CE | Contemporary Issues Through Children’s Literature

Alice in the new Wonderland: Contemporary Issues through the lens of children’s literature

  • Date: Wednesday, September 18 to Wednesday October 23

    Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

    Location: Sep 18, Sep 25, Oct 2 and Oct 23: Mary Ward Centre, Loretto College Residence, 70 St. Mary St

    Oct 9 and Oct 16: Room 105, Kelly Library, 113 St. Joseph St

    Cost: $282.50 (includes the cost of materials, HST, and light refreshments.)


    This multi-session course explores contemporary societal issues and provides a forum for learning about the issue and facilitated discussion. A children’s non-fiction or fiction book is used as a tool to present and explore the issue. Part of the session will focus on how participants can use the children’s book to explore the issue with young people in their lives.


    This 6-week series is comprised of 2-hour weekly sessions. The 2 hour weekly sessions begin with a 45-60 minute talk led by the guest speaker providing an introduction to the session, the contemporary issue, and an illumination of it through a children’s fiction or non-fiction book. Following the presentation, the speaker will facilitate a discussion among participants about the issue. Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase the authors’ books on the U of T Bookstore website and in-store prior to the start of the course. Each of the weekly sessions will focus on a prominent contemporary issue. Below is the author schedule:

  • Instructors:

    The series will be hosted by the Continuing Education Division with a member of the staff serving as the host for the series. Each week will feature a guest speaker who is the author of a children’s book which will be used as a springboard and tool to explore the issue. Read more about our instructors and their weekly sessions below:

    Week 1 – Joyce Grant

    Critical thinking (about what you see and read online) and Media Literacy In this session, author Joyce Grant will discuss her book “Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts”, illustrated by Kathleen Marcotte. Audience members will reflect and discuss the following:

    • What apps do the young people you care for use?
    • What are your concerns around their use of social media?
    • How equipped are they (and you) to spot misinformation?
    • What is something you’ve seen online recently that you’ve wondered about?
    • What do you want for your young person around social media safety?

    Week 2 – Naseem Hrab

    Helpers and Healers: Picture Books That Say the Things We Can’t Whether it’s loss, divorce, abuse, or natural disasters, the world is a challenging place to navigate no matter your age. Join Governor General Award-winning author Naseem Hrab as she talks about her books Weekend Dad and The Sour Cherry Tree, and explores how reading and writing picture books can help us process emotions, promote healing, and say what seems difficult or even impossible.

    Week 3 – Hadley Dyer

    Why are public spaces important? Because they belong to all of us. That’s the central argument of Watch This Space: Designing, Defending and Sharing Public Spaces, a unique book for young readers that introduces different types of public spaces, why we need them, and how best to use them. In this lecture, Hadley Dyer will explore what makes successful public spaces work, the ins and outs of sharing and designing public spaces, and the issues surrounding teenagers in public spaces. She’ll describe how she works with subject experts to make difficult, complex issues accessible and engaging to young readers and provide insight into the publishing process. A skills trainer who has supported emerging writers and editors at home and abroad, Hadley will also discuss Canada’s reputation for creating bold, socially conscious nonfiction for children and young adults. Audience members will reflect and discuss the following:

    • What is unique and important about nonfiction for children and teens?
    • How can nonfiction for young readers inspire hope and action?
    • How do children’s authors and publishers approach subject matter that may be intimidating even to adults?
    • How can books for young readers be useful resources for post-secondary students and other adults?

    Week 4 – Rochelle Strauss

    Award-winning author Rochelle Strauss discusses children’s non-fiction books as powerful tools to build environmental literacy. Using her books as an example, she will showcase how non-fiction books can teach young and old alike about ocean and climate science, inspire and empower environmental action, provide reasons for hope and help combat eco-anxiety. Books included in this dialogue will be The Global Ocean and One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, as well as Rochelle’s upcoming book Well Aware. Sample questions might include: Have you ever had to navigate discussing environmental issues, or address eco-anxiety, with others in your life (young or old)? How did you approach those discussions and what tools did you find helpful? How do you navigate your own eco-anxiety? What other ways can you use books as stepping stones for exploring the environment and environmental issues? What role do you feel storytelling plays in fostering empathy? How else can we build empathy and a sense of connection to nature? What ideas do you have for integrating books into everyday activities, besides just as bedtime stories? How else can we facilitate further discussions about the issues presented?

    Week 5 – Ella Russell

    Author and editor Ella Russell will discuss the ways children’s literature is tackling topics of self expression, degendering activities and material items, and building confidence in personal preferences while encouraging kids to respect and celebrate others’ preferences. Ella will use their picture book, Pink Is for Everybody, to examine how books can deconstruct gender essentialism by removing gender from conversations about how we express ourselves through clothing and colour and celebrating personal preferences.
    Audience members will have an opportunity to reflect and discuss the following:

    • How are colours used in gendering material items, marketing, and media aimed at kids? What is the impact of using colour in this way?
    • How do kids determine how to express themselves? How do internal reflection and external ideals factor in?
    • What common trends have you seen in children’s literature about self expression and/or gender expression? (In your childhood and now!)
    • How might you approach important lessons in stories so that kids don’t feel like they’re being lectured? (Relatable characters? Emphasis on the positive? No finger wagging?)
    • How would you approach the inclusion of “heavy” topics in kids’ books? Do the topics of gender identity and gender divides necessitate “heaviness”? What are the potential benefits and/or consequences of removing “negative” aspects or context from the conversation?

    Week 6 – Inna Figotina and Rabia Khokhar

    In this combined session, two books will be used as guides to present and facilitate discussion.

    Rabia’s presentation will start with a focus on the power of children’s literature and its role in acting as a springboard for contemporary topics. She will use the picture book Abuleita and Me written by Leonarda Carranza and illustrated by Rafael Mayani to guide the group around a discussion on anti-racism. The book does a great job of showing the importance of small and big actions we can all take to fight against racism. As well, it centers an integrational relationship which shows that there is a role and place for all within anti-racism work. Throughout the session, participants will be given opportunities to examine specific events carefully and critically in the story. They will hopefully leave the session with vocabulary, skills and passion to engage in anti-racism work in their own capacities.
    Audience members will have an opportunity to reflect and discuss the following:
    • Why is children’s literature powerful?
    • What is/was your favourite children’s book?
    • What is Anti-Racism? What does it look, sound, feel like?
    • How do Abuleita and her granddaughter need each other to fight racism?
    • How can you connect the events that happened in the story to ‘real’ life?
    • What 1-2 ways do you feel inspired to engage in your own anti-racism journey?

    Inna’s presentation will center around “Trilingual Me! Moi, trilingue!” which is an identity-affirming text that celebrates the immigrant experience and the second language acquisition journey. This bilingual children’s book highlights plurilingual identities and overcoming adversity. The book is written in both English and French and it rhymes in both languages. During the session, participants would be invited to engage in the session by reflecting on the languages they speak and reflect on their own language learning journey.

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