“K” is for Keen and “C” is for Core: Suzanne Keen is Back Once More


Juliette Des Rosiers ’26 and Belén Yudess ’25
Copy Editor and Copy Editor Intern

After resigning from the position of Scripps’ President in the spring of 2023, Suzanne Keen is returning to Scripps as a tenured faculty member in the English department. This fall, she will be teaching two courses: 19th Century British Poetry and Core III: Children’s Literature.

The Core course will be centered on historical children’s literature, including reading material dating back to the 17th century, such as The New England Primer. Additional texts include Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature, various picture books, and Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. The curriculum will focus on literature for ages 8-12, with the first day looking at picture books and ending the semester with short chapter novels.

“The whole course is organized around the idea that children’s literature always has a purpose having to do with literacy,” Keen said. “We will talk about literacy and think about methods of learning how to read. But at the same time that children’s literature [is teaching literacy], even the things that seem most innocent, like the alphabet, have purposes of inculcating virtues, morality, or cultural knowledge.”

Keen’s inspiration for the class draws from her love of reading books intended for youth into adulthood, her favorite being His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. She hopes that Core III students will share this love for children’s literature or, at the very least, rekindle it while taking this course.

She remarked on how the line between youth and adult books can be subjective, with secondary school teachers pulling from books advertised towards adults, and older readers choosing to buy Young Adult novels.

“Adults like to read what is written for young adults because some of the best writing comes out of those texts,” Keen said. “It would be dumb to cut yourself off from that – everybody should be able to read whatever they want.”

Keen is aware that concepts deemed appropriate for children’s literature in the past would be shocking to a contemporary reader. With this in mind, she has written a content warning into her syllabus, making students aware these topics may be troubling and encouraging them to approach her privately with any concerns.

“It’s immediately apparent that some of the ideas that are inside the [historical] children’s books aren’t ideas that we share now,” Keen said. “That includes overtly classist, racist, sexist, and condemnatory religious language … Myths and fairytales are [especially] violent, and in order to critique these works and grapple with their impact on child readers, we have to read them.”

Students’ final projects will be an opportunity to explore what they find most interesting about historical and contemporary children’s books. They will be encouraged to use Denison as a research resource through this process.

Keen is excited to use the robust Denison Library archives as a resource for hands-on learning with children’s books, especially to expose students to books from diverse cultures. This multicultural focus stems from her acknowledgment that “a lot of times when people think about children’s literature, they think of it as Anglo-American,” she said.

“It may be that an individual student decides to focus on something that is not English or American,” Keen said. “There’s a lot of openness in terms of where people go with their projects.”

Keen is a proponent of diversity in children’s literature and sees the value of having active discourse about it, especially considering recent legislation in favor of banning books. A subunit of the course will be dedicated to censorship where students will examine the American Library Association’s principles of freedom of press.

“I’m a free-speech and free-press person, and I really believe that parents can talk to their kids about what is appropriate or not appropriate,” Keen said. “Libraries should [not] be places where things are prescreened.”

Keen is confident in Scripps students’ abilities to engage in these often difficult and complex conversations, which is why she is enthusiastic to return to the classroom.

“One of my favorite things about Scripps is my conversations with students because it’s such a neat thing to choose to go to a place like Scripps and the people who do it are special,” she said. “I love teaching undergraduates, and I’m really looking forward to getting back in the classroom.”

Photo Courtesy of Scripps College