Philip Nel > Courses > English 703: Critical Approaches to Literature (Spring 2009)

English 703: Critical Approaches to Children's Literature
Required Texts
Message Board
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: M 2:30-4:30 p.m.
& by appointment.
MWF 10:30- 11:20 p.m.
EH 228
Last updated Sunday, August 1, 2010

Required Texts:


       This course provides tools for advanced study of children's literature. As a 700-level class, the primary audience is graduate students. The class will focus on key texts in children's literature and key issues in treating children's literature as an academic subject.  General themes: didacticism, pleasure, nonsense, audience, genre, diversity.  Theoretical approaches to both images and text include: formalist, psychoanalytic, feminist, Marxist, historicist, and others.

        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.
Class Participation & 200 Daily.
Message Board Weekly.
Leading Class Discussion 50 See schedule.
Midterm Exam 200 In class, Mar. 9
Paper 200 In class, May 1; abstract due April 17.
Final Exam 200 Due in my office by 1:40 pm., May 12.
Total 1000  

Requirements: Paper | Response Papers | Class Participation and Attendance | Leading Class Discussion | Technology | Message Board | Assignments

       Paper: The paper 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 <>.

        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 papers. They are due the day indicated on the syllabus. 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, 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 the Message Board (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 medical 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. And turn off your cell phone.
        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.
       This syllabus is on-line, available through the "Courses" section of my homepage: <>. I have linked authors' names to relevant webpages, listed resources, and provided links to the paper assignments.

        Message Board: Post comments to the message board 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 the message board will not automatically replace participation in class discussions, regular contributions above and beyond your weekly posting can improve your class participation grade.

       Access the message board via K-State On-Line.

  1. Log in to our class on K-State On-Line.
  2. At left, choose the "Message Board."

       Email: My email address is Please use the subject line. Due to the increased volume of spam, messages without clear subject lines will be deleated unread. 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 several times daily, but I am not on-line at all times.


Schedule of Assignments
Subject to change.

[W] = Web. [CP] = Class Pack. [R] = On Reserve (at Hale Library). [PH] = Peter Hunt's Understanding Children's Literature.

