by Philip Nel

About Philip Nel

Philip Nel is University Distinguished Professor of English at Kansas State University. He is the author or co-editor of twelve other books. The most recent are Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books (2017), four volumes of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (2013, 2014, 2016, 2020; co-edited with Eric Reynolds), and a double biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (2012).


Postmodernism literally means “after modernism.” But the dates don’t work. While modernism is said to have ended, variously, in 1939, 1945, or 1950, postmodernism first emerged in 1870, when English painter John Watkins Chapman applied it to art that (he claimed) was more avant-garde than French impressionism (Storey 2005). Despite its anomalous dating, postmodernism by the 1940s defined a new period in literature or architecture. Though the term gained wider currency in the 1960s, its arrival depended on where you lived. Postmodernism in Japan began somewhere between the late 1970s and mid-1980s and in China and Romania in the 1980s (Shaoyang 2013; Dirlik and Xudong 1997; Schneider 2014). It appears at different times because the onset and nature of postmodernity (the historical condition to which it responds) varies by location. Romanian censors delayed postmodernism’s arrival and changed its flavor; in its precapitalist economics, China’s postmodernism appeared more as “aesthetic expectation” and less as symptom of (or challenge to) late capitalism (Schneider 2014; Dirlik and Xudong 1997, 9). Even more confusingly, postmodern (a stylistic designation) is often conflated with postmodernity (a historical condition or cultural logic).


We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way. As a result, maps suggest explanations; and while explanations reassure us, they also inspire us to ask more questions, consider other possibilities.

To ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story.”


Thanks to all of our contributors for sharing their expertise via the keywords essay, one of the most demanding critical genres, requiring a balance of etymologies, literary and cultural histories, and representative examples from different countries and traditions—all succinctly organized in about eight paragraphs. Your hard work makes this book possible.

Sample Assignment #1

Through the 2016-17 academic year, we—Phil and Lissa—were soliciting authors for our second, more international edition of Keywords for Children’s Literature, co-edited with Nina Christensen and slated for publication by New York University Press in 2019. With the parameters we had outlined for the established authors we solicited so clearly in our minds, we both set “keywords” assignments for our students in our respective master’s level classes. Lissa’s assignment was for students in the winter 2017 session of EDUC 5P01: Introduction to Social and Cultural Contexts of Education: Developing a Critical Language, Phil’s for English 703: Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature in Spring 2017. In pedagogical terms, we had both decided to give our students “problem-based learning” assignments, that is the tasks we assigned to our students closely resembled the ones we gave to established scholars. Phil and Lissa gave similar assignments to their students, though Lissa designated hers as keywords “for Education,” and Phil “for Children’s Literature.” To avoid repetition, we have reproduced an edited version of Phil’s assignment here and are granting permission to use with appropriate credit: