Friday, March 29, 2013

Prof. Kenneth Kidd to Speak at SDSU on April 11th!

We here at SDSU and the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature can't get enough of the University of Florida's Dr. Kenneth Kidd. First he virtually visited us last October for an illuminating brown bag discussion session of a chapter from his book Freud in OZ. And now he will be right here with us (live! in the flesh!) to speak about his research on the Philosophy for Children movement of the 1970's and its resurgence in child-rearing and children's literature now.

Please join us on Thursday, April 11, 2013 from 5:00 - 6:30 pm in Hardy Tower room 140  (HT 140) to hear Professor Kidd's lecture followed by a question-and-answer session. We are all extremely excited to have him here, and you should be too! 

Professor Kidd kindly wrote up an introductory piece to acquaint us with his talk, so here we go:

On Thursday, March 27, 2013, the NPR blog written by Robert Krulwich featured a story with the title "Socrates (In the Form of a 9-Year-Old) Shows Up in a Suburban Backyard in Washington." The entry describes how Washington, D. C. based musician, blogger, and camera man Zia Hassan, visiting his fiance during a babysitting gig, comes across a young boy with an interest in cosmology. Teasingly Hassan asks the boy about dark matter, and is stunned to hear the boy's nuanced, careful answer. The ensuing discussion, taped with the boy's permission, is now on YouTube with a million and a half views so far. The boy is not named, but simply referred to as The Philosopher. "Where," asks Krulwich, "did he learn about multiverses, free will, the odds of intelligent life in the universe? How does he manage to be so aware of what he doesn't know?" (Meanwhile, the Philosopher's young brother talks just as philosophically about baseball). The piece is a meditation on the curiosity and wisdom of children, and on the importance of parental encouragement. Krulwich quotes Hassan: "I think there are a lot of kids who think about interesting things. It's my guess no one really asks them about it." The moral seems to be that if adults were less afraid of what their children might think or say, their children might think or say pretty deep things.
Such was a core assumption of the Philosophy for Children movement, or P4C for short. In 1970, inspired by 1960s social activism and eager to promote critical thinking in young people, philosophy professor Matthew Lipman published his philosophical novel for children, Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery, which was used for teaching purposes in the Montclair public school system of New Jersey. Its success in the classroom alongside positive media attention helped lead to the establishment of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC), headquartered at Montclair State College where Lipman was appointed. Students involved in IAPC programs ostensibly saw significant improvements in their reading and critical thinking skills. Under Lipman, the IAPC devoted itself to producing pedagogical materials, beginning with additional novels written by Lipman and accompanying teacher workbooks. Lipman also designed graduate level programs in the field of Philosophy for Children and in 1979 founded Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children, which folded in 2011. Other universities as well as various institutes also undertook work with public school students. Wikipedia reports that “Before the Department of Education cut funding for such programs in the early 1990s, there were over 5,000 programs in K-12 schools nationwide which engaged young people in philosophical reflection or critical thinking, more generally. This number has dropped substantially.”
While support for P4C programs has faded, the idea that children are natural philosophers persists, and lately we've seen a resurgence of this notion, in child-rearing literature, in writing for children and young adults, and in how-to volumes such as Dr. Seuss and Philosophy. This presentation focuses on the P4C movement, and on ongoing claims to the child as exemplary philosopher. Special attention is given to the place of children's and young adult literature, and also to the connections between P4C and a related enterprise, "theory for beginners."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grimm, Haiti, and the Art of Influence

I recently read about a new translation of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, selected and translated by Peter Wortsman and worked from the 1857 edition of the German tales. What makes Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm worthy of acknowledgement--aside from Wortsman's return to "a tincture of concentrated man-eating ogre and ground hag tooth, diluted in blood, sweat and tears, as a potent vaccine against the crippling effects of fear and fury"--is the artwork included, all done by contemporary Haitian artists. This mixing of two cultures may prove to launch a fascinating and unexplored conversation between the text and the world around it, and I am reminded of Jill's previous post about subversion. What does it take to subvert a text (if we even know what subversion means)? In this case, the words hover closely to the original tales (despite the wall that erupts by the very nature of translating) but by coupling them with the artwork of a vastly different culture, does the result offer an altered mode of viewing, understanding, and applying the text? Maybe, maybe not. will the art nurture or twist the text? We'll have to wait until this book is published to see its particular outcome, but the idea lingers.

