Friday, February 28, 2014

Booze, Tattoos, Casinos & Children's Lit

One of my passing hobbies is to take note of how widespread children's literature has become, especially when I come across children's literature where I wasn't expecting it. A general public fancies itself distanced from children's literature (once they begin calling themselves adults, that is) and it makes me giggle to note how wrong they are!

Perhaps this holier-than-children's lit attitude prompted a push-back in popular culture, evidenced in the trend of adult-sized clothing and accessories featuring children's literature characters (and in the recent upswing of movies and TV shows based on children' stories...but maybe that's a post for another day). For example, I've spotted several coffee-shop goers with the Mac laptop decal featuring The Giving Tree and noticed a younger, tattooed generation flaunting Where the Wild Things Are t-shirts. Actually, tattoos of Where the Wild Things Are are quite popular.

Beyond these trends, sometimes children's lit shows up really unannounced. For example, if you live in the San Diego area you know that the micro-brewery business has taken off. Upon dining at Ocean Beach's Pizza Port, imagine my delight when I visited last fall to find that they were featuring a beer titled "Bangarang" with a hand-drawn illustration of Rufio from Spielberg's Hook!

I'm sure that many school bands have played "Hedwig's Theme" from the Harry Potter movies, but I doubt that any have done so quite as creatively as the Ohio State marching band. See what I mean at 3 minutes and 45 seconds into the following clip (although the whole show is pretty impressive):

And of course, who ever said gambling and children's literature don't mix? (You may remember this slot machine if you attended the ChLA conference last year!)
Leave us a comment about your Unexpected Children's Literature encounters!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Another CFP for MLA 2015!

Why Dystopia YA Literature? Why Now?

The Hunger Games. Ready Player One. After the Fear. Divergent. “Young Adult Dystopian” is a search category on Amazon. Why is this genre so popular? The books seem to be critiquing consumerism, repressive governments, technology, and science out of control—but is there something more? Something else that is being critiqued that particularly appeals to young adults? Why is YA literature the home for the surge of dystopian fiction? How does writing for a YA audience enhance or restrict the genre? If the literature is written is for teens, does it have to have hope? 

A panel to query the popularity of YA dystopia literature.
Please send 350-word abstracts to June Cummins by March 17:
This is a guaranteed panel sponsored by the ChLA.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Power of Memory in Children's Literature: A Follow-Up

Research on memory has become increasingly relevant in the childlitosphere, heightened by the MLA conference theme for 2015, Negotiating Sites of Memory. There will surely be fascinating panels at MLA, including the ChLA sponsored panel, Geography and Memory in Children's and YA Literature, and Sites of Memory in Children's Literature (check out the CFP's here).

In lieu of the upswing of attention to memory in children's literature, I thought I'd mention that the roundtable discussion The Art of Memory (which I blogged about in October) is now available to listen to online. Dr. Alison Waller (Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism, 2011), the first speaker in this roundtable session, discusses her research on the ways that adults renegotiate their relationships with books they read as children. She notes that nostalgia and love are reoccurring concepts when people discuss the books that made impacts on them as children, and she stresses that this loving relationship to remembered books is anything but straightforward.

While Waller is exploring the complexities of memory, nostalgia, and love, there are other scholars who are interested in children's literature and trauma, or traumatic memory. I'm hoping that the MLA theme will contribute to or build upon some fascinating work along this vein, such as Kenneth Kidd's 2005 article in Children's Literature Association Quarterly titled "'A' is for Auschwitz: Psychoanalysis, Trauma Theory, and the 'Children's Literature of Atrocity.'" Kidd writes, "Many people believe that the Holocaust fundamentally changed the way we think about memory and narrative, a well as about human nature" and notes that exposure to trauma through children's literature is "now deemed appropriate and even necessary" (120).

To anyone invested in looking more deeply into the geographical element of the MLA theme, I recommend checking out some blog posts written by my colleague, Alya, who is interested in concepts of space and geography in children's literature. Alya has blogged more specifically about cartography, writing about the map in The Death of Yorik Mortwell by Stephen Messer that "without knowing the novel itself, you could examine this map and cultivate your own story. Maps have a history after all; the cemeteries would certainly indicate as much here." Alya's observation is that in having a "history" a map may prompt its reader to form a new memory- somewhat of an oxymoron, but perhaps this speaks to the complex reader/authorial relationship?

