Friday, April 22, 2022

CCICL Episode 5 with Newbery Award Winning author Matt de la Peña & NYT bestselling illustrator Loren Long

In the fifth episode of Critical Conversations in Children's Literature Dr. Lashon Daley continues the conversation of collaboration in the industry of Children's Literature with guests Matt de la Peña and Loren Long. They discuss their collaborative process while working on the 2018 New York Times bestselling picture book Love as well as a current project

Matt de la Peña is the author of middle-grade and young adult novels such as Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and Superman: Dawnbreaker as well as a handful of children's picture books like Last Stop on Market Street for which he won the Newbery. 

Loren Long is the illustrator of former President Barack Obama's picture book Of Thee I Sing, Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna. Change Sings by Amanda Gorman and a host of other picture books including the Otis series.  

Watch the video below!

We hope you enjoy this episode and make sure to follow our Youtube channel for more! 

CCICL is funded by CAL IRA funds. 

- (NA)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Episode 4 of Critical Conversations in Children's Literature with guest Lin Oliver

Critical Conversations in Children's Literature is a web series developed to bring children's literary writers in conversation with scholars to discuss critical topics brewing within the field. This web series is funded by CAL IRA funds. 

The series was developed by our very own Dr. Lashon Daley, assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. This series is funded by the College of Arts & Letters Instructional Activities Grant and is hosted in collaboration with the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature.

Episode 4 titled: "Thoughts on 'Collaboration' in the Industry of Children's Literature" features a conversation between Dr. Daley and Lin Oliver, which centers on the topic of collaboration within the industry of children’s literature.

Lin Oliver is the co-founder, along with Stephen Mooser, of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators also known as SCBWI. She serves as its Executive Director. Working from its headquarters in Los Angeles, Lin guides the organization through changes and challenges of the contemporary publishing field and is proud to help launch new careers that will change the face of children's picture books.

So without further ado, here's episode 4 of CCICL:

We hope you enjoy it! Until next time!


Notes on Dr. Maria Tatar's Lecture: “A 'Damn Mob' of Scribbling Girls”

    As someone encountering Dr. Maria Tatar’s work for the first time during this event, I was not disappointed! Dr. Tatar is a research professor at Harvard University and specializes in children’s literature, modern German culture, and folklore. Her research includes authors like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, childhood reading and cultural studies, and folklore and mythology. Her most recent work, The Heroine with 1001 Faces, takes on the staggering yet hidden history of heroines, challenging the male-centric models of heroism in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this latest publication, Dr. Tatar flips the script on what it means to be a “curious” young woman, emphasizing how these girls depart from the canon through their compassion and craft. Her interests culminated in the event titled “A ‘Damn Mob’ of Scribbling Girls: From Jo March to Starr Carter,” which explored girls from popular media and literature who find agency within domestic spaces and enact their power, not only to survive, but to care for others. 

Dr. Tatar began her lecture with images of warrior women – cinematic women who are dramatically armed and ready for battle. She highlights their strength that both ornaments and sustains their femininity. Whether glittering in golden armor or fitted in a flowing red dress while riding in a chariot, these young women embody a feminine power that defies the traditional domestic spaces they find themselves in. In this opening, Dr. Tatar introduces her argument: these girls, trained to accommodate themselves in a society of gendered propriety, rebel against dominant power structures through their craft. 

The first literary work Dr. Tatar introduces is Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel Little Women. However, she invokes the character Jo March through the film directed by Greta Gerwig (2019) instead of the novel. While Alcott captures all the dimensions of the domestic, the acts meant to make a home comfortable, Gerwig’s Jo March exuberantly displays how reading, writing, and acting are radical acts of rebellion. This emphasis on a young woman’s reach for autonomy allowed Dr. Tatar to identify the potential for heroism within domesticity. She identifies writing as a craft that provides an opportunity for heroism, an action that involves both curiosity and care. Tatar defines craft as cunning design, work that has been carried out in multiple modalities such as knitting, weaving, storytelling, or simply talking. 

In both the novel and the film, the heroes of the story are the fathers heading off to war while the women maintain the home space. Dr. Tatar urges us to ask: Who are our heroes? Our heroines? She grafts onto her argument the concept of the hero from Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces to assert that women are not the ones receiving the call to action. If anything, this persistence of men at the forefront of heroism has become the Hollywood narrative playbook. It becomes an easy correlation to see men returning from war as a literalized hero’s journey. However, Dr. Tatar reminds us that the return in the hero’s journey is always about healing. Here, in curious and caring spaces, is where women can no longer be silenced. 

The lecture took a poignant turn when Dr. Tatar connected her ideas with the COVID-19 lockdowns we have collectively experienced in the past two years. In lockdown, she notes, we were looking for heroes. We found them in our community caretakers, like doctors and nurses, childcare workers, and educators. More than anything, though, we encountered silence. Like the image of Philomena weaving her tapestry, the concept of heroism faces a cultural reboot during the COVID-19 pandemic. The investment in healing and care work, fields predominantly held by women, found a refreshed prioritization and attention from the public. Dr. Tatar turns to Carlos Fuentes and restates, “Writing is a struggle against silence.” Here, she draws a comparison to the strategy of silenced women. As mentioned before, craft becomes the strategy to find a voice. Through texts and textiles, women speak truth to power. 

One of the tenets of her work, curiosity, is seen as the cardinal sin of women while care is delegitimized on the basis of gender oppressive attitudes. Dr. Tatar moves from writing as a form of discovering identity and self actualization to a desire for immortality. This curiosity thus becomes a commitment to causes these young women are passionate about, concretizing their thoughts and ideas in written word. The literary text Dr. Tatar closes her lecture with is Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Through the protagonist, Starr Carter, Dr. Tatar realizes that self-actualization and a commitment to social causes are not mutually exclusive. From Anne of Green Gables to Matilda, Anne Frank to Harriet the Spy, the craft of writing becomes a mode of achieving an encounter with an empowered self, a political act that speaks truth to power. 

    I was very intrigued by Dr. Tatar’s inspirations for this work. One of the most compelling was Scheherazade, a major female character from One Thousand and One Nights who is also a scholar and reader. She is a storyteller, and known as a master of cliffhangers, who understands the seductive power of stories. Dr. Tatar also emphasizes that she is a survivor, ensuring that others will be saved and protected from the antagonist of her story. She also invokes the classic tales of Pandora and Eve, two young women whose bodies are sexualized and whose curiosity is read as carnal rather than intellectual. Through these figures, she calls on us to consider replacing empathy with curiosity, craft, and care. Rather than universalizing our characters or their experiences, Dr. Tatar invites us to raise critical awareness about the codes of gender that inform power in these texts and, ultimately, the way we perceive “domestic” activities as passive. As she states in the lecture, “readers often seek their mirrors in books.” Through the close reading Tatar promotes, we achieve tools for learning how to navigate our real world relationships via the representations we find in these stories and move with the mob of scribbling women. 

    Readers and writers in the audience also asked some very intriguing questions about Dr. Tatar’s work. Some listeners asked about the labor of our bodies, the work of our hands, and how to reconcile this with the public arena. Dr. Tatar invited us to compare Jo March with Starr Carter, and the modes they used to share their voices. While Jo March hand-wrote her thoughts, Starr Carter takes on a megaphone and a computer keyboard as powerful instruments for securing justice. Other listeners discussed what it means to “give up” one’s femininity in exchange for strength, or if femininity can be perceived as strength itself. Dr. Tatar invokes examples from modern film and media, like Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross) or Snow White from Snow White and the Huntsmen (dir. Rupert Sanders) – both of these young women display strength while also being connected to poetry, song, and art. A few others brought up the question of rethinking passivity from past to present. We’re invited to look more deeply into domestic actions while understanding the circumstances of women like Jo March as narrow. Dr. Tatar inspired me to use that historical past to reimagine curiosity, craft, and care in today’s world. This reimagining allows us to reconstruct our imaging of girlhood while understanding our own writing as heroic.


Friday, March 18, 2022

Episode 3 of Critical Conversations in Children's Literature with guest Dr. Libby Gruner

Critical Conversations in Children's Literature is a web series developed to bring children's literary writers in conversation with scholars to discuss critical topics brewing within the field. This web series is funded by CAL IRA funds.

The series was developed by Dr. Lashon Daley an assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. This series is funded by the College of Arts & Letters Instructional Activities Grant and is hosted in collaboration with the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature. Episode 3 features a conversation between Dr. Daley and Dr. Libby Gruner, centered on the topic of collaboration within the academic field of children’s literature. Libby Gruner is the 2021-2022 President of ChLA, which is the Children's Literature Association (ChLA). Libby is a scholar of both YA and Victorian literature. She has taught at the University of Richmond since 1993, where she is a Professor of English and Coordinator of Faculty Development in Teaching.

Without further ado, here's episode 3 of CCICL:

We hope you enjoy this episode!

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Review of Pet by Akwaeke Emezi


Akwaeke Emezi’s young adult fantasy novel Pet follows Jam, a selectively mute trans girl, as she embarks on a hunt with Pet, a creature that emerges from one of her mother’s paintings after drops of her blood meet its surface. Before Jam’s world is altered forever, she lives in the aftermath of a revolution in Lucille, a utopian city. The revolution worked to rid Lucille of beings called “monsters” by way of “angels.” Or so Jam’s family believes. Communicating telepathically, Pet tells Jam that her best friend, Redemption, is in danger and only she and Pet can seek out the monster that threatens him. Against the wishes of her mother, Bitter, and father, Aloe, the strange pair begin their hunt for the monsters they believe were defeated. Readers are asked the same question put to Jam and Aloe: are we too afraid to see the unseen and to know the unknown?

Forgetting is how the monsters come back. (20) 

At the center of the narrative is Jam, a selectively mute young woman. Her muteness was an inclusion I hadn’t seen before, where a character chose to speak only when she deemed it necessary. Jam spends much of the story using sign language with those around her. However, when Pet appears, their telepathy provides yet another avenue for Jam to communicate her thoughts and feelings. Despite Pet’s ability to read her thoughts, Emezi gives Jam a great deal of narrative agency by asserting that Jam speaks out loud on her own terms. In the moments she is speaking, we, as readers, understand her urgency and desire to impart her own ideas in a world that prioritizes sound.

Of course there were still monsters, Jam thought. Could you really make something stop existing just by shoving it away somewhere else? (50)

Jam’s relationship with her best friend, Redemption, and his family illustrate a wonderful example of community. Redemption’s family’s home dynamics come to represent the power of unity in home-making. When Emezi introduces Redemption’s family, you’re immediately immersed in their complete care. You can almost smell what Redemption’s mother, Malachite, is preparing in the kitchen and hear his baby cousins playing. I also loved reading about the friendship between Redemption and Jam. Their bond is clearly intimate and purely platonic, always assuaging one another’s fears and anxieties. Together, they are a wonderful example of a friendship that thrives without the pressures of heteronormativity, which sets Emezi’s story apart from what we might encounter in this genre.

The world we enter when opening up Pet is easy to describe as “utopic”: Lucille is a town whose monsters were eradicated by angels. However, Emezi is careful to note that this utopia did not come about solely by the miracle of angels. Creating Lucille took work, labor, and trial and error. In this world, identity is fluid, evolving, and boundless. However, Pet is only there for one thing: to eliminate a monster. The knowledge of a monster in Lucille shocks Jam. She knows there aren’t supposed to be any more monsters in Lucille. Her father, Aloe, has reassured her plenty before. This novel deals with difficult topics, such as sexual ab*se, and Emezi doesn’t shy away from them. They grant their characters a great deal of narrative agency. I was inspired by their determination to rid their world of a monster and continue their practice of community care.

A pool of water with the moon reflecting in it… who would want to throw a stone and break the picture? It is fine to be afraid, to have a fine fear, to not want to cross a fine line. (94)

For Jam, the world seems split in two: she lives in a world where verbal communication is prioritized, and another with its own interrelated, nuanced layers of non-verbal understanding. I was drawn to her through these multiple modalities, and moved to follow her lead as an emotionally mature, loving daughter. A third world is opened up when Pet emerges from her mother’s latest painting, however, that challenges both the closeness she feels with her parents and her understanding of the world. Born from a deep maternal legacy that drives much of the narrative we encounter, the connection between Bitter, Jam, and Pet is shared (literally) by blood and through art. Pet’s maternal nature allows Jam to navigate between these two worlds she finds herself in with deaf/mute culture while simultaneously reckoning with the split she’s experiencing in her reality. Pet brings Jam to an understanding that monsters are still lurking, despite all of our efforts to eradicate them, whether it be through pure goodness or rehabilitation. However, despite this painful reality, Pet’s presence and collaboration with the kids reveals how the power rests in the voices of our youth, no matter how they show up in the world.


Friday, March 4, 2022

Review of No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado

One of the first reviews that I wrote for this blog was for Crystal Maldonado’s debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega. One year later, here I am with a review for Maldonado’s sophomore work, No Filter and Other Lies. It feels like I have come full circle as a Grad Assistant.

No Filter and Other Lies follows Kat Sanchez, a half-Puerto Rican high-school senior, as she navigates family relationships, self-love, sexuality, and friendships. Extremely obsessed with her follower count, Kat finds herself increasingly disappointed that the photography she posts to her account doesn’t receive the recognition she believes it deserves. At the beginning of the novel, she wonders why her pictures do not get as much engagement on Instagram as she hopes: “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but my account is practically dead…Yet, my aesthetic on that account is AMAZING…every single picture is serving a vibe and a color scheme and a mood, and they look good as a whole” (9). Kat is proud of her pictures and understands how talented she is, but the worth of her photographs is tied to how many likes, comments, and followers she gains per post. Validation through social media is one of the themes of the narrative. As the story progresses, readers gain insight into the downfalls of seeking validation via social platforms. 

Kat lives with her grandparents and, while she loves them, she wishes she had a more traditional family. Her parents had her while they were still in high school, since they were so young her grandparents–Ray and Bethie–agreed to take care of Kat themselves. Eventhough she stayed with her grandparents, her brother (Leo), who was born a year later, lives with their parents. Kat is asked to lie about her family situation at a very young age and this eventually leads her to lie constantly.  

One of the aspects of Maldonado’s work I adore is her tendency to explore complicated family dynamics. We got a glimpse of this in her previous book (Fat Chance, Charlie Vega) with Charlie and her mother. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega follows Charlie as she experiences first love and self-acceptance. Charlie and her mother have a difficult relationship because her mom insists on Charlie losing weight and pushes her to diet. This causes a rift between them. In No Filter and Other Lies the exploration of these family dynamics continue, which dramatizes unflinchingly Kat’s relationships with her mother, father, and sibling. Kat’s mother, Sarah, wants to have a picture perfect family, which makes Kat feel ostracized. Their dynamic drives how Kat views herself and how she approaches honesty. Then there’s her father, Anthony or Pop, who is a bit distant but despite this Kat wants a deeper connection with him. She wants to learn more about her Puerto Rican roots since he lived on the island when he was younger. Her brother, Leo, and her do not have a close relationship, but Kat yearns for a deeper sibling bond. All of Kat’s relationships with her family members inform the choices Kat makes throughout the narrative. Family dynamics is one of the biggest topics explored in No Filter and Other Lies. It was great to see a children’s book featuring family structures besides the nuclear family or single-parent homes.

Kat lies about her family situation constantly, she tells people in her school and on social media that she lives with her parents and brother. She was first asked to lie about her family when she was in elementary school by her mother and since then Kat has felt uncomfortable telling others the truth. She calls this lie “the first lie” and it ripples to other parts of her life, this one little lie leading to others of increasing magnitude. How do you stop yourself from lying when you’ve been asked to do so for such a long time? It was great to see the web of lies and how it was not something teen Kat crafted but how it started due to her parents. This modeled behavior becomes the source of her lying. Maldonado weaves all of them fantastically.  

Our main character is delightfully messy. She lies constantly and is selfish, but she is so beautifully characterized that we like her despite these flaws, as it is clear that she’s just a young woman trying to figure out who she is, making plenty of mistakes along the way. I absolutely loved Kat’s character journey! 

Throughout the novel Kat realizes she is bisexual as she develops an unexpected crush. The narrative does not center solely on this aspect of Kat’s life, so it does not turn into a “coming-out” narrative. Maldonado deviates from common YA narratives, which center the pain of being queer and brings the focus to the importance of discovering who you are. Her sexuality does not become a point of tension instead it is an opportunity for Kat to express self-love. It presents the exploration of sexuality as a normal occurrence of adolescence. 

Kat can’t get away from her phone, constantly comparing herself to others as a result of being glued to Instagram. I was pleased that this is such a big part of the novel. I found Kat’s struggles with Instagram extremely relatable and it made me evaluate my relationship with the platform, and it will doubtlessly encourage young readers to do the same. Whenever Kat talks about how she feels about IG I couldn’t help but think of “Jealousy, Jealousy” by Olivia Rodrigo. Especially, the song’s chorus: “Com-comparison is killin' me slowly/ I think I think too much/ 'Bout kids who don't know me.” Kat’s acceptance and confidence does not come from herself but ,as the song mentions, from external sources. 

The book deals heavily with catfishing, a trope that I don’t like; however, the narrative does a good job addressing how it is harmful. The effects of catfishing are not glossed over, it shows how there are consequences to breaking the trust of someone who cares about you. Despite its overuse in YA, Maldonado gives the reader a nuanced representation of the catfishing trope. 

