Saturday, February 28, 2015

Audacious Kids Never Grow Up; They Write Praise Worthy Books

The country’s oldest family-owned and operated bookstore, Warwick’s, located in beautiful La Jolla, opened its doors to scholars and enthusiasts of children’s literature on February 23rd by hosting Dr. Jerry Griswold as he presented the revised edition of Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story.
After a humorous anecdote about his time living in Ireland (and having the good fortune to immediately fall in with the “wrong crowd”*), Dr. Griswold thanked attendees for coming out and supporting the local independent bookstore, who uses the extra $1.25 that you save on Amazon to bring wonderful author events such as this one to locals.
After that welldeserved jab at Amazon, Dr. Griswold proceeded to introduce his new book, a revised and expanded version of the 1992 one entitled, Audacious Kids: Coming of Age in America’s Classic Children’s Books. He joked that it’s really “an old book with improved writing” since over the years he’s become a better writer. ;)

He quickly reviewed his arguments on the twelve classic American stories that he focuses and expands on in his book, such as Huckelberry Finn’s river ride as a dream narrative, San Diego as the golden land of Oz, and the importance of Jo cutting her hair in Little Women (I especially can't wait to read this one!).
The book also has three new parts added to it, including the reception of the book, the history before and after “the Golden Age,” and a bibliography of scholarly work that directly responded to the original Audacious Kids or the topics discuss within it.
Dr. Griswold mentioned his joy at seeing a half page review in The New York Times for the book when it first came out and the letter he got from his hero, Leslie Fiedler. He also mentioned the “jerk from Montana” who gave him a book review which was basically akin to: “This is what I would have done if I were writing this book, but he didn't do any of those things!”
But among the good reviews were phrases such as “impressive,” “trail blazing,” and “groundbreaking.”  It was the first book of its kind that included “scholarly analysis that is readable, enjoyable, and clear,” encouraging a range of audiences to pick it up. But don't take our word for it; there are four pages of praise for the original book in this edition, so you can take their word instead. 

To top the night off, Dr. Griswold read a few pages from the chapter entitled, “Ur of the Ur-Stories: Tarzan of the Apes,” wherein he explores the question: why is Tarzan the greatest popular creation of all time? Perhaps something in the rites of the Dum-Dum speak to the inner Tarzan in us all, leading us back to the Darwinian dream and our hairy ancestors. 

The book was originally conceived from a question that was asked during one of Dr. Griswold’s children's literature classes: “How come all these kids are orphans?”
Indeed, many of the famous American children’s stories are filled with kids without parents, but why do these stories appeal to readers so much? Dr. Griswold stated coming of age stories require a character to separate from parents, and being an orphan resolves the issue of guilt that would come up in that scenario. Not only this, but America itself is seen as an orphan since its separation from the United Kingdom. It gained its own independent identity and moved on. This is the value that is predominantly shown in American children’s stories.

After the Q&A session, Dr. Griswold invited all attendees, including current and former SDSU professors and students, to join him at Hennessey’s for a night of further literary discussion. Though in all honesty, we went because we wanted to hear more stories from Ireland and other incredibly exciting tales of being an English professor and a children’s literature scholar. We really cannot repeat these tales on the blog, so we highly recommend befriending Dr. Jerry Griswold and asking him to get a drink in an Irish pub around you. Hint: Make sure they have the “Green Spot.”


* Definition of “the wrong crowd”: The people who know where the after-hours bars are in Ireland; the people who know where the after-hours, after-hours bars are in Ireland; the people who respond to being told, “We don't encourage dancing” by saying, “Don't worry. We don't need encouragement.”

P.S. I wonder if the jerk from Montana ever wrote that book he so desperately wanted to read…

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Award Winning Poetry Time

This year something very special has taken place within John Hopkins University Press’s The Lion and Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry. The Lion and the Unicorn journal presents the award in one of its three annual publications and works to maintain a current discourse in the study of children’s literature, covering topics such as “the state of the publishing industry, regional authors, comparative studies of significant books and genres, new developments in theory, the art of illustration, the mass media, and popular culture.” For the first time in the history of the Lion and the Unicorn Award, the winning piece of children’s literature is being shared by two titles. As a courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press, the authors of the winning collections will each receive a $500.00 check. The award is given annually to children’s texts that include poetry and rhyming prose distinguishing them among the North American Poetry community.

