Note: this is a project my Engl 387 classes did several more times, most recently in Fall 2021, and here is a link to their list of purchases

In May and June of 2013, I was teaching a six-week version of English 387, which is an introductory survey of children’s literature. Normally when I teach 387 in a thirteen-week version I let students choose the majority of the reading list. I choose some works for the first four weeks, and other time in those weeks we set aside for group meetings in which each group has a genre and the responsibility to choose readings for a particular number of hours of reading. In a six-week course this was not feasible. I was inspired to come up with an alternate activity by a session at the Children’s Literature Association meeting in Boston in 2012. In this project students would be responsible for researching our library’s holdings in children’s literature (the Curriculum Collection) and choosing works which they felt would add to that collection in ways valuable to its users.

Preparation for the project before the course began:

1.      I contacted the liaison librarians for English and Education, Rebecca Dowson and Hope Power, to sound them out and get their approval for the project. [They were enthusiastic and had no problem assigning $500 of their acquisitions budget to our class.]

2.      I asked for and received SFU’s internal guidelines for collection development in the Curriculum Collection (which stress Canadian award-winners and graphic novels).

3.      I made a plan for the project, including an estimated timeline and my teaching goals/learning outcomes.    

Stages of project during the course:

1.      Class discussion re the purposes of the Curriculum Collection and how it differs from a public library’s children’s and young adults’ collections. The students taking part in that discussion came to the conclusion that the Curriculum Collection should emphasize

a.      works which have received critical acclaim, awards for literary value, etc., rather than choosing works which are popular with young readers

b.      works which are considered “classics”/canonical from different historical periods, rather than weeding out works which seem dated

c.       works which are controversial, censored, challenged, or banned, which might not be purchased for or might be removed from public library shelves

d.      more world literature in translation, rather than works written in English but which emphasize multiculturalism

2.      An in-library class in the first half of which Rebecca introduced them to research databases in children’s literature and collection development and I made available to them the library’s guidelines for the Curriculum Collection, and in the second half of which students in small groups went out into the Curriculum Collection’s stacks to see what was, in general, in each range. Looking at all the groups’ reports, we determined fifteen areas in which the collection could do with development.

3.      I posted an online survey with these fifteen areas and asked students to vote for the ones which they would be most interested in doing further work on. The areas which received the most votes became those that formed the goals of small groups of students who would then do research and suggest titles for purchase. The vote reduced fifteen to seven areas, and I assigned students to groups of approximately five students each (c. 35 students in the class), attempting to put everyone into a group for which he or she had expressed a preference. These seven areas were

a.      world literature for children/young adults in English translation

b.      non-Canadian award-winning children’s/young adult literature

c.       controversial texts, especially those that had been challenged or banned according to the American Library Association or Canada’s Freedom to Read Week website

d.      poetry

e.       graphic novels for younger readers and/or graphic novels which are adaptations of canonical adult literature

f.        revisions and parodies of fairy tales for younger readers

g.      cookbooks for children/young adults (not as odd a choice as you might imagine: think of how few Canadian children in the current bubble-wrapped generation are allowed to take part in food preparation involving stoves and knives!)

4.      Groups assigned themselves tasks and divided work amongst group members, including finding out what titles were already available in the Curriculum Collection, what titles they would ideally like to add to the collection, and which titles are currently in print or available used in library-quality condition for a reasonable price (for example, the poetry group found a volume for children by a local poet, but had to eliminate it when they discovered that used copies averaged $400). Each group had a budget of about $100 and some class time each week for meetings plus an online work/discussion area in Canvas. I gave clarification and advice to groups when I thought it appropriate. Each group posted its list of texts, along with publication information and approximate cost.

5.      My intent was to have another online survey by which to reduce the $700 of proposed spending to $500, but one of the groups chose works already held in our collection. This brought their list close enough to the $500 target.

6.      I sent the revised list of titles to Hope and Rebecca, for forwarding to Acquisitions. This included some works which I agreed were much needed additions (e.g. Where the Sidewalk Ends and And Tango Makes Three) as well as some which I had not read but was happy to trust their judgment about.

Conclusions: the values/outcomes of the project

1.      Students now have more awareness of issues involving collection development, such as what texts child readers have access to and why or why not, and what materials should be archived/preserved for future students and teachers.

2.      SFU’s Curriculum Collection has been improved and deepened in significant ways.

3.      Students know that they have literally made a difference to what materials are available to future SFU students.

4.      Students have a broader awareness of what texts for young readers are available and a list of texts they might like to read themselves after the conclusion of the course.

Would I do this again? Yes, but not every time I teach the course, lest I wear out the excitement, positive response, and budget of the library staff. Also, in a version of the course in which I let students choose the reading list it would be burdensome to use this group project as well. 

Would I recommend that other instructors try a similar project? Yes, but with an awareness that in most disciplines undergraduate students do not have the expertise or judgment to determine which texts will be valuable additions to our collection. The Curriculum Collection is something of an anomaly in that it focuses on primary texts rather than secondary criticism or commentary. My guess is that graduate instructors would likely have more success in implementing a project similar to this one.    


the list of books (you want to know, right?)

world children’s literature in translation into English

·         Bringing Asha Home, Uma Krishnaswami

·         Doctor Ouch, Korney Chukovsky

·         The Dragon Sword and Wind Child, Noriko Ogiwara 

·         Maples in the Mist: Children's Poems from the Tang Dynasty, Jean Tseng, Mou-Sien Tseng, & Minfong Ho

·         The Secret Diary of the World's Worst Cook, Subhadra Sen Gupta

·         Three Kingdoms: Russian Folk Tales, Alexander Afanasiev

graphic novels

·         Beowulf, Gareth Hinds

·         Johann Gutenberg and the Printing Press, Kay M. Olson

revisionist/revised fairy tales

·         Beauty, Robin McKinley

·         Mirror Mirror, Gregory Maguire

·         My Fair Godmother, Janette Rallison

·         The Rose and the Beast, Francesca Lia Block

·         Spindle’s End, Robin McKinley

collections of poetry

·         Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, Julia Donaldson 

·         Edgar Allan Poe's Pie: Math Puzzlers in Classic Poems, J. Patrick Lewis & Michael Slack 

·         Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou

·         Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein

books that have been censored/challenged/banned in North America

·         And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, & Henry Cole

·         The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne

·         Christmas Tapestry, Patricia Polacco

·         Dreamhunter, Elizabeth Knox [UK title Rainbow Opera]

·         The Eleventh Hour, Graeme Base [I am unaware of challenges to it… they may have confused it with Animalia?]

·         Little Bird’s ABC, Piet Grobler

·         The Sissy Duckling, Harvey Fierstein

·         Something Happened And I'm Scared To Tell: A Book For Young Victims Of Abuse, Patricia Kehoe & Carol Deach

·         A Tree is Nice, Janice May Udry

cookbooks for child readers

·         The International Cookbook for Kids, Matthew Locricchio

·         Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes, Dorothy Bates & Suzanne Havala

·         Sam Stern's Student Cookbook: Survive in Style on a Budget, Sam Stern & Susan Stern