Reading for Writers …

Since relocating to Pittsburgh, I’ve been invited to teach at the MFA program at Hogwarts Chatham University.  This is a thrill, as my students will be actual creative writers of Children’s Literature!  It will also be a challenge.

The educational needs of creative writers are slightly different from those of straight academics.  The questions/vocabulary/theories that serve scholarship aren’t necessarily the ones that help a writer become better at their craft.1 The goal of this course will be to combine the reading list of an English Lit class with the vocabulary of a creative writing workshop. 

I’ll be writing pieces on this blog about each of the books that we’ll be discussing in class.2 Here’s the first half of our reading list.  You’re welcome to follow along! Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum (1900)

I’m not actually the biggest Baum fan.  His books often feel like rambling journeys where each chapter has no relation to the larger story.  The first book in his series, however, is a welcome exception.  Even better, Baum’s famous introduction to that book is a great way to start a course on the genre — it’s the Declaration of Independence of Children’s Literature. Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

One of the recurring tropes in Children’s Literature is the creation of enchanted spaces — especially ones that are controlled by children.  What better example of this than a book that manages to create such spaces without needing to resort to magic?3 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885)

Now that last year’s Huck Finn debacle seems to have blown over, it seemed like it might be fun to explore this book — one of the rare children’s literature titles that has gained full acceptance in the larger canon.  From a writing perspective, it will also provide a chance to examine the quest narrative in greater detail. and Wendy by JM Barrie (1911)

My love of this book is well documented.



’s Web by EB White (1952)

I’m actually more of a Stuart Little guy myself, but with this book recently topping the School Library Journal’s list of Top 100 Children’s Books, I thought it would be worth looking at.  One of the things I love about Charlotte’s Web is how (seemingly) effortlessly it manages to combine prosaic American farm life and talking-animal magic — with Charlotte being the nexus between those two worlds.


  1. For more on this difference, you can check out my post on poetics vs hermeneutics
  2. Some readers will remember that I blogged through the Children’s Literature course I taught last year.
  3. My one regret is that I will not have space in the course to pair this book with its natural bookend: Bridge to Terebithia

8 Comments Leave a Comment

  • So exciting! Look forward to following along, some of these books are on my children’s lit course reading list as well for this fall :) And I hadn’t verbalized it so well for myself in my head, but I think I’ve been sort of unconsciously interested in the differences in how academics and writers approach the reading of texts and the questions they are asking and such, I’m interested in both sides, so look forward to gleaning at least a bit from your posts about your class. Good luck!

  • Lucky students! I’m looking forward to the posts.

  • Chgall says:

    Excuse me if I go off topic, but I just came to know that Peter Nimble will be published here in Italy by Salani.
    I’m SO happy!!! Especially because Salani is one of the best Italian publisher.
    I love the English edition, but I can’t wait to read it in my own language.
    Bye, Enrico.

  • Hi Enrico,
    I’m thrilled to hear from an Italian reader — hope you enjoy the book in your native language!


  • Chgall says:

    I reviewed the book last year, hoping that some Italian publisher would translate it.
    I’ll spread the word to all my friends, it’s such a wonderful story.

  • Jana Gering says:

    Never thought of the connection between Secret Garden and Bridge to Terebithia, but that makes so much sense. Once when I was reading aloud with a class of seventh graders, I cried while reading near the end Bridge to Terebithia, shocking my students immensely.

    I think that was one of my greatest successes during my short tenure teaching 7th grade!

    My brother picked up Peter Nimble the other day and is loving it, so I came back to the blog to catch up. Hope you are able to publish some more new stories someday!

  • Nicky Nicholas says:

    We’re thoroughly enjoying Peter Nimble which is our class novel, in Sydney Australia, for this term! Is the best way for my students to “question the author” via this Comment section here?! – unfortunately, the podcast with Katie was distorted and unclear to hear :( We look forward to hearing from you.

  • Lisa says:

    I just wanted to say how much my son has enjoyed reading your book. He told me that he doesn’t want to finish it because it is such a good book!

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