I go away for five measly days and look what happens! We briefly lose the sun, questions about ALSC and social media are raised, and then to top it all off the child_lit listserv comes to an end.
I found out about it through Facebook, actually. For the past three days I’ve been holed up in a lovely little house in the middle of Michigan without any Wi-Fi access, for the sole purpose of writing something above and beyond blog posts. Occasionally, though, my writing partner and I would step into the sun, blink, and head for a nearby town to munch. When that happened the phones would light up with news, and there I found out about child_lit.
If you’re unfamiliar with the listserv, that probably isn’t surprising. And if you need me to explain to you what a listserv is then please see previous statement about it not being surprising. I can’t say exactly when I joined, but if I was going to harbor a guess I’d say it was when I was in grad school back in 2003. That was a time when I’d read scholarly children’s periodicals on my lunch break. Child_lit just seemed like a logical offshoot of that, and indeed it did begin as a scholarly site. Children’s scholarship has not disappeared, so why is the listserv? Well, I’ll reprint the full statement from the listserv’s manager Michael Joseph below.
By the way – take special note of the moment when Michael Joseph says that the archives will be available “until September 1″. If somebody would be so good as to save those for posterity, future historians might be mighty grateful.
Child_lit began in September 1993. The idea for the list, inspired a paper
given at the annual Children’s Literature Association Conference by Patti
Pace, was, basically, that it would be really fun to keep talking and
thinking about exciting ideas after the conference ended. Rutgers agreed to
host the list, Laura Zaidman came up with the name, and Childlit (later
re-named child_lit), went live.
History will have the final say, but on many counts, child_lit has been a
Although conceived with a specific focus, child_lit took on many uses. It
nourished conversations about children’s literature. It informed
scholarship, as critical articles, presentations and monographs pulled on
its discussion threads. It even inspired picture books and other creative
texts. It drew together formerly separate but related communities of
instructors, reviewers, librarians, scholars, writers, administrators,
translators, publishers, editors, and readers from all over the world to
engage in lively conversations on topics of general interest on a daily
basis. It conceived of a children’s literature world, and brought that world
to one’s doorstep. It nourished collaborations, careers and reputations. It
nourished friendships. If it exposed differences, and generated friction,
often that served a worthwhile purpose. Sweet could be the uses of
It also created a sense of identity; being on child_lit was like being cast
both as audience and players in a sprawling, frothy radio drama. It was
exciting to see who would enter the next scene.
Child_lit was a presence. In 2005, the year J.K. Rowling published Harry
Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and just a few years after listmember
Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass won the Whitbread Book of the Year
Award, The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature included the founding
of child_lit among its milestones of children’s literature (sandwiched
somewhere between the Hundred Years War [1137-1453] and The Teletubbies).
I joined the list about a week after submitting paperwork to our Computing
Center. By then, child_lit already had a half-dozen subscribers. I remember
Jon C. Stott, and J.D. Stahl, whose names I recognized from that ChLA
conference, being there to welcome me. The welcoming experience became a
commonplace in those early days, and for long afterward, and there arrived
many listmembers far more congenial and more articulate than me to make new
folk feel welcome. It is always problematic to go to cases, but I want to
name Peter Neumeyer, astonishingly well-read, soft-spoken, and generous to
younger, clumsier scholars; the quippy and tireless June Cummins, whose
long, luminous orations could unknot the most contentious disputes; and
Julius Lester: if there was a wiser, more natural leader, I never met him.
They and many other vocal proponents of the list in a long chain made many
people feel welcome. As of today, the child_lit list has about 2600
addresses. In a purely numerical sense, the list is at its peak of
And yet, by other means of reckoning, perhaps not so much. Nowadays, there
is little if any attention paid to papers and monographs on the theory and
criticism of children’s literature on child_lit. Conferences come and go,
unnoticed. I am certainly to blame. I attend fewer conferences, read fewer
essays. But, I am still an active researcher, and, here’s a funny thing:
last year, I published two pieces on children’s literaure-an essay I
co-authored with another child_litter for a Routledge collection, and a
journal essay. Humble output to be sure, yet, I didn’t think to mention them
on the list. Nor did my co-author. We knew beyond the shadow of a doubt the
list was no longer interested. I didn’t think of it as a personal rebuff. No
scholars were announcing their publications. It seems to me, they hadn’t
been for years. They were here, but largely silent.
Why? Why had the scholarly enterprize shut down? There seemed to be many
reasons: external factors, of course, but internal as well. What I will call
the list’s general neglect of and even outright hostility to scholarship.
This is not nothing. There is a palpable sense bordering on a conviction
that writing about stories and poems for its own sake is no longer important
enough, with the “pale, lascivious unicorn and bloody lion” loose upon the
land. Child_lit has become engrossed in other, more urgent, matters.
Those other matters are worthwhile, indeed. We are in perilous times. But
there are plenty of public forums for those conversations. And, happily,
there are also now plenty of forums for general chat about children’s books.
In fact, with a host of social media-Facebook groups, blogs, fan pages, and
such-conversations about children’s literature go on everywhere, always.
There are so many ways to keep talking, and surely a new generation of
social media apps are coming down the silicon pike.
So, as the founder and listowner, I have concluded that the time has come,
as they say in the newspaper business, to put child_lit to bed. Please
understand, I have struggled with this decision. I know that it will not be
met with universal acclaim, and people will ask, why not just let things go
on as they have? Why stop now? Because, the list isn’t working-not for me
and not for many others. I still think having a place where people can talk
intelligently and respectfully about children’s literature is a fabulous
idea; but I know that that place cannot be child_lit.
So, after a twenty-four year run, on September 1, child_lit will cease. It
will stop distributing emails. Readers need do nothing. No need to
unsubscribe. The archive will be available until then.
Dear friend, thank you for sharing your time with us. I can tell you, it
wouldn’t have been the same without you. I hope you will reflect
meaningfully on your list experience and count it as time well-spent. Good
luck with your reading and writing! May you find the right words when you or
somebody you love needs them the most.
So. A couple thoughts. Folks on the listserv are probably aware that in the last few weeks there were some heated words exchanged in conjunction with the release of the Vulture article The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter. This was not the first time folks have disagreed on the listserv, and I would have bet it wasn’t the last, except for the fact that now it’s ending. So I guess it was. The last. Now that Michael’s made his decision there are a variety of responses. Some say that the timing is suspect. Others that the listserv should move to a different venue. Still others that it was a huge help to them over the years and that they’ll miss it.
Me? I always liked the scholarly side of things on child_lit. As Michael points out, there’s not much of anywhere else to find these kind of long-form discussions, unless of course you happen to go to blogs where the commenters are loquacious in their thoughts and feelings. Michael says that the scholarly discussions were pretty much gone the last few years. I suppose it’s true, but it was my last connection to them. I don’t belong to ChLA (and maybe I’d better start) and since the death of the ccbc-net listserv this was my last one with a tangential connection to in-depth children’s literary conversations.
Where to go now? It’s difficult to say. For news there’s PW Children’s Bookshelf. For an assortment of thoughts on children’s literature there’s The Niblings. But nothing quite hits the same note. Listservs may have been an outdated model but we’ve yet to see something that matches them. At least in the children’s literary world.
In the end, I say goodnight, child_lit. You were almost old enough to rent a car. Godspeed, friend. See you on the other side.