Alice in Wonderland

About the Center

History

SDSU was one of the first universities in the country to offer Children’s Literature as a course in an English Department when classes were taught in the late 1970s by Peter Neumeyer (a noted author of children’s books illustrated by Edward Gorey and of the acclaimed Annotated Charlotte’s Web; now retired, Professor Neumeyer is children’s book columnist for the Boston Globe). In 1980, Neumeyer was joined Jerry Griswold (author of several books, including the prizewinning The Classic American Children’s Story, he has published hundreds of essays and writes about children’s books for the New York Times Book Review and the Los Angeles Times). About the same time, they were joined Frances Foster Smith (one of America’s leading scholars and an editor of The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature; Professor Foster has since left to become the Director of the Women’s Studies Program at Emory University).

In the mid-1980s and in response to student demand for more courses in Children’s Literature, SDSU hired Lois Kuznets (a distinguished scholar, among other works, she is the author of Kenneth Grahame and When Toys Come Alive). When Professor Kuznets retired to Ann Arbor, the department then hired as her replacement Alida Allison (the author of books on the children’s works of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Russell Hoban).

As the reputation of the university’s Children’s Literature Program began to spread and as enrollments doubled in the 1990s, the department added June Cummins (Jewish Children’s Literature). Near the end of the decade, the group was also joined the former Dean of Undergraduate Studies at SDSU, Carole Scott (the author of scholarly monographs on Picturebooks and on Phillip Pullman). In 2005, these were joined by Phillip Serrato (a specialist in Latino/a Children’s Literature).  Joseph T. Thomas (American literature and poetry) joined the faculty in 2007 and became the center director in 2012.  Our most recent hire, Lashon Daley (Black Children's Literature), starts in fall 2021.

This list above of full-time specialists in Children’s Literature does not include numerous faculty who also have taught courses in the field on an occasional basis–for example, Jerry Farber (a distinguished scholar in aesthetics and comparative literature, Dr. Farber occasionally offered courses on European Children’s Literature). We also host visiting scholars; for example, in residence for two years was Maria Nikolajeva (the noted Swedish scholar and the author of a score of book-length studies on Children’s Literature). 

The center also posts book reviews on their past and current blogs.

Both Profs. Kuznets (in 2002) and Neumeyer (in 2005) have won the Anne Deveraux Jordan Award from the Children's Literature Association (ChLA) for “lifetime achievement in the field of Children's Literature.”  Kuznets, the past president of ChLA, also won the Best Book of the Year Award from the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) for her When Toys Come Alive. Neumeyer–who also won the American Library Association's Mildred Batchhelder Award and the George Mackenzie Award–was scholar in residence for a year at the International Youth Library (Internationale Jugenbibliothek) in Munich . Winner of a Research Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and a Senior Fulbright Fellowship (to teach Children's Literature in Ireland ), Prof. Griswold has won both the Best-Essay-of-the-Year and Best-Book-of-the-Year from ChLA. Besides her work at SDSU, for the last five years, Prof. Scott has also held a position as Senior Scholar in the Nordic Children's Literature Network where she teaches Scandinavian graduate students; she has also served on the boards of ChLA and IRSCL. Prof. Cummins presently serves on the board of ChLA and the Children's Literature Division of the Modern Languages Association.

Now several decades old,  SDSU's Children's Literature Circle (CLC) has as its mission “community outreach” and works not only with Children's Literature scholars and students, but with librarians, school educators, publishers, parents, and the public in general. Among other activities, the CLC publishes a newsletter, hosts public lectures and workshops and exhibits, sponsors the Children's Book Review Service (the oldest guide of its kind on the internet), serves as a contact point for media interviews with faculty experts (from the New York Times to the Manchester Guardian, from Radio France Internationale to National Public Radio), and has arranged NEH Seminars on Children's Literature for lead California school teachers. Situated in San Diego, the home of Dr. Seuss and other notable children's writers, the CLC has worked with a number of local partners–among them Harcourt Brace (one of the largest publishers of children's books in the country and whose headquarters are located in the city) and the San Diego Museum of Art (which has previously staged exhibits of children's writer/artists Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, and Jean DeBrunhoff).

The National Center for the Study of Children's Literature (NCSCL), on the other hand, was created as a research center for university faculty and visiting scholars; among the latter, have been in-residence scholars from Europe, Japan, and India who have made use of the extraordinary research holdings in children's materials at SDSU's Love Library. While the activities of the NCSCL and the CLC somewhat overlap and are far too numerous to list, these include, for example: the hosting of the 1991 annual convention of the Children's Literature Association (an international gathering of some 400 scholars) and the hosting of a 2005 exhibit of the work of Astrid Lindgren and her Pippi Longstocking books (when  SDSU was one of three places in the U.S. chosen by the Swedish government for this exhibit). When it comes to sponsored lectures over the last thirty years, again, these are too many to list but they have included presentations by scholars (e.g., Bruno Bettelheim, Uli Knoepflmacher, Francelia Butler, Ruth Bottingheimer, and Marisa Fernández López, Leonard Marcus, and Michael Joseph) and writers (e.g., Gary Soto, Russell Hoban, Lawrence Yep, Anna Maria Matute, Eric Hauugard, and Pam Muñoz Ryan). In 2006, a lecture by Francisco Jiménez was the first in a continuing lecture series by Latino/a children's authors.