Philip Nel > Courses > English 725: African American Children's Literature (Spring 2014)

English 725: African American Children's Literature
Required Texts
Message Board
Schedule of Assignments
Professor Philip Nel
Office Phone: 532-2165
Office: ECS 103
Office Hours: MWF 2:00-3:20 & by appointment.
MWF 10:30 - 11:20 a.m.
EH 228
Last updated Monday, May 5, 2014

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 2010, Jerry Pinkney became the individual African American to win the Caldecott Medal. Where is African American children's literature now, and where is it going?

       ENGL 725 fulfills the Diversity overlay req. and three credits of the American Literature overlay requirement for English majors. That said, as a 700-level class, the primary audience is graduate students.  

        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.
Message Board Weekly.
Leading Class Discussion 50 See schedule.
Midterm Exam 200 In class, March 10.
Conference Paper 200 In class, April 28; abstract due April 9.
Final Exam 200 May 16, 11:50 am - 1:40pm
Total 1000  

Requirements: Papers | Response Papers | Class Participation and Attendance | Leading Class Discussion | Message Board | 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 the university's Statement Regarding Academic Honesty: "Kansas State University has an Honor 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 System. The policies and procedures of the Honor 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 system website can be reached via the following URL: . A component vital to the Honor 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 comic), 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.

        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.

       I don't know whether or not you need this advice, but Wellesley has great advice on "How to Email Your Professor."

University's Statement Regarding Students with Disabilities: "Any student with a disability who needs a classroom accommodation, access to technology, assistance during an emergency evacuation, or other assistance in this course should contact Disability Support Services and/or the instructor. DSS serves students with a wide range of disabilities including, but not limited to, physical disabilities, sensory impairments, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, depression, and anxiety." To reach Disability Support Services on the Manhattan campus, contact



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

[W] = Web. [KSOL] = K-State On-Line. [R] = On Reserve (at Hale Library).