This consideration also offshoots into the realm of influence. We never tire of the Grimm Brothers' Tales; new translations, imaginings, and adaptations occur left and right and in every medium (movies, television, art, etc.); their presence in Western Culture cannot be ignored. I'm not very familiar, however, with the nature of their infuence in other regions: Asian, African, South American... So to combine the Grimm tales with Haitian artistry not only makes me curious about new readings, but also about the broader issue of who will bear a greater influence on the interpretation of the other?

A few weeks ago I was caught by the headline of the following article: The Most Influential Publisher You've Never Heard of. Influential? So curious to see who! and how! One click revealed a spotlight on Room to Read, an NGO I have followed for some time and have much respect for. I admit I was slightly concerned about what kind of influence they were imparting, but the article describes their work in creating native language children's books. Rather than translating English stories into other languages, they enlist the work and cooperation of local people to write and publish their own stories. "If the books were to work — to make kids read and want to keep on reading — they had to be culturally relevant."  So in what capacity is Room to Read influential then? Certainly not in terms of Western culture through text (like a translation of the Grimms Tales in Nepal might be received... or not) but within the terrain of literacy and education, yes. And in trying to instill a love of (local) language, probably. Influence as a tool ends up taking many different shapes; are some more acceptable, more appetizing, more ethical than others? How do we know?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fairy Tales and Subversion

Greetings from Boston! It's very cold, but the bracing temps are surprisingly refreshing to this San Diego denizen. I'm here for the Northeast Modern Language Association conference, and yesterday I presented on a panel titled "Grimm Revisions: Disenchanting Fairy Tales." Six panelists talked about, respectively, the moral lessons of cop shows in "GRIMM," the evolution of Snow White, fairy tale elements in Black Swan, the real and symbolic in Pan's Labyrinth, fairy tale retellings in dystopian settings (that was me), and the grotesque in Zenoscope comics. The discussion that followed our presentations was fascinating and invigorating, and one of the keywords that kept coming up and that nearly all of us used in our papers was "subversion." This text subverts this fairy tale in this way, this representation of the mother subverts the fairy tale standard, this plot point subverts the expectations of this fairy tale, and so on.

But one of the panelists asked a question that got me thinking: what is subversion, really? Doesn't it mean that there should be a counter argument to what is expected? And if an author or filmmaker uses a well-known text, shouldn't they say something different than what the standard text does? As my fellow panelist asked, does a subversion need to be more than just a different ending?

In my paper, I talked about how, in her YA novel Cinder, Marissa Meyer "subverts" the classic Cinderella tale by circumventing the standard girl-marries-prince ending. But (spoiler alert) Meyer still gives her readers a semblance of a happy ending in that the main character finds out that she is a princess who has a rightful claim to a very significant throne. Is it accurate to call this book subversive when it still hits the notes we expect out of a Cinderella narrative? I miiiiight argue that that yes, it is still subversive, because the royalty is neither something Cinder wants nor something that is handed to her. She has to fight for it, and at the end of book one (of a planned quadrilogy), she is not ready to do so.

I think this is idea of "what qualifies as subversion" is very interesting to consider, because it is a word that is bandied about with inherent assumptions attached to it. But if a fairy tale re-imagining simply reinscribes traditional expectations (like the film Snow White and The Huntsman, for example), can we call it subversive?

I'm still stewing on this. What do you think?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Links to Ponder (Thursday Edition)

Before the end of the week arrives, take a moment to peruse the following articles and issues that have cropped up lately. The topics presented here either raise or challenge questions that I feel are constantly prevalent in the discussion of children and "their" literature.

1. A recent NY Times  article titled The Stories That Bind Us discusses impact that family narratives have on children's development. "The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned."  Simply by the act of storytelling. The article describes in brief the research efforts of psychologists from Emory University in assessing this hypothesis. It could have continued into a larger analysis on the implications of sharing family history, traditions, positive moments--particularly, the history and importance of oral narratives at all. Storytelling, especially for young people, takes on a deeper purpose and suddenly does not seem so "childish".

2. You may have heard or read about the ongoing battle over Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis in the Chicago Public School system. Originally it had been announced that the graphic novel would be removed from classrooms and school libraries, but that decision has since been altered and with the Chicago Board of Education's approval, it will remain in libraries but not be taught in 7th to 10th classes for now, only accessible to 11-th and 12th graders. Evidently officials fear presenting children with images and stories that include torture and violence, despite the growing relevance of those acts in our culture today. Is it inappropriate? Do we consider children incapable of handling these issues? And don't they realize that if you ban something as substantial as this, you will inspire protests and increase sales of the book in question--evidently one would be hard-pressed to find Persepolis in Chicago bookstores right now.

