Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fanfiction: May We Read it, Write it, Engage With It

If you have any sort of online presence — maybe (possibly) have a secret Tumblr account you’re hoarding away from family members and “real-life” friends — then you’ll know about fanfiction.net. This amazing site is often abbreviated as fanfic and is one of the greatest treasure chests of online writing. It is quite possible that you’ve read a fanfic or two yourself; it was probably some coffee shop AU (alternate universe) where your favorite character doesn’t die at the end of the movie and instead lives a simple, normal life as a barista, and then meets the love of their life — a story that the writer could decide to tell in anywhere from 100 to 100k words. And that’s the beauty of it: there’s a fanfiction out there for nearly every scenario, every universe, every character, and every story, that includes everything from the mundane to the fantastic.

The term fanfiction refers to stories that are produced by fans that use the characters and plot lines working within the canonical work of the original creator of the media, and/or veering away from it. Before the advent of computers and the internet, fanfiction remained a largely underground and marginalized activity among mostly female fans, as the dissemination of stories and poetry (as well as fanart) was often painstakingly written on typewriters, bound into zines, photocopied, and mailed around the world to other members of the community. That is, until sites sprang up to collect and archive these stories and make them completely accessible to everyone who owned a computer or phone with web access — anyone remember the days of frantically hitting the back button on their parents’ phone when you accidentally opened the web browser?

But why is fanfiction important? Why spare a blog post for it?

For one thing, this form of writing is usually not just a branching-off point for many younger writers, especially children, but also their starting point. It builds on the imagination and creativity by treating the text or movie as something to interact with, instead of it being a static object to put down as soon as you are done consuming it. But why does the world in any text have to end with the last written page and then reshelved? Fanfiction can help solve this dilemma and keep all you love from the fiction world alive. These fan writers can take the canon material and begin anew with those same characters, reminding us that, as Bronwen Thomas states, “storyworlds are generated and experienced within specific social and cultural environments that are subject to constant change.”

Fanfiction builds community, gives solidarity. It isn’t just about reading or watching the canon stories and then writing your own take on it. It allows fans the opportunity to set up special interest groups and expand on representation that might otherwise be lacking. While male members of fandoms are generally thought of as the keepers of fact and canon, it is the female members who create: They alter fandom because, often, popular media and its canon works do not serve their female members. Men, and more specifically straight, white, cismen, are ubiquitous in popular narratives. Thus, in order for canon to fit the “other” (female, queer, POC), they must attack canon and rebuild it, and that takes creation and imagination and engaging closely with the material, far beyond memorizing facts and timelines within said canon. It might be said, then, that fanfiction allows the more feminine aspect of fiction to blossom along its male counterpart. 

While some might say that recreating what others have already created is a waste of time, those who have roamed the forums of fanfiction.net will politely disagree. Nothing imaginative or world building should ever be frowned upon, even if the social hierarchy suggests otherwise and makes us accustom to rejecting creativity when we see it. Therefore, it is crucial to encourage and nurture young children as they play with words and allow this creative landscape to grow. Or you’re welcome to encourage an adult near you as well!


  • Thomas, Bronwen. "What is Fanfiction and Why are People Saying Such Nice Things About It?" StoryWorlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies. 3. (2011): n. pag. Web. Project MUSE. 16 Sept. 2015.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Miyazaki Land- Where Children Come Back to Nature

In recent news, Japanese filmmaker and childhood animator Hayao Miyazaki announced a plan that is as enticing as Disneyland and chocolate cake mountains. Seventy-three-year old Miyazaki is spending about $2.5 million US dollars to build his own imaginative playground, replicating scenes and images from his movies that bring nature and childhood together in yet another way. This new “utopian” theme park will be built on a remote island with an                                                                    intended completion date set for 2018.

Miyazaki is a name that contains a vast area of study amidst the academic community, from the imagination, to the steam punk influence, to childhood fears of parents and the unknown. With nothing but the most satisfying fantastical and steam-punk-esque stimulation of the senses, Miyazaki’s animation no doubt holds creativity and world building that prevails in the film community. These children’s films contain a variety of intriguing tales that are closely woven into representations of the adult world around us from a “childlike” perspective. The stories become even more powerful because they easily become embedded within the imaginations of all who watch them and also simultaneously provide a sort of social commentary. These not-so-subtle hints of “what our world has devastatingly come to,” one might say, are sure to be lessons for children to learn the responsibility of improving our planet from both an environmental and social standpoint. All Miyazaki’s films are told in a playful, carnivalesque tone that includes a contemporary and realistic view of the world, where soiled land and forgetful parents tend to be seen alongside the climatic hook of the movie. Ponyo, is one example. With underwater scenes of trash filling the beautiful ocean scenery, the movie furthers the call to action from the ocean king’s didactic voice of how the unconcerned human pollutes these waters and creates a major gap between man and nature.
One critic and researcher of Japanese mass media and popular culture, Alistair Swale, discusses Miyazaki’s work in context of nostalgia and learning form our past, followed by the influence or use of magic. “We might also describe it as a "culturalist" approach, given that it tends to prioritize the aspects of Miyazaki's work that engage in nostalgia as a means to reclaim a lost past—an attempt to retrieve something essential to Japanese culture” and might also be one we can all learn from. With the use of magic, what is found is the connection between the imagination and viewing the past, helping the continuation of nostalgia. This is quite apparent in Spirited Away, the title that Swale focuses on most carefully, with the transformation of the real world for Chihiro into a fantasy world where her parents get turned into pigs and she must learn to be brave all by herself—a similar sort of advice a child moving to a new city might hear, which is Chihiro’s story.

