Week 8: Facing the Ultimate Illness- Death and Children’s Literature

Since our class was at 4pm on Thursdays, we decided to meet at a coffee shop for our last discussion. Courtesy of the LSA Honors Program, I was able to treat my students to coffee and snacks as we discussed children’s literature about the topic of death.

For the first part of our class though, I wanted to share with my students the research that I’ve been doing for my Honors English thesis, especially since it was so informed by my own individual study of illness narratives. I gave them the typical shpeel about my project, then encouraged them to participate in a discussion about the ethics of my methodology and my research.

As always, I was impressed by the questions my students asked and their keen perception about the ethical complications to my research. It was also encouraging to see how much our discussions had evolved over the course of the semester as they asked about how to optimize the agency of children with cancer and questioned some of the conclusions I drew in my own analysis. Even as I was on the brink of submitting my thesis, it was amazing to realize that there was so much more left to think about.

When we turned to the children’s literature (Leo Buscaglio’s The Fall of Freddie the Leaf and Laurie and Marc Brown’s When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death), I was proud to see that many students had concerns with these works. One student challenged my title for the week, questioning whether death should actually  be considered as an ultimate illness. They criticized how When Dinosaurs Die portrayed death in an almost comical view that may not have been productive, such as by glossing over suicide. They wondered whether books such as these would be the best way to communicate in situations where death may be approaching.

This topic about death in children’s literature was one that is of particular interest to me, and we had an engaging discussion that brought us full circle to some of earlier conversations in the course about the purpose and function of literature and medicine.

Lesson Plan Week 8

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