3. A little bit of interesting to wrap things up: Century of the Child: Growing by Design (1900-2000) Maria Popova highlights and describes the companion book to a the New York MOMA exhibit: "Through 100 years of toys, playgrounds, classrooms, clothing, furniture, posters, animation, books, and other ephemera, it covers such expansive and interrelated subjects as genetic engineering, the role of play in cultivating creativity, the importance of children in expanding 20th-century economies, the rise of comic strips, and the cultural significance of nostalgia."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ChildLit GSA Forum and a Movie: OZ!

This Saturday: GSA Movie Meetup and Discussion Forum (UPDATED LOCATION)

When: Saturday, March 23, 10:30 am to 3:00 pm
Where: Grossmont Reading Cinemas, followed by (free!) lunch at BJ's Restaurant
Topic of the Day: L. Frank Baum's World of Oz and all its reincarnations

The GSA Discussion Forum is doing something a little new, a little exciting, and a little fantastic: meeting to watch Oz the Great and Powerful before convening for lunch and discussion on the movies, the books, and more! And good news: lunch will be covered by the GSA!

The GSA Forums are a chance to engage with like-minded folks on all realms and levels of Children's Lit. This month we want to delve into the fascinating world of Oz created by L. Frank Baum, first by watching the film conceived as a prequel to his universe, and then having lunch and delightful discussion. Feel free to bring any topics to share, whether on or off topic--the forum is meant to be a welcoming and casual gathering. And come prepared for some fun and games!

This Forum is open to all folks interested. That means faculty, grad students, undergrads, and you! So whether you have tons to discuss or you just feel like listening in, please drop by! It also provides an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded peers and scholars of the field.

We'll be meeting by 10:15 am to watch the film at 10:30 am. *The movie time for Grossmont says 10:30 am--confirmed* Lunch will follow at BJ's, around 1:15 pm. Keep your eyes tuned on Our Facebook Page for more information.

Please let us know if you intend to join for the movie, the discussion/lunch afterward, or both. Remember, Lunch is on us!

Looking forward to meeting up, hanging out, and exploring The Wonderful World of Oz

For more Information about the ChildLit GSA, please visit us at:
The GSA Website:
On Twitter: @SDSUChildLitGSA

Monday, March 18, 2013

International Edible Book Festivals on the Menu!

Keep your eyes, ears, and tastebuds open--International Edible Book Day is close upon us (April 1st) and festivals are popping everywhere to celebrate.

April 1st was the birthday of french gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), well-known for his book Physiologie du goût, a witty meditation on food. The celebration--which includes creative perspectives on books through food--began in 1999 and has grown to be a worldwide phenomenon. In the US, universities, libraries, and an assortment of "book art" groups are putting on events. Take a look at the Facebook page for Books2Eat, the organization responsible for spawning the Edible Book Festival, to find event announcements and photos from recent events. Traditionally, these events are held on or around April 1st, which seems like the most appropriate day to have fun and play with your food. And the ideas people come up with, from elaborate artwork recreating a scene or character to punny plays on titles, are both mouth watering and awe inspiring.
Scroll through some images here.

Unfortunately, the only San Diego event I know of, hosted by San Diego Book Arts, already passed. And the SDSU ChildLit GSA has plans of hosting our own event, though not until the fall (consider it a half-birthday celebration, if you will). But there are festivals all over (I believe UCLA's event will be held on April 5; check out details here!). Find an event or hold your own!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Call for Submissions: Jeunesse Special Issue on Consumption

Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures invites essay submissions for a special issue addressing the many interpretations of consumption and their meanings in relation to youth texts and culture(s). We welcome essays that consider registers of race, class, gender, and disability. Essays should be between 6,000 and 9,000 words in length and prepared for blind peer-review.

Consumption is a vehicle through which we come to understand proprietary relationships with people, places, bodies, and identities. If food is the primary signifier when we think of consumption, how might we read metaphoric consumption (of capital, culture, and place, for instance) in light of notions of necessity and survival?

Submissions are requested by: 15 December 2013.

