Stuck – a #nerdultion/slice of life post


Click on the image above to head over to the blog “Two Writing Teachers” for more Slice of Life posts….

Today I feel stuck. This is dissertation work time, I have a meeting with my advisor in 2 hours and I feel stuck. So I’m going to try writing here.

One of things that I’m struggling with in this kind of writing is that I need to write to figure out what I’m thinking versus “showing what I know”. It’s something that I ask the students in my children’s literature course to do each semester. Some of them really struggle with it – they believe that if they have to write a “paper” and submit it to me (the teacher) that they need to show me what they know. I want for them to use their written responses as a way to figure out what they think and why they think it.

My dissertation needs to be a combination of both, with some stories and references in there for clarity and support. And it is oh-so-hard for me sometimes. I have this notion that I should be showing what I know, that this is in some way going to “prove” that I have earned the label of Ph.D..

I keep feeling this need to defend my work – to defend why I am doing the sort of dissertation that I am (theoretical/humanities) and to defend why it matters. But what I need to do is make the case and then DO the writing – and let that speak for itself. And not everyone will agree with me or even choose to engage with what I’m thinking. But that doesn’t matter. So I’m going to turn off my inner critic now – she needs a nap anyways – and go do some writing…

Philosophy of Childhood and Children’s Literature (nerdlution #2)

Dissertation progress update:

  • reread feedback on Chapter 2 so I’d know where to start with revisions
  • revised 2 paragraphs that needed help and added a new paragraph
  • wrote a story to integrate into chapter 2 (or another chapter, not sure yet)
  • had a conversation with a friend about part of my framework

About that last one, what exactly IS a theoretical framework anyways?!?! This has been one of the most complex aspects of academic writing for me to wrap my brain around. In the case of my dissertation, the way I’m thinking of it (thanks to my advisor) is as the “lenses” that I’m using to read, view, sift, and filter as I read and write.

One of the lenses is Gareth MatthewsPhilosophy of Childhood (not the same thing as philosophy for children). What I’ve been talking about and rewriting is the section that explains what exactly it is and why I’m using it in this study. This second part is tricky for me because it is perfectly clear in my head – but doesn’t always come out on paper the same way.

Ultimately Matthews is important for me because my study is focusing on the ways that children’s literature is thought about, studied, and conceptualized across the disciplines of education, library science and english. In my study I use the terms “literacy, libraries, and literature”. Specifically, I want to analyze interdisciplinary ways of thinking about children’s literature as a way to provide a broader way to prepare preservice teachers to think about children’s literature in elementary classrooms.

So why Matthews? He provides a lens that frames children not from a deficit or developmental perspective, but from a “show me what you can do” perspective. This is important because of the implied child reader of children’s literature, as well as because of the assumed (and explicitly taught) developmental perspectives of teacher education.

Dissertation plan for Monday:

  • finish revisions on Matthews section
  • make plan for revisions on Rancière section (the other half of my framework)


Photo Journal: Writing Retreat #1


This gallery contains 12 photos.

This week, I headed to my parents house in northern Michigan for my own personal writing retreat. I’m so very grateful to my husband and daughters for their moral and very tangible time support so that I can complete my … Continue reading

Dissertation Ponderings: Authorial Intent

I’ve been working in my dissertation and thought I’d share some of my “mind mapping” images. The image below is part of chapter two – at least that’s how it started – which is my framework chapter. This chapter describes how I’m going to approach my topic, another way I like to think of it is what “lenses” will I be wearing as I explore my topic. I’m using (or wearing) Matthews’ Philosophy of Childhood as an alternative to the traditionally accepted stage theories of development (like Piaget). I’m also using Ranciere as a way to consider what happens if teachers and students start from a place of equality.

The photo below was me trying to figure out if the idea of “authorial intent” is one way I can explain my thinking, or if it was just me going off on a tangent to avoid actual writing. I’m still working on it, but the good news is that I don’t think it is just a tangent (although it might come in to play in a different chapter).



I’ve always been bothered by the question of authorial intent – it seems to me like the only way to get the answer is to actually ask the author. I know that isn’t necessarily true – there are some pieces of writing where authorial intent is very clear – like in very didactic books.

I really appreciate John’s Green’s thoughts on the matter. I’ve watched How and Why We Read: Crash Course English Literature #1 numerous times. Today I discovered that someone has isolated his “Open Letter to Authorial Intent” (which is part of the How We Read video).

