Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature and Intergenerational Co-authorship: The MPhil through a Maker’s Lens.

Linda Yi is a former CACL MPhil student. She is currently a teacher at Little Panda Mandarin Preschool, and  is the creator of Panda Cub Stories, where she makes (and helps make) Mandarin and English children’s literature in audio, video, and print.

I am a writer who often has a really hard time getting things down in words. This gets particularly bad when the thing I’m trying to write about is:

  1. A) a malleable topic that can go in a million directions
  2. B) is really important to me, or
  3. C) both of the above

Writing about children’s literature/my MPhil experience is certainly a category C. Oh, the places [we] could go, and oh, the possibilities we could explore! For me, when words fail to flow, my pen begins to doodle. When I applied for the MPhil, I first “doodle-stormed” the topics that I thought I wanted to study:

Panda 1
Self-portrait, drawing made during my MPhil application process

A year (and a thesis) later, I’ve found that those interests have expanded to include:

  1. Word-image interaction in picturebooks (I was thrilled to find entire body of literature analyzing the different ways words and pictures tag-team to tell a story)
  2. Graphic novels and hybrid Novels
  3. Story-based language learning
  4. Children’s nonfiction
  5. Reader-response/children’s responses to literature
  6. Intergenerational works

… and more.

Panda 2
Doodle break (created in the Faculty of Education Library)

This past year at Cambridge has felt very much like a mix of Hogwarts and Wonderland: part magic, part wonder, utterly overwhelming, and undeniably life-changing. There are a number of different ways in which the people I’ve met, the things I’ve read, and the research I’ve done has influenced my work as maker of children’s literature. Notably, my MPhil experience has challenged me to reconsider my own role as an individual maker, and to begin to invite (and recognize) the role of children as active creators of their own literature. This shift in perspective (and subsequent shift in practice) is the focus of the rest of this post.

Intergenerational Co-authorship: A beginning

* adapted from my MPhil Thesis

In January of 2018, I’d begun to make a series of watercolor paintings of commonly used Chinese characters: indulging an artistic interest in Chinese etymology whilst hoping to create an artistic Ebook for others (namely adults) who also appreciate the Chinese language.

 

Panda 3
Example Character Paintings

Several months prior to beginning my MPhil thesis work, I had been working with K (the 9-year old son of a family friend), on a small-scale reader-response project. Toward the end of one session, K was helping me pack up, and had flipped through some in-progress character paintings in my sketchbook. I noticed him looking intently at several characters I had painted:

Panda 4

K was tracing the paintings with an index finger, and murmuring. Leaning closer, I realized that he was hunting for a translation that he recognized within the character itself. “I found it!” he said triumphantly at one point, pointing to the painting of “十” … and then to the “ten” and “dix” (English and French translations of “十”) that were hidden in the character:

Panda 5.png
Painting of the number 10 (十) with numbers identified by K

The time and interest K showed these in progress paintings sparked an initial thought: perhaps these paintings would be interesting and useful for children as well. It was with this thought that the renewed design idea for this book as an “educational children’s text” was born.

Authorship and Co-authorship

Over the course of the thesis, K and I collaborated to begin to re-design, re-make, and re-strategize this text into an intergenerational picturebook. Not only did K change the intended audience of our text from “just adults” to “children as well”, he also made novel contributions to the text. On such example was our co-development of a “rainbow stroke-order guide” (see Figure 4).

Panda 6
Rainbow stroke-order guide

To better explore this contribution of K’s, a brief explanation of “stroke-orders” is in order. Chinese characters are created through a combination of lines and dashes, and are to be written in a particular way (top > down, left > right, horizontal >  vertical etc.). While hard to remember, following stroke-orders often helps new learners of Chinese improve their handwriting, and lends the writing of Chinese characters a certain rhythm and cadence. The rainbow stroke-order idea was developed as K and I worked alongside each other to illustrate our title page:

Panda 7

Importantly, the rainbow-stroke order guide was a significant and new contribution to the text, that began first as a design initiated by K. Both K and I participated in the negotiation of the idea and – having arrived at a mutually agreed upon conclusion – K completed the production of the design prototype. The interactions between child and adult co-author in this example also further illuminate the “sliding scale” of adult and child agency. Rather than a flat relationship in which a child gains power while the adult loses it, K and I were engaged in a process which Nick Sousanis calls “unflattening” – a process in which multiple vantage points are engaged to engender “new ways of seeing” (2015, p. 32).

Intergenerational Co-authorship: What is Fair?

My experiences working with K taught me something important: that children can make meaningful contributions to the creation of a children’s text when invited into the process of authorship. It also reminded me that it’s easy to cut children out of the final step of authorship: recognition and compensation for their work. At age 9, K was clearly aware of the financial possibilities of our joint work, as well as the potential unfairness of being excluded from the process (and benefits) of publication:

Panda 8

I responded to K’s concerns – which were also my concerns – as truthfully as I could:

Panda 9

K nodded his agreement:

Panda 10

Next Steps

In the months since my thesis, I’ve been thinking much about this experience of intergenerational co-authorship with K. The 100 character paintings have been completed:

panda 11.jpg

K and I will be continuing our efforts to re-author this book into an intergenerational picture book. The experiences of my CACLE MPhil, however, will last beyond this single project. Co-authoring and co-learning alongside the children I teach: this is what I hope to do going forward!

 

You can follow Linda’s work at www.pandacubstories.com. For more in our MPhil series, be sure to check out Lindsay Burton’s post: Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature in the Secondary Classroom: The MPhil through a High School Teacher’s Lens and stay tuned in the coming weeks for more reflections from our 2017/18 MPhil cohort!

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s