Topics may include:

- representations of food or the ingestion of food and drink
- eating disorders, the stigma of obesity, and fatphobia
- pedagogy of health
- consumption as disease (ie. tuberculosis)
- obsession or fixation
- symbolic acts of devouring/being devoured
- cannibalism or consuming the self (eg. vampires, fairy tales)
- consumption, purchasing, ownership, and material culture
- discourses of consumption (good/bad consumers)
- young people as consumers, advertising for or about young people
- cultural consumerism/tourism

Inquiries may be directed to Larissa Wodtke, Managing Editor:

Further information about submission guidelines is available at:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

From Sleeping Beauty to Dystopian Heroines: Vulnerable Badasses

The New Yorker recently posted an article by Maria Tatar called "From Sleeping Beauty to Gonzo Girls: A New Generation of Modern Heroines?" In the article, Tatar, chair of Harvard's mythology and folklore program, examines the rise of the female trickster archetype: "women who are quick-witted, fleet-footed, and resolutely brave." Using pop culture examples such as Lisbeth Salander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Carrie Mathison, Tatar posits that the placid Sleeping Beauty archetype has given way to the spunky, intelligent, and formidable female trickster.

But there's a catch: even in our I-am-woman-hear-me-roar contemporary culture, the problematic aspects of Sleeping Beauty never really disappear. As Tatar writes, these tough-girl characters have moments of "[seeming] utterly lost. There is clearly something compensatory in the psychological fragility of these women warriors: their gains in intellect and muscle are diminished by moments of complete emotional collapse. Vulnerability continues to attract." Tatar proceeds to look closely at Hildy in the movie "Django Unchained" as an example of this Sleeping Beauty stereotype.

Using Tatar's analysis and looking at the Sleeping Beauty archetype as a symbol for vulnerability, I can see numerous other examples in the contemporary young adult books I so love to read. In the plethora of dystopian YA novels that have come out in the last several years, the female trickster is readily apparent. There's Katniss in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games (which Tatar mentions), whose cleverness and survival skills keep her alive in a competition to the death; there's Tris in Veronica Roth's Divergent, who wills herself to be tough and uses her small stature to her benefit in hand-to-hand combat; and, most recently, there's the titular character in Marissa Meyer's Scarlet, who embodies a version of the Red Riding Hood character with a gun in her waistband and a chip on her shoulder.

But beneath the bravado and the intense desire to fight and win, all three of these characters have moments of extreme vulnerability. Mockingjay, the final book in Collins' trilogy, finds Katniss dealing with post-traumatic stress. Gone is the kick-ass warrior of the first two books. In her place is a new Katniss, one full of doubt and a desire to retreat from the political war for which she has become a symbol. Her emotional breakdown overshadows her previous accomplishments. She is no longer the actor; instead she has to be prodded to action by outside influences. Similarly, in the first two books of the Divergent trilogy (the third will be released in October 2013), Tris grows in strength both physical and mental. But she still relies on her boyfriend, Tobias, to buoy her through her battles. Furthermore, the mere fact that she is physically small gives her a vulnerability that no amount of trickster skills can overcome. Finally, while Scarlet maintains a single-minded focus on her journey in the second book of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, she is accompanied by a strong, brutish street fighter named Wolf, whose hulking strength saves Scarlet's hide on more than one occasion. Additionally, her single-minded focus leads her to be emotionally crushed when her mission does not go as planned.  

Why is it that even when the female trickster character is colored with shades of strength and cleverness, the damsel-in-distress lurks beneath? Maria Tatar's assertion about the Sleeping Beauty archetype is that it "invite[s] riskless voyeurism in both [its] cinematic and [its] fictional incarnations" and that "the upright, brainy female, physically commanding and a bit unhinged, is less of a crowd-pleaser." So even though the spirited heroine in a contemporary YA dystopia is prevalent, it seems that the cracks in her armor are what really make her pleasing and accessible to the crowd.

While the characters in the dystopias I mentioned are not Sleeping Beauties in the sense that they are idle and mute, they do still require outside influence to spur their actions. They may be strong, but their vulnerability links them to their Sleeping sisters.

Read Tatar's full post here:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Literary History of Oz

The movie is out now; I haven't seen it yet so I am left to wonder for the moment how Oz: The Great and Powerful holds up against the prolific universe created by Frank L. Baum.  Have you read Baum's Oz  books? All of them? As in all 14 of them plus the countless officially sanctioned works (and who knows how many unofficial ones)? Well you'd have beaten me if so, because I am sadly unfamiliar with the breadth of his fantastic world. However, whether or not you are in fact less informed like myself, you might find this Literary History of Oz (found on LitReactor) quite interesting and compelling.

Plus, it will certainly help in a few weeks when the ChildLit GSA holds its next forum, on the Wonderful World of Oz on Sunday, March 24th. More details to come really soon!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Essentially Cute or Naturally Wild?

