Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Thoughts on the Provost's Distinguished Lecture: Featuring Matt de la Peña

Recently, Matt de la Peña came to SDSU to talk about his book Last Stop on Market Street. You can find the full video here on YouTube. Within what seemed like a very short time, those of us in the audience were given a brief history of what led him to write this story and what exactly this book means for children. Last Stop on Market Street is a picture book filled with pages of beautiful illustrations by Christian Robinson and a story that carries with it the weight of many large social issues presented in a way that allows children the opportunity to explore their own perception of what is beautiful within their daily life.

Listening to Matt talk about where he came from, his family, the journey from machismo to literacy, the challenges he faced, what inspired him, and how all of those things created a space for him to become a Newberry Medal winner and Caldecott Honored author, was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Matt and I come from very different sides of San Diego; while he was raised in National City, I was raised an hour east in the mountains of Pine Valley. In Pine Valley, there was only one mode of public transportation, a small bus that only a few people rode with one stop forty-five minutes to the nearest town. Even though country living is much different than city living, there is much to be said about what The Last Stop on Market Street gives readers—it transcends space and place: finding the beauty in the things around you.

While I might not have been raised around tall buildings or busy streets filled with people, I was still raised in a place that was hard to see as beautiful sometimes. One might think that beauty in the mountains must always exist, but it is a life lived far away from people, in the dirt and wilderness, with a single high school for a hundred miles, a side of the mountain that cannot be seen while driving by exists. Many families live well below the poverty line, are often the first in their families to go to high school, learn English as a second language, and the feeling of otherness extends through these mountains and is absolutely undeniable within the classroom. It has been a long time since I left my hometown, but after Matt’s speech, I was left remembering my childhood in a very different way.

As Matt spoke of his father, I thought of mine. A white male from the Midwest, with an affluent family that offered him job security for the rest of his life, he chose to leave the suburbs of Illinois and head for California. His first job in 1980 was teaching at a public elementary school less than ten miles from the border of Mexico in the small town of Jacumba. He taught there for his entire career. He didn’t know Spanish initially. There was no ESL program, the students he served were almost exclusively Hispanic and spoke only Spanish, and despite the barriers that existed between them, my father was determined to teach and his students wanted to learn. He didn’t have a budget; there was no funding. He used his paychecks to buy books, pencils, paper, and provide lunches for his students. He was never taught standard practices for this population, proven ways to increase literacy and improve graduation rates. His degrees were in history and the rigorous teaching curriculum that exist now for those in college to become teachers did not exist then—he would have to work harder and get creative. One year, they didn’t even have a classroom, so he taught outside and under the shade of the trees. He wanted to give his students every chance at success, so he fought an endless fight for funding, for books, but most of all he fought to give them an opportunity to see the worth in themselves and those around them. When he would talk about his days teaching in the mountains, he would swell with pride. He didn’t resent the district for ignoring his students, for leaving them outside in 100-degree weather, in the rain, in the wind, in the cold of the mountains. He knew that learning about the trees and the mountains, the geology and meteorology of the place that they lived, was a gift rather than a curse. I can only imagine what he’d say about Last Stop on Market Street; he’d probably tell me he wished he’d had this book when he was teaching; he’d probably remind me to stop and smell the roses, to revel in the beauty that surrounds us all. I wish he could read this book to my children. His students still remember him. When he died in 2013, my inbox was filled with condolences and memories from students he taught twenty years ago.
Me reading Last Stop on Market Street to my twins.
One of the things that truly hit home for me was the idea that regardless of where you are, there is beauty to be found. During his lecture Matt said that one of his goals as a writer has been to create books with storylines that “had nothing to do, at least overtly, with race or class,” so that young people can see themselves within his books, so they can have empathy for those around them, so that regardless of what they look like or where they come from, the people on the page are not so different from the person in the mirror. Students who feel that his stories are their stories and identify with his characters are given a chance to feel represented, empowered, and this becomes something important, a tool for children to feel proud of their experiences. These experiences provide groundwork for the future. If we give young people an opportunity to see the beauty in their daily life, a beauty that they can identify with, they have the potential to internalize their surroundings with appreciation and acceptance rather than comparison and shame. Last Stop on Market Street is filled with images of the city, the places that carry with them the weight of judgment, while many picture books for children take place in traditionally, aesthetically pleasing places (think: forests, pretty homes, suburban America, etc.). Last Stop on Market Street highlights the beauty in what is right in front of us. The words on the page move beyond the illustrations, beyond any one place, to the place of every child who struggles to see the good and beautiful life happening right in front of them.

Matt de la Peña’s lecture gave me an opportunity to think about the world around me, the world around my children, the world my father experienced and how different and yet equally beautiful each place really is. It is easy to forget to stop and smell the roses, not the roses in your neighbor’s yard or the roses down the street, but the roses, the life, that surrounds you—here and now.

When I think of ways that we can impact those around us, I think of my dad in the same way that I think of Matt de la Peña: They are the bright spots for kids in an otherwise dark and scary world. They raise questions in the minds of all those they reach; they ask us to look around and figure out exactly how we can share our light with anyone willing to listen. What tools do you have accessible to you? How can you take those tools and make them accessible to others? How can you share your experience, the things you are a witness to, in order to provide others with a sense of empathy, identity, empowerment? How can you show people that beauty is not only found in the perfectly clean, well-funded and tended classroom or the ethereal forest but anywhere we are learning or living, even the classroom in the dirt under a tree on a hot day? How do YOU use the gifts you have been given to make the world better? I think CJ’s Nana said it best, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Upcoming 2017 Children's Literature Conferences + Call for Papers

CFP - 2017 The Child and the Book: Interdisciplinary Links between Children's Literature and the Arts

Deadline: November 28, 2016

Location: Valencia, Spain
Dates: March 30, 2017–April 1, 2017

The links between the different arts have always been very strong throughout history. The Renaissance’s Man is probably an archetype. Nevertheless, other examples like the tight relationship between artists during the Avant-Garde period show that the disconnection is very recent. This circumstance is probably related to that fact that arts have been included in scholarly studies, which has led to their specialization. As a result, the different arts have been studied in isolated academic spaces without any relation among them. In addition, students have been very often deprived of seeing art as a whole. Many artistic manifestations have still included the interdisciplinary use of arts as a main expressive resource. This is the case of opera, the so-called global art, but also cinema or animation are current examples of a combination of arts.

For specialized critics Children’s Literature has always been considered a privileged field of study since it includes many different manifestations of artistic expression. Picture books are one of the most prominent ones, but then current multimedia devices have increased considerably the variety of supports and also resources linked to Children’s Literature that interact simultaneously.

The proposal for the 2017 edition of The Child and the Book Conference aims at exploring these issues. The main topic would be the relationship between Children’s Literature and Music, Fine Arts and other kind of artistic expressions.

Specific topics that we want to address include:
  • The relationship of music, fine arts and other kind of artistic expressions with children’s literature
  • Adaptations, intermediality, trans-mediality, cross-mediality
  • Animation and films for children and young adults
  • Opera, folktales and children’s literature
  • Fine arts and picture books
  • Ekphrasis in children’s books
  • New methodological approaches in the interdisciplinary use of arts in children’s literature
Papers will be up to 20 minutes long to allow short discussions in every session. You should respect as much as possible the topics of the conference. All the seminar rooms where the lectures will be carried out are fully equipped with AVA facilities, PowerPoint, internet etc.

How to apply:
Please send an abstract of 300- 500 words maximum to thechildandthebook2017@uv.es clearly stating:
  • The topic(s) you are working under regarding those listed above
  • An outline of your paper clearly stating the line of argument
  • Your name and surname
  • Your e-mail address
  • Your institution
  • A short biography of 50-100 words giving your name, institutional affiliation, one or two publications

Please, indicate if you are a junior researcher (master or PhD student, researchers who finished their PhD less than 7 years ago). Since The Child and the Book is a junior-researchers-focused conference, this category of scholars will be prioritised, although everybody is invited to send a proposal. In order to keep the conference small in size, we will not accept more than one presentation per person.