In this sense, the past that these movies convey is lessons children must learn when they are growing. Miyazaki’s movies manifest dream-like worlds and characters, becoming costumed real world experiences and current issues, to allow children to interact with larger and often scary ideas these movies encompass. It will be a hard wait until the completion of this very special theme park, which will work to bridge the gap between children and nature, moving them into a space closer to nature.


  • Swale, Alistair. "Miyazaki Hayao and the Aesthetics of Imagination: Nostalgia and Memory in Spirited Away." Asian Studies Review, 39.3 (2015): 413-429.
  • http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/hayao-miyazaki-is-opening-a-nature-sanctuary-for-children-on-a-remote-japanese-island-10488123.html

Monday, August 31, 2015

NCSCL Welcomes Everyone to the Fall 2015 Semester!

The NCSCL would like to welcome everyone to the Fall 2015 semester.

Back again, for another fantastic semester of blogging and fun NCSCL work, is Cristina Rivera. Cristina has officially begun her second year of the graduate program at San Diego State University, emphasizing in children’s literature, of course. After a year of graduate studies, she has once again found her love of folktales and psychoanalytic theory and spent the summer rereading some YA favorites. She hopes to graduate in May of 2016, after spending what she predicts to be a large number of sleepless nights writing her thesis. Although, the stone is still setting for the official thesis project, Cristina is considering the topic of repressed adult behaviors (more so, sexual tendencies) in children because of scary folktales and stories parents tell their children to make them behave. This idea came about from a paper written specifically on The Sandman and the effects of sexuality and a child’s instinctual behavior and conduct, and closely examined how the childhood story corrupted the main character of E. T. A. Hoffman’s version, ultimately creating sadomasochistic tendencies.

This semester our graduate students have the opportunity of taking two very interesting children’s literature courses: Dr. Phillip Serrato’s Children’s Gothic and Horror and Dr. Joseph T. Thomas’s Edward Gorey and Nonsense.

And here to introduce herself is our newest edition to the NCSCL team, Susan Shamoon. We are very excited to have her!


Hello everyone!

Welcome to the Fall 2015 semester — let me hear you cheer! (Or at least make a little noise to let me know you’re awake. Anyone?)

My name is Susan Shamoon, and I’m the newest addition to the NCSCL team here at San Diego State University, and I can’t explain how excited and honored I am to be given this opportunity. I accepted this position by literally responding with, “Yes. A thousand times yes.” No lie, I did. I am a first year graduate student here at SDSU, working for my M.A. in English Literature with a specialization in Children’s Literature.

I believe understanding our fellow human beings starts young and with good stories. And, really, who doesn’t love metafiction about the very last unicorn in the world, where the fantastic and the everyday blur together when they meet, and become virtually indistinguishable? Someone who hasn’t read The Last Unicorn that’s who, and that’s a sad, deprived child indeed. I will forever support the Oxford comma and buy more books than I could ever realistically read during the school year.

Looking forward to a great semester!

And as always, if you haven’t done so, please follow us on Twitter (@NCSChildLit) and on Instagram (NCSChildLit).

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Look at NYC Indie Children's Bookstore, Books of Wonder!

A special greeting from New York to my fellow kiddie lit lovers!

Today, I had the good fortune of visiting one of New York City’s best independent children’s bookstores, Books of Wonder. This cultural gem opened its doors on September 2, 1980 thanks to founder Peter Glassman, and his partner James Carey. This wonderful store has moved around and expanded over the decades to become one of the nation’s finest children’s bookstores, hosting events with such celebrated authors as J.K. Rowling (twice!), Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, and many others. They were also the inspiration for the children’s bookstore in a little movie from 1997 called You’ve Got Mail!

