Vulnerability, Perfectionism, and the Job Search

I’m currently reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, and even though I know what it’s all about from following her TED talks and podcasts and Super Soul Conversations with Oprah, reading it is still mind-blowing.

I’m starting to realize why the job search is so hard and uncomfortable: it’s all about vulnerability.

Applying for a job is literally putting yourself up for judgment.

On a recent Unlocking Us podcast episode (linked below), Dr. Yaba Blay said she had found academia “the least affirming space” for her, and I felt that in my soul. Looking for a job in academia is incredibly painful and soul-destroying–every job posting is for a niche topic and requires relocating and demands an extensive track record of excellent, world-changing research, etc. I can scroll through pages and pages of academic job postings without finding a single thing that I can apply for–and I come away thinking it’s because I’m not good enough. I haven’t had enough publications or research experience or funding awards. As Brene Brown terms it, I operate from a place of scarcity.

The job search is all about scarcity (lacking qualifications/experience/money) and perfectionism (fear of judgment and rejection, trying to please and impress at the interview), and it requires you to be vulnerable. Nightmare.

This is especially true if, like me, you associate your self-worth with your accomplishments. Your CV/resume is a list of your accomplishments, so if you put it out there and it gets rejected, you feel worthless. Even worse, if you get shortlisted and get your hopes up and go to an interview, you can get rejected by people who actually met you and talked with you. How do you go through that without feeling worthless?

Brené Brown’s answer is that you don’t attach your self-worth to your accomplishments, to a job, to a relationship, etc. You just stand in the knowledge that you are enough. Right now, as is. If you can separate those things and know that whatever happens, you are enough, then you can withstand disappointments.

I’ve had the hardest time wrapping my head around that concept. If you don’t prove yourself with achievements, then how do you? It made no sense to me. Growing up, I only understood my worth in terms of achievement, specifically academic achievement. I was motivated by it, and now Brené Brown’s telling me I didn’t actually have to get a PhD to be worthy? That the overweight, crooked-toothed, frizzy-haired 13-year-old in a baggy t-shirt in my 8th grade school picture was good enough just as she was? Believing that requires a wholesale rejection of everything society has taught me all my life.

And that’s just it. You don’t prove yourself–you can’t and you don’t have to. You are just inherently worthy of love and belonging because you are human. It’s completely at odds with the world around us, with advertising and tv and movies, etc. But there’s also something very obvious about it. Of course everyone has value.

I struggle to accept this lesson for myself and my own self-worth, but one day I realised that I already do accept that people have inherent worth–when it comes to other people. When I was doom-scrolling job sites, it occurred to me that I don’t know what careers our old friends at church had before they retired, but I still think they’re wonderful people. They’re friendly, kind, funny, generous, community-minded. I see them as “contributing members of society,” a designation I won’t give myself until I have a “proper” job.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around vulnerability and trying to muster up the courage to put myself out there (blogging is part of it), but I think it’s all part of the need for self-compassion. Acknowledging that this is hard, recognising that nobody gets it right all the time, and standing firm in the knowledge that you are already enough, just as you are.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, March 3). Brené with Dr. Yaba Blay on One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Uswith Brené Brown. Parcast Network. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-dr-yaba-blay-on-one-drop-shifting-the-lens-on-race/

Writing Your Journal Article In Twelve Weeks–Week 2: Argumentation Revisited

Since my last post about the workbook, I’ve gone away and worked on the study. Once I started looking at my data and playing around with it, and reading through the methods lit that I’d long neglected, I realized that all of this lovely data I’ve been collecting could be used for multiple studies with different approaches. In the past that might have made me feel overwhelmed and lost, but now I see it as a good thing. I drafted a book outline and saw where everything I want to do could fit together to make a coherent larger study. The book is the ultimate goal, but for now, I’m working on turning one part of it (discourse analysis) into a journal article-length paper that I can submit to ICA at the end of the month. It’s a great opportunity to get it peer-reviewed at an early stage, whether it gets accepted or not.

Now that I know what my evidence is saying, I’m able to revisit the argument stage in Week 2. A lot of interesting things came out of my data (hence the desire to turn it all into a book–it doesn’t fit in 1 or 2 journal articles), so I narrowed my focus down to a very specific claim about just one feature of the gun debate discourse: the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.

