[Guest Post] The Impact of the First World War on Children’s Literature

In this guest post, Helen Scott, who has recently completed an MA in Children’s Literature with the NCRCL at Roehampton, shares her presentation on how experiences of WWI found their way into children’s texts.

Back in May Exclamation!, an Exeter University post-grad publication, accepted my abstract submitted for their digital Summer Conference. Their title, Dreams, Visions and Mindscapes seemed an opportunity to address some thoughts on the impact of the First World War on children’s literature arising from my dissertation (on the erosion of British national identity in the period between the Wars). It seemed to me that the scars of the Great War are encoded into children’s books consciously and unconsciously, not only immediately post-War but for many years following. Physical mindscapes fixed in the heads of writers who had been on the front line, such as A A Milne, Henry Williamson and Barbara Euphan Todd. In addition, the proximity of the War to the British mainland left a generation of children scarred by fighting heard – and seen – from home. This childhood trauma, noted by Bowlby, is reflected in the tropes of reassurance found in many of the books written between the Wars, including Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle stories based on letters home from the trenches. Lofting was one of many who tried to create a new way of writing for children, moving away from the warmongering tales of Empire to stories valuing equality and co-operation. Many of the books written between the Wars remain in print 100 years later. More, they are part of today’s popular culture through films, television and even gaming. Whilst some see these books as a yearning for the past, a nostalgic desire for a perception of innocence, they were written at a time of deep despair and trauma, when childhood was being reconsidered, as were the books being written for children.

My presentation, The Impact of the First War on Children’s Literature, is an initial stab at assessing the trauma found beneath these texts which still resonates today.

You can watch the presentation by clicking on the link below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48np6Y69YXA

Helen Scott completed an MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton University in the autumn of 2020. Her work focused on landscape, with a dissertation using eco-critical theory to examine how British nationalism eroded in children’s books in the period between the Wars.  


Works Cited
Primary Sources:

Lofting, H. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Jonathan Cape, 1923.

—-. The Story of Doctor Dolittle. Jonathan Cape, 1924.

Milne, A. A. When We Were Very Young. Methuen, 2000.

Todd, B. E. Worzel Gummidge. Puffin, 1941.

Williamson, H. Tarka the Otter. Puffin Books, 1949. 

Secondary Sources: 

Avery, G. “The Puritans and their heirs” in Avery, G. and Briggs, J. (eds) Children and their Books: A Celebration of the work of Iona and Peter Opie, pp95-118. Clarendon Press,1989. Beauvais, C. The Mighty Child: Time and Power in Children’s Literature.  Amsterdam. John Benjamins, 2015.
Bosmajian, H. “Reading the unconscious: Psychoanalytical criticism” in Hunt, Peter. Understanding Children’s Literature. Routledge, 2005.

Cohen, N. The Extraordinary Life of A A Milne. Pen & Sword History, 2017 Ettin, A. V. Literature and the Pastoral. Yale University Press, 1984. 
Flothow, D. “Popular Children’s Literature and the Memory of the First World War, 1919-1939” in The Lion and the Unicorn 31, pp147-161John Hopkins University Press, 2017. 
Fussell, P. The Great War and Modern Memory. OUP, 2013.

Grenby, M. Children’s Literature, second edition. Edinburgh Critical Guides, 2014. Hunt, P.  “Prophesying War: The Hidden Agendas of Children’s Literature 1900-1914…and 2015” in Paul L, Ross Johnston R, Short E (eds) Children’s Literature and Culture of the First World War. Routledge, 2016.

Kinane, I. Didactics and the Modern Robinsonade. Liverpool University Press: 2019.

Leese, P. “Problems Returning Home: The British Psychological Casualties of the Great War.” in The Historical Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 1055–1067. 1997.

Newcomber, N. And Lerner, J. “The historical context of Bowlby’s Attachment Theory” in Psychiatry Vol 45, Feb 1982.

Reynolds, F. The Fight for Beauty: Our path to a better future. Oneworld, 2017.Roper, M. War, conflict and the psychoanalytic turn. British Psychoanalytic Council. http://www.bpc.org.uk, 2014. 
Schmidt, G. Hugh Lofting. , Publishers, 1992.
Townsend, J. R. Written for Children. Pelican, 1965.

Williamson, A. Tarka the Otter as an Allegory of War. British Library website.    www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature2016.

