Eastern Michigan University EMU HOME

Children's Lit home

What's New

Graduate Studies


Children's Literature Studies at EMU

|Department of English Language and Literature|Pray-Harrold Hall|Ypsilanti, MI|48197|

2008 Fall Semester: CHL585
Children's Literature: Criticism and Theory

Professor: Dr. Annette Wannamaker
Office: Pray-Harrold 603L
Office hours: mon/wed 12:15-2 p.m.; wed 5-6:30 p.m. and by appointment
Email: awannamak AT emich DOT edu
Web page: http://www.emich.edu/public/english/childlit

Course Description and Rationale:

Students studying children’s literature at the graduate level, who will go on to doctoral programs or on to jobs as teachers, librarians or writers and publishers of children’s literature, need to know how to actively and thoughtfully engage in current discussions in the field of children’s literature. This course is designed to provide students with the reading and writing skills needed to pursue further study and to stay current in the field as a professional.

Course Requirements:

This course is devoted to reading and writing about children’s literature and literary criticism specific to the field of children’s literature. Students will learn about past and current discussions in the field that will help them to enter into and take part in critical dialogues.

Students will complete a series of reading and writing assignments, which are structured so that the terms, concepts, and skills students learn as they progress throughout the term build upon one another and culminate in a final writing project and presentation. Students also will give brief oral presentations at the end of the term to help them to practice another way of presenting scholarly ideas to an audience of readers. Finally, there will be a final exam on the reading assigned during the course.

The final exam serves dual purposes: first, students will demonstrate they comprehend the texts read for class and that they are able to synthesize ideas by putting a variety of theoretical texts and concepts into dialogue with one another and, second, the exam serves as a practice run for the MA exam students take in order to complete the Program, which follows a similar format.

There are a total of six writing assignments, five of which require students to follow specific instructions. For the sixth and final project, students will research and write about a scholarly topic of their choosing, which will be presented in two formats: each student will write a 10-page paper suitable for delivery at an academic conference and each student will present a shortened version of this paper to the class in an 8-minute presentation. I am hoping this final assignment will help students to use theory and criticism in their own scholarship and to see themselves as scholars and theorists entering into a larger conversation. A long-term goal of the course is for students to learn to effectively incorporate theory and criticism into their writing projects for other graduate classes, the MA thesis, the MA exam, and in scholarly publications and presentations.

All student work for the course will be evaluated on the comprehension and application of current critical theories, terms, and debates, on the ability to conduct research, and on the quality of the writing. The quality of writing will be evaluated based on audience awareness, organization, correctness, adherence to MLA citation guidelines, and on the effective use of evidence to build a convincing argument or interpretation.

Course Requirements and Grading:

1,000 points total: 940-1000 = A; 900-939 = A-; 870-899 = B+; 840-869 = B; etc.

Final Exam: 20 percent (200 points)

Writing Assignments: 80 percent (800 points):

Writing Assignment No. 1 (summary): 50 points
Writing Assignment No. 2 (synthesis): 50 points
Writing Assignment No. 3 (evaluation): 50 points
Writing Assignment No. 4 (book review): 150 points
Writing Assignment No. 5 (study of scholarship in the field): 200 points
Writing Assignment No. 6: (research project): 300 points (Research presented in two formats: In-class oral presentation--100 points--and written 10-page paper--200 points)

Required texts:

  • Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan. Any edition will be fine.
  • Grey, Donald J. Alice in Wonderland: A Norton Critical Edition. Second Edition. New York: Norton, 1992.
  • Schwenke, Andrea and Teya Rosenberg, Eds. Considering Children’s Literature: A Reader. Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press, 2008.
  • Tatar, Maria, Ed. The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 1999.

Essays on reserve electronically:

Articles not in the collections listed above are on e-reserve at the EMU Halle Library. Email Dr. Wannamaker for the password needed to access essays for the class. (Note: There are some older articles on reserve that we will not be using for the course. I left them on the reserve page because they may be useful for your own research even though we will not be reading them for this class).

A few useful on-line sources for further research:
Annotated Bibliography for Nodelman's Pleasures of Children's Literature
List of Journals featuring articles on children's and YA Lit from Rutgers
ChLA Homepage for the Children's Literature Association

Books on Reserve at the Halle Library:

There are books on reserve at the front desk in the EMU Library: students can check these out for one week. Students will each choose one book from this list to review, but can also use any of these as resources for their final research project. Note: I am not done reserving books yet, so look for forthcoming additions to this book list:

* African-American voices in young adult literature : tradition, transition, transformation / edited by Karen Patricia Smith.

* Children's literature of the Harlem Renaissance / Katharine Capshaw Smith.

* Dr. Seuss : American icon / Philip Nel.

* Family in English children's literature / Ann Alston.

* From nursery rhymes to nationhood : children's literature and the construction of Canadian identity / Elizabeth A. Galway.

* From romance to realism : 50 years of growth and change in young adult literature / by Michael Cart.

* Looking glasses and neverlands : Lacan, desire, and subjectivity in children's literature / Karen Coats.

* Modern children's literature : an introduction / edited by Kimberley Reynolds.

* Pleasures of children's literature / Perry Nodelman, Mavis Reimer.

* Psychoanalytic responses to children's literature / by Lucy Rollin and Mark I. West.

* Sticks and stones : the troublesome success of children's literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter / Jack Zipes.

* Talking animals in British children's fiction, 1786-1914 / Tess Cosslett.

* Unsettling narratives: postcolonial readings of children's literature / Clare Bradford.

* Voices of the other: children's literature and the postcolonial context / [edited by] Roderick McGillis.

* Voracious children : who eats whom in children's literature / Carolyn Daniel.

* Wild things: children's culture and ecocriticism / edited by Sidney I. Dobrin and Kenneth B. Kidd.

Reading and Writing Schedule:

Wednesday, September 3: Questions and Assumptions

How do we read children’s literature? What assumptions do we bring to texts written for children? What assumptions do we make about the child reader of a text or about childhood in general? In what ways are these assumptions correct or incorrect or contradictory or even fictions we tell ourselves about children? Do we need different strategies for reading texts for children? Do we need different sorts of literary and cultural theories than one might need to study literature written for adults? Why should we study criticism and theory at all?

Handout: Strategies for reading theory and criticism

Wednesday, September 10: Strategies for reading children’s literature

May, Jill. “Reading, Discussing, and Interpreting Children’s Literature” in Children’s Literature and Critical Theory. On e-reserve.
Nodelman, Perry and Mavis Reimer. “How to Read Children’s Literature” in The Pleasures of Children’s Literature. Third Edition. On e-reserve.
Babbit, Natalie. “Happy Endings? Of Course, and Also Joy” pp 4-8 in Reader.

Wednesday, September 17: The Canon and (not) Children’s Literature

Clark, Beverly Lyon. “Kids and Kiddie Lit” and “Kiddie Lit in the Academy” in Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children’s Literature in America. On e-reserve.
Thacker, Deborah. “Disdain or Ignorance? Literary Theory and the Absence of Children’s Literature” in The Lion and the Unicorn 24 (2000). On e-reserve.

Writing Assignment No. 1 (summary) Due: Summary of Thacker essay due. Summary must be no more than 250 words, and should be an objective paragraph highlighting Thacker’s thesis and main points.

Wednesday, September 24: Constructing the Child: History

Jenkins, Henry. “Introduction: Childhood Innocence and Other Modern Myths” in The Children’s Culture Reader. On e-reserve.
Aries, Philippe. “From Immodesty to Innocence” in The Children’s Culture Reader. On e-reserve.
Adams, Gillian. “Medieval Children’s Literature: Its Possibility and Actuality,” pp. 43-64 in Reader.
Flynn, Richard. “The Children's Culture Reader (review)” The Lion and the Unicorn - Volume 24, Number 3, September 2000. On e-reserve.

Writing Assignment No. 2 (synthesis) Due: Write a brief report that is no more than 500 words that summarizes the different (sometimes conflicting) points of view presented in these three essays and book review about the historical construction of the Child and Childhood.

Wednesday, October 1: Ideology and/in Children’s Books

Hollindale, Peter. “Ideology and the Children’s Book.” Signal 55 (1988) 3-22. On e-reserve.
Sarland, Charles. “The Impossibility of Innocence: Ideology, Politics, and Children’s Literature” in Understanding Children’s Literature (ed. Peter Hunt). On e-reserve.
Hunt, Peter. “Passing on the Past: The Problem of Books That Are for Children and That Were for Children,” pp. 65-71 in Reader.
Gannon, Susan R. “Report from Limbo: Reading Historical Children’s Literature Today.” pp. 71-80 in Reader.