In any case, I'm looking forward to the MLA 2015 schedule; I'm sure it will announce some amazing work being done in children's literature!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nerdy, Adventurous Childhood Artwork

Just a drop of nostalgia to jumpstart your week here:

I recently came across a blog post presenting the works of artist Craig Davidson, who has captured what it was like to be a child of the "Star Wars"-verse, all imaginative light sabers, jedi mind tricks, and laser blasters galore.

His art shows exactly how the child interacts and manipulates the environment in order to bring the world to life. This is what kids do. It's precisely what I did, so to see the shadowed backdrop of iconic characters given life by these young kids felt like a mirror into my own adventures. It reminds me of countless children's books where kids do create their own worlds and have to fight to defend it (my own favorite Bridge to Terabithia comes to mind).
I do wonder, of course, about the gender roles being blatantly spelled out here. Can we only be inspired by, excited about and act out characters of our own sex?  (No.)
I checked out Davidson's collection and was startled to see his artwork concretely categorized as "Boys" and "Girls." I haven't looked through everything yet, but admit I do love the ferocious energy and contemplative outlooks his depictions of kids have. On my quick exploration, one collection did stand out:

The "Chums" series (look under Sea). I think my Gothic in Children's Lit class would have a lot to say about the association of the feminine with sharks. What do you think of all his art?

Friday, February 21, 2014

New Material Published on the Unjournal of Children's Literature!

It's time to check out The Unjournal of Children's Literature to read its newly published works! This month's works -- articles, interview, and artwork -- continue and complete the first issue's theme of "transformations" and revolve around diversity and Chicano/a identity, focusing on such issues as the need for change in finding and assessing diverse children's lit, the reimagining of motherhood, and understanding the whole child. We are excited to have included an interview with author Pam Munoz Ryan, provocative artwork from two artists, and excellent written pieces from Dr. Phillip Serrato and Megan Parry. 

The compilation of these works further demonstrates the diverse array we want to develop in The Unjournal. Take some time to read these fascinating pieces and reacquaint yourself with the earlier works, and then feel free to leave comments on the journal itself, or via twitter (#childlitunjournal).

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Conference: Canon Constitution and Change in Children's Literature

Canon Constitution and Canon Change in Children's Literature
International Conference at the University of Tübingen, 11-13 September 2014

Whereas children's classics and their adaptations and transformations into other media have been widely discussed, the history of canonization processes in children's literature in general and the development of a canonical theory of children's literature in particular still need further exploration. Althouth several scholars have already investigated how national canons of children's literature have developed, such historical approaches have mostly focused on aesthetic matters or on changing concepts of childhood. The impact of cultural concepts that are constitutive for the construction of cultural identities (so-called social imaginaries) on canon formation has, on the other hand, been widely neglected. The same applies to a transnational perspective on canon constitution, which transcends national boundaries and instead locates children's literature in a more comprehensive communicative space.

Issues that might be investigated in this respect are the presentations of children's literature in literary histories, the historical contingency of the status of canonicity, the impact of social institutions and awards on the appreciation of certain types of children's literature, the possible reasons for excluding or including particular children's books from/into the canon, the conceptual shifts in the acknowledgement of children's literature in national canons, the influence of genre preferences for canon constitution and the perception of a canon of children's literature as a transnational phenomenon.

More Information

Monday, February 17, 2014

CFPs: Children's Literature at MLA 2015

The next MLA Annual Convention will take place in Vancouver from January 8th to 11th, 2015. How exciting that the presidential theme is Negotiating Sites of Memory- a theme to which children's literature is especially poignant! Check out the following Calls for Papers for Children's Lit panels at MLA 2015:

Geography and Memory in Children's and YA Literature

*Deadline: March 15, 2014*

Investigating the conference theme of "Negotiating Sites of Memory," this panel considers the ideological and spatial implications of physical places depicted in children's and young adult literature. The geographies of these texts demonstrate that constructions of places and people are related processes. In works for young people, the material and the social are mutually constitutive, shaping and reflecting environments that depend on the discursive and/or physical participation of child characters and child readers alike. Importantly, these geographies as produced through literature are imagined representations rather than tangible locations, a gap that explicitly invites the contributions of memory, nostalgia, and fantasy.

Topics prospective panelists might wish to address include, but are not limited to:
  • Place's role in the development of a children's literature canon
  • The role of nostalgia and/or memory in shaping depictions of place in writing for children
  • The relationship or interplay between material places and literary representations (for example, Prince Edward Island and Avonlea)
  • The function of maps and illustrations in children's texts
  • The sustained hold of specific places in children's and YA literature on cultural imaginations and memory, including the Hundred Acre Wood, Toad Hall, the Four-Story Mistake, Mr. Brown's antique shop, Hogwarts, Panem, the Island of the Blue Dolphins, and many others
  • Regionalism in children's and YA literature
  • Virtual places and spaces in digital literature and/or media for young people
  • The geographies of books themselves as physical artifacts of material culture
*Please send 500-word abstracts by March 15, 2014 to Kate Slater at and Gwen Athene Tarbox at Panelists will need to be members of the MLA by April 7, 2014. This guaranteed panel is sponsored by the Children's Literature Association. 


Sites of Memory in Children’s Literature

*Deadline: March 15th, 2014*

Remembering, remembrance, memory, and forgetting shapes children’s literature: authors’ personal memories of childhood that inform their texts or are preserved in cross-written texts or memoirs; larger cultural memories adults wish to pass down to future generations; and events, incidents, and topics elided or “forgotten” in the canon. Indeed, the genre of children’s literature relies on the remembrance, reinterpretation, or revision of past works. This panel invites papers considering all aspects of memory in children’s and young adult literature (historical, literary, nostalgic, patriotic, personal, repressed, traumatic, etc.) as well as papers that explore how literary memory shapes the canon of children’s and YA literature through intertextuality, another site of memory.

Topics prospective panelists might wish to address include, but are not limited to:
  • Adult memories of childhood mined from archives, letters, diaries, memoirs, libraries, school classrooms, or childhood reading practices
  • Cultural and historical events remembered, forgotten, elided, or revised in works of children’s and young adult literature
  • The role of remembrance and nostalgia in canon formation: forgotten texts that are making a comeback (e.g., Henty’s novels in the homeschooling community) or texts that should be remembered
  • How intertextuality functions to challenge, negotiate, or reinterpret ideas of youth, children’s literature, and/or YA literature
  • Genre: historical, theoretical, or institutional practices of remembering and forgetting what constitutes children’s literature
  • Traumatic memories: how they’re represented in individual works as well as how they’re presented to younger readers
  • Iconic texts about remembrance: anything to do with war, but also “holiday” books and texts about important historical events
*Please send 500-word proposals by March 15th to Karin Westman at This is a guaranteed panel. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pop-Ups from Prague -- an Eye-Popping Exhibit

As a child I dabbled in designing pop-up creations with construction paper--primarily rudimentary books and curious city-scapes. A star architect was born! (And resided in my cosmically themed "Star City") But eventually that fizzled, though the fascination with the pop-up itself never left, and why should it? The tangible depth given to illustrations, rising from the very medium of the book itself--just minutely crafted paper!--can be mesmerizing. That's why I found this recent article in the New York Times on an exhibit of a Czech artist's pop-up books and artwork so captivating. It is (not so) simply a demonstration of art and engineering intermingled -- the architecture of artwork.

The animated, movable book had started for an adult audience, but shifted gears to appeal more to children during the 18th century (as is the history of much of "children's literature"). The featured artist, Vojtech Kubasta, was a Czech architect, artist, and children's book illustrator who revitalized the pop-up book movement in Europe in the mid twentieth century. I found it particularly interesting that:
Kubasta produced his complex, tightly integrated scenes with a minimalist’s touch. “What’s astounding about Kubasta, as opposed to many pop-up artists today working with multiple layers of paper, is that he achieved his effects using a single piece of paper,” Mr. Sabuda said. “That is the real magic of Kubasta. Look at one of his pop-ups from the side, and it looks like a staircase. The positive space is missing from the background, because it has been cut out, but you don’t notice it. The simplicity of it, from a paper engineer’s point of view, is simply amazing.”
 How that artwork integrates with the storytelling itself would be a worthy point of examination. If you are in New York any time until March 15th, you can see the gallery of his work at the Grolier Club:   JANUARY 23-MARCH 15, 2014: SECOND FLOOR GALLERY EXHIBITION, “Pop-Ups from Prague: A Centennial Celebration of the Graphic Artistry of Vojtech Kubašta (1914–1992) from the Collection of Ellen G. K. Rubin.” Open to the public free of charge Monday-Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.

