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Sunday, June 26, 2022

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Hadarya, 4, grabs a book to read in Children’s Literature Collection.

More Than Kid Lit

Several SDSU programs focus on children’s literature – and it’s attracting worldwide attention.
By Lorena Nava Ruggero

They say that a good book can take you anywhere in the world.

But, the world can come to you, too, especially if you’re the National Center for the Study of Children’s Literature.

The unique center housed in the San Diego State University Department of English and Comparative Literature has an international reputation that attracts children’s book authors, scholars and students from around the globe.

International connections

Much of that reputation is due to Alida Allison, English professor and director of the center and of the graduate program in children’s literature. Allison is on the board of the Children’s Literature Association of India, and has traveled to Beijing and Shanghai to visit Chinese publishers.

When you’re a kid
and you pick up a love for this stuff,
it stays with you forever.

“It’s interesting in these countries because it isn’t as foreign of an academic subject as it is here,” Allison said.

Allison also brings children’s book authors from around the world to SDSU each spring. This year, Anushka Ravishankar will visit April 16–18 for several readings and other events. Ravishankar is an editor for Penguin Books in India and is an accomplished author in her own right.

“We met at a conference in India,” Allison said. “She’s just a magnificent writer of Indian folktales. She does what we call middle grade humor.”

SDSU also has a high-profile reputation simply because of the dearth of programs available. The graduate program is one of 10 in the country that focuses on children’s literature.

“We were one of the first campuses that had children’s literature as an academic subject at all,” Allison, also an SDSU alumnus, said.

Labor of love

The center and graduate program in children’s literature is a labor of love for Allison. The center focuses on producing reviews of children’s books for the SDSU Children’s Literature Reviews blog, with as many 80 reviews published three times a year.

“When you’re a kid and you pick up a love for this stuff, it stays with you forever,” Allison said. “In some ways, I think it’s great to come back and take a look at these not only from an adult point of view, but from a research point of view.”

The books they review are appropriate for a range of ages and interests, and many continue to stay at SDSU through the Children’s Literature Collection in the SDSU Library.

Librarian Linda Salem works with Allison to select books for the collection; Salem is also one of the program’s many book reviewers. The library’s collection is unique and attracts foreign scholars regularly, Allison said.

“There are some countries in the world that just don’t have libraries for economic reasons,” she said. “We forget what a luxury it is to walk down the street and have a stranger let you take out $50 or $100 in books.”

Teaching a love of reading

Books that don’t make it into the collection are donated to the SDSU Children’s Center, homeless shelters and schools in El Cajon and the South Bay. Allison estimates that more than $100,000 in books have been donated to date.

“One of the high school teachers from Sweetwater wrote me the nicest e-mail,” Allison said. “It was about the kids in her class — they had never seen so many new books in one spot as she had in her classroom.

“They all stay after school and read them; it just shows that once you get the books in kids’ hands, they read them.”