Class Is in Session: Part Two

Taking a break from so much drawing to share with you readers the second half of our syllabus list.  For those new to the site, my wife Mary and I are currently co-teaching a children’s literature course.  A few months back, I posted the first half of the reading list, which took students up to the midterm.  The books in the first half of the class were meant to give students a grounding in the basic idea behind children’s literature — where it came from and how it evolved into the genre we know and love today.

For this second half of the class, we’re broadening the scope to include some YA titles.  Instead of listing the reading date for the class, I’ll be listen when I plan to post on said book.  Let’s dive in!

Lord of the Flies
by William Golding (1954)

After subjecting our students to a fairly rigorous1 midterm, we gave them a week to kick back and watch Peter Brook’s 1963 very good movie adaptation of Lord of the Flies.  I opted for the movie because (a) everyone with a high school diploma has already read this book2 and (b) we didn’t have time.  Still, it’s an important book for this course because it acts as a bridge between The Coral Island and the next novel on our syllabus …

 

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The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier (1974)

Cormier enjoys a place beside Judy Blume as one of the most challenged authors of All Time.  Like Lord of the Flies, this book functions as a critique of the idea that communities of adolescent boys are anything short of monstrous.  Unlike Golding, however, Cormier is kind enough to give readers a striking and memorable hero who stands out from the other — the indomitable Jerry Renault.

Blog Post Date: April 7

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Matilda
by Roald Dahl (1988)

Some of you may know that Roald Dahl is my very favorite children’s author.  And this was Dahl’s very favorite book.  That alone is excuse enough to include it on this reading list.  Fortunately, Matilda also fits with our ongoing theme of child-communities.  While this fantastical revenge story about a psychic bookworm is not nearly so grim as The Chocolate War, I do think the books are in conversation with each other — Dahl’s Crunchem Hall is every bit as dangerous and depraved as Robert Cormier’s Trinity.

Blog Post Date: April 12

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So Many Picture Books!
by ???? (????)

For this class, Mary will be giving a lecture on the history of the picture book.  All I have to do is sit back and marvel at how lovely she is.  Students will also bring in their own picture books from home and discuss them in groups.

Blog Post Date: April 19

 

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Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta (2006)

This book was first published in Australia in 2006. A few years later, the rest of the world picked it up and promptly freaked out.  The story takes place in a sort of heightened world that is all but completely dominated by adolescents.3  Mary had a colleague recommend Jellicoe last year; she read the book and promptly declared that she wanted to teach a course connecting Marchetta’s novel to Peter Pan.  Looks like she’ll get her chance.

Blog Post Date: May 3

 

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Elijah of Buxton
by Christopher Paul Curtis (2007)

Curtis is truly rare in his ability to make historical fiction both powerful and funny.  Given our course’s theme (communities in children’s literature), Elijah was  a natural choice.  The story takes place in the real-life Canadian town of Buxton, which was an organized black settlement during the  American Civil War.  It follows an eleven year-old boy (Elijah) who ventures out of the safety of his community to help a friend.  If you haven’t read any of Curtis’ excellent books, I advise you to use this as your excuse!

Blog Post Date: May 10


So that’s it for the course!  Read along if you can!  Also, for those interested, below are some links to previous posts from the first half of the semester:

Little Goody Two-Shoes (published) by John Newbery

The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (I actually devoted an entire week to this one book)

Winnie-the-Pooh and Charlotte’s Web by A.A. Milne and E.B. White (respectively)


  1. I’m a big believer in the idea that we learn more from hard-won failure than from easy-won success.  In fact, I’d say one of the primary functions of college is in creating a space where it is safe to fail.  For that reason, I tend to make tests incredibly difficult and then grade on a curve.
  2. You doubt me on this? I defy you to Google “Lord of the Flies” and find one measly link that isn’t a study guide or essay-for-sale. Can’t be done.
  3. Every description I’ve read puts me in mind of Rian Johnson’s movie Brick.

5 Comments Leave a Comment

  • alex says:

    looks like i have some new books to read! also, matilda is my favorite dahl book, and the one that i read over and over again in elementary school. i think this novel (along with dahl’s the wonderful story of henry sugar and six more) really encouraged me in my “power of the mind” experiments (i.e. trying to move things with my mind; trying to read through cards, etc.). by the way, these experiments have not stopped. the other day, i actively and self-consciously tried to move a pen on my desk…with my mind. one day, i just know it, it will work.

  • I recall reading a while back that MATILDA is the only Dahl book that Dahl didn’t hate. Also, I *love* HENRY SUGAR — both “The Swan” and “The Hitch-Hiker” had a profound impact on my life and writing. (The latter story even provided inspiration for the title of my novel!)

  • kbryna says:

    Jellicoe Road absolutely knocked me dead. I read it – last spring, maybe? And I was just riveted. It’s one of the few books that struck me so intensely, and so emotionally, that I can’t really think about it critically. Not yet, anyway. Pairing it with Peter Pan is interesting. I’m curious to see how that works out.

    Matilda is one of the few children’s books I very clearly remember reading AS a child, when it came out. And I love it. The early chapters about reading are gorgeous – especially the end of the second or third chapter, when Matilda sits in her room and reads with her cup of bovril or cocoa. That’s one of my favorite passages about reading, ever.

    HENRY SUGAR! I read that as a kid, also; no one ever seems to know that title. “The Swan” freaked me out very badly; even now I can’t really read it. I love the story of Henry Sugar. And I love “The Hitchhiker,” which has entered MY personal vocabulary in the form of ” ‘od carrier,” which I always think of when I think of unlikely or ridiculous or fictitious jobs.

    Some day, when I gather up enough courage, I’m going to ask you about your novel.

  • Moncler says:

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