By Renee Runge
Imagine a daily talk show that provides commentary on children’s literature, media, and culture; something that could keep you updated on recent developments in the world of childhood while bringing you a sense of nostalgia for your own time as a child. How useful would this be for someone hoping to write a children’s book, produce content for children, or make their kid’s childhood that much brighter?
That program exists!
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What is “Recess!”?
“Recess!” is a children’s radio program that was co-produced by Dr. John Cech at the University of Florida Center for Children’s Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM Classic 89 from 1999 to 2007. During its daily run, the program aired over 2,000 unique three-minute episodes on aspects of childhood, from interviews with children’s authors to reviews of children’s music and toys, to roughly 20 million listeners throughout the United States tuning in to National Public Radio affiliates. While aimed at adult listeners, the educators and parents of the world, “Recess!” also drew traction from children curious about the history and complexity of what makes up childhood.
The radio program was recently archived on a new website, and I am proud to say that I was involved in this process. During my spring 2019 college semester, I took on an internship in the UF Center for Children’s Literature and Culture where I helped remaster audio files and transcribe and edit scripts so that people can continue to listen to the old “Recess!” episodes at home from their computers.
Many episodes of “Recess!” were readings or commentary from authors of children’s books. Over 600 of the episodes on the new web archive are on children’s literature, stories, comics, and poems. Frequent appearances are made by Shelley Fraser Mickle, Barry Stewart Mann, and Kevin Shortsleeve among a myriad of other authors, storytellers, and musicians who have featured episodes.
Some other popular themes on the show include education, music, television, and art. In the span of a month, “Recess!” could jump around from episodes on postcard collecting to Star Wars, children’s etiquette, or chocolate chip cookies. Fun children’s holidays, like National Bike Month, were also given the spotlight in episodes of the program.
Scholars of children’s literature were invited to speak on and produce many episodes of “Recess!”. Professors from universities across the country, as well as graduate students at the University of Florida, created episodes on their unique research interests within the area of childhood studies. The passion that each speaker has for the preservation of knowledge of childhood culture should be inspiring to anyone seeking to make a difference in the world for the kids of tomorrow.
While “Recess!”’s selection of episodes is extensive, it is hardly exhaustive as we approach nearly 15 years since the last episode of the program was produced – almost an entire cohort of children gone from kindergarten to graduating high school. I can’t help but wonder what the radio program would look like in 2021. Episodes on iPods, The Hunger Games, the Nintendo Wii, or even school during coronavirus are all topics I would love to see a reboot of “Recess!” cover.
Hopes for a reboot aside, the new website that “Recess!” is hosted on is truly stunning work. The program is now available to a wider audience even years after its broadcast, which is essential to teaching people of the future what childhood and children’s literature were like in the past.
In addition to the audio files and scripts, the new website also displays student projects created in conjunction with Recess! Media such as mini-documentaries on the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, another University of Florida resource for the study of children’s literature.
“Recess!” and efforts like it are crucial in the development of children’s media. Since adults are ultimately the ones responsible for creating content for children to consume, it is important for adults to be in touch with their childhood and remember what made it so special for them. My contributions to “Recess!” will always hold a spot in my heart for keeping my childhood alive and helping me realize the direction I want my life’s work to take. “Recess!” can be listened to on its new website.