This is an introductory course in Children’s Literature. We look at a variety of sub-genres within the field, engage theory, and examine the trajectory of the development of Children’s Literature over time. I used three texts/thinkers to provide a theoretical framework for the course this term: Steven Mintz’s Hucks Raft: A History of American Childhood, Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk “Love, No Matter What,” based on his book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” Together these texts establish a framework that will challenge students to re-think a variety of stereotypes and assumptions surrounding Children’s Literature, including that of the innocent, carefree childhood.
Students will read a range of texts that will span a wide range of time to help them see the development of Children’s Literature over time and identify significant changes, complete a variety of written assignments that will range from summary to textual analysis, create a visual image to test their understanding of illustration theory, specifically Molly Bang’s Ten Principles as presented in her book Picture This!, and give a presentation on a children’s TV show or film released since 1970 that they consider significant to the study of Children’s Literature.
This has been the most successful Literature course I’ve taught since I began teaching at Lane. Most students in this course were highly engaged in the subject of Children’s Literature and with the specific texts that I assigned. This engagement led to the development of really strong guiding questions by students to lead small and large group discussions about the assigned texts. The quality of these discussions was greatly enhanced by the respect that students had for each other during large group discussions. From the very beginning of the course, students were willing and able to listen closely and carefully to each other, wait respectfully for their turn to speak, and engage genuinely with the differences in ideas and beliefs that arose during large group discussions. I was able to see many of the students in the course make significant gains in their ability to think and read critically and in their ability to make strong, meaningful connections across texts.
One of my favorite class periods this term was the day that we did the decade book share. Small groups of students were assigned to bring in picture books from a specific decade. During class, they worked together first in their small groups to map the similarities and differences they found within the books they brought from a specific decade. Then, each small group recorded their findings on the white board. This enabled us to have a large group discussion about the similarities and differences found in Children’s Literature from decade to decade, and to map some of the ideas, themes, and characters found in books for specific decades with the historical, social, and economic circumstances of that decade. On the grand scale, it allowed us to have a detailed and meaningful discussion about some of the ways Children’s Literature has changed over time and discuss why we felt some of those changes might have taken place.
The one thing I think did not go so well this term was the discussion and engagement surrounding Dear Mr. Henshaw. Students really didn’t seem to engage with this text as deeply as they engaged with other books in the course. I like to teach a Beverly Cleary novel in this course because I feel her work is important to Children’s Literature. I especially like teaching her books in Oregon, as this is her home state and the setting for most of her books. Her books are usually well received by students, but this one really wasn’t for reasons I’m still not quite sure I understand. I really liked that this book added the voice of a child experiencing his parent’s divorce to the class. But, it wasn’t well received enough for me to teach it again in the future. Some of Cleary’s other books like Ramona and her Father deal with equally complex topics (such as Ramona’s father losing his job and his family trying to make ends meet with less income) and are far better received by students. So I’ll continue to teach Cleary’s work, but it’s unlikely I’ll try this novel again, at least anytime soon.