The Henry Williamson Society. http://www.henrywilliamson.co.uk

Roehampton Readers

The Roehampton Readers Group has been going for several years and was formed as part of The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Shadowing Scheme to read and discuss texts that have been shortlisted for these awards. Below are the results of the group’s thoughts on their latest readings. PLEASE BE AWARE THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW!

If you would like to join the group, please fill in the contact form at the end of this blog post.


Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk. (Puffin Books)

Review by Brenda Davies

Echo Mountain is set in America during the Great Depression. It focuses on a family with two professional parents and three children who are forced out of suburbia because of the economic conditions. They move to the mountains of Maine where they forge a living in the forests. Twelve-year-old Ellie, the protagonist, and middle child, takes well to living in nature and has a close relationship with her father. Ellie’s father is injured during a tree-felling incident and spends most of the story in a coma. It is Ellie’s efforts at waking her father that propel the plot forward. During one of her excursions on the mountain Ellie meets a woman called Cate, otherwise known as ‘the Hag’, who herself is injured and in need of help. Ellie’s strengths, natural abilities and inclinations come to the fore as she seeks to heal both Cate and her father.

Many interesting characters feature in Echo Mountain, including three dogs named Maisie, Quiet and Captan. In fact, the novel opens with the words ‘The first person I saved was a dog.’ This sentence speaks to both the themes of healing, and equality with nature/animals that are apparent throughout. Equality across classes is another theme that is portrayed through the characters. Whilst Ellie’s family is new to the mountains, others have been there for some time and there is a class divide between the two. Cate and her grandson Larkin (a Charles-Dickens-type character) fall into the latter group and are looked down on by the former. However, through Ellie’s healing interactions with Cate, it emerges that Cate, too, lived in suburbia at one time, but has been reduced through circumstances. Cate’s ‘abnormal’ family and Ellie’s ‘normal’ one are contrasted, and emerge at the end on a more equal footing. This is partly due to the plot device of keeping Ellie’s father in a coma for most of the story, allowing Ellie’s family, like Cate’s, to operate without a man/father figure. 

Reviews of Echo Mountain by child readers reveal that readers in the seven-to-ten-year age group enjoy the book. This surprised us. Although the writing is simple and the chapters short, the story and its themes are sophisticated and we felt the book was more suited to ten-year-olds and older. Most of us felt that although engaging as a protagonist, Ellie’s sacrificial nature was unrealistically mature for her age. We also questioned the ease/legality with which the families moved onto the mountain and setup home. However, this was answered by seeing it possibly as an allusion to early and then later settlers to America. Finally, in the story and the illustration on the front cover, we saw elements of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, but portrayed differently.

Echo Mountain is a captivating read that we all enjoyed. We think it a strong contender as a winner.


On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. (Faber & Faber)

Review by Lorna Collins

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, grew up with the legend of Tain Bo Cuailnge (amongst others) and wanted to look at the female perspective and to understand why the characters did what they did.  We felt that the characters of Emer and Dog were well drawn, but possibly some of the other characters (for example Fee) were a bit simplistic.  Fitzpatrick feels there are bits of her in Emer who is quiet, measured and thoughtful, but a bit naïve.  She is also the stronger character, not Dog, who is a slave to his temper (as we see in the descriptions of his face before a fight) and for her, Emer is the hero of the book.

On Midnight Beach is Fitzpatrick’s first YA novel, although she has had several successful books previously, including Owl Bat Bat Owl, which she says (and we agreed) ‘couldn’t be more different’.  We wondered how many authors have written and illustrated a picture book, then followed it by writing a YA novel.

We agreed that the book has a very attractive front cover—a simple illustration capturing a midnight swim.

Most of us had not realized before reading it that the book is a retelling of an Irish legend.  Those who then read the legend felt that it added to their understanding of the book, although it is not necessary to be familiar with the legend as the story does stand alone.  The book is set during the hot summer of 1976, when the whole of the UK experienced unusually high temperatures and for an unusually long period of time.  Fitzpatrick was a teenager at that time and deliberately set the narrative then because she wanted to write from her own experiences.  We felt this worked well as it would have been more difficult to write in the present, given all the current technologies used by teenagers.  It was also quite refreshing to read a YA novel with no mobile phones!  We wondered whether some of the references to 1970s TV and magazines might be lost on a teenage audience (for example, Flipper is alluded to a couple of times, as is Jackie magazine).  However, all the reviews currently on the Carnegie web site seem to be very favourable, so even if those references are lost on younger readers, it clearly has not affected their enjoyment of the book.

