Author Archives: Eileen Liang

Blending and Cultural Narratives by Trites (Discussion Questions)

  1. How convinced are we by Trites’ argument that lila’s xeroderma pigmentosum is “an embodied metaphor for racism (58),” that “xp may well be a metaphor for race in [a cool moonlight] (58)”? Are we not veering into dangerous territory when we conflate the two?
  2. Trites quotes David Herman’s argument that “cognitive narratology ‘investigates how narratives, through their forms as well as their themes, work to privilege some world models over others’ (79),” further specifying that she believes the most influential world model found in adolescent literature is “the model of requisite adolescent growth (79).” Do you think this is true of a cool moonlight? How do we see this play out in lila’s journey from wanting to be a sun goddess to being happy with being a moon girl?
    • Is it only the child/adolescent protagonist that must grow? Are the characters that form the community also growing or not growing? What is the role of the community/family in maintaining/enforcing this “requisite adolescent growth”? Do monk and mama and dad want lila to grow?
  3. I have never read Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, but juding from Trites’ analysis and quoting of the text, feel that it seems to be a highly problematic text. Trites says, “the book is ultimately far more pro-life than pro-choice, even though the text appears initially to try to present all sides of the debate fairly (71).” But it doesn’t! And ultimately, the message is received by readers, whether consciously or not. So. Where does that leave us? As someone interested in the sociology of knowledge and the way language works to enforce and maintain certain ideologies, I find this kind of work operating in children’s literature extra alarming. This goes back to our discussions around the fact that, ultimately, adults write children’s literature. Trites may argue that “the model of requisite adolescent growth” is the major unifying cultural narrative found in children’s literature, but perhaps it’s just the “ideas of the ruling class” (sorry to bring in Marx) that make it into these texts?

Humor and the Body in Children’s Lit x This One Summer

This One Summer is a graphic novel from the creative duo behind Skim. In This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki pair up again to bring us the story of one girl’s summer: in a familiar place, Awago Beach (her family’s summering spot), while she grapples with the new and unfamiliar of growing up and leaving girlhood. It is in this in-between place that we meet Rose and her summertime sister/best friend, Windy. While Rose (and Windy) oscillate between carefree girlhood and the pangs of pre-teen angst and growing up, we see the body and humor operate in different ways.

Rose is the narrator and she is one year older than Windy. Because of this, she often drives the adventures, and her particular ‘pre-teen but crossing into teen’ proclivities dictate what they do. One such pastime is the consumption of horror movies. When Rose decides she’s not interested in X-men or Sex and the City anymore (the movies Windy already has), Rose and Windy go to the local store, Brewster’s, to rent a film. Postulating as grown-up, teenager, “cool,” in the hope of impressing her summer crush, Rose grabs the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet, at home, in a private space, Rose and Windy hide under the covers instead of watching the film outright, while text and sound bubbles surround them (“ BZZZZ!!” “Splat!!” “Squirt!” “HELP ME!!”). Rose asks Windy to distract her, and Windy brings up oral sex. “That’s so gross!!” Windy proclaims, when she finds out what it entails (all the while, the movie continues to contribute background sound for the conversation). This is in line with McGillis’ assertion that “we can see the potentially subversive aspect of humor most clearly in the scatological and violent manifestations, its obsession with the body and all its discernable parts (264)”: the sounds of dismembering bodies surround the two girls while they discuss oral sex. “The dead body and the body in pieces are recurring features of children’s stories and fantasies, and it is quite possible to find humor in the body in pieces (263).” And indeed, some of the most poignant scenes are the ones in which we see Rose grapple with her fear of the horrific images from the films they consume. For example, she sprints home one night after watching Friday the 13th and bursts into nervous/scared/tired laughter after making it home unscathed.

We also see This One Summer grapple with the humor around changing girls bodies. Windy and Rose have extensive conversations around boobs and speculate on what size boobs they will have. In one scene on the beach, Windy proceeds to dance around as they together shriek “BREASTS!” “TITS!” “SEXY TA-TAS!” before being admonished by passing adults. Rose and Windy collapse, laughing. Here, “language itself provides broad humor (264)” as the girls confront the reality of their own changing bodies and those of their peers. With all that happens in the book, it literally closes on Rose thinking, “Boobs would be cool,” as she and her family leave the cottage for the summer.

This One Summer tackles a number of topics, from teenage sex, to miscarriage, to family tensions, to summer crushes, to the pangs of growing up and leaving girlhood. The body, bodies, and body parts play an ongoing role throughout the book, and the humor in relation to the body is both gentle at times (Windy mangling gummy feet candies before consuming them) or unrelentingly grotesque (as with the many scenes involving horror films). The visuals vividly drive all this home; I will share some of my favorites in class.

Alexie: “I wrote my YA novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self.”

Just thought I’d share this piece written by Alexie ( June 9, 2011). Touches on some of the things we’ve been discussing in class.

“Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood” 

He’s writing in response to/in conversation with Meghan Cox Gurdon’s, “Darkness Too Visible” (June 4, 2011). In this piece, Gurdon makes the argument that YA literature is too dark, too violent (the depravity!). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is named in her essay/rant.

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?

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: