Sunday, December 29, 2013

Research Positions at Children's Book Project in Dublin

See the details below for information about two Post Doctoral Research positions and one Research Assistant position available for a major children's book project in Dublin, Ireland.

Post Title: Postdoctoral Researcher, The National Collection of Children’s Books Project x 2 (Trinity College Dublin and the Church of Ireland College of Education)
Post Status: 22-month contract, Full-time
Department/Faculty: School of English, Trinity College Dublin
Location: School of English
Salary: €40,885 per annum
Closing Date: 12 Noon on Thursday, 9th January 2014
Contact email:

Post Summary:
This collaborative project between the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, and the Church of Ireland College of Education will detail the content of named collections (while also referring to print and archival materials) in Trinity College, the National Library of Ireland, The Church of Ireland College of Education, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (DCU), Pearse Street Library and others.

Applications are invited for two postdoctoral research positions as part of a two-year interdisciplinary and inter-institutional project, funded by the Irish Research Council, which will examine children’s book collections, in the English language, in the city of Dublin. The project, which will establish Dublin as the world-centre for children’s literature research, also represents the beginning of The National Collection of Children’s Books. The project is also supported by the Trinity Long Room Hub. The successful candidates will be expected to take up the posts on 1 February 2014.


Post Title: Research Assistant, The National Collection of Children’s Books Project (Trinity College Dublin and the Church of Ireland College of Education)
Post Status: 22-month Specific Purpose Contract, Full-time
Department/Faculty: School of English, Trinity College Dublin
Location: School of English (and libraries and institutions listed below)
Reports: Dr Pádraic Whyte (TCD) and Dr Keith O’Sullivan (CICE) – Principal Investigators
Salary: €25,712 per annum
Closing Date: 12 Noon on Thursday, 9th January 2014
Contact email:

Post Summary
This collaborative project between the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, and the Church of Ireland College of Education will detail the content of named collections (while also referring to print and archival materials) in Trinity College, the National Library of Ireland, The Church of Ireland College of Education, St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra (DCU), Pearse Street Library and others.

Applications are invited for a research assistant as part of a two-year interdisciplinary and inter-institutional project, funded by the Irish Research Council, which will examine children’s book collections, in the English language, in the city of Dublin. The project, which will establish Dublin as the world-centre for children’s literature research, also represents the beginning of The National Collection of Children’s Books. The project is also supported by the Trinity Long Room Hub. The successful candidate will be expected to take up the post on 1 February 2014.

For further details and to apply for a position, please access this link:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Just Beyond the Holidays... are Deadlines

Christmas has just passed, and that means 2014 is nigh upon us. Here are some CFP deadlines that are lingering on the outskirts of New Year's (Jan/Feb). Don't get caught off guard, they'll creep up before you know it:

1. "Enchanted Places,” Imagined Childhoods: A Symposium on Children’s Literature and Psychoanalysis; Saturday, September 20, 2014 at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania

Guidelines for submission:
Completed papers only. 8-10 pp.  No abstracts or proposals.
Names and identifying information on separate cover sheet only.
Deadline: February 15, 2014
Send papers to:  Elaine Zickler, PhD at

2. 2014: Year of the 100 year Olds; Barnboken - Journal of Children's Literature Research

Deadline for proposals: January 20, 2014
Deadline for articles: April 21, 2014
The articles will be published in late 2014. Please send a 300-word proposal and a short bio to See Author Guidelines for further information on submission details. 

3American Literature Association's 25th Annual Conference; Children's Literature Society and the Association for the Study of American Indian Literature; May 22-25, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

Deadline for proposals: January 15, 2014
Panel #1:  Native American Children’s and Young Adult Literature 
Panel #2:  The Wild Things. Where Are They Now?
Please send abstracts or proposals to Dorothy Clark ( and Linda  Salem (
 Panel # 3:   Saving the World: Girlhood and Evangelicalism in the Nineteenth Century
 Please send a 500-word abstract and brief CV to Robin Cadwallader ( or Allison Giffen (
4. I Will Be Myself: Identity in Children's and Young Adult Literature, Media and Culture; Saturday May 3, 2014 at the University of British Columbia

