English professor Darolyn Jones developed the Rethinking Children’s and Young Adult Literature immersive learning project at Ball State. The project provides the public with information about children’s books and gives students an outlet for producing original writings. Mary Freda // DN
Class rethinks literature for young readers
About three years ago, English professor Darolyn Jones won the Excellence in Teaching Award, which allowed her to redesign a course of her choice.
Jones chose to redesign the Children's Literature class to have a more direct focus on social and educational justice, while providing students with an immersive learning experience.
Jones believes while there are some children's books that encompass these ideas, many are usually not shelved or have a long run in the market.
Because of this, she developed Rethinking Children's and Young Adult Literature initiative, an immersive learning project that provides the public with information about these featured books and students with an outlet to produce original writings.
“I have found books that have covered a lot of these social and educational justice topics, but there should be more," Jones said. "So the other thing I charged students with was, well write it. Write a book. So we needed a way to share that, so what we came up with was the magazine."
The two previous editions featured multicultural and LGBTQ literature. This year, Jones chose to feature literature surrounding the African-American community due to the relevancy of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The goal of this year’s edition is not only to highlight the importance of black lives, but to also shine a light on the imbalance between white and multicultural literature.
"Really the message we want to get out too, not only do black lives matter, but there isn’t enough being published. The African-American community, the Latino community and the Asian community are ridiculously underrepresented in picture books and in young adult literature,” Jones said.
Ball State students will not be the only ones to have the opportunity to digitally publish their works. English students have been working with second-graders at Longfellow Elementary, where they have read to student and ask them to respond to prompts. Their responses will be featured in the magazine at the end of this semester.
Corinne Lankowicz, a junior English education major, said visiting Longfellow and working with the students allowed her to put her future teaching methods into perspective.
"This is really inspirational because it does show that these issues do exist and even second-graders realize it, and even they want to combat that kind of stuff,” Lankowicz said.
Alex Stoltie, a junior English major, said through his experience with the project, he has learned that the earlier these topics are introduced, the better.
"The earlier we introduce these topics the more time they have around them and the more time they have to comprehend them," Stoltie said. "Even if it’s not at a level that would be like super-scholastic level, they’re just recognizing this is a problem, even at like 5. They have no plans of changing it, but at 5 they’re recognizing this instead of introducing this at like 35 when you’re set in your ways. So the earlier the better.”
As a father, Stoltie reads these books to his daughter in hopes of educating her on these issues.
“It’s cool that my daughter is growing up on very diverse literature,” Stoltie said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Audrey Bowers, a sophomore English education major, said she joined Jones’ class in order to see what the root of the issues her future students.
“I wanted to be a better person and a better teacher. I knew I’d possibly teach in schools where there wouldn’t be students like myself and I wanted to be more prepared for that,” Bowers said. “I wanted to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘Hey, I know some of these things that are going on in your life and I want you to know that you matter and that you’re smart and that you’re capable — regardless of what anyone has told you.’”