Storied Places — I just return last night from participating in a symposium at Oxford University. The symposium was interesting, but what I enjoyed the most was wandering the streets of Oxford. As a children’s literature professor, I think of Oxford is a special place. It is associated with a number of important children’s books, including Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The good people of Oxford celebrate their connections to the classic works of children’s literature that were written there. There are plaques and guidebooks that point out special places in Oxford associated with children’s literature, and most everyone, including me, is eager to help visitors as they go on their literary pilgrimages. When I walked to the site of the symposium, I went right by the pub called The Eagle and Child, where Tolkien, Lewis and some of their colleagues met every week to visit and to critique each other’s manuscripts. As I was walking by the pub, a woman asked me if I would take her picture standing under the sign. We ended up chatting for several minutes about Tolkien. This type of interaction is common in Oxford. The city’s connections to children’s literature fosters a sense of community that I find appealing.
I am not the only member of our English Department who is interested in the connections between place and stories. Daniel Shealy, for example, has a deep-seated interest in the many authors from Concord, Massachusetts, including Lousia May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. As a frequent visitor to Concord, Daniel has developed an expertise in the unique literary culture that emerged in Concord in the mid-nineteenth century and persists to this day. Another example is Bryn Chancellor. Bryn spent some of her formative years in the American southwest, and she often sets her stories in this region. For Bryn, the desert-like conditions in American southwest spark her imagination. In her novel Sycamore, the setting is so important to her story that almost seems like a character.
In reflecting on the relationship between places and stories, I am reminded that stories can also take us to places just through the act of reading. For me, one of the pleasures of being an English professor is that I am able to introduce students to a wide variety of wonderful places. My students might not be able to stroll the streets of Oxford, but they can experience some of the magic of storied places by picking up a book. As Dr. Seuss once said, “You’re off to Great Places!”
Kudos — As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of the English Department. Here is the latest news:
Meghan Barnes recently presented the following three papers at the Literacy Research Association Conference held in Tampa: “You Can’t Un-See Color: A PhD, a Divorce, and The Wizard of Oz;” “Contested Pasts, ComPlicated Presents: Pre-Service Teachers’ Developing Conceptions of Community;” and “Activism and the Academy: Public Literacy Scholars’ Reflections on our Past and Future Work.”
Paula Connolly recently published a book review of Radiant with Color & ARt: McLaughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books” in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly.
Dina Massaachi, one of our part-time faculty members, recently published an article titled “’Written Soley to Please Children’: Is Oz Still A Story for Kids?” in The Baum Bugle.
Ralf Thiede published an article titled “Synesthetic Entrainment in Interactive Reading Sessions of Children’s Books” in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly. His was one of five articles selected for a special issue on “Cognitive Approaches to Children’s Literature.” The same issue also contains a very favorable review by Hugh Crago of Ralf’s book Children’s Literature, Brain Development, and Language Acquisition.
Quirky Quiz Question — In addition to writing children’s books, Lewis Carroll spent many years teaching at Oxford University. What subject did he teach?
Last week’s answer: Tom Hanks
Fred Rogers was a big advocate of pretend play as is reflected in the following quotation by Rogers: “When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality. A stick can be a magic wand. A sock can be a puppet. A small child can be a superhero.” What is the name of the actor who plays the role of Fred Rogers in the current film about Fred Rogers’s life?