New Radio Program Part Of Growing Interest In Children’s Culture

Published: December 23 1999

Category:Education, Family, Florida, Research

GAINESVILLE — A new radio program produced at the University of Florida is rapidly gaining an audience by focusing on the growing national interest in children’s culture.

From a review of teenage author Chloe Weber’s “Mia Hamm Rocks!” to a celebration of Muppet creator Jim Henson’s birthday, “Recess!” explores the rich mosaic of children’s literature and media, said its host, UF English Professor John Cech.

“‘Recess!’ offers regular reviews of the latest children’s books and recordings, as well as previews of current movies at the multiplexes and the best of the new cartoons and TV shows,” said Cech, author of children’s books and a nationally recognized scholar of children’s literature. “We also feature interviews with leading creators of works for children and with those making news or interesting contributions to the dynamic mix of elements that form children’s culture.”

A co-production of UF’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and Media, which Cech directs, and WUFT-FM Classic 89, “Recess!” airs daily on National Public Radio affiliates across the country, from Norfolk, Va., Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville to Milwaukee, Mobile, Ala., and Billings, Mont. WUFT station manager Henri Pensis, who helps record and mix the show, said he expected parents to appreciate the series, but he is particularly delighted that children also listen.

“After hearing the Sept. 7 show about Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter stories,” he said, “my daughter suddenly wanted to read the books.”

The Harry Potter craze aside, enthusiasm for children’s issues in general is increasing, said Cech. Many new initiatives have appeared in the child welfare arena — including public policy, health and legal issues. And, as recent works such as Henry Jenkins’ anthology “The Children’s Culture Reader” attest, the academic field of children’s studies also is on the rise.

From the Center for Children’s Literature at Simmons College in Boston, which specializes in contemporary children’s book authors, to the “Kids First” Web site produced by the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media to reference recommended children’s CD-ROMs and videos, a wide range of disciplines and media have begun to explore elements of children’s lives.

Amid this growing interest, “Recess!” uses literature as the primary means to explore many subjects in children’s culture, said Cech, author of “Angels and Wild Things: The Archetypal Poetics of Maurice Sendak,” as well as plays and, most recently, a novel for adults.

“We do about half of our programs on literature-related themes,” he said. “But, of course, books are only one medium through which this culture is communicated, so we are also looking at other vital forms such as music, TV, films, toys, the Internet and folklore.”

Early segments of “Recess!” included a birthday salute to poet-singer Jack Prelutsky, a reading of all five verses of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for a show on its author, the 19th-century children’s poet Jane Taylor and a tribute to “Charlotte’s Web” author E.B. White on the anniversary of his death.

An upcoming December episode, for example, features children of different ages, genders and nationalities reading the United Nations’ International Rights of the Child. And to celebrate United Nations’ International Literacy Day, “Recess!” interviewed Sylvia Fuhrman, director of the United Nations International School. “I enjoyed Grimm’s Fairy Tales and fantasy,” Fuhrman said. “Diplomacy is part fantasy, as you know.”

Funded by UF’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, department of English and College of Journalism and Communications, “Recess!” hopes to attract vital support for future efforts of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and Media.

In conjunction with “Recess!” the center plans to produce video documentaries, design arts and literature programs for museums, libraries and school systems, and sponsor lecture series and conferences on topics involving children’s culture.

“Eventually, we’d like to host an international conference on the role of the children’s book in the 21st Century,” said Cech. “As our world becomes increasingly wired, what’s going to happen to the traditional form of the book? How will it be transformed for our grandchildren?”


John Elderkin and Jane Gibson
John Cech

Category:Education, Family, Florida, Research