By Joseph T. Thomas, Jr.

About Joseph T. Thomas, Jr.

Joseph T. Thomas, Jr., is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. He is the author of Strong Measures and Poetry’s Playground: The Culture of Contemporary American Children’s Poetry, which was named a 2007 Honor Book by the Children’s Literature Association.


There is perhaps no more vexing, fraught, and neglected concept in the study of children’s literature than aesthetics. No doubt the neglect of a serious, theoretical inquiry into the aesthetics of children’s literature stems from our contemporary understandings of the discipline of children’s literature itself. The study of children’s literature has, historically, been the work of librarians and educators of children. Children’s literature came to be seen as an appropriate site of purely literary study only after the rise and fall of mid-twentieth century New Critical and formalist modes of criticism, a state of affairs made possible by the inchoate canon-busting/expanding cultural studies movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. Thus, the discipline of children’s literature was shaped in a theoretical milieu suspicious of objective claims of aesthetic value, suspicious even of the unproblematic category of “literature” itself. Occupying itself, therefore, with ideological criticism, the discipline has largely—but not …

Sample Assignment #2


Overview of the Course

In the spring of 2013 I led a graduate seminar at San Diego State University called Keywords in Children’s Literature (ENGL 727). The course centered on Philip Nel and Lissa Paul’s first edition of Keywords in Children’s Literature (New York UP, 2011). Keywords was our only required text. SDSU’s Department of English and Comparative Literature is the home of the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, and it has a robust undergraduate and graduate program of study in children’s literature (three contributors to Keywords are SDSU professors of children’s and young adult literature). Therefore, the group of graduate students enrolled in this seminar had already taken at least one undergraduate- and one graduate-level course in literature for young people. For professors at an institution with students less familiar with children’s literature, I would recommend supplementing Keywords with an array of primary texts discussed …

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