In the initial check of my 4,824 relevant tweets, the exact phrase “thoughts and prayers” appeared 85 times. 341 were coded as “thoughts and prayers” for their topic, so it was a common theme even without the exact wording. Members of Congress often avoided using the cliche phrase (this Slate article noted that several Republicans didn’t use it), instead saying they were “heartbroken” or calling it a “tragedy,” and often still saying that they were “praying for those affected” without using the now-maligned “thoughts and prayers.” Most of my 85 exact phrase matches were actually Democrats using it in a negative sense–“thoughts and prayers aren’t enough” or “we need more than thoughts and prayers, we need real action from Congress on gun violence,” etc. There was a clear partisan difference in the ways people used “thoughts and prayers”, and a clear backlash against the phrase–you could see it in memes, cartoons, in tweets from both Democrats and Republicans.

I used to draw these maps with students when I was helping them sort out their ideas–it helps to just get it down on paper and you can then see what’s strongest, what can be cut, what can be developed further, etc.

As it stands at the moment, my argument is that there was a backlash against T&P and a discursive turn towards calls to action from both parties (Republicans called for action in terms of increasing school security and arming teachers, Democrats called for gun control–but at the end of the day, they’re both “action” instead of just passive “T&P.”)

It definitely still needs some refining, and we’ll see how it develops as I use it to structure the paper! I loved Belcher’s discussion of argument-organized vs. evidence-organized writing, and I’m trying to bear that in mind as I deal with my evidence.

What I’m Reading : Methodology

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been taking some time to read up on research methods. It’s one of those tasks that’s always been lingering on the back burner—something that I’ve been meaning to do and just never gotten around to doing. It’s not exciting, but it’s important to have a solid understanding of research methods as a foundation for an academic career. A bit tiresome but useful for the future, like a nightly skincare routine that you’re tempted to skip.

Part of my imposter syndrome is that I really never had a strong foundation in methodology, yet I have taught research methods and supervised research projects for years. I recommend books to my students that I haven’t even read myself! I felt like I had skipped something. So, this past month, I finally corrected that and read all of the methods books I had on my shelf (but never actually read before), and ordered a few more.

-Excellent guide to content analysis, very clear and well explained. I read it cover to cover, and now I feel much more comfortable with my recommendations for it over the years!

—Altheide was recommended for further reading in Neuendorf’s section on qualitative research, and it really clicked with me. I have been doing what he described without knowing what it was called…

—Berger is one of those authors that we use in the first year undergrad research methods module, so I was familiar with the chapters of his that I’ve taught. This is a good introduction-level textbook, with clear explanations and good recommendations for further reading.

—I’ve always recommended Fairclough without really knowing much about his work and taking the time to understand it. Now that I’ve actually read this all the way through and worked with it, I wish I had read it years ago. I would have been a better supervisor for all of my students who wanted to do discourse analysis or CDA.


—Good overview of different approaches, useful for comparing and contrasting techniques when you’re trying to decide what to do. Once you’re sure about your method (s), though, you need something more detailed and specific.

—Another one that was recommended by another text (this is the ‘snowball technique’ of literature searching, btw). I didn’t notice that it was an edited volume when I ordered it, so was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t just van Dijk—I think I may need to order one of his other books. Good overview, but not as prescriptive as Fairclough’s Language and Power.

—This one arrived in the post today and I’m looking forward to reading it again. It’s the only method book that I remember reading during my MA research, and as such I’ve recommended it to a lot of supervisees. I remember struggling with it a bit, so it’s going to be interesting to see how I get on with it now.

Overall, it’s been lovely to take this time to sort myself out and grow more confident with the methods literature. It’s taken away some of the shame I felt around not knowing enough about all of the various techniques my colleagues mentioned so casually. I also felt like a bit of a hypocrite, as I always tell my supervisees not to forget about methods lit. It feels good that I finally followed my own advice!

Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks–Week 2

Back to school–my favorite time of year! George’s return to in-person school means that I now have a little writing time every day! It feels so luxurious to have this extra time, especially after 6 months of being together 24/7. Even though I still have one kid at home to take care of, it’s so much easier–he naps better when there’s no big brother to wake him up, too. As I write this, he’s sleeping on me in the Ergo, just like I used to do with George. With all of this newfound time, I’ve been able to get my coding & SPSS done for 3 datasets and actually get my quantitative data for the paper I’m working on about Congressional Twitter post-Parkland.