This is a three-day conference and it is expected that presenters will stay as long as possible in order to facilitate the contact and discussion with other participants. Please indicate if you are able to stay for the three days of the conference.

We intend to implement a program of couch-surfing addressed mainly to students in order to minimize costs for participants, and promote the cultural exchange between the students of our faculty and other people from abroad. Please, let us know if you would like to use this option.
Important dates:

Notification of acceptance: December 24, 2016

The 38th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

Deadline: October 31, 2016

Location: Orlando, Florida
Dates:  March 22–26, 2017

We welcome papers on the work of: Guest of Honor Steven Erikson (World Fantasy and Locus Award nominee), Guest of Honor N.K. Jemisin (Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee, Locus Award winner), and Guest Scholar Edward James (Pilgrim, Hugo, British Science Fiction Association, and Eaton Award winner).

The hero(ine)’s tale is as old as storytelling itself. We trace our way from Gilgamesh to current practitioners of the art through routes that lead to – and beyond – other kingdoms, including those of Malazan and the cities of Gujaareh, Sky, and Shadow. Papers may tread the paths of Thomas the Unbeliever, Bren Cameron, Sundiata Keita, and Boudica, or follow a dark road through Gondor, Camelot, or any valley of shadow. We can find the Epic in the hall of Heorot and in the rooms of Schaherazade. Examinations of modern epics might include the American west, the Marvel Universe, or the world of Miyazaki. A journey, a quest, an awakening—all these and more are part of Fantastic Epics.

We also welcome proposals for individual papers and for academic sessions and panels on any aspect of the fantastic in any media. The deadline for proposals is October 31, 2016. We encourage work from institutionally affiliated scholars, independent scholars, international scholars who work in languages other than English, and graduate students.

More information forthcoming at www.iafa.org

For help with Children’s and Young Adult Division (CYA) submissions, please email Rodney Fierce at rdfierce@gmail.com

Encounters of the Playful Kind: Children’s Literature and Intergenerational Relationships

Deadline: October 31, 2016

Submissions are invited for chapters on possible intersections between children’s literature and play as spaces of encounters between imaginary childhoods and adulthoods as well as between real children and adults. On the one hand, the collection will draw on aesthetic approaches to children’s literature to explore the concept of intergenerational play as informing texts thematically and stylistically. On the other hand, it will rely on methods developed within sociology of literature to discuss interage play as fostering extraliterary interactions between children and adults in the context of shared reading experiences. This volume will thus contribute to children’s literature studies, childhood studies, and play and culture studies.

How to apply:
  • Submit an abstract of the proposal, maximum 300 words with a brief CV of the author(s), maximum 40 words

o   Submit to: Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak justyna.deszcz-tryhubczak@uwr.edu.pl and Barbara Kalla barbara.kalla@uwr.edu.pl

For more information, visit their site here.

Children’s/Young Adult Literatre and Culture Area || Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) 38th Annual Conference

Deadline: November 1, 2016

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Dates: February 15–18, 2017

The Children’s/Young Adult Literature and Culture area covers a wide variety of possible mediums: traditional book/literature culture, but also comics, graphic novels, film, television, music, video games, toys, internet environment, fan fiction, advertising, and marketing tie-ins to books and films, just to name a few. Proposals on fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or cross-genre topics are welcome. Interdisciplinary approaches are especially welcome, as are presentations that go beyond the traditional scholarly paper format.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
  • Diversity in Children’s and YA literature (gender, race/ethnicity, disability, body image, sexual identity)
  • Use of innovative or “novel” formats for both children’s and YA literature
  • The next “big” thing in children’s and YA literature Film adaptation issues
  • Historical approaches to children’s and YA literature and culture
  • New readings of children’s and YA literature and culture
  • Re-imaginings of myth, fairy tale, and other traditional stories
  • Explorations of specific authors in the children’s and YA areas
  • Fan fiction and fan followings of books, films, and authors
  • Beyond books and films
  • Awards for children’s and YA literature (issues and controversies)

Proposals on other topics related to Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Culture will be read with interest.

