#BookTour “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” by Tom Durwood

About the Book

Title: Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism

Author: Tom Durwood

Genre: Supplemental Textbook, Literary Criticism

An award-winning teacher lays out the basic rules of literary criticism in this accessible guide.

Foreword by Todd Whitaker

We are surrounded by narratives, in fiction and in our everyday lives. In this colorful collection of ideas, the author argues that understanding the components of our favorite children’s stories can lead to a lifetime of critical thinking. Featuring exclusive interviews with notable literary scholars, including Amanda Lagji, Alexander Maxwell and Anna Kozak and others, the instructional content is catered for high-school senior to early college-level classes and/or homeschooling students.

Beginning with the elements of the universal coming-of-age narrative, “Kid Lit” shows young readers and general readers alike how to recognize story structure, class, gender, symbolism, trauma and Orientalism in children’s narratives.


Barnes & Noble



Praise for “Kid-Lit”…

Tom Durwood’s ebook on Kid Lit provides teachers and students with comprehensive information they can really use–definitions and clearly delineated explanations of the tropes of Kid Lit, scholarly essays and interviews that explore these ideas further, and classroom activities and exercises that allow students to relate what they’ve learned to works they’re familiar with and their own lives. Practical for teachers and accessible to a wide-range of students, the book also encourages readers to embark on further study through extensive reading and film lists included in the chapters. This book is an impressive and invaluable resource for any classroom exploration of Kid Lit.

— Sarah LaBarge, English Instructor, LaSalle College


Tom Durwood expertly breaks down and explains literary theory in an easy-to-understand way. This book makes sense of reading critically and guides students to producing their own explanations of literature.

— Christine E. Carlson, English Instructor, Cabrini University


Tom has a gift for making complex ideas understandable to his cadets. His lesson plans are amazing! He can turn a standard freshman composition class into a forum for collaborative learning and global thinking.

Susan Ray, Ph.d, Arts & Humanities, Delaware County Community College


I enjoyed your book on Kid Lit and it fills a gap – I can think of several great intros to children’s literature (notably by Maria Nikolajeva and Roberta Seelinger Trites) but they are not exactly conversational.

I’d love to be in your class and the lesson plans look very fun.

Lynley Stace, Writer and Illustrator (The Artifacts, Midnight Feast)

Teacher Resources – Kid Lit



Todd Whitaker

It is a pleasure to write the foreword for this book. My years as a teacher, principal and professor in educational leadership have continually reinforced the importance of literacy. To be a good reader we have to be a good thinker, and this book combines the two very well.

There are twin premises to Tom Durwood’s Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism.  The first is that literary theory is for all of us, and the second is that students can develop marketable lifetime skills when building critical thinking regarding their favorite stories.

Tom is a teacher and it is quickly evident in the clarity of his writing.  He poses a simple question – for example, What makes a good villain? — and then draws you into a comparison between Captain Ahab (apocalyptic evil) and Dr. Octopus (simple greed).  This then flows into a consideration of evil in all literature.  You are then invited to formulate your own theory of good and bad by following his clear illustrations.

This is a unique book in that the three sections are quite different. Part One is the ‘critical tool box’ and begins with the elements of the universal coming-of-age narrative. The author then shows young readers and general readers how to recognize story structure, class, gender, symbolism, trauma and Orientalism in children’s narratives. His consideration is broad and inclusive. We meet many recurring literary characters that will challenge historical stereotypes.

The second section of Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism is a sampling of new scholarship in children’s literature. Tom introduces and then interviews rising scholars like Amanda Lagji, Alexander Maxwell and Anna Kozak.  Readers will discover:

… a breakdown of Afrofuturism and other schools of the ‘Empire Writes Back’ movement

… why scholars of the family consider Finding Nemo a step forward and The Incredibles a step backward

… the vital connection between Star Wars and Vietnam

… the social Darwinian structure supporting the animal monarchy of The Lion King

… why Kung Fu Panda and The Hobbit are the same story, just as Avatar and Dances with Wolves are the same movie

Part Three is the fun and immediately practical part, especially for teachers, where we see just how to bring these concepts into the classroom. The 28 pages of ready-to-implement lessons in the book’s third section give readers a taste of what it’s like to spend a semester in Tom’s class. These lesson plans are the proof of the pudding: every teacher needs classroom activities and exercises that allow students to apply their learning to their own lives. Here, the underlying dynamics of Harry Potter and The Secret Garden and The Hunger Games render lessons in gender, race, trauma, identity and the Other. Tom wants students to connect these elements to their own coming-of-age narratives.

This book is not a typical read and may not be for everyone. To those looking for a linear dissertation connecting Peter Rabbit to Michel Foucault and post-structuralism, it will seem disjointed. Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism is a collection of ideas, and what it lacks in continuity it makes up for in robustness. This is literary criticism at its least formal and most lively.  It will definitely challenge you and your students thinking.  It will also energize you on ways to apply these practices to other readings you use in your classroom.

This is also a book on a mission, which is (in Tom’s words):

Wake up! Stop being passive consumers of these narratives. You must begin to own these stories, break them down and see what makes them tick. It will lead to a life of critical thinking, which is beyond value.”

Children’s literature is a vibrant field, always growing and changing. There is plenty of room for new approaches like this one. What comes through the pages of “Kid Lit” is an authentic love of literature. Readers and teachers alike will find in it a useful and worthwhile resource. Get ready to dive in and enjoy a new perspective to literature.

— Todd Whitaker

    August, 2020



Win a digital copy of Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism



Author Bios

TOM DURWOOD is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.


TODD WHITAKER is a professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. He is a leading presenter in the field of education and has written more than 40 books, including the national bestseller, What Great Teachers Do Differently. He regularly presents at conferences such as the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the Academy of Management Learning and Education, and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)


Kid Lit

Empire Studies Magazine

The Illustrated Colonials

Boatman’s Daughter

The Illustrated ‘USG’ in China and other stories


Tom Durwood on Facebook

Teacher Resources – Kid Lit


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