Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alex Presents: Commando

While reading the Langer article on the global reach of Western consumer culture, I was reminded of this video that was produced by African relief NGO Mama Hope. The video shows a nine year-old Tanzanian boy named Alex narrating the plot of Commando, one of the more vacuous of Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1980s action films.

The clip is hilarious, and Mama Hope is trying to make a point about showing the positive side of African society and culture. It also clearly shows the reach of American popular culture. But I think it challenges some of Langer's conclusions about globalized culture as this wholly disruptive and damaging force, and children as its helpless victims. Despite what I'm sure is a pretty dire socio-economic situation, Alex doesn't look very culturally oppressed to me, anyway.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buckingham's "The Material Child"

©2011 Polity Press/David Buckingham
Via one of your classmates, Lisa, heads up on an article that appeared in yesterday's Globe and Mail on...coincidentally....David Buckingham and his new book, The Material Child: Growing Up in Consumer Culture. Notice that the article frames his argument in terms of kids not being as "corrupted" by marketing as anti-consumerism advocacy groups claim, and yet Buckingham himself espouses a very middle ground approach (typical for him and his work, as discussed in class this week). For example:
I’d say that there are some areas where you can say kids really genuinely are savvy. I think there’s a lot of research that suggests kids understand how TV advertising works from a fairly young age. But the world of marketing to kids has changed quite significantly. A lot more electronic forms of marketing are much more invisible, much more pervasive. You could say there are areas there where kids don’t know what’s going on but I’m not sure adults do either.
So true - when it comes to viral marketing, data-mining and experiential/emergent forms of cross-promotion, much of which happens below the line and behind the scenes, very few people of any age really understand what's going on. Add to this some of the ways in which transmedia intertextuality and user appropriations are mobilized in increasingly sophisticated ways (again, as discussed in class this week), and it's quite a murky territory filled with difficult questions. Looking forward to picking up a copy of Buckingham's new book and seeing how he's dealt with some of these challenges.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Extra Materials of Potential Interest

Here are some of the additional materials we've discussed over the past two weeks:

Via Fiona, re: critiques of Bettelheim:
1. Zipes, J.(2002). On the use and abuse of folk and fairy tales with children. Bruno Bettleheims' moralistic magic wand. In J. Zipes Breaking the Magic Spell. Most of the chapter is available on Google Books: here.

2. Dundes, A. (1991). Bruno Bettleheim's uses of enchantment and abuses of scholarship. The Journal of American Folklore. 104(411), 74-83. Available (if accessing from UofT or otherwise logged into the library/JSTOR) here.
I'll add the Dundes article to Blackboard in just a minute.

As for the Harry Potter fans vs. branding/corporate IP owners documentary I mentioned this afternoon, here's a link to the movie's official site: We Are Wizards: The Movie. The film itself is available to view online for free on Snag Films, but only in the US ;)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fairy Tale Adaptations: Fables

©2006 Bill Willingham and DC Comics
Last week, we talked briefly about the new influx of fairy tale themed TV shows, specifically Grimm and Once Upon a Time. We'll talk more about this today, no doubt, as well as some of the recent films, videogames and various other media that have engaged in the continual reinvention, reiteration and reinterpretation of the fairy tale over the years (particularly in recent years). One example that I really like is Bill Willingham's amazing Fables comic/graphic novel series, a gritty, funny, and sometimes twisted imagining of what would happen if all the characters from fairy tales and fables were exiled in modern day Manhattan. The series is not only extremely well written and illustrated, but engages quite deeply (and reflexively) with fairy tale conventions. You can read the first volume for free at the DC Comics website, and/or download it in PDF form here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Learn to Make (& Manipulate) a Puppet

©2011 Mike Harding/Applefun Puppetry
Want to learn how to make your own foam and fur puppet? An iSchool student who took this class last year, Kaye, let me know about this upcoming workshop and thought that it might be of interest to this year's INF2141 group (thinking about skills it might be useful to have as future children's librarians/service providers). The workshop is hosted by Open Door Designs and features 2 classes with professional puppeteer Mike Harding of Applefun Puppetry (also V-P of The Ontario Puppetry Association). The classes are taking place on Oct. 16 and 23 (sundays) from 10am to 4pm. The registration fee isn't super student-friendly, but does include materials and two full days of hands on learning. That said, I don't know much (or anything) more about this other than what's listed on the website, so I don't have a clue as to what the classes will be like (i.e. I can't vouch for any of this)....Just passing along info!

