Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 3, 2012

Great Students of Children’s Literature, English 492

There are many reasons to teach, and one of them is hope. I loved reading final projects for Children’s Literature. I’m proud of all twenty-six of my students at UMass, but let me name Danielle, who told me that she didn’t really write poetry when I suggested she try expressing the feelings that she thought a book she read left out. She wrote amazing free verse about a girl dealing with her mother’s death. Sahar had us laughing with a little boy contending with older sisters, one of whom she said was based on herself, and showed a side of her we don’t see in class. I thought a new twist on Red Riding Hood might be impossible, but Jenny, after “staving off my usual fear of drastic rewrites,” proved me wrong. I ask those who choose to do creative projects rather than a final paper to show me at least two drafts, and I was impressed by the way several students developed motivation in their picture books, added surprises, and blended educational elements and fun.

There was great analysis and research, too. In “Life is Just an Imagined Puzzle,” Nicole looked at the ways J. M. Barrie’s Wendy and Lewis Carroll’s Alice make an adventure out of the process of becoming an adult, mixed with excitement and fear, flying or falling, and starting with liberation from adult control. Brenna showed how Dr. Seuss “familiarizes young children with his distinct illustrations and language early, creating a bond with the reader, and later introduces relevant social issues and stories of empowerment, using his signature style.”

Katie taught me a lot about E-books, examining what’s passive and what’s active, what’s similar to reading as most of us grew up knowing it and what’s different. I was interested in her reported research of children learning to read, whose parents might ask over pages questions like, “You’ve done something like that before, right?” or “What do you think will happen next?” but with a device may say, “Careful!” or “Hold it this way.” Kevin is passionate about bringing a broader selection of books into high school classrooms, not substituting Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins for Shakespeare, (though maybe Catcher in the Rye: we can make him cringe just by mentioning that overused title). He wrote, “We do not want to dismantle the bookshelf, but to add to it, to let it grow.”

That’s what we hope.  Kenzie examined definitions of childhood and storytelling in Narnia, and quoted C.S. Lewis from On Three Ways of Writing for Children: “surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new ones.” I hope all of my students move on cherishing the old, and ready for what’s new. Meanwhile, the amazing Katie Wyncoop is letting me share her short animated feature, her BFA thesis, so you can watch folded pages take you to new shores:

<p><a href=”″>Lands Away</a> from <a href=”″>Katie Wynkoop</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>




  1. LOVE THIS!!!!

    • Beth, I know you know that feeling of pride in your students.

  2. So wonderful to read about your students!!

  3. Sounds enriching, stimulating, and inspiring!

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