One particular thing he says has stuck with me and I will continue to think about in terms of the ways that elementary teachers are prepared to think about literature…

Inevitably reading is a conversation between and author and a reader, but give yourself some power in that conversation reader! Go out there and make a world. 

I think that the idea of authorial intent is going to come in because if that is the objective of a lesson, then it has the potential to significantly impact the types of literature a teacher selects. In other words, if my goal as a teacher is for students to be able to identify the author’s intent of a book, then I’m only going to select books that have one clear message.

At least that’s where I am right now… more soon!

Connections: Extra Yarn and Philosophy of Childhood

My youngest daughter (8 1/2 years old) just asked if she could read me a picture book. She gave me four to select from and I chose this one:

Here is what she had to say about it after she read to me:

I think that there wasn’t any yarn in the box for the Duke because it only worked for people who needed it. The Duke was rude and only wanted it (the yarn) to make him famous and popular. Annabelle was a young girl who wanted to make a change in the world that she lived in. It didn’t say that exactly in the story but that’s what I think because she was the only one who could get the colorful yarn. Annabelle chose to share the yarn to help make the world a better place. The Duke was just being greedy.

I love asking people what they think about books they are reading or have read. I specifically use the term “people” because age doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a preschool child who isn’t yet decoding words, or a Nerdy Book Club friend who reads voraciously, everyone can say something about a story. It makes me think about the phrase I often hear from adults in regards to children reading certain books:

Children won’t understand that. It’s too __________ (insert descriptor like complex, scary, or deep).

This comment makes me crazy. While comments like this may be true for some readers (again regardless of age), it is not true of all readers. When adults make decisions about what a child can or can not engage with before even talking to the child, it worries me. I was reading today about The Philosophy of Childhood. I’m still reading and processing – and will be for a while because it is a big part of my dissertation. But as I was listening to Annie tell me what she thought about Extra Yarn, it made me think back to this quote by Gareth Matthews:

“The models of development that theories of childhood offer to stimulate our research and challenge our attempts at understanding children may have many useful functions. But we must guard against letting those models caricature our children and limit the possibilities we are willing to recognize in our dealings with them as fellow human beings” (Matthews, 1994, p. 29).

If we, as adults and teachers, are too cautious about what we think children are capable or in terms of responding to literature, we are shortchanging them from a world of possible experiences.

My Professional Canon – Part 1

I’ve been working on a little thing lately, ok – it’s actually a big thing (no pressure): my dissertation proposal. The defense is quickly coming up and I’m having trouble narrowing down the texts I’m going to draw on for my humanities theoretical work around multidisciplinary thinking about children’s literature. Earlier today I was struggling with this and thought back to ALAN 2012 Conference when my good friend Teri Lesesne challenged us to think about our personal canons. At the time, I thought about this in terms of children’s and YA literature titles but this morning I realized that I could also think of the texts I’m selecting for this dissertation as my professional canon.

Even this wasn’t nearly narrow enough for me because I started thinking about teaching books, education books, research books… AGH then I refocused. (Thanks to my friend Laura Jimenez.) Children’s literature – this dissertation is focused on children’s literature.

So the question is, what books or articles do I want to include in my profession canon about children’s literature? Here are some questions I’m asking myself as I narrow down the list:

  • what inspires me to think more deeply about children’s literature?
  • what inspires me to want to actually write a dissertation about children’s literature?
  • what helps convey the complexity of children’s literature in ways that I want to engage with as I write?
  • I want to be sure and select texts from across disciplinary ways of thinking about children’s literature in Literature (English), Libraries, and Literacy (Education)
  • I want to include pieces that are beautifully written, as well as those that are thoughtful, insightful, interesting and engaging.

I’m still working on it, but here is what I have so far:


The importance of process

I’m working with a writing coach right now, she is amazing. Something that rang eerily true for me while we were working this weekend was the fact that my past experiences with writing – and other types of creating as well – were largely about having a product outwardly validated. A final draft, a Bach Suite, a photograph, a test result.

I’m now working on my dissertation, which needs to be all about process. There will be a product, yes. But the focus of that product, the reason for it’s existence is a for me to communicate my process. Which, as it turns out, I don’t trust and hasn’t actually helped me to move my thinking forward. I’m working on these things but in the meantime, my realization got me thinking about the things that are publicly valued in our society – so SO many of those things are about product.

