Hi Everyone! My name is Jess Ferro. On my children’s lit blog I describe myself in the following way: “A Faithful Catholic, Undergraduate student, Big sister, Teacher, Closet Librarian, Lover of Children’s Literature, Art History Admirer, and Compulsive book recommender”. I just transferred to UF this past Fall from the University of Pennsylvania where I was majoring in art history. Last year I took a year off from school and served as an art and art history instructor for a Classical Learning homeschooling program in Ocala, (where I’m from, people often think I must be from Philly since I was going to school there, but no, just from Ocala 🙂 ) which I’m still a part of this year. During my time off, I finally made the decision to transfer to UF in order to pursue my interests in children’s literature (and was blessed enough that choosing this route would also save my parents and me a substantial amount of tuition money). So, here at UF I’m officially considered a junior, and I’m majoring in English with a concentration in children’s literature and planning to minor in art history. I have a lot of interests, both outside and inside the field of children’s literature, but I guess with my background it makes sense that one of the topics I’m most interested in is the history and current state of illustration for children’s books. I started a blog focusing mostly on children’s literature this past summer, and it’s been great to be able to connect with so many other bloggers in the field, mostly librarians, teachers and others with vested interests in children’s books. But one of the greatest parts has been connecting with authors and illustrators! So far I’ve posted two official author/illustrator interviews which was really exciting, one here with Cornelia Funke and the other here with up and coming illustrator Kasia Matyjaszek. If you want to check out more, there’s reviews, book lists and short essays, go to Alice in Baker Street.
I’m really excited for this class! The main reason I transferred to UF was to get a chance to start my studies of children’s literature as an undergraduate, so I’ve just been really excited to take as many children’s lit courses as possible. Last semester I took two courses with Dr. Cech (Children’s Literature and Grimm’s Fairy Tales) as well as one with Prof. Ulanowicz (Literature for the Adolescent). This semester along with our class on the Golden Age, I’m also taking Prof. Ulanowicz’s Literature for the Young Child and doing an Independent Study with her as well (with projects on the illustration/high art divide, the Catholic imagination in children’s literature and possibly one more topic). This semester I’m hoping to continue to improve my academic writing specifically for children’s literature. When I was still at Penn I had finally gotten a better grasp of how to write academic art history papers, but then I had to take the year off and now I’m trying to adjust to the way papers are written in the English field. In terms of the syllabus, I’m a little bit worried about the group presentation; I actually really like doing presentations, so the part that worries me is the “group” part only because I haven’t had the best experiences with them in the past, but I think this semester will change that. I’m honestly really excited for the entire booklist, when I saw it over Christmas break I just knew I really wanted to take the course because the list was incredible! I’m especially excited to read The Water Babies because I heard about this book recently and was curious to read it, as well as Pinocchio and The Secret Garden. I have a little brother who is eight and he is really excited about the list as well, I promised him I’ll try and read most of them aloud with him; we’ve already read some of them together but surprisingly he’s really excited to read them again, other than the Wizard of Oz, he’s not a fan of that one and informed me that he doesn’t plan on reading that one again!
Children’s literature means a few things for me; it’s the books that have had the biggest impact on me throughout my life because most of my favorite books are children’s books, it’s the books that I read with my little brother, the field of study that I’m pursuing, and the books I hope to one day write. Children’s literature makes me think of classics like the ones we’ll be studying this semester, books which many believe don’t capture children’s imaginations any more but which I believe still have the power to do so. But on the other hand it also makes me think of the fact that unfortunately, especially in the United States, the group of books that we consider to be children literature is composed of a lot of junk, books that really, if we’re being honest, aren’t worth your time. So then for me, the classics are those books which were created at a time when both the writing and illustrating that was being done for children was truly an art form. Writing filled with beautiful imagery, writing that was lyrical and that has the ability to create this incredible magical space between text and reader. They are books that hold to the ideals of the true, the good, and the beautiful. And because of these three characteristics, these books beautifully meld the moral or didactic with the mimetic and entertaining, because if the stories lived up to these ideals, in that there is something to be learned. Children pick up on subtleties, they don’t need to be hit over the head with lessons, and the classics are books which in many cases are the ideal example of the perfect children’s books, if such a thing exists.
Before I finish up with my favorite children’s books, I just wanted to address some of the questions that the above paragraph brings up: Why are we, as a society, as academics, as consumers, why are we so weary of the classics, or hesitant in general of that term? Is it in part a belief that the new is always better than the old, and thus why should we read these outdated, irrelevant books? Why is it that children today have such a hard time just even understanding the classics? What is it about childhood, or education, that has unfortunately changed to the point where most elementary aged children aren’t even able to comprehend or stay engaged with these texts which have been dubbed classics? I’m also interested to see the role that religion plays in this Golden Age, and digging deeper to see if these texts uphold what C.S. Lewis called the three great ancient transcendentals (these go back to Plato): the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. And also, are we witnessing an attempt to resurrect the classics, both the actual books considered classics, but also new books that are being written in the style and voice of those Golden Age classics?
So I’ll end with my favorite children’s books, it’s hard to pick so I just put down the first few that came to mind:
My two favorite picture books:
My three favorite children’s novels:
And last my favorite YA novel is Between Shades of Gray (not to be confused with that other “book” Fifty Shades of Gray)