I also enjoyed the character dynamics. No Filter and Other Lies has a great cast of characters. Kat’s friends (Hari, Luis, and Marcus) were just as flawed as she was. Making their group dynamics a pleasure to read. It was nice to see how they all developed as a group too, from the expected youthful antics to the more vulnerable moments they share. She develops other friendships along the way through social media and her work at a local animal shelter. Two of these friendships lead Kat to uncover her family trauma and find new ways to cope with it. Through her work in the animal shelter she strikes a friendship with a three-legged dog, which was absolutely heartwarming to read. 

No Filter and Other Lies is ultimately a story about coping with family trauma, accepting yourself as you are, and learning to share your true self with the ones you love. The novel has bi representation and a super cute 3-legged friend that will steal your heart. Moreover, Crystal Maldonado has become one of my favorite contemporary authors. Her stories are straight-forward, fun, and raw. I am extremely grateful to have stories with amazing Puerto Rican representation, something I desperately wished for when I was a child. 


Friday, February 18, 2022

Meet Our New Graduate Assistant!

We are so excited to welcome our new Graduate Assistant, Dani Nouriazad! Graduate Assistant Natalie asked Dani a few questions to get to know them. Read more about it below!

Tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been in the MA program? What are your scholarly interests? Are you teaching at the moment? 

My name is Dani Nouriazad. I’m in my second semester of the MA program, studying children’s literature with a special interest in queer studies and gothic/horror studies. I’ve been interested in the world of children’s literature for about three years now! I’m particularly invested in young adult literature, but find myself enjoying picture books and poetry for children more and more. I am also an instructor on campus, teaching RWS 200: Rhetoric of Written Arguments in Context, with special focuses on poetry, community, and radical movement. So far, we’ve enjoyed grappling with what makes poetry meaningful, and how it accomplishes that impact. It has been a challenge, but I’m enjoying all that I’m learning about what it means to be on the other side of the desk.

What do you like to do in your spare time/outside of school?

As an English major, I'm sure you won't be surprised by my answer: I love reading! Many of my favorite stories include gothic themes and horror tropes, queer characters, fantastical landscapes, and perhaps a cheeky, lovable sidekick for comedic relief. From graphic novels to picture books, if it’s got a little strangeness, I’ll love it.

Lately, I’ve enjoyed Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys, Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours, and Emily Lloyd-Jones’s The Bone Houses. I also love Gloria Anzaldúa’s Amigos del Otro Lado (Friends from the Other Side), Matt de la Peña’s Milo Imagines the World, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. I especially enjoy toting along a good book as I lounge in many of the beautiful parks San Diego has to offer, with a sweet caffeinated beverage steaming by my side. I also enjoy reading and writing for small independent zine creators and poetry presses, like local magazine SOFT Quarterly. Otherwise, I find myself going on long walks around town, thrifting, and consuming far too much local artisanal ice cream. 

What excites you most about starting as a graduate assistant for the NCSCL?

As someone who’s invested in our ability to transgress and disrupt the status quo, I am excited about working at the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, a great place to platform those voices and narratives that otherwise go unnoticed or unappreciated. The Center features so many diverse books and authors, it’s tough to choose just one world to explore at a time. The authors that the Center uplifts have shared stories that depart from the traditional narratives that we all know and appreciate. From offering LGBTQIA+ young adult protagonists to explorations of adverse experiences, like houselessness and addiction, the Center continues to add to the archive of childhood narratives, experiences, and subjectivities.

I’m certainly excited to have access to so much more material in the realm of children’s literature and to share what I learn with others. There is much to be gained from active study in this field, where we plant the ideas for movement makers, dreamers, and critical thinkers. It all starts with the kinds of access, information, and appreciation that NCSCL can provide. Whether it be book reviews, interviews, or sharing new and exciting releases, I’m thrilled to be a part of this team that continues the conversations in children’s literature. Being able to share it with anyone and everyone who finds the Center and our work intriguing is what makes it most worthwhile. 

[Image Description: Dani, wearing their hair down and in a leopard print top, holding up Gloria Anzaldúa's picture book, Prietita and the Ghost Woman, to show the cover. With the book covering the bottom half of their face, Dani is peeking over the book, making eye contact with the camera.]

Friday, November 19, 2021

Introducing: Critical Conversations in Children's Literature - A Web Series

Critical Conversations in Children’s Literature is a web series developed by Dr. Lashon Daley to bring together children’s literature authors and scholars to discuss critical topics brewing within the field. 

The first episode features a conversation between Tae Keller, the 2021 Newbery Award winner, and Dr. Daley, an assistant professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, discussing the representations of girlhood presented in Keller's novel, When You Trap A Tiger. Their conversation provides new insights into representations of girlhood as it intersects with concepts of postmodern girlhood, decolonizing girlhood, and the impact of trauma on girlhood. 

