desert island question (long and enthusiastic response--sorry!)

jackie e stallcup jstallcup at
Tue Apr 27 22:53:13 EDT 2004

Hi everyone--

Robyn's point about wanting to discuss issues of power in relation to
children's literature really struck home with me, as this is something
that I find deeply interesting too.  Discussions of issues of empowerment
and disempowerment drive a lot of the reading and discussion in my
children's literature course, and I find that there are certain picture
books that are fascinating to discuss from this perspective:

Five Ugly Monsters by Tedd Arnold (out of print, unfortunately, but
useful if you can get your hands on some copies to bring to class and
read together)
Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats (a very important turning point that I
think is related to issues of power happens in the illustrations, leaving
my students puzzled until we talk about it.  But they find, when they
read the book to children, that the children get it) 

We also spend a lot of time talking about assumptions that we adults tend
to make about children and childhood; these are also related to power.  A
very good article that discusses this issue in a way that I find students
can understand (with some background information and help) is Perry
Nodelman's "The Other:  Orientalism, Colonialism and Children's
Literature, in Children's Literature Association Quarter v 17 n 1 (Spring
1992) pp29-35.  He uses Edward Said's book Orientalism as a jumping-off
point for considering how we adults oppress children.  Now, obviously,
there are problems with this analogy and we discuss them in class, but
overall, the essay is a real eye-opener for my students and sparks a
whole new way of thinking about children's literature from the
perspective of "What are we using this literature to do to children?"

I usually start off that discussion by having my students brainstorm
words that we usually associate with childhood and with adulthood and put
them on the board and then get them to think critically about the
categories.  We usually find that words fit "automatically" into one of
the categories, (that is, they think it is funny if I say, Ok, innocent,
where should I put that?), but when we think about it, most of the ideas
are not so easily associated in real life:  we all know plenty of
irrational, immature and/or creative thirty-year-olds and we all know
stressed out three year olds..  It's a very effective classroom "stunt"
so to speak, and it leads nicely into discussion of Nodelman's essay on

I feel a bit funny adding this next bit, because it sounds so blatantly
self-promoting in a way that academics are often made fun of for.... (if
that made sense), but I have also written about the issue of children's
literature and power, partly in response to Nodelman's essay, and I
really do think that it is relevent to this topic.  The article is Power,
Fear and Children's Picture Books and it is in Volume 30 of the annual
Children's Literature.  And here is just a bit of good news that I want
to share:  I just found out that the article won the Children's
Literature Association award for the best article on children's
literature in 2002.  Whoo-hoo!

Ok, ad for Jackie over...

Other books that I use that I love to talk about:
Pat Hutchins, Rosie's Walk.  Deceptively simple but we can talk about it
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciezska.  Storyline is
very funny and original (though many imitators have followed),
illustrations fabulous and subtle.

I was also noticing the much of what everyone is suggesting (not all, but
a lot) are basically novels, and I do want to make a pitch for spending
time--more than a day or so--on picture books.  If these students are
going to be dealing with the younger kids (as it seemed from Robyn's
description) they are going to need to learn a variety of ways to
evaluate picture books.  Some good sources for getting up to speed on

Charlotte Huck:  Children's Literature in the Elementary School.  Has
several excellent chapters on books for the youngest readers as well as
on picture books (different things!)  I usually bring in a bunch of
alphabet books, counting books, books that deal with the everyday life of
the youngest readers, etc. and have my students look them over in class,
rather than have them buy any one or two in particular. 

Perry Nodelman:  Words About Pictures:  Excellent in-depth study of how
words and pictures work together in books for the youngest reader on up. 
I usually have my students read Chapter 2, but as the teacher, I find the
whole book exceptionally valuable.  

I've sent off my syllabus to Robyn as an attachment.  If anyone else is
interested in seeing it, let me know.  I didn't want to send an
attachment to the list, but will be happy to send it off to anyone who
wants it...

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