Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 22, 2016

Children’s Literature: On our Way

I’ve got my books lined up for the semester and held two classes. On the first day we sped through the history of children’s books, taking brief note of medieval and Puritan views of childhood, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s favorite book as a boy (apparently, THE TRIUMPHS OF GOD’S REVENGE AGAINST THE CRYING AND EXECRABLE SINS OF MURDER), Philippe Ariès on the cultural definitions of childhood, Blake and Wordsworth on innocence, and John Newbery, who among his accomplishments as a publisher started a trend for selling toys along with books – a ball for boys and a pincushion for girls, creating a sort of pink aisle, too. For the first time, we got to read this year’s Newbery winner right in class and briefly discuss what we’ll discuss more: the strands of entertainment and teaching. One student saw the Nana in The Last Stop on Market Street as the sort of helper we find in a hero’s journey. We touched on that form, versus the circles we’ll find in Charlotte’s Web and City Dog, Country Frog, which we read the second day, and a student pronounced, “Devastating.”


Also in the second class, we talked about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, filled with tropes we’ll encounter again — orphans, a magic mirror, enchanted animals, flying, snugness, food, a three-headed dog, wands – and themes of friendship, secrets, death, and good versus evil. How many have read this book before? I asked, and all hands went up. That will never happen again, so I savored. How many have read it ten times? I asked, and it looked like all hands to me, though perhaps one or two arms stayed on desks. Already I love my class.





  1. 1. Now I know why I could never relate to Hawthorne’s books.
    2. I wonder how many girls used a pin from the pincushion to puncture the ball their brother got (oops…maybe I didn’t want that metaphor).
    3. I really think taking your class SOME DAY is on my bucket list. Let’s write a grant to fund an online version!

  2. I want to be in your class too. Sounds like you’re off to a great start!!

  3. I believe it’s a sign of good health not to be able to relate to Hawthorne’s novels. Why they ask adolescents to read The Scarlet Letter I’ll never understand: doesn’t a bleak world feel close enough to most?

    I’d love to discuss these books with you, but no online classes. What I like about teaching is that it gets me out of those writing outfits we like and away from the computer for a little bit, even though there are cold winds across campus in January.

  4. Lucky students!!

  5. Do you ever pinch yourself and say, “I can’t believe this is my life?” I mean, how cool is it to teach a class on children’s books?? Lucky you! 🙂

  6. Wow! This sounds like a fantastic class.

  7. Sounds like a class I’d enjoy. 🙂

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