Marah Gubar

Associate Professor

Marah Gubar joined MIT’s Literature faculty as an Associate Professor in 2014. Previously, she directed the nationally recognized Children’s Literature Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned her Ph.D. in English from Princeton University and did her undergraduate work at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), where she received a B.A. in English and a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Her book Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature came out in 2009 from Oxford University Press and won the Children’s Literature Association’s Book Award. She has also written a series of essays on child performers and playgoers that have appeared in journals such as American Quarterly and Victorian Studies and edited collections such as The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature (2011) and Children, Childhood, and Musical Theater (2020).

Dr. Gubar is currently working on a second book entitled How to Think About Children: Childhood Studies in the Academy and Beyond. It attempts to generate a theoretical framework for thinking about what it means to be a child that could function as a shared language, enabling researchers across the arts, sciences, and humanities to communicate their key insights about children and childhood not only with each other, but also with people outside of academia.


Subjects taught the current academic year:

21L.015 Children's Literature: School Stories (Fall 2023)

21L.449 The Wilds of Literature (Spring 2024)

Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.452[J] Literature and Philosophy (Spring 2023)

21L.500[J] How We Got to Hamilton (Fall 2022)

21L.S88 Special Subject in Literature: School Stories *CANCELLED* (Spring 2023)

Research Interests
If I had to single out the key terms that crop up most often in my work on children’s literature and culture, I would say “agency” and “precocity.” What kind of agency do children have, and how might it differ from adult agency? How can literary critics acknowledge the participation of young people in youth culture without exaggerating their level of involvement, creative control, and power? When is a competent child perceived as precocious, and how has our idea of what constitutes precocity changed over time? These are some of the questions I address in my work on Anglo-American children’s literature and culture.

My main theoretical intervention into children’s literature and childhood studies has been to argue that creative writers whose audience includes young people have done a better job than theorists of generating nuanced, non-naïve accounts of children’s agency. When we theorize about childhood, I contend, we should take our lead from them, as I do when I map out a “kinship model” of childhood and distinguish it from more disabling “difference” and “deficit” models. My goal is to formulate a new theoretical framework that allows scholars to acknowledge children’s participation in youth culture without pretending that they (or any of us!) are fully autonomous agents. I’m developing this framework in a book project I’m working on entitled How to Think About Children: Childhood Studies in the Academy and Beyond.

“Innocence.” Keywords for Children’s Literature, Second Edition, edited by Philip Nel, Lissa Paul, and Nina Christensen. NYU Press, 2021: 105-109.

“Toothless Pedagogy? Problematizing Paternalism in Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies.” Children’s Literature 48 (2020): 153-197

“Urchins, Unite: Newsies as an Antidote to Annie.” In Children, Childhood, and Musical Theater, edited by James Leve and Donelle Ruwe. Routledge, 2020: 138-163.

“Child.” VLC: Victorian Literature and Culture 46.3/4 (Fall/Winter 2018): 616–621

“Seen and Heard: Remembering Children’s Art and Activism.” Los Angeles Review of Books 20 (November 2018): 42–51.
Reprinted online at:

“Empathy is Not Enough.” Review of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, Public Books (July 2017):

“The Cult of the Child Revisited: Making Fun of Fauntleroy.” Late Victorian into Modern (Oxford 21st-Century Approaches to Literature), edited by Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn, and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr. Oxford University Press, 2016: 398–413

“The Hermeneutics of Recuperation: What a Kinship-Model Approach to Children’s Agency Could Do for Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 8.1 (2016): 291–310

“Losing Their Religion.” Review of Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree. Public Books (December 2016):

“The Teflon Kid: How Annie Enables Apathy About Inequality.” Public Books (January 2015):

“Unsettling Sentimentality: Scrapbooks, Children’s Books, and the Assembled Narratives of Duane Michals.” Duane Michals, Storyteller, edited by Linda Benedict-Jones. Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh and Prestel Publishing, 2014: 90–115
One of LensCulture’s “2014 Photobooks of the Year”
One the Daily Beast’s “Best Coffee Table Books of 2014”

“The Mixed-Up Kids of Mrs. E. L. Konigsburg.” Public Books (June 2014):
Reprinted in Think in Public: A Public Books Reader (Columbia University Press, 2019), edited by Sharon Marcus and Caitlin Zaloom: 409–420

“Pitt Pioneers: or, How Our Faculty Helped Establish Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies in the Academy.” Co-written with Anna Redcay. University of Pittsburgh Children’s Literature Program website (June 2014):

“Entertaining Children of All Ages: Nineteenth-Century Popular Theater as Children’s Theater.” American Quarterly 66.1 (March 2014): 1–34
Honorable Mention, Oscar G. Brockett Essay Prize, awarded in 2015 by the American Society for Theatre Research and Oscar G. Brockett Center

