Children's Literature Dual Degree Experience: Carla Carpenter

December 11, 2014

"Our idea of what a child is is constantly changing," said dual-degree student Carla Carpenter (M.A '15/M.F.A '15), "We live in a complex time. Everything is complex now: television is more complex, music is more complex, and so is our idea of the child. When does childhood begin? When does it end? How much do we as a society construct what childhood is?"

Whether working with students in the classroom, or in a school library, or writing literature for kids, it is pivotal to have an understanding of children as human beings and of their place in society. "Our idea of what a child is is constantly changing," said dual-degree student Carla Carpenter (M.A '15/M.F.A '15), "We live in a complex time. Everything is complex now: television is more complex, music is more complex, and so is our idea of the child. When does childhood begin? When does it end? How much do we as a society construct what childhood is?"

Enrolled in the program after years spent as a studio artist and mother, Carpenter said being in school again was not a culture shock, as she considers herself a lifelong learner. She has taken classes intermittently since undergraduate study; but, she joked, "I am one of the oldest students, and if you arrive to class early on the first day, then you have other students come in thinking you are the teacher." Carpenter said that many of the critical theories of children's literature they studied in classes did not exist or were not taught when she was last in school. The richness of the varied points of view she and her classmates contribute sets the stage for exciting discoveries. "I love this intergenerational dialogue," Carpenter said. "Occasionally I get called out on something and I think, ooh, you are right: there is a little bit of an old-fashioned attitude that is stuck in me; or I bring another perspective, like a Mom's point of view."

While Carpenter read kids' books in her youth, it was not until she became a mother that her passion for children's literature reemerged, and serendipitously coincided with the opening of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art near her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. "Being exposed to that [The Carle], loving picture books and fine art, being attracted to the color, the style," Carpenter said, is what led her to discover the children's literature program at Simmons. "I knew it was something I would find interesting and there has not been a moment since I have been here when I have thought 'Am I interested in this topic?'"

The genre-specific courses that the Children's Literature program offers give students a chance to analyze various styles and materials for various ages from a critical and theoretical framework. "There are always going to be people out there who laugh and say, 'Children's literature? How cute!' But it's not cute, it's layered, and often profound," Carpenter said. "Just analyzing the role of the adult in the children's literature world--there is the adult writer, the adult critic--so what is children's literature then? It is theoretically and philosophically fascinating."

Carpenter just started the Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children portion of her dual degree and is not completely certain where the program will take her. She wants to write, likely at the picture-book level or middle-grade level, but said nothing is off the table--young adult (YA), early adult--and revels in how the program introduces students to a range of genres they might not read on their own. "I am not a big science fiction/fantasy person, but I enjoyed the course and the reading, thinking about it, being exposed to it."

By Dean's Communications Fellow Lily Troia