Occasional Paper Series

New Call for Papers

Occasional Paper Series #44
Having Difficult Conversations with Children’s Literature

Literature written for children involves a wide range of topics and representations, including things such as same sex families, poverty, homelessness, racism, and war. Teachers have long recognized literature as foundational to helping children navigate complex social, cultural, and emotional worlds. Experiences that may be confusing, frightening, or sensitive can produce a range of challenges and hurdles for children both in the classroom and in the larger world. Teachers often feel unprepared, unsupported, or fearful of addressing these experiences and may need help envisioning how they might open up these topics with children. In this issue of the Occasional Paper Series, we invite teachers to share their stories of using children’s literature to talk about difficult topics in the classroom.

Children bring many concerns to school. Some are personal and related to dis/abilities, family health problems, divorce, and, death. Some are related to local, national, and global politics – poverty, homelessness, discrimination, and violence based on race, immigration, language diversity, gender, sexuality, and religious or cultural diversity. If one child in a classroom is affected by any of these then, by extension, the group will be affected. In addition, classrooms themselves are not free of conflict, inequality, and injustices. Children and teachers struggle with challenges of getting along and succeeding with the demands of schooling and navigating differences among themselves.

The Occasional Paper Series has a long history of exploring how the real lives of children are reflected in the classroom (OPS 12, 17, 19, 28, 37, 38). In this issue, we particularly want to hear stories from or about teachers who use children’s literature to address difficult topics in their classrooms. We are interested in what issues teachers have taken up and the books they have utilized. We are curious to know how teachers have promoted talk that is personal, social, and literary. We wonder how teachers navigate differences in experiences, values, and beliefs among students and between students and themselves as well as differences that make consensus difficult and perhaps even undesirable at times. We know that good literature connects classrooms, homes, and communities in explorations of the rich inner worlds of children and the often-complicated circumstances in which they and their families live. Tell us what you have learned by listening to children, by taking risks, and through advocating for curriculum that is responsive to real life in 2020.

We are especially calling for essays that examine the difficulties educators face when undertaking this kind of work. While we appreciate hearing about successes, what we will find most compelling will be stories that honestly grapple with the challenges, limitations, and failures encountered along the way.

Among other topics, papers may address the following kinds of questions:

  • What are the institutional challenges to using literature in addressing the lived experiences of children in the classroom?
  • How can literature be used to open up difficult social, cultural, and personal questions in the classroom?
  • What kinds of venues have novice and more experienced teachers created to explore their own anxieties about opening complicated issues with children?
  • How have teacher preparation programs fostered and/or limited the capacity of preservice teachers to use children’s literature for promoting difficult conversations in the classroom?
  • How do differences in experience, values, and beliefs among students and teachers arising during discussions of literature create opportunities for and challenges to expansion of social awareness and understanding for all participants?
  • How are educators in out-of-school settings working with children’s literature to address difficult topics and what challenges and successes have they encountered?

Manuscripts Due: January 31, 2020

Papers may be between 3,000 and 5,000 words, double-spaced, and formatted in APA Style. Submissions that include video, photographs, drawings, and audio are encouraged. Papers without APA formatting will not be reviewed. Only unpublished manuscripts that are not under review by other publications are eligible for consideration.

For more information or if you have questions or would like to discuss your ideas, contact Editors:

Submit a Paper

About the Authors

Susan StiresUntil recently, Susan Stires taught writing, reading, language, and children’s literature courses at Bank Street College of Education. She was also a lecturer at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a staff developer in New York City schools, following 30 years as an elementary school teacher. She is the author of numerous chapters and articles. In her retirement, she is providing literacy support at Juniper Hill School for Place-Based Education, which was founded by her daughter, Anne Stires, in 2011.

Mollie Welsh KrugerMollie Welsh Kruger taught second grade in a Harlem public school for 18 years and five years prior in a Tremont parochial early childhood classroom. Both positions offered insights across cultural experiences and led Mollie to understandings of culturally sustaining pedagogies. While teaching elementary school, professional development opportunities included learning experiences that incorporated art into academic learning and explored the workshop model of writing and reading, which fold into her work at Bank Street. Mollie’s academic interests include children’s literature, students’ funds of knowledge, the Arts in education, and urban education. Currently, she serves as co-chair of the Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee.

Susie RolanderSusie Rolander began her teaching life in Sonoma County, CA. She thoroughly enjoyed teaching for eight years in an underprivileged school where 20 different languages were spoken. She taught kindergarten in Spanish in a dual-language program. After her move to New York City, she enrolled in the Bank Street Graduate School of Education to study literacy. For the last 10 years, she has supported learners from grades K–5 at P.S. 234 in downtown Manhattan. Susie became an avid reader later in life and has a passion for sharing this love of books with both children and adults.