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Students interested in researching past and current trends in children’s and young adult literature now can do so at UT, thanks to a new doctoral specialization that will be offered starting this fall.

The doctoral specialization in children’s and young adult literature will explore the history and evolution of the two genres and topics, including reading theory and pedagogy and literary criticism. It will be housed in in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education in UT’s College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.

The specialization adds a needed research and scholarship component to support the mission of UT’s Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, said Susan Groenke, center director and the doctoral program faculty advisor. The center focuses on helping parents and other caregivers of children and youth realize the importance of reading and making them aware of quality children’s and young adult literature being published today, Groenke said.

“PhD students conducting research on children’s and young adult literature—whether through genre-or reader-focused studies, will generate new knowledge about the literature and its impact on readers.”

UT’s program will be modeled after doctoral programs offered at Top 25 peer institutions, including The Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We believe the creation of this specialization will enhance our reputation nationally as well as serve the needs of Tennessee students,” Groenke said. “Currently, no such PhD program in children’s and young adult literature exists in our region.”

The program will prepare doctoral students for careers as professors of children’s literature, English and teacher educators, librarians, young adult authors, and scholars of children’s and young adult literature, she said.

The curriculum will draw from the expertise of professors in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences; the College of Communication and Information Sciences; and the College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to Groenke and Cindy Welch, professor in the School of Information Sciences and center associate director, program faculty members include:

  • Amy Billone, associate professor in the Department of English. She wrote the Introduction and Notes for the Barnes and Nobel Classics edition of Peter Pan.
  • Stergios Botzakis, associate professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. He is an expert in graphic novels in the adolescent literacy field and authored two books for young readers: What’s Your Source? Questioning the News and Pretty in Print: Questioning Magazines.
  • Deborah Wooten, associate professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. She is an expert on children’s literature and is author and editor of numerous books, chapters, and articles, including Children’s Literature in the Reading Program: An Invitation to Read.


Susan Groenke (865-974-4242,

Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,