Children’s Literature Ambassadors: Advocates of the 1960s: Munro Leaf and Helen R. Sattley

Written by  Monday, 02 February 2015 16:45
Left: Munro Leaf surrounded by children on a trip on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to Asian countries (from the back cover of Being an American Can Be Fun, 1964)  Right: Helen R. Sattley and her biography (from the back cover of Annie, 1961) Left: Munro Leaf surrounded by children on a trip on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to Asian countries (from the back cover of Being an American Can Be Fun, 1964) Right: Helen R. Sattley and her biography (from the back cover of Annie, 1961)


      This research period, so far, has been a fruitful one, thanks to the generous support of the Fulbright Taiwan Foundation for Scholarly Exchange. My current research project was launched when my curiosity was triggered by an unpremeditated encounter, as I was reading a historical sketch of the development of children’s literature in Taiwan, with two legendary figures who appear to be the earliest, or first, “ambassadors of children’s literature” from the United States and who introduced new concepts and visions of literature for children and young adults to Taiwanese audiences in the 1960s. This is the height of the Cold War era, but I follow Christina Klein’s view in Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961, that the Cold War is to be understood not so much a limited chapter of cultural containment as a critical phase of globalization. This means that the Cold War (and its related discourses, ideologies, and the like), in effect, generated various aspects and copious practices of cultural exchanges and crossings. One such practice is the transcultural formation and institutionalization of children’s literature in postwar Taiwan.   


     In 1964, with the sponsorship of The United Nations Children's Fund, ertong duwu bianji xiaozu [Editorial Task Force for Children’s Books] was founded as a governmental organization dedicated to the making, editing, compiling, publishing, and distribution of children’s books as supplementary reading materials for elementary school students in Taiwan. Over a span of nearly 40 years (1964-2002), the Editorial Task Force published approximately 973 children’s books under the series title zhonghua ertong congshu [Chinese Children’s Book Collection]. Those children’s books were initially divided into three categories—literature, science, and health—with two more added later, arts and social sciences (Lin & Zhao 2003). The establishment of the Editorial Task Force is regarded as a milestone in the history of children’s book publishing in Taiwan and celebrated as crucial to the modernization of Taiwanese children’ literature (Hong 1994; Lin & Zhao 2003). The immense achievements of the Editorial Task Force in its initial stages, I would argue, owe much to the dynamics of the US cultural exchange policy and programs.


     In 1964, prior to the setup of the Editorial Task Force, Munro Leaf (1905-1976), a renowned American children’s book author and illustrator commissioned by the U.S. Department of State to tour East and South Asia, visited Taiwan. He spent half a month attending meetings and workshops hosted by the Ministry of Education, giving a live show demonstrating how to draw with chalks for children on television, and offering lectures to educators, editors, publishers, as well as to the general public across the island (Hong 1991). As the first American expert on children’s literature to visit Taiwan in the postwar period, Munro Leaf has been highly regarded as the “spokesman” (or representative) of children’s literature from the West, having made a great impact on the modernization, and, to some extent, the Americanization of children’s book writing and publishing in Taiwan.


     Two years later, Helen R. Sattley (1909-1999), an American scholar noted in the field of children’s literature and library science, came to Taiwan to give talks and classes to a group of professionals consisting of prospective teachers of children’s literature in normal schools (later renamed and reformed as Teachers’ Colleges) and educational supervisors and administrators, for a duration of four weeks at National Taichung Normal School. Introducing subjects related to psychological studies on children’s readings and American children’s literature studies, Sattley’s talks ushered in new approaches to and notions of childhood and children’s literature, as well as pedagogical and experimental practices of children’s reading. Sattley visited Taiwan at a time when the first set of children’s books published by the Editorial Task Force was newly released, and her expertise in children’s literature and her introduction of a selection of primary children’s literature authors and texts from the United States, such as Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1938), Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings (1941) and Leo Lionni’s Swimmy (1963), to Taiwanese children’s literature authors, educators, and audiences were not only timely for a significant conversation and cultural exchange but also illuminating in presenting a diverse scope and possibly showing a new direction for the literary production for young people.


     Given that both Munro Leaf and Helen R. Sattley were emblematic figures in the modernization of Taiwanese children’s literature and in representing and instilling American ideas of childhood and children’s literature to foreign countries to help “publishers…that were just starting to print books for children” (Mickenberg and Nel 274), my research begins with a close examination of both Leaf’s and Sattley’s works for children, as well as their related writings and talks, in the hope to bring to light the messages, possibly political or pedagogical, embeddedin their texts for children, as well as to attempt to situate and define the norms and concerns of education and print culture for children which were significant or dominant in the American society of the era. I hope thereby to explore and illuminate the cross-cultural dynamics and relations of children’s book publishing in postwar Taiwan.


