Course Work

How this class works

In this class you will produce several different kinds of work, all designed to help engage you with the books and to focus our attention on our central question: “why read?”

Class participation

The primary method by which we’ll proceed in the class is by discussion, so your participation is central to our work. Please come to class with the work under discussion read and marked, with questions and/or comments already in mind. Review the blog posts (see below) for the day, and consider commenting on them as well. In class we will often freewrite before embarking on a discussion; feel free to use this time as well to gather your thoughts for class.

Community-Based Learning

Each student will participate in community-based learning at one of the sites chosen for this class, reading to children or working with children and books in some other capacity. Our first confirmed site is St. Andrews School on Oregon Hill–here, your work will involve meeting with children during an after-school program (4:30 – 5:30 pm) to read books together. This will be a commitment of 3-4 hours over the course of the semester. Other options may include a weekly commitment at either Henderson Middle School or Overby-Sheppard Elementary School in an after-school or lunch hour program reading with school children. The total commitment for these programs is about 1-2 hours a week for ten weeks, though there’s a preference for folks who will commit to both semesters.

Blog Posts

Each student will contribute at least one “report from the field” blog post (see an example here) and four brief responses to novels we are reading in class (see examples here and here), also posted to the blog. The “reports from the field” will be a way we have of keeping track of the way children’s literature is represented in popular culture, to discuss texts and ideas that we may not have time to analyze more fully, and to engage with a wide range of ideas related to children’s literature and children’s reading. The responses should focus on a single passage and raise questions about it; they will be a way of demonstrating your familiarity with the texts and ideas for the course, and will help guide our discussions as we explore the novels assigned for class. These blog posts are due by 10 pm the evening before our class.


Each student will write three papers, all focused on the same favorite text from childhood.

Paper One: The first, shortest, paper will be a brief analysis of a novel that answers the following questions:

1.         How does the book work—or, what does the book do? In answering this question, you will want to evaluate the book on its own terms. In order to do so, you’ll need to answer the following questions:

a) In your introductory paragraph, address this question: how does this novel fit your sense of what a children’s book is or should be?

b) Your thesis (at the end of the introductory paragraph) will answer this question: Is the book a successful children’s book?  Why or why not?  In answering this question, you may find it helpful to think about Perry Nodelman’s list of pleasures (linked here). Remember as well that your thesis may be of the form: “On the one hand…on the other hand…” That is, do not be afraid of counter-examples or claims that may suggest some uncertainty or ambiguity.

2.         In the body of your paper, you’ll provide examples from the book to support your claims about why the book does or does not work. How do the words and/or pictures work to develop the book’s  themes?  Offer a close-reading of these examples, drawing upon our class discussions, readings, and all the critical terms you’ve learned.

Due date: Thursday, 9/20; 2-3 pages

Paper Two: The next paper will revisit the same book as you wrote about in paper #1, but will compare/contrast it with a book we read together for class.  Thus you will answer the same questions as for the first paper, but will consider the ways in which reading your novel in the context of another one may change, qualify, or reinforce your earlier reading. Your paper should begin by announcing the most important similarity or difference between the two books, then go on to analyze the ways in which that similarity or difference is not the whole story.

Here’s an example of a possible thesis: “Although Charlotte’s Web is about animals and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is not, they are both coming of age stories in which a neglected or even abandoned orphan comes into his own. Both novels use magic, an older mentor figure, and the establishment of a sense of “home” to facilitate the protagonist’s growth, which is an important element of most children’s books.”

Due date: Thursday, 10/25; 3-5 pages

Paper Three: The third and final paper will be a brief research paper about the same book you wrote about in paper #1, but putting it in context of the author’s other works, the historical context, the genre as a whole, and/or the theme(s) of the novel.

Due date: Proposal & annotated bibliography due Thursday, 11/15; final draft due Monday, 12/17 by 2 pm; 8-10 pages.

The rubric for all written work in the course is here.

Digital Stories

Finally, each student will create a digital story–perhaps also focused on the book addressed in the three papers, but not necessarily–on the topic “Why (I) Read.” The draft of your script will be due Thursday, 11/8; digital stories will be presented in class during the last week of classes (12/4 and 12/6)