The 2018 PCEA Conference, held in Bethlehem, PA, showcased the scholarship of faculty and students from higher education students across the state; topics ranged from Victorian poetry to Manga and Classroom Pedagogy, and the breadth and scope of insight on offer was exciting and truely invigorating. With such a wide range of topics on offer, it was both gratifying and intriguing to se ejust how often children's literature and culture cropped up.
Erica Dymond (East Stroudsburg University), for example, delivered a paper entitled “‘My Master’s True Identity is a Good Person’: An Exploration of the Mentor/Mentee Relationship in ONE’s Mob Psycho 100”; focusing on the child character of Mob and the representation of mentorship, Dymond raised interesting questions about the intersection of Eastern and Western cultural values pertaining to childhood. Student Ariel Tucci (East Stroudsburg University), examined sitcoms such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park in her paper “A New Era of Progress: Explicating Gender Representation in Contemporary American Animated Sitcoms”; her examination of gender roles in these popular TV programs suggests that young people's interactions with such media may be as, if not more, subversive, than with textual counterparts.
On the second day of the conference, children's and YA literature made a strong appearance in the second panel of the day, “I Speak for the Trees:” Ecocriticism and the Environment. Here, my own exploration of the tension between publishing and marketing practice and content in The Hunger Games trilogy was complimented by papers on indigenous literature in the classroom (Katelyn Lucas, West Chester University, “Life after Standing Rock: Teaching Indigenous Literature for Social and Environmental Justice”) and on speculative fiction - including numerous mentions of YA texts - as a call to environmental justice advocacy (Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, Lehigh University, “New Religions at the End of the World: Resisting Late Capitalism in Contemporary Speculative Fiction”).
In a final and fascinating example, Tim Hibsman (Indiana University of Pennsylvania), presented “Learning from the Rebels, What Can the Bad Guys Teach Us?” This survey of many different literary villains included a wide range of children's and YA representatives, including Shere Khan (The Jungle Books), Voldemort (Harry Potter), and Boris (Rocky and Bullwinkle). Hibsman discussed his experiences of teaching literature to students in China by means of analyzing these characters, revealing fascinating comparisons in values and attitudes - as well as exposure - across these two different cultures.
What is the takeaway message here? Perhaps it is that, at the everyday pedagogical level, scholars are definitely aware of the unique opportunities children's literature offers to higher education instructors to help students think about issues of culture, class, identity, gender, and a wealth of other issues., and are making good use of these opportunities in both scholarship and pedagogical practice. Hurrah!
Jen is an Instructor of English at East Stroudsburg University. Views and opinions expressed here are her own, and not those of the University or any other organization.