Tag Archives: children’s literature

Kate Sutherland

The Lawyers of Children’s Literature

I recently reconnected with a childhood friend on Facebook, and she reminded me that, at the age of ten, I was already telling anyone who asked that I was going to be a lawyer when I grew up. As it turns out, I became a law professor, but I remain a paid-up (albeit non-practicing) member of the Saskatchewan Bar, so mission accomplished, more or less. The focus of this post, though, is not the attainment of the goal but what inspired it. Where did I get the idea that a lawyer was a thing to be, and what sort of work did I envision a lawyer doing?

There are two of us now, but back then there were no lawyers in my family, or even in my family history. (Recent genealogical research has confirmed the latter perception. I’ve turned up shepherds, coalminers, steelworkers, carpenters, calico printers, tailors, domestic servants, schoolteachers, and even one errant phrenologist, but no lawyers.) Nor were there any lawyers amongst the family members of my friends. My childhood pre-dated the heyday of television legal dramas, so I don’t think that I can locate the inspiration there. I might have caught the odd Perry Mason rerun, but I was already in law school by the time L.A. Law and Street Legal arrived on the small screen.

So I can only conclude that, as is true of many of my good ideas, it came from books. But which books? Who are the lawyers of children’s literature? I have thought long and hard about my childhood reading, particularly beloved repeat reads, and I can recall only two fictional lawyers that got more than a passing mention.

The first appears in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. The novel details the adventures of eleven-year-old Claudia Kincaid when, feeling underappreciated, she runs away from her suburban Connecticut home with her nine-year-old brother Jamie in tow, and takes up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. But the tale is not told by either of the youthful protagonists; the book is narrated by Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, an elderly, eccentric patron of the arts, in the form of a letter to Saxonberg, her lawyer of 41 years, instructing him to change her will and explaining why she wishes him to do so. Throughout, Mrs. Frankweiler represents Saxonberg as no friend of the arts. He’s dull and boring, caring only for law, taxes, and his grandchildren. He’s “never set [his] well-polished toe inside that museum,” and is “altogether unconscious of the magic of Michelangelo.” Though it is apparent by the end that this is not an entirely accurate picture, it nevertheless renders Saxonberg an unlikely role model for my ten-year-old self who had artistic as well as legal aspirations. I might credit the book with stoking my interest in museums and art galleries, and certainly with contributing to the fascination that New York City held for me decades before I ever traveled there. But I rule it out as an early impetus to pursue a legal career.

That leaves Carson Drew, “well-known lawyer,” and father to teenage sleuth Nancy Drew. But surely, I thought, Carson Drew played only a bit part in the series, keeping well in the background as parents are wont to do in children’s literature to accord child characters plenty of room for independent action. Not so, I found after a bit of rereading. Certainly he doesn’t get in the way of Nancy’s independence⎯she whisks about the countryside in that enviable blue convertible with his blessing. But he’s a solid presence and his legal work is far from an incidental detail. On the first page of the first installment of the series, The Secret of the Old Clock, we’re told that he “frequently discussed puzzling aspects of cases with [Nancy],” and thereafter we find that her investigations are sometimes undertaken to assist in his work. Even when her cases are not connected with his, they tend to focus on legal matters (wills, trusts, contracts, and patents, alongside the more readily anticipated counterfeiting, theft, and kidnapping), and legal information or advice from him or one of his colleagues often proves pivotal in solving the mysteries. Further, when her father praises her investigative prowess, the compliments are sometimes couched in legal terms. “‘You sound like a trial lawyer, the way you cross-examine me,’ Mr. Drew protested, but with evident enjoyment.” And later: “Excellent deducting.”

Perhaps, then, I fancied that lawyers’ work involved Nancy Drew style investigation but with a paycheque attached, and I really ought to have set my sights on a career as a private detective. If it was Nancy rather than Carson Drew who served as primary role model and inspiration, then I’m in good legal company, standing with the likes of U.S. Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Still, I can’t help but think that for me, and perhaps for them too, the legal aspect contributed to the allure.

But the notable lawyers of children’s literature must number more than two. Who have I missed? Please share any names that occur to you in the comments section below.

Kate Sutherland

Weekend Roundup of News & Reviews, February 28-March 6, 2011

Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention this week.

