Philip Nel > Courses > English 680: 20th Century American Children's Picturebooks (Fall 2005) > Class Presentations
English 680: 20th Century American Children's Picturebooks
Groups of students will sign up to present contextual material for one of the books on the syllabus. Clicking on this sentence will lead you to the schedule. Presentations (10 minutes in length) should provide information which encourages us to explore connections between the work and the context in which it was created.
In the preceding sentence, "context" can mean:
- Biography: How might the life of the author or of the illustrator shape our interpretation of the book?
- Example: Crockett Johnson was Art Editor of the Communist weekly New Masses from 1936 to 1940. In the 1940s, he wrote the satirical strip "Barnaby." How do these politics emerge (if at all) in his work? Incidentally, for one person's answer to this question, see my essay "'Never overlook the art of the seemingly simple': Crockett Johnson and the Politics of the Purple Crayon," Children's Literature 29 (2001): 142-74.
- History of literary production: Tracing the production history of a particular work What role did the book's editor play? And what about the children's book publishing business?
- Examples: Discussion of HarperCollins' rejection of Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon before accepting it for publication, as described in the letters of Ursula Nordstrom. Discussion of adaptations or interpretations of Harold and the Purple Crayon, such as the animated film and the board game. Discussion of the translations of Harold and the Purple Crayon.
- History: What important historical events, movements, or figures might we consider? What would it mean to read the book in this context or these contexts?
- Examples: Examination of the influence of post-war progressive politics on the work of Ruth Krauss, notably her The Big World and the Little House, illus. by Marc Simont (1948). Investigation of the influence of the Women's Rights Movement on Ruth Krauss, in (for instance) A Hole Is to Dig, illus. Maurice Sendak (1952).
- Literary history: What literary works make a helpful context for the work under consideration? You can explore this issue by theme, form, influence. You might look at another author writing in a similar style or genre. You might look at another work by the same author.
- Examples: Comparison between Crockett Johnson's presentation of art and the imagination in Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) and Leo Lionni's in Frederick(1967). Analysis of Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is to Dig as a "concept book" (a work united by theme, usually lacking a narrative) in the context of such works as Peter Newell's Topsys and Turveys (1902), Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny (1940), or Lois Ehlert's Color Zoo (1989). Analysis of gender in Johnson's Ellen and Harold books and how these characters challenge traditional gender roles by sharing similar qualities (imagination, adventure, concern for others). Analysis of the presence of imaginary companions in Johnson's Ellen and Harold books and how they represent aspects of the child's self (Harold's crayon representing the creative self, Ellen's lion representing the super-ego).
- Artistic history (style): What artists provide a useful context for the work under considertation. You might look at another artist working in a similar style or genre, but do not feel that you must limit yourself to picturebook artists -- fine artists, cartoonists, and others will be important here, too.
- Examples: Comparison between Johnson's minimal, representational cartoon-style of drawing in A Picture for Harold's Room (1960) and the style of Syd Hoff in Danny and the Dinosaur (1957). Discussion of potential influences on Johnson, such as cartoonists Otto Soglow ("The Little King"), Carl Anderson ("Henry"), and Gluyas Williams.
- Cultural history (including pop culture): What cultural events, movements, or other phenomena may have influenced the creation of the book?
- Example: Ruth Krauss was a member of the Bank Street Writers' Laboratory in the 1940s and 1950s. This group grew out of the Bank Street College of Education and out of progressive education, more generally. Using (for example) Leonard Marcus's biography of Margaret Wise Brown or Joyce Antler's biography of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, explore the connections between Bank Street and Ruth Krauss's work.
- Science, nature, and technology: Take a look at events in science, technology or the natural world that are contemporary with the work under discussion. Subjects could range from the technology of book publishing, to the polio vaccine, to space exploration. What do we learn if you evaluate the book in this context?
- Example: Discussion of Johnson's Harold's Trip to the Sky (1957) in connection with the rise in American space exploration in the 1950s. Johnson also illustrated Mickey's Magnet by Franklyn Branley and Eleanor K. Vaughan -- Branley wrote many informational children's books about science. Consider looking at Harold's Trip to the Sky in the context of these other informational books, such as Branley's Experiments in the Principles of Space Travel (1955), A Book of Moon Rockets for You (1959), or Exploration of the Moon (1963).
- Contemporary reviews or critical reception: What did the critics think of the book when it was published? How has the book been received in the years since its publication?
- Example: Harold and the Purple Crayon received strong reviews, and has since become a classic of children's litetature. You would want to quote these reviews, and provide evidence of its classic status -- see, for instance, commentary in Barbara Bader (1976) or Anita Silvey (2004).
(In case you're wondering, all of my examples use Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss because no group is doing a presentation on either Johnson or Krauss. In other words, no group gains any particular advantage from these examples.)
The group should select the two contexts that they feel most useful.
For each of your two contexts, develop a brief handout (one side of one page or two sides of one page) which you can distribute to the class as a reference to the information and insights you will provide. The handout will do five things:
- Provide the particular context.
- Apply the context to the book. If you were to read the book through this context, at what interpretation(s) might you arrive?
- What are the benefits of this approach?
- What are the limits of this approach?
- Provide an annotated bibliography of relevant secondary sources.
Students must meet with me in advance to confirm the focus of their presentation.
You will need to consult relevant resources (some on reserve, others available in the stacks or other library resources). As you can tell from these guidelines, you should plan to meet with your group at least once in advance of the presentation. When you meet with me, I may well be able to recommend some sources for your subject.
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