The Follett Lecture is given annually each spring by the Follett Chair in Library and Information Science, a position established by Dominican University and the Follett Corporation in 2002.

Lecture Recording

Follett Chair, 2020–2022 Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

The Shadow Book: Reading Slavery, Fugitivity, and Freedom in Children’s Books and Media

Watch the 2022 Lecture

"The Shadow Book" will focus on the cultural politics inherent in representing slavery in contemporary children's books and media from the Civil Rights Movement to the Movement for Black Lives and the recent 1619 Project. Recent children’s books about slavery will be presented, and responses from reviewers, parents, community members, students, and the editor, author and illustrator will be analyzed. The talk will conclude with the implications for libraries, schools, and the future.

How do young readers respond to difficult stories about the past? Many topics frequently found in historical children’s and young adult literature—antebellum slavery, de jure segregation in the Jim Crow South, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands, to name just a few—are set during the bleakest chapters of American history. This is not surprising. One of the key functions of children’s literature is to explain and interpret national histories—histories that involve invasion, conquest, enslavement, and assimilation. However, interpreting these events can prove difficult in light of the other key functions of children’s literature: to transmit values, to convey a sense of nostalgia and wonder, to spark young imaginations, and to provide an expected happily ever after at the end of each story. Historical children’s stories are often framed within a metanarrative, or master story, of progress, triumph, and optimism. Although young people are learning some valuable information about the past, ultimately, they are learning only a single story—that of the unassailable American Dream.

Countering these stories are the shadow book that visionary poet and Schomburg Center director Kevin Young imagines as “a book that we don’t have, but know of, a book that may haunt the very book we have in our hands.” The tales told by darkness, by the shadows, by those at the margins of our country are never completely erased or removed, simply hidden in plain sight. For it is not only history that has been irrevocably inscribed by its victors, but also memory and imagination itself. When it comes to African American children’s books and media, many of these stories are retellings of history from Black perspectives, while others are Black fantastic, Afrofuturistic imaginative flights of fancy built from mythology and folklore—from Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly to Patricia McKissack’s The Dark-Thirty—providing new scope for the storied imagination.

Past Follett Chairs and Lectures

  • The 2020–2021 Follett Chair, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and author Renée Watson presented “Fantastic Black Girlhoods: A Conversation with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and Renée Watson” on March 29, 2021.
  • The 2019–2020 Follett Chair, Bernard Reilly, presented "Money, Technology, Politics and the Future of Memory Institutions" on April 20, 2020. Reilly also presented a spring 2020 lecture series: "Memory Institutions and Digital Evidence in a Civil Society."
  • The 2018–2019 Follett Chair, Verne Harris, presented "A Time to Remember, A Time to Forget: Fred Hampton, Nelson Mandela and the Work of Memory" on April 16, 2019.
  • The 2017–18 Follett Chair, Andrew Dillon, presented “Shaping a Better Information Space: Putting Humans at the Center of Our World” on April 26, 2018.
  • The 2016–2017 Follet Chair is David Lankes, who delivered 2017 Lecture, "The Social Responsibility of the Library and the Librarian in a Post-Factual World" on April 12, 2017 with a respondent panel of Nicole A. Cooke, Miguel Figueroa, and Scott Walter.
  • The 2014–2016 Follett Chair is Dr. Janice M. Del Negro, who presented "A 'Belligerent Profession:' Telling the Library Story" on April 8, 2015 and "The All-White World of Children's Librarianship: Baker, Rollins, and the Quest for Diversity" on April 13, 2016.
  • Mary Minow, Follett Chair from 2012 through 2014, presented "Copyright in the Digital Age" on April 15, 2013, "Ebooks and the Reader" on March 13, 2012, and "The Right to Control? Writing and Publishing Religious Works" with special insights from Sr. Janet Welsh on April 29, 2014.