In the latest stage of a drawn-out court battle over ownership of manuscripts that Franz Kafka entrusted to his friend Max Brod, an inventory of the long hidden archive has been filed, but it is not yet clear whether it includes unknown work. The battle is between Israel’s National Library, and sisters Eva Hoffe and Ruth Wiesler who acquired the manuscripts from their mother Esther Hoffe, Brod’s longtime secretary to whom much of his estate passed after his death in 1968. For a full background on the case and the many interesting issues it raises, see Elif Batuman’s fascinating and exhaustive account, current up to September, in the New York Times. (Reuters, Haaretz)

According to the International Publishers Association, books that had been banned by the recently ousted regime of Ben Ali are returning to bookstore shelves in Tunisia. And anecdotal reports from Egypt suggest that, similarly, “once suppressed titles [are] appearing for impromptu sale on street corners and newspaper kiosks” there. (Guardian)

Another week brings more legal challenges to proposed library closures in the UK, including one by Campaign for the Book, a pro-library campaign group headed by author Alan Gibbons, which involves a national challenge to the culture secretary’s response to library closures “in the light of his duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act.” (Guardian)

The Guardian reports that a number of publishing houses, primarily in France, were subjected to early morning raids this week in connection with a European commission investigation into ebook price fixing. The commission released a statement indicating that it “has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices.” (Guardian)

The owner of now defunct publishing company New Century has been ordered by an Indiana court to pay a substantial sum in fines and restitution to authors whose promised books were never produced. (Indianapolis Star)

After an appeal hearing last week in Missouri, judges of the Eighth Circuit are considering whether or not Warner Brothers’ copyright in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie was infringed by a t-shirt company’s use of images of the characters. Though the images came from publicity posters, they were in the public domain because they were distributed prior to registration of copyright. The court below nevertheless gave judgment in favour of Warner Brothers on the basis that, beyond the actual images, the t-shirt company was exploiting identifiable and distinctive characteristics of the characters developed in the movie that were entitled to copyright protection such as “Dorothy’s inherent wisdom coupled with her Midwestern farm girl innocence” and “the apparent inconsistencies of Scarecrow, (without a brain vs. wisdom and leader), Tin Man (without a heart vs. compassion and tenderness) and Cowardly Lion, (without courage vs. bravery and chivalrousness).” A major difficulty with this analysis, as pointed out by Dennis Crouch in a recent post on Patently-O, is that “the particular identifiable traits of the characters identified here (apart from the portraying actors) were all derived directly from L. Frank Baum’s 1900 Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel that is now out of copyright.” It will be most interesting to see what the appeal court concludes. (Patently-O, THR, Esq.)

In the culmination of a case that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, CBS has succeeded in having a defamation suit against it struck out under California’s anti-SLAPP law as an infringement of its free speech rights. The action was brought by a couple who alleged that a pair of unsavoury characters in a CSI episode were a thinly-veiled, highly defamatory portrait of them. The characters on the episode as finally aired had the same first names and occupations as the plaintiffs, but a different though similar last name. But the scriptwriter, who was acquainted with the plaintiffs through an unsuccessful real estate deal, had initially used their full names in the script, and through leaks, their full names had been linked with the characters in online plot synopses. Nevertheless, the appeal court found that the court below had erred in refusing CBS’s anti-SLAPP motion. According to THR, Esq, Justice Nora Manella wrote that “the creative process must be unfettered, and even though Goldfinger [the scriptwriter] didn’t need to use real names as placeholders for guest characters, it would be imprudent to place legal pitfalls that disrupt a writer at work.” (THR, Esq., Metropolitan News-Enterprise)

A court case which many asserted would break new ground in testing the application of defamation law to Twitter in the U.S. is not to be. Hole singer Courtney Love is reported to have settled the suit brought against her by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir over an allegedly defamatory Twitter rant for $430,000. (THR, Esq., Rolling Stone)

An archaeology professor from Loyola University in Chicago last week plead guilty “to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, admitting to removing 17 artifacts, including arrowheads, from public lands on two field trips to New Mexico.” He has agreed to return the artifacts and to assist the Bureau of Land Management with an investigation into a large-scale scheme to plunder New Mexico archaeological sites. (Chicago Tribune)

Barry Forshaw lauds Leif Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, the first book in a trilogy which has as its central focus the 1986 assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, as “an intricately detailed crime narrative” and also “a powerful state-of-the-nation novel.” He concludes: “Those who feel that crime fiction can tackle truly serious issues should pay attention to Persson’s magnum opus. They may tussle with the 500-odd pages, but they will end up hungry for later volumes of this ambitious trilogy.” (The Independent)

