Born in late September of 1993, Child_lit was one of the first online discussion groups about children’s literature. Founded and maintained for twenty-four years by Rutger’s University rare book librarian Michael Joseph, it quickly became a community of individuals from many walks of life. Academics, booksellers, editors, publishers, librarians, writers, collectors, educators, illustrators, reviewers, publicists, and more interacted in this virtual space.
The Web was new in those days and social media as we know it now non-existent. Interacting virtually was also new for many on Child_lit, but we jumped in with enthusiasm, having intense conversations on a wide variety of topics. When issues arose in older media these became fodder for our discourse. Those there at the time are unlikely to forget a heated discussion provoked by Philip Pullman‘s 1998 Guardian article, “The Dark Side of Narnia” in which he fiercely articulated his distaste for Lewis’s series. In the midst of our conversation about the article we suddenly all received an email; it was from Philip asking how to join. He did and was an active and enthusiastic participant for many years. While the official archive is gone, Roxanne Feldman captured some of our wonderful early conversations and has posted them here.
One of the wisest members of Child_lit was the illustrious Julius Lester. Regularly he wrote sage posts that gave everyone much to think about and often calmed us down as well. A conversation about Little Black Sambo inspired him to write Sam and the Tigers which he dedicated to the list serve. When I wrote of never having really read the Bible he sent me a copy. Another who taught us a great deal over the years was Debbie Reese. I well remember the dismay she voiced about racism her third grade daughter encountered at school; she subsequently was invited by Horn Book Magazine editor Roger Sutton to write the article, “Mom, Look! It’s George and He’s a TV Indian!” Debbie eventually started the critically important American Indians in Children’s Literature.
For many of us in those early days it was an exciting time. I organized convention panels, drink gatherings, and restaurant meals. The very first was with Michael and a few others at the St. Regis King Cole bar, famed for its Maxfield Parrish mural. One of the most memorable for me was when a large group gathered to have brunch and then walk through Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Gates in Central Park.
The international aspect of the list was exhilarating. I have a handful of saved posts and emails interacting with Sanjay Sircar who was in Australia. In real life I met another Australian Judith Ridge when she was traveling through the U. S. on a fellowship and British Jane Stemp Wickenden who took me to the Trout during a visit to Oxford. Then there was Philip Pullman who visited my home and entertained me more than once in Oxford. There were challenging times too (9/11 was one I remember vividly); we lost members to illness (I think of Ernie Bond, Kay Vandergrift, Chris Saad, Micki Nevett, and Karen Sue Simonetti); we also celebrated members’ achievements.
Over the years, people came and went. Blogs, Twitter and other forms of online interactions became familiar and popular. Similar lists ended, but Child_lit soldiered on. Until founder Michael Joseph decided its time was over. And while the original child_lit may be gone, it is still alive in other forms such as the children’s literature-UK group and a Facebook group.
For me, personally and professionally, Child_lit was one of the most important experiences of my life. It connected me to a world that I had not previously known I could enter. It taught me to write — when I was misunderstood I tried again and again — it made me a writer. It gave me dear friends. Ten years ago I wrote a post celebrating two individuals who changed my life, one of them Michael Joseph. I am not generally a sentimental or nostalgic person, but when it comes to Child_lit I am. It meant the world to me.