Friday, June 11, 2010

Children's Literature Association 37th Annual Conference

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I'm in Ann Arbor for the 37th annual conference of the Children's Literature Association, enjoying listening to others talk about their research. I was headed to the 10:00 session, "Telling Tales" but so were a lot of other folks. I arrived a few minutes late, opened the door, and saw no empty seats. So, I'm taking a break and hope to hear from other conference-goers about papers given by Catherine McKenna paper and Kay Weisman.

At 8:00 I went to a session chaired by blogger, friend, and scholar, Sarah Park. It was called "Constructing the Author and/as Celebrity".  Papers were given by Sara van den Bossche (Ghent University) on Astrid Lindgren's work, Camille Parker (independent scholar) on blogging and author blogs, and, Maria de Guadallupe Serrano Diez (University of Winnipeg) on the works of Mexican Francisco Gabilondo Soler, a Mexican writer who created and performed as Cri-Cri: El Grillito Cantor (in English, the Little Singing Cricket).

I enjoyed all three immensely and hope that each paper evolves into a publication. There were interesting points made about what gets canonized (most people know Lindgren's work while few outside of Mexico would know Soler's work), and how writers today use blogs.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a session called "Playing Indian" that was also quite good. Both, Alan Scot Willis (Northern Michigan University) and Kay Harris (University of Southern Mississippi) cited Native scholars, specifically, Philip J. Deloria and Rayna Green. It is very important that people studying depictions of American Indians read the work of Native scholars and apply that work to their analysis of children's books. I look forward to reading more from Willis and Harris.

At the books exhibit, I bought two books. One is Points of View: An Anthology of Short Stories. I bought it because of one name on the cover.... Durango Mendoza. The volume includes one of his stories. This one is "The Passing". Durango is husband to my dear friend, Jean. First published in 1966, it would be interesting to compare how the volume evolved over time, what authors were added and when. The copy I bought also has a story by Louise Erdrich, and one by Ralph Ellison... The Ellison story looks intriguing. It's title is "A Couple Scalped Indians".

I also bought Growing Up Ethnic in America: Contemporary Fiction about Learning to be American. I'll have to study the stories, and think about the collection and the title of the book. "Learning to be American". It includes several stories I want to read: Tiffany Midge's "A Half-Breed's Dream Vacation", Louise Erdrich's "The Red Convertible", Diane Glancy's "Portrait of the Lone Survivor", Sherman Alexie's "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" and Simon J. Ortiz's "To Change in a Good Way".  They are all Native writers. Would they say their stories are about "learning to be American"?

Enough for now... going to gather my things and head for another session.


Wendy said...

I think the title "Learning to Be American" is, in a way, meant to be ironic. The editor or whoever named the book isn't meaning to say that "American" is something Native people have to learn, any more than it's something Asian American people have to learn.

Debbie Reese said...

Hey Wendy,

Ironic? Maybe. I'll think about it. It's a good question.

In another session today, Jackie Horne talked about Pratchett's NATION, positing that it and another book (can't recall the title) mark a turn in fantasy writing, wherein writers are applying post colonial ideas to the fiction they create. She asked the audience if we think Pratchett is successful.

I asked her how she'd measure success. One measure, I suggested, is that people might decide to throw out LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

As you might imagine, lots of heads turned to see who was saying such an outrageous thing...

Debbie Reese said...

Later, Adrienne K. and I chatted during a break and she asked if I'd seen the stage production. I have not. Here's the trailer:

Tools said...

American is a state of mind...

Salix said...

I asked her how she'd measure success. One measure, I suggested, is that people might decide to throw out LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.

First of all this is awesome and you are awesome. I am curious as to how people responded to this (if you don't mind sharing, of course)?

On another note, wasn't Thirteenth Child published after Nation? It's hard to imagine YA fantasy editors *not* knowing Pratchett...but I haven't read Nation so I guess I shouldn't prejudge.

Debbie Reese said...


I was sitting towards the back of the room. When I said that, lot of heads turned to see who I was.

NATION came out in 2008, and THIRTEENTH CHILD in 2009. Presumably Wrede would have read it, but its hard to say, because we don't know the timelines of submission, editing, etc.

Your point, however, is a good one. It is another way Jackie Horne could measure success of NATION (assuming her point that it marks a turning point holds).

I'll see if I can find her email address. I could be misunderstanding her remarks.

Salix said...

Thank you for the reply!

Jackie C. Horne said...


Thanks for mentioning my paper about postcolonial thinking in recent fantasy works. The other book I spoke about is Frances Hardinge's THE LOST CONSPIRACY (2009), called GULLSTRUCK ISLAND when it was originally published in England. I think it is more successful in incorporating postcolonial thinking than NATION is, and I'd recommend it highly. As I said in my talk, "Pratchett seems most invested in imagining a history in which such colonization might be mitigated than in dealing with the historical reality of England’s imperial past," while Hardinge "is far more invested in picking up the pieces in the wake of actual colonial domination rather than in imagining what-ifs that would brush aside its painful residue."

I'm not sure I understand the connection between the success (or lack thereof) of NATION and the "throwing out" of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Do you mean that if NATION and other books like it are truly postcolonial, then they would teach people to see the racism in LH, and thus lead them to reject it as appropriate reading for their children?

Debbie Reese said...


Yes. I view LITTLE HOUSE as appropriate reading ONLY for young adults and adults who are reading critically. As it is, that book and others like it are used to celebrate American history. Uncritically, that is, which means repeating errors of the past. Children are taught to view those who are not like themselves as less-than and/or less-than-human.