The owner, Peter, was kind enough to sit down with our visiting group and chat for a bit. As if we hadn’t already turned back into children the moment we walked into this vibrant, colorful store, we sat around in a circle and listened to Peter speak about his side of the children’s book publishing industry as well as the importance of children’s books.

As we sat there in a circle, surrounded by the beautiful artwork and illustrations, Peter spoke about the crucial importance of reading to democracy by using the American Revolution as an example. He said the revolution was successful because unlike their ancestors, many Americans could read, and they were introduced to the ideas of independence and equality through the flyers and publications that were posted around towns. It wasn’t something that I’d thought of previously, but I have to admit it’s true! Reading changes minds (usually for the better!).

Peter further expanded on the importance of reading and especially of children’s books to the development of kids. He said that reading expands the imagination of children and makes them believe anything is possible. It gives them an understanding of the world they live in and how they can deal with the things that might come up in their lives. He pointed out that parents often choose to buy books that have characters that look like their kids, which is a shame because literature is meant to open our eyes and take us places we might never be able to go!
Some great recommendations of children’s classics by Peter include:
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Peter pointed out that parents often tend to misinterpret children’s books, or their purpose. I love that he said Charlotte’s Web is essentially about tricking people! After all, there was nothing special about Wilbur, other than he was a very nice guy, or pig (Almost his exact words).

He also shared a humorous anecdote about his dear friend, Maurice Sendak (seriously, can we please be friends with you, Peter! You are awesome!), and an interesting encounter he had during a signing. According to Peter, a woman approached the beloved author and told him that she reads Where the Wild Things Are to her daughter every night before bed, and she gets scared and has nightmares every night! To this, Sendak responded, “Then why are you reading it to her?!” (Perhaps not in those exact words). The woman responded, “ Because it won a Caldecott medal! She should love it!”

Oh, if only we could always love all the books people told us we were supposed to love… I suppose the book industry would be a lot less diverse and interesting if that were the case!

As it is, the children’s book world is filled with so many wonderful choices that I got lost in those rows for hours. For people like us, the term “kid in a candy store” is not as accurate as something like “kid in a bookstore.” But seriously, how could you not want to stay forever in this beautiful place?!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Busy Month for the Department of English and Comparative Literature

San Diego State University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature deserves a moment in the spotlight for the great work it has done in the past month. Not only did they host an inter-disciplinary LGBTQ conference that invited brilliant minds from all over the world to our humble campus, but they also organized the Humanities in Action event that consisted of current SDSU English Professors and Master’s students who shared their research projects and interests in the field. The Department’s efforts to give students an educational experience outside the classroom that includes opportunities for attendance and participation at these academic events have not gone unnoticed.

The Coming of Age of LGBTQ Studies:  Past, Present, and Future, which took place at San Diego State University April 17-18, brought in scholars from all over the world to share their work in this field with others. This conference brought in professors, master’s students, and independent scholars from the U.S., U.K., Australia, Netherlands, and Canada! It was a melding of minds interested in the advancement of the broad field of LGBTQ Studies through a closer examination of the sub-sections of interests that people investigated.

The conference also included two movie screening followed by a Q&A session with the directors. The movies were Suddenly, Last Winter (2009), with directors Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi and Homeboy (2011), with director Dino Dinco. The keynote speaker, Dr. Karen Tongson from USC, gave a fascinating talk that reflects her work for her latest book project, Empty Orchestra: Karaoke. Critical. Apparatus. It offered a critique of prevailing paradigms of originality and imitation in aesthetics and critical theory, while exploring karaoke cultures, technologies, techniques and desires.

Not only was this two-day conference a huge success, but it also paved the way for The Humanities in Action program, which hosted a smaller, one day symposium for the English Department. This event allowed the faculty and Master’s students in the Department of English and Comparative Literature to get together and share their own research interests and current academic projects in 5-minute lightning talks. As a graduate student, my peers and I can say this was a wonderful experience because it allowed us to see what our professors’ areas of interests are and who would be a good person to work with for the thesis or portfolio project. Not only did everyone share their current projects and research interests, but it also lead to very stimulating conversations about the intersectionality of some of these works. 

In attendance was our very own NCSCL Director, Dr. Joseph Thomas. Dr. Thomas showed off his creative side by making his lightning talk an alphabetized list of every single word from the title of all of his publications. One can certainly make note of his interest for Shel Silverstein from this list, alongside the odd words from some of his quirkier publication titles such as ““a joint rolled in toilet paper”: Funkadelic’s Funky Soul.”