Here are the details:
Mike Harding of Applefun Puppetry, with over 20 years of puppet crafting skill, will help you to create a fantastic Muppet-style puppet. Uncover the secrets behind the "Henson stitch"! Beguile at as you master fur cutting! Amaze you friends with your foam gluing techniques! At the end of the day you will go home with a brand new puppet of you very own!
Basic puppet manipulation will be covered.
No prior experience is necessary.

And here's where you can find for further info (incl. contact info and registration forms).

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Video Game Craze of 1982

In keeping with this week's themes, the video below shows a series of news segments from 1982 about the arcade video game craze. I found the link on Retroist. Apparently they come from a Los Angeles-based ABC station.

Note the imagery that the use to make the kids look half-crazed as the play. This despite the testimony from the psychologist who appears in the last segment that video games are really no big deal.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Upcoming Event: From Hobbits to HTML

"Hobbit Hole" ©2009-2011 ~Legacy0 on devianArt

I love fall - there are always so many interesting talks and events going on around town...many of them free. Here's one coming up on October 20th at 8 p.m. at the Lillian H. Smith Branch (Toronto Public Library, 239 College Street):

The 24th annual Helen E. Stubbs Memorial Lecture
Arthur Slade: "From Hobbits to HTML" 
Art Slade is one of Canada's most versatile authors, whose award-winning work ranges from realistic historical fiction about the Great War through steampunk, graphic novels and fantasy adventures. As a young reader, Art was influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ray Bradbury. Now an established author, he explores becoming his own publisher through ebooks. Is this the future of children's writers?
Be sure to check out the Facebook page for the event, and Arthur Slade's website as well.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Nostalgia Factory

This post by Sara got me thinking about our nostalgia for childhood books and toys, and how the fond memories we have of these cherished items can distort our impressions of them. The Web is stuffed with so much retro content these days that it's usually very simple to track down an image and/or video of your favourite book, game, stuffed animal, or whatever. But when we do get access to such media, the products never seem to live up to our childhood memories of them. At least that's been my experience.

Recently I discovered the website, which has reproduced several of the old computer game adventures published by the software company Sierra On-Line in the 1980s. The owner of the site actually took the original code for each game and recompiled it in Javascript, so they are all about as close to the originals as you can get.

This screen shot is a bit of a classic, and comes from the original King's Quest game, originally released in 1984:

Basically, each game lets you control a character that walks through a virtual world, one screen at a time, solving puzzles using a series of simple word commands (e.g. "TAKE KEY", "UNLOCK DOOR") Eventually you'd solve the final few puzzles and "win" the game, by becoming king, arresting a master criminal, or whatever.

It's hard to describe how much these games meant to me when I was young. But looking at them now, I can see that they're all quite lousy. The puzzles are silly, there are a million illogical ways to die in each, the graphics are iffy, and they're really all just pretty boring. Now, as per a legal agreement the site's owner made with Activision (the company that currently owns the rights to these games), only the first in each series is playable. And the graphics and games do improve over the years, but only slightly.

As I said, these games were so important to me in my childhood, and playing them opened me up to many interesting concepts and ideas.  But I can see that my interactions were contingent on the particular contexts in which they took place.  There are probably all kinds of games that I ignore now that will be just as cherished by today's kids.

