Children’s Literature and Emergent Genealogies of Resistance
Thu, November 8, 10:00 to 11:45am, Westin Peachtree, Sixth, Chastain 2
In the 1980s, multiculturalism became the dominant paradigm in American education for representing difference and transmitting a message of equality. Television programs like Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow and a flood of multiethnic children’s books attempted to represent a range of identities and experiences. Since the 1980s, this approach has come under meaningful scrutiny. When it overlooks structural inequities, multiculturalism glosses over children’s lived experiences of vulnerability and violence, inadvertently reproducing the racial bias it was designed to lessen or eliminate. Current research demonstrates the importance of anti-racist education in the classroom, and grassroots movements like We Need Diverse Books push against the White-centric children’s literature still dominant in the marketplace. Though multiculturalism may fall short of its generally laudable goals, it does establish a genealogy for the interrogation of which bodies are represented, which overlooked in racial imaginaries within and beyond the United States. As Christopher Myers famously observed in his “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” (New York Times, 2014), “when kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map. They are navigating the streets and avenues of their lives with an inadequate, outdated chart, and we wonder why they feel lost.” This panel updates that chart from an interdisciplinary, international perspective.
Bringing together scholars based in three different countries (UK, US, Denmark) and two different disciplines (English and Education), this panel takes seriously both the transnational and geographically specific dimensions of our current predicament. The papers each take up a dynamic of resistance that invites the child or young adult reader to dismantle received epistemologies and hierarchies. As our papers suggest, mass media, public education, and global supply chains are each structures that can be used to normalize the status quo. But when children are encouraged to look at these institutions, not as backdrops to their lives, but as formations subject to historical and political change, the possibility of resistance enters the arena of power and pedagogy.
Drawing on her work as both author and scholar of children’s literature, Breanna McDaniel explores how — in three young adult novels — the Black Lives Matter movement inspires young adult characters to speak back against a White-dominated media, but the same social media that mobilizes resistance to state violence also functions as panoptic sites that chronicle and repeat cycles of trauma. In Danish public schools, a new emphasis on multicultural curriculum has brought new children’s literature into the classroom. In “We Need Diverse Danes,” Nadia Mansour suggests that these new texts not only project a new multiracial identity for the nation but also provide scripts for young people of color to take on new positions in the classroom. In “Chew on This,” Catherine Keyser argues that the oppressive structures of the global food system, naturalized by children’s literature earlier in the twentieth century, have recently become a map for reimagining social justice and the child’s role in these movements in the twenty-first century.
Philip Nel, Kansas State University
How It Went Down, How We Rise Up: Surveillance, Resistance, and Black Lives Matter YA — Breanna J McDaniel, University of Cambridge
We Need Diverse Danes: How Children’s Books Are Bringing Multiculturalism to Denmark — Nadia Mansour, Aarhus University
Chew on This: Global Food and Children’s Literature — Catherine Keyser, University of South Carolina
Philip Nel, Kansas State University