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PWR 2EE: Once upon a Cause: Producing Picture Books for Local Children

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Video with Dr. Ellis describing his class. Picture shows group of students in the class talking to elementary-aged students.

Catalog Number: PWR 2EE

Instructor: Erik Ellis

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement; Cardinal Course certified by the Haas Center

Whether our favorite picture books as kids were timeless classics or new arrivals, whether they scared us or amused us, consoled us or challenged us — or perhaps did all of these things and more in exquisite combinations—they moved and shaped us in profound ways. How could a few dozen pages and a few hundred words affect us so powerfully? Why did we want to hear and see and read our favorite picture books again and again? What was the secret to their magic? In this course, you'll not only analyze that "magic" but will also collaborate closely with a group of classmates to create an original, compelling, and educationally appropriate picture book for young children in a local elementary school. Don't worry—no artistic talent or narrative genius is required. You'll learn about visual rhetoric and the rhetoric of fiction. In addition, you'll have valuable opportunities to pitch, write, and present your ideas and arguments to your peers and community partners.

First, we'll read and discuss relevant scholarship about children's literature, including articles from academic journals such as Children's Literature in Education. We'll explore issues such as the purpose and audience of picture books, the ways they represent (or don't represent) people of color, the significance of gender, and the future of the genre. Then you'll propose and present a specific topic to research—one that responds to the needs of your audience: children and teachers. Your research will inform the content and production of your group's picture book. In your final presentation, you’ll make an argument based on your research and will discuss its relevance to your group’s book. In addition, you'll improve your presentation skills by delivering and reflecting on a series of short presentations.

This is a Cardinal Course certified by the Haas Center.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) Outline a research plan about a topic that relates to picture books, responds to our community partner's needs, interests you, and will inform your group's original picture book. This proposal is the first step in creating your Research-Based Argument. Past research topics include the effects of gender stereotyping on children's identity and behavior, the educational potential of ambiguity in picture books, the power of wordless picture books to develop children's literacy and critical thinking, the role of humor in picture books, and the appropriateness of addressing serious issues such as violence, depression, and death in picture books.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Write a well-researched essay that draws upon scholarly and popular sources (including at least two relevant picture books) to make a compelling argument about a topic related to picture books.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) Present your individual research and explain how it connects to your group’s picture book. Your audience may include the elementary school teacher whose students you worked with, because Erik might share highlights from students’ videotaped presentations.

Genre/Modes Assignment

(original picture book) Collaboratively create a picture book tailored for your audience of elementary school students. In the past, students have created picture books about a scared bear, an insecure panda, a runaway dog, a bullied tomato, a magic umbrella, a rebellious robot, etc.