 Deadline for Proposals: January 15th, 2014
Please send a 250 word abstract that includes the title of your paper, a list of references in MLA format, a 50-word biography, your name, your university affiliation, email address, and phone number to the review committee at Please include "Conference Proposal" in the subject line of your email.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

IGEL 2014: Conference Torino in July 2014

Conference Torino  July 21-24, 2014
deadline: Jan 15, 2014

You are invited to send proposals for conference papers and symposia in the following and related fields:
  • Literary reading processes (emotion, cognition, personality, etc.); 
  • The social role of literature and related media (e.g. film, theatre, Internet, multimedia, virtual reality); 
  •  Educational implications of empirical studies of literature and the media; 
  •  Literature and media from an evolutionary perspective; 
  •  Early literary and media socialization; 
  •  Pedagogical and educational aspects of literature and the media; 
  • The processes of literary and media production, distribution and reception; 
  •  The role of literary and other cultural institutions: past, present and future; 
  • The empirical study of historical reception and historical readers; 
  • Digital methods of research on literature and the media (text analysis, corpus studies, hypertext models, etc.).
Paper presentations will last 20 minutes, followed by discussion. Symposia consist of a group of papers in one session or in the number of sessions required.
Proposals should be submitted by January 15th 2014. You can submit your proposal here. A decision on acceptance will be provided by March 10th 2014.

The journals CLCWeb and Versus will devote special issues to our conference. The Journal of Literary Theory is preparing a special issue (Vol. 9, No. 1, 2015) on empirical methods in literary studies.

 Keynote speakers
  • Jerôme Bourdon, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Art Greasser, Univ. of Memphis, Memphis, TN, U.S.A. 
  • Arthur Jacobs, Free University, Berlin, Germany 
  • Elly Konijn, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

“Saving Mr. Banks” But Throwing P.L. Travers Under the Bus

by Jerry Griswold

When I asked P.L. Travers what she thought of the movie Disney made out of her book Mary Poppins, she replied, “As I walked out of the theater, I was crying.” While she felt Julie Andrews could have made a great version of her nanny if the Disney folks had allowed it, Travers was heartbroken that Walt had taken her novel and turned it into a cloying musical and saccharin fare.

Saving Mr. Banks presents the story of the making of that Disney classic, with Tom Hanks playing Walt and Emma Thompson playing Travers. And in the penultimate scene of this new film, Travers breaks into tears at the premiere of Disney’s Mary Poppins. But here is the difference: We are to understand that she is weeping because she is deeply happy with what the filmmakers have done with her story and because she has finally worked through psychological issues surrounding her late father. This is how history is rewritten.

It’s not like the real cause for Travers’ tears wasn’t widely known. Indeed, in a Disney publication connected to the Broadway version of Mary Poppins, a comment by Travers is reprinted: “Tears ran down my cheek because it was all so distorted. . . . I was so shocked that I felt I would never write–let alone smile–again!” We must conclude, then, that the truth was unimportant to John Lee Hancock, the Director of Saving Mr. Banks, and to his employer. This is, after all, a film tied to the 50th anniversary of Disney’s Mary Poppins. If Travers’ criticism might spoil the party, a happy ending was called for. So, Travers’ sobbing disappointment was converted into a misty-eyed endorsement. The truth be damned.

But does the truth ever matter in a biopic or does that omnibus phrase “based on a real story” give the filmmakers license, poetic or otherwise? Divorced from any need for factual correspondence, seen simply as a movie, Saving Mr. Banks is terrific and Tom Hanks’ genial performance and Emma Thompson’s arching eyebrows deserve separate Academy Awards. Seen in another way, however, this seems like hack work from a studio’s promotions department. This is a film about a film and (that beloved topic) Hollywood on Hollywood. Walt Disney Studios not only released this film, Walt Disney is its subject and its hero. In the end, this is a self-serving and self-congratulating movie, and it comes once more at P.L. Travers’ expense.

I knew Travers and interviewed her for Paris Review (; and when she died in 1996, I wrote an homage in the Los Angeles Times Since the dead can’t set the record straight, I hope you will excuse me for feeling a duty to honor Travers and her fierce honesty.

