Editing and Engineering Children's Literature

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
2019 Modern Language Association Convention
contact email: 

Call for Papers

Modern Language Association Convention

Chicago, Illinois

January 3-6, 2019


Editing and Engineering Children’s Literature 

Though Roland Barthes and other scholars have argued for the death of the author, authors and illustrators—as creators and individuals—have remained at the forefront of children’s and young adult literature, with some even gaining celebrity status beyond the field of children’s books. While literary celebrities are neither new nor unique to children’s and young adult literature, the increasing franchising and shifting sociocultural expectations within the children’s book industry have led to a greater investment in the creators, as well as their works. Yet the creation and promotion of children’s and young adult literature depends on many individuals who may only be mentioned in books’ acknowledgements sections or who may go unrecognized completely, and the opportunities to work within and influence children’s and young adult literature have multiplied as the field has become increasingly professionalized.

Since John Newbery’s launch of his popular and profitable illustrated “toy” books in the 1740s, the industry of children’s publishing has expanded enormously and has been marked by periods of great change. In the past few decades, major publishing houses have consolidated, self-publishing has grown, and renewed attention has been given to issues of diversity (and the lack of diversity) within the industry. As children’s publishing has become a larger and more profitable industry, the roles of agents and reviewers have increased, affecting both the field of children’s literature as a whole and the careers of individual authors and illustrators. 

Moreover, the creation of MFA programs specifically for aspiring children’s and young adult authors and illustrators has also contributed to the professionalization of the field. Similarly, organizations such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Highlights Foundation provide conferences and workshops to people seeking to improve their craft and to break into children’s publishing, furthering the understanding that creating books for young people is a complicated and specialized practice.

In addition to the commercial transactions related to publication and professionalization, children’s literature has also been the site of numerous cultural transactions. Librarians, teachers, and members of award committees have long been described as arbitrators, taste-makers, and promoters within the field, and activists have founded groups such as the Council on Interracial Books for Children and We Need Diverse Books to advocate for greater diversity within the field. 

This non-guaranteed session examines historical and contemporary figures, events, trends, practices, and organizations that have shaped the children’s literature industry, as well as the careers of individual artists within it.  Which individuals and professions have received prominence in the field and why? How has the promotion of children’s literature and its creators changed over time? How have the field’s development and the identified key figures within it been presented by and to different audiences: aspiring writers, illustrators, and publishers; scholars; young people; and the general public? How might the focus on individual successes within children’s literature compare to a similar focus in other industries?

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • changing practices within the business of children’s literature, such as acquisitions, production, and marketing
  • individuals, organizations, and campaigns that work to combat the roles that racism, sexism, classism, and ableism have played in shaping the field
  • histories of children’s publishing houses
  • personal and professional relationships between authors and illustrators and their editors and agents
  • archival research about the evolution of a manuscript for a young audience
  • mentorship within children’s literature
  • the changing credentialing of authors and illustrators
  • depictions of authors, illustrators, and other book professionals within works of children’s literature
  • recurrent tropes within author/illustrator studies in children’s literature
  • the roles of technology and social media in creating movements within and around children’s literature
  • how changes in bookselling and the marketplace affect the creation and publication of works of children’s literature
  • how publishing practices and standards vary in different countries
  • museum exhibits about the history of children’s literature

Please send 500-word paper proposals and 2-page CVs to Ramona Caponegro (rcaponeg@emich.edu) by March 15, 2018. Accepted panelists must become members of MLA by April 1, 2018.