The story is told from the perspective of two young people, Emer and Gus. Emer lives in Carrig Cove and Gus, although originally from Carrig Cove now lives in the rival town of Ross. We felt these two perspectives worked well, showing the reader, as Fitzpatrick intended, much of the motivation for the actions of the protagonists.  

We commented on the cleverly orchestrated gradual progression from Emer’s seemingly carefree childhood (she is pictured skipping with her friend, Mary at the beginning of the book) to having to leave home in disgrace after the tragic deaths of two young people, Ferdia and Dog, as well as the death of  the dolphin they had all grown fond of. We felt the deaths of the two young people, although quite a shock, were a good way of avoiding having to deal with how either of them would have been able to continue after the death of the other.  We also agreed that Emer’s pregnancy came as a surprise.

Emer’s gradual progression from childhood and the increasing tension in her relationship with Dog, is matched by the increasing violence between the two towns in their rivalry over the dolphin, as well as the intensity of the heat experienced during that summer. We agreed on the skilful way these threads were intertwined without the reader being conscious of it.

We enjoyed the descriptions of the midnight swims with the dolphin, commenting on the fact that it would have had to have been a very hot summer for swimming at midnight to be feasible in UK waters!

We all enjoyed the book, although we agreed that there are some very strong contenders this year, so not sure if it will be a winner.


Small in the City by Sydney Smith. (Walker Books)

Review by Lorna Collins

Spoiler Alert! (We agreed that the book would be a very different experience on subsequent readings. Read it before reading this review if you can.)  

The reader is taken on a journey through the city and also on an emotional journey through the book.  To begin with, the child seems to be addressing the reader and offering advice on how to negotiate what can seem a frightening place.  The first illustrations look at the bus window and we see the child looking out of the window.  As the narrative progresses it becomes less clear who the child is addressing, particularly when a tree is suggested as a good place to hide, or under a warm vent might be a good place to curl up for a nap. Gradually, the reader realizes the child is addressing a lost cat and the journey through the city is one of searching for the cat and putting up missing posters.

To start with, Smith uses muted watercolours with a lot of black and angular black outlining to illustrate – very convincingly, I think – the confusion the child feels in the city.  In the video on the shadowing web site, Smith states that the book is set in Toronto.  He came from a much smaller place in Novia Scotia and some of his own experience of feeling overwhelmed in the much larger city of Toronto is reflected in the book.  All the illustrations are parts of the neighbourhood where he lived in the centre of Toronto.  Towards the end of the book the colours become more muted and the weather is clearly worsening creating a growing sense of menace and making the reader feel uneasy about a small child alone in the city. There is also a sense of unease when the reader becomes a bit confused as to who the child is addressing.  Gradually that sense of unease lessens when the child’s mother comes into view and finally there is a sense of relief at the brilliantly understated last illustration, showing the return of the lost pet using footprints in the snow.

Sydney Smith has won the Greenaway medal previously for his illustrations of Town is By the Sea, by Joanne Schwarz and has also been shortlisted for Footpath Flowers, by JonArno Lawson.  He has always seen himself as an artist, stating that words take much longer for him to find.  For this book he filled numerous sketch books with illustrations before ‘finding’ the text and it is the first book he has both written and illustrated.  His aim was to create a book where the story is told not just through the words or through the illustrations but where both respond back and forth to each other.  This synergy of text and illustrations is one of the criteria for the Greenaway Award which we all agreed had been achieved successfully.

We could not decide whether the child is male or female and in the shadowing video Smith just refers to the child, leaving it to the reader to decide.

We agreed that the book would be a very different experience on subsequent readings and that it held much to be discovered on each reading.  Smith has quite a distinctive style and we particularly noticed his use of small red spots of colour.

Subsequent to our discussion, I have used the book with a Year 6 class (10-11 year olds) and a small group of Year 4 children (8-9 year olds).  Interestingly, the first comment from both groups concerned the location, which they thought was America (close!) or Japan. Both groups also found it difficult to grasp what was going on in the narrative, although this may have been because I was reading the book from the front and they didn’t have a close-up view of the illustrations, some of which are quite small.  Both groups decided it was for older children than the suggested 5+ age group.