The Travers given us in Saving Mr. Banks is a one-trick pony. Emma Thompson does a wonderful job in presenting a character who is peremptory, stiff, unkind, and unfriendly. On a plane trip across the Atlantic, she loudly objects to spending eleven hours in the company of a fussing baby. She complains about California’s endless sunshine. She is rude to Disney’s staff. She demands that tea be prepared properly. She is, in short, the Curmudgeon and over the course of the movie it will be the task of Walt and Co. to loosen up this English harridan with America’s folksy friendliness and, darn it, melt the Curmudgeon’s heart!

Call Emma Thompson’s character anybody else, and I have no problem. But associate her with P.L. Travers–a generous and kind woman, albeit with the no-nonsense manner of a Zen master–and I have to cry foul.

Travers, herself, was the most impressive woman I ever met. In her youth, she was part of the Celtic Twilight and good friends with William Butler Yeats and George Russell, the Irish poet and mystic known as “AE.” She lived with the Navahos during World War II. She was part of Gurdjieff’s inner circle, and she was the second Western woman to go to Japan to study Zen. She was wise and, when I knew her in New York, she was a teacher who took on students interested in the spiritual life.

In a similar way, her book Mary Poppins is profound--though let me tell you from experience, it’s hard to persuade people to sample it because of the Disney movie, even though the two are as different as Jesus Christ Superstar and its source. Travers’ other writings are equally impressive, especially her novel Friend Monkey. A good introduction to her and her mythological way of thinking is What the Bee Knows, a collection of her essays that does Joseph Campbell one better and treats the path of women’s lives as seen in fairy tales, the deep meanings of “Humpty Dumpty,” the sacredness of names in aboriginal cultures, and new ways of understanding the story of the Prodigal Son.

Saving Mr. Banks, then, is off the mark in two major ways. The first is the suggestion that Travers was little else than a difficult person and hard to please, but she finally came around and liked the Disney film. That's just untrue. The film’s other misdirection comes in a series of flashbacks to Travers’ childhood in the outback of Australia and glimpses of her father Travers Goff (played by Colin Farrell) who drank himself to death. In a bit of penny-ante Freud, the great secret behind Mary Poppins, we’re told, was Travers’ troubled relationship with her father. As Mary Poppins herself might say, “Stuff and nonsense!”

But that is how the movie suggests Walt finally got Travers to sign over the rights to her book, which she had been withholding all this time. He flew to London and had a heart-to-heart with her where he confided that he knew the stand-offish Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins was really a figure for Travers’ own late father, and Walt knew this because he had gone through something similar with his own hardhearted father Elias. If a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, here is a movie moment that would make a diabetic wince. Knocking a tear from her eye, Travers caves and signs the contract, signing over Mary to Disney.

But Saving Mr. Banks also offers a more believable explanation for why Travers finally gave her consent. Naive about the corporate world and hopeful, Travers really thought she could be of use to the Disney folks and (in a way largely unprecedented in Hollywood) be a partner, give advice, and have a say. How did that work out? Representative of the studio’s response is a scene where the Sherman Brothers, Disney’s songwriting duo for the 1964 movie (played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak), listen politely to some idea from Travers and then turn to the camera and roll their eyes.

The odd thing about Saving Mr. Banks is that in this contest between the creative side and the corporate side, we’re supposed to sympathize with corporate. We’re supposed to join in patronizing the writer. Over all, someone seeing the film would reasonably conclude that Travers was an extraordinarily difficult person and Disney a nice guy. And alas, given their reach, it may be the Disney folks who get the last word.

We can only speculate, then, about how things could have gone differently. Take that moment in the movie when the Sherman Brothers, knowing they are kings of Tin Pan Alley, turn a deaf ear to suggestions of the scold played by Emma Thompson and mug for the camera in a superior and exasperated way. We need to consider: What if the piano-playing duo genuinely missed a chance at that moment because of their superficiality and righteousness? What if Hollywood could have actually listened and learned?


Jerry Griswold was the Director of the National Center for the Study of Children's Literature and is the author of Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature

Thursday, December 12, 2013

CFP: Maps in Children's Literature

International Workshop at Bergen University College, Norway, March 12 - 13, 2015

Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island
In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) John Locke emphasizes the importance of starting to study geography as soon as possible. According to Locke, knowledge of geography and chronology, more specifically an understanding of time and place, should take priority over history. He justifies this claim on the grounds that, without this knowledge, history would be simply a jumble of facts. In the 18th century, Locke’s thoughts on education influenced the design and production of books, toys, and games created for children. Even jigsaws and board games with geographic themes became popular.

