Philip Nel > Courses > English 695: African American Children's Literature (Fall 2015)

English 695: African American Children's Literature
Required Texts
Message Board
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: W 1:00-2:20 & by appointment.
T & Th 3:55 - 5:10 p.m.
ECS 017
Last updated Friday, December 4, 2015

Required Texts:



       Examining children's literature from the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries, the course asks: How do we define African American Children's Literature? On what is the African American-ness predicated? (The author's cultural background? Specific literary or cultural traditions within the text? If the "-ness" depends on the book representing "the Black experience," how might we define that experience?) How does the publishing industry shape the field of African American Children's Literature? (Why so much realism and historical fiction and so little fantasy, science fiction, and graphic novels?) Finally, how has African American children's literature developed? In 1932, Langston Hughes wrote that overcoming a "racial inferiority complex" was "one of the greatest tasks of the teachers" of black children; in 1965, Nancy Larrick lamented "the All-White World of Children's Books"; in 2014, Ellen Oh, Malinda Lo, and Aisha Saeed launched the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Where is African American children's literature now, and where is it going?

       ENGL 695 fulfills the Diversity overlay requirement and three credits of the American Literature overlay requirement for English majors. It includes both undergraduate and graduate students, though is more geared to the latter.  

        In this class, education will not be a passive experience: I expect discussion, debate, and exchanges of ideas. This requires that you not only be present but that you be an active presence.

  Points Due
Response Papers 150 Roughly very other week, day reading is due. See schedule for "due by" dates.
Class Participation & 200 Daily.
Discussions (Canvas) Weekly.
Leading Class Discussion 50 See schedule.
Midterm Exam 200 In class, October 8.
Conference Paper 200 In my mailbox by 5 pm, December 4; abstract due in class November 5.
Final Exam 200 In classroom, Dec 15, 2:00 - 3:50pm.
Total 1000  

Requirements: Papers | Response Papers | Class Participation and Attendance | Leading Class Discussion | Discussions (Canvas) | Assignments

       Paper: The papers must be typed (word-processed) and double-spaced; include a title, your name, the date; and have numbered pages that are stapled together. Late papers will be penalized one grade (e.g., B+ to C+) for each day late.
        Sources: Use the MLA method for documenting sources. Don't plagiarize. When you turn in a paper, you pledge that you have faithfully abided by the guidelines for documenting sources -- most grammar handbooks provide guidelines for documentation. Remember: You must cite the sources of any ideas that are not your own. If you quote, paraphrase, or use another's ideas, you must give credit to the person whose ideas you are using. If you have questions, please ask. If you plagiarize, you will automatically fail this course. For more information on Kansas State University's Honor System, please visit <>. Here is Kansas State University's Statement Regarding Academic Honesty:
        Kansas State University has an Honor and Integrity System based on personal integrity, which is presumed to be sufficient assurance that, in academic matters, one's work is performed honestly and without unauthorized assistance. Undergraduate and graduate students, by registration, acknowledge the jurisdiction of the Honor and Integrity System. The policies and procedures of the Honor and Integrity System apply to all full and part-time students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate courses on-campus, off-campus, and via distance learning. The Honor and Integrity System website can be reached via the following URL: A component vital to the Honor and Integrity System is the inclusion of the Honor Pledge which applies to all assignments, examinations, or other course work undertaken by students. The Honor Pledge is implied, whether or not it is stated: "On my honor, as a student, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this academic work." A grade of XF can result from a breach of academic honesty. The F indicates failure in the course; the X indicates the reason is an Honor Pledge violation.
        Response Papers: You will also write five response papers (2 pp. in length) in response to our readings. Response papers are designed to ready you for class discussion and to explore ideas you could develop further in your longer paper. They are due the day indicated on the syllabus (on the first day, you signed up to be in either Group 1 or Group 2). Whatever day you turn it in, a response paper must always address the reading for that day. In your response paper, you should not repeat previous class discussions or provide a mere summary of the reading. Instead, your response should begin to analyze the reading assigned for that class session, selecting an issue or theme or question you feel to be significant. I recommend that you select a word, phrase, image, two-page spread (if a picture book), or short quotation from the reading to initiate your response. That selection can be from the criticism or from a literary text; you might even apply the criticism to the literary text. Responses will be graded on a 30-point scale: 30-27=A, 26-24=B, 23-21=C, 20-18=D, <17=F. I do not accept late response papers.
        Class Participation and Attendance: Read everything, and come to class prepared to talk about what you have read. On the first day of discussion for each assignment, you must have finished the reading and be ready to discuss it. "The reading" is all the text assigned for that day. We make sense of literature by discussing it. For this reason, class participation will count for 20% of your final grade. Discussion will take place both in class and out of it, via Discussions (explained below). I reserve the right to assign homework or in-class writing projects that are not listed on the syllabus.
        Class attendance is required. Since the class meets three times a week, you are granted three absences, but more than three will lower your final grade by one increment for each absence (e.g., B+ would become B). I appreciate your offering explanations for absences; however, the only way to excuse an absence is to provide me with an official letter from the dean. You cannot earn credit for work missed in class. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to discover what went on that day. "I didn't know because I wasn't in class" is never an acceptable excuse.
        If you have a documented reason for doing so, you may (if you provide documentation to me at the start of the term) use a portable computer for taking notes in class -- but that's all you may use it for. If you lack such a reason, then you must put your laptop away during class. Similarly, out of common courtesy, you may not text-message during class. Set your cell phone to vibrate or, better, turn it off.
        Leading Class Discussion:
       Students will sign up in pairs to initiate discussion for one of our class sessions. Questions for class discussion (4-5 in number) should highlight issues or themes or queries you think we should address in our class discussion of the reading assigned for that day. After conferring about and drafting the questions, groups leading discussion should email me their questions by 7 p.m. the night before; I will confirm receipt and offer any suggestions for the order or focus of the questions.
        Discussions (Canvas' message board): Post comments to Canvas' Discussions once a week (or more frequently, if you wish). An average posting should run one or two paragraphs in length. In other words, your postings do not need to be long, but they must be substantive -- long enough to convey clearly the problem you are taking up and your point of view, connecting your comment to others' comments, as appropriate. I will monitor these Discussions and asses a grade (at the end of the semester) based on the thoughtfulness of your comments, their ability to foster discussion among your classmates, and their responsiveness to both our readings and to your classmates in comments on the message board. Though extra postings to a Discussions thread will not automatically replace participation in class discussions, regular contributions above and beyond your weekly posting can improve your class participation grade.
       Access Discussions via Canvas.
  1. Log in to our class on Canvas.
  2. At left, choose "Discussions."
       Email: My email address is Please use the subject line. Due to the sheer volume of email I receive, messages without clear subject lines may not get a response. You can write with questions, send a thesis statement or outline for an essay, make an appointment to meet me in my office, or do anything else that could be handled with a quick exchange of messages. I check email regularly, but I am not on-line at all times.
       I don't know whether or not you need this advice, but Wellesley has great advice on "How to Email Your Professor."
Kansas State University's Statement Regarding Students with Disabilities:

