Note that the chapter references here are to the second edition of Pleasures--the equivalent chapters in the third edition are the same through chapter six, after which you need to add one; thus, chapter 8 in the second edition is chapter 9 in the third edition.
The following is an excerpt from the review of the first edition of The Pleasures of Children's Literature that I wrote for Children's Literature Association Quarterly (19,3 [Fall 1994]: 134-135):
I certainly don't agree with everything Nodelman says in the book. For one thing, he tends to see things in either-or terms, and is fond of lists of opposites, of polarities and structural oppositions, which frankly don't have the same urgency for me. My students, on the other hand, liked the lists and argued most ingeniously on behalf of Nodelman's notion that children's literature shares a concern with certain sets of opposing ideas, among them such odd oppositions as custom vs. anarchy and martyrdom vs. self-respect.
The jury is still out on such matters, but what I love about Pleasures is the honest, straightforward way it sets important critical issues before students and the encouragement it gives them to work on their own poetics of children's literature. Unlike the authors of most textbooks, Nodelman doesn't try for "the voice of authority." He warns readers at the outset that he has expressed "opinions strongly enough to make it glaringly obvious that, despite my knowledge of children's literature, they are only my opinions." And he hopes his readers will respond by saying something like, "‘Hey, wait a minute, that's just his opinion, based on his responses, emerging from his character. I'm not sure I can go along with it." Frequently, after making some provocative generalizations, Nodelman will include a little sidebar called an "Exploration" which urges the student to question what he has just said, or to look at an issue from some alternative perspective. By teasing, prodding, even being mildly outrageous, Nodelman tries to lure students into a vigorous dialogue with their textbook. What he hopes will emerge from the process is not necessarily a reader who agrees with him, but one whose opinions about children's literature have been carefully considered and are honestly held.
For my classes, at least, this strategy seems to have worked. My students enjoyed disagreeing with "Nodelman," whom they treated like some bright, outspoken and irreverent colleague who had inexplicably dropped in to team-teach the course with me. Some found him "opinionated," even "slightly obnoxious." One student defended him stoutly, insisting that "most professors are pretty opinionated anyway--and at least 'Nodelman' knows he is and admits it." Another student, who always seemed to have a bone to pick with "Nodelman," titled a retrospective essay "Sorry, Perry!" In the piece she conceded not only that "Nodelman" had been right about a few things but that she had enjoyed all those arguments and learned more than she expected from them.
Responses like these don't just happen; they need to be fostered and encouraged. Let me say a little more about how I encourage them. Since the course takes a slightly different direction and I vary the materials I use each year, I'll describe what I did this past year.
I highlighted the Explorations in my first few classes, to encourage students to "talk back" to "Nodelman." Actually, doing this became a sort of running joke, and the students enjoyed arguing their positions out in class. I used Nodelman with Sadler's MLA collection of essays on teaching children's literature, and interestingly, I found that the attitudes fostered by their work on Pleasures carried over to discussion of critical essays done in a different spirit.
I began with the first two chapters of Pleasures and then skipped to Chapter 4 as we read Charlotte's Web and Nodelman's article on the novel, "The Text as Teacher." Next we did Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw and tried to apply what we'd read in Pleasures. Then we read Wilder's Little House and played with this relatively simple text using the theoretical approaches in Nodelman's Chapters 7 and 9. After reading Chapter 8 on the characteristics of children's literature, we read an extensive selection of texts from Demers and Moyles's historical anthology From Instruction to Delight. While reading this material we looked at essays from Sadler on periodization and the canon. Then we devoted a week to reading Little Women in the context of all the approaches outlined in Nodelman.
The midterm exam was a take-home essay, with four questions required out of six or seven. Questions covered identifying the ideological slant of material from Janeway and Susan Warner; identifying the characteristics of implied readers and speakers in a Twain selection; comparing and contrasting the didactic strategies of Bunyan and Watt; applying Nodelman's approach to the beginning of Charlotte's Web to Cleary's Dear Mr. Henshaw; and identifying three of the pleasures of children's literature discussed by Nodelman in one selection read for class. (This last question, by the way, produced some of the most thoughtful essays.)
One Exploration that worked well as a midterm question was Nodelman's brief summary of critical responses to Wollstonecraft (Chapter 5). Students were asked to look at selections by this author and, based on their own readings, to enter the debate. Again, this proved a popular and interesting question.
Students then did Chapter 11 on picture books, and I supplied them with a handout turning Nodelman's points into questions. As they read a set of fairy tales from the Opie collection they created their own illustrated version of a popular tale. Groups in the class chose to do different tales. The discussions in class on their reasons for making certain decisions when they presented their books were most revealing. Especially so were the illustrations for "The Frog Prince." One student had gone to a local kindergarten and told the story to the class, which then did a composite illustrated version. The most interesting part of the exercise was the analysis à la Nodelman of the reading of the story offered by each set of pictures.
Finally, after reading Chapters 5 and 6 of Pleasures, students read fantasy material by Lewis, Tolkien, Carroll, and Rushdie.
During the course of the term, student projects presented in class touched on authors and issues, ranging from feminist criticism of Alcott to concerns about multiculturalism and the canon, the role of Disney in popular culture, and racism and sexism in children's books. A frequent preface to all these discussions was, "Nodelman says," often followed by, "but it seems to me."
The final exam offered students the opportunity to apply questions they had learned to raise from Pleasures to a variety of texts and illustrations. Many of the students who planned to teach chose a question related to Chapter 3 about "teaching the pleasure of children's literature." At the end of the term each student gave a research presentation, a study of some topic or issue followed through a number of articles in St. Nicholas Magazine, which our library has on microfilm. A number of these evidenced a lively influence of Pleasures. I enjoyed, among others, a reading of some illustrations showing mischief or transgression for their gender role implications; a study of the treatment of domesticity; one on racism; one on the didactic use of giants; one on football; and one on the adult readership implied by various articles. I was extremely pleased by the frequent and very natural references to threads of discussion raised by "Nodelman" during the term in the research essays, as it demonstrated the degree to which the students had assimilated--not necessarily Nodelman's views--but the whole approach to literature presented in his book.