The history of children’s literature is littered with children’s books that contain maps displaying where the story takes place. A well-known example is the map in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883). Maps that depict itineraries, conquests, landmarks, battlefields, and changes in cityscapes and landscapes are narrative in character and prepare the reader for the ensuing story. Maps can even unify and elaborate on events that occur at different times. Hence, one might assume that maps that visualize the places in a narrative (or story) exert a great impact upon young readers’ ability to organize and orientate their reading experience. Maps may also intensify a story’s suspense or establish an image of an idyll or a fantasy world.  

The purpose of this international workshop is to bring together scholars of children’s literature from different countries who are in particular interested in the topic of maps in children’s literature. We therefore invite papers dealing with one or several of the following topics:

- maps as visual narration
- maps in picturebooks
- maps in fantasy
- verbal mapping of landscapes and places
- linear and spatial reading
- geography literacy
- art, maps and children’s literature
- cartographic signs and symbols in children’s literature

Deadline for proposal: April 30, 2014

Please send abstracts of 300 words (for a thirty-minute paper) and a short biographical note (100 words) as e-mail attachment to both convenors, Nina Goga: and Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer:

Notification whether proposals have been accepted will be made by June 1, 2014. For further inquiries please contact: Nina Goga,, Høgskolen i Bergen, Landåssvingen 15, 5096 Bergen, Norge.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cool things in the Blogosphere

It sneaks up on you sometimes, a sudden anxiety. In such a large place, you can at times feel like a microbe journeying across the universe. Where to go? What to see? Who to read?
Well, that's how I feel about the world wide web in all its enigmatic, amorphous beauty. There is too much to imbibe and learn, so where to start? Children's literature is exceedingly beloved by so many, and as a result I have stumbled on numerous not-so-noteworthy blogs. By that I simply mean I am looking for something new, but, just like the mass of pop music and blockbuster movies, I only find more of the same.
But here are some worthy reads, from the newly formed to the established:

1. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (7-imp): One of the very best children's literature blogs focused on illustrations. I know you all know about this one already, but it just had to be shared. Her interviews and reflections on the artistry of children's books are impossibly fun to read.

2. Swampish: University of Florida's new blog for the Center for Children's Literature and Culture.
 From their site: "The blog features reviews of children’s materials as well as examinations of children’s culture on a global, national, and local scale.  Speaking of local, Swampish is very fond of our home here in Gainesville, Florida, and will be sure to highlight the many people, places, and things that make our community so rich in children’s culture."

3. Medicine and Health in Children's and YA Lit: A rather self-explanatory title, but this doctor-turned-writer offers some useful and insightful examinations and thoughts into the role, influence, presence, or lack thereof, of health and medical issues in children's lit. 

4. Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind: Okay, so I just found this one, but I'm all about discovering literatures from across the globe (specifically non-Western ones) so this looks very promising. I particularly love the inclusion of all of Asia, South to East, and just clicking through the tags I've already learned about some beautiful books from the Philippines and a deliciously rich picture book from Malaysia.

5. First Second Books (Publishers blog): Graphic Novels for all readers!  After reading American Born Chinese, I came across this blog from the folks that published it. A graphic novel novice myself, it's fun to see what goes on in that genre. I have since found a bunch of resources, but I like the appeal of this blog (touted to all!).

6.  I.N.K.--Interesting Nonfiction for Kids: Because Non-Fic matters too! And it does. These guys have been around for a while, and have compiled a list of some very extraordinary books. Plus, they take on the Common Core Standards head-on, offering a lot of really helpful guidance.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

For a (American?) Birth Day

My mind and my studies are typically preoccupied with YA novels, but today my thoughts are wholly absorbed with the oncoming arrival of a new life; my best friend is in labor!  As I sit in the hospital waiting room, a brand-new desire to research literature for newborns and new parents has consumed me.

