Monday, June 18, 2012

Genres in Children's Literature, LaTrobe University, Lecture 1: Introduction Lecture and Lecture 2: Traditional/Modernist Picture Books

Genres in Children's Literature is a course taught by David Beagley at Australia's La Trobe University. Lectures from the Spring 2012 semester are available for download on iTunes U. As I listen to the lectures, I am recording my reflections and responses here on my blog. This post focuses on Lecture 1: Introduction Lecture and Lecture 2: Traditional/Modernist Picture Books.
In the first lecture, David Beagley, the instructor, laid the groundwork for the entire course by discussing the differences between adult literature and children’s literature, and emphasizing the importance of respecting books for children as literature worth studying critically. From this lecture, I took away a lot of food for thought.

The idea that struck me the most was Beagley’s assertion that the best children’s books give the child respect as a reader by accepting that the child can feel, and that his or her feelings are valid. He pointed out that great children’s books don’t tell the reader what to feel, but rather present the story and allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. As a librarian, I spend a lot of time in the stacks with parents, trying to find the books they want their kids to read, because the parents have an agenda. They want their kids’ books to be educational and edifying and to focus on only those feelings and concepts they themselves are comfortable with. As a reviewer on this blog, I have a tendency to favor those parental concerns, often pointing out bad language or grammar, or sexual content to caution sensitive parents who might object to that type of reading material. I also consider kid appeal a lot of the time, focusing on whether I think kids will enjoy a book or not. But I have never truly considered whether a book actually respects its reader. This is something I’ll have in mind when I’m reading from now on.

The second lecture went on to describe picture books, the first format the course covers. I’d heard some of it before in library school, especially when it comes to the role of illustrations in picture books, but Beagley mentioned other concepts I’d never really considered. I especially liked his comment that children will read books from their own perspectives, and that two readers may not take away the same things from the same book. It sounds pretty logical that this would be true, but I think it’s easy for people who read books critically to get caught up in the notion of a “right” or “wrong” reading. I think adults are even more likely to get caught up in that when we’re thinking about children’s books, because we, like the parents I mentioned, have an agenda in mind for kids’ reading. We want them to get the “right” things out of it. But Beagley pointed out that the reader must contribute something to the experience of a picture book, and I like thinking about the many different ways kids might interpret the various books I read to them in story time. It makes me want to start asking them more questions so they engage more with the story and rely less on my guidance.

Want to listen along? Click here. Read about David Beagley here. Read my previous lecture responses here.
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