Baskin Papers of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

The people over at have provided a helpful backstory (click the photo for a clickthrough link).

“Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding enough to turn an enemy into a friend.”