Here are the names for the 2014 winning and honor book titles:

Honor Books-

This year’s award is in the theme of experimental poetry for children. Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, Stories, and Songs for Children is a brilliant anthology being recognized for its ability to capture the young mentality and experience, while incorporating experimental poetry that wasn’t necessarily intended for a children’s audience to begin with. It is also the first anthology in the history of the award to win. The newly coined term, “kindergarde,” refers to the influences of avant-garde artists, such as Picasso and Kandinsky, who were actually inspired by children and discovers a new and unusual aspect of children’s poetry. These poems ultimately move beyond a “cross-writing” element and focus on a variety of poems that will encourage audiences the formality of playing with normative literary traditions.

JonArno Lawson, winner of the 2013 Lion and Unicorn Award, receives a second award for his title Enjoy It While It Hurts. This publication of children’s poetry is being recognized for its vivid illustrations, capturing the kindergarde artistic feel, and for the complex lines of poetry that follow, through a serious yet playful collection of verses. Lawson’s work does not over-simplify language in children’s poetry but includes verses that challenge children’s language and intelligence, making it important to include as this year’s co-winner. 

As the editors of article state, “What we loved about the word kindergarde is that it defined for us a new genre of children’s verse… by poets unafraid to address the continuum of human experience” (382). Kindgarde is one way to sum up this year’s winners and honor books, and it is one that will hopefully inspire other authors of children’s literature to capture the sophistication and intellectual creativity displayed in these books.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Professor Jerry Griswold Presents AUDACIOUS KIDS at Warwick's!

Former director of the NCSCL and Professor Emeritus, Jerry Griswold will be visiting the historic independent bookstore, Warwick's in La Jolla to present the revised version of his prize-winning book, Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children's Story on Monday February 23rd at 7:30pm.

The book delves into twelve classic American tales including, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, The Secret Garden, and The Wizard of Oz, to reveal that these tales incorporate motifs that emphasize American values such as positive thinking, concern with health, and the concealment of sex and violence.

Come back to our blog next week for a more in-depth post about the event and the book!

In the meantime, if you are in San Diego, don't miss this opportunity to join us and attend this wonderful event on:  

Monday, February 23rd at 7:30pm at Warwick's in La Jolla! 

7812 Girard Avenue,
La Jolla, California 92037

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fighting Anger with Understanding: Some (American) Muslim KidLit Reads

Guest Post from Alya Hameed

If the events last week can remind us of anything, it is that we are beholden to learn and understand, engage and interact with the variety of cultures that define our multitudinous nation. I was plunged into a state of painful fury last week with the hateful murders of three young people in North Carolina—brilliant, unwaveringly kind, and yes, Muslim, students at the University of North Carolina. My first reaction—shock—was immediately replaced with sorrow, anger, and a distasteful lack of astonishment. Sure enough, subsequent news of attacks on mosques, families, an elderly Indian man (who, as a non-Muslim "mistaken" for a "black guy," reinforces the judicial hypocrisy asserted against being black along with the stigma of being brown) and others bolstered that sense of tired expectation, wrought from a growing normalization of Islamophobia in daily discourse.

But I won't live in resignation. Just as Meg recently wrote about one important method of enacting social change (through real successes of children in education), so do I seek out another method.  Thus, I would prefer to dismantle my unsurprised response through literature (in this case, young people's).

That's partly why the massive push for diversity in children's and young adult literature has been particularly poignant for me. While first it spawned out of a desire to find my childhood rationalized in art, now I see my childhood as elusive, not as Susan Honeyman would describe it, but socially out of reach; it simply is not the childhood of Muslim American children now. Instead, my interest has turned toward normalizing—nay, humanizing—a minority defined by current events and increased separation. Breaching a youthful (and older) reader's vision and understanding of the Muslim American experience (or, Western Muslim experience) may give space for compassion and patience by annihilating fear, hate, and the constant reinforcement of otherness in the wake of global events and crises. Empathy is a big deal, folks!

I think the following list of youth literature—from YA novel to picture book, from words to graphics—holds immense potential for propagating societal growth. Especially in this time of social tensions—where misunderstandings can breed hurt and violence—it seems extremely useful to gather a list of stories that speak about and normalize American Muslim kids (or Muslim kids internationally) for the general eye, and bring a lightness and depth that reveals how complex and how relatable these kids are.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Michael Heyman is Visiting SDSU... Come Join the Adventure!!

