Monthly Archives: September 2017

Kertzer Discussion Questions

  1. In the article, Kertzer poses three different ways of analyzing Alexie’s novel: through the critique of Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, through the novel’s intertextual references and similarities, and through the use of risky laughter. Of the three, which approach seems most beneficial in understanding The Absolutely True Diary?
  2. Kertzer points out that both Rowdy and Gordy take issue with Junior’s attraction to Penelope. Kertzer seems to defend the relationship by stating that Junior knows it isn’t perfect and that both Junior and Penelople are aware of the fact that they are simply using eachother. Do you agree with Kertzer’s justification or is this relationship proof of Junior “colonizing and marginalizing” himself?
  3. Kertzer points out that when Junior compares reservations to death camps he is not joking for a change. Are there any other points in the narrative where Junior seems to take a more serious approach? What is the significance of these moments?
  4. In the final section of the essay, Kertzer points out that there are moments where the Junior’s humor lends itself to misrepresentation and misinterpretation. What are some of the moments that perhaps humor wasn’t necessary or seemed to be out of place? What does the use of humor say about Alexie’s imagined audience?

There were so many emotions, thoughts, concepts, and directions to Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. So much weight. It’s so hard to narrow something down for the secondary source, but narrow down I must so here goes…

One of the things that really struck me while reading was the centrality of formal schooling in Junior’s life–more specifically, the scope of schooling, the impact of schools and the people in them on Junior’s life, and schooling as a historical and contemporary tool of colonization under white settler colonialism and anti-indigenous racism. I’ve also felt like contemporary moments are engendered by historical processes in ways we do/don’t/refuse to recognize, and this particular secondary reading speaks to the historical globalization of colonization in indigenous communities and how formal schooling has been very much a colonial project (its focus is Australia). Here’s my secondary reading (it’s a public sociology blog-like type of article, so I hope this is ok?):

Paternalism, Colonialism, and Indigenous Education, by Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos

As a note, I do struggle with one of Zevallos’ claims, which is that the formal educational systems in previously (or currently) colonized countries do not need radical overhaul of their education systems, and that anti-indigenous and anti-black racism can be challenged through teaching alone. Like, are teachers really enough? I would like to maybe explore this more in class with y’all.

If anyone’s interested in additional readings, this one traces the historical genealogies of colonialism in education in Canada, and it’s written by an indigenous teacher-educator:

See everyone Thursday!

Blog Post #3 (Humor)

Magically found extra time today, so I wanted to share my thoughts on McGillis and my primary source:

I read Does My Head Look Big in This by Fattah. The novel follows 16-year old Amal after she makes the decision to wear a hijab. She makes this decision after watching a Friends episode and boldly declares “Rachel inspired me to wear a hijab.” The novel takes place a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and though it’s set in Melbourne, Australia, it localizes the impact of the terrorist attacks, specifically within Amal’s life. Though I won’t talk about the misfires this book makes in trying to deal with bullying and hate crimes post 9/11, I do recommend reading it if you’re interested in YA literature that attempts to represent a varied Muslim experience.

The McGillis article surveys the history of humor and its emphasis on the body as either the subject or object. I’d like to investigate some of McGillis’ ideas through Fattah’s novel, but I’d like to talk about the ideas as ways to build humor communities. Specifically, within Does My Head Look Big in This, there are three communities that are built through the use of humor.

First is Amal’s attempt to build a community with her readers. I believe she does this by constantly using language to dismember, evacuate, and spotlight her body. She talks of a “punching hole in her guts,” of “salvaging her eyeballs,” of wearing a tarantula on her head, her “nappy head,” “balding head,” “nostril hair standing on edge” all to use her body as a source of humor for readers. The humor comes from her use of language—these words become things as McGillis proposes. McGillis might also argue the humor comes from Amal’s “healthy mind” steadying the language of her “sickly body.”

Amal also builds a community with her school friends through the use of body humor. Eileen, Simone, and Amal are all outcasts in school. Eileen is second generation Japanese, Simone is “fat,” and Amal is a hijabi. What is particularly interesting is Amal’s love and adoration for Simone’s curves directly after Simone makes fun of herself for having “wobbly arms” or too many layers of skin. When Simone makes fun of herself, Amal reprimands her, but then proceeds to laugh at the ridiculousness of Simone’s delusional sense of enormity. Over time, the reader too, shares in this laugh as readers see Simone and her relationship to her body as marked by delusion. Rather than deal with the unpleasantness of a teenager with severe body image issues, we laugh.

Finally, Amal builds a community with the racist and silent students and teachers of her school through humor that attempts to subvert the gaze of the colonizer. Tina constantly attacks Amal for being Muslim, asking her if she feels bad for terrorist attacks, and calling her hijab a tablecloth. In reaction to these comments, Amal makes comments like “I just read the world’s shortest book called ‘My Thoughts’ by Tina.” Or, in response to a teacher who asks Amal to give a speech on Islam to help students understand why terrorists attacked an area in Bali, Amal asks said teacher to give a speech on what it means to be Christian to better explain the Ku Klux Klan. Rather than respond to the material that comes from the colonizer’s gaze, Amal throws their gaze back onto them, frustrating them, but creating humor for everyone else.

Other things I wish I could talk about but won’t: There’s a neighbor who alienates her son for converting to Judaism. She’s a cranky lady who Amal manages to befriend through a sort of “humor as a form of honesty.” Also, Amal is using humor to create relationships between people with extremely different ideologies. It enables orthodox Muslim relatives to relate to Amal and by extension the reader—I wondered if that was the author’s agenda at work (‘Stop equating religiosity with propensity to commit politically motivated terror attacks.’).


Reading for Learning by Maria Nikolajeva (Discussion Questions)

Perhaps I’ve always just taken for granted that reading was indispensable for young people (and all people in general). As someone who worked as an Americorps Jumpstart member (it was literally all about the books) and as an editor in children’s literature publishing, reading as fundamental to development and identity formation was just a fact in my universe. So the whole time I was reading these excerpts, I found myself asking these kinds of questions (which may just be completely missing the mark on the entire cognitive criticism argument/debate):

  1. Who is this written for and who is the intended audience? Does it matter? Who is Nikolajeva trying to convince (she says “politicians and policy-makers (226)” at one point, but something makes me think this is not that public-facing of a book)?
  2. The question of literacy, comprehension, and reading cannot and should not be taken out of social context. The truth is that there are myriad of factors that contribute to why a child doesn’t and/or cannot read (and it’s not as simple as a technological shift, as Nikolajeva appears to argue on 225). If we shift the assumption of the problem as being an issue of wanting  or desiring to read to that of a problem of access and accessibility to reading (whether it’s kinds of education, availability, costs of books, etc.),  how does the conversation change? Is this argument still convincing?
  3. Nikolajeva assumes a Common (Young/Child) Reader, which she fleetingly addresses as “problematic (15),” yet continues to do so throughout. Aside from finding the premise that the “constructed child has limited cognitive and affective skills (15)” icky,  I am interested in thinking about:
    1. Who is this Reader and who is it modeled off of? Because a little middle-class white American boy will have a very different reading experience with certain “classics” when compared to a little poor Chinese American girl reading the same books.
    2. How are we measuring comprehension and literacy? By what standards?
    3. Isn’t there an epistemological Catch-22 when we are measuring children’s comprehension by adult comprehension metrics? In other words, are we not falling into a kind of trap: children must not understand this fully because they cannot articulate it in a way that adults understand or find valid?
    4. Who owns the means of production of children’s books? What kinds of messages and identity formative ideas are embedded in these texts (the whole socialization aspect of the question)? And finally how does the types of books published affect the response children/young readers might have? Can we really chalk it up to a lack of understanding/comprehension? Might there be a representation aspect to this as well?

Nikolajeva Text (Discussion Questions)

So, there was A LOT in these readings to make sense of/move through/unpack. I’m still working through some of it, to be honest, but here are some of the questions that surfaced for me while reading. Also, apologies for the clunkiness of the questions and that there are so many of them!


  1. Nikolajeva speaks to the interconnectedness between identity formation in children and literature (specifically, fiction). In other words, we must consider the ways in which fiction shapes the identities of children and young adults. Pushing this line of thinking further, how might fiction shape the identities of children along racial/socioeconomic/gendered boundaries? And to that end, what happens to children’s identities when they open books and the images of themselves are distorted, erased, or missing altogether?
  2. Children’s (and YA) literature compels us to bring ourselves inside of ourselves as both an intellectual and emotional experience. As we move through the academe, what do we lose/gain/sacrifice we don’t value children’s literature as “scholarly”? When we don’t value it across academic disciplines? When we just don’t read it?
  3. It seems like children’s literature is written through the adult gaze. In what ways does the author’s positionality matter with regards to the tales they tell and how they tell them? What are the implications of attaching/detaching the author from the work(s) they produce?
  4. So while I was reading, this quote got to me— “Not even all adults possess the meta critical knowledge that would enable them to verbalize their appreciation of literature or art in full, rather than offering vague and subjective response (‘liked’- ‘didn’t like’)”. This assertion seems epistemologically elitist and so I really struggled with this. Who is defining the “standard” for engagement with texts? How should engagement with texts be defined and what does it look like? Also, what are some other ways of knowing/making meaning/and interpreting texts?
  5. This idea of the “novice reader” really stuck to me (and I’m trying to make sense of how I feel about it—I kept thinking of how readers as individuals are not removed from larger “isms”—racism, classism, ableism, sexism, queerantaginism). What do you make of the construct of the “novice” reader and the distinction between the “novice” reader and the “expert reader”? (Cognitive Approaches)


Life Writing and Schizophrenia: Encounters at the Edge of Meaning (Secondary Source for Challenger Deep)

I struggled with figuring out exactly where I wanted to take this discussion. Challenger Deep is such a rich text ripe for all different kinds of analysis. Did I want to discuss social constructionsim and medicalization? Did I want to think about disability models? Did I want to talk about mothering (and/or parenting) and disability?

