Editor’s Note: Students in English 480: Introduction to Literary Theory began the semester by writing reflections on their lives of reading thus far. This post is a revision of one of those essays.

Kaijsa Johnson, Class of 2021

Reading literature has always been a passion of mine, ever since my mom would read Harry Potter to me. I eagerly anticipated each new installment in my childhood years. The value I place on reading has influenced me to major in English and pursue a career or graduate degree in children’s literature. 

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Along with my love for children’s literature, I gravitate towards English because my whole family were English majors. I also believe that the influence of the Jane Austen movies and novels, like Pride and Prejudice and Emma, pushed me to explore more in the literary field that I loved as a child. The novels and series that my parents and my schooling exposed me to have shaped the way I perceive the world. The joy I felt when reading Harry’s magical friendships and the thrilling adventures of the Magic Tree House series pushed me to read more and analyze more. I hope to help the next generations of children do the same and so much more because the next generations of children deserve to escape to a whimsical place or see their identity reflected back to them in the pages of a meaningful book. Hope College offered me the opportunity to analyze my childhood literature as well as new literature well-suited for my professional aspirations.

Throughout my English education, I have been exposed to works of many backgrounds and cultural experiences that will help influence my career in children’s literature. Learning about other societies and cultures through paper was one of the ways I felt I could reach outside my little bubble of Winchell Elementary. I was involved in the Global Reading Challenge in elementary school, which meant that I was able to read more books written about ethnically, culturally, and racially diverse backgrounds other than my own and most of my classmates. In high school, I remember the boring tales of Aeneas or The Iliad and The Odyssey along with books such as Into the Wild or In Cold Blood. My college years brought me classes in which I could expand on the books I had read in elementary school with courses such as American Ethnic Literature and Children’s Literature. In all these books, I simply enjoyed the worlds I could dive into while seeing each author’s writing style.

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I’ve always been drawn to the historical approach to written work. I’m fascinated about events in our own history that may have contributed to the author’s creation or viewpoint for a fictional work. It’s especially interesting to look at a fictional work set in either our world or its own unique world that makes statements or compares events from our history. Finding tidbits of subtle historical facts is also interesting in a biography or some other work of nonfiction. For children, this may not be the case, yet I wonder how much they do pick up on. As a child, my teachers would point out historical facts in the novels we read and I was always amazed at the author’s knowledge and inspiration. 

College supplied me with the analytical lenses to pour over texts more substantially than I did in my childhood years. I have looked at a feminist angle as well as examining the ways that class and societal systems can influence stories. I utilize these in my rereading of Jane Austen. Yet these lenses just take me further in the ambition to read that began with my childhood exposure to literature.

Literature isn’t only for one literary critic or writer with a seemingly refined or collected sense of literature to relay their knowledge to the rest of literary scholars. In my Children’s Literature course, we keep coming back to the danger of a “single story,” a story only showing one perspective from one demographic. The danger of this is that children and adults alike can be influenced to only view a demographic from that single story they read. All the writers of past and present, wise and experienced, have their own voice to be heard and story to convey. While those with accomplishments can instill wisdom in others, they should not be the only voice of reason in a field.

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