Children's literature and diversity conference at UofSC to feature public events

Posted on: 6/11/2014; Updated on: 6/13/2014
By Peggy Binette, 803-777-7704

More than 350 scholars of children's literature from around the world will converge in Columbia June 18 – 21 to share their research and teaching on books past and present and to discuss the need for children's books to reflect a broader diversity.

Hosted by the University of South Carolina, the 41st annual conference of the Children's Literature Association will feature a number of offerings for the public, all of which are free.  Among them are museum and library exhibitions, talks and panel discussions.

Sara Schwebel, an associate professor of English, and Michelle Martin, the Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy, are co-organizers of the conference. Martin says the public aspects are an important part of the gathering, which will take place at the downtown Columbia Marriott.

"We decided to focus on the theme of diversity both because children's books still do not reflect the diversity of the children who read them and to honor the legacy of Augusta Baker, says Martin.

Several of the public events focus on the work and influence of well-known author and artist Anita Lobel, a Caldecott Honor Medal recipient and National Book Award finalist.

The events include a panel discussion on her work from 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Thursday, June 19. An exhibition of her work is on display at the Richland Public Library and Columbia Museum of Art. Lobel will give a public talk at 6 p.m. Friday, June 20, at the library and offer a gallery tour that will begin at the library at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 21, and continue at the museum. The museum's exhibit, titled "All the World's a Stage: Anita Lobel," will remain on display through Aug. 17. While in Columbia, Lobel will teach a master class for art students at the university.

Additional public events include a panel of publishing executives, who will focus on the state of children's literature and diversity, and a panel of authors of children and young adult literature.

Pat Scales, a librarian and School Library Journal columnist, will moderate the publisher's panel, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Thursday and feature Lee Merrill Byrd, Cinco Puntos Press; Andrea Davis-Pinkney, Disney Hyperion and Scholastic Trade; Jonathan Haupt, USC Press' Young Palmetto Books; and Jason Low, Lee & Low books.

The author's panel will take place at 11:15 a.m. Saturday featuring writers Christopher Armstrong, son of the author of "Sounder" whose presentation is "Looking for Charlie Jones: A son's search for his father's inspiration;" Elizabeth Hall, "What's Fact and What's Fiction: Scott O'Dell and Elizabeth Hall's Novels?"; and Joyce Hansen, "Writing for Children." Schwebel, author of "Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms," will moderate the panel.

Schwebel has written extensively on the development of the canon of children's literature taught in U.S. schools.

"Children's books both reflect the values and mores of the society that produces them and help to shape the attitudes of future generations," Schwebel says. "For that reason, it is important to pay attention to the ways race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, region, and a host of other identity markers are represented in children's books past and present. This year's Children's Literature Association conference aims to do just that, while also exploring why both authors of color and literary protagonists of color remain underrepresented in U.S. children's literature."

Also during the conference, the Hollings Library at Carolina will feature an exhibit of the library's rich collection of children's and young adult literature. On display in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the exhibit  includes collections from famed storyteller and librarian Augusta Baker, author of an influential bibliography of works for children that accurately depicted African-American life. Baker was a friend and mentor to many of the authors and illustrators represented in her collection, which is now housed at Carolina.

During the past year, the library added two substantial collections of children's and young adult literature to its holdings: the Graham-Kennett Collection and the Greta D. Little and Joel Myerson Collection of Multi-Cultural Children's Literature. The exhibit  now on display, "Celebrating Diversity in Children's Books: The Riches of USC's Irvin Department Collections,"  is the first opportunity for the public to see highlights of the items from both collections.

Immediately following the conference will be the U.S.-China Children's Literature Symposium, which will bring American, Chinese and Canadian scholars to Columbia to present their research on children's literature across cultures and countries. Themed "The Global Child," the symposium is hosted by the university and sponsored in part by its Confucius Institute.

To learn more about the 41st annual conference, visit the Children's Literature Association website.

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