Watch it here:

The second episode, part two to Dr. Daley's conversation with middle-grade author Tae Keller, features Dr. Charlene Tung sharing her insights on the historical and theoretical context of When You Trap a Tiger. Tung, a professor of Women's and Gender Studies at Sonoma State University, specializes in gender and globalization, Asian American women's history/contemporary (im)migration, and gender and race-ethnicity in popular culture.

Watch it here:

Critical Conversations in Children’s Literature is funded by the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University and is in collaboration with the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature.

We hope you enjoy the series! 

- (NA)

Monday, November 8, 2021

A Discussion of The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

Molly Ostertag’s debut middle-grade graphic novel The Witch Boy was first published in 2017. The graphic novel was written and illustrated by Ostertag, and it follows Aster, a boy who wishes to practice witchcraft despite it being forbidden for boys. He lives in a magical community with his family, which is separated from human society and the only contact they have is with other magical families around the area. Each member of the community contributes to sustaining the way of life. The men in the community become shapeshifters whereas the women learn about witchcraft and perform spells. Aster has no interest in shapeshifting or physical fighting, instead, he wants to learn spells and the ways of the witches. Men and boys are forbidden from learning witchcraft since the community adheres to strict gender roles. There is only one man in the community who attempted to learn witchcraft before and it did not go well. Besides the challenges Aster faces due to his gender-nonconforming identity, his cousins are mysteriously going missing.  

While reading this graphic novel, I could not help but pay attention to the representation of girlhood and how the novel constructs it. Currently, I am taking a class with Professor Lashon Daley in which we look at representations of girlhood in Middle-Grade and YA novels. The Witch Boy is a graphic novel that interacts heavily with gender roles and how girlhood has been constructed in a magical society. 

The Witch Boy does not waste any time in depicting girlhood. The graphic novel's construction of girlhood mirrors our society’s image of girlhood. For example, Aster is caught spying on the girls’ magical lesson, and an elder scolds him by saying: “Aster! This lesson isn’t for you -- these girls are learning secrets!” (Ostertag 5). Aster, as a boy, is berated for trying to learn girls’ “secrets.” While reading this, I could not help but think about how girls and boys are separated for sex education in middle school. Boys are not allowed to learn about girls’ bodily changes. The boys in the graphic novel do not have lessons like the girls’; they just play around and sometimes practice their shapeshifting. We learn quickly how gender roles are strictly upheld in this world, which very much mirrors our own. I enjoyed how this is how we are introduced to Aster. Immediately, we know that he does not fully fit into his community because of what is being said to him and where he is on the page (up on a tree at a distance).

In Dr. Daley’s course, we read Megan Henesy’s article ‘Leaving My Girlhood Behind’: Woke Witches and Feminist Liminality in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which centers Sabrina as the gothic figure due to how she navigates two worlds (2). In class, we discussed how Sabrina, as the “woke witch,” embodies the following characteristics: liminality, activism, being 16 years old, being a virgin, encountering a dark wizard, feeling out of place, choosing her place in society, and having a sidekick. I believe that The Witch Boy is a great book to read through this lens. 

Many of the elements of Henesy’s “woke witch” framework are present in The Witch Boy. First we have liminality. Aster exists in two spaces, boyhood and girlhood, and because of this he does not fit into his culture. The second characteristic is “activism,” which Aster engages in due to questioning why boys cannot perform witchcraft. Once Aster is caught spying on the girls’ magic lesson he has a conversation with his mother about not being able to perform witchcraft: “I don’t understand why Juniper and Hazel and them can all learn how to talk to trees and make potions and do spells and I can’t...It’s not fair” (7). After this he goes on to perform magic on his own, challenging the system in place. Furthermore, Aster does not meet the age requirement for the “woke witch.” The Witch Boy is a middle-grade text, and his age is not specified. Aster can be presumed to be an older tween (10-12) or a young teen (13-14). As for the virginal state, The Witch Boy does not engage with sexuality, and due to his age Aster mostly likely fits this criteria of the “woke witch.” Aster does have an encounter with a dark wizard, which in this case is the villain of the narrative. The villain in this text is a dragon-like creature who wants Aster to join him in his dark magic endeavors. The “dark wizard” is similar to Aster, but he has embraced the “dark side” of magic.

The next characteristics of the “woke witch” framework are feeling out of place, choosing your place, and having a sidekick. Aster’s family constantly reminds him that witchcraft is solely for girls. For example, his mom explains to him: “But, Aster, that magic is for you...Women and men have different types of magic” (8). She then tells the story of Mikasi, Aster’s great uncle, who did not adhere to the gender roles and was ostracized in the community, “[h]e was cast out for he was a danger to himself and the family” (11). Aster’s mother lets him know that if he were to practice magic openly he could be banished from the community. This serves as a warning and solidifies how out of place he is within the place he calls home and the people who are supposed to love him unconditionally, his family. Moreover, Aster is able to choose his place when he meets Charlie. She is a human he meets while walking outside his community. They share the same feelings of not belonging in their communities. Charlie is a girl who loves sports and has two dads. As the story progresses she becomes Aster’s sidekick, encouraging him to perform magic. She eventually asks him to heal her injured leg (75-76). 

Aster’s journey in The Witch Boy follows the dynamics of Henesy’s “woke witch,” except for the age. Reading this graphic novel and looking at it through this framework was a fun exercise! I wanted to showcase how children’s literature scholarship can be applied widely and the type of exercises graduate students like me engage in.

I hope you will pick up The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag because it is truly a wonderful graphic novel. I know I will be reading the following volumes in this trilogy (Hidden Witch and The Midwinter Witch). Also, it is being adapted into a Netflix animated musical, so why not get ahead of the movie release?


Henesy, Megan. “‘Leaving My Girlhood behind’: Woke Witches and Feminist Liminality in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Feminist Media Studies, 2020, pp. 1–15. Crossref, doi:10.1080/14680777.2020.1791929.

Ostertag, Molly. The Witch Boy: A Graphic Novel (The Witch Boy Trilogy #1). Illustrated, e-book, Graphix, 2017.

- (NA)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Community Event with Children's Literature Librarian Linda Salem

Hello, Children’s Literature scholars! 

We want to invite you all to join Children’s Literature Librarian, Linda Salem, in a public reading of author and illustrator Takeo Takei’s Aruki Taro. Takeo Takei is well-known by manga artists for his 139 kampon books and children's illustrated works. Aruki Taro has been somewhat forgotten, but Linda has translated it, giving us an introduction to Takei’s other works. Besides this introduction, the presentation will also include a history of Japanese illustration. The event is this upcoming Wednesday, October 20th, at 6:30 pm in the Shiley Special Events Suite at Central Library. The event is hosted by the San Diego public library and will be in-person. 

To learn more and register for the event please follow this link: 

We hope you can attend!


Saturday, October 16, 2021

Being Both “Teacher” and “Student”

Education has always been an essential part of my life, even at a young age. I’ve always looked forward to going to school, as it felt like a safe space for me. I also looked at my teachers and professors in absolute awe as I saw them as the pinnacle of knowledge, the holder of all truths, and I wanted to be that. 

This semester I had the remarkable opportunity to hold the title that I felt so fondly of. During my final year as a graduate student, I was offered a TA position, in which I built my schedule and syllabus from scratch to teach English 220: Introduction to English. I quickly learned that I now hold two titles: teacher and student. It’s a strange phenomenon because from eight in the morning until lunch I am the teacher. I make lesson plans, email students, grade assignments, and am front and center in the classroom to lecture with curious eyes on me. But then my role is reversed once I attend my grad seminar and make my way to my desk. Often, my roles may intertwine, such as when my students ask insightful questions and inform me of things I haven’t heard of or considered. 

Being a full-time graduate student while teaching my very first course is a constant rollercoaster of emotions. One moment, I love what I’m doing; I enjoy attending my classes and giving my students help and resources, but then the next, I feel burned out, overwhelmed, and frustrated because I put myself on the back burner. Finding a balance between work, school, family, friends, and yourself is difficult, but it’s mandatory. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling like your work is burdensome, but it isn’t; it’s simply a lot, and that’s okay. Being honest with myself, my peers, professors, and even my students has been a huge relief for me, and it reminds you that this feeling of chaos and distraught isn’t just a “you” thing. Having those open and honest conversations reminds me of how far I have come and that I should be proud of the progress I have made. Whether I am the teacher or student, it is all a learning experience, and I’m thrilled that at least I am fortunate enough to have this significant memory in my lifetime. 


Friday, October 8, 2021

Interview with Professor Lashon Daley

 The NCSCL is honored to present an interview with Dr. Lashon Daley, the Department of English and Comparative Literature’s new assistant professor of children’s literature. The interview was conducted online by Natalie Alvarez and Lara Amin, graduate assistants for SDSU’s National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. We thank Professor Daley for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk with us, and we’re proud of the opportunity to better acquaint our readers with our newest professor and her exciting work!

Tell us a bit about yourself: Where are you from? What were some of your favorite books as a child? How did you become interested in children’s literature and childhood studies, and what do you find particularly interesting about it?

I grew up in Miami, Florida, and spent most of my childhood climbing the mango tree in my backyard and the avocado tree in my front yard. As a result, I rarely read for leisure. Being outside and playing with my siblings brought me more joy than reading on my own. And to be honest, I hated reading. I preferred making up stories in my mind and telling them to my very attentive collection of stuffed animals. I did begin writing down my own stories when my mother gave me my first journal at the age of seven. I wrote my first children’s book shortly thereafter. It was about a blue rose that did not know how to bloom and had to learn on its own. 

When I eventually began to tolerate reading, I fell in love with serial collections like The Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain, Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell, and Spot by Eric Hill. In addition, I’ll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst was also a favorite because it mimicked my experience of being the youngest child and allowed me to feel seen.

As you can see, my love for children’s literature was a slow burn. It finally caught fire when I was working as a marketing assistant at the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans. I had the privilege of working with my colleagues to implement children’s educational programs, and childhood literacy was a major part of our core mission. I had a running knowledge of what was popular in the industry, what books were used to hit literacy goals, and essentially what made a good children’s picture book. So, I decided to write my own. My children’s book, Mr. Okra Sells Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, was published in 2016 by Pelican Publishing, and it launched me into the industry in a new way. Performing the text at festivals and in classrooms made me even more curious about children’s literature. When the book was released, I was in my first year of my doctoral studies at UC Berkeley. Through a series of research pursuits, children’s literature, especially children’s literature as it intersects with Black girlhood studies, eventually became one of my research fields.

Children’s literature is a fascinating field of study because of its depth and breath. Essentially everyone from children, to parents, to educators, to librarians, to the top 

scholars within the field, to the illustrators, to the writers themselves all, play a role in expanding this field of study. The infinite possibilities of where this field can go means that I am limitless in my research. And for me, that is a beautiful place to be. 

When you applied to SDSU, what aspects of the university and the Department of English and Comparative Literature did you find most attractive?

While my Ph.D. is in Performance Studies, my heart has always been based in English and Comparative Literature. I received my BA in English, my MA in Folklore, and my MFA in Writing. So applying to the department felt like a homecoming for me. I was extremely impressed by my colleagues Phillip Serrato and Joseph Thomas, whose research interests are so fascinating. I felt that I was going to be among scholars who also remained curious and limitless in their approach to the field and to their research. I felt a strong connection to so many of the professors in the department, who are not only top scholars, but also creatives as well. Plus, the opportunity to work with, teach, and mentor English majors and minors is an absolute dream. 

What were the most significant challenges or obstacles for you during or post-graduate school?

When I was pursuing my MFA in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, I had a desire to pursue publishing after graduation. I did not. However, that desire manifested itself again while I was preparing for my qualifying exams in the third year of my doctoral program. I was feeling so overwhelmed by the requirements of becoming a top scholar that I considered leaving my program. I began to research the job market in publishing and even applied for a position at a children’s literary publisher. I never told my advisor because I knew that she would talk me out of it. Once I passed my exams, I did feel much more confident in my ability to complete my degree. I am grateful that I persevered because now I have the opportunity to continue my research and to be in conversation with those within the industry. 

What seminars would you like to teach? Tell us about them and how they relate to your research. 

I would love to teach a seminar on research methods for fiction writers. Since I pursued my MFA before pursuing my PhD, I feel like I missed out on some crucial knowledge on how to conduct research for my creative master’s thesis. Being taught the craft of writing is super important, but I believe that teaching research methods in MFA programs would be a game changer. I am a really great example of why this is important. For my MFA thesis, I was writing a young adult novel about a Black girl coming to terms with heartache and grief after the tragic passing of her father. Now as a scholar at the intersection of children’s literature and Black girlhood studies, I feel much more equipped to write and construct a world for my character that is based in real-world research.

Which of your current projects excites you the most?

I have some children’s picture book manuscripts that I put on hold in order to complete my dissertation. I am excited about returning to those manuscripts. And then, of course, I am excited about turning my dissertation into a book.

What advice would you give to a student starting graduate school in 2022? 

When you wake up in the middle of the night with the perfect word or sentence for your manuscript, write it down immediately. You will NOT remember it in the morning. 


Thank you so much to Dr. Daley! We’re grateful to have the opportunity to showcase SDSU’s brilliant new professor of children’s literature!

- (NA) & (LA)