On a similar note, this The Little Prince Pop-up is also worth checking out. I'm sure it would even make a nifty Valentine's Day present if you're so inclined...

Thursday, February 6, 2014

2014 ACLAR conference, "Emotional Control: Affect, Ideology and Texts for Young People"

The eleventh biennial international conference 
of the Australasian Children’s Literature 
Association for Research (ACLAR)
Emotional Control: Affect, Ideology and Texts for Young People
Waterfront Campus, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
June 30 – July 2, 2014 
proposal deadline: February 28, 2014

Over the past two decades, studies of affect and emotion have expanded beyond the field of psychology and been embraced by disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Theorists of affect are concerned with the ways embodied forms of knowing and feeling interconnect with the aesthetic, ethical and ideological, including their effect on texts. According to Grossberg (1992), ‘affect is the missing term in an adequate understanding of ideology.’ The 2014 ACLAR conference explores affect and emotion, with a particular emphasis on how theories of emotion and affect might extend research on the ideological agendas encoded in texts for children and young adults.

Abstracts that address the conference theme are welcome and the full range of children’s texts and media may be examined. Papers may engage with, but are not limited to, the following topics:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Job Announcement: Professor/Reader in Children’s Literature, University of Roehampton, London

Closing Date: March 2nd, 2014
Person of Contact: Laura Peters, Head of Dept. 
NCRCL website
Outline of the Post

Applications are invited for a full-time, without-term Professor/Reader in Children’s Literature. We are particularly looking for applicants with research and teaching interests in reading, memory, oral history, and/or writing for children, complementary to those of staff in the National Centre for Children’s Literature (NCRCL) and in English literature more broadly. Roehampton has a growing international reputation for its work in both memory and reading.

The department is home of the AHRC-funded Memory Network, the AHRC-funded Memories of Fiction: An Oral History of Readers’ Life Stories, Prison Reading Groups and the award-winning NCRCL. We are seeking applications from highly motivated candidates who will be research leaders in their area with a track record of world class research, external research funding success, and collaborative external partnerships.

The post entails:
  • carrying out and publishing, or producing in alternative format world-class or internationally excellent research
  • contributing to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, including the supervision of research students
  • actively engaging with external research-related organisations
  • carrying out research-related enterprise activities where appropriate
  • contributing to curriculum development
  • applying for substantial external research grants
  • providing research leadership (Professor) or contributing to research leadership (Reader)
  • actively engaging with external research-related organisations
  • representing and promoting the research of the Department or School in the University, national and international context
  • providing research mentoring for colleagues
  • contributing to administrative, managerial and committee work within the department and university, particularly in relation to research
  • contributing to quality assurance and enhancement of all activities
  • undertaking any other appropriate duties as requested by the Head of Department/School

Outline of the Person

The successful candidate will have:
  • a PhD or professional doctorate in an appropriate subject area
  • an extensive (Professor) or substantial (Reader) record of research and publication or other research outputs of world-class or internationally excellent quality;
  • experience of teaching at university level
  • a broad understanding of relevant fields and knowledge of current developments
  • a commitment to providing learning and teaching that is research-led or research-informed
  • research plans or other evidence of a vibrant and sustainable research trajectory at the forefront of the field
  • experience of applying successfully for external research funding
  • experience of (Professor) or potential for (Reader) research leadership
  • the ability to plan and deliver high quality and supportive teaching and to foster skills and confidence in a diverse range of students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels
  • commitment to providing high-quality academic and personal support to students
  • the experience and/or potential to contribute to developments in learning and teaching, including existing and new programmes
  • experience of supervision of doctoral students to successful completion
  • a willingness to undertake continuing professional development and training as appropriate
  • the ability to work both independently and as a collegial team member
  • excellent organisational, communication and interpersonal skills

In addition, the successful candidate may have:
  • the experience and/or potential to deliver or contribute to substantial impact of their research outside academia
  • the experience and/or potential for substantial research-related or other enterprise activity
  • experience of major external professional research engagement and networking
  • substantial professional experience in areas relevant to the work of the department
  • membership and experience of leadership of relevant professional bodies or organisations

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

ChildLit Cartography: The Glass Puzzle

With winter break firmly behind us, it's time to dive right into a new year and a new semester. I for on would like to recommence with my exploration of maps found in children's literature. Since I basically posted about it ONCE last semester, I think it deserves a bit more attention this time around, particularly because of the underscored prevalence of these images throughout children's books.

