Children’s Literature

In this course, we will study fantastic fictions that invite readers to immerse themselves in enchanted alternative worlds. Besides revisiting such famous imaginary locales as Never Land, Narnia, Middle-Earth, and Hogwarts, we will also journey through less well-known fantasylands created by writers such as Ursula Le Guin, Nnedi Okorafor, and Daniel José Older. To enrich our understanding of these immersive stories, we will ask: What stylistic and structural choices do writers make in order to craft such convincing fictional worlds? And what difference does it make that these books are addressed to children? Besides analyzing what type of image of childhood emerges from these fictions, we’ll also discuss the question of how “escapist” (or not) these stories are. To what extent do they reflect—and sometimes, resist—the sociopolitical struggles and social norms of the eras in which they were written? Although we will sometimes identify and analyze problematic aspects of these narratives, I want us to resist the notion that creative writers build up alternative worlds and we-as-critics tear them down. Creative writers are themselves astute critics of fantasy, as we will see, and criticism itself can be a creative act—especially if we employ metaphorical language and other artistic techniques to enliven our own analytical writing.