“Risky Business: Talking About Children in Children’s Literature Criticism.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 38.4 (Winter 2013): 450–457
Winner of a 2013 Children’s Literature Association Article Honor Award
Translated into Danish by Nina Christensen for the “Børnelitteratur nu!” special issue of the journal Passage 75 (Sommer 2016): 21–28

“Body Projects: The Killer Makeover in Recent YA Dystopias.” Public Books (May 2013):

“Good Morning iPad: Technology in Twenty-First-Century Picture Books.” Public Books (December 2012):

“Who Watched The Children’s Pinafore? Age Transvestism on the Nineteenth-Century Stage.” Victorian Studies 54.3 (Spring 2012): 410–426

“Children and Theatre.” Editor’s introduction, special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn 36.2 (April 2012): v–xiv

“On Not Defining Children’s Literature.” PMLA 126.1 (January 2011): 209–216

“Peter Pan as Children’s Theatre: The Issue of Audience.” The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature, edited by Julia Mickenberg and Lynn Vallone. Oxford University Press, 2011: 475–495

Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature (Oxford University Press, 2009)
Winner of the 2009 Children’s Literature Association Book Award
Featured as a Times Higher Education Book of the Week, 6/8/2009
Excerpted in the Norton Critical Edition of Alice in Wonderland (3rd ed., 2013), edited by Donald J. Gray

“The Drama of Precocity: Child Performers on the Victorian Stage.” The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture, edited by Dennis Denisoff. Ashgate, 2008: 63–78

“Lewis in Wonderland: The Looking-Glass World of Sylvie and Bruno.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 48.4 (December 2006): 372–394

“‘Whacked-Out Partners’: The Inversion of Empathy in the Joey Pigza Trilogy.” Children’s Literature in Education 35.3 (September 2004): 219–239
Reprinted in “Disabilities in Children’s Literature,” Children’s Literature Review 126 (2008), edited by Tom Burns: 95–106

“Species Trouble: The Abjection of Adolescence in E. B. White’s Stuart Little.” The Lion and the Unicorn 27.1 (January 2003): 98–119
Winner of the 2003 Children’s Literature Association Article Award

“Revising the Seduction Paradigm: The Case of Ewing’s The Brownies.” Children’s Literature 30 (2002): 42–65

“Partners in Crime: E. Nesbit and the Art of Thieving.” Style 35.3 (Fall 2001): 410–429

“‘Where is the Boy?’: The Pleasures of Postponement in the Anne of Green Gables Series.” The Lion and the Unicorn 25.1 (January 2001): 47–69
Excerpted in the Norton Critical Edition of Anne of Green Gables (2006), edited by Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston: 359–365

Teaching with Digital Technology Award, MIT, 2020
James A. and Ruth Levitan Teaching Award, MIT, 2019
Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, University of Pittsburgh, 2013
Innovation in Education Award, University of Pittsburgh, 2004
Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni Teaching Award, 2000-1
Cotsen Junior Teaching Fellowship, Princeton University, 1999-2000

Honorable Mention, Oscar G. Brockett Essay Prize, 2015
Children’s Literature Association Article Honor Award, 2013
University of Pittsburgh Humanities Center Internal Faculty Fellowship, 2013
Children’s Literature Association Book Award, 2009
Children’s Literature Association Article Award, 2003
Woodrow Wilson Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, 2002-4 (declined)
Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, 1997-2002

“‘Little Girls, Little Girls’: The Role Anne(s) Played in the Evolving Cult of the Child.” Keynote for “L. M. Montgomery and Re-vision” conference, Prince Edward Island University (Canada), June 2022

“Children’s Voices in Sendak’s Work.” Invited talk for A Scholarly Symposium on the Art of Maurice Sendak, University of Connecticut (on Zoom), February 2022

“Rethinking Childhood Studies Today.” Queen Mary University, London (on Zoom), May 2021

“Making Room for Child Writers in Children’s Literature Studies.” Dublin City University (on Zoom), February 2021

“Rethinking Paternalism.” Women Scholars’ Speaker Series, Institute for Child and Youth Studies, University of Lethbridge (Canada), March 2019

“Toothless Pedagogy.” Keynote for the Australasian Children’s Literature Association for Research (ACLAR) biennial conference, Victoria University (New Zealand), July 2018

“Listening to Children in the 1970s.” Keynote for the University of Southern Mississippi’s graduate student conference “The Contradictions of Youth: Children and Childhood in Culture,” April 2018

“Listening to Children in the 1970s.” 2017 Robert M. Gay Memorial Lecture, Simmons College, February 2017

“The Children at the Door of Children’s Literature Studies.” Keynote for the Hollins Graduate Program in Children’s Literature’s annual Francelia Butler Conference, Hollins University, July 2016

“Sending Up the Cult of the Child.” Victorian Literature and Culture seminar, Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard University, September 2015