Books were always at the epicentre of my childhood. As a toddler, I had an insatiable appetite for story time. On the first day of the school holidays, my mum would take us to the Waterstones on Milsom Street and we would spend hours combing the shelves before picking out our holiday reading. By the following morning, I would have finished at least one book.
I read everything: picture books, the classics, Shakespeare (yes, really), YA fiction. I remember loving The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry Potter, a book of Arabian fairy tales I found in a Glastonbury charity shop, Little Women, Persepolis and My Sister Sif, a book I found in the school library that seems to have gone out of print years ago.
The part of me that still believes in magic never quite let go of these stories. So when I enrolled in Children’s Lit this summer just gone, I kind of figured it would be a fun, easy class to fulfil my gen.ed requirement.
I was only half right.
When I got the reading list, I was set alight. I was so excited to study Where The Wild Things Are, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland, and Coraline. I wanted to study Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl. I had a lot of these books already, leftover from my childhood. The rest I found in Value Village because I love a good bargain.
The class itself was a lot more in-depth and interesting than I’d expected. We began by exploring what it means to be a child, and therefore what it means to create literature for children. Did you know that the Puritans were the first to create and publish children’s books? I would have never guessed it.
The theoretical readings were engaging and provocative; some of them (keep an eye out for Nodelman) have stayed with me ever since, helped me navigate conflicts and changed my perspective. In all honesty, this is the first time a reading has become an integral part of how I view the world on a day-to-day basis.
The course was taught by Professor Richardine Woodall. Everyone I know who has had the privilege of being her student agrees that she is amongst the kindest, most engaging, and incredibly interesting professors they’ve ever been taught by – and I wholeheartedly agree. Richie is the kind of prof who learns the class’ names quickly, who cultivates a safe and respectful space for discussion, who champions diversity and representation. She makes sure that her syllabi feature stories from a range of origins: LGBT picture books, Canadian children’s stories, graphic novels featuring mixed-race Torontonian high schoolers, Caribbean authors, and more.
In a city as cosmopolitan as Toronto, on a campus with such a global community, Richie’s efforts could not be more appreciated. As a class, we discussed the importance of finding stories that everyone can connect with on some level – and how this might impact the intended audience of these stories: children.
I loved this class so much more because of the empowerment that filled the classroom. Everyone felt heard, supported, and valued. Every opinion was considered and respected, even when debates got passionate. I learned so much from my classmates: about the books, about children and childhood (many of my classmates were parents), and about myself. Emotions ran surprisingly high: weeping in lectures about The House At Pooh Corner and Charlotte’s Web was not something I expected, nor was the realisation that small children should probably not be allowed to read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory until they can understand that Wonka is a Really Bad Egg.
I am my best self when I get to talk about stories. That’s the me I like the most. She’s the most passionate, the most thoughtful, the most alive out of all of us. In this class, I became more confident in my abilities as a student. I became driven not only by my own wishes for success; I wanted to make Richie proud, too. I’ve become more aware of the influence language and subliminal messaging can have on tiny humans, of just how tough and intelligent they are. I’ve become braver when writing papers, because Richie encouraged so much creativity and fearlessness in the essays she assigned, and because she expected great things from us.
This class reminded me of the person and student I want to be, of what I most love to study. This class was the reason I added English as a minor to my degree. It’s one of the absolute highlights of my time at Glendon so far. And if you can, I’d recommend wholeheartedly that you take it.
P.S – I recently found out that this class is available in the Shadow Program! If you’re considering Glendon and/or English Lit, you can come to campus and try the class out for real, with current students.