Two Hundred Years of Agentic Children: Citizenship and Belonging in/through Children’s Literature (Giuliana Fenech)


Reconsidering Romanticism (Marah Gubar)

No concept is as “regularly reviled” within childhood studies as the one that we often refer to as “the Romantic ideology of childhood innocence” (Davis). Yet the more deeply I dive into the work of contemporary Romanticists (Makdisi) and early Americanists (Owens), the more persuaded I am that the notion of a unitary and toxically static “Romantic Child” is a critical invention whose existence depends not just on ignoring how female writers represented children during this era, but also on making a dubious move that I call the Blake Exception, whereby poet-engraver William Blake’s work gets exempted out of consideration because it doesn’t fit our reductive “Romantic Child” paradigm (which seems to have been derived mainly from William Wordsworth’s over-cited Immortality Ode).

So, this seminar invites you not to bracket out Blake as a lone weirdo, but rather to zoom in on the conjoined questions of how, exactly, he conceives of innocence; what he might owe to earlier writers such as the Black poet Phillis Wheatley; and why later Black artists such as Susan Paul—a critically neglected pioneer of African American children’s literature—riff on and revise the vision of Black boyhood Blake takes care to include in his Songs of Innocence. At stake here is the possibility that childhood studies scholars could draw on the work of all of these artists to articulate a radically inclusive and egalitarian conception of innocence which we could positively advocate for, as opposed to continuing to pursue the negative project whereby we push for the wholesale rejection of a concept that evidently continues to appeal strongly to many people, including many contemporary artists of color.

Required reading list

All required course texts will be posted as pdfs on the Summer School course website.

  • William Blake, excerpts from Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789/1794), with special focus on “Infant Joy,” “Holy Thursday,” “The Little Black Boy,” and “The Chimney Sweeper”
  • Alan Richardson, “Colonialism, Race, and Lyric Irony in Blake’s ‘The Little Black Boy’” (1990)
  • Lauren Henry, “Sunshine and Shady Groves: What Blake’s ‘Little Black Boy’ Learned from African Writers” (1995)
  • Susan Paul, “The Little Blind Boy” and “Am I to Blame?” (1833)

Preparatory task for all participants

For this workshop I would like you:

1. To find one piece of art aimed at children (picture book, poem, fiction, drama, song, etcetera), preferably from your own country and in your own language, that represents young people as innocent in a way that seems surprisingly nontoxic—or even positively enabling or emancipatory—to you

2. To take some notes on what, exactly, appeals to you about the representation of innocence in that cultural artifact, so that you can offer a succinct account of what drew you to it in class

Assignment for students taking credits

Building on the work you have already done by selecting a children’s or YA text of your choice that represents innocence in a way that feels nontoxic, I invite you to revise and expand your notes explaining why you were initially drawn to that text into a brief (~700 word) written analysis of it, in which you refer to some of the ideas or materials that we discussed together in class. Did our discussion deepen your sense of appreciation for that text’s representation of innocence, or diminish it (and why)? Please email this assignment to me ( anytime up to a week after the workshop meets.

Works cited above and recommended for further reading

Recommended articles from this list will be posted as pdfs on the Summer School course website.

  • Katharine Capshaw and Anna Mae Duane, editors. Who Writes for Black Children? African American Children’s Literature Before 1900. University of Minnesota Press, 2017.
  • Robert A. Davis, “Brilliance of a Fire: Innocence, Experience and the Theory of Childhood.” Journal of Philosophy of Education (2011)
  • Elizabeth Massa Hoiem, “Radical Cross-Writing for Working Children: Toward a Bottom-Up History of Children’s Literature” (2017)
  • Saree Makdisi, William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s (2003)
  • Camille S. Owens. “‘I, Young in Life”: Phyllis Wheatley and the Invention of American Childhood” (2022)

Of jumblies and jabberwocks. The politics and poetics of Victorian Nonsense Literature (Anna Kérchy)