This week of the workbook focused on the argument–probably the most important aspect, and often the most difficult. When I’m marking or proofreading someone else’s work, it’s easy to spot a missing or weak argument. When it comes to crafting one of my own, from scratch…I struggle to come up with a clear, central argument that covers all of the ideas/angles I want to include.

I thought I had a fairly good idea of my argument for this paper-in-progress. One way of thinking about the argument was to see it as an answered research question, so with that starting point:

RQ: How did members of Congress use Twitter in the aftermath of Parkland?

Argument: In the aftermath of Parkland, members of Congress used Twitter as a political communication tool to express empathy and to display partisan positions on the national gun debate.

As soon as I wrote mine out, I realised it was a description, not an argument. It was also very dry and put me to sleep. The topic is inherently interesting–a school shooting, hashtag activism, partisan points-scoring in the wake of a tragedy–but how do I do it justice?

The workbook has a series of tests you can use to determine whether you have an argument. Mine failed the “observation test”–it doesn’t explain anything. It needs to be interpreted, in light of the literature and my specific findings. It also sort of failed the “obvious test”–my claim is too general and a bit obvious. It needs to be something specific and clear, and something that you could only find out through deeper research.

Part of the delay so far has been that I didn’t actually have my findings yet. You can’t form an argument if you don’t have the evidence you’re going to use to support your argument yet.

I’m still in the process of figuring out what the evidence is, but my initial findings suggest that there’s the kind of political polarization going on that you’d expect.

  • Democrat Congress members with NRA grades of “F” wrote 76% of all Parkland/gun-related tweets during the month that followed the shooting.
  • Fully 100% of the tweets that advocated arming teachers, supported the NRA, and supported the 2nd amendment were tweeted by Republican NRA “A” grade Congress members.
  • Similarly, 100% of the tweets that discussed gun-control responses from corporations (i.e. DICKS sporting goods and Wal-Mart raising the age to buy guns/ammo to 21) came from Democrat “F” grade Congress members.

The one topic category that wasn’t definitely favored by one party over the other was “thoughts and prayers”. It’s the only truly bipartisan response to the shooting. It’s become a cliched and mandatory demonstration of caring–politicians must tweet their thoughts & prayers as a minimum (and many did just that one tweet and then never mentioned gun violence/policies again that month).

I’ll see how the rest of the analysis goes, but this is one angle I’m suspecting might turn into an argument. In a crisis situation, like a school shooting, members of Congress must be seen to care (whether they actually do or not). Expressing “thoughts & prayers” on Twitter is a low-cost (in terms of effort, time, and money), way to perform that necessary display of caring. After Parkland, however, such performative caring was deemed by many to be insufficient. “Thoughts and prayers” were met with resistance, accusations of failure on the part of politicians to keep children safe, and calls to action. Policy changes were demanded, rather than/beyond the performative act of caring with “thoughts and prayers.”

**But, my data is about what Congress said/did, not what voters demanded of them, so my evidence won’t necessarily support that argument directly.

This is why it’s complicated!

Lockdown hits different for Moms…

The lockdown has been strange and difficult for everybody, but one demographic that has been particularly impacted is mothers.

I happen to be on maternity leave, luckily. I weren’t, I don’t know how I could possibly teach online, mark assessments, answer e-mails, etc. on top of caring for my baby, teaching my primary schooler, cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, etc. I’m exhausted just from doing the 50’s housewife thing, plus teaching one kid. Doing any research on top of all of that is unimaginable.

It looks like I’m not the only academic mom who’s completely absorbed with childcare/domestic concerns during the lockdown. This article in the Guardian shows how common it is—while journal article submissions from men have actually increased during the lockdown, women’s research outputs have dropped significantly.

Our work is the first thing to fall by the wayside in a crisis. One thing that struck me in the article, though, was that even an immunologist, somebody whose work has actual relevance for the crisis– who’s actually giving lectures on COVID-19–is facing the same challenges of balancing work and home responsibilities.

She is quick to point out that her husband has taken on a lot at home too, but because she earns less, and can be more flexible about when she works, the bulk of the childcare falls to her.

