English 80K

Children's Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
1 Summer 2021 Creasy, CFS
TTh 9-12 C

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This course has two principal aims: (1) to survey the history of children’s literature in English by focusing on some of the important works of that history; (2) to attend to some of the major generic, political, aesthetic, and philosophical questions that children’s literature poses. Among these questions, we will consider, for example: conceptions and ideologies of education; the nature and ethics of infantile sexuality; the mechanisms of language; the category of “innocence”; violence and violent desire; didactic and fantastical modes of address; the infant-animal relationship; embodied differences of gender, race, sexuality, and (dis)ability; and so on.
    We will take it as a basic premise that the “child” is a contingent and constructed object, always reinvented to suit the needs of its historical moment. From Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood to Harry Potter, from Peter Pan to the cat in the hat and his friends, the children described by children’s literature are always emblems of specific constructions of “childhood” that serve specific worldviews. We will not, then, make generalizations about what children are, what children like, or what children know, but rather trace different notions of childhood and of literature—and we will try to discover what those different notions can tell us about the social structures that give rise to, and depend upon, them. But while we will diagnose the uses to which “children’s literature” is put, we will also try to do justice to the ways in which it can be emancipatory or utopian: that is, we will seek to understand what it is in (the infantile attachments we feel towards) children’s literature that might also resist conscription into the normative mechanisms of maturity.

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