Meet the Program Director
Cathryn M. Mercier, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature (CSCL)
While much has changed in the world of children's literature, Professor Cathryn Mercier points to one thing that hasn't in the 35-year history of the CSCL. "The people who come to this program are passionate about literature for young people," she says. "At Simmons, we never apologize for studying children's books — never. Simmons embraces and values the literary and artistic works for young people and accords them deep, serious academic study. To do otherwise is to undersell both the creation and the audience."
Mercier's commitment to the critical study of children's literature has led to many leadership positions in the field. She has contributed to the journals Children's Literature and The Horn Book; co-authored three biocritical studies of young-adult authors; and served as a member of many national award committees, including the Newbery, Wilder, and Sibert. Her scholarly work has often focused on narratology and young-adult fiction, yet Mercier is also devoted to the picturebook. Most recently, she was a member of the 2012 Caldecott Committee.
Establishing a Framework
Among the courses Mercier teaches is Criticism in Literature for Children. She describes the course as "the spine" of the program, in that it forms the basis for study in specific genres, historical periods, or cultural studies. "Throughout the course, I ask students to try out different critical voices," she says. "I want to deepen the range of tools that they have to illuminate children's literature."
Mercier isn't interested in pinning down answers. Instead, she engages students in rigorous interrogations of texts, be they published works by famous authors, creative writing of M.F.A. students, or scholarly essays.
"Our discussions center on how we approach artistic works not intended for us as adult readers and how we apprehend our positionality," she says. "To understand a novel's or a picturebook's ambition is to understand the ambition of being human, whether one is a child, an adolescent, or an adult."