Studies: Literature & Folklore (Children’s Lit. in Oceania)

This course provides the opportunity for students to explore the often ignored genre of children’s literature in Oceania (the Pacific), and its intersection with folklore and mythology (oral traditions, traditional literature). Students will discover new authors and stories, perhaps reconsider favorites from childhood, and read them in a new way which considers them as any other work of literature: as meaningful expressions of artistry, as emotional and intellectual experiences, and as social, cultural, and/or political messages. Throughout the semester, students will encounter texts that invite multi-layered, diverse readings including post-colonial, historical, aesthetic, and feminist interpretations, amongst others.

This course begins with a brief introduction to the history of children’s literature overall, and within Oceania. We will explore the close relationship children’s literature has with oral traditions and traditional literature—folklore, wonder tales, and mythology. We will discuss well-defined genres, such as picture books geared towards younger and new readers, as well as YA (young adult) novels. We will look at popular subgenres, such as modern fantasy, and their connection to traditional literature and legends. Some key questions we will discuss include: what is the purpose of children’s literature? Why is it important to study? What makes some books controversial (i.e., why are specific audiences troubled by certain texts)? What about the role of indigenous languages and translation? How do illustrations and visual imagery perpetuate or refute stereotypes, celebrate or denigrate places, cultures, and people?

We will examine children’s literature in ethnic, multicultural, and international contexts, including the emerging field of translations and new compositions of native language texts (such as materials used in Hawaiian language immersion programs). Thus, we will also discuss the role of colonialism and educational curriculums in shaping the politics of children’s literature, and the emerging resistance to such practices in (post)-colonial settings such as Hawai‘i and Aotearoa, which both have vibrant indigenous language programs and publishing of children’s languages, and other locations (Tahiti, Guam) which aspire to such goals. We will read and discuss a range of children’s picture books and YA novels from across Oceania that include, adapt, or reimagine traditional folktales, myths, or hero/ine figures from Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, Hawaiian, Chamorro, and Papua New Guinean authors and other writers representing other oceanic cultures. Some examples include the Polynesian demi-god Maui, the Samoan deity Nafanua, and the human-devouring shark god Nanaue.

Course requirements: annotated bibliography, research paper on a text, theme, or author, oral presentation, final project, class participation, midterm and final exams, regular attendance.