I Go Quiet by David Quimet.  (Canongate)

Review by Eva Wong Nava

  • I GO QUIET by David Quimet is a picturebook published in 2019 by Canongate Books.
  • It is 54-pages long end to end; I included the end papers, stuck and loose.
  • The story starts on page 7 “Sometimes I go quiet”, though the book is not paginated.
  • The cover/jacket has a quote or endorsement by Philip Pullman “Completely original. Unique, in fact.”
  • The most colourful page of the book, if it can be considered a page, is the cover. We see green, brown, blue, black, grey.
  • We also see a girl with the face of an animal. It is a mask she wears. I am not sure what animal it is but the whiskers suggest a mouse and the text “I go mousy. I go grey” support this suggestion. Perhaps Quimet is playing with the metaphor and idea: “As quiet as a mouse.”
  • Other animals feature in the illustrations: “raven”, a group of lemur-looking type animals with stripes bounding along as the main character rides on one [“From time to time I imagine where I’d like to be”] , a rabbit (maybe) and some ducks [“I think I may be part of everything too.”]
  • The rest of the pages are darker: illustrations in sepia tones, monochromatic, twin-tones i.e., two-toned.
  • The dark hues set the mood for this lyrical text as they suggest a kind of quietness, not loud and garish colours.
  • Written in the first-person/I, the story is of a girl who is “quiet”, “not understood”, who “hear[s] whispers” and doesn’t know how she is ‘supposed to be”.
  • We see the main character descending into depression (suggestion) — “I sink into a slow-moving smog.”
  • What saves her are books.
  • This story is about reading and how reading opens up worlds. It is also a story about how books can change a person and how books can save lives.
  • There is an element of bi-lingualism or multi-lingualism being celebrated “When I read, I know there are languages that I can speak.” This is underscored by a double-spread with French, Italian/Spanish and English words on buildings, for example, “Silencio”, “Es-tu petit?” and “Are you different?”
  • There are some lovely turns of phrase like “When I am heard, I will build cities with my words.”
  • Quimet’s writing is lyrical, poetic, and metaphorical.
  • This book is above all a celebration of reading and the importance of literacy.
  • It is a celebration of difference, respecting the need for ‘quiet’ because in quietness we grow, create and find ways to “make a shimmering noise.”
  • It is a book that explains introversion to a child audience by speaking in a child-friendly language without overwhelming or underwhelming them.
  • Other than that, I also thought this Quimet’s book celebrates nature and the natural world.

Would I recommend this picturebook?

This is a picturebook I’d likely recommend for a child who is quiet. It is important that such children feel understood. I think Quimet’s story tells a quiet child this. There are indeed many quiet children amongst us who often do feel misunderstood. These children grow to become quiet adults, who then find ways to help their own children not to be misunderstood. I have a child like this. I am a quiet adult. Reading Quimet’s book made me think of this one: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t stop Talking by Susan Cain.


Run Rebel by Manjeet Mann. (Penguin Random House)

Review by Julie Mills

On the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway website and on her Shadowers’ challenge video Manjeet Mann says that some of Amber’s experiences in the book Run Rebel were also her own experiences, so this is written from the heart. And that rings out in this verse novel – a form which enables portrayal of emotion and the inner voice effectively and particularly economically – every word counts.  The story of Amber who is part of a family with an abusive and controlling father is told in first person and tracks her journey from oppression to empowerment. Manjeet Mann has written on this before and continues to develop work around it. Her next novel to be published in June 2021 is The Crossing which has the themes of bereavement and refugees and empowerment through sport.

Other stories involving running which it brought to mind were Cynthia Voigt The Runner (1985), Elizabeth Laird The Fastest Boy in the World (2014) and Heartbeat by Sharon Creech also a verse novel published in 2005.

Reviews from Carnegie Award shadowers webpage are overwhelmingly positive with only one I found who thought the verse form distracting.

Run Rebel is a fast paced, page turner and although it might look daunting in length it is easy to read albeit emotionally demanding. The opening, in the prologue, a shocking story of Amber’s mother as a young woman is both horrifying and captivating. This is closely followed by Anatomy of a Revolution Stage 1 Restlessness, and then I am 1 which sets the scene for how worthless Amber has been made to feel in her home life.

Structure and narrative progression is added through linking Amber’s developing opposition and bid for freedom with her history study of the eight stages of revolution.