  • Olympic Medals – or the more timely Final Four Basketball Championship
  • the number of albums sold.
  • Length of time on the best seller list.
  • Test scores.
  • Did I mention test scores?

I worry that with so much rhetoric and pressure on schools (translate: teachers & students) to put out strong test scores, everyone will lose sight of the process of learning. Do we need to know what we are teaching and if students are learning? Yes. Can process be included in testing? Sometimes. But I hope that we don’t lose sight of helping students develop and understand their own processes, including:

  • Process of learning
  • Process of creating
  • Process of teaching
  • Process of engaging

Book Choice: Talking the talk – pt. 2

Yesterday I wrote about my 12 year old daughter wanting to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and how it pushed me to “talk the talk” of book choice with my own kids. Today’s post continues with a reflection on a similar event with my younger daughter.

My youngest daughter is 8-years-old and in the third grade. She recently finished listening to all the Harry Potter Books. She enjoys reading, though not as voraciously as her older sister. She knows what she likes and doesn’t like. If it is a choice between not reading, and reading something that she isn’t crazy about – she will choose not to read. However when she gets excited about a book, gets really really into it – look out. That’s what happened when she discovered HP audiobooks. She listened to all of them in less than 2 months, we talked about the characters and the stories. We also watched the movies and compared them to the books.

Last week she had a sleepover with one of her best friends who happens to be in fourth grade. Friend has read The Hunger Games and was telling Youngest how amazing it was, and that she just had to read it. I want to say first, that I love that they were talking about books. When friends recommend books to other friends (kids, teens, or adults), it can be one of the most powerful motivations to read.

So Youngest comes home SO excited because she wants to read The Hunger Games. She has asked in the past, but I think it was more to both imitate and annoy her older sister (who has read the book). This is an important part of the story – Eldest insisted on numerous previous occasions, that it was “not appropriate for Youngest to read”. After what seemed like the tenth time she told me, I sat down with Eldest and told her about my belief in readers choosing their own books. I reminded her of the time that she wanted to read Hunger Games. And I told her that ultimately, me saying “no you may not read that” is a form of censorship. That censorship and selection are something I teach my students about because of how strongly I believe that there are not book “rules” that work for everyone. That it was not her responsibility to decide what was appropriate for her sister (or anyone else) to read. Ironically two weeks later, Eldest wanted to read Perks of Being a Wallflower, written about in yesterday’s post.

Back to Youngest, who by now had asked every day for a week to read The Hunger Games. Youngest is a my sensitive one who has felt empathy for others from a very young age. She is the child who cries when other people get hurt. I had definite reservations about her reading The Hunger Games right now. But she was so excited about it, I didn’t want to squash that excitement. I was also genuinely concerned about how she would respond to the killing scenes in the arena and the fact that people were forced to watch it on tv. Part of me just wanted to say, “No, you aren’t ready, you may not read that book now.” But I realized as she and I sat at the table together I needed to talk the talk of book selection with my own child.

And what do I tell parents and my own students to do in these situations? Start by asking the child about why they want to read that particular book. She was excited about the adventure aspect, mostly she was excited to read something that her friends had read so that she could talk about it with them. Ok – where to go next? I described the general plot to her, the conversation that followed went something like this:

Me: Honey there is killing in this book. You don’t even like it when people get hurt.
Youngest: I know that mommy, Friend told me. She also said not to throw the book across the room when a character you like dies. Because it doesn’t change anything and you’ll get in trouble.
Me: Well, that is good advice. I want you to understand what kind of killing and hurting is in this book. It isn’t like Voldemort. There kids killing other kids because adults make them. And people are forced watch it all on tv.
Youngest: People watch? That’s yucky. <BIG PAUSE>  But it’s still a fiction book, it’s fantasy. I know that means it didn’t really happen.
Me: That is true, but I also know that when someone is injured, it makes your tummy hurt. I’m worried that if you read this book your tummy would hurt a lot and make it difficult to enjoy the story. How about I read a page or two to you, and you can see what you think. If you still want to read it, then we’ll do it together.

I read her the passage where Katniss realizes that she’s had her first kill. She remembers Rue being killed and realizes that the boy she killed has family that watched it happens and wants her to die.

She looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mommy I really want to read it, but I think that it would make my tummy hurt.” Then I went and pulled some other fantasy, adventure books off the shelf for her to try out.

My point in sharing today’s story (as well as the one I posted yesterday), is to illustrate the ways that I had conversations with my daughters about these books. Did both situations work out the way I had hoped? Yes, because we had conversations, they had voice, and ultimately made their own decisions. As I write this, I’m imagining someone reading and thinking, “What if Youngest had decided she still wanted to read The Hunger Games?” That is a fair question.

We would have read it together. Not parallel like I did with Eldest and Perks of Being Wallflower (we read it at the same time but on our own). With Youngest, I would have insisted that we read it out loud together, so that I could have discussions with her about things as she experienced them. And it might have been fine, she might have loved the book. But, what would have been important is sharing it together and her knowing that I trust her to know herself as a reader.

Book Choice: Talking the talk with my own kids – pt. 1

When my eldest daughter was in fourth grade, she wanted to read The Hunger Games. It was relatively new, my students were reading it, and she heard me recommending it to friends. I described to general plot to her, including the fact that there are kids that kill and kids that die. I had her read the front flap and a few reviews, we talked about why she wanted to read it and she decided to wait. When she did read it towards the end of fifth grade she loved it, but also told me she was glad she had waited. I was quite proud of both of us. I hadn’t said, “No you can’t read it you are too young” and she made the decision that worked for her. And in the interest of full disclosure – she made the decision I wanted her to make.

Students, friends, teachers, and parents have all asked me, “What age is this book for?”, “Do you think this would be good for a third grader?”, “Is my child ready to read Twilight?”. I was even asked that question as part of an interview for the local news channel about the book The Hunger Games.

My answer is always, “It depends.”

It depends on the reader, their interests and development. It depends on if they are reading alone or with someone. It depends on why they want to read it, and a host of other possible factors. Each semester when I teach children’s literature, we discuss censorship and selection. I am a huge proponent of knowing the reader, knowing the book, and allowing the child/reader make their own decision about when to read something.

This belief has been tested by my own children in the past few weeks. My firm belief in trusting readers, in not censoring, and in choice has been tested by both daughters, they both wanted to read books that I was not sure they are ready to read right now. Now ultimately I know that I am the parent, and there are occasions that I would say “no you cannot read that”, but I also want them to learn to make informed choices for themselves.

Eldest daughter is now 12 years old and in the 7th grade. (The next post will be about the younger, 8 years old and 3rd grade). While I don’t typically write much about my children on this blog, I wanted to use these experiences to reflect on my beliefs about book choice and how those beliefs are enacted when I need to “talk the talk”. Not only because it is something I am passionate about as a children’s literature scholar and teacher, but also because it comes up so often with friends who are teachers and parents.

Fast forward to last week; eldest wanted to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She had seen a preview for the movie, and because in our family we read the books first, she asked to download the book to her Nook (it’s password protected because of the credit card information). I told her I had not read it and suggested we read it at the same time. Now, I knew that there was sex, abuse, drugs, and a variety of other “mature themes” in the book – but as I said I had not read it. She was reading on her Nook, me on my iPad – she started the day before me. I’m not going to lie. When I got to page three, I wanted to tell her to stop reading. But I didn’t. I kept on reading, then I went and talked to her. I asked her if she read anything that was confusing or she had questions about. She looked me straight in the face and said, “YES!”. Together we decided to keep reading but that we would debrief together at the end of each day. I told her the deal was we had to talk about the choices the characters were making and the things they were doing. We had some conversations about things like sex & drugs that I had been nervous about having with her, but I realized that the book was helping. It gave her a place to start asking questions that didn’t have to be specifically about her. If I had just said, “NO you can not read that”, I would have missed a huge opportunity ( and she probably would have checked it out of the library and read it in secret).

Ultimately, she decided not to finish the book. She said that the intensity was more than she was ready for right now. She has it and can finish it at any time. Much like when she chose to not to read The Hunger Games, I was relieved. I’m grateful for the conversations that came from her choice to read it, but I’m also grateful that she realized and acknowledged her own limits . She said, “Mom, one thing that is good and bad about realistic fiction is that you know it’s real, it can happen. I don’t think I’m ready for all that real right now.”

That’s what matters to me the most. That in the end she was able to decide for herself, and articulate why she chose to stop reading. It wasn’t random or uninformed. It wasn’t punitive or from an adult.  It came from her. The choice that she made came because I first said, “I trust you to know yourself as a reader and a human. Let me help you learn how to use that trust and knowledge to make a choice that is best for you.”