Little Creepers

By Mariko Turk

I’m taking a course this semester called Desperate Domesticity: American Literature & Culture in the 1950s.  Given the course’s focus on domestic ideologies and spaces, children have been popping up quite a bit, especially in the suburbs.  Sometimes these appearances are particularly wonderful, such as the diaper ad in a 1956 Ladies Home Journal that refers to crawling babies as “little creepers.”  Brilliant.  Beyond describing children’s physical movements, though, there are ways that ‘50s texts about domesticity (both those critical and those celebratory of it) tinge children and their domestic lives with a bit of creepiness.

As Elaine Tyler May points out in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, the very structure of the iconic, mass-produced 1950s suburban home was designed to allow for the careful surveillance of children: “Kitchens were near the front entrance, so mothers could keep an eye on their children as they cooked.  Living rooms featured picture windows facing the backyard, also to facilitate the supervision of children.” This constant watchfulness surrounding suburban children, built into the very structure of their homes, lends an eerie restrictiveness to stories about their lives.  It also seems humorously unnecessary for the young inhabitants of ‘50s suburban sitcom homes like the Beaver in Leave it to Beaver, Ricky Nelson (“the little guy with the twinkle in his eye”) in Ozzie and Harriet, or Kathy “Kitten” Anderson in Father Knows Best.  These little guys and girls might lightly zing their parents every once in a while, or utter the occasional, emphatic “ah gee!” but this is about all the adults have to fear from them.  For 21st century audiences, however, (especially those unaccustomed to the ’50 sitcom acting style) these kids with their too-wide smiles, wandering about a house designed for watching them, might seem awfully creepy indeed.

But there are also plenty of ‘50s suburban children who capture creepiness in a more customary sense, generating chills and shudders with their blunt morbidity or their stunningly blithe reactions to violence or pain.  I have always been a big fan of Shirley Jackson’s seriously creepy little creepers, from the children who pick their heavy stones with the utmost care in “The Lottery” (1948), to Jack and Judy in “The Renegade” (1949), who merrily think up ways to kill the family dog.

Now I see that Jackson’s children are part of a cohort of creeps.  The children on the famously tragic family road trip in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” for instance, are absolutely thrilled when their car flips over: [their mother] “had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder.  ‘We’ve had an ACCIDENT!’ the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.  ‘But nobody’s killed,’ June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out of the car.”  Sloan Wilson’s popular 1955 novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit features similarly blood-thirsty suburban children.  When their mother catches the chicken pox from them and lies indisposed in her bedroom with the doctor, the “three children came into the room, their scabbed faces wreathed in smiles.  ‘Are you going to give her a needle?’ Janey asked.”  She asks three more times.  And children not only delight in occasions of physical violence and sickness, but can also be counted upon to wreak shrewd emotional damage on the adults surrounding them.  This happens briefly in Tennessee Williams’ Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, when Maggie Pollitt’s niece, Dixie, with her “precocious instinct for the cruelest thing,” informs the childless and unsatisfied Maggie that she is angry because she can’t have babies.

Most of these creepy child characters play only small roles in their larger narratives.  But reading the ways that children react to the emotional tension, the violence, or the quieter creepiness of 1950s domestic culture could provide valuable throughways into the culture and legacy of ‘50s domesticity.

And speaking of creepiness and mid-century American children, below is a CFP for papers on children in Hitchcock films.


Proposed edited volume of papers on Hitchcock’s Children
May 30, 2012

Although children and youth appear in a great number of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, they are rarely the focus of critical attention. This collection seeks to remedy that oversight and aims to add to the rich and varied tradition of Hitchcock scholarship. Many of the children and youth that appear in Hitchcock films are background or minor characters, yet they often hold special importance. From The Young and Innocent (1931), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Trouble With Harry (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) to The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964) children and youth perform both innocence and knowingness (and so much more) within Hitchcock’s complex cinematic texts. Though the child often plays a small part in Hitchcock’s films, their significance, both symbolically and philosophically, offers a unique opportunity to illuminate and interrogate the child presence.

Contributor’s are invited to submit critical and/or theoretical examinations of the children/youth characters in the full range of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, from his early silent’s to his later films. For the collection’s focus, children are defined as birth to age 12, while youth are defined as teenagers age 13 to 17.

Please send an abstract (200-500 words), current contact information, and brief biography (or CV) as attachments in Word (or compatible) by May 30, 2012, to Debbie Olson, Completed papers are due August 31st, 2012.

Debbie Olson, ABD
Oklahoma State University
University of Texas at Arlington
Departments of English


Mariko is a PhD student.