Anyway, I guess the lesson is to trust your research more than you trust your memory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Upcoming Stubbs Lecture on The Creation of Literary Worlds

Of potential interest to some of you.....(reproduced in full from original)
Stubbs Lecture
Tuesday, 04 October 2011, 4:30pm - 6:00pm
2011-12 Stubbs Lecture
The Creation of Literary Worlds
Martin Puchner
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Harvard University 
Tuesday, October 4
4:30 p.m., Room 140, University College
15 King’s College Circle, University of Toronto
Reception Room 240 following lecture

The talk develops an approach to literature centered on world creation. Particular attention is paid to genres that foreground the capacity of literature to create whole worlds, such as world creation myths and science fiction. Three aspects of world creation will receive particular attention: reference; scale; and model. While reference accounts for the status of the worlds to be found within literary works, scale and model capture the particular challenges world creation literature faces. 
Members of the faculty, staff, students and the public are cordially invited.
No registration necessary. Call (416) 978-3160 for more information.

Monday, September 26, 2011

From Porcelain Dolls to Virtual Dolls

My avatar? Or virtual doll? on BarbieGirls

Tomorrow in lecture, we will be discussing "The Politics of Dollhood: Texts, Toys and Socialization" through an engagement with the assigned (and recommended) readings, as well as discussion of contemporary trends and examples. In anticipation for how we might use the readings (many of which deal with historical rather than contemporary examples) to unpack current trends in kids' culture, you might want to check out this short Business Week article by youth trend expert Anastasia Goodstein, wherein she examines the then emerging phenomenon of virtual doll play. Here's an excerpt:
When you think about paper dolls, you probably think about children from past generations painstakingly attaching little outfits onto a cut-out female figure. Paper dolls have come a long way since then.

Teen and tween girls these days spend hours dressing up dolls—only these are online, in the form of avatars, or virtual representations. Consider Mattel's (MAT) Barbie, who was also a favorite paper doll. She now has a virtual world called Barbie Girls where girls can create their own avatars and try on clothes at a virtual mall. And Barbie isn't alone. A whole wave of avatar sites is hoping to capitalize on this age-old desire.

I've done quite a bit of research on Barbie Girls, and would be happy to share some of my findings and observations of the site and its players. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the continuities and differences between paper and virtual doll play, as well as playing with actual dolls. As mentioned briefly in the first week, if any of you have dolls that you'd like to bring in to class tomorrow, for some hands on examples/object analysis, please do!!

You might also be interested in checking out last semester's post for this week's topic, Some Thoughts on the Politics of Dollhood, which contains a discussion of the subversive doll play described in Miriam Forman-Brunell's article and how we might use Bakhtinian notions of the grotesque feminine and the carnivalesque to think through phenomena such as doll mutilation (as touched upon in this week's reading).

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

CBC Archives Child's Play Exhibit

©1967-2011 CBC/Ernie Coombs/Mr. Dressup
The CBC Archives website just launched a new online exhibit of popular CBC children's television show hosts, spanning from the late 1960s to the present. Child’s Play: Popular CBC Children’s Show Hosts contains an assortment of photos, summaries, television and radio clips, and is a great way to either introduce yourself to, or refresh your memory of, some of the amazing talent that the CBC has showcased over the years within the area of children's television. We'll talk more about this particular legacy later on in the semester - until then, here's the link.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Was Your Favourite Book?

©1981 George Mendoza, House by Mouse

This is an exercise that you might want to do in lead up to next week's class. The aim is to warm up your skills in balancing the affective/personal with the critical when thinking about kids' texts and artifacts, by looking askew at one of your own objects of childhood nostalgia.

Try to remember what your favourite book was when you were a kid. Find it (possibly at Lillian H. Smith). Read it. (If you can't find your top favourite, go with your second fave, or third, etc.).

Things to think about while reading:

  • How old were you when it was your favourite? Why did you choose that age range and not another (i.e. what made you gravitate toward that particular stage of life when thinking back to your "favourite" or of yourself as a "kid"?).
  • How long has it been since you read it last?
  • Does it live up to your memory of it? Why/why not?
  • Now that you're an adult - would you recommend it to a kid today? Why? What age range? Why?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Updates Coming SOON!!!!

Greetings incoming class of the fall 2011 iteration of INF2141 Children's Cultural Texts and Artifacts. You have indeed found the right URL and, despite all appearances to the contrary, this blog is (or will soon be) active. Please check for updates, new posts and links over the coming week as I get our course up and running. In the meantime, please feel free to peruse the archive of last year's materials, presentations and student blogs to get a sense of what's in store.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Have a Great Summer!!!

A final post to wrap up the inaugural (Winter 2011) semester of INF 2304: to let you know that your assignment and participation grades have been posted to Blackboard, and that your final essays are ready for pick up at student services.

Thank you all for the wonderful semester, for the compelling class discussions and for engaging so enthusiastically with the course materials. A special thanks to everyone who brought in their toys, books, candy and other children's cultural texts and artifacts over the course of the semester...this really contributed to building a "hands on" feel, and will certainly be something that I'll try to support even further in future iterations of this class.

Hope you all have a fantastic summer.

For those of you graduating this year - congratulations and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

If Disney Princesses Had Mothers

Since the idea of the absent mother in fairy tales came up in class discussions a few times, I thought I would link to a recent series of Huffington Post "If They'd Had Mothers" parodies featuring Jasmine ("You're in love with a homeless man who lives in an alley with his pet monkey?", Ariel ("Did you steal these things? Are you a hoarder?") and Belle ("Your father and I are taking him out to the country... to a farm where he can run free with other beasts"). I hope there will be more instalments (and comments - because this is the Internet and comments make everything more interesting and hilarious).

On a related note, there's actually an entry in Snopes about Walt Disney's mommy issues. And here's a fascinating essay about the orphaned hero by author Terri Windling - great read for those interested in myth and folklore. I'm sure there are tons of scholarly literature on the topic, and it's not too late for classmates to change their final essay topic! ;)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Friends of the Osborne Collection Have Invited INF2304 To....

Join them at this upcoming event: Mark your calendars for an upcoming opportunity to hear Martin Springett - children's author and illustrator - present a lecture and slide show on Pauline Baynes, his friend and colleague, as well as the illustrator for J.R.R. Tolkien and for C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. As mentioned in the invitation, both authors were "Deeply influenced by the written works and the images Pauline created for them." At next month's lecture, Martin Springett will talk about the "personal and creative life of this truly engaging woman." See below for details. Admission is free, but please r.s.v.p. (acceptances only) by calling the Osborne Collection office: 416-393-7753.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Digital (and Portable) Olivia

©2011 Chorion via Kidscreen

I've been reading a lot of news (in the media industry press) about Olivia lately, some of which is pretty relevant to this week's readings/discussion. Recent (and upcoming) developments around Olivia-based e-books and multimedia "books" are of particular interest in this regard. Check it out:
Picture book character Olivia is headlining Simon & Schuster UK’s foray into the illustrated eBook space. Olivia, who last year had a number-one iPhone app, is the star of a new six-book launch with the Apple iBookstore.
Read more:
You can read additional details about the books and surrounding transmedia/cross-promotional campaign in an earlier Kidscreen article that came out back in Feb (here).

And/or read more about Olivia's first iPhone app, OLIVIA Paints, on the official iTunes site here (note the complaints in the customer review section), or by reading this very short review by Sara Haley (via the examiner).

©2011 SomaCreates Inc./Chorion

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hey everyone,
Just a heads up that the second annual InPlay conference held by Interactive Ontario is going to be held on May 17th and 18th, 2011 in Toronto. This is the description on their website (

"INplay is a unique, international event that connects kids creative industries with insights and opportunities in the interactive space.

From the video game business to the broadcast industry, from toys to toons, the INplay conference brings together leaders in the kids space to learn, network and be inspired by the future of kids interactive digital media.

The conference will feature 3 major streams each covering a different dimension of working with properties for kids aged 2-12:

• Inspiration - creativity and content stream
• Investment - business stream
• Insights - research and e-learning stream

Over two days in downtown Toronto, the INplay conference will feature presentations, panel discussions, case studies, technology ‘show and tells’, keynotes and a good dose of fun!"