Students with disabilities who need classroom accommodations, access to technology, or information about emergency building/campus evacuation processes should contact the Student Access Center and/or their instructor.  Services are available to students with a wide range of disabilities including, but not limited to, physical disabilities, medical conditions, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, depression, and anxiety.  If you are a student enrolled in campus/online courses through the Manhattan or Olathe campuses, contact the Student Access Center at, 785-532-6441; for Salina campus, contact the Academic and Career Advising Center at, 785-826-2649.

Kansas State University's Statement Defining Expectations for Classroom Conduct:

All student activities in the University, including this course, are governed by the Student Judicial Conduct Code as outlined in the Student Governing Association By Laws, Article V, Section 3, number 2. Students who engage in behavior that disrupts the learning environment may be asked to leave the class.

Kansas State University's Academic Freedom Statement:

Kansas State University is a community of students, faculty, and staff who work together to discover new knowledge, create new ideas, and share the results of their scholarly inquiry with the wider public. Although new ideas or research results may be controversial or challenge established views, the health and growth of any society requires frank intellectual exchange. Academic freedom protects this type of free exchange and is thus essential to any university's mission.

Moreover, academic freedom supports collaborative work in the pursuit of truth and the dissemination of knowledge in an environment of inquiry, respectful debate, and professionalism. Academic freedom is not limited to the classroom or to scientific and scholarly research, but extends to the life of the university as well as to larger social and political questions. It is the right and responsibility of the university community to engage with such issues.


Schedule of Assignments
Subject to change, revision, & (I hope) improvement.

[C] = Canvas (in Modules). [R] = On Reserve (at Hale Library). [W] = Web.

Note: "through" means "to the end of" (not "up to"). Page numbers refer to the editions assigned.