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?
January W 22 Donald Crews, Freight Train (1978); Molly Bang, Ten, Nine, Eight (1983); Kadir Nelson, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands (2005). Note: Since it is the first day, I don't expect you to have read these books. I'll bring the books with me.
F 24 Rudine Sims Bishop, Introduction to Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature; Michelle Martin, Introduction to Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children’s Picture Books.
Abolitionist Children's Literature
M 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” [KSOL]; Eliza Cabot Follen, “Soliloquy of Ellen’s Squirrel” [W]; The Lamplighter Picturebook [KSOL].
W 29 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
  F 31 Heinrich Hoffman, Struwelpeter (1848) [R]; Helen Bannerman, Little Black Sambo (1899) [R]; Michelle Martin, Chapter 1 (“Hey, Who’s the Kid with the Green Umbrella?”) from Brown Gold. Group #1's first response paper DUE by today.
February M 3 Bernstein, Introduction and Chapter 1 from Racial Innocence.
F 7 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: Melissa Hammond & Jamie Teixeira.
Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance
M 10 W. E. B. Du Bois, Chapter 1 fromThe Souls of Black Folk (1903) [W]; Countee Cullen, "Incident" (1925) [W]; Langston Hughes, The Dream-Keeper and Other Poems (1932). Group #2's first response paper DUE by today.
  W 12 Kate Capshaw Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Introduction and Chapter 1. W. E. B. DuBois, ed., The Brownies’ Book (January 1921) [KSOL / W; scroll down to DuBois, & allow time for PDF to load].
F 14 Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 2; W. E. B. DuBois, ed., The Brownies’ Book (February 1921) [KSOL / W]. Langston Hughes, The Dream-Keeper and Other Poems (1932). Group #1's second response paper DUE by today.
M 17 Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Chapter 2. Bernstein, Racial Innocence, Chapter 4.
In the 1930s
  W 19 Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 3; Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti (1932). Leading Class Discussion: Heather Etelamaki & Sierra Hale.
F 21 Hughes and Bontemps, Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti; Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance, Chapter 5; Myra Page, "Pickets and Slippery Slicks" (illus. Lydia Gibson), from New Pioneer Story Book (1935) [KSOL].
Critical Race Theory
M 24 Michael Omi & Howard Winant, Parts One and Two from Racial Formation in the United States From the 1960s to the 1990s. Group #2's second response paper DUE by today.
W 26 Omi & Winant, Part Three and Conclusion from Racial Formation in the United States.
The Races of Mankind: Post War Anti-Racism
  F 28 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) [KSOL]; Ann Mulloy Ashmore, "From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race, and Consciousness-Raising," Children's Literature Association Quarterly 35.4 (2010) [W]. Group #1's third response paper DUE by today.
March M 3 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) [KSOL].
The Beinnings of Modern African American Children's Literature
  W 5 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]
F 7 Rudine Sims Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 4; Nancy Larrick, "The All-White World of Children's Books" (1965) [KSOL]. Ezra Jack Keats, The Snowy Day (1962); Don Freeman, Corduroy (1968) [R]. Leading Class Discussion: Joan Siopes & Laura Thacker.
M 10 Midterm Exam.
W 12 Bishop, Free Within Ourselves, Chapter 6; John Steptoe, Stevie (1969) [R]; Lucile Clifton, The Black BC's (1970) [R]; Muriel Feelings, Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Counting Book, illus. Tom Feelings (1974) [R]. Leading Class Discussion: Allan Ndoli & Laura Woner.
F 14 Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 3; Julius Lester, "High John the Conqueror," from Black Folktales, illus. Tom Feelings (1969) [R]; Muriel Feelings, Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book, illus. Tom Feelings (1971) [R].Group #2's third response paper DUE by today.
M 24 Virginia Hamilton, M.C. Higgins, the Great (1974), through Chapter 7; Bishop, Chapter 10 (through p. 205). Leading Class Discussion: Erica Morgenstern & Erica Ruscio.
W 26 Hamilton, M.C. Higgins, the Great, to end. Group #1's fourth response paper DUE by today.
  F 28 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].
  M 31 Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 6. Tom Feelings, Middle Passage (1995) [R]; Jon Oyne Lockard, Ebony Sea (1995) [R]. Leading Class Discussion: Allison Kuehne & Lindsey Hamilton.
April W 2 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).
F 4 Kadir Nelson, We Are the Ship (2007). Group #2's fourth response paper DUE by today.
M 7 Nelson, We Are the Ship.
W 9 Bring in three copies of the one-page abstract for your conference paper.
F 11 Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976), through Chapter 6.
M 14 Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, to end.
Taking Flight
W 16 Verna Aardema, Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale, illus. Leo and Diane Dillon (1976) [R]; Margaret Musgrove, Leo and Diane Dillon, Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions (1977) [R]. Leading Class Discussion: Helene Nguyen & Audrey Trowbridge.
F 18 Virginia Hamilton, And the People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, illus. Leo and Diane Dillon (1985). Group #1's fifth response paper DUE by today.
M 21 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: Cully Galloway & James Leakey.
Contemporary African American Children's Literature
W 23 Jacqueline Woodson, Locomotion (2003). Leading Class Discussion: Andi Parrish & Heather Staton.
F 25 Fred Marcellino, The Tale of Little Babaji (1996) [R]; Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney, Sam and the Tigers (1996) [R]; Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 8.
M 28 Conference Paper Due.
  W 30 Marilyn Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005); Anne Scott MacCleod, "Writing Backward: Modern Models in Historical Fiction" (1998) [W]. Group #2's fifth response paper DUE by today.
May F 2 Nelson, A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005); 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) [KSOL].
M 5 Zetta Elliott, A Wish After Midnight (2010), through Part 2, Chapter 11. Leading Class Discussion: Anne Sisley & Grace Carson.
  W 7 Elliott, A Wish After Midnight (2010), to end; Elliott, “Decolonizing the Imagination,” Horn Book (Mar.-Apr. 2010). Meet in ECS 121 for Skype conversation with the author!
F 9 Jerry Pinkney, The Lion and the Mouse (2010); Martin, Brown Gold, Chapter 9. Conclusion and Review.
F 16 Final Exam. 11:50 am - 1:40pm.

Acknowledgements: As this is my first time teaching this class, I consulted experts. 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. All failures are my own.


for English 725: African American Children's Literature

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

Philip Nel | Courses | Books | Blog | Crockett Johnson Homepage | Don DeLillo Society | Links | Self-Promotion | Site Map | FAQ
Program in Children's Literature | Department of English | Kansas State University

Please read the Disclaimer.

This page was last updated on Monday, May 5, 2014 .