Anna Fazackerley, The Guardian

When I read that paragraph, it felt like my parenthood/career journey summed up, capturing the conflict between what makes sense and what feels right. I don’t want to complain–like this woman “is quick to point out,” my husband helps, too. I should be grateful–but then I think of the satirical “Man Who Has It All” posts like this:

Man Who Has It All

It makes sense to put my career on hold, to embrace maternity leave and quarantine homeschooling, to do the bulk of the housework, shopping and meal planning, etc. I’m happy to do it, most of the time.

But… I feel like an idiot and a failure for not having an established career—I’ve got a PhD, a few publications, but not a permanent contract or even a full-time post yet. And shouldn’t I be working on that? Shouldn’t the half-finished books and articles and proposals get some attention?

The Mom guilt voice says no, your kids are not going to be babies forever—embrace this time together! Your work can wait! (How unfair that men don’t seem to have an equivalent voice in their heads…)

The lockdown offers a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to embrace motherhood (or parenthood) and domesticity–whether you actually want to or not.

Pregnancy for Academics

3 weeks postpartum at PhD graduation–at the party, someone asked how I did it, how I combined research and pregnancy/childbirth. I did it by delaying my graduation ceremony, and finishing my PhD before even getting pregnant!

Between not teaching this term, doing up the new house and being pregnant, I’ve neglected this blog over the past couple of months. I’ve been meaning to post thoughts on pregnancy/parenting as an early-career academic, but it’s a big topic to tackle, and difficult to be reflective and inclusive when I really only have my own experiences to share. My maternity leave officially starts today, so I thought I’d have a go anyway and share some of my favourite pregnancy resources.

1) Pregnant Chicken

As a first-time mom who took an instant dislike to the tone of sites like “What to Expect” and “The Bump”, I was thrilled to find “Pregnant Chicken”. Brilliant, funny Canadian writer Amy Morrison is everything you’d want in a mom-friend–she clearly knows her stuff but keeps the tone upbeat and never preachy or judgmental. She strikes the perfect balance between information and entertainment.

Her week-by-week pregnancy calendar e-mails are the only ones I signed up for this time. My favourite posts are this very accurate sleep guide and this essential reading for new parents who are upset/confused/irritated by unsolicited comments & advice.

2) Evidence Based Birth

On a recent Birth Hour podcast, Evidence Based Birth‘s founder Rebecca Dekker, PhD, explained how the site and its resources grew out of her research into her own first birth experience. It was traumatic, for both her and the baby, and included a number of practices that are not supported by evidence. They were simply presented to her as necessary and “the way things are done,” and as a first time mother, she didn’t think to question them. The site presents evidence from actual medical research in a neutral, fact-based way that does not seek to promote any particular philosophy or approach to birth.

As an American in the UK, it’s been very interesting to me to look into the evidence as I try to work out why the NHS does what it does, and why their outcomes are so much better than those in the US healthcare system. This article on the evidence & ethics on circumcision is a great example–if I’d stayed in America, my sons would have been circumcised without a second thought. It’s “the way things are done” there, yet rare in many other countries. The NHS doesn’t perform them routinely.

3) Ina May Gaskin

I never thought I would go for a “natural” approach to childbirth–I always liked the joke that an epidural is “natural” because it’s natural to want pain relief. Two things changed my mind: 1) watching The Business of Being Born, and 2) reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I first heard about counterculture icon Ina May Gaskin in the documentary, and when I became pregnant I turned to her book to learn more. I donated the book after I had George, to pass on her wisdom to others, and then bought another copy when I became pregnant again. I love reading the positive birth stories–especially because we usually hear horror stories from others and in the media! One of my favourite concepts from Gaskin is the idea that women shouldn’t be afraid of giving birth–our bodies are made to do it, and animals don’t approach birth with fear. While there are plenty of scary things that can go wrong, it’s good to be reminded that most of the time, birth doesn’t require extensive medical interventions to get a healthy mom & baby at the end of the process. I’m not 100% on board with all of the ideas presented, but as they said at La Leche League meetings, “take what works for you and leave the rest.”

From whispers to bricks…

In 2008, when I came to Leeds for my Masters, I loved my department. I loved public diplomacy and political communication and the specific ways my department interpreted them, and I admired and respected the vast majority of the staff members. I found friends and mentors, met and fell in love with my now-husband, and I put together a PhD proposal with an amazing supervisor. Everything seemed to be happening for a reason and it all felt right.

