In this course we will study international human rights treaties, conventions and norms and their incorporation into the domestic context through children’s literature.  The explicit and implicit societal “rules of the road” are reflected in the stories parents, families and communities share with their children.  We will explore these “rules of the road” (human rights concepts and values such as the right to participate in government, the right to free speech, the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to self-identity, the right to family, and other rights) through an analytical study of children’s literature.  We will closely examine how human rights, societal norms and legal values are introduced and instilled in young readers. This close examination will provide a foundation for understanding the relationship between the norms introduced in children’s literature and the laws that codify those norms.  

Themes explored in this course will include: discipline and power, morals and values embedded in legal systems and children’s narratives, diversity in the context of gender, race and disability, and how society constructs and manages “the other”.




We will meet for three hours every Thursday afternoon (1:30pm - 4:20pm), with a short break in the middle. Our meetings will include lecture, open class discussions, small group work, and oral presentations by individual students.  We will regularly post relevant background information in preparation for each class on our Moodle site.  In addition the site will include a discussion forum and a posting of assignments. 




The 100% coursework assessment will comprise marks from

Class Work (including attendance, contribution to all discussions, and evidence of preparation and intellectual curiosity) – 20%
Reading Responses – 30% (2/ 250 words each)
Oral Presentation – 20%
Final Essay – 30%  (1250-1500 words)




Children’s Literature
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Doreen Cronin, Click, Clack, Moo
Mary Hoffman & Caroline Binch, Amazing Grace
Drew Daywait, The Day the Crayons Quit
Norman Juster & Jules Feiffer, The Phantom Tollbooth
Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson, The Story of Ferdinand
The Little Mermaid
Little Red Riding Hood
Peggy Parish, selections from the Amelia Bedelia series
J.K. Rowling, selections from the Harry Potter series
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who; The Sneetches; Yertle the Turtle

Selection of Critical & Legal Texts

Bettelheim, Bruno.  The Uses of Enchantment:  The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  New York:  Vintage, 1975. 
Brighouse, Harry. “What Rights (if Any) Do Children Have?” In The Moral and Political Status of Children, edited by David Archard and Colin M. Macleod, 31–52. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). 
Commission on Human Rights, Question of the Realization in all Countries of the economic, social and cultural rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and Study of Special Problems which the Developing Countries Face in their Efforts to Achieve theses Huma Rights, Comm’n on Human Rights Res. 2001/30, Comm’n on Human Rights Doc. E/CN.4/RES2001/30 (Apr. 20, 2001).
Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations on the Combined Third to Fifth Periodic Reports of the United States of America under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, U.N. Doc. CAT/C/USA/CO/3-5 (Dec. 19, 2014).
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 28 on the Core Obligations of States Parties under Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/GC/28 (Dec. 16, 2010). 
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1465 U.N.T.S. 85 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987.
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“European Convention on Human Rights”), 213 U.N.T.S. 221 (1950), entered into force 3 September 1953, as amended.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. Doc. A/Res/34/180 (1979), entered into force Sept. 3, 1981.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 78 U.N.T.S. 277 (1948). 
Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 3rd edition. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2013.
Ernst, Shirley. “Gender Issues in Books for Children and Young Adults . ” In Battling Dragons: Issues and Controversy in Children’s Literature, edited by Susan Lehr, 66 – 78. Portsmouth: Heinemann Publishing, 1995.
Geary, Patrick. CRC in Court: The Case Law of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. London: Child Rights International Network, 2012.
Goldberg, Elizabeth Swanson and Alexandra Schultheis Moore, eds.  Theoretical Perspectives on Human Rights and Literature.  New York: Routledge, 2012.
Gopnick, Adam.  “Broken Kingdom:  Fifty Years of The Phantom Tollbooth.”  The New Yorker (October 17, 2011).
Grenby, Matthew Orville and Andrea Immel, eds.  The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Hamilton, Sarah.  “Over the Rainbow and Down the Rabbit Hole:  Law and Order in Children’s Literature.”  North Dakota Law Review 81.75 (2005):  75-114. 
Hunt, Peter, ed.  Understanding Children’s Literature.  London : Routledge, 1999.
Liston, Mary.  “The Rule of Law Through the Looking Glass.”  Law and Literature 21.1 (2009):  42-77. 
Lurie, Alison.  Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature. New York: Back Bay Books, 1998 .
Manderson, Desmond.  “From Hunger to Love:  Myths of the Source, Interpretation, and Constitution of Law in Children’s Literature.”  Law and Literature 15.1 (2003):  87-141. 
Roberts, Katherine J. “ Once Upon the Bench: Rule under the Fairy Tale.” Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 13: 497–530 .
Sen, Amartya. “Human Rights and Asian Values.” Morgenthau Memorial Lecture (New York: Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, 1997), published in a shortened form in The New Republic, July 14–21, 1997. 
Stephens, John. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. London: Longman, 1992. 
Todres, Jonathan. “Emerging Limitations on the Rights of the Child: The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and Its Early Case Law.” Columbia Human Rights Law Review 30 (1998): 159–200. 
Todres, Jonathan and Sarah Higinbotham.  “A Person’s a Person: Children’s Rights in Children’s Literature.”  Columbia Human Rights Law Review (Fall 2013). 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217 (III) A, U.N. Doc. A/RES/217(III) (Dec. 10, 1948). 




  1. Attain fluency in fundamental human rights' concepts and values.
  2. Develop an understanding of the conventions of children's literature and the skills to thoughtfully analyze the literature under discussion.
  3. Within a human rights' context, critically analyze children's literature to discern the cultural and legal values that are being promulgated to young readers. 
  4. Critically examine the relationship between social norms presented in children's literature and the ways those norms are codified into law.



Learning Outcomes

  1. Identify, describe and discuss the intersection between law, legal culture and children's literature through connecting various themes from children's literature with legal principles.
  2. Compare and assess relevant information/themes from children's literature and legal text (i.e. case law, ordinances, contracts, conventions) to explore social justice and human rights issues in the local community and the world more broadly. 
  3. Critically examine how children's literature helps to shape a child's civic / social / cultural identity. 
  4. Demonstrate an awareness of how legal culture and legal values are developed through children's literature and a young person's literacy-related experiences.
  5. Demonstrate an ability to critically analyze children's literature and discern the social/legal values that are promulgated by the texts.



Last updated: 5 August 2019