It is pretty expensive to register, but easy to volunteer if you want to meet some people, gain new insights, and get in for free. I signed up as a volunteer last year, but I had to cancel my shift at the last minute because I was offered a summer position which didn't match up well with the time of the conference. I hope to get to attend as a volunteer this year!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interesting Read

Orenstein, P. (2011). Cinderella ate my daughter: Dispatches from the front lines of the new girlie-girl culture. New York: HarperCollins.

I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly-Girl Culture, after our classmate Jackie Flowers brought it to my attention. I thought this was a good place to discuss it briefly since it covered many topics from our class. The book was published this year (2011), so the examples are very current, and the recent statistics are intense.

Orenstein’s prose strikes a seamless balance between academic and anecdotal. Her authority as a scholar is often complicated and problematized by her position as a mother of a young girl. This really adds to the appeal of the book, as she never preaches an “Answer” but offers a variety of suggestions, research, and profit margins to inform. The topics are varied, but all come back to the issue of raising strong, confident females in an age where princess culture abounds. The book is incredibly readable, covering everything from Bettelheim to Barbie, restricting website coding to toy store colour coding. I was really interested by some of the phenomena I had not heard of yet, like “new” Dora. -->

University of Toronto Libraries doesn’t have this book in the catalogue yet, but here is a link to Orenstein’s 1994 book, Schoolgirls: young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap.

The Toronto Public Library has 17 copies on order but there are 105 holds already.

**I got the book cover photo on and the Dora photo on

Saturday, February 26, 2011

You're Invited to PrivacyCampTO2

Check out this great, upcoming opportunity to learn about and discuss privacy issues affecting children and youth in Canada. The EDGE Lab is running the second PrivacyCampTO at Ryerson March 19th, sponsored by with Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Mozilla Foundation, Ryerson Digital Media Zone and the Ryerson New Media Program.

This year, the one-day unconference will focus on children, youth, people with disabilities and privacy. Everyone is welcome: educators, techies, policymakers, students, academics, librarians and anyone else interested in digging into these issues. As an unconference, the day will be planned organically, online, partially in advance and partially live at the event, by all participants. You can read up about last summer's PrivacyCamp ( and add your ideas for this edition on the wiki (

Registration is at and is $10. Those unable to pay will be accommodated, and all funds raised will be donated to the GimpGirl Community (

This is a wonderful opportunity for iSchool students to share their substantial knowledge of privacy issues as they relate to information rights, information technologies, child/youth advocacy, usability/accessibility, regulatory implications, etc. It would be great to have a strong presence and participation from the student body and faculty, so be sure to spread the word!

I encourage all of you to think about signing up to do an interactive presentation or "speed geek" (as explained here) - to get into the practice of presenting your ideas, linking your theoretical work to praxis/community outreach, and helping to shape the discussion. I'd be happy to help out with brainstorming or coordinating as needed, so just give me a shout if you're interested.

Monday, February 14, 2011

CFP: Graduate Student Forum at the Multiple Childhoods/Multiple Perspectives Conference

Via the Exploring Childhood Studies email list, a call for participation in an upcoming Graduate Student Forum, which will be held in conjunction with the Multiple Childhoods/Multiple Perspectives conference in Rutgers this coming May (2011). Here's the ad, reposted:
Multiple Childhoods/ Multidisciplinary Perspectives: Interrogating Normativity in Childhood Studies. May 19-21, Philadelphia.

Graduate Student Forum: Charting the Course

After the Exploring Childhood Studies Conference (2010), the graduate students of the Department of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University, were energized by the enthusiastic interest in our growing field, but also impressed by the need and desire for more venues of communication across disciplines to explore and interrogate Childhood(s) and Childhood Studies. Our search for such interactions is ongoing. The Multiple Childhoods/Multidisciplinary Perspectives Conference (MC/MP) is an opportune space for once again engaging and advancing this dialogue amongst graduate students from diverse disciplines joined in an interest in one overarching field of Childhood Studies.
In this spirit, we are pleased to host and solicit participants for a Graduate Student Forum at the MC/MP Conference. This event will also be an opportunity for emerging scholars in this growing field to reach across disciplinary divides, share experiences, discuss their research, and get a better sense not only of where the field of Childhood Studies is going but of the people who will be taking it there.
The Forum will address the themes outlined below, emerging from the main conference, in a roundtable format.