After my supervisor’s death, and my other supervisors’ departure from academia, and other staff leaving the department, things changed. I started to sense some whispers, some clues that I no longer belonged in the department. Our international communication experts were replaced with people who interpreted it very differently, and the department abruptly shifted away from public diplomacy. I kept smiling through it all and felt confident that I would be fine. I wasn’t the only one–there were a few of us who were left behind, studying public diplomacy and propaganda in a department that no longer had expertise in those areas. We joked that we were “propaganda pandas”–an endangered species.

I ignored the whispers. I applied to jobs and didn’t get any after the PhD, and I took up short-term, part-time contracts in my department. I told myself it was worth it, to “keep my foot in the door” of academia, to be able to access the library, to have networking opportunities, etc. Apart from a couple of conferences, I have little to show for these 3 years and 10 months of short-term contracts.

Today I got a brick. Nobody in my department has told me directly that I’m definitely not getting my contact renewed–two weeks ago, I was told that they were still allocating teaching and would be in touch. Today, I saw my name in a departmental staff newsletter under the “goodbyes”, listed as one of the people who is leaving.

I’m pretty sure that’s a brick, from the department that’s changed so much over the past decade. I’m going to listen this time, and say goodbye back.

Out now! The Legacy of J. William Fulbright: Policy, Power and Ideology

The edited volume with my book chapter is now officially published! It’s listed on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, Google Books, Jstor, and sometimes I’m even listed as a contributing author! I’m so excited to see it in print! I love the cover, too–it has a definite 1960s, retro feel to it, and the ’60’s were the Senator’s prime years.

This book came out of a fantastic conference I took part in at the University of Arkansas, 1-2 September 2015.

I’m hiding away behind Nancy Snow–it was such a great experience to finally meet her, talk about our mutual interests in exchange diplomacy, and share memories of Phil Taylor!

My chapter is much improved after being rewritten a couple of times since then, and it’s not the only thing that’s changed:

9 week old George in our conference hotel room…
Our walking, talking 4 year old George today!

I’m so proud of the editors and contributors for all of their hard work, and so grateful that I had the opportunity to take part in this project. It covers a great mix of biography, history, sociology and public diplomacy. All academic books try to emphasise their originality, but it really does add some new perspectives and insights on the Senator and on his namesake exchange program. My chapter and Alice Garner & Diane Kirkby’s chapter bring a discussion of gender to the collection that, until now, has been ignored in studies of the Fulbright Program. Well done everybody!

Five Year Viva-versary

That’s the smile of a relieved PhD student!

Five years ago today, I passed my PhD viva without corrections and was officially done with grad school. June 18th is right up there with my wedding day and my son’s birthday in terms of memorable dates. In all 3 cases, the event had a long build-up with lots of preparation to do, when the day of it finally happening arrived it felt surreal, and the event itself went smoothly. Weddings, childbirth and PhD vivas are all high-stakes and emotive events, but it’s worth remembering that they’re all just one day in a much longer journey (marriage, parenting, career).

With the 5 year milestone approaching, I’ve been feeling very down on myself and disappointed with my lack of career progression lately. In the world of academia, both in terms of funding opportunities and jobs, the first 5 years after the PhD is awarded are considered your “early career” years. This early career status means you’re eligible for roles where it’s not expected for you to have a large track record of publications and research outputs. My “maternity leave” (I didn’t have formal mat leave, as I wasn’t working yet) gives me a little extra time, and according to some funding advice I’ve heard, my part-time employment status might give me more time before I lose my “early career” designation. But in my mind, I’ve officially lost that status today. It’s been 5 years. 5 years is long enough to get established–or at least I thought it would be, but here I am, still in my old department, still on a part-time & fixed-term contract, still lacking publications, and I’m 33 and I’ve never worked full-time. It’s cathartic to put that out there–and maybe other early career academics will read it and feel better about their situations.

This evening after work, I thought about all of the things I’ve done over the past 5 years that don’t make it onto the CV and publication list. Looking back on my accomplishments helped me be a bit kinder to myself.

