Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Michelle Runyan
English 225
Explorations Report
Spring 2011

Steampunk and Children's Literature

Report to the class, Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


I chose to do my Explorations Project on steampunk because I really enjoy reading books of that genre ó I think theyíre fantastical, interesting, and have strong characters who exhibit great range of voice.  Because so many people arenít aware that the genre exists, I thought it would be great to show a taste of what itís all about, and explore as much of it as I could so that my own writing would be strengthened by a wider knowledge of the genre.

When I brought up my idea for the piece in the discussion forums I was surprised that no one seemed to have heard of steampunk!  That made me want to do it even more and I was happy that after I was finished with my presentation I got a lot of positive feedback and more than one person asked me for a list of the books that I had used in my report.  It was really nice to know that I was possibly bringing other readers to the genre and helping those authors get further exposure.

I think that for me, the thing that was most shocking was the wide range of books that are considered steampunk.  Going off of the time line, books like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the His Dark Materials Series were all listed, and I never would have thought to include them in a list of steampunk books.  However, after seeing them on the list I started to notice little threads that connected them all as more than just horror or science fiction or fantasy.  The gadgets created and the modes of travel the characters use, as well as the darker theme of being able to control the technology created and what the characters motives are behind creating the technology are all threads Iíve begun to notice within steampunk.

I was also interested to find out how the genre became more than just fantasy, science fiction or horror, and became a cohesive blend that was recognized with a title.  Looking at how many more books began to be published each year following Jeterís letter in 1987  as opposed to before, I think that it was definitely an important development for the genre, since someone could now ask for a steampunk book at the bookstore instead of having to know specific authors.  For example, if I know I like Ray Bradbury, but thereís no genre called ďscience fictionĒ, then how would I find authors of a similar style, so that I could branch out in my reading?

It reminds me too how important it is to remember that publishing is a business.  Many agents recommend that when you query them you compare it to other books in the genre or say where you believe it would be shelved in the bookstore, and if you had nowhere to shelve your book, what would you tell them?  I wonder if that was part of the reason that so few books were able to be published before the coin was termed ó publishers were afraid to try something that didnít fit into a category.

The other thing that surprised me was the fact that steampunk currently has such a limited presence below the young adult level.  Especially after reading Leviathan and Behemoth and seeing Flotsam, I really expected there to be more, because the imagery in those books is so fascinating and gorgeous.  I also think that the adventurous nature of the stories would be great fun for a middle grade audience.

Sherri asked me whether or not I think that any of these books would be a good read for Childrenís Literature and I definitely think they would!  I think Leviathan would be a lot of fun (though I think it might be a bit longer than anything we read this quarter), both because itís a great example of voice and because the drawings, like those in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, really add a new dimension to the story.  I think it would be fun to explore how that changes the way that readers view the story ó if it makes it easier to understand and picture what is happening, or if it inhibits imagination, because I remember we had a conversation along those lines in our Wizard of Oz and picture books forums.

I also think it would be interesting to see what other peopleís reactions to the genre would be.  A lot of people expressed interest in reading steampunk in the Explorations Report forum after I did my report, and I would love to see who enjoys it and why (and who doesnít and why not).  There were so many times in the various forums we discussed why we like particular books, and I know that especially towards the end with Hattie Big Sky and First Light there were a lot of people who expressed a strong opinion either for or against the reading because of personal taste.  It would be interesting to see where the line divides with steampunk.

It was really fun coming up with all of these thoughts and questions, and Iím sure Iíll explore further on my own as I continue to write and read within the genre, and I hope that the genre continues to grow as more people find out about it!


Works Cited

Great Steampunk Timeline,, 2010.  4.23.11

Letters of Note: The Birth of Steampunk,, 2011.  6.12.11

Priest, Cherie.  Boneshaker.  New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2009.  Print.

Westerfield, Scott. Leviathan.  New York: Simon Pulse, 2009.  Print.

Westerfield, Scott.  Behemoth.  New York: Simon Pulse, 2010.  Print.


Copyright 2011
Michelle Runyan


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA