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Professor's Book Analyzes Trauma in Children's Literature PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
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Children’s literature is a source of discipline for young readers, according to a new book by a University of Southern Mississippi English professor.

In “Melancholia and Maturation: The Use of Trauma in American Children’s Literature,” Dr. Eric Tribunella argues the low-grade symptoms of melancholia are what characterize the mature, sober and responsible adult, and children‘s literature is used to induce this condition in children. By Tribunella’s estimation, only a handful of scholarly articles have been published on this topic, making his work the first book-length study of trauma in children’s literature.
“In an age when it has become taboo to physically discipline children, the use of trauma in children’s literature has become increasingly prominent as a disciplinary device,” Tribunella said.
Published by the University of Tennessee Press, “Melancholia and Maturation: The Use of Trauma in American Children’s Literature” uniquely occupies the intersection between children’s literature, trauma studies and queer theory in an attempt to provide a psychoanalytical and historical explanation for why trauma occurs in some of the most popular American fiction for children.
One of the things Tribunella finds most compelling about children’s literature is how it might defy expectations of children, childhood and children’s culture. “Some might not expect children’s literature to be filled with depictions of trauma, abuse and suffering. My book is an attempt to explain why it is,” Tribunella said.
Each chapter focuses on a different kind of lost object sacrificed in order to propel the child toward a distinctively gendered, sexual, ethical and national adulthood. “From same-sex friends to canine companions of boy-and-his dog stories, from the lost ideals of historical fiction about the American Revolution to the children killed or traumatized in Holocaust novels,” he said.
Tribunella examines a wide spectrum of literature – including Jack London’s dog tales, the contemporary novels of S.E. Hinton and Newbery Medal winners like “Johnny Tremain” and “Bridge to Terabithia.”

Tribunella is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Southern Miss specializing in children’s and young adult literature, lesbian and gay literature, queer theory, gender studies and critical theory.

His articles have been published in “Children’s Literature Association Quarterly,” “Children’s Literature in Education,” The Lion and the Unicorn: A Critical Journal of Children’s Literature and Children’s Literature.”

Dr. Eric Tribunella

About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at

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