If you're familiar with Jerry Griswold's Feeling Like a Kid, you know that he describes the five hallmark traits of the quintessential child (and as a result, of great children's literature) as Snugness, Smallness, Scariness, Aliveness, and Lightness. Be this a universal truth or a construction of society, you are bound to find at least one of these elements in your favorite children's tale.

But what about cuteness? 

I know, I know, bear with me here. I also think immediately of fluffy kittens and doe-eyed babies, and well, cuteness is hardly a requirement of being, feeling, or acting like a child. It most certainly does not capture the essence of childhood either. In fact, cuteness would seem to be a performative concept--I can only deem something cute if it delivers, acts out, fulfills particular requirements for my judgement. However, as an idea closely (if not wholly) related to the child, cuteness could be viewed as a psychological imperative, a completely natural assessment that occurs unintentionally but with great critique about the child, and ultimately, about ourselves (or how we view ourselves, how it makes us feel). 

A recent blog post on The Moving Castle introduces the subject of Cuteness Studies as a potentially new arena of children's culture (if not children's literature specifically), raising interesting points about the nature of its authenticity:
So in the 20th and 21st centuries, when we're as industrialized and mechanized and computerized as we've ever been, when humans feel increasingly isolated or alienated from themselves and other humans, when everyone with the wealth privilege to experience it is feeling the many pressures of modernity, a thing that is not manufacture[d], non mechanized, non technological has tremendous appeal. There's a lot of buzz about "the search for authenticity," blah blah, but that drive to locate something real in a world that feels chock-full of artifice is very strong. The fact that authenticity is as much a construct as anything else is beside the point (for the moment, anyway).
The author necessarily relates it back to nostalgia, and briefly discusses the binary constructed through it: the Cute versus the viewer of said cuteness. Check it out and see what you make of it. I may stick to my very "un-Cute" interests personally, but the cognitive aspects of conceiving something or someone as cute certainly has potential.

But if cuteness isn't really your thing, you might prefer a large dose of wildness. The Bowers Museum, none-too-far in Santa Ana, is running an amazing exhibit on Maurice Sendak titled, "Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Words, 50 Reasons" from February 16 to April 28. Developed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Where the Wild Things Are, this exhibit highlights Sendak's work as early as his teens, with glimpses of many a "wild thing" and art made for friends and fans. I don't think the love and admiration for Sendak will ever die out, and with the recent printings of many of his most notable (and last) interviews, Sendak remains a steadfast influence and icon of children's literature. So if you have the time, visit the exhibit before it leaves Orange County for its national tour.

More details can be found here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

SDSU Book Review Blog

In anticipation of our book review marathon coming up on March 16th, we're getting our book review blog rolling with some new posts! Starting us off will be several reviews from the middle school students of former SDSU children's lit student Marisa Behan.

Check out the book review blog here, and check out hundreds of reviews archived at the SDSU Children's Literature website.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Children's Literature Conference in Bologna, Italy

While most of you who are reading this blog will not be able to take an impromptu trip to Italy at the end of the month, you should still take a look at the conference line-up for "Children's Literature: Fifty Years of Books for Children's Around the World," scheduled for March 28 at the University of Bologna.

SDSU Professor Emeritus Jerry Griswold is presenting a panel titled "10 Landmarks in U.S. Children's Books in the Last 50 Years," and many other notable scholars from around the world are presenting on fascinating topics. If I could attend this conference, I would definitely check out "Revisualizing Little Red Riding Hood over the Past Fifty Years" and "Realism, Surrealism, and Hyperrealism in American Children's Book Illustration."

Click on the images below to see the program. Also, be sure to note the illustration, which is Maurice Sendak's interpretation of the Grimm tale "The Juniper Tree." The image is the perfect amount of creepy for a tale in which a stepmother feeds her stepson to his father.

Friday, March 1, 2013

10th Semi-Annual Children's/YA Book Review Marathon on March 16th

Professor Alida Allison invites you to come join the NCSCL for the 10th Semi-Annual Children's/YA Book Review Marathon on Saturday March 16th!  It's that time of the year when we tackle as a group the overflowing shelves full of books running amok in our office.

The goal is to get at least 26 reviews done (picture books mostly, so let's aim for even more!) but if the task sounds a bit daunting to you, it comes with some perks: free food will be provided and you will be able to take home up to two picture books that you review. Plus, you get to spend the afternoon with other academics, students and individuals all fascinated by everything that children's literature entails.

When: Saturday March 16th, 12:30 - 3:30 pm
Where: Arts & Letters Building, Room 218

Please RSVP by Friday March 15 by sending an email to Dr. Allison (