Most obvious is Debra Frasier's On the Day You Were Born. I know firsthand about its popularity- many parents love this book and it's commonly referred to as a "modern classic." The book, published in 1991, features lyrical declarations of the Earth's natural phenomenons occurring in tune with the birth of a baby, such as "On the day you were born the Moon pulled on the ocean below, and, wave by wave, a rising tide washed the beaches clean for your footprints..." The entire book is such a celebration, making the individual child the all-important subject of the text.  

Having seen both parents and children enjoy such an experience, I purchased the book as a gift for my fiance's expecting sister last year. My fiance, normally unconcerned with the critical realm of children's lit, flipped through it and exclaimed, "This book is terrible! It's all about the whole world revolving around the child!" I told my fiance that yes, indeed, is it about the world revolving around the infant-subject, hence its appeal: to a brand-new parent, the world does revolve around their baby. 

While most parents would relish the experience of the book, my fiance maintained that he would not want to teach his children that the world revolves around them. Of course I could counter with the argument that a newborn wouldn't be able to process this message, and that the subject of a text being read to newborns is entirely for the parent. However, this would be somewhat of a shallow examination of the relationship between newborns and the literature read to them. 

Looking beyond why it might be a good idea to read to newborns, the ideological underpinnings of the books we choose to read (and give as gifts) to newborns can reveal a lot about a region or a culture- or perhaps even a nation. For example, Americans tend to uphold individuality as a quality. On the Day You Were Born reflects that quality, insisting in artful ways that the infant-subject is...well, special. The message of individuality is enhanced by suggestions on the website to stamp baby's footprints in the pages and to ask doctors, nurses, and others present at the birth to sign the book. Surely some of you who are sick of idolizing parenthood are rolling your eyes- but there are others who would protest to On the Day You Were Born from a cultural standpoint. It may seem odd to Americans that anyone would want to tell their children that they are anything but special- and while my fiance is American, he is also Japanese. At the risk of essentializing, it's a common trait of Japanese culture to raise children to become in tune with their community- to not emphasize to the child what is so special about themselves as individuals, but to reveal what is so special about being part of a group and encourage behavior which allows for selfless unity. This is a difference noted by many, but I recommend reading Preschool in Three Cultures Revisited: China, Japan, and the United States for a more nuanced account of the ideological underpinnings of childrearing. 

As some bloggers have noted, the subject matter of what is read to newborns is fairly irrelevant for child development- which would mean must-have lists like these are not quite as essential as they may want expecting parents to think. But when it comes to looking at childrearing practices cross-culturally, well... I just wonder how many copies of On the Day You Were Born can be found in Japanese households! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela and South African Children's Lit
South Africa and the world lost one of the greatest figures of peace and justice with the death of Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Thursday. In our time, I can think of no person more devoted to the cause of resistance, anti-apartheid, truth, equality, and forgiveness than him.  One could dedicate years to the study of his words, actions, and their implications; at the very least, we should make ourselves aware of everything we admired about him and what he stood for, and continue to uphold those positions in the world around us, no matter how challenging.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
And few politicians have had such a rich impact on children as Mandela as well. He found the child citizens of South Africa his most dear, stating, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  The depth of his connection to the youth is captured in The Children’s Mandela, a heartfelt book I came across that includes letters, responses, and pictures from children across the nation about and to their Mandiba. The authentic reaction of child citizen to adult leader is particularly meaningful when we consider the ways in which we waver between uplifting and suppressing the citizenry of our children, particularly in how we give them agency and a voice (ours versus their own).

Regarding Nelson Mandela and his radicalized position, I realized upon reflection that aside from some personal study and a film here and there, my knowledge on South Africa is woefully dim, all the more when I consider the place, role, and transformation of children’s literature and childhood. The world may be getting smaller with the widening scope of globalization and the internet, but pockets of history face the risk of evaporating in time, leaving new generations unaware of what truths transpired. So, I did a cursory search to see what books are out there for children and scholars alike.  I found a few noteworthy children’s books and research starting points in our own SDSU juvenile collection.

In our library's growing collection I discovered Tales of Famous Heroes by Peter and Connie Roop, which includes the details of the lives and accomplishments of admirable people, including Mandela, with vibrant art and photos and a lot of fun facts.

