A Nod to Childhood: The Magic of Children’s Literature
Children’s literature may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a college curriculum, but it should be. At Clemson University, the English department gives students the opportunity to choose from a myriad of courses and luckily they have ones that focus on children’s literature and adolescent literature. Both of these courses take a look at different authors, genres and illustrators that are typically used in classes ranging from preschool to eighth grade. Megan MacAlystre teaches the Children’s Literature course and Hannah Godwin instructs the Adolescent Literature course at Clemson University.
An undergraduate psychology major with a double minor in English and visual arts, Britt Blevins talked with me about the incredible life lessons she learned through her time in these children’s and adolescent literature classes. According to Blevins, these courses streamline a way of thinking about current issues through the readings of young adult novels and children’s short stories. The courses use novels that would typically be targeted at younger audiences to gain new perspectives on social issues.
By reading books that would be read by younger generations, the students get to see how social issues and current events are being taught to these children and young adults. The pieces they read are quite evolved in the sense that they are very inclusive. The characters and ideas discussed in the pieces they analyze are diverse. They range from gender fluid characters to characters dealing with the trials of immigration. An important topic they studied through the novels was identity. For instance, within the eco-gothic section of the adolescent course, a book they read included characters that used the pronouns they/them. This inclusion is so important because it creates a space for young adults who are on the path to finding themselves. For young people who may not see themselves typically represented in media, books that have characters like them can make the path to finding their identity less stressful.
Within the children’s literature course that Blevins took with Senior Lecturer Megan MacAlystre, the class had the opportunity to read about topics like immigration. One book that resonated with Blevins was titled “Dreamers” by Yuyi Morales. The book describes the life of Yuri and her expedition to America from Mexico with her son. It is a story that depicts the struggles of being an immigrant while also describing the beauty of the journey they had. Blevins noted how not only the written story, but the visuals left a lasting impression on her. Considering her work with visual arts as well as English, this story is one that she will always remember. She discusses the importance of children’s novels in how they help shape the perspective of children in their formative years. Blevins expresses how novels are contributing to the development of children these days.
“It is written in such a way that children can read it and understand it and develop a compassion and empathy that I didn’t have before this.” The course brings topics that are thankfully now being taught to children and sharing them with adults in college, encouraging them to think outside of the box and question the way they view things at their own age.
These courses are so valuable for not only English students but students from all majors. What better way to learn about the world than through beautiful children’s books that make us think like a child again. When faced with these global topics, children’s novels are there to help us navigate them and the world around us. They take us back and allow us to think from a human perspective once more.
Rebecca Glenn, a graduate student pursuing an MA in English weighed in on her experience with the children’s literature course she took and the professor she had. During her undergraduate time at Clemson, Glenn took both the Children’s Literature and the Adolescent Literature course. Her professor for the Children’s literature course was MacAlystre and she described her classes as always being a treat. Rebecca Glenn took the children’s literature course at the same time as Blevins, therefore studying the topics of immigration and migration as well.
She noted, “no two semesters will share the exact same course experience; there is always something… different to learn.” Glenn described the course as one that ebbs and flows, considering the astounding amount of new novels and stories written for children and adolescents.
Novels and short stories were not the only items studied in the courses. The students also analyzed movies, commercials, picture books and even board games! One movie that Glenn loved analyzing during the course was the film Moana. She enjoyed the ability for her and her classmates to not only watch a film, but to analyze it and compare it to real world situations like immigration and migration.
According to Glenn, she always felt welcomed and comfortable in the classroom. The environment that MacAlystre creates is one that pushes students to really think about the works they consume. It is a class that creates value through collaboration and listening. Glenn plans to teach in the future and is ecstatic that she gets to incorporate what she learned and felt in MacAlystre’s children’s literature class into her own classroom.
If you are interested in taking one of these classes, the titles are ENGL 3850 and ENGL 3860. To learn more, please reach out to Megan MacAlystre and Hannah Godwin. Children’s literature is a fascinating subject to analyze and a great way to awaken the inner child in you.
Written by: Katie Mann