Why study children’s literature?
Courses in children’s literature can be a valuable part of many different programs of study. Teachers and students of education will learn much about literature that can provide a basis for classroom practices and activities. Students of literature and culture will be interested in learning about the constraints and characteristics of writing designed specifically for an audience of children.
For students of history, studying children’s literature offers useful insights into particular ideas about children – and their implications for the present. Considering the ideological content of children’s literature provides another perspective for students of developmental psychology and sociology on knowledge about childhood. Students of the visual arts might be specifically interested in courses involving picture books.
About Studying Children’s Literature at the University of Winnipeg
The University of Winnipeg’s Department of English has been offering undergraduate courses in young people’s texts and cultures for over 30 years, attracting many teachers in training and other interested students from the fields of English studies, History, and Developmental Studies, among others. The English Department includes a number of instructors who include interests in various aspects of young people’s texts and cultures among their specializations.
Close to 20% of upper-level courses offered by the department focus on young people’s texts and cultures in some form. Thus, while there is no specialist degree offered in the field at this point—rather one must take courses in the field as part of a more general English degree—the value placed on studying young people’s texts and cultures is at the centre of the culture and concerns of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of English.
Canadian Children’s Literature and Culture | ENGL-3119.3-245/246 | D. Wolf | T 17:00 – 20:00
In this course, we take up a number of Canadian texts for young people that focus on issues such as (re)settlement, nationhood, identity, belonging, and sovereignty. We enhance our close readings of the primary texts by examining pertinent political and historical contexts and using critical concepts from current feminist, postcolonial, materialist, and cultural theories.
Field of Children’s Literature | ENGL-2003.6-001 | C. Tosenberger | TTH 13:00 – 14:15
This course is an introduction to the study of children’s literature, and therefore of necessity, also a study of childhood itself: to understand what constitutes the category “children’s literature,” we need to understand what constitutes the category “child,” as children’s literature is a literary genre defined by its audience. We will survey the place of children in history from the Middle Ages to the present, concentrating especially on the development of the “Romantic child” in the late 18th century and on the rise of “teenager” as a category in the early 20th century – and how the ideas popularized during these periods influence our concepts of young people and their literature today (especially in the arena of what is considered “appropriate” for children). We will study and discuss a wide range of material aimed at young people, including religious instruction, fairy tales, poetry, the famous works of the “Golden Age,” picture books, series fiction, fantasy, young adult literature, and films. We will also look at writing by children and teenagers, and discuss how these texts compare to the material produced for them by adults; particular attention will be paid to the issues of young people in cyberspace. Throughout, we will interrogate our received ideas about “kids’ stuff,” and about kids themselves.
Picture Books for Children | ENGL-2113.6-001 | R. Clement | MWF 13:30 – 14:20
This course explores picture book elements, industries, and modes of reception and interpretation, involving strategies such as small-group discussions, presentations, oral and written forms of analysis, and the making of picture books. Of particular interest is our exploration of experimental and innovative picture book forms and their contribution to changing concepts of the child, childhood and children’s culture. This course may incorporate experiential, community-based and service-learning components.
Fairy Tales and Culture | ENGL-2114.6-001 | C. Tosenberger | TTH 16:00 – 17:15
In this course students study fairy tales, focusing not only on original source material, but on literature written specifically for children based on these borrowed forms. Students trace the history of fairy tales from their origins in myth and folklore to their impact on contemporary culture today. Students read and write critically about these tales and engage in comparisons on multiple fronts, exploring major themes and characteristics of these tales as well as the social and psychological aspects of them. The goal is to enrich our appreciation of these tales by strengthening our critical understanding of them as well as to gain insight as to how these tales function in our selves and our society.
Topics in Fiction for Young People: Fantasy | ENGL-3118.3-001 | C. Petty | MW 16:00 – 17:15
Fantasy is a literary genre which explores the dramatic possibilities of existence in worlds which are materially different from the one that its readers inhabit; unlike science fiction it does not emphasize a credible rationale for that differentiation. Responding to its imaginative energy, young people have formed a receptive audience both for fantasy written for them (the Alice books, Peter Pan) and for “adult” fantasies (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tarzan, Game of Thrones). This course will introduce students to different types of fantasy (high/low), to some of its classic forms (the beast fable, the heroic quest, the bildungsroman), and to some of its tropes or modes of operation (religion, magic, the numinous). We will also look at a range of critical responses to fantasy, including the influential claim that, rather than being “escape” literature, it is intrinsically subversive of social and cultural values. Major texts may include Kenneth Grahame’s classic anthropomorphic fiction The Wind in the Willows, C.S. Lewis’s theologically-infused The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and the very different versions of a magical education offered by Ursula Le Guin in A Wizard of Earthsea and J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.
Topics in Young People’s Texts and Cultures | ENGL-3160.3-245/246 | C. Peters | T 17:00 – 20:00
Advanced Studies in Young People’s Texts and Cultures: Folk Narratives | ENGL-4160.3-001 | C. Tosenberger | M 14:30 – 17:15
In this course, we will study the links and disjunctions between oral storytelling and popular mass-mediated discourse: while folklore and popular culture are often traditionally posited as oppositional, we’ll be examining popular culture as interpreter, shaper, and transmitter of folk narratives. We will begin the course with an examination of the three major forms of folk narrative (myth, legend, folktale), and an overview of popular theories of myth and folklore that have made their way into pop culture, often to the dismay of scholars. During the semester, we will cover topics such as urban legends, horror media as miner and transmitter of folklore, monsters/monstrosity, fairy tales and fairy tale films, and audience studies/fandom.
Topics in Cultures of Childhood: Folk Narratives | GENG-7160-001 C. Tosenberger | M 14:30 – 17:15
In this course, we study the links and disjunctions between oral storytelling and popular mass-mediated discourse: while folklore and popular culture are often traditionally posited as oppositional, we examine popular culture as interpreter, shaper, and transmitter of folk narratives. We begin the course with an examination of the three major forms of folk narrative (myth, legend, folktale), and an overview of popular theories of myth and folklore that have made their way into pop culture, often to the dismay of scholars. During the semester, we cover topics such as urban legends, horror media as miner and transmitter of folklore, monsters/monstrosity, fairy tales and fairy tale films, audience studies and fandom, and popular religious discourse and folk narrative.