Introduction: What Is African American Children's Literature?
August T 25 Donald Crews, Freight Train (1978); Molly Bang, Ten, Nine, Eight (1983); Kadir Nelson, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands (2005); Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail, One Word from Sophia (2015). Note: Since it is the first day, I don't expect you to have read these books. I'll bring the books with me. I would, however, like you to read Rudine Sims Bishop's Introduction to Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature, and Michelle Martin's Introduction to Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children’s Picture Books [C].
Abolitionist Children's Literature
  Th 27 Rudine Sims Bishop, Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature, Chapter 1; Brigitte Nicole Fielder, “Animal Humanism: Race, Species, and Affective Kinship in Nineteenth-Century Abolitionism,” American Quarterly 65.3 (2013); Ann Preston, “Tom and Lucy: A Tale for Little Lizzie” & “Howard and His Squirrel” [C]; Eliza Cabot Follen, “Soliloquy of Ellen’s Squirrel” [W]; The Lamplighter Picturebook [C].
September T 1 U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2, paragraph 3; History of Dred Scott; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Chapters 4, 20, and 25 from Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), plus illustrations from each of these three chapters [all W]; Bernstein, Chapter 3 from Racial Innocence.
"Innocent" Beginnings
  Th 3 Robin Diangelo, "White Fragility" (2011) [W]; Heinrich Hoffman, "The Story of the Inky Boys" from Struwelpeter (1848) [W]; Helen Bannerman, Little Black Sambo (1899) [R]; Michelle Martin, Chapter 1 (“Hey, Who’s the Kid with the Green Umbrella?”) from Brown Gold; Fred Marcellino, The Story of Little Babaji (1996) [R]; Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney, Sam and the Tigers (1996) [R]. Group #1's first response paper DUE by today.
  T 8 Bernstein, Introduction and Chapter 1 from Racial Innocence. Joel Chandler Harris, "Introduction," "Uncle Remus initiates the Little Boy," and "The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story" from Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings (1880) [W]; Julius Lester, "Introduction" (by Augusta Baker), "Brer Rabbit comes to Dinner," and "Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby," from The Tales of Uncle Remus (1987) [C]. Recomended resources (peruse these): "Uncle Remus and the Tar Baby" [W]. Leading Class Discussion: Jonathan Blake & Becca Rowe.
  Th 10 U.S. Supreme Court, Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) [W]; Bernstein, Chapter 2 from Racial Innocence; Helen Bannerman, Little Black Sambo (1899) [R]; E. W. Kemble, A Coon Alphabet (1898) [W]. Leading Class Discussion: Adena Weiser & Abby Kopp.
Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance
  T 15 W. E. B. Du Bois, Chapter 1 from The Souls of Black Folk (1903) [W]; Countee Cullen, "Incident" (1925) [W]; W. E. B. DuBois and Jessie Fauset, eds., The Brownies’ Book (January 1920) [C / W; scroll down to Du Bois, & allow time for PDF to load]; Kate Capshaw Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Introduction and Chapter 1. Group #2's first response paper DUE by today.
  Th 17 W. E. B. Du Bois and Jessie Fauset, eds., The Brownies’ Book (February 1920) [C / W]; Langston Hughes, The Dream-Keeper and Other Poems (1932); Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 2. Group #1's second response paper DUE by today.
  T 22 Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Chapter 2. Bernstein, Racial Innocence, Chapter 4.
  Th 24 Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 3; Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti (1932); Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Chapter 5. Leading Class Discussion: Chris Comer & Meredith Clark.
Critical Race Theory
  T 29 Michael Omi & Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960s to the 1990s, through Chapter 5. Group #2's second response paper DUE by today.
October Th 1 Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, "Introduction" & "Of Rouges and Geldings" from Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life [C]; Omi & Winant, Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960s to the 1990s, Chapters 6 & 7. Group #1's third response paper DUE by today.
The Races of Mankind: Post War Anti-Racism
  M 5 Recommended: Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, McCain Auditorium, 2:45pm
  T 6 Margret and H.A. Rey, Spotty (1945) [R], Curious George (1941), and Curious George Takes a Job (1947), June Cummins, "The Resisting Monkey: 'Curious George,' Slave Captivity Narratives, and the Postcolonial Condition," ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 28.1 (Jan. 1997) [C]; Ann Mulloy Ashmore, "From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race, and Consciousness-Raising," Children's Literature Association Quarterly 35.4 (2010) [W].
  Th 8 Midterm Exam.
  T 13 Ruth Benedict, Gene Weltfish, & UPA, In Henry's Backyard: The Races of Mankind (1948); Hildegarde Hoyt Swift and Lynd Ward, North Star Shining: A Pictorial History of the American Negro (1947) [both R]. Lorraine and Jerrold Beim, Two Is a Team (1945) [C]. Leading Class Discussion: Kaitlin Downing & Lauren Rowe.
  W 14 Recommended: Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore, McCain Auditorium, 7-8 pm.