--Doing multidisciplinary studies--how, why, perils, pitfalls and rewards.
--Exploring Childhood Studies--an ongoing discussion, what is this new field, where does it come from, what does it entail now, and where are we as emerging scholars going to take it.
--Interrogating “the child” -- who is a child? when is a child? age, development, society, culture?
--other topics you care to propose related to the overall theme of Multiple Childhoods/ Multidisciplinary Perspectives: Interrogating Normativity in Childhood Studies

To participate, please submit a statement on any one of the above themes, no longer than two double spaced pages to Martin Woodside: with the subject line “Charting the Course” no later than  February 26, 2011.

The Forum will take place at the MC/MP Conference on May 19th. Participation in these discussions will be limited to 40 people. However, the Forum will be followed by a less formal gathering of all graduate students attending MC/MP during happy hour at the Palomar Bar! And this will be immediately followed by the Conference opening reception, also at the Hotel Palomar.

For any further questions please contact Anandini Dar ( or Patrick Cox (

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sleeping Beauty revisited

©Warwick Goble, Sleeping Beauty

Thanks to Marie for bringing this article to my attention - from the Paris Review, a very timely (given our topic and chat on Monday) article about revisiting Sleeping Beauty - the fairy tale, the Disney picture book - and the various issues it raises, vis-a-vis feminist analysis, regressive politics of contemporary versions, transgressive readings/interpretations of the story, and some pretty clever comments overall. Here's the link to the original, and a short excerpt:

Sleeping Beauty is often cited these days as the ultimate antifeminist tale: a princess waits a hundred years for prince to rescue her, and then marries him in helpless gratitude. This is partly because of the Disney version (1959), which tries to recast the tale as a celebration of romance and marriage. Here the fairy says nothing about a hundred years; it is romantic love, not time, that will defeat the spell:
Not in death, but just in sleep
The fateful promise you will keep
And from this slumber you shall wake
When true love’s kiss the spell shall break.
The word love did not appear in the Grimms’ tale. Though the overt lust of earlier versions was removed, what remained was still unmistakeably erotic. To ensure their story is entirely hormone-free, however, Disney established love at the beginning: the two are sweethearts before Beauty ever pricks her finger. She thus cannot sleep for a hundred years, so the whole point is a little lost. She goes to sleep, and then he wakes her up.

The article has also given me an idea, though I'll have to think on it a bit more - if Sleeping Beauty is the ultimate anti-feminist tale, in part due to her profound and extended state of passivity (asleep - dead - passive), does this change the way we think about the Princess and the Pea: who in refusing to sleep in a sense refuses to be passive?? Not sure about this one - just a thought!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Kids Love Reading and Libraries

A new study just came out on kids' reading habits (in the context of total media use/consumption) that will likely be of interest..keeping in mind that the research was commissioned by the Association of Booksellers for Children (#Considerthesource). First piece of interesting data is the first table of the article, which lists books as the most important media for children under 6 years. Now - in light of today's lecture, I think it's especially important to consider how the research design might be affecting the results - the respondents for this survey were limited to adults who purchase media for children, with the one exception being the questions/answers asked about teens (for which actual teens responded). So, we might reword this as: according to parents, books are the most important media for preschool kids:
©2011 Bowker/PubTrack

Another gem is in the findings on where children get their books. You'll see that libraries figure prominently, both school and public. Interestingly, the data analysis doesn't pay much attention to the influence of librarians on children's book decisions. On the other hand, they report that "Librarians affected 24% of YA reading decisions, bookstores not so much."

©2011 Bowker/PubTrack

And in follow up to our discussion last week about series books - it may come as no surprise that when it comes to what influences teens most when it comes to selecting or buying a new book to read, the fact that the book was a sequel or the next book in a series was the primary motivation in about 61% of cases:

©2011 Bowker/PubTrack

You'll notice that "Award sticker" - though near the bottom, still figures in about 14% of the time. Lots of other useful stats in the survey - such as "women buy nearly 70% of kids' books and most purchasers fit solidly in the middle class both in terms of income and education." 

For more info, be sure to check out the original article in Publisher's Weekly.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Funding Opp for Research on Children's Lit

I think that some of you are working on research and papers that might be relevant to this upcoming (very soon, in fact) funding opportunity. I emailed Susan Stan to ask about eligibility of Canadian scholars, and she said there was no reason why not! So don't hesitate to give it a shot!

Each year the Children's Literature Association provides grants in two categories-Faculty Research and Graduate Student Research. These are competitive grants that vary in award amount from $500 to $1500, based on the number and needs of the winning applicants. Up to $5,000 is available to be awarded in each category.
Further details about criteria and application procedure for the ChLA Faculty Research Grants can be found at
Further details about criteria and application procedure for the Hannah Beiter Graduate Student Research Grants can be found at

Applications will be accepted from now through February 1, 2011. Any questions about eligibility of projects or other matters relating to the grants should be directed to the Grants Committee Chair, Susan Stan, at  or to the ChLA Administrator, Kathy Kiessling, at

Monday, January 17, 2011

Presto Chango!: Princess Presto, and the racial implications of "dollification"(?)

In follow up to today's discussion of dolls and race, you may want to check out this recent post on Sociological Images which addresses the apparent "whitewashing" of a PBS cartoon character. I've copied/pasted a couple of the images examined below - but do visit the original article (and the Science Blogs post discussed therein) for a more complete picture of the story, arguments and critiques involved.
©PBS - Princess Presto from SuperWhy!, via Sociological Images

Princess Presto plush, via Sociological Images

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Politics of Dollhood

Hi All -
In lead up to next week's lecture (and readings), I thought I'd share an excerpt of a piece I'm writing on Bakhtinian traditions within kids' culture. This particular section delves right into one of the readings we're discussing on Monday, Miriam Formanek-Brunell's (now Miriam Forman-Brunell) "The politics of dollhood in nineteenth-century America" (in Jenkins, pp. 363-381). I'm hoping we can chat about some of these themes next week!

In Bakhtin’s (1984) Rabelais and His World, the grotesque feminine plays a special function, at once embodying forces of destruction and creation, at once terrifying and comforting. Within traditional play literature, on the other hand, girls’ play is characterised by its themes of containment, passivity, and a historical emphasis on domesticity. Since the nineteenth century, girls have been given less time for play than boys, and have been more often encouraged to pursue functional activities—including tea parties, doll play, knitting, cooking and crafts—all of which were believed to prepare girls for their domestic futures as wives and mothers (Formanek-Brunell, 1990). Feminist play scholarship, however, has raised the issues of gender essentialism and male bias within both the literature as well as the social norms around girls play. They have questioned findings of gender differences in play (introducing notions of social constructivism), as well as the omission of girls from studies of “children’s” play. More recently, feminist studies of children’s play practices have challenged many traditional assumptions about girls’ play. This research suggests that while perhaps not as aggressive as boys' play, girls’ play is also not as nurturing and sensitive as it is often assumed. A number of these studies indicate that girls’ play may have its own special relationship to the grotesque, an example of which is the theme of subversive and macabre doll play.

Although dolls are often seen by adults as obvious "vehicle[s] of feminine socialization," recent ethnographic research, as well as historical analysis of memoirs, diaries and oral histories, reveal a long-standing tradition of gender role subversion and rejection of adult authority within girls’ doll play (Formanek-Brunell, 1998; Gussin Paley, 2004). This emerging research reveals the familiar, but academically neglected, practices of brutal doll torture, doll-body modification, doll bashing and doll funerals. As Formanek-Brunell (1998, p.374), describes, although many girls (and boys) played with dolls in prescribed ways, “[E]vidence reveals that doll players pushed at the margins of acceptable feminine and genteel behaviour." For some girls, dolls became a valuable tool for thwarting social norms and undermining restrictions.