I landed on thinking about the act of writing mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, since its the disorder dealt with in Challenger Deep. I’ve attached the introduction to Mary Elene Wood’s book Life Writing and Schizophrenia: Encounters at the Edge of Meaning, as well as two book reviews I felt elucidated the main ideas of the text.




If you’re interested, the other things I was thinking about bringing in:

Disability, impairment or illness? The relevance of the social model of disability to the study of mental disorder by Julia Mulvany: Mulvany_DisabilityImpairtmentorIllness

Social Model of Disability by Tom Shakespeare: SocialModelofDisability_Shakespeare

On Mothering, Models, and Disability Rights by Gail Landsman: OnMotheringModelsandDisabilityRights_Landsman

PS. Here’s the link to the entire Wood book:

Discussion Questions for Challenger Deep

Hi everyone, I am looking forward to talking about this text with all of you. I hope we get to play with the text in all sorts of ways, but for now, here are some more focused questions:

  1. Can we draw for a minute? So much of what Caden teaches the text is the failure of language to completely capture cognition and other brain related activities. For that reason, I thought I’d put his teaching into practice by drawing on a page of the text. My goal was just to draw what I was feeling as I read the page. Might you try this as well and let me know about the experience? Of course, I totally get the whole “Aren’t we too grown to be doodling in our textbook” angle, so I’ll pose it as a grownup question as well: What did you think of the drawings in the text? What value did they have for you as a scholar? What value might they have for a YA audience?
  2. Form: In what ways does Shusterman use form to illustrate the inner workings of a young boy with Schizophrenia? (I’m thinking about the slippery use of first person and second person point of view)
  3. Communities: I’ve learned from this class about the value of community building in disability theory and disability literature. I wondered what types of communities were being built in this text for a person with a mental illness. I am especially interested in your impressions of the different parents here. How do they compare to the other parents we’ve seen (I’m thinking of our conversation on “violence” and Ari’s parents).
  4. Language: This novel messed me up OR this novel rattled my sense of reality OR this novel was a ship full of cognitive navigators– Sorry, I’m being annoyingly meta, but the point there was this text is about language and its excess and lack. What do you think the text is saying about language? Any specific moments when we’re on Caden’s voyage that you felt were especially important commentaries on language?
  5. Time: Where are we really though? Just kidding. But also, what was your reaction to the collapsing of time. I mean clearly, there’s some elasticity here since his delusions include people we know he met later on in the narrative when he’s in the hospital. Did you find that purposefully confusing? A commentary on time and mental illness?
  6. Mental Illness and Art: What did you think of the intersection Caden makes between artists and mental illness? Also– how impressive is his tale of seeking Challenger Deep & how impressive is that ship!



In preparation for Oct 12th….

On Oct 12th, we will read Roderick McGillis, “Humour and the body in children’s literature,” in The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature, Edited by M. O. Grenby and Andrea Immel (Cambridge University Press, 2009): 258-271.

As you know, Blog Assignment #3 involves a short blog post and a 5 minute presentation on a primary source (literary book) that McGillis’s article could address–it does not have to be one of the texts he mentions.

Please sign up for primary texts in the comments below after reading his article.

Secondary Source: Using YA Fiction to Teach Noncognitive Skills

I chose this text because I felt it provided practical guidelines for incorporating YA fiction into the classroom to build students’ “social responsibility” and promote a culture of inquiry in schools. A popular focus of education research these days is strengthening students’ social-emotional and noncognitive skills in a deeper way than allowed in a 45 minute lecture from the guidance counselor. As Christopher mentioned in his summary, we can’t forget at whom these books are aimed. It was fun to see several of our primary texts mentioned.


Discussion Questions for Kidd article

  1. Kidd describes the “two traditions of child relation in queer theory, one concerned with queering the child or exposing the child’s latent queerness, and the other more interested in underscoring the Child’s normative power (p. 183).” I found myself trying to fit both Aristotle and Dante into each of these traditions. How are Saenz’ characters examples of these traditions (I’m more curious about the Child’s normative power)?
  2. A large part of Kidd’s critique includes the assertion that queer theory could be doing more to interrogate children’s literature. I couldn’t help but wonder how a queer theorist might analyze Ari’s coming out, which isn’t really “voluntary” in the sense that it doesn’t come from him, but rather from his parents telling him he’s in love with Dante (p. 348).
  3. Kidd mentions Stockton’s conceptualization of the gay child as being “born backward…emerging only after the individual has left childhood behind (p. 186).” Age and the passage of time feature heavily in ADDSU. How do Aristotle and Dante fit this idea of growing up in order to discover their queerness, or subvert it?