Writing Assignment No. 3 (evaluation) Due: Write a brief response to the reading for today’s class that is no more than 500 words: With which author do you most agree, and why?

Wednesday, October 8: Reading Children’s Literature from the Past: Peter Pan

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan.

In class: Discuss Peter Pan and spend a few minutes discussing the conventions of the academic book review to prepare for Writing Assignment No. 4. Students will sign up to review one of the works of current criticism on reserve at the Halle Library front desk.

Wednesday, October 15: Impossible Literature?

Rose, Jacqueline. “The Return of Peter Pan” and “Peter Pan and Freud” in The Case of Peter Pan, or, The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction. On e-reserve.
Nodelman, Perry. “Fear of Children’s Literature: What’s Left (or Right) After Theory?” pp. 312-324 in Reader.

Wednesday, October 22: Alice

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in Gray, Donald J. Alice in Wonderland: A Norton Critical Edition. Second Edition. New York: Norton, 1992.

Writing assignment No. 4 (book review) Due: Write a review that is no more than 1000 words of one of the academic books on reserve in the EMU Library. Students will choose and sign up for books on Oct. 8.

Wednesday, October 29:

Criticism section in Norton Critical Edition of Alice in Wonderland: all essays.

Wednesday, November 5: Reading folktales

Tatar, Maria. “Introduction” in The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition.
“Little Red Riding Hood” section: “Introduction” and all variations in Tatar.
“Snow White” section: “Introduction” and all variations in Tatar.
Propp, Vladimir. “Folklore and Literature” in Tatar.
Shavit, Zohar. “The Concept of Childhood and Children’s Folk Tales: Test Case – ‘Little Red Riding Hood’” in Tatar.
Gilbert and Gubar. “Snow White and Her Wicked Stepmother” in Tatar.

Wednesday, November 12: Folktales cont.: films and literary tales

Hastings, Waller. “Moral Simplification in Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” pp. 279-288 in Reader.
Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Little Mermaid” in Tatar.
Zipes, Jack. “Breaking the Disney Spell” in Tatar.
Brothers Grimm “Hansel and Gretel” in Tatar.
Charles Perault “Little Thumbling” in Tatar.
Joseph Jacobs “Molly Whuppie” in Tatar.
Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Struggle for Meaning” and “Hansel and Gretel” in Tatar.
Darnton, Robert. “Peasants tell tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose” in Tatar.

Writing Assignment No. 5 (study of scholarship in the field) Due: Write a paper that is no more than 1250 words that summarizes the major journals in the discipline. What are the major journals? Skim through recent issues and look at some articles, book reviews, bibliographies, lists of doctoral dissertations. What are people currently writing about? What topics, books, names or terms do you see over and over? What conclusions can you draw about current conversations in the field?

Wednesday, November 19: Reading Contemporary Children’s Texts

Stevenson, Deborah. “Narrative in Picture Books or, The Paper That Should Have Had Slides” pp. 92-104 in Reader.
McCloud, Scott. From “Understanding Comics” 109-117 in Reader.
O’Sullivan, Emer. “Translating Pictures,” pp. 117-126 in Reader.
Mackey, Margaret. “Playing in the Phase Space: Contemporary Forms of Fictional Pleasure,” pp. 324-342 in Reader.
Altmann, Anna.“Parody and Poesis in Feminist Fairy Tales,” pp 178-189 in Reader.

Wednesday, November 26: No Class meeting. Thanksgiving Break.

Wednesday, December 3: Reading Multicultural Children’s Texts

Cai, Mingshui. “Introduction” in Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults: Reflections on Critical Issues on e-reserve.
Martin, Michelle. “From Ten Little Niggers to Afro-Bets: Images of Blackness in Picture Books for Young Readers, 1870s to 2000s” in Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children’s Picture Books, 1845-2002 on e-reserve.
Rochman, Hazel. “Introduction: Beyond Political Correctness” pp. 25-39 in Reader.

Wednesday, December 10: Final exam on reading for the course.

Wednesday, December 17: Mini-conference.

Each student will present her or his research to the class in an 8-minute oral presentation, which can be an informal talk, a PPT Presentation, or a reading of an edited 4-page version of the paper. Annette will provide snacks and treats.

Writing Assignment No. 6 (research project) Due: Each student will turn in a 10-page (maximum of 2,500 words) version of their research project.