For example, during the nineteenth-century “doll parties” were often promoted as a beneficial and appropriate activity for girls. Designed as a primarily aesthetic activity (girls were meant to show off their dolls and look at each others’ doll clothes), “doll parties” were regulated by a complex set of rules and etiquette which were circulated in advice books and women’s magazines. In practice, however, the events often transformed into active play dates that involved sliding down the stairs on tea trays and “smashing their unsuspecting dolls to bits” (Formanek-Brunell, 1998, p.375). This attitude extended to another practice first recorded during the nineteenth-century, that of doll funerals. Although sanctioned to some extent by adults, doll funerals were also a morbid expression of "aggressive feelings and hostile fantasies" (p.375), and an opportunity to parody a serious (as well as religious) adult ritual. Some girls "changed the emphasis from ritualized funerals to cathartic executions" (p.375), ridding themselves of unwanted or particularly "naughty" dolls. These practices are reminiscent of Bakhtin’s (1984, p.5) descriptions of carnivale, wherein "Civil and social ceremonies and rituals took on a comic aspect as clowns and fools, constant participants in these festivals, mimicked serious rituals."

Updated Jan.14: You may also wish to check out this post about the Ann DuCille article on Sociological Images (an excellent academic blog written by Drs. Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp, a couple of sociologists), complete with a number of images of the different racialized iterations of Barbie discussed, along with some interesting points about the article and argument.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Peter Pan and the Impossibility of Children's Fiction Revisited

©2010 Will Bryant via Picture Book Report and Society6

There was a small issue with the Rose reading ("The case of Peter Pan: The impossibility of children’s fiction") file that was uploaded to Blackboard earlier this week, but everything appears to be fixed now so you can go ahead and download/read at your leisure.

Speaking of the Rose reading, for those of you who are interested in finding out more about this landmark work (which first appeared in 1984), or about the reactions of the larger academic community of children's literature scholars, and/or where her argument stands today, you may want to check out the Fall 2010 issue of the Children's Literature Association Quarterly. The issue is dedicated to revisiting "The (Im)Possibility of Children's Fiction: Rose Twenty-Five Years On," and includes a really useful introduction by David Rudd and Anthony Pavlik that explains the relevance and impact of the original article, as well as a short message/intro from Jacqueline Rose herself, and a number of articles exploring the themes and arguments that Rose put forth, applied within the contemporary context.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Extracurricular: Starz Animation @ TIFF

For those of you with an interest in animation, and/or learning more about the children's media industry and/or are simply curious to hear more about what goes on behind-the-scenes of a major film production, be sure to join me on January 14th for the first Higher Learning Friday event of the new year, at the TIFF Lightbox. I've got 30 tickets put aside for students in my INF2304 and INF1005/6 (04) classes to attend a special presentation by Starz Animation Toronto Creative Director Kevin Adams, who will discuss the making of "9"(2009) - a dystopian, beautifully animated feature film directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov. The company and creators behind the film are of particular interest to students in this class - Starz Animation has been involved in some pretty high profile (at times controversial) children's films and television series over the past few years, including a couple of the Veggie Tales movies and the Macy's sponsored Yes Virginia TV special. It will be interesting to hear the insider perspective, particularly in relation to a film that appears to have attracted somewhat conflicted responses from viewers (e.g. kids tend to like it more than adults, etc.).

Here's an intro to the film and company in question:

Here are the details:
Kevin Adams presents: "Behind The Scenes: Making of 9" 
(followed by a Q/A with students)
Friday, January 14th 2011
10:30 am to 12:30 pm at the TIFF Lightbox

I have 30 (free!!) tickets available for students in either of my two Winter 2011 classes... 
so be sure to reserve your ticket with me in advance. 
On the day of....Please arrive between 9:45am and 10am. 
I will be waiting in the lobby to give you your tickets. 
And make sure to bring your student card.

If you don't pre-register with me, you may be able to get same day tickets anyway (depending on availability). Here's the info for how that would work:

Same day ticket availability: The remaining tickets for each event will be made available on a first-come, first- served, basis. Tickets are limited to one per person and are available one hour before the event's start time at TIFF Bell Lightbox's Box Office, located at 350 King Street West.  Students must show valid college or university cards for admittance.