Undergraduate Graduate People News & Events

Sara L. Schwebel


Areas of Specialization

Recently Taught Courses

ENGL 431a Children's Literature
ENGL 432 Young Adult Literature
ENGL 650S The American Girl: Growing Up Female in The United States, 1830-2000 (Cross-listed with WGST 796S)
ENGL 762 Historical Approaches to Children's Literature
ENGL 763 Historical Approaches to Young Adult Literature
SCHC 350P Growing Up Southern: Children in Literature and Life

Professional Accolades

Current Research Projects

My recently published book, Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms (2011), traces the formation and influence of what I term the middle-grade canon, a collection of children's historical novels that have been taught across the United States for three decades. Honored for their literary quality, praised for their ability to capture student interest, and appreciated for their alignment with social studies standards, the books have flourished as curricula even as pedagogy shifted from whole-language to phonics and student-centered learning to standardized testing. As literature, the books stimulate children's imaginations, transporting them into the United States' national past and projecting them into a promising future. As works of historical interpretation, however, many appear startlingly out of step with current historiography and social sensibilities, especially with regards to race. Unlike textbooks that are subjected to political tugs-of-war and regularly replaced, historical novels for children have simply, and quietly, endured. Their longevity attests to the resiliency of heritage-based instruction in schools, but it also provides unparalleled opportunities for teachers to cultivate in children sensitivity toward the way the past is used for moral and ideological ends in the present.

I am currently at work on a print critical edition of Scott O'Dell's landmark children's novel Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) and, in collaboration with partners including the National Park Service, Channel Islands National Park, and the USC Center for Digital Humanities, a virtual museum and online, annotated archive centered on the novel and the historical actor upon whom it is based, the so-called Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island. The Lost Woman and Last Indians project contextualizes O'Dell's widely-taught, Newbery-winning novel and encourages a multi-aged public to reflect on how it has participated, and continues to participate, in efforts to understand "the Indian," European colonialism, American nation-building, and the place of racial "others" in the body politic.

Selected Publications


Sara Schwebel: Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms
  • Sara Schwebel
  • Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms
  • Vanderbilt University Press, 2011

Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms examines the historical novels comprising the classroom canon, tracing the relationship of books like Johnny Tremian, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry to contemporary politics and historiographical trends. Unlike textbooks subjected to cyclical replacement, historical novels circulate for decades, even as their interpreations of the past diverge from current sensibilities. The books' classroom endurance attests to the resiliency of heritage-based history instruction in K-12 schools. But it also creates unparalleled opportunity for students to learn about the ways in which the past is put to moral and ideological uses in the present.

Listen to a recent radio interview with "Big Jim" about Child-Sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms here


Recent Presentations

Other Information