How to apply:
  • Submit abstract of individual proposals of approximately 200–500 words.
  • Include a brief bio in the body of the proposal form (encouraged but not required)
  • All proposals must be submitted through the conference’s database at: http://conference2017.southwestpca.org/

For more information, visit the site here.

Contact: Area Chair Diana Dominguez at diana.dominguez@utrgv

The Intersection of Cartoons, Animation, and Youth Media: A Special Issue of Children's Literature Association Quarterly

Deadline: November 1, 2016

In connection with the upcoming 2016 ChLA conference on Animation, this special issue of ChLAQ will focus broadly and widely on that multimodal and ever-expanding medium known as youth animation. From children's cartoon shorts such as Walt Disney's Steamboat Willy (1928) and Leon Schlesinger's Looney Tunes (1930-1969); to full-length animated motion pictures such as the work of Studio Ghibli, Pixar, and Nickelodeon; to Homestar Runner, video games, and flip books, if it's sequential art put into motion, it's on the table for discussion.

The Quarterly invites papers that craft, extend, and/or disrupt existing discussions, including (but certainly not limited to):
  • Histor(-ies) of children's animation (from the Walt Disney, Fleischers, and Warners forward to the Hanna Barbera and Terrytoon Television era and all stops in between and beyond)
  • The adoption of animation intended for other audiences and venues to an audience of children (The Flintstones, Looney Tunes, The Simpsons,
  • etc.)
  • New Frontiers of Animation (modes and media, interactivity, video games, etc.)
  • The commodification of and interaction between animated media and revenue streams (animation as product tie-in/commercial for toys and
  • games [Barbie, GI Joe, Transformers, Disney Princesses, etc.])
  • Adaption of print media into animation and further transmedia
  • Difference in animation (broadly ­from cultural and global perspectives, styles, historical perspectives etc.)
  • Stop motion, CGI, puppetry, and other operative modes in the creation of animation
  • Sex(-ing) and gender(-ing) in animation for youth culture
  • Close readings of animated properties.

  • Papers should conform to the usual style of ChLAQ and be between 5,000-7,000 words in length.
  • Queries and completed essays should be sent to Joseph Michael Sommers (somme1jm@cmich.edu with a re: line indicating "ChLAQ Essay")

The selected articles will appear in ChLAQ in 2017.
Website: http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/61774

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Shadowhunters: Diversity, Racism, and Postcolonial Readings

When The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, directed by Harald Zwart, was released in 2013, it opened to lackluster reviews and disappointing box-office numbers—it only earned about $31 million domestically to date. Based on the bestselling young adult urban fantasy novels by Cassandra Clare, the story follows the heroine Clary Fray as she stumbles into what most teenagers would want to discover: she’s not entirely human, and she’s an important player in the race to save the world—and not just the human world. The Shadowhunter world and its occupants are also in danger from a purist Shadowhunter bent on purifying their race. (Not quite the whole wipe-out-the-world ploy but close. Really close.)

Shadowhunters the television show is the second adaption of the novel series and premiered on Freeform on January 12, 2016; it has since been renewed for a second season run of 20 episodes. And being a fan of anything fantasy (and having seen/read both the movie and the novels), I had to take it upon myself to watch this particular adaption as well.

Now, the thing about Shadowhunters isn’t that it’s the Best Show on TelevisionTM, because it’s bad. Truly, honestly, undeniably bad in the way that most shows aimed at young adult audiences are. The acting goes from good to terrible in the span of a scene; the cinematography is mediocre; the dialogue is awful; the special effects are cringe-worthy.

