Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Terminus 2008, redux

Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur Levine books and Harry Potter fangirl, has posted her talk from the Terminus 2008 conference. As you can imagine, she got a great response from the audience; now you can see why.

There's been an interesting discussion on the child_lit listserv about the conference and why more folks from the child_lit community weren't there. The call for papers was posted to the listserv, and several listserv participants were in fact there (Cheryl Klein is one; I'm another, but we weren't the only ones), but it's true that the conference was more fan-centered than centered on academe. That's fine with me--I think there's room for both. But it's also true that of the academics who were there, not all are children's lit scholars; they are literary scholars who happen to have written a bit about Harry Potter, or they are scholars in other fields entirely (philosophy, psychology, etc.).

Perhaps more than other fields, children's lit scholarship has a problem with boundaries. If you're not a physicist, you probably don't go to physics conferences. Random folks don't generally hold forth on chemistry. But everyone has an opinion about children's books. So if you write about Harry Potter, you might be a psychologist or a religion scholar or a mom or a book blogger or a fan--and some or all of those categories might overlap. Usually I think this is just fine, but some folks "out in the world" (i.e., not in academic literature departments) may not have the research skills or access to research materials that insiders have. This can create a situation where the "outsiders" are reinventing the wheel (not knowing it's already working quite well on the "inside") or repeating already-discredited theories, advancing analyses that have already been advanced, etc.

I didn't actually see that happening at Terminus, but I do see that anxiety come up on the listserv occasionally when someone from "outside" gets publicity for writing about something "insiders" have known about for a while. The resurgence of YA literature (or is it just a surge?) is one example; the Harry Potter phenomenon itself (especially in the earlier days) is another. Children's lit scholars are always annoyed by articles that begin "oh my goodness, there are some good books for kids out there, what a surprise!" or by ones that take as their premise the general badness of books for kids in order to demonstrate the virtue of one new book or series. Such articles demonstrate a general ignorance of the field, and may seem to diminish the value of the work we do.

In the end, though, I'm not so worried about boundaries. I like the exchange of ideas across boundaries, and I think there's room for all of us. And in the end, I like knowing that people in all different professions, businesses, fields are all taking children's literature seriously.

1 comment:

  1. I like your tolerant attitude. If more academics were less snobby (and wrote more accessibly), more people outside the academy might listen to them or read what they write.