Michael Heyman
Public Lecture
Alice in Wonderland One Hundred Fifty Years Later: A New Magic Lantern Phantasmämphigory
March 4, 2015
5:00PM- 5:50 (followed by questions and discussion until 6:30PM)

The National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, with support from the Instructionally Related Activities fund, the Departmentof English and Comparative Literature, and the SDSU Library, is happy to announce a lecture by Professor Michael Heyman, noted poet, scholar, and musician. Michael's lecture concerns Lewis Carroll’s Alice and his Alice books—the first of which, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is celebrating its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary this year!

Michael Heyman travels to sunny San Diego all the way from Boston, where he is a professor at Berklee College of Music. At Berklee, Michael teaches courses on Children’s Literature, Poetry, Arthropodiatry, and Nonsensical Nunchaku. When not teaching, he writes poetry, plays saxophone, and carries out scholarly investigations in various areas of esoterica—including the parararational, pataphysical, and nonsensical). 

Professor Heyman is a world-renowned scholar and writer of literary nonsense and children’s literature. He has edited The Tenth Rasa: An Anthology of Indian Nonsense (2007), and his poems and stories for children can be found in The Puffin Book of Bedtime Stories (2005), The Moustache Maharishi and other unlikely stories (2007), and This Book Makes No Sense: Nonsense Poems andWorse (2012), which he also edited.

Of his talk, the good doctor writes: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland lives one hundred fifty years after its publication not because Alice is a princess in a literary fairy tale, not because of our own flirtation with Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell, and not because Alice has become embedded in our culture as innocent, vixen, or queen of psychedelia; rather, Alice in Wonderland lives because of its uneasy balance of all of these things and more. Its genius lies in what it does more than what it is. And what it does is nonsense. This talk, part magic lantern show and part paean to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense literature, does the unthinkable: it separates analysis from interpretation, it values the cart over the load. It offers the greatness of Alice as a teasing and tempting nonsense process, in its ability, like Humpty Dumpty, always to leave egg on our faces.”

Sounds neat! 

The lecture is open to the public and we encourage students, community members, and faculty to join us! 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Civil Rights and Children's Education

During the last few months of 2014, media stations broadcasted coverage of protests and riots taking place all over the country. The stirrings of social and political upheaval that overtook the United States resulted from the shooting of Michael Brown (18 years old) in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer (28 years old). Officer Wilson claimed he acted in self-defense and was not indicted by a grand jury, prompting people to come out in anger over what was seen as an “unjust” verdict.

The image of Michael Brown became the icon that resulted in civil unrest and national protests, with #blacklivesmatter trending on social media, bringing back the fervor of the Civil Rights Movement of the 70’s.

Another civil rights battle that’s been fought silently in the background for many years is the right of equal opportunity education for children of all races. In 2014, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division conducted investigations which revealed that “African-American students represent only 15 percent of public school students, but they make of 35 percent of students suspended once, 44 percent of those suspended more than once and 36 percent of those expelled.”

Although the New York Times stated in the same article that these statistics did not necessarily point a finger towards discrimination of minority students, research that shows black students do not engage in misbehavior more frequently than white students definitely alludes to that conclusion.

Further research has revealed “two kinds of discrimination: cases in which African-American students are treated more harshly and disciplined more frequently than white students who engage in similar misbehavior; and cases where policies — like mandatory suspension, expulsion or ticketing — are administered in a race-neutral manner but have a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.”

These disproportionate effects and discriminatory treatments undoubtedly highlight the civil inequality in children’s rights to education. Perhaps this is the root of the issue regarding the stereotype of the troubled, young black man that became the center of such controversy in the recent cases of Michael Brown and Tamir E. Rice.

Looking at the treatment these kids receive in school and how to correct it can be the first step towards creating social change. It is in this context that we should be looking at Dr. Katharine Capshaw’s bookCivil Rights Childhood: Picturing Liberation in African American Photobooks. In it, she explores the function of children’s photographic books and the image of the black child in social justice campaigns for school integration and the civil rights movement.

In an interview about the book she said, “When you think about children in civil rights you think about the martyred child photograph. But I learned through working on this project that there were many different approaches to representing childhood during the Civil Rights Movement.” While the cases of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice should not be forgotten, we should also not be waiting for events like these to provoke change in the system. We should be looking to the children who are succeeding in school and using them as an example to provoke social change.

Dr. Capshaw previewed her book at San Diego State University last April in a lecture for the NCSCL entitled, "Freedom (and Fury) Now: Civil Rights Photographic Picture Books for Children." During her visit, she sat down to talk with the editors of The Unjournal of Children’s Literature, which included SDSU alumni and former graduate assistants for the NCSCL, Alya Hameed and Kelsey Wadman. If you have not had a chance to read the interview, here is you chance!