However, though the show is objectively Bad TelevisionTM and was probably made on a budget of two cents, a bent paper clip, and a crinkled candy wrapper, what the show does well is a number of more nuanced narrative and directive choices. Arguably, Shadowhunters is the best portrayal of fictional oppression as a metaphor for racial oppression I’ve seen on genre TV lately, as the casting director cast actors of color in a multitude of roles that were originally white. It has real, visible diversity that are present not only in the extras but, perhaps most importantly, in the characters that actually move the plot forward (namely the main cast). Most of these characters were white or “up to interpretation” in the original text material, and most were portrayed as white in the 2013 movie adaption.

While not an exhaustive list by any means, here are 8 characters of color in the show:
  • Emaraude Toubia, as Isabelle Lightwood (Mexican-Lebanese)
  • Harry Shum Jr., as Magnus Bane (Costa-Rican Chinese)
  • Kaitlyn Leeb, as Camille Belcourt (Chinese-Canadian)
  • Jade Hassouné, as Meliorn (Lebanese-Canadian)
  • David Castro, as Raphael Santiago (Puerto-Rican, Jewish)
  • Alberto Rosende, as Simon Lewis (Cuban-Colombian)
  • Isaiah Mustafa, as Luke Garroway (African American)
  • Shailene Garnett, as Maureen Brown (African-Canadian, Creole)
Shadowhunters, then, is a turning point in representation in TV shows, as a means to critique Hollywood’s toxic history of whitewashing everyone under the sun in the name of profit and audience turn-out for big-name actors. 

More often than not, people of color are regulated to stereotypical roles: the sidekick, the comedic extra, the villain, the sexualized subject, and so on ad nauseam. These particular images get repeated often enough that they assume a reality of their own. Postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha, professor of English and American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University, has offered perhaps the most challenging and innovative engagement with the issues of racial/cultural otherness and the colonial stereotype. In his book, The Location of Culture, Bhabha asserts that the colonizer is able to produce images and remark upon things that are then reiterated and reified, especially in the case of the racialized Other. Skin color provides a convenient strategy for that signification; if the Other has a particular skin pigment, they can be known and exoticized as something dangerous that society cannot contain. The purpose of this, as Bhabha writes, is to shore up the identity of the colonizer by molding the colonized subject into a more palatable form—someone who is like the colonizer themselves. Critically pressuring this goal, however, reveals that the (white/hegemonic/heteropatriarchal) identity being protected is not as stable or secure as the colonizer might wish to believe.

Because the Downworlders (beings like werewolves, vampires, and faeries who are half demon) are portrayed by people of color in Shadowhunters when they once were white, the narrative makes room for a postcolonial reading about the fragility of the Shadowhunter’s dominant, hegemonic society.

Despite the increased diversity in the show and allowance for these types of dialogues are a positive step in the right direction, it does not pardon the show from breaking down under critical analysis. While the handling of racism in the show is a little more nuanced than what we would normally see, I can’t help but raise my eyebrows to my hairline with the way the show handles it. Shadowhunters is so specifically focused on these conversations about race that it lacks the specific context of that racism. 

In the show, the Downworlders exist in an uneasy alliance with the Shadowhunters, but the Shadowhunters seem to find ever-increasing ways of being verbally offensive about them. For example, Alec (one of the protagonists) insists that Downworlders are ruled by impulse while Shadowhunters are not, which repeats the racist, colonialist discourse of civilized versus non-civilized people. Even Isabelle (played by Mexican-Lebanese actress Toubia) informs Meliorn that “some of us [Shadowhunters] enjoy a little spice” when referring to his part-demon blood and also in reference to her relationship with him, contributing to the hypersexualization of people of color in media, and thus reduces Meliorn to that one aspect of his identity rather than a coherent whole.
Isabelle Lightwood

At the same time, it’s hard not to see the show succeeding in smalls ways despite itself. Shadowhunters engages in depictions of POC (people of color) on POC racism, and that is unexpected but welcome, because it does address internalized racism and adds complexity to the fairly straightforward fantasy. 

If a “silly fantasy” young adult genre dramedy can do this, why can’t HBO do it with their high-budget shows?