Dr. Caitlin L. Ryan, assistant professor in the Department of Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education at East Carolina University and her co-author Dr. Jill M. Hermann-Wilmarth of Western Michigan University were honored to receive the Article of the Year Award from the American Educational Research Association’s Queer Studies Special Interest Group at AERA’s annual meeting this past weekend in Philadelphia, PA. They received this honor for their 2013 article in the Journal of Literacy Research entitled “Already on the Shelf: Queer Readings of Award-Winning Children’s Literature.” The article was nominated for the award by a diverse team of scholars, several of whom reported already using it as the basis for further research and/or as reading material for their teacher education classes.
In their essay, Ryan and Hermann-Wilmarth ask what it might mean to read children’s literature in elementary school classrooms through a queer lens. They argue that because queer theory has a history as a literary theory that destabilizes normative associations among gender, sexuality, bodies, and desire, it provides a set of analytical tools classroom communities can draw on to create alternative readings of a wide range of familiar texts. Such readings of books already on the shelves of elementary school libraries and classrooms can highlight experiences and subjectivities of nonnormative sexualities and gender identities in the hopes of making classrooms more inclusive.
Specifically, they argue that four high-quality, award-winning children’s books already included in many schools and classrooms—Sendak’s (1963) Where the Wild Things Are, Woodson’s (2001) The Other Side, DiCamillo’s (2003) Tale of Despereaux, and Patterson’s (1977) Bridge to Terabithia—can be fruitful sites for opening up these more inclusive readings and conversations. Their article offers possible queer readings of these texts as well as suggestions for how to encourage elementary-aged students to think about both books and the socially constructed norms of real life through a queered lens.
By first queering on-the-shelf texts and then asking students to think about how that queering connects to larger social issues, elementary classrooms, they argue, can become places where strict identity categories—categories that can marginalize queer students and families—are made visible, questioned, and stretched to provide more effective and more equitable spaces of learning for all students. In this way, the article chosen for this award contributes to Ryan and Hermann-Wilmarth’s ongoing body of both single- and co-authored research exploring ways to make classrooms more inclusive for a wide range of diverse students.
This is not the first honor that Ryan and Hermann-Wilmarth’s article has received. Prior to the AERA award, their article was also included in Research in the Teaching of English’s “Annotated Bibliography of Research” for 2013. Included in this list were “studies that held significant implications for teaching English language arts, as well as research that might lead to new insights into the paradigms or methodological practices within a given field in the coming years.”
The Queer Studies SIG of the American Educational Research Association, the organization who sponsored the award, was formed for the specific purpose of encouraging empirical, interpretive, and critical educational research in education that considers an interdisciplinary discourse including queer theory, queer students and educators, curriculum and sexuality, issues of intersectionality, and other vital issues. More information about the SIG, the award, and an interview with Ryan and Hermann-Wilmarth can be found at the SIG’s website, https://sites.google.com/site/queersig/.
Ryan and Hermann-Wilmarth’s respective departments / colleges at ECU and WMU supported their trip to Philadelphia to receive this award.