Kids These Days Don't Read Anymore: Looking into the moral panic around child readers (Clémentine Beauvais)

In this workshop I want us to work together on elucidating some of the main reasons behind the moral panic (whether or not confirmed in reality) that 'kids these days don't read anymore'. Why is it so important to 'us' - and who, really, is 'us' - that children should or should not read? In a world where adults read very little, why is children's reading considered such an important barometer for moral and intellectual standards in society?

In this workshop I want to look at the question from several angles:

  • Child readers as objects of adult scopophilia and romanticisation
  • Child reading as resistance to 'new media' 
  • Questions of quality and quantity in 'good' reading for children
  • Childhood reading as generational self-esteem-booster 

However, I also want participants to the workshop to generate their own strands of analysis throughout the workshop and offer potentially contrasting viewpoints.

Required reading list

Beauvais, C. (2014). Children, books and the adult gaze: Looking at children reading in children’s literature. Cambridge Literary Review 8/9. 

Denby, D. (2016). Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore? The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/books-smell-like-old-people-the-decline-of-teen-reading

Grenby, M. O. (2011). 'Attitudes to Reading' in The child reader, 1700-1840. Cambridge University Press. 

Hollindale, P. (1991). The Critic and the Child. Signal, 65, 87.

Preparatory task for all participants

For this workshop I would like you:

  1. To find one news article, preferably from your own country and in your own language, that expresses anxiety at the fact that children and/ or teenagers don't read anymore, or read less than before.
  2. To analyse this article and attempt to identify on what fears it plays particularly. Is it about loss of concentration? Moral loss to society? Fear of technology? Be ready to explain this to a small group of people in your own words. 
  3. Write a small paragraph of what your own feelings might be regarding a world where 'kids don't read anymore' - what this idea triggers for you.

Assignment for students taking ECTS credits 

Students will select a children's or YA text of their choice that portrays a child reader, and submit a 500 to 700-word analysis of that portrayal, as well as of its implications for general perceptions of childhood reading. To be submitted 5 days after the workshop.

Reading with Children as Common Worlding (Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak)

As we are facing the progressing destruction of our planet as a multispecies habitat, we need to confront it not just by hoping for ecocentric, but also by noticing and cherishing small-scale possibilities for refiguring our place in the anthropogenically damaged world and by learning to live well in and with more-than-human worlds here and now (Taylor 2020). The aim of the workshop is to address this challenge by inviting the participants to follow posthumanist approaches to childhood as constituted by human and more-than-human relations (Murris 2016) and move away from the humancentric and individualistic conceptualization of the child reader. Can we instead think of the child reader as always already situated in relational entanglements and as becoming attuned to new more-than-human relationalities through reading? We will speculate about this idea relying on common worlding, a pedagogical approach that foregrounds children’s living and learning within complex and interdependent more-than-human worlds co-created by various beings, entities, and forces on earth. Our primary texts to work with will be selected stories from Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan, which draw our attention to human-animal relations in city spaces. 

Required reading

Please visit this website and read about common worlds http://commonworlds.net/common-worlds-research-collective-organizing-concepts/ 

  • Taylor, Affrica, Tatiana Zakharova, and Maureen Cullen. "Common Worlding Pedagogies: Opening Up to Learning with Worlds." Journal of Childhood Studies (Prospect Bay), 2021, pp. 74-88. 

  • Affrica Taylor (2020) Countering the conceits of the Anthropos: scaling down and researching with minor players, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 41:3, 340-358, DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2019.1583822 

If possible, please read Shaun Tan’s Tales from the Inner City. If you cannot access the whole book, please read the stories I have selected (“The Pigeons”, “The Parrot”; “The Cat”, “The Dog”, “The Butterflies”). You are welcome to bring other books that you think could be useful in our workshop.  

Preparatory task for students taking credits

Please write a 300-400-word reflection on how you would imagine collaborating with young readers on a selected texts in the framework of common worlding. Think of your primary sources, the readers’ age, your role in this collaboration, possibilities decentering the human, possible challenges in this process and its possible outcomes. Deadline: 30 June, 2023.  Send your work to justyna.deszcz-tryhubczak@uwr.edu.pl.  

Reading Characters: Why Children Read and How That Matters (Giuliana Fenech)

tba

Assembling participation: Children recommending children’s literature and culture (Macarena García-González)

Book recommendations are core to children’s literature. Books are selected and promoted according to certain values, whether aesthetic, educational, recreational, economic, or some combination of these. Since the early 21st century, recommendations are channeled with prizes and recommendations lists. In their introduction to Prizing Children's Literature: The Cultural Politics of Children's Book Awards, Kenneth Kid and Joseph T. Thomas (2017) argue that “prizing isn’t incidental but central to the creation of modern children’s literature” (5). This workshop takes a critical overview of the assumptions that haunt our literary recommendations to open the question of how they could be done differently and how children could get involved in the process. Drawing upon recent scholarship in childhood studies that invites rethinking agency as relational and entangled with more-than-human forces (see Spyrou 2019, Sparrman et al 2016, Deszcz-Tryhubczak & García-González 2022, Kraftl 2020), we will examine initiatives in which children are involved in literary prizes speculating about possible models for collaborating with children in selection and prizing.

