Issues of Children’s Literature

Sample Syllabus Eight for teaching with Crosscurrents of Children's Literature, Oxford University Press

Children’s literature is a complex field of study that can be approached through many different theories. Intriguingly, however, a handful of issues have, for quite a while, remained in the center of the attention of parents, teachers, critics and scholars. The purpose of this class is to explore the issues that concern adults when they approach texts created for children. 


Clark, Beverly Lyon. Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Children's Literature in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.

Fox, Dana and Kathy G. Short. Stories Matter: The Complexity of Cultural Authenticity in Children's Literature.  Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2003.

Hollindale, Peter. “Ideology and the Children’s Book.” Literature for Children: Contemporary Criticism. Ed. Peter Hunt. New York: Routledge, 1993.  19-40.

Lehr, Susan. Battling Dragons: Issues and Controversy in Children's Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995.

Lurie, Alison.  Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children’s Literature. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.

Maddy, Yulisa Amadu and Donnarae MacCann. African Images in Juvenile Literature: Commentaries on Neocolonialist Fiction. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1996.

Martin, Michelle H. Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children's Picture Books, 1845-2002. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Murray, Gail Schmunk. American Children's Literature and the Construction of Childhood. New York: Twayne, 1998.

Norton, Donna E. Multicultural Children's Literature: Through the Eyes of Many Children. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2005.

Seale, Doris and Beverly Slapin. A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Berkeley, CA: Oyate, 2005.

Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children’s Novels. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997.


Critical Review Paper. This paper serves multiple purposes: first, to familiarize students with the journals that publish articles on children’s literature; second, to get students to begin to think about topics they find interesting in children’s literature; third, to have students begin thinking about their own assumptions regarding children and children’s literature. First, students will pick an author, book or topic in children’s literature that they would like to read about. It can be a book read for class; however, it does not have to be. At this point, explain to the students whatever library resources are available that can help them with this project. In the paper, the students will do three things. First, they will explain how they found their articles; then they will write a quick summary of the article. The final part of the paper will focus on the students’ responses. Students could focus on which aspects of the article were difficult to understand, and show exactly what was unclear. Students could choose to explain why they feel that the article is either right or wrong. Students can also choose to write about what they would do next if they wanted to continue researching this particular topic. 

Historical Novel. Have each student read a different historical novel that presents a non-European culture. Then the students will give a presentation on that novel, first giving an outline that lasts no more than one minute, followed by an evaluation of that novel in light of  the article “Is that Book Politically Correct? Truth and Trends in Historical Literature for Young People” by Hazel Rochman, Masha Kabakow, and Diane Stanley.

Author Paper. The students will choose one author and read at least two of his or her works; students who choose picture books should choose at least three to five texts. They will then find one or more theme, image or motif that runs through all of this writers’ work. The students will then write a paper doing a close reading that explores how this same theme works through multiple texts. 

Book to Movie. For this paper, the students will read one book and watch one movie based on that book. For the first part of the project, the students will compare changes: what is different between the two? For the second part, they will look at the cultural implications of these adaptations: what does it mean that these things have been changed? Film theory could be helpful here, as well as cultural theory.

Fairy Tale Project. Students will choose one fairy tale, and find at three to five versions of it. They will then write a paper with three parts: first, they will introduce the time and place in which each version was produced.  Then they will write about changes that have occurred across time and culture. Finally, the students will spend time analyzing the cultural implications of the variations. The students don’t need sources other than the variants of the fairy tales, but if they want to use them, that is fine. This makes a good presentation project, as well: each student gets five to ten minutes to explain the results of their research.


Week 1: Introduction

“Precepts, Pleasures and Portents: Changing Emphases in Children’s Literature” Sheila Egoff

Introduction to Part 8: Values and Censorship

Week 2: Adult Attitudes

“Little Angels, Little Monsters: Keeping Childhood Innocent” Marina Warner

“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” William Wordsworth

From Ramona The Pest Beverly Cleary

From The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

From Charlotte’s Web E. B. White

Week 3: Subversion

“A Child’s Garden of Subversion” Alison Lurie

From Pippi Longstocking Astrid Lindgren

From The Story of a Bad Boy Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Week 4: Values

“Didacticism in Modern Dress” John Rowe Townsend

“On The Care Which is Requisite in the Choice of Books for Children” Sarah Trimmer

“Of the Danger of Pleasure” John Huddlestone Wynne

“The Purple Jar,” “The Birthday Present” Maria Edgeworth

From Little Women “Jo Meets Apollyon” Louisa May Alcott

Week 5: Gender

“’As the Twig is Bent…’ Gender and Childhood Reading” Elizabeth Segel

“Toy-Based Videos for Girls: My Little Pony”  Ellen Seiter

Fairy Tales: “Cinderella: Saturday Afternoon at the Movies” Louise Bernikow

“Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper” Charles Perrault

“Ashputtle” Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

From Anne of Green Gables Chapter 10 “Anne’s Apology” Lucy Maude Montgomery

From The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

Week 6: Gender, Part 2

“Boys Will be Boys: The Making of the Male” Marina Warner

“Review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” William Dean Howells

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Chapter 12, “Tom Shows His Generosity” Mark Twain

From Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson

From Tom Brown’s School Days Thomas Hughes

Week 7: Fantasy

“Reflections: The Uses of Enchantment” Bruno Bettelheim

“Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” Ursula K. LeGuin

“Liking and Not Liking Fantasy” Perry Nodelman

From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll

From The Wonderful Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum

From Tom’s Midnight Garden Philippa Pearce

From A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle

Week 8: Parody

“‘Will the Real Dragon Please Stand Up?’ Convention and Parody in Children’s Stories” Jon C. Stott

“The Last of the Dragons” E. Nesbit

From “The Dragons are Singing Tonight” Jack Prelutsky

“Little Red Riding Hood” Roald Dahl

Week 9: Multiculturalism

“Insiders, Outsiders, and the Question of Authenticity: Who Shall Write for African American Children?” Nina Mikkelsen

From The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963 Christopher Paul Curtis

New Boy in School May Justus

From Nobody’s Family is Going to Change Louise Fitzhugh

Week 10: History

“Is that Book Politically Correct? Truth and Trends in Historical Literature for Young People” Hazel Rochman, Masha Kabakow, Diane Stanley

“Should We Burn Babar?” Herbert R. Kohl

From Little House on the Prairie Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Trusting the Words” Michael Dorris

From The Birchbark House Louise Erdrich

Week 11: Censorship

“Teaching Banned Children’s Books” Mark I. West

From The Great Gilly Hopkins Katherine Paterson

From Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain

“Huck, Continued” E. L. Doctorow and David Bradley

Week 12: Sexuality

From Forever… A Novel Judy Blume

From Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

“Am I Blue?” Bruce Coville

Week 13: Visual Literacy

Intro to Part 6: “Words and Pictures”

“The Relationship of Pictures and Words” Perry Nodelman

Week 14:  Film Adaptations

“The Little Mermaid” Hans Christian Andersen

“Moral Simplification in The Little Mermaid” A. Walter Hastings

“American Film Adaptations of The Secret Garden: Reflections of Historical and Social Change” Juliane Gillispie

From The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

Week 15: Presentations

Return to list of sample syllabi

Sample syllabus prepared by Melody Green

Contact Tina L. Hanlon with questions or comments on this site.

Updated: August 16, 2010   |   Return to Home Page: Crosscurrents of Children's Literature