Talk Explores Health and Sickness in Children's Literature

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From The Secret Garden to Heidi, health and sickness have been recurrent themes in children’s literature since the 19th Century.

Jean Webb, Professor of International Children’s Literature at the University of Worcester, will explore this theme at a free talk being held at The Hive, Worcester, next month.

Professor Webb’s talk, titled Health and Children’s Literature, takes place on November 4th at 6pm and is free to attend.

“In early literature, there is a real theme around punishment and disability,” said Professor Webb, Director of the International Forum for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Worcester. “If we think about the character Katy in What Katy Did, she is very unsympathetic towards her aunt, and as punishment for her actions she ends up in a wheelchair. But then she learns how to be kinder to people and is cured.

“Also, in the classic children's book Heidi, the character Clara is portrayed as a spoiled and insulated child, who regains the ability to walk after befriending Heidi and overcoming a vague and unexplained psychological problem, the apparent cause of her physical paralysis, which in reality would be medically unlikely.”

Professor Webb, who was one of the first to start researching the way children’s health and wellbeing is portrayed in children’s literature, said it’s not until the 1970s in English children’s books when we start to get a more positive representation, such as the character Johnny in Carrie’s War.

This talk will discuss the shifts from how the health of children was portrayed in 19th century literature for children to contemporary times, including disability. Texts discussed will include: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868); F.H. Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911) and ‘The Little Hunchback’ (1916); Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War (1974) and Last Night I Sang to the Monster (2009) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.”

To book a free place please visit