Many maps in literature, children's or otherwise, fall under a typical structure meant literally to map a terrain, to guide a reader visually, and to give concrete value to the intangible world emerging from words. For some, this is a burden of information, but for others, this is a necessary element to understanding the story. When we consider that reading includes much more than words on a page, but can address and appeal to all the senses, then the visual stimulation of a map unfolds numerous interpretations and significances.

And yet, admittedly, I do find that a number of texts seems to include maps solely because of the genre they fall under: fantasy. In fact, I came across a blog post by fantasy author J.S. Morin concerning Amateur Cartography, or how to conceive of mapmaking for a fantasy story. In it, he traces the two general mental processes engaged in the creation of a fantasy map: "writing to the map" or mapping as you write. This is all hunky and dory, but what struck me most was what he dubbed the "Reader's Bill of Rights": what a reader can and should expect of an included map.  Legibility, consistency with the text, physical sensibility, and relating to the story are perfectly understandable, but I wondered about one issue he raises, specifically in relation to a novel I read last year, The Glass Puzzle, By Christine Brodien-Jones.

The story itself suffers from an incessant need to explain every characteristic of the young heroine, Zoe Badger. It also takes on too much, leaving the author overwhelmed by the end to wrap up too many threads and details. In brief, the young girl and her cousin visit their grandfather in the town of Tenby, Wales, and unwittingly stumble upon a glass puzzle that opens a portal to a parallel universe (or rather, an alternate timeline). Blunder after blunder result in their homeland overrun by possessing spirits and a damaging force hellbent on domination. Much like the author's previous book, The Scorpions of Zahir, this story relies on the redemptive powers of the young girl; though the story struggled to engage me fully, I did appreciate the author's attempt to create a worthy girl role model. But I was honestly most engaged by the map. 

My first reaction to it: It looks like a claw! The map seems to grown out of the upper left corner in an attempt to unfurl and grab the far reaches of the scroll itself. Roads widen, shorelines tremble and dig into the sea. The perspective it offers is almost threatening, or at least ominous. A welcome change from the standard issue of maps.

And yet, it's so packed with information, only forty percent of which I think exists within the story itself. Trying to find a location while reading led me to scour the entire map over and over again, sometimes getting completely lost. So when Morin says that a map should include more information than is included in the story, does he imply that the map should overwhelm the reader's senses? Does this map fail in that regard? Or is this case of inundation intentional, much like the suffocation that the town suffers when overrun by threatening forces? Does the city therefore invite what it displays? And if I take this one step further, are we then complicit in our own near-destructions? Certainly I'm reading too much into this, but I can't help but wonder about the ethics and implications of the map.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Professor Kate Capshaw to Speak at SDSU on April 23rd!

The National Center for the Study of Children's Literature (with a special thanks to SDSU's Instructionally Related Activities Grant) is thrilled to announce a visit from Dr. Katharine Capshaw!
Prof. Capshaw will give a talk this April titled "Freedom (and Fury) Now: Civil Rights Photographic Picture Books for Children."

Room: Leon Williams Room, Malcolm A. Love Library, SDSU
Date: Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014
Time: 5:00pm-6:30pm
Open to the Public, Students, and Faculty!

Professor Capshaw writes:
My presentation will explore the photographic picture book, Today (1965), published by the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM), one of the first "Head Start" programs in the United States and the children's organization most committed to civil rights ideals in the mid-1960s. While the CDGM existed only for two years (1965-1967), it emerged at a turning point in the civil rights campaign in Mississippi; born from the Freedom Summer literacy campaign of 1964, initiated after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the CDGM aimed to train a new generation of children in the values of the movement. The presentation will then connect Today with the children's photographic books of the Black Arts Movement, including Poems by Kali (1970) and June Jordan's Dry Victories (1972), texts which imagine the child as an icon of black nationhood and express anger at civil rights failures.

Katharine Capshaw is Associate Professor of English at UConn and Editor of Children's Literature Association Quarterly. Her forthcoming book, Civil Rights Childhood: Photo Books and Liberation (Minnesota 2014), examines texts from the 1940s to the present day. Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (Indiana 2004), Smith's first monograph, won the Children's Literature Association's best scholarly book award.