Children’s Literature

L. P. Hartley famously said, “The past is a foreign country—they do things differently there.” In this course, we will explore the groovy strangeness of U.S. youth culture in the 1970s. We’ll begin by investigating what recent historians have had to say about this decade, and why their insights have mostly failed to make it into American high school classrooms. We’ll also listen to the voices of young people themselves, who were invited to speak about their diverse experiences to an unprecedented degree during this period. And we’ll dip into the writings of children’s rights activists, who linked young people’s situation to that of other subjugated groups (such as women in patriarchal societies).

But the bulk of this course will consist of a crash course in 1970s children’s literature, music, television, theatre, and film. From children’s fiction by Louise Fitzhugh, Virginia Hamilton, and E. L. Konigsburg to mixed-media projects such as Free to Be…You and Me (1972) and films like The Bad News Bears (1976), child-oriented art from this period was notable for its aesthetic ambition and willingness to engage not only with the creative and intellectual energies of young people themselves, but also with the social, economic, and political turmoil of this “turning point” decade in American history.