Monday, October 22, 2012

College, Children's Literature and Professor Stout

After graduating from high school, I attended the University of North Dakota-Williston (now Williston State College). 
UND-W, Harvard on the Hill, East-side High, the U-dub, whatever you called it, it was the the obvious choice as it was only 22 miles from home.
Williston State College.  It has grown quite a bit since I've been there!
My first year was interesting.  I lived on campus, and when money got tight, worked on campus at the college library.  I told myself it would be great library experience. I'd learn how to check out books, find books for people, re-shelf books, etc.....Ummmm, not exactly.  My job entailed sitting at a small little desk in the back, entering books into the ODIN (Online Dakota Information Network) system.  I don't remember much about it, but I do remember having to place bar code stickers into the corners of each book, and a magnetic strip (I think).  Then I would wave my magic little light wand over the bar code and enter it into the database.  When all of the books on the cart had been entered, I'd get to put them back on the shelf.  To be honest, it was mind numbingly boring.  But it was experience...and a paycheck.

I took two courses at UND-W that involved children's books.  One was called Introduction to Teaching and one of our assignments was to spend time in a local classroom.  Since I thought I wanted to be a school librarian, my professor put me in contact with local school librarian, Beth Darr.  She was such an energetic, neat lady and I learned so much from that experience!

My Freshman year is also the year I took Children's Literature (Engl 215) from Professor Jim Stout.

Part of our 4 page Children's Lit Syllabus! 
The textbook we used!  Totally worth the $58 I paid for it.  I still have it and reference it quite often, especially for poetry.
I couldn't believe there was a class that revolved entirely around Children's Literature, but there it was on my schedule.  Every Monday evening from 6:30-9pm I would enjoy 2 and a half hours of talking and learning about Children's Literature.  It wasn't always easy, but I enjoyed it.  And Mr. Stout (who was also my supervisor) was an excellent professor who didn't seem to be just "going through the motions" with our class.  He really knew and liked children's books, and I found it impressive that he had a Polar Express poster hanging on the wall of his office (this was long before the movie was even a twinkling in Robert Zemeckis' eye, by the way.)
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, winner of the 1986 Caldecott medal and children's book classic.
That poster may not have been a big deal to others, some may not even have noticed.  But to me it was like seeing a Harvard Diploma on your brain surgeon's office that point, you surmise that your brain is in good hands.  I didn't care where Professor Stout went to college or what kind of diploma he'd gotten, all I needed to see was that poster and I trusted that he had excellent taste in Children's Literature. Not only that, it was glass...not just sticky-tacked to the wall in a haphazardly fashion like we Freshmen would do it.  It's as though he knew it was to be a classic, deserved a good frame and space on his office wall.   

Because of Mr. Stout, I learned the difference between good children's literature and not so good children's literature.  Because of him, I have never read my daughter the Poky Little Puppy.  It's bad enough I had to suffer through Strawberry Shortcake, Barbie and My Little Pony books, until I wanted to barf rainbows...I'm sorry, but those are not my idea of good children's literature.  They are novelty, fluff books that somehow manage to sneak into our houses and onto our children's bookshelves when they are three and four years old.  And these are the books that leave by way of the 25 cent box, headed to Grandma's garage sale.  In contrast, the good books like Our Friends at Maple Hill FarmLilly's Purple Plastic Purse and Flotsam...these are the books you keep forever, and pass down to the next generation.

Because of Mr. Stout I learned that being an adult who liked children's books is nothing to be ashamed of.  My love of good children's literature didn't make me childish, or a nerd, or a freak.  It made me more like Meg Ryan's character in the movie "You've Got Mail", someone whose mother loved books and passed that love on to her daughter.  (Loved the bookstore in that movie!)

I recently read an article about Williston State College and how they are losing students to the oil fields and big paychecks.  You can read the article here:  America's Oil Boomtown.
Coping with an influx of students, a lack of housing and crowded classrooms are just a few of the struggles facing the professors I remember from my years in Williston.  The oil boom reminds me of a phrase another excellent professor of mine, Richard Stenberg, used when talking about the railroads of the 1800's, "Too much, too fast, too soon".  I hope that the professors at Williston State can work through these oil boom challenges and hang in there a few more years.  Williston is lucky to have such a fine school with such fine faculty.

I never did become a librarian.  I never became a true artist either.  For a few years I floundered, not really knowing what or who I wanted to be.  Instead of dropping out of school to discover myself, I clung to it.  I took as many courses as I could to stay afloat and interested in an education.  I finally listened to what my mother had been telling me all along and switched my major.  I graduated seven (yes, seven) years later with an Elementary Education degree and a hefty student loan.

Now, I am a mother, a daycare mom and teacher of many things.  I am a master at getting knots out of shoes, legos out from under stoves and smiles out of grumpy children on early Monday mornings.  I even get to be a librarian!  My daughter and I share a large children's book collection (no Poky Little Puppy allowed) and we keep a special collection for the daycare kids.  We talk about caring for books, and have discovered that board books are a blessing for the 2 year and under set!  My daughter loves to read to the children and we try to have story time everyday.
Autumn reading to the kids.

That's all for today!
Until tomorrow, have a happy reading day!

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