I also found The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay, though the description of this one concerned me slightly. A white South African boy  searching for courage, friendship, and an identity during World War II turns to two older men, one black and one white, to show him how to find all that he seeks. It's a coming of age story that grapples with race, politics, religion and wealth, but it specifically harnesses the idea of violence when necessary. Thinking about Mandela's legacy, he too supported guerrilla warfare for a time (until his public renouncement upon release from prison), so the concept is not foreign to South African dynamics, nor to the world. 
On a scholarly side, Apartheid and Racism in South African children's literature 1985-1995 offers a useful, if limited, entry point into understanding children's lit around the pivotal decade that saw major changes in South Africa. Also, Jochen Petzold wrote an article for Children's Literature Quarterly titled "Children's Literature after Apartheid: Examining 'Hidden Histories' of South Africa's Past" (Summer 2005). These two texts provide enough historical context and explanation to get even the novice up to speed to the ramifications of apartheid on children's literature, and the ways it has begun to transform. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

CFP: Irish Society for the Study of Children's Literature, Biennial Conference

Final Call For Papers

Theme: Be Merry and Wise: Children’s Literature from Chapbooks to the Digital Age.
Date: Friday 28th and Saturday 29th March 2014.
Venue: An Foras Feasa, NUI Maynooth.
Deadline for submission: Monday, Dec. 9th

Children’s literature has always existed on a continuum between entertainment and instruction. Proposals are invited on the overall theme and associated topics in the context of both Irish and international literature for children, and also in relation to print and other media.Papers in both the Irish language and English language will be most welcome. Cuirfear fáilte roimh chainteanna as Gaeilge agus as Béarla.

Possible topics include but are not confined to:

  • Textbooks and children’s literature;
  • Children’s literature in the classroom;
  • Digital humanities and the study of children’s literature;
  • Safety and cautionary tales;
  • Youth culture and the media;
  • Retelling and repackaging;
  • The power of the visual;
  • Drama and performance;
  • The history of publishing for children.

Proposals of 300 words maximum should be sent to Dr. Anne Markey, ISSCL President.


Subject line should read “ISSCL Proposal” to arrive no later than Monday 9th December 2013.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Children's Lit versus "Great" Lit

So the University of Kent Creative Writing program decided they knew what great literature was, and had no problem pointing out that children's literature surely is not. What transpired was a fierce debate over Twitter (of course!) that has since led to the removal of the challenging statements toward children's lit. The debate, not a new one by any means, has been repeatedly addressed by children's literature advocates and belittlers alike. My favorite (ha!) has been Jonathan Myerson's reduction of children's literature as simply too black & white, just plain ol' simple to the immense complexities of adult fiction. Children's literature contains "worlds where evil was uniformly evil and good people were constantly good." Indeed. That's totally the lesson I took from the world of Hogwarts -- that good is good and evil is evil, and you can always distinctly see the difference. Or from Tolkien's world, or a universe that would allow the Hunger Games, or Ender's, for that matter. What does Myerson make of Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, I wonder.

Children's literature deals just as much with the messiness of life, in ways that most "adult" books can't address. What's more messy than childhood anyway? What kind of traumas affect Harriet the quirky, stubborn spy that are never addressed in the text but exist within the complex web the story weaves? Many, I tell you, many.
SF Said addresses this directly, stating,
"In the work of such authors, we found stories that were compelling and readable; that had depth, risk and originality; that offered all the imaginative space and possibilities we wanted from literature. Garner and Cooper made connections between ancient myth and contemporary reality; Dickinson dealt with human origins, with politics and war; Le Guin with the interconnectedness of all life. These books were tackling the biggest ideas and questions imaginable."
The main question that looms for me is, "Why are programs, institutions, academics continually resistant to the treatment of children's literature as Literature at all?" I have had the encounter multiple times myself, that subtle eyebrow-raise, or roll of the eyes, the condescending chuckle or snort that indicates the peer or acquaintance with whom I speak cannot believe studying children's literature could be real! What I have come to understand, through my own experience, that children's literature is only that which the adults designate as such. Maurice Sendak famously stated that he did not write for children. Tolkien as well wrote an essay, "On Fairy-stories," that itself touches on the fact that there is no writing for children. We give them just what we think they can take, and they develop their own tastes much like anyone else at any other age does (his essay can be found in many collections, but you can also read about it here).

