Children’s Literature: the big questions

We live in an era of rapid technological change. Most college students were born before the internet was widely used, before broadband, the DVR, blu-ray, Facebook, Twitter, or smartphones. These technologies have changed our relationships to  each other, certainly (how many “friends” do you have on Facebook?), but also to learning. Why should we memorize facts when we can look them up so easily? Why should we learn math when powerful calculators are built into our phones? Why should we read novels when we can enjoy narratives in on-demand movies, complex games, and internet memes?

Children’s literature develops from three central premises: that children are different from adults, and that it’s important for them to read, and to read “age-appropriate” materials. In this class we’ll interrogate those premises: are children really different? Should they read? What constitutes “appropriate” reading material—or is there even any such thing? This interrogation will require both thinking back through our own childhoods and exploring some of the vast array of research available in history, literary study, and even cognitive neuroscience as we develop our own answers to the central question: “why read?

In order to answer this question—or at least to interrogate it more thoroughly—we’ll read a lot, we’ll discuss the reading a lot, and we’ll write a lot. More on all of those things later. We’ll also do our best to have at least some interactions with children and books, doing community-based learning in schools and other settings where we can continue to ask the question, “why read?”

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