The Beinnings of Modern African American Children's Literature
  Th 15 Langston Hughes, "A Little Boy in a Big City," from The First Book of Negroes, illus. Ursula Koering (1952) [KSOL]; Langston Hughes, First Book of Jazz (1955) [R]; Langston Hughes, First Book of Africa (1960) [R]. Rudine Sims Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 4; Nancy Larrick, "The All-White World of Children's Books" (1965) [C]. Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day (1962); Don Freeman, Corduroy (1968) [R]; John Steptoe, Stevie (1969) [R]. Group #2's third response paper DUE by today.
  T 20 Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 3; Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 6; Julius Lester, "High John the Conqueror," from Black Folktales, illus. Tom Feelings (1969) [R]; Lucile Clifton, The Black BC's (1970) [R]; Muriel Feelings, Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book, illus. Tom Feelings (1971) [R]; Muriel Feelings, Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Counting Book, illus. Tom Feelings (1974) [R]. Leading Class Discussion: Niki Bernett & Roxana Loza.
  Th 22 Please GO TO ALUMNI CENTER for a talk by Christopher Myers: "Please Disagree with Me: The Need for The Need for Disagreement in Debates about Literature for Young People." 4pm, Alumni Center, Purple Pride Room (3rd floor).
  T 27 Bernstein, Chapter 5 from Racial Innocence. Carolivia Herron and Joe Cepeda, Nappy Hair (1988) [R]; Ysaye M. Barnwell and Synthia Saint James, No Mirrors in My Nana's House (1998) [R]; Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 6. Tom Feelings, Middle Passage (1995) [R]; Jon Oyne Lockard, Ebony Sea (1995) [R]. Leading Class Discussion: Maria Ruiz & Allyson Koziol. Group #1's fourth response paper DUE by today.
  Th 29 Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 12; Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier, Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (2001) [R]; Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down (2010) [R]; Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), through Chapter 3. Group #2's fourth response paper DUE by today.
November T 3 Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, to end. Leading Class Discussion: Kristen Hermreck & Gloria Mills.
  Th 5 Bring in three copies of the one-page abstract for your conference paper.
  T 10 Walter Dean Myers, Monster (1999), through p. 151; Michelle Alexander, excerpt from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [C]; Franzek & Noll, "Monstrous Acts: Problematizing Violence in Young Adult Literature" [C]. Leading Class Discussion: Kynsey Creel & Emily Allan.
  Th 12 Myers, Monster, to end; Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Letter to My Son" [excerpt from Between the World and Me], The Atlantic (4 July 2015). Group #1's fifth response paper DUE by today.
Taking Flight
  T 17 Virginia Hamilton, M.C. Higgins, the Great (1974); Bishop, Chapter 10 (through p. 205). Group #2's fifth response paper DUE by today.
  Th 19 Verna Aardema, Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale, illus. Leo and Diane Dillon (1976) [R]; Virginia Hamilton, And the People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, illus. Leo and Diane Dillon (1985); Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach (1991); Christopher Myers, Wings (2000) [R]; Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers, Harlem (1997) [R]; Bryan Collier, Uptown (2000) [R]; Bishop, Chapter 10 (pp. 205-211). Leading Class Discussion: Tiffany Addams & Johanna Brockhoff.
  T 24 University Holiday
  Th 26 Thanksgiving
Contemporary African American Children's Literature
December T 1 Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (2014). Leading Class Discussion: Haley Lively & Courtney Flanery.
  Th 3 Marilyn Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005); Anne Scott MacCleod, "Writing Backward: Modern Models in Historical Fiction" (1998) [W]; Karen Chandler, "Preserving 'that Racial Memory': Figurative Language, Sonnet Sequence, and the Work of Remembrance in Marilyn Nelson's A Wreath for Emmett Till," Southern Quarterly 45.4 (2008) [C]. Leading Class Discussion: Melanie Dunlap & Brittany Roberts.
  F 4 Conference Paper Due in my mailbox by 5 pm.
  T 8 Zetta Elliott, A Wish After Midnight (2010). Elliott, “Decolonizing the Imagination,” Horn Book (Mar.-Apr. 2010). Leading Class Discussion: Kasey Criser & Oliva Swalley.
  Th 10 Jerry Pinkney, The Lion and the Mouse (2010); Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 9. Conclusion and Review.
  T 15 Final Exam. 2:00 - 3:50pm.

Acknowledgements: This is my second time teaching this class, but I want to acknowledge the experts I consulted in creating the first version (to which this syllabus still bears a strong resemblance). Hearty thanks to Kate Capshaw, Gerald Early, Brigitte Fielder, Cameron Leader-Picone, Michelle Martin, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. I attribute any successes in this syllabus to them.


for English 695: African American Children's Literature

  • Further Reading
    • Graff and Birkenstein, "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (2006)
Black Lives Matter

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This page was last updated on Friday, December 4, 2015 .

Friday, December 4, 2015