Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 10, 2008

Final Projects in Literature for Children and Young Adults

It was sad to leave my last class at Mount Holyoke, even if we were all a bit tired by ten p.m. after three hours of listening to summaries of final projects. We discussed children’s books that lead to nature appreciation in response to Reesha’s “Truffula Trees and Spider Webs” paper. Both she and Chelsea discussed Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and others from the darker end of his work, and we learned that Dr. Seuss was never quite comfortable with children who were most excited to see him. Apparently he’d stiffly put out his hand and say, “How do you do?” We heard about various tellings of Little Red Riding Hood (ending with Roald Dahl’s version in which Red pulls a gun from her little basket). We heard some gentler poetry for children that inspired one student, then listened to a few beautiful poems of his own.

A student preparing to be a teacher spoke about a few books that inspired her own creativity and spirituality. Two students wrote about books with religious themes. There was some discussion about the irony of Christians banning books by Christian authors, then a small flare up about the seventh Harry Potter book, which quickly ended as glaring students demanded no spoilers. An apprentice teacher gave an overview of picture books depicting families with gay or lesbian parents. One student delved into the life and work of Frances Hodgson Burnett, another looked at work by Janet Taylor Lisle, one looked at text and image in Alice in Wonderland, and one at queer subtext in Francesca Lia Block.

Andrew, a Five College student from Hampshire, spoke about his “Proposed Essential Guide to the Metafictional Cafeteria,” with epigraphs from Paradise Lost and The Breakfast Club. He discussed the teen bildungsroman, or “the section of the circle of life that moves 2 fast and 2 furious, lives free, dies hard and leaves a pretty corpse.” He’s kept us enthralled with his pop culture knowledge (the go-to guy if you missed an episode of Gossip Girl), but his knowledge doesn’t end with television. He compared the posses or girls who speak as one to the Fates, passing an eye as they take turns, “except the Fates don’t yell, ‘Scandalous!’”)

Creative works included an illustrated ABC of New York City (A is Apartment Building, B is for Bagel, C is for Chrysler Building and Coffee Cup etc.) and an illustrated biography (with handmade paper covers) of Clara Barton based on the primary resource of Barton’s letters. Laura’s illustrated picture book featured a boy’s intriguing friendship with a bear. Two students collaborated on the writing and illustration for a picture book about a child’s first airplane trip, which had us laughing, though also a bit startled as we imagined through the child the flight attendant’s little talk and video before the plane takes off. We agreed that to a child that could be a horror movie.

One novelist analyzed Twilight for the components that made it such a success, and tried to use some of these elements in the first chapter of her book. Another got into the angsty voice of a thirteen year old whose mom was obsessed enough with Madeline to name her daughter that, which seemed fair enough, but the younger sibs were named Pepito and Clavel.

And one student who’d planned to write about Anne of Green Gables, so known for turning hardships into joy, decided instead to start her own novel based on a high school friend who died. As she spoke about her inspiration, she choked up and left the room. We kept a few moments of feeling-for-her silence before taking a break. I’m pleased to say this young woman came back, and I’m in awe of her bravery. And of all these hard-thinking, deeply feeling, creative and kind young people who I’ll miss so much.



  1. Wow, what a great class you had. Those projects sound amazing!!

  2. amazing!
    The rewards of teaching….

  3. I promised to have grades in by next Monday, and my plan is to read a few for a treat each evening between then and now. They are great!

  4. Re: amazing!
    Yes, i consider myself very very lucky.
    Good luck with your show this weekend!

  5. Good luck with your show this weekend!
    Thanks, Jeannine!

  6. That’s wonderful and the Breakfast Club guy sounds like a hoot!

  7. Heidi, you would adore him, and probably be better at catching his references, too. My daughter promised to catch me up on Gossip Girls over the break: she had kind of the same response you had in your blog about that last episode (but you gave me more details to work with, so thanks!)

  8. I cannot believe your class is over so soon–where did that time go?!
    I’m telling you, if I lived within an hour’s drive, I’d be signing up for the next session. It’s so clear that you create a completely warm, safe, & supportive environment for your students.

  9. Thanks, Becky. It would be fun to have a big LJ class all reading classics. It would get pretty noisy I bet!

  10. Jeannine, it sounds like a phenomenal class! You clearly had built quite a sense of community and trust for the students to take such risks.

  11. The Mount Holyoke students are a confident bunch, as well as diverse. But thank you, I do try to make each class a place where everyone feels free to speak and/or write so we can really learn from each other.

  12. You’ve created a magical place in your classroom, Jeannine. Sounds wonderful!

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