In a New York Times review titled “CSI: Georgian England,” Jason Goodwin offers this tantalizing summary of Imogen Robertson’s first novel, Instruments of Darkness: “It’s a sensitive melodrama, investing almost every character with a dark and sometimes unsavory past, its plot filled with signet rings, wills, adventuresses, concealed letters and dissection, all set against the pleasantly unpleasant background of the Gordon Riots, which prodded a mob of Protestant Londoners into an anti-Catholic frenzy. The climax, as might be expected, involves a chase across the ravaged city to ensure that justice is done to the wronged and that the wrongdoers get their comeuppance.” (NYT)

Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies begins in 1985 on Guernsey Island, but reaches back to the Channel Islands’ WWII history of German occupation. Christian House praises the novel for dissecting “the legacy of this extraordinary time […] with precision and empathy.” He notes the unconventional means by which the tale is told, and ultimately describes the debut author’s achievement thus: “What is exceptional about this novel is the skilled manner in which Horlock records the domino-topple of such mistakes from one generation to another, a terrible inheritance in which yesterday’s conflicts undermine today’s peace.” I will definitely be snapping up a copy of this one. (The Independent)

Kate Sutherland

Freedom to Read Week



It’s Freedom to Read Week in Canada, an annual event organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, “that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

This means thought-provoking displays to peruse and events to attend all across the country.

Here are some of my options in Toronto:

Censoring Manga for Fun and Profit
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at 7:00 pm at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Christopher Butcher, manager of famed comic book store The Beguiling, will talk “about the many surprising and unfortunate ways manga are censored in North America, as artistic integrity is sacrificed out of fear and a desire to maximize profit.” On his website, Comics212, Butcher gives a bit more detail: “As for my talk, it’s going to go after particularly heinous examples of censorship, get into some of the reasons behind the changes, and into a larger discussion about censorship and manga in regards to the new laws in Tokyo and with our own beloved Canada Customs. It should be a lively discussion. Oh, and there will be adult images shown, so get parental permission before coming out kids!” For a bit of background on the issues he’ll be addressing, click here to read a recent interview with Butcher in the Toronto Star.

Sexual Outliers: Censorship, Advocacy Journalism and the Gay Press
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at 7:00 pm at the Yorkville Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Pink Triangle Press (PTP), publishers of Xtra and fab, will present a salon discussion “on moral puzzles involving censorship and free expression as covered in the gay press.” The question of how “queer communities [are] struggling to reconcile the fights for freedom of sexual and political expression with their desire to fight homophobic expression” will be explored through “case studies rang[ing] from Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and the Toronto Pride Parade, to murder music, Canada Border Services Agency and queer-themed film.”

Challenging Books: Who Should Decide What Our Children Read?
On Wednesday, February 23rd, at the Gladstone Hotel, this panel discussion will be the centerpiece of the Book and Periodical Council ‘s annual celebration of Freedom to Read Week. The panelists will be: “Patsy Aldana (Award-winning founder and Publisher of Groundwood Books); David Booth (Professor Emeritus in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Department in the OISE at the University of Toronto); Eve Freedman (Student and winner of TWUC’s Freedom to Read Award) and Peggy Thomas (Librarian and Library Service Manager at the Toronto Public Library)”. Questions to be addressed include: “Why is it that we continue to see controversial books removed or challenged in our school libraries and classrooms? When is removing a book justified? Where do we draw the line? Can we raise a generation of critical thinkers if we remove controversial publications from the system? Where should children learn about these difficult topics, if not in an educational setting? How can we prepare educators to address these controversial subjects?” Doors open at 6:00 pm, and the festivities begin at 6:30.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Hate
On Friday, February 25th, at 7:00 pm at the Toronto Reference Library Atrium, PEN Canada and the Toronto Public Library will present a panel discussion addressing such questions as: “How should we define hate speech? Who should censor it, and when should the right to free expression be invoked? “ The panel will be moderated by Steve Paikin, Host of TVO’s The Agenda, and will feature these panelists: “Susan G. Cole, author, playwright, broadcaster and senior editor at NOW Magazine; Jonathan Kat, op-ed columnist and comment pages editor for the National Post; Janet Keeping, President of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership; and, Richard Moon, author and Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor.” Tickets are $10 at the door and the proceeds will go to PEN Canada.

For a listing of Freedom to Read Week events elsewhere in the country, click here.

Of course, you could also stay home and exercise your freedom to read.