“It seems very pretty, ... but it’s rather hard to understand! ... Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are!” (Carroll 2001, 156) – exclaims Alice upon reading the poem “Jabberwocky” after stepping through the looking glass into a wondrous dream realm where anything can happen. Her thoughts mirror the confusion of readers who attempt to make sense of the curious genre of literary nonsense. The workshop will focus on a selection of whimsical verse by the genre’s Victorian founding fathers, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear with the aim is to explore the subversive tactics of nonsensical language games which play with the strategic destabilisations of meanings to mock interpretive conventions grounded in rational logic and to celebrate the anarchic potentials of ambiguity. Among the ambiguities, we shall explore: 1. how nonsense simultaneously foregrounds the acoustic, sonoric-somatic, transverbal ’infantile’ qualities of language, and also offers ’mature’ metalinguistic commentary on the malfunctioning of meaning-formation; 2. how nonsense image-texts (illustrations entering in conversation with the verbal narrative) conjoin the problematisation of the unspeakable and the unimaginable, 3. how nonsense reveals language both as an instrument of discipline/power and of rebellion/play; 4. how nonsense is indebted to the medieval carnivalesque tradition’s transgressive intent, fantastic extravaganza, and grotesque (de)compositions (Heyman and Shortsleeve 2011, 165), while it also enacts a satirical social criticism of specifically Victorian cultural phenomena which constitute cornerstones of 19th century British life, such as monarchic sovereignity, bourgeois etiquette, black pedagogy, scientific classification mania, or arbitrary rules of sports or grammar. The ludic politics of nonsense hold a timeless appeal for children because they systematically overturn hierarchical distinctions between sense/meaninglessness, sounds/silence, intellect/embodiment, presence/abscence, reason/madness, order/chaos, human/things, author/reader, adults/children…

Required Reading List

Edward Lear’s poems: some limericks of your choice from A Book of Nonsense + “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “The Jumblies,” “The Courtship of of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo,” “The Dong with the Luminous Nose,” “How Pleasant to know Mr Lear!” from The Jumblies, and Other Nonsense Verse

Lewis Carroll’s “The Mad Gardener’s Song” + all the poems and chapters 3,7,12 (Mad Tea Party, Caucus Race, Alice’s Evidence) from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland + all the poems and chapters 1, 6 (The Looking Glass House, Humpty Dumpty) from Through the Looking Glass.

NOTE: Make sure to consult illustrated editions. Take a look at Edward Lear’s drawings and John Tenniel’s illustrations to the 1865 and 1872 Alice editions.

Leila S May. “Language-Games and Nonsense: Wittgenstein's Reflection in Carroll's Looking-Glass,” Philosophy and Literature 31.1 (Spring 2007): 79-94.

Preparatory Tasks for all Students

1. Select an example of literary nonsense from your own national literature. (Bring a copy if possible.) Compare with Carroll’s and Lear’s Victorian nonsense text (and illustrations!), think of similarities and differences.

2. Browse through Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense and write a limerick on your own, you can also create an illustration. (

3. Find the translation of „Jabberwocky” in your own language. Examine the translator’s solutions for reproducing Carroll’s language games.

Additional Tasks for Students Taking Credits

Read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland OR Through the Looking Glass and find a visual adaptation (illustration, film, music video, ad, puppet play, ballet, etc) of the Alice-in-Wonderland theme. Write an essay of 500-700 words with a two-fold purpose: 1. examine how language is used as an instrument of discipline/power and of rebellion/play in the original literary text, 2. examine how the adaptation converts the verbal means of creating nonsensical effects into the visual medium. Submit your assignment as Word document to no later than 20 July 2023. Please use the subject heading “CL Summer School: Nonsense.”

Writing femininity in the 'new wave' of Arabic children's literature (Yasmine Motawy)

The Arab world is a 22 country bloc with a shared language and many shared cultural features. In the past two decades, Arabic children’s literature has undergone a new wave characterized by an increase in attention to book production quality, quantity of books published, prizes, reading promotion initiatives, and number of entrants to the field (Chèvre 2015, Motawy 2021). In her article “The Granddaughters of Scheherazade,” Bahia Shehab attributes this new wave to the work of women authors, illustrators, educators and publishers, reclaiming their stake in the storytelling tradition (2016). Today, alongside children’s books that present the ‘yes, girls can…. (insert: play football, achieve, do, etc)’ trope, female Arab writers are going back to traditional Arab storytelling forms in order to tell their stories. This workshop uses the award winning Arabic YA text Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands in its English translation in order to explore how the traditional, the national, and the feminine are constructed in the new wave of Arabic children’s literature (Motawy 2021).


Chèvre, Mathilde. Le poussin n’est pas un chien (The Chick is Not a Dog). Paris: Presse de L’IFPO, 2015.

Motawy, Yasmine. al-Sukun ma bayn al-Amwaj: Kutub al-Atfal al-Musawara wal-Mujtama’ al-Misri al-Mu’aser (Stillness between the waves: Egyptian Children’s Picturebooks and Contemporary Egyptian Society). Cairo: Dar El Balsam, 2021.

