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Syllabus: Children’s Literature and the Self

Course title: “Children’s Literature and the Self: From Fairy Tales to Science Fiction” 

Instructor: Katarzyna Jerzak, Lecturer,
Department of Comparative Thought and Literature 

Course description 

This course isn’t what you expect. It is not easy. It is not even fun. We will tackle painful topics: orphanhood, loneliness, jealousy, death. We will also deal with parenthood, childhood, justice, and love. We will investigate the special connection between children and animals. Many iconic children’s literature characters are outsiders. All along we will consider how children’s literature reflects and shapes ideas of selfhood, from archetypal to post-humanistic ones. 

Selected readings

  • Kaytek the Wizard, Janusz Korczak 
  • Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip: Volume Two, Tove Jansson 
  • The Summer Book, Tove Jansson 
  • Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 
  • The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 
  • Platero and I, Juan Ramón Jiménez 
  • Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens/ Peter and Wendy, J. M. Barrie 
  • Classic Fairy Tales, Norton Critical Editions 
  • Ghetto Diary, Janusz Korczak 
  • Mortal Engines, Stanislaw Lem 

Course Requirements

Each student gives an informal oral presentation on one of the texts, and writes a comparative final paper or a work of children’s fiction—a fairy tale, short story, series of poems, or musical composition. 

Insights on the class

“The premise of the course is that children’s literature is the opposite of what many deem it to be; i.e., facile. Children are deep thinkers and demanding readers so the best kind of books for them are also excellent—and often challenging—reading for adults. The prerequisite is to have been a child.” 
Katarzyna Jerzak
Course instructor


“I love this class because fiction for children is often so much freer than fiction for adults. Authors like Janusz Korczak write fiction for children that in many ways is better than fiction for adults as it is fast paced and ponders questions adult fiction often takes for granted.”
Jeremy Mandelbaum Giles
Class of 2024

“It’s a deeply emotional class since I get to reconnect with themes and ideas brought up from childhood that we get to remember in the present. I’m interested in the structure of children’s novels and fairy tales and literature that inspired how we think and write today. Every time I do a reading or come to class, I feel like I’m reconnecting with a part of myself. The class makes me think a lot about my personal identity and writing identity, and how I can take pieces of what I read and apply them to my own work and my own life.” 
Natalie Wang
Class of 2026

“It’s not simply children’s stories; you have to understand the stories in a deeper way. This class helps me to understand when things happen in real life.”
Yangwei Xu
Peabody graduate student