Ball State English Professor Dr. Darolyn “Lyn” Jones is the editor for the Rethinking Children’s and Young Adult Literature digital magazine. In Fall 2018, Dr. Jones taught the English course that produces this magazine/website thanks to a Provost’s Immersive Learning Grant. Last month she presented with four of her students at a symposium on disability rights at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Jones shares her experience at the event, as does Eileen Porzuczek, one of the students who presented at the symposium.    

Professor Lyn Jones

My four Ball State students who attended this conference represented this university and this department beautifully. They presented with poise, confidence, and scholarship.

This symposium was truly an exceptional and special experience. I have been presenting at national level symposiums and conferences for 27 years, but this one stood out.

Dr. Jones and her students at the symposium.

Here’s why:

  1.  I was surprised that our presentation would be recruited and accepted at a symposium that was mostly about disability public policy and law. We were the only English majors at the conference.
  2.  After receiving our symposium program, I was then more surprised to learn that our presentation landed at the coveted 11 a.m. spot on the first day after the keynote speaker.
  3.  Upon arrival, we quickly learned how large this symposium was, and I think the students and I begin to wonder who in this impressive group of researchers, politicians, and academists would be coming to hear about children’s lit?
  4. After hearing the keynote and getting set up, we had our answer. Everyone. Our room was the largest, and we had the most engagement and questions after our session. We know this because between all of us, we attended every session.

But the four reasons above aren’t the only ones that made this a poignant event. I have spent a professional lifetime arguing that children’s and young adult literature deserves a legitimate place at the literary academic table. This isn’t just a course for education majors.

Diversity in children’s literature is critical for constructing culture and community. We grow up and are conditioned by what stories we read and value as children. This shapes what and how we read future works. These early stories are the analytical and social justice foundations for the literature that we teach in a university program like ours in the department.

The gatekeeping of books is a real issue in the publication of any literature, but even more so in children’s and young adult—which is the largest market and consumer of books. This gatekeeping is driven by political, financial, and value-based issues. It happens in publishing houses, in schools, in libraries, and prevents entire communities and cultures representation and access.

This message was heard at this conference. Individuals with disabilities at the symposium came up to us for the next two days saying they wish this had been around when they were children. Two researchers want to collaborate on future projects with us. Participants were tweeting and sharing widely on social media about how our books and our awareness supports disability rights.

Delivering our rethinking message and experiencing that positive professional energy and validation with my Ball State students reminded me of what I also believe in—we need to transcend the classrooms of Robert Bell and Ball State University and take our students out into the community and the world.

Eileen Porzuczek : Senior Creative Writing and Professional Writing & Emerging Media major

Over the past couple years I have been continuously working as a writer, editor, and designer for Rethinking Children’s & Young Adult Literatures digital website and magazine. I was thrilled when I learned that our newest issue would focus on the representation of disabilities. Throughout the entire creation of this issue, my peers and I conducted extensive research into the disability literature available for children and young adult readers.

As we continued to bring the digital content to life, we gained a lot of interest from the public. This interest led us to the opportunity to present the Representation Matters issue of the magazine on a panel at the 2019 Disability Symposium hosted by the Institute of Human Rights and the University of Alabama Birmingham.

The conference was held February 21st through February 22nd at the Hilton hotel on the University of Alabama Birmingham’s campus. Upon our arrival, the first morning of the conference, we prepared to present the website to the conference attendees.

During our portion of the panel, we displayed the digital magazine on two large screens surrounding the stage and went through all of the magazine’s content. I personally shared the Rewriting Section, where all of our original stories are published in the magazine, and highlighted three stories.

After our panel had concluded, we had numerous individuals coming up to us and praising us for our work. Some were parents, some were professionals, and some were professors. We even had the chance to connect with Derrick Cogburn, a professor of International Communication and IT Development at American University in Washington D.C. Cogburn was so interested and passionate about our project that he has now joined our team and is working alongside us to get our magazine in the hands of more people.

We will be presenting our digital content at two upcoming events with the City of Fishers for Disability Awareness month. As well as at the 2019 National Children’s Literature Conference, and the International Literacy Association’s Indiana State Annual Conference. I am looking forward to sharing the magazine with more people and getting our crucial message that representation matters out into the world.

You can learn more about the Rethinking project on its Facebook page and website.