The (Silent) Archival Stories of Children’s Literature: Munro Leaf, Taiwan, and Beyond
Andrea Mei-Ying Wu
In the early decades of the 1960s, Munro Leaf, the prolific American children’s book author best known for his creation of The Story of Ferdinand and Can Be Fun series, took three trips, under the auspices of the U. S. State Department, to the Middle East, North and West Europe—including Poland and U.S.S.R, and South and East Asia. As an “American Specialist” under the cultural exchange program, Leaf visited more than twenty-five countries in a short span of four years (1961–1964), advocating the idea of writing for children. During his trips abroad, he met with educators, publishers, artists, writers and other professionals, visited local schools ranging from kindergartens to universities, and gave numerous speeches by way of his characteristic “chalk talk” to both young and adult audiences. This historical event now long past and largely forgotten has been documented in the Munro Leaf papers archived in the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia in the United States.
Informed by the critical works of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others, I see the archive not so much as a “neutral place” for housing historical materials or “a repository of facts” to signify the past, as a site for the production of knowledge. The archival study is thus understood not as a way to unpack or discover “truth” but an engagement of power struggles over meanings. While it is important to read against the grain, I also find it necessary to read along with the grain of the archive, so as to see what is hidden and what remains unsaid. The archival materials of the Munro Leaf papers, such as itineraries, letters, photographs, and newspaper clippings, arguably, serve as crucial sites to see some of the traces—and also “silences”—of the formation of children’s literature in the early postwar era, locally and globally, especially when read against the backdrop of the Cold War.
In this presentation, I will begin with a theoretical discussion of the meanings and implications of the archive. I will then closely examine the Munro Leaf papers, with special attention to the archival materials related to his trip to Taiwan in 1964, as a typical case in point, and interrogate the possible ramifications it involved. I will then address the issue of “Ferdinand the Bull as Educator” that traveled across the Cold War divide, demonstrating the American style of childhood reading and education often framed and highlighted in the discourse and ideology of “free spirits.” Finally, I will point out that the original bull (illustrated by Robert Lawson) was “silenced” and replicated with a naïve-looking one (drawn by Munro Leaf) during Leaf’s cultural exchange tours, and yet the latter in its hilarious and almost clamorous appearance oddly made the cultural exchange program, as well as the imagination of children’s literature, in the Cold War era both limiting and, at the same time, liberating.
Andrea Mei-Ying Wu is Professor of children’s literature and Taiwanese literature at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. She is currently President of Taiwan Children’s Literature Research Association (TCLRA) and has served on the Executive Board of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL, 2013–17). Her most recent publications include “Transculturality, Canonization, and the Production of Children’s Literature in Postwar Taiwan—Jen-mu Pan, Hai-yin Lin, and the Editorial Task Force for Children’s Books” in Journal of Taiwan Literary Studies (2019), “Access to Books Matters: Cultural Ambassadors and the Editorial Task Force” in The Reading Teacher (2019), “Postcoloniality, Globalization, and Transcultural Production of Children’s Literature in Postwar Taiwan” in The Routledge Companion to International Children’s Literature (2018), and a Chinese monograph [Discourses of Subject, Gender, Place, and (Post)modern Childhood in Postwar Taiwanese Juvenile Fiction]. She was awarded a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar fellowship (2014–15) for the research project: “Cold War America and the Canonization of Children’s Literature in Taiwan: a Crosscultural Perspective and Investigation,” from whence she has been working intensively on the archival material of the Munro Leaf papers.