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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A spoonful of silly : examining the relationship between children's nonsense verse and critical literacy Tulloch, Bonnie


This thesis interrogates the common assumption that nonsense literature makes “no sense.” Building off research in the fields of English and Education that suggests the intellectual value of literary nonsense, this study explores the nonsense verse of several North American children’s poets to determine if and how their play with language disrupts the colonizing agenda of children’s literature. Adopting the critical lenses of Translation Theory and Postcolonial Theory in its discussion of Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra! (1955) and I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! (1978), along with selected poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974), A Light in the Attic (1981), Runny Babbit (2005), Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie (1974), Nicholas Knock and Other People (1974), and JonArno Lawson’s Black Stars in a White Night Sky (2006) and Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box (2012), this thesis examines how the foreignizing effect of nonsense verse exposes the hidden adult presence within children’s literature, reminding children that childhood is essentially an adult concept—a subjective interpretation (i.e., translation) of their lived experiences. Analyzing the way these poets’ nonsense verse deviates from cultural norms and exposes the hidden adult presence within children’s literature, this research considers the way their poetry assumes a knowledgeable implied reader, one who is capable of critically engaging with the text. Discussing the implications of this reader position, this study ends by reflecting on the potential relationship between nonsense verse and critical literacy.

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