     Over the first few months of my stay in the U.S., I have been browsing and collecting books and articles written by the two authors. In my quarrying of the history and archival documents, I have more than once been delighted by serendipitous discoveries. In the case of Helen R. Sattley, I learnt that she was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I am currently conducting my research. This discovery has added a fond anecdote to my seemingly daunting task. The coincidence has inspired me to search every local nook and cranny of information regarding Helen R. Sattley, the first female scholar of children’s literature to visit Taiwan in the early postwar period.


     Though now largely forgotten, Helen R. Sattley was Director of School Library Service for the New York City Board of Education at the time she visited Taiwan. She served on the graduate library school faculties of Western Reserve University and Columbia University, and was Chair of the committee which awarded the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott Awards for children’s literature in 1963-64. Besides her achievements as a library scientist and scholar of children’s literature, she was the author of several books for children and young adults, such as The Young Barbarians (1947) and Annie (1961). The former is a teen book, or an adolescent novel, centering on a teenage girl named Barbara who feels insecure in the new relationship with her stepmother and uncertain in face of her life in the high school, while the latter is a family story and a semi-autobiographical account of the childhood of her aunt Annie Sarah Rowland.


     Apart from her dedication to the writing for American young readers, she was an active advocate of global children’s literature. She was a significant member of Children’s Services Division, Committee on Books on Asia for Children—a subdivision of the American Library Association, in which she participated in editing Asia: A Guide to Books for Children—Selected and Annotated. The book edited by a group of nine professionals, including Helen R. Sattley, was published by Asia Society in 1966, the same year that she visited Taiwan (the Republic of China) and Japan as consultant for the Asia Foundation. Sattley’s close ties with Asia in the early postwar period are noteworthy, whether in her personal presence in those Asian countries or in her involvement with the publication of books on Asia for American children.


     Munro Leaf, on the other hand, was a prolific children’s literature author best known for his creation of The Story of Ferdinand (1936). Provocative and politically critical, the story of Ferdinand depicts an alternative (male) identity in conflict with social norms and expectations. With this singular text and others, such as Noodle (1937) and Wee Gillis (1938), Munro Leaf is often regarded as a radical children’s literature author of his time. In addition to his provocative or controversial children’s books (produced in collaboration with other illustrators), Leaf’s numerous Can Be Fun series books with crude stick figures were characteristic of his own creation for children—both as an author and an illustrator. The reading of his Can Be Fun series books, such as Manners Can be Fun (1936), Safety Can Be Fun (1938), History Can Be Fun (1950), and Being an American Can Be Fun (1964)—to name a few, leads one to see the same author not as a radical advocate of new or alternative images of children and childhood but, quite the opposite, a moral educator dedicated to the training of young readers, and the future generations, into knowledgeable and responsible citizens of modern society. The divergent representations of Leaf’s literary creation for children have (re)directed me to further investigate the complex and dynamic relation between the Cold War discourse and the literary production for the young.   


     My research on this point is still ongoing. Therefore I will pause, for now, with mymind resonating with Leaf’s concluding remarks in Let’s Do Better (1945): “Let’s be Thinkers all over the world. Strong, Kind and Unselfish Thinkers and LET’S DO BETTER.”



Works Cited


Christina Klein. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961. Berkeley: U of California P, 2003.

Dr. Seuss. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. New York: Vanguard, 1938.

Hong, Wen-Chiung. Taiwan ertong wenxueshi [The History of Taiwanese Children’s Literature]. Taipei: Chuan Wen, 1994. (in Chinese)

---, ed. huawen ertong wenxue xiaoshi, 1945-1990[The Concise History of Sino-Children’s Literature, 1945-1990]. Taipei: Children’s Literature Society of the Republic of China, 1991. (In Chinese)

Leaf, Munro. Being an American Can be Fun. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1964.

---. History Can Be Fun. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1950.

---. Let's Do Better. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1945.

---. Wee Gillis. New York: Viking, 1938.

---. Manners Can Be Fun. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1936.

---. The Story of Ferdinand. New York: Viking, 1936.

Leaf, Munro, and Ludwig Bemelmans. Noodle. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1937.

Lin, Wen-Bao and Xiu-Jin Zhao. ertong duwu bianji xiaozu de lishi yu shenying [The History and Silhouette of the Editorial Task Force for Children’s Books]. Taitung: The Graduate Institute of Children’s Literature, 2003. (in Chinese)

Lionni, Leo. Swimmy. New York: Pantheon, 1963.

Mickenberg, Julia L. and Philip Nel, eds. Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature. New York: New York UP, 2008.

McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. New York: Viking, 1941.

Sattley, Helen R. Annie. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1961.

---. The Young Barbarians. New York: W. Morrow, 1947.

Wiese, M. Bernice et al., eds. Asia: A Guide to Books for Children—Selected and Annotated. New York: The Asia Society, 1966.



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