Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grand Adventure: Ruining Children's Lit for Adults

Several years ago, when I'd just graduated with my Masters degree in English, my mentor threw me a wonderous bone. It was a recommendation for teaching an online Children's Lit course at a university one state over. I've been teaching the class for almost four years now, and I love every twisty minute of it. It's populated primarly by students who are Education majors, and teaching the future teachers of America to analyze and become more aware of the history and implications in children's and adolescent lit is SO COOL. For me, anyway. :D

As you might imagine, I receive pushback occasionally. For some of my students, seeing mixed messages in literature they always loved is a shocker and a terror and downright treason!!! For me, seeing multiple perspectives and acknowledging my changing attitudes as an adult enriches the reading experience, but for some of my students it feels like I'm trying to tarnish perfection.

Case in point, The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister is an all-time favorite picture book for many readers. It's a beautifully illustrated story about learning to share and developing a communal attitude. Or is it? Some academics posit that the book is actually forcing a beautiful, well-endowed fish to share his scales unecessarily. At its core, the fish self-mutilates because of peer pressure!!! Sort of reminds me of a "friend" in kindergarten who wouldn't remain my friend unless I gave her my ring I bought at the Dollar Store. Bitch!

But anyway...

Children's literature -- like all literature -- is full of mixed messages, friction, and irony. We look for it. We find it. We understand it. Even if my students don't always like it. They do learn to be more careful readers and to take multiple perspectives into account and make more informed decisions in their own classrooms. Is it really wise to read In Our House -- a picture book about owning things and having a nice (middle-class) place to live -- to inner city children? It's their decision, but they learn to take factors into account that they may not have before.

So what do I teach? Three units:
  • Picture Books (and a Graphic Novel)
    • In Our House
    • Otto's Trunk by Sandy Turner
    • The House That Crack Built by Clark Taylor
    • Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti
    • The Babes in the Wood by Randolph Caldecott
    • I'm Glad I'm a Boy! I'm Glad I'm a Girl! by Whitney Darrow
    • Arlene Sardine by Christopher Raschka
    • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
    • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • Folk and Fairy Tales (multiple versions of each)
    • Snow White
    • Cinderella
    • Red Riding Hood
    • Hansel and Gretel
    • Bluebeard
    • The Little Mermaid
  • The Novel
    • The Giver by Lois Lowry
    • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
    • The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
    • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett
    • Skellig by David Almond
It's a whirlwind semester every semester, as you can see. I do plan to discuss these books more in depth throughout several posts in the near future, but in the meantime, what have you read and loved from this list? Anything you would recommend I add to the course if I change it up? How have mean, nasty professors stretched, hurt, or opened your mind when reading for a class? Or have they just irrevocably turned you off?

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