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.