Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)





Committee Chair

Jameela Lares

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Eric Tribunella

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Katherine Cochran

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Damon Franke

Committee Member 4 Department


Committee Member 5

Farah Mendlesohn


Although many children’s literature critics focus on the two divides between instruction and delight and between the fantastic and the realist, this dissertation focuses on the occurrences in twentieth century English children’s fantasy of critical literacy, a mode of reading that challenges the status quo of society and gives voice to underrepresented and marginalized groups. Twentieth century English children’s literature is especially concerned with narrative structure and good storytelling rather than with what lessons might be learned from the texts, but lessons are there nonetheless. I examine the works of four authors, E. Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and J. K. Rowling, and how their works portray instances of critical literacy as a means of empowering young characters that can then serve as a role model for readers. Using methodologies of critical literacy and rhetoric, I examine these texts for their portrayal of critical literacy through the rhetorical choices that the characters make and what consequences these choices may have not only for the characters but also for readers. In each author chapter, I focus on topics such as expanding the empowerment of young characters, achieving literacy, creating the ideal Self, and making value judgments about texts. Children’s fantasy literature is an ideal vehicle for critical literacy because, as it is an imaginative genre meant for children, it is therefore often regarded as unthreatening and lighthearted. However, these seemingly benign texts afford the opportunity to mold or change the way people think of society in general, as well as giving voice to individuals and groups of people who are muted or silenced by society. Thus, critical literacy, through the low-stakes genre of children’s fantasy, can effect changes in society through individual readers who, like the characters they read, are voiced, active, and thinking.