The event concluded with a keynote lecture by Dr. Oona Eisenstadt from Pomona College. Her lecture, entitled “Dress for the Revolution: “The Hunger Games” and Continental Philosophy,” discussed the appeal of dystopian novels for young adult readers. She stated “In some ways, imagining dystopia is a safer activity than imagining utopia. The latter involves projecting our hopes desires and fantasies rather than simply our fears.” She continues to explain how dystopias actually result from utopias, which explains why it is easier to project our fears than our hopes: because our hopes for utopia will often ask us to sacrifice some part of our humanity. She states that the books representation of “corruption and injustice as unavoidable” in this “politically dark and hopeless” world is what appeals to most young readers. This change in the literary appetite of young adults points to a shift in the expectations and desires of young readers. Dr. Eisenstadt applauded these novels’ lack of moral that suggests “a clear eye and a good heart can set things right” because life is a lot more complicated than that and today’s youth are learning that at an earlier age. These dystopian novels introduce young readers to complex scenarios and difficult decisions that can have severe costs, and perhaps our own capitalist world with its insistence on accelerated progress will call upon these future generations soon to make such decisions in reality. Dr. Eisenstadt’s lecture was fascinating and led to a fantastic discussion afterward. It certainly was an intellectually stimulating day at SDSU!

Overall, the Department’s involvement in events such as these, and their encouragement of the students’ participation as well, has been a great example of the rewarding educational experience students in the English and Comparative Literature fields can get at SDSU. The small yet powerful community that we have here allows for a lot more personal interactions between faculty and students, which enhances the quality of the program for students and develops their own academic interests. Though we who pursue a career in the humanities are few, we are mighty in our spirit and valiant in our ideas! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Interview with Linda Salem- Children’s Literature Subject Specialist at the SDSU Love Library (Part 2 of 2)

This week is part two of the blog post from our amazing interview with Linda Salem. If you didn’t get a chance to read it yet, Linda is SDSU’s very own Children’s Literature Library Specialist at the San Diego State University’s Love Library

Storytelling is one of Linda’s key interests, and this lead to an interesting conversation regarding the history of children’s stories through oral tradition, into what they are becoming today: e-books. There is a curiosity to understand e-books and if they should be accepted into the education community. Will e-books for children have the same effect as their counterparts in print?

When asked about the motives of children selecting their own stories, Linda responded, "When they come to the library, children sometimes have a topic, a character, or just an idea in mind and they would like to see a book about it." There is a level of certainty that children project for a type of story they might be interested in reading.

Of course I had to ask Linda what her take was on modern day fairy tales that are consuming pop-culture. She suggested that these new fairy tales and the new methods that they are being told through are a continuum of the change that stories must go through. She explained how oral tales turned into printed books and those became fancier with color prints and popup art, then adapted into large motion pictures, and finally became stories that lay face-up on an LED screen device in brightly lit images and sounds captivating the child’s attention and perhaps even our own. Linda mentioned that the previous semester a composer had contacted her for a list of fairy tales that she thought would make good symphonic composition. There is really no end to where fairy tales and storytelling for children will go next.

So in the case of the e-books, Linda as the library specialist of Children’s Literature is faced with a tough question when it is time to select books for the collection. If the book is available in the e-reader format, does that overtake the need to purchase a physical copy? Linda says selecting the print or e-book format depends on many factors.

We spent some time looking through different and neat iPad apps of e-books that incorporated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with music, read-out-loud settings, or interactive animation (Atomic Antelope). "Ebooks editions are often media enhanced editions that may be seen as an expansion of the narrative form."

Ultimately, these examples for the evolution of storytelling perhaps make a statement about where children’s book culture is going. And really in a way, storytelling has come miles since its oral tradition. Now children are exposed to stories with graphics, activities, and music; consider not that this may be a distraction to the story itself, but that now stories incorporate so many other senses and create a new experience for the reader. The experience of the reader is changing in general with e-books, audiobooks, and movies, so why not allow children to adapt with                                                                        this shift at the same time?

The final question I had for Linda was regarding the overall study of children’s literature as a newer form of scholarship and the significance it creates in the academic field. Perhaps this question served a need for reaffirming that children’s literature is not invaluable or easy to glance over because it is merely for children. Linda says that in her work with the Children's Literature Society affiliated with the American Literature Association she sees topics of scholarship growing. She and co-editor Dr. Dorothy Clark have an edited book of essays in press now entitled Frontiers in Children's Literature; this book explores this expansion of scholarship through contributions from exciting scholars working in the field today. Also, The Children's Literature Association or ChLA at http://www.childlitassn.org is a wonderful place to start to learn more about the direction of scholarship in this subject.

The importance of stories and books through any medium is the establishment of literacy, period. So while e-books do not have the comfort of musty pages that hold history with their own existence, they are part of our evolution. Current generations of children will grow into the adults that analyze these texts in ways we cannot comprehend yet. And sometimes it takes getting to know your local librarian to understand the bigger picture of what books of all kinds really mean.