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dr. V.N. (Vera) Veldhuizen

Assistant Professor
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Children's Detective Fiction

My main project is currently on children's detective fiction.

Hinging on murder, the classic detective genre challenges readers with clues and riddles to solve a heinous crime, the more grotesque and mind-boggling the better. It may therefore be surprising that detective stories are one of the most popular genres within children’s literature. From Kalle Blomkvist and Kästner’s Emil to Nancy Drew and Blyton’s vacation detectives, the field of children’s literature is full of beloved child detectives and series running for many decades (see TKKG, and The Three Investigators).

The popularity of the children’s detective genre defies an apparent clash between the nature of the genre, specifically its reliance on readerly ability and capital crime, and children’s literature’s specific group of readers, and thus invites investigation. It is therefore peculiar that children’s detective fiction has not enjoyed much scholarship, particularly in the English language. While the detective genre is usually discussed under the umbrella term of ‘crime literature’ when it enjoys an adult readership, in children’s literature scholarship it is usually tucked into the categories of the ‘adventure’ or ‘mystery’ story.

This project aims to address this lack of research, by analysing both the function and nature of children's detective fiction. This includes a range of form, from (board)games to audio dramas to novels. I'll also analyse the impact and function of "special" children's detective stories, like those focused on ecocrime, or starring a disabled detective (e.g. with dyslexia, or ADHD).

Kabouter in and outside of the Netherlands

From picturebooks to household idioms, kabouters are a characteristic staple of Dutch language children’s literature. Usually depicted as good-natured, jolly, colourful little helpers, the Dutch kabouter seems untranslatable; the closest English term may be gnome or brownie, in German they could be known as Heinzelmännchen or Wichtelmännchen. Yet none of these words come close to grasping the nature of the kabouter, a folkloric character native to the Low Lands.

This is particularly interesting considering the transnational nature of the Dutch children’s literature landscape. Typically, there are many influences from French, Anglophone, Scandinavian and especially German pedagogic and literary traditions. The seemingly ungraspable nature of the kabouter appears to contradict trends of transnational influences, even though comparable “little people” can be found in children’s and folk stories across Europe. The ubiquity of such creatures in European literature, which are yet each quite distinct from one another depending on their origins, both demonstrates a distinct European children’s literature character and trend, and reaffirms the national element integral in children’s stories.

In this project, I analyse the depictions and functions of kabouters and (some of) their European counterparts. In these analyses I will focus particularly on the helper/hindrance function of the creatures, their appearance, and their mystical or prosaic status. The aim of the comparisons is to discover how the archetype of the kabouter and their kin can function as a pan-European medium of cultural expression, reflecting both national and European identities.

(Un)truth in Children's Literature

Children lie. Adults present “alternative facts”. Both lies and alternative history novels have been analysed widely in children’s literature scholarship, but there is something left unexamined in between the two; alternative truth narratives. These narratives present a deeper form of deception than simple lies because of their political and social implications. Presenting a new narrative of truth is an effective form of silencing: denying something happened and replacing the story with a new narrative fills the gap of reality left by removing “truth”. This rewriting can occur on every level of interaction: from the state to the individual, within the family, within a community of peers, and potentially even between text and reader. Narratives of truth can also, however, affirm the existence of something, and open dialogue. 

How is a reader who is cognitively still developing supposed to be able to tell the difference between truth and deceit when the supposedly “expert” adult reader struggles with the very same, as is apparent through current political debates and developments? 

In this project I analyse this issue. I first focus on child readers’ abilities in recognising truth and deceit from a cognitive perspective. I then go through types of children’s stories which are particularly exemplative of this problem, as well as the adult’s concern regarding what topics children should or should not be told the truth about. Because of that I go through stories dealing with taboo topics (typically “problem” stories), politics, classic concerns regarding history such as representations of war or governmental changes, and currently topical issues such as climate change.

Last modified:10 July 2024 4.49 p.m.