This dissertation examines constructions of nature and childhood in a selection of contemporary Norwegian books for children and young adults. The selected titles are Stian Hole’s picturebook trilogy about Garmann (2006; 2008; 2010), the illustrated novel Tonje Glimmerdal (2009) by Maria Parr, and the novel Fredlaus (2006) by Ragnar Hovland. By engaging with ecocritical theory, philosophical texts on nature and formation by Rousseau and Thoreau, and Klafki’s theory of categorical Bildung, the main aim of the dissertation is to explore how the character’s experiences of and reflections on the landscapes they live in have formative qualities.
I have mainly dealt with the part of ecocriticism that discusses literary constructions of landscapes. Throughout the readings, I show that the selected texts reproduce culturally established ideas about pastoral and wild nature, and I argue that these ideas shape the characters’ interpretation and understanding of the landscapes.
As part of the analysis, I map the texts’ constructions of landscape and childhood against the “Nature-in-culture” matrix as developed in the research group “Nature in children’s literature and culture” at the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences. This matrix is an analytical tool that I use to discuss how the characters’ natural surroundings may be read as ecocritically formative landscapes where the relationship between nature and culture is celebrated, explored or problematized. Although I show that the texts reproduce anthropocentric and celebratory understandings of nature, I highlight that the characters problematize uncritical celebrations of nature, both in themselves and in other characters. This makes them examples of critical and self-reflexive characters who alternate between different ways of understanding themselves and their engagement with nature, while also assessing how other characters position themselves in the landscapes.
I find that the characters are constructed in dialogue with literary childhood figures from a romantic nature-celebrating tradition, while also arguing that it is possible to read the characters in dialogue with Anthropocene thinking by underscoring their problematizing reflections on human kind as a destabilizing ecological force found in the texts. These are formative reflections that lead the characters to the insight that their connections to the landscapes are not only idyllic and something to be celebrated but is also a complex relationship that involves responsibilities.
The dissertation is a contribution to the in-depth theoretical and analytical understanding of constructions of nature and childhood in children’s literature. It demonstrates that the primary texts examined reproduce established ideas about the relationship between nature and childhood, while also presenting new insights into the ways in which such thinking is explored and developed in new literary texts for children and young adults.