Required reading list

Kidd, K. B., & Thomas Jr, J. T. (Eds.). (2016). “Introduction”. Prizing Children's Literature: The Cultural Politics of Children’s Book Awards. Taylor & Francis.

Sparrman, Anna, Tobias Samuelsson, Anne-Li Lindgren, and David Cardell. “The Ontological Practices of Child Culture.” Childhood 23.2 (2016): 255–271.

Optional reading list

Spyrou, S. (2019), An Ontological Turn for Childhood Studies?. Children and Society, 33: 316-323.

Kraftl, P. (2020). “Introduction: Thinking and doing after childhood”. In After Childhood (pp. 1-19). Routledge.

García-González, Macarena, and Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak. "New materialist openings to children's literature studies." International Research in Children's Literature 13.1 (2020): 45-60.

Assignment for students taking credits

Write a short reflection (700 to 900 words) about one children’s literature prize or honor list —Andersen, White Ravens, ALMA, Caldecott, or any local award— with attention to the critical approaches discussed in the workshop. Deadline: 20 July, 2023. Send your text to macarena.garciagonzalez@glasgow.ac.uk

Early Early Readers (Marah Gubar)

An eighteenth-century English mother, teacher, and poet who—struck by the dearth of literature written for very young children—penned four little volumes specially “adapted to the comprehension” of her son as he aged from two to four years old. A black American educator who rebutted racist portrayals of Africa and African Americans by crafting 1930s textbooks that encouraged black schoolchildren to feel proud of their history and heritage. And a white teacher who reacted against the irrelevance of U.S. government-issued reading materials at a residential school for Native Americans by inviting her Pueblo pupils to make their own handmade primers, even as she channeled their sayings and doings into a 1941 picture book “for and about them.”

In all three of these cases, interacting with a particular child or group of children prompted a teacher to turn author, so as to supply her pupils with more appealing and apposite reading materials. Formally and structurally, what do these texts have in common, and how do they differ from one another? Did actual child readers play a more pivotal role in the rise of the subgenre children’s literature scholars call “Early Readers” than we typically acknowledge? And finally, could focusing on the work of such student-oriented teachers-turned-authors help us to resist a longstanding scholarly habit of denigrating overtly didactic texts, without ignoring the issues that arise when even the most well-meaning adults speak and write “for” children?

Required reading list

All required course texts will be posted as pdfs on Blackboard.

· Anna Letitia Barbauld, excerpts from Lessons for Children (1787-1788; rev. ed. 1842)

· Helen Adele Whiting, excerpts from Negro Art, Music, and Rhyme for Young Folks (1938), illustrated by Lois Mailou Jones

· Ann Nolan Clark, In My Mother’s House (1941), illustrated by Velino Herrera

Preparatory task for all participants

As you read these three texts, jot down some notes about how each of them attempts to echo but also edify child readers: to engage them as they are, but also socialize and shape them.

Assignment for students taking credits

Building on the notes you’ve taken prior to class and our in-class conversation, pick out a page, passage, or picture in one of the required readings, and do a short close reading of it (~700 words) in which you explain why you find this particular moment so puzzling, or problematic, or brilliantly beautiful, or representative of some larger theme or dynamic in the text. Please email this assignment to me (gubar@mit.edu) anytime up to a week after the workshop meets.

Recommended critical readings

· Rebecca C. Benes, Native American Picture Books of Change (2004), especially Chapter 2: Picture Books of Pueblo Life

· Katharine Capshaw, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (2006), especially Chapter 4: The Peacemakers: Carter G. Woodson’s Circle

· Jessica Wen Hui Lim, “Barbauld’s Lessons: The Conversational Primer in Late Eighteenth-Century British Children’s Literature.” British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 43.1 (2020): 101-120.

· William McCarthy, “Mother of all Discourses: Anna Barbauld’s Lessons for Children.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 60.2 (1999): 196-219.

What do children know about Children’s Literature? Intergenerational reading and writing in school classrooms (Eve Tandoi)

In this workshop I want to work with you to explore the opportunities reading children’s fiction in school classrooms might offer for intergenerational reading. The first half of the workshop will revolve around disentangling the complex dynamics of classroom talk with the help of insights from Childhood Studies and Philosophy of Education. Once we have a better understanding of the context within which reading and responding to children’s fiction might happen, we shall move on to analysing children’s responses to a middle-grade novel and considering that child-authored texts might play in the study of Children’s Literature.

Required Reading list

Balen, K. (2022) October October. Bloomsbury Children’s Book.

Spyrou, S., Rosen, R. and Cook, D. (2018) “Reimagining Childhood Studies: Connectivities… Relationalities… Linkages…” S. In Reimagining Childhood Studies. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 1-22.

Wegeriff, R. (2008) “Dialogic or Dialectic? The significance of ontological assumptions in research on educational dialogue.” British Educational Research Journal 34(3) pp. 347-361.


Preparatory task for all participants

For this workshop I would like you:

1.     To read Katya Balen’s novel, October October and analyse it using the critical lens or lenses you use in your research. For example, you might want to approach it from an ecocritical perspective or a postcolonial one.

2.     Write a small paragraph that summarises key points of your analysis and be ready to share this with a small group during the workshop.


Assignment for students taking credits

Students should submit 500-700 words of critical reflect on the impact that children’s written responses to Katya Balen’s October October have had on their understanding of the novel.