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

Orality and Didacticism
January F 16 Introduction. Peter Hunt, "Introduction: the expanding world of Children's Literature Studies" (2005) [PH]; Chris Raschka, Arlene Sardine (1998). Note: I don't expect you to have these read on day 1. I'll bring Raschka with me, and my lecutre will draw upon Hunt and others.
M 19 Martin Luther King Day. No class.
W 21 "The Story of Grandmother" (n.d.); Charles Perrault, “Red Riding Hood” (1697); Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, “Little Red Cap” (1812); Bruno Bettelheim, "Little Red Riding Hood," from The Uses of Enchantment (1976) [CP]; excerpt from Jack Zipes, The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood (1993) [CP]; Yvonne Verdier, "Little Red Riding Hood in Oral Translation" (1997) [CP]
F 23 Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, “Beauty and the Beast” (1756) [CP]; Giovanni Francesco Straparola, “The Pig King" [CP]; Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, “The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich” (1812); Maria Tatar (1999) [CP]; Walter J. Ong, Chapter 3 ("Some psychodynamics of orality") from Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982) [CP]
M 26 Mary Wollestonecraft, from Moral Conversations and Stories (1788); Mitzi Myers, "Impeccable Governesses, Rational Dames, and Moral Mothers" (1986); Maria Edgeworth, "The Story of the Purple Jar" (1801); Michel Foucault, "Panopticism," from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1979) [CP]
W 28 Mary Martha Sherwood, from History of the Fairchild Family (1818) [CP]; Robert Southey, "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" (1799) [CP]; Isaac Watts, "Against Idleness and Mischief" (1715) [CP]; David Bates, "Speak Gently" (1848) [CP].
F 30 Jane Taylor, "The Star" (1806) [CP]; Isaac Watts, "The Sluggard" (1715) [CP]; Mary Howitt, "The Spider and the Fly" (1834) [CP]; Roger Lancelyn Green, "The Golden Age of Children's Books" (1962).
February M 2 Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), through Chapter 9. Leading class discussion: Heather Miller.
W 4 Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, to end; Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), through Chapter 6; Anderson & Apseloff, excerpt from Nonsense Literature for Children: Aesop to Seuss (1989) [CP].
F 6 Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, to end; Wim Tigges, "An Anatomy of Nonsense" (1987) [CP]
M 9 Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks (1965) [R]; selections from Peter and Iona Opie, I Saw Esau (1992) [CP]; Susan Stewart, excerpt from Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature (1979) [CP]; Nel, "U.S. Laureate of Nonsense: A Seussian Poetics" from Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004) [CP].
W 11 Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957); Selma G. Lanes, “Seuss for the Goose Is Seuss for the Gander” (1971) [CP]; Alison Lurie, “The Cabinet of Dr. Seuss” (1990) [CP].
F 13 Seuss, The Cat in the Hat; Betty Mensch and Allan Freeman, “Getting to Solla Sollew: The Existential Politics of Dr. Seuss” (1987) [CP]; Louis Menand, “Cat People: What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us” (2002) [CP].
Picture Books
M 16 Moebius, "Introduction to Picture Book Codes" (1986) [CP]; Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963) [R]; Bernard Waber, Ira Sleeps Over (1975) [R]; Maurice Sendak, "Calecott Medal Acceptance" (1964) [CP].
W 18 Nodelman, "Decoding the images: how picture books work" [PH]; John Burnigham, Mr. Gumpy's Outing (1970) [R]; Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji (1981) [R]; Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, Goodnight Moon (1947) [R]; Ian Falconer, Olivia (2000) [R].
F 20 Heinrich Hoffmann, "The Story of the Inky Boys" from Struwwelpeter (1845) [CP]; Helen Bannerman, Little Black Sambo (1899) [R]; Michelle Martin, "'Hey, Who's the Kid with the Green Umbrella?': A Reevaluation of Little Black Sambo and the Black-a-moor," from Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children's Picture Books, 1845-2002 (2004) [CP].
M 23 Tony Watkins, "Space, history and culture: the setting of children's literature" (2005) [PH]; Robert McCloskey, Make Way for Ducklings (1941) [R]; Virginia Lee Burton, The Little House (1942) [R]. Marcus, excerpt from A Caldecott Celebration (1998). Elleman, excerpt from Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art (2002) [CP].
W 25 Janette Sebring Lowrey, The Poky Little Puppy, illus. Gustaf Tenggren (1942) [R]; Gertrude Crampton, Scuffy the Tugboat, illus. Tibor Gergely (1946) [R]; Zohar Shavit, Ch. 3 ("The Amivalent Status of Texts") from The Poetics of Children's Literature (1986) [CP]; Julie Sinn Cassidy, "Transporting Nostalgia: Little Golden Books as Souvenirs of Childhood" (2008) [CP].
F 27 David Rudd, "Theorising and theories: How does children's literature exist?" [PH]; Anthony Browne, Voices in the Park (1998) [R].
March M 2 Jon Scieszka, "Design Matters" (Horn Book, March 1998) <> [W]; Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992) [R]; David Wiesner, The Three Pigs (2001) [R]. Leading class discussion: Claire Jackson, Mary Ast.
W 4 Ann Jonas, Round Trip (1983) [R]; Chris Van Allsburg, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984); David Macaulay, Black and White (1990) [R]; W.J.T. Mitchell "Metapictures" from Picture Theory (1994) [CP]; Philip Nel, "Keyword: Postmodernism" (2010?) [CP2].
F 6 Midterm Exam.
M 9 excerpt from Andy Runton, Owly: The Way Home (2003); excerpt from Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (1993) [CP2].
W 11 Shaun Tan, The Arrival (2006), through Part III. Leading class discussion: Chris Gaines, Diedre Mapes.
F 13 Tan, The Arrival, to end.
M 23 M.H. Abrams, "Realism" (1993) [CP2]; Felicity A. Hughes, "Children's Literature: Theory and Practice" (1978) [CP2]; Elizabeth Segal, "Children's Literature: Notes from a Historical Perspective" (1980) [CP2].
W 25 L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908), through Chapter 15; John Stephens, "Analyzing texts: linguistics and stylistics" (2005) [PH]. Leading class discussion: Jennifer Hunt, Kristina Held.
F 27 Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, through Chapter 26; Gavin White, “Falling out of the Haystack: L. M. Montgomery and Lesbian Desire” (2001) [CP2].
  M 30 Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, to end; Lissa Paul, "Feminism Revisited" [PH].
April W 1 Francesca Lia Block, Weetzie Bat (1989). Leading class discussion: Laura Roderick, Elizabeth Williams.
F 3 Block, Weetzie Bat; Jan Susina, "The Rebirth of the Postmodern Flâneur: Notes on the Postmodern Landscape of Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat" (2002) [CP2]. See also: Francesca Lia Block: Web Resources.
Psychoanalytic Approaches
M 6 Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny" (1919); Hamida Bosmaijain, "Reading the unconscious: pyschoanalytical criticism" (2005) [PH]
W 8 Neil Gaiman, Coraline (2002); Richard Gooding, “‘Something Very Old and Very Slow’: Coraline, Uncanniness, and Narrative Form” (2008) [CP2].
F 10 Gaiman, Coraline (2002); Sarah Gilead, "Magic Abjured: Closure in Children's Fantasy Fiction" (1991) [CP2]; Elizabeth Parsons, Naarah Sawers, Kate McInally, “The Other Mother: Neil Gaiman's Postfeminist Fairytales” (2008) [CP2].
M 13 No class (because I won't be here; I'll be here). Work on the abstract.
W 15 No class. Work on the abstract.
F 17 Bring in three copies of the one-page abstract for your final paper.
M 20 Marilyn Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005); Larry Siems, Vera B. Williams, Wendy Lamb, Patricia Reilly Giff, Adam Rapp, Walter Dean Myers, Christopher Paul Curtis, Joyce Carol Oates, “Dark Realities: What Can’t Be Said in Children’s Books” (2004). [CP2]
W 22 Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till; Anne Scott MacCleod, "Writing Backward: Modern Models in Historical Fiction" (1998) [CP2]; Nina Lindsay, "Packaging the Past" (1999) [CP2].
F 24 Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till; Walter Dean Myers, Monster (1999), through p. 136.
M 27 Myers, Monster (1999), to end.
W 29 Myers, Monster.
May F 1 Alison Bechdel, Fun Home (2006), through Chapter 4; Christine Wilkie-Stibbs, "Intertextuality and the Child Reader" (2005) [PH]. Paper Due.
  M 4 Bechdel, Fun Home, to end; Julia Watson, “Autographic Disclosures and Genealogies of Desire in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home” (2008) [CP2].
W 6 Bechdel, Fun Home; Ann Cvetkovich, “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home” (2008) [CP2].
  F 8 Conclusion and Review.
Tu 12 Take-Home Final Exam: Due in my office by 1:40 pm.


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