Rodney DeaVault never thought about children's literature as a field until he directed a student production of Peter Pan while a senior at Princeton University.
Intrigued with the idea of formally studying children's books, he later applied to Simmons at the encouragement of his advisor. From there, a whole new world unfolded — one that has profoundly altered his point of view and professional path. "Suddenly, I was seeing characters whom I had grown up with and loved in terms of theory," he says. "It made me realize the power of children's literature to shape our initial impressions." Provocative research: DeaVault reports that he is drawn to exploring themes of gender in children's
literature, in particular, feminine roles. His thesis unpacks the relationship between beauty and agency in four fantasy series, including Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. "I'm looking at how story events divest the female characters of control so that they become what the male characters want them to be," he explains.
Forum for Ideas
An assignment for the course Science Fiction and Fantasy led to DeaVault's first scholarly paper presentation and a pending publication. Often linking children's literature to
pop-culture media such as television and comic books, DeaVault has gone on to present at several conferences, often with classmates. Currently, he is at work on a paper that applies children's literary theory to TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
DeaVault credits the intimate, supportive environment of the Simmons program as pivotal to his early success. "The faculty are well connected and excellent in mentoring us in whatever direction we choose — writing, publishing, or academia," he says. "They sincerely care about us and our careers."
To teach children's literature at the college level and to continue his scholarly research. Already accepted into the Ph.D. program at the University of Southern Mississippi, he says, "My dream is to continue to discuss children's literature as deeply as we do at Simmons. Nothing would be more fun for me!"