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ENGL 607.82 - The Virtual Child

Instructor: Dr. D. Mason
Schedule: M 10:00-12:45

Course Description:

In her groundbreaking study The Case of Peter Pan, or, the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1984), Jacqueline Rose famously suggests that “there is no child behind the category ‘children’s fiction’, other than the one which the category sets in place, the one which it needs to believe is there for its own purposes” (10). Instead, Rose claims, the “child” of “children’s fiction” is the product of the adult fantasies, desires, and anxieties that surround the slippery category of “childhood” and all of its attendant signifiers. “If children’s fiction builds an image of the child inside the book,” Rose writes, “it does so in order to secure the child who is outside the book, the one who does not come so easily within its grasp” (2). 

Now over thirty years old, Rose’s text remains influential for the way it encourages scholars of children’s literature to consider how imagined, figural children profoundly influence the way we, as adults, read, produce, and think about texts for young people. This course will bring Rose into the digital age and ask: who is the virtual child behind the exploding genre of digital texts for children? How is this child constructed through online literature, apps, and interactive forms of storytelling, and what characteristics does this child seem to possess? How might we think through digital children’s literature and its virtual child alongside critical theories of childhood and children’s literature? How can we theorize the virtual child in relation to the material creative practices of real-life children who participate in online fandom communities like, Archive of Our Own, and Pottermore? And what does the virtual child tell us about our contemporary fantasies, desires, and anxieties about children, childhood, and pedagogy in an increasingly digital world? 

Preliminary Reading List: 

Digital children’s literature, games, and apps, including fairy tale and picture book apps

Texts for “the virtual adolescent,” including digital young adult texts, interactive graphic novels, and games

Assorted online fan fiction

Theoretical readings will include theories of children’s literature and childhood, queer theory and queer childhood theory, pedagogical theory, and new media theory