So the writing of children's literature, on the one hand, is no different from any other literature and we subsequently decide where it fits later. On the other hand, the freedom and exploration that exists within children's lit (ironic on many levels, come to think of it) allows for ingenuity and demands a great amount of skill to seamlessly include struggles, politics, social issues quietly, under the surface, so that the unskilled adult eye can pass the "safe" text to the child eager to see what the adult cannot.

Black Rabbit of Inle
And by the way, children's literature also makes some of the coolest, weirdest, most memorable creatures in literature, in case you didn't know. (#10, by the way, is directly related to a short story written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" -- which he subtitled "A Tale for Children.")

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Local Bookstore Highlight: Maxwell's House of Books

 Now that the madness of Black Friday has passed, let's not forget our wonderful, local small businesses! Highly recommended for your next visit to a local bookstore is Maxwell's House of Books in downtown La Mesa. This bookstore advertises as a specialty in academic and scholarly titles. Conveniently located a short drive from SDSU, this store has prime potential for stocking up on reasonably-priced critical books. They're also in a walkable neighborhood with nearby cafes and coffee houses, making a visit to the store a particularly pleasurable excursion.

While the children's literature section was small, I found myself wishing I could buy half of it. They had a very interesting collection, including rare and antique children's lit. I found and bought a book titled "Little Hopi" commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for use in schools for American Indians in the 60's. In showing this book to a friend, we noted that the book tended to reflect the love/hate relationship between the BIA and Native communities. For example, the book featured a Hopi artist, Charles Loloma, thereby appearing to highlight, value, and commend Indigenous art. On the other hand, the book states that it is "prepared primarily for use in Federal Indian Schools," and that it is also "suitable for use in any school." The sentiments in these statements reflect a desire to allow Indian children to see themselves reflected in the literature that they read, yet does not seem to encourage non-native children to explore a Hopi narrative (even while stating the opposite). In any case, Maxwell's House of Books takes care to stock interesting and valuable children's literature- and in this case, a book that bears further study.

Keep Maxwell's and other local bookstores in mind if you're holiday shopping. The right used book can be an incredibly thoughtful gift!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Visual Stimulation -- Minimal and Visionary

I've come across some striking visuals in the past month or so that deserve some sharing. Whether offering new visions of firmly established children's literature or an entry point into the perspective of children themselves, these images can be delightful, unsettling, and provocative.

Firstly, The Unjournal of Children's Literature currently features the work of Christian Jackson, whose minimalist approach to children's stories remind the viewer of the emotion of certain elements in each story, while occasionally twisting our understanding of it as well, with provocative texture and muted but engaging colors. He has recently added a new collection of children's story-inspired works, including Beauty and the Beast, the Frog Prince, and Chicken Little. My favorite of this collection is Peter Pan, though.
The muddy green backdrop evokes the natural wildness of Neverland along with the greenness of youth. Golden granules of sand depict iconic fairy dust as well as the essence of time--a hidden, undisclosed source that offers ceaseless life with no boundaries. The dust pops from the background in a vivid combination that illustrates eternal youth. Pretty cool, in my opinion.

Continuing this exploration of minimalist renderings of stories, I came across a collection of animated, minimal-style gifs for each of the seven Harry Potter books. Graphic Artist Jeca Martinez takes on the same challenge as Jackson by transforming well-known children's stories into condensed images (her blog demonstrates a fascination with Disney film versions of many fairy tales too). Her Harry Potter renderings evoke a sense of the magic in the books themselves, but I wonder what the effect would be without the animation. I find it noteworthy that the classic versions of fairy tales lend themselves to a distanced kind of minimalism by Jackson (the color and textures feel much older in time, just like the stories themselves) whereas these contemporary stories are ensconced in an art more evocative of technology, from the animation, bright bold color, and sharp lines.

Finally, a mother collaborates with her daughter to create a synergized view of adults in a child's world. Artist Mica Angela Hendricks draws expressive faces and lets her 4-year-old daughter add life and limb to the heads. Mica adds color once her daughter is done, occasionally listening to her daughter's recommendations, to create wondrous visions that make one wonder exactly what it is children think, imagine, and feel.

You can read the artist's blog to discover the lessons learned from collaborating with her child. Ultimately, who is the real visionary here?