Small Wonders

Children’s literature, many critics agree, “sets up a world in which the adult comes first and the child comes after, and neither of them enter the space in between” (Jaqueline Rose). This critical truism—that children themselves don’t actively participate in the production of so-called “children’s” texts—is so widely held that, to my knowledge, no college-level course exists that focuses exclusively on children’s creative contributions to youth literature and culture.

This course represents my first attempt to build a whole class around youth-oriented cultural artifacts that were either authored, co-created by, or based closely on the words of young people. As we will see, a wonderfully wide variety of children’s texts may be said to inhabit the “space in between” that critics deem nonexistent, including a witty historical fantasy written by a thirteen-year-old (and midwifed into print by her mom, a professional literary editor); a zany children’s TV show starring a multiethnic cast of kids performing kid-generated material (produced and directed by adults); and poetic picture books based on young children’s sayings and stories (including one illustrated by none other than Maurice Sendak).

Besides close reading and writing about these critically neglected texts, students in this course will also serve as virtual tutors for children participating in an afterschool program with 826 Boston, a local youth literacy organization.