Categories: CFP, Critical Conversations, In the Media

CFP: “Monsters in the Margins”

[Blog Administrator’s note: I have been asked to post this specifically to encourage submissions from children’s lit folks! Get to it!]

UF Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (10th Anniversary Event!)

The first UF conference on Comics and Graphic Novels was held in 2002. We ask that you come join us to celebrate our conference’s anniversary at “Monsters in the Margins,” which will be held on April 13-15.

In any crisis, whether economic or cultural, there is a sense of an unimaginable danger right around the corner. These unknown and unfathomable terrors fascinate the imagination and dramatically play out our anxieties in a more cognitively relatable form—we attempt to embody them, to transplant them, or to make them somehow tangible—yet the underlying terror persists. The narratives and mediums we channel our terrors into become our monsters.

In the midst of the first true economic crisis of the 21st century, we return to these sites with renewed curiosity. How can we depict the sublime terror of our anxieties? How can we convey our unabashed horror through image and text, and communicate those feelings? Why do we keep trying to re-imagine the same monstrous templates, especially when the tools of a craft are perpetually unable to represent the unimaginable?

The 9th University of Florida Comics Conference hopes to address these issues by welcoming any and all explorations into the representation of monsters and the monstrous in a visual/textual form. We are especially interested in how text augments the imaginative image (or vice versa) and approaches horror in ways that help the conscious mind endure and (hopefully) resolve the trauma that the unknown antagonizes within us. From traditional genres to new horizons of horror, we seek to examine the monsters of media and attempt to understand how the medium influences the message.

The “monsters” in our conference’s title are open for interpretation. Presentations do not need to address the literal representation/illustration of monsters (e.g. zombies, vampires and werewolves, oh my!), but they should address the presence (or absence) of the monstrous, traumatic or unsettling.

Submissions should maintain a focus on comics, manga, children’s literature, video games, imaging technology or any other form that includes both image and text in its representations (either simultaneously or indirectly). Continue reading

Categories: CFP, Critical Conversations, On and Around Campus

Visualizing (Children’s Literature) Theory

By Emily Murphy

This past semester I was part of Scott Nygren’s video production seminar. The theme of the course was “Networked Traces,” and we spent a good portion of the class thinking about how video could be used to work through theoretical ideas. The goal was to develop ideas in a way not possible through the written word, and so we were encouraged to avoid text as much as possible when making our videos.

The video that you’ll be viewing is the final project from this course. It developed out of my interest in filming public spaces around Gainesville. You’ll notice the slow rhythms in the video, which are meant to invite the viewer to pay closer attention to the images and ambient sounds in the video (so make sure you have your volume up high enough!). The video is not meant to be forceful in terms of a particular idea or concept, but instead to slowly build in complexity due to the viewer’s own associations with the images and sounds.

You might very well be wondering what all this has to do with children’s literature. You’ll probably notice that each of the major sequences feature the voices of children. These voices were very much the result of chance encounters, and all of the voices in the video were unscripted. During the filming process, it began to seem that I just could not avoid children—they were literally everywhere! The voices became a new challenge for me. As I worked them into the video, I began struggling with ways to include these voices while simultaneously complicating the viewer’s relationship to them.

I’m still not convinced that I managed to combat nostalgia as much as I’d hoped. But I think the thing to take away here is that creative projects can actually be very productive for thinking through key concepts in children’s literature—it’s amazing what you can do when you combine the power of the right and the left side of your brain! If you’re inspired at all by this, then I encourage you to apply for the panel I’m organizing along with Marilisa Jimenez for the upcoming ChLA conference.

CFP: Creating New Possibilities: Children’s Lit Theory as Creative Act

Creativity and play are often associated with children but rarely with children’s literature scholarship. In an effort to engage with this year’s theme of “literary slipstreams,” this panel will consider the possibilities that arise from merging creative work with traditional literary scholarship. We invite proposals that deviate from the traditional format of the paper presentation and incorporate creative aspects (e.g., original films, poems, music, etc.). Some criticism should be included, however, in order to demonstrate the benefit of a creative approach in scholarship about children’s literature and culture.

Please send a 300-500 word abstract, a brief bio, and 5 bibliographic sources to Emily Murphy ( by December 31. Decisions will be emailed by January 5th before the ChLA submission deadline.

Emily is a PhD student.

Categories: CFP, Creative Corner, Critical Conversations

CFP: American Literature Association



MAY 24-27, 2012

San Francisco, CA


The Children’s Literature Society of the ALA seeks abstracts for two panels on children’s literature for the American Literature Association Conference to be held May 24-27, 2012, at Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, California. Continue reading

Categories: CFP

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