English 80K

Children's Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2017 Lavery, Grace
MWF 12-1 note new location: 159 Mulford

Book List

Ballantyne, R. M. : The Coral Island: A Tale of the Pacific Ocean; Barrie, J. M.: Peter and Wendy; Carroll, Lewis: Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There; Dr. Seuss: How the Grinch Stole Christmas; Fleming, Ian: Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car; Lewis, C. S.: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Musil, Robert: The Confusions of Young Törless; Oates, Joyce Carol: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang; Rowling, J. K.: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Sendak, Maurice: Where the Wild Things Are; Thompson, Kay: Eloise; Tiqqun: Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl

Other Readings and Media

Preliminary List of Supplementary Materials (subject to change):

Louis Althusser, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ (1970); Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (2013); Lee Edelman, ‘The Future is Kid Stuff’ (2006), from No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2006); Sigmund Freud, ‘A Child Is Being Beaten’ (1919); The Uncanny (1919); Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920); Rudyard Kipling, ‘If’ (1910, [1895]); Melanie Klein, ‘Some Theoretical Conclusions Regarding the Emotional Life of the Infant’ (1952); Jacques Lacan, ‘The Split between the Eye and the Gaze,’ from The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1998); John Locke, from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690); dir. Fernando Meirelles, City of God (2002); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from Émile, or, On Education (1762); dir. Bryan Singer, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016); Britney Spears, …baby one more time (1999); D. W. Winnicott, ‘Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,’ (1953).


This course has two principle aims: (1) to provide an overview of the history of children’s literature in English; (2) to introduce students to the major generic, political, aesthetic, and philosophical questions such literature has posed. Among these latter, for example, we will consider: the purpose of education; the nature and ethics of infantile sexuality; the mechanisms of language acquisition; the category of “innocence”; violence and violent desire; child labor; didactic and fantastical modes of address; the infant-animal relationship; embodied differences of gender, race, sexuality, and (dis)ability; peer pressure. In this class, we will pay particular attention to the figure of the child warrior: those ardent and energetic conscripts to Dumbledore’s Army; Katniss Everdeen charged with rescuing a decadent dystopia from its own worst urges; the children of Narnia expected to define and uphold a new version of Christian chivalry; the ultraviolent femmes of Spring Breakers or Foxfire fighting brutal men using only the impoverished tools with which an exploitative patriarchy has endowed them. We will seek out the forerunners of these children in the imperial adventure fiction of the nineteenth century, and in philosophical and psychoanalytic literature claiming for children an insurgent, sometimes revolutionary, potential.

We will treat as axiomatic the notion that the “child” is a contingent and constructed object, always reinvented to suit the needs of its historical moment. From the supine and quiescent darlings of Christina Rossetti’s nursery rhymes, to the gurgling and adorable brat Eloise, through the dashing and manly boys promoted by R. M. Ballantyne and Rudyard Kipling, the children described in children’s literature very often seem tailor-made to serve the interests of the powerful. We will not, then, make generalizations about what children are, what children like, or what children know. But we will wonder together whether the inverse is true too, and that something in the infantile attachments we feel towards children's literature might also resist conscription into the normative mechanisms of maturity.

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