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Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

ENGL 3291: Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Fiction

Students examine North American novels written for young audiences from 1950 to the early part of the 21st Century in a broad range of genres from realism to fantasy to dystopia. Topics include coming of age, the nature of evil, institutional power, rebellion, sexuality, survival, and death. Students explore transitions in the lives of the characters (e.g. family to society, innocence to experience) and consider youth within multiple contexts, including gender, socio-economics, race, ethnicity, generation, and the environment. In addition to reviewing the history of the genre, students investigate various critical approaches to the literature and analyze its current production in relation to consumer culture.

Learning outcomes

  1. Describe the socio-cultural and historical context shaping children’s and young adult fiction.
  2. Identify the characteristics of each major genre of children’s and young adult fiction (realism, fantasy, dystopia, etc.)
  3. Identify the purpose and/or theme(s) of individual texts, e.g., moral, entertainment and educational values.
  4. Analyse the power dynamics within these texts as displayed through instances of peer pressure, bullying, institutional control, etc.
  5. Identify and explain the significance of the “hidden adult” within the texts.
  6. Assess the effectiveness of graphic novels and/or “hi/lo” novels as tools to reach the “reluctant reader.”
  7. Perform close textual analysis of selected excerpts from the works and explain the significance of the passage.
  8. Critique the marketing and consumption of children’s and young adult fiction, e.g. through serialization, screen adaptation, and product tie-ins.
  9. Summarize articles of genre history, cultural commentary, and/or literary criticism.
  10. Compare and contrast the approaches to children’s and young adult novels found in the disciplines of education, literary studies, and library and information science.
  11. Produce research and arguments about one or more children’s or young adult novels that contribute to a current critical conversation.

Course topics

  • Unit 1: A History of Children’s and Young Adult Literature
  • Unit 2: From Innocence to Knowledge: Ideology and Representations of Death in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
  • Unit 3: Coming of Age and Difference
  • Unit 4: Indigeneity and Education
  • Unit 5: Power and Resistance in YA Novels: From Marketing Dystopia to Fighting Racism

Required text and materials

The following materials are required for this course:

  1. Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Art by Ellen Forney, Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
  2. Campbell, Nicola I. Shi-shi-etko. Pictures by Kim LaFave. Groundwood, 2005.
  3. Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.
  4. Gino, Alex. Melissa. Scholastic, 2022.
  5. Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. 1981. Penguin. 1984.
  6. Kogawa, Joy. Naomi’s Road. Illustrated by Ruth Ohi, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2005.
  7. Kogawa, Joy. Naomi’s Tree. Illustrated by Ruth Ohi, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008.
  8. Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of Earthsea. 1968. Puffin, 2016.
  9. Telgemeier, Raina. Ghosts. Scholastic Press, 2022.
  10. Thomas, Angie. The Hate U Give. Balzer and Bray, 2017.
  11. White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web. 1952. Pictures by Garth Williams, revised edition, Harper, 2012.

Students will need to source the following e-book from the link below:

  1. Sterling, Shirley. My Name is Seepeetza. 1992. Groundwood, 2017.


Please be aware that should your course have a final exam, you are responsible for the fee to the online proctoring service, ProctorU, or to the in-person approved Testing Centre. Please contact with any questions about this.

To successfully complete this course, students must achieve a passing grade of 50% or higher on the overall course, and 50% or higher on the final mandatory exam.

Assignment 1: Critical Summary and Literary Analysis 15%
Assignment 2: Comparative Analysis 20%
Assignment 3: Practice and Study in Genre 20%
Assignment 4: Portfolio of Activities and/or Responses 20%
Final Exam (mandatory) 25%
Total 100%

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

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