Caponegro Children & Their Culture

Recess! - exploring the cultures of childhood

Ramona Anne Caponegro

Ramona Anne Caponegro is a PhD student in children's literature and culture at the University of Florida where her research focuses on lessons and depictions of social justice provided for children and teens. She is also the assistant producer of Recess! and the research assistant for the Center for Children's Literature and Culture.
To learn more about Recess! and to read and listen to transcripts of our programs, please visit Also, to learn more about the Center for Children's Literature and Culture, go to

Did you know that the ancient Egyptians and Chinese were playing ball games over 4,000 years ago ("Ball" np) or that the kazoo hails from Africa, where it was originally made from a cow's horn and the membranes of spiders' egg shells ("Let's Hear" np)? Have you ever stopped to consider the importance of nicknames, bicycles, and stories in a child's life or to remember that all-important teacher who opened your eyes to something new and amazing? Can you retrace your many childhood aspirations and see how some of them have been realized today? "Whatever we love we have learned to love in childhood," notes Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher and poet. Recess!, a nationally distributed public radio program about "the dynamic cultures of childhood," strives to demonstrate Bachelard's maxim in just three minutes each day. Aimed at an adult audience, Recess! recalls for its listeners their own early passions and inspirations while also reflecting on the cultures in which today's young people are discovering the world around them and their ever changing places within it.

Launched in 1999 by John Cech and the Center for Children's Literature and Culture (CCLC) at the University of Florida, Recess! recently recorded its 2000th program. Our programs cover, by necessity, a wide range of topics since nearly every subject imaginable impacts the lives of children—past, present, and future—in some way; and we at Recess! are curious about every aspect of childhood, from the board books and security objects of infants and toddlers to the cultural streams shaping the views and experiences of the world's children and teens. Recess! offers reviews of contemporary books, music, and films for young people, as well as interviews with the artists who create them. We also feature original short stories, poems, and reflections on childhood as well as historical works for children, often drawing on the University of Florida's Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature. On the program, we discuss works that examine the personal difficulties and social conflicts facing youth—and indeed us all—dilemmas like bullying, prejudice, and war; and we honor remarkable individuals, like Jane Addams, Lewis Hine, and Mary McLeod Bethune, who have influenced the legal and social standing and conditions of children. We make time to celebrate the everyday wonders of childhood, too: fireflies, sandcastles, a giddy game of tag. We recognize important times of celebration in the children's cultural calendar, like the United Nation's Universal Children's Day, Black History Month, Youth Art Month, National Poetry Month, Geography Awareness Week, International Puppetry Day, International Forgiveness Day, and the birthdays of such luminaries of children's culture as Wanda Gag, Maurice Sendak, and Maud Tausey Fangel, the acclaimed baby portraitist of the United States in the 1930s and 1940s.

The wide-ranging, eclectic nature of our programs reflects our intention of reaching an equally diverse audience, dissolving traditional barriers that often constrain people in different areas of study and occupation from connecting with one another. And so we asked former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, in our interview with her, about her goals as a writer for children. We discussed the civic importance of encouraging early childhood literacy with John Peyton, the current Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, in conjunction with a piece about his innovative program for bringing together parents, young children, and books. Through Recess!, we seek to kindle attention to and interest in children and childhood among us so that we might see children more clearly in all their complexity and potential. The emails that we receive about the show reflect a broad array of listener responses to our program. Some recount childhood experiences, others tell us about their own work as it focuses on children. We have recently heard from a theater director who wants to develop a production of African spirituals and lullabies, a sample of which he heard on our program; a grandfather seeking appropriate birthday books for his grandchildren; and an eleven year old listener who critiqued our program on Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. Whatever the responses to our programs, we always hope to encourage reflection and discussion of the cultures of childhood, a concern too often ignored in the media.

The goal of Recess! is to make children and childhood the subjects of daily conversation for our listening audience, but our radio program is only one part of the work being conducted at the Center for Children's Literature and Culture. The CCLC is an academic center dedicated to exploring, studying, and creating works that enrich the cultural lives of young people. In addition to the Recess! program, the CCLC organizes an annual interdisciplinary colloquium as part of its "Transforming Encounters" series. These colloquia center on innovative approaches to advancing knowledge or addressing problems that affect children's lives. Past colloquia have explored the intersections of children, culture, and violence; the evolutions in children's libraries and their promulgation of literacy among children in developing countries; innovative approaches to incorporating science into children's daily activities; and the far-reaching relationships between children and the environment. In addition to the above national initiatives, the CCLC hosts numerous speakers and events, among these a reader's theater original production commemorating the 200th birth anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen; a lecture by Lisa Yun Lee, the director of Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; a presentation on comics, social issues, and children's books by artist Molly Bang; and a traveling exhibition of the boyhood photographs of France's national treasure, Jacques Henri Lartigue, in cooperation with the French Ministry of Culture, the Friends of Jacques Henri Lartigue, and the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida.

Through our numerous, ongoing collaborations and conversations in the public sphere, the Center for Children's Literature and Culture and Recess! bear daily witness to the joys, the challenges, and the complexities of childhood. As adults, we have a responsibility to ensure the best possible world for children and to provide them with many opportunities to experience their cultures fully, encouraging them, as they move forward, to one day work to reimagine the world that will be theirs. We also, however, have a responsibility to ourselves to ensure that we never stop being energized by the creative spirit of the young and by the many essential qualities and the works that we generally associate with them. As John Cech reminds listeners in a piece on Albert Einstein, "Throughout his life, he [Einstein] said, he always kept a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales on his nightstand, for inspiration, to remind himself that the solutions to problems always began with "Once Upon a Time" ("Albert Einstein's" np). These magical words rekindle our curiosity and wonder, and, in this state of renewal, no conversation is impossible to enter, no problem of childhood is too multitudinous to be overcome.

Works Cited

"Albert Einstein's Year." By John Cech. Recess! Natl. Public Radio. 13 April 2005.
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"The Ball." By John Cech. Recess! Natl. Public Radio. 24 August 2005.
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"Let's Hear It for the Kazoo." By John Cech. Recess! Natl. Public Radio. 28 January 2005.
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Ramona Anne Caponegro

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"Recess - Exploring the cultures of childhood "
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