Motawy, Yasmine & Susanne Abou Ghaida. “Educational Concerns in Arabic Picturebooks.'' International Encyclopedia of Education (4th ed), Elsevier. 2023: 678-687.

Shehab, Bahia, “The Granddaughters of Scheherazade.”The Routledge Companion to International Children’s Literature. eds. Stephens, John, Celia Abicalil Belmiro, Alice Curry, Li Lifang, and Yasmine S. Motawy. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017.

Reading list

Sonia Nimr. Wondrous Journeys in Strange Lands. translated by Marcia Lynx-Qualey. Northampton, MA: Interlink books, 2020. 

Maya Mikdashi. “How Not to Study Gender in the Middle East.” Jadaliyya. 21 March 2012.

Preparatory task for all students

  1. Before you read the novel, write a paragraph reflecting on how you expect the female characters and gender relations to be constructed and what might the author be writing ‘against’.

  2. Annotate the novel as you read, taking special note of how the following are presented in the novel: Sexuality, citizenship, agency, normative gender practices, construction of the ‘self’, religion, social justice, politics, personal growth, etc.

  3.  After you have finished reading the novel, write a reflective paragraph.

Additional task for students taking credits

Select any YA text that depicts gender in the Arab world (examples below) and write an argument-driven 500 word essay on how the construction of gender is complicated by other concepts that you locate and find significant (eg: national struggle, racism, poverty, etc).

Email your 500 word essay by the 14th of July 2023 as a pdf, making sure to include bibliographic information on the book that you have selected to:

Locating US Empire in the History of Children's Literature (Lara Saguisag)

In How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, Daniel Immerwahr writes that “one of the truly distinctive features of the United States’ empire is how persistently ignored it has been.” Does the field of children’s literature participate in this act of forgetting? How can we center the histories and realities of US empire in the study of narratives for young people? This workshop invites participants to reflect on the ways children’s literature studies engages—or fails to engage—with past and present manifestations of US imperialism. Some considerations that we will make during the workshop include:

· How US political and economic imperialism has shaped the content, production, and distribution of children’s literature;

· How Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing and Sorell and Lessac’s We Are Still Here! depict US educational systems’ approaches to the subject of US empire;

· Comparative studies of texts produced in the US and outside the US, with a focus on their representations/critiques of US colonial/neocolonial practices;

· Key scholarship that studies children’s texts in light of US imperialism.

Required Reading List

Ribay, Randy. The Patron Saints of Nothing. Kokila, 2019.

Sorell, Traci and Frane Lessac. We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know. Charlesbridge, 2021.

Optional Reading List

Rivera, Augie and Jomike Tejido. Si Juanito, Noong Panahon ng Mga Amerikano

[Juanito, During the American Occupation]. Adarna, 2001.

Jimenez Garcia, Marilisa. “Side by Side: At the Intersection of Youth Culture, Literature and Latinx Studies.” Side by Side: US Empire, Puerto Rico, and the Roots of American Youth Literature and Culture. UP of Mississippi, 2021, pp. 3-29.

Roleau, Brian. “Juvenile Foreign Relations; or, Policy at the Level of Popular Fiction.” Empire’s Nursery: Children’s Literature and the Origins of the American Century. New York UP, 2021, pp. 1-19.

Preparatory Task

Read the preface and “Chapter XV: Strange Neighbours” of Mazy Hazleton Blanchard Wade’s Alila, Our Little Philippine Cousin (1902). How does Wade represent the Philippines and Filipinos? How does she imagine the US’s relationship with the nation it colonized? Jot down your thoughts and be prepared to share them during the workshop.

Assignment for students taking credits

500-750 word essay: Select a children’s or young adult text (in any genre or format), preferably from your country or region, that could potentially enable young readers to engage with histories and realities of US invasion, occupation, and/or expansionism. Some questions to consider: How is the US and its policies represented in this text? In what ways does the text open a space for discussing US imperialism, especially in cases when US expansionist/interventionist practices are not overtly referenced? What forms of resistance to US colonialism and imperialism are represented in the text? What are some of the text’s limitations? Was it difficult for you to find a text that pictured US imperialism? Include a short summary/description of the text as I may not be familiar with it.

Submit your assignment as a Word document to Lara Saguisag ( no later than 20 July 2023. Please use the subject heading “CL Summer School: US Empire.”

About “Back Then”: Assessing Representations of Age, Race, Class, and Gender in the Illustrations of Historical Children’s Literature (1800-1940) (Paavo Van der Eecken)