  1. Had a baby–I underestimated how much it completely knocks you out and keeps you from doing anything that would conventionally be considered “productive”. Society needs to start recognizing that it IS productive. He’s now nearly 4–walks, talks, runs, eats well, he’s very healthy and bright, and he’s getting more and more independent every day. We did that!
3 weeks postpartum at my PhD graduation

2. I got my own office with my name on the door! Yes, I may only have a part-time, fixed-term contract, but I have one thing that many of my fellow precarious workers don’t have

3. I’ve presented my work at conferences around the world, and met wonderful mentors like R.S. Zaharna and Nancy Snow

So excited to meet one of my favorite public diplomacy scholars, Rhonda Zaharna at ICA in Prague last year (and how cool to get to go to Prague?!)

I’m not sure what the next five years will hold, but I’m hoping to get my PhD published as a book (in time for the Fulbright Program’s 75th anniversary in 2021), and do some new book-sized research (maybe expanding and developing the gun rhetoric study into something grant-worthy and publishable). I intend to keep having a personal life, too–it might be the cause of my slow progress, but it’s definitely worth it.

The soft power of children’s literature

I’ve just come back from a long weekend in the Lake District, visiting Beatrix Potter’s beloved home Hill Top Farm and the sights of Hawkshead and Bowness-on-Windermere. It was lovely, but very touristy–apparently we weren’t the only ones with the idea of visiting the Lake District in the springtime.

On her writing desk was a copy of the original Peter Rabbit story–she wrote it in a letter to her former governess’s son, then borrowed back the letter to make a copy. She wasn’t able to find a publisher, so she self-published 250 copies–when they sold out, Frederick Warne & Co. (who had rejected her) reconsidered and offered to publish it, if she would re-illustrate it in colour.
Her doll house, used as the setting for The Tale of Two Bad Mice.

One thing that surprised me was the number of Japanese tourists being dropped off from coaches on the narrow country lanes of Near Sawrey, outside the gates of Hill Top. I found this BBC article from a few years ago about the popularity of Peter Rabbit in Japan. Apparently the book is used by English learners, and loved not just for the characters but also for its depictions of the English countryside. There’s even a Beatrix Potter reference library housed in a replica Hill Top (1.5x size), complete with farm animals at a children’s zoo in Japan.

Dual language signage in Hill Top. The guide in the room said “Mind the step,
Suteppu o ki ni shite kudasai,” and laughed, “It’s the only Japanese I know!”
Early hedgehog sketches–her pet hedgehog was the model for Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle

My friend Amber Pouliot organised a conference on literary tourism a few years ago, Placing the Author. It focused on 19th century authors, including the Brontes (Haworth also has signs in Japanese, by the way), Mary Shelley, William Wordsworth (I didn’t visit Dove Cottage, but I did see his grammar school in Hawkshead), and Jane Austen. I thought of her and the conference when I was planning my Easter teaching break–unintentionally, it was full of literary tourism. In addition to Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top, I also visited the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden recently and loved it.

The reconstructed writing hut where Roald Dahl worked
They had a brilliant way to experience it–a reconstruction of the original behind glass, and then a touchable replica version for kids (and grown-up kids) to play with

I also went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour over the break, which was amazing and packed with tourists from all over the world. It’s so incredible to think of the size of the HP fandom, and that it all revolves around reading (unusually long) books, and that Rowling was the first person to make $1 billion from writing books. Taking these three visits together, it got me thinking about British children’s literature and how it’s been such a massive source of soft power for the UK. In the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, children’s literature featured prominently. J.K. Rowling read an excerpt from Peter Pan,and the dream sequence included villains from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Harry Potter and 101 Dalmatians, ultimately defeated by Mary Poppins(es). Then there’s Alice in Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Wind in the Willows, Robin Hood, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Paddington–so much of the American/Disney cultural imperialism is rooted in British cultural imperialism. Just about the only British children’s stories that didn’t cross the pond are Watership Down (super weird story with violent rabbits), and Enid Blyton, which is just too twee for America (they did make it to Australia/NZ/Canada, though).

Why does children’s literature have such a significant soft power element? I think it’s the nostalgia we have for the stories we read as children–especially memories of being read to, by parents or teachers or other caregivers. The act of reading together is an act of love, of quality time. When you move onto independent reading, too, there’s the joy of discovery–of escapism, of encountering new ideas and vicarious experiences.

Children’s bookshop owner Kathleen Kelly in Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail


If children’s literature has this power to influence its readers, it can also shape the way they think about its country of origin.