This year I attended the Children’s Literature Association‘s annual conference for the first time — an exciting rite of passage for a children’s lit graduate student! Scholars from all over the world came to Simmons College, my home university, from June 14-16, 2012, to talk about children’s literature. And Gregory Maguire serenaded everyone. It was wonderful.
From panels on picture books to national identity in Viking literature, critics of children’s literature broke new ground and reinvented the old. For me, one high point was Sarah Fiona Winter’s work with Harry Potter fan-made videos. She spoke about fan vids as a form of criticism and a reinvention of J. K. Rowling’s series that can be used to inform scholarly debates and also be used in classrooms. This kind of critical creativity is close to my heart. I also loved Balaka Basu’s interrogation of the human need to be “sorted,” looking closely at fan quizzes surrounding Veronica Roth’s Divergent. If the point is to defy a system that limits individuality, why do fans choose to slot themselves into the same system the dystopian genre indicts? Fan culture is fascinating.
True to the conference’s theme of “literary slipstreams,” many panels dealt with categorization and genre, providing jumping-off point for questions of genre expectation and form. Brian Attebery looked at contemporary intersections of science fiction and fantasy in works of “science fantasy.” And a remarkable number of presentations were devoted to discussions of YA dystopias. Katharine Broadbent’s work on The Hunger Games — exploring whether or not the trilogy can truly be considered feminist given certain romantic aspects — perfectly supports my personal vendetta against the YA love triangle. However, I also enjoyed Elaine Ostry’s work on the overlay of the romance genre on dystopian fiction for a YA audience. Because hope is so intrinsic to the romance genre, she claims romance provides an opportunity for rebellion against a bleak and totalitarian system, making romance the perfect pairing to dystopian fiction. I don’t agree (I have a vendetta after all), but scholarly throw-downs can be fun. Who’s with me? And who’s against me?