This is a collection of poems and although some could stand alone as style pieces, they need to be read as a whole for the narrative impact. The verse novel form of Run Rebel is visual as well as aural so there is a lot of playing with space on the page for example – columnizing in Two Sides to Every Story (p348) which is a dialogue between Ruby and Amber and can be read downwards as well as across the page; largely blank pages increasing the impact of a few words giving the reader the space to think as in Like Father Like Daughter (p255);

shape is incorporated into some poems as in at the end of Tears (p113) and Tell Them

(p 243) where the words go down the page as if going downstairs as Amber is in the poem.

She also plays with words such as acrostics and highlighted words or letters giving an additional layer of meaning. For example on page 421 the words “Something still doesn’t feel right” are picked out from the verse and in Tiya on page 147 highlighted letters spell out GIRLS. This variety of form keeps the reader active and engaged on different levels of attention and emotion.

The group discussed themes of the novel as being typical of a YA novel but so much more – teenage love and friendship, jealousy, anger, fear, poverty, exploitation, literacy, oppressive community, female empowerment, escape in competitive running. The group discussed some concerns about the largely negative portrayal of the community which is constantly watching and reporting back any lapses, and the pressure of the rumour mill, the Temple and perceived dishonour. Control is ever present in the community and there is a terrible example in Harpreet a girl who tried to break away for love and is forced to return and grovel to all. The man in the house opposite is rumoured to have killed his daughter for her disobedience – all lies but another control mechanism.

This portrayal is predominantly from Amber’s point of view. Balance is present in the characters of Jas – Ruby’s husband of an arranged and happy marriage – and Beena, David’s mother who also had to rebel and break free and now helps others to do so safely. Jas is not controlling and, once he realises what she wants, is supportive of Ruby in her university ambitions encouraging her to aim high. Beena helps Amber’s mother to break free and to realise her full potential.

We were impressed by the inspirational portrayal of the role education has to play in Amber’s story and her mother’s; Amber teaches her mother to read, and some of her own teachers are enabling and show some insight. The lesson of history on the stages of revolution is crucial. And yet Amber has been held back by her situation and only at the end can she say that “There is space in my head to retain information”. 

Insight into the emotional experience of anger, fear and mistrust and feeling of worthlessness is complemented by mundane but vital detail in Amber’s family life all of which create a convincing world. For example reading shopping receipts for her mother, translating official conversations and written communications, attending appointments with her parents and Amber’s necessarily restricted training routines like running up the stairs and doing arm curls when carrying home the shopping.

Characterisation of Amber is complex and shows the effect of control and constant fear of being caught out. Her father’s control is destructive in every sphere of her life holding Amber back. It affects her trust of her friends as well as her learning and social life (none!) Her character develops as she shows growing awareness of her need and capability to break out. But Amber herself is also a bully, ultimately realising that she bullies Gemma because she feels better for it – experiencing power over someone else. This is chillingly described in “Consumed” p 387. She tries to see why her father is like he is and tries to give him a second chance but is tragically disappointed. “Conflicted” p427

Amber’s mother Surinder develops as a character who finds her identity and this is linked to learning to read and write and to education. There is a significant moment when Amber realises that her mother can write her full name and by the end of the book she is influential in working with other women in her community.

Amber’s father is also more than just the monster he is. His character is rounded out by looking at his past in a moving poem “What Happened to Dad”. Amber gains understanding through insight into his fear of change and feeling of powerlessness and lack of love in his childhood. We asked the question – would Amber and her mother have been able to break away if he was not a drunk?

Ruby’s character is developed through dialogue with Amber, and some contrast printed pages are written from the points of view of Ruby and Surinder. Friends David and Tara are seen through Ambers eyes and, although Tara’s endearing qualities are affectionately portrayed, they are less fleshed out as characters perhaps because part of plot is Amber’s misunderstanding of Tara and David’s affection. Amber’s bullying victim Gemma’s motivations are also less explored. Dialogue is strong and true but confusingly written and sometimes it is hard to follow who is speaking. Dialogue is used to introduce other points of view and to develop more minor characters.

This novel ends on aspirational and inspiring note. If the ending might seem a little too happy ever after with so many obstacles removed, Amber and her Mother speedily re-homed and goals achieved, it is saved from being incredible by an open ended conclusion, with Amber running purposively into her future. Manjeet Mann balances encouraging aspiration and action whilst acknowledging the difficulty and complexity of the situation and the range of emotional consequences. Amber continues to have ambivalent feelings about her rebellion saying about her new found freedom “Being removed from a situation doesn’t necessarily free you from yourself.” (p447) and “I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty” (p451).   

Structurally, the Epilogue is balanced against “I am 1” at the beginning which shows Amber’s shift from “I am useless” to “I am rebel”.


If you would like to join the Roehampton Readers Group or have any questions, please use the contact form below:

|GUEST POST| The Monkey Mind and Inspiration

Guest Post by Rachel Heald 

Science suggests that, for some, mind-wandering triggers retrospection and ‘mental time-travelling’. In other words, when our minds wander, they tend to wander to ourselves. To our histories and then to our potential futures. This can be a good thing. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Brain & Cognition, the University of California, and the University of Aberdeen conducted two studies designed to test the linkage between mind-wandering, retrospection, and prospective thinking (1). They conclude that diving into one’s past is important in stimulating innovative thinking about the future, either because retrospection triggers the same brain regions that are triggered by future thinking or because self-reflection itself is imaginative and therefore triggers broader imaginative thought.    

This is my dissertation year, but Covid-19 and the political climate here in the U.S. left me, like most, scattered and stuck, worried and, yes, retrospective. With an excess of time and much uncertainty about how to find focus and meaning in my dissertation, I decided to ‘retrospect’ back to the beginning and dig out the roots of my interest in children’s literature and culture. Alison Waller’s monograph ‘Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics’ (2019) seemed a good starting point. It is impossible to read Waller’s book without retrospection. And it led me to a path that ultimately changed my perception of myself as a researcher and inspired a dissertation project I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.  

Centered on Waller’s interviews into the re-reading process and memories of childhood books, the monograph extends the work of a number of other researchers in oral reading history, psychology, book history, and, of course, children’s literature. These researchers are attempting to understand the nuanced ways a child’s emerging identity entwines with childhood reading and memories of it, with culture, and with the adult self. But Waller’s poetics is also a cautionary tale, exposing the pitfalls inherent in attempting to recall the reading past. In so doing, it pushes the remembering researcher to ‘excavate’ (as Waller puts it) deliberatively, particularly because nostalgia unavoidably shifts our thinking.    

Waller and other researchers have found that many people recall the ‘situatedness’ of their childhood reading before and even more than they recall the substance of what they read. As I did my own excavating, I found this largely true. I realized my memories of childhood reading trace to the adult who introduced me to childhood books. My mother was passionate about reading and children’s stories. Both her embodied expression of text – she read to me dramatically, enacting stories as much as reading them – and her expressions of self as a female in our culture and time, all of this seeped into my understanding of these stories. It extended beyond, to my relationship with reading and to my understanding of children’s culture and its connections with society.    

A drawing by my mother at about age 11. I recall at best faintly her reading to me the Beatrix Potter stories referenced and that evidently formed part of her cultural memory.

This understanding inspired me to center my dissertation on my mother’s relationship with her favorite children’s stories. Although I certainly view this as an opportunity to understand the woman who was such a tremendous influence on me, my aim is also mercenary. I plan to use her story as a case-study that will allow me also to excavate (to hijack the metaphor) the layers of my own understanding of ideas that intrigued me most during my time at Roehampton, and particularly during this surreal Covid year. Some of the additional theorists whose work I am digging into include J.A. Appleyard, Hugh Crago, M. O. Grenby, Karen Littau, Margaret Mackey, Sarah Pyke, and Shelley Trower. Their ideas are helping me to frame a methodology through which to read the story of my mother’s childhood reading life.  

Because my project is entwined with my memories, the process has necessarily been recursive. I’ve found myself cycling between flashes of recollection and my theoretical research. In any other year, I’m not sure I would have recognized it this way. But everything we learned this spring in the Archives & Research module worked neatly in tandem with my Covid-heavy mind. The module taught us to approach all of our research as archivists, with an open mind, allowing connections to emerge, and embracing re-visioning. In fact, it was only because of that thinking that I finally realized my project is inherently an archival one. It rests not just on my ‘memory archive’ but also on my own informal ‘family archive’. This hasn’t been an easy or straightforward process for me but, fortunately, it’s bullied my monkey mind to sit still, at least for a bit.  

 A stack of books that always sat on my mother’s shelves (some post-date her childhood and were purchased for reading to me); I will likely consider at least Dr. Dolittle, Kim, and Le Petit Prince — which she called her ‘favourites’.  

And this brings me back to the science of retrospection. Beyond its challenges, this deep dig has also inspired so many questions I hope to consider with future research. My ‘imagination domain’ has been triggered, and I’m excited about the new-to-me areas of theory I want to pursue. So, though I would never claim that Covid-19 has a silver lining, in my dissertation project and the satisfaction this process has given me I catch a glimpse of an incandescent thread.    

(1) Smallwood, Jonathan, Jonathan W. Schooler, David J. Turk, Sheila J. Cunningham, Phebe Burns, C. Neil Macrae. ‘Self-Reflection and the temporal focus of the wandering mind.’ Consciousness and Cognition. (2010).    

Rachel Heald is a postgraduate student in the MA in Children’s Literature (Distance Learning) at University of Roehampton. 

Children’s Literature Postgraduate Research Scholarship

The School of Humanities at Roehampton is pleased to announce that the current round of applications for our annual PhD Scholarship in Children’s Literature is now open for studies commencing in October 2021.

The Scholarship is fully funded by the University of Roehampton, School of Humanities (English and Creative Writing) and covers Home fees of £4,407.00, as well as an annual stipend at current Research Council rates (£17,285.00 .p.a. for 3 years full-time subject to satisfactory progress). In addition to the time spent on their PhD project, full-time students funded by the university shall be available for the equivalent of 6 hours of additional work per week over 40 weeks per year. Where this involves the student undertaking teaching or teaching-related work, the time for preparation, marking and related administration shall be included in those six hours maximum per week.  NB International (including EU) applicants would need to be able to pay the difference between Home and Overseas fees for the duration of the programme.

This studentship will be awarded to an emerging scholar of the highest calibre working in the field of children’s literature or creative writing for children and capable of submitting a PhD thesis within 3 years. We welcome projects that reflect the School of Humanities’ commitment to research and knowledge exchange and its investment in interdisciplinary approaches to creative societies, social justice and inclusivity. We encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and identities, and we are especially keen to hear from candidates of global majority ethnicities who are currently underrepresented (the university’s EDI policy can be found here). Applicants should hold a Masters Degree in a relevant subject—such as children’s literature, or creative writing for children—or equivalent professional experience. They must also be able to demonstrate strong research capabilities and fluency in spoken and written English that meets the university’s entrance criteria for doctoral study. The school’s interdisciplinary approach to children’s literature and creative writing draws scholarship into fields such as memory studies, oral history, eco-criticism and environmental activism, colonial or postcolonial studies, diaspora literatures, sexual orientation and gender studies, philosophy, performance, digital literacies, print culture, and experimental writing (prose, poetry, and non-fiction)—we are keen to support projects in any of these areas.

Our Children’s Literature Scholar will be supported by the school’s lively research culture, which has a dedicated journal for postgraduate researchers—Roundtable is published by Roehampton’s Fincham Press. They will work with postgraduate researchers across the school, taking part in regular drop-ins and a programme of research training that equips them for a range of careers, such as academia, publishing, arts administration, or professional writing. They will join our vibrant community of researchers in children’s literature, working with internationally renowned scholars in the field, enjoy editing and writing opportunities with our International Journal of Young Adult Literature (IJYAL), and have access to children’s literature and young adult research networks across the UK. They will also benefit from our Children’s Literature Collection and archives and from links with local partners, such as Barnes Children’s Literature Festival. Candidates will be asked to contribute to the School of Humanities in various ways, taking on a range of roles including teaching (training will be provided), conference organization, or journal editing. For this reason, candidates for the Children’s Literature Scholarship will need to live within regular commuting distance of the University of Roehampton. Research training provision also requires regular attendance on campus (though some sessions will take place on-line). The university is set on a beautiful, traditional campus in South West London and provides its students with exceptional facilities, high quality teaching and a close-knit, collegiate experience. It has a diverse student body and a cosmopolitan outlook, with students from over 130 countries.

Deadline for applications: Monday 31st May 2021

For further information or for informal discussion please contact:

Dr. Lisa Sainsbury: L.Sainsbury@roehampton.ac.uk

Details of how to submit your application can be found here:

https://www.roehampton.ac.uk/graduate-school/degrees/ Please visit https://www.roehampton.ac.uk/graduate-school/ to find out more about postgraduate research at Roehampton. For all non-academic queries relating to the studentships, please contact Graduate School Admissions on 020 8392 3715, email graduateschool@roehampton.ac.uk

Roehampton Readers

The Roehampton Readers Group has been going for several years and was formed as part of The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Shadowing Scheme to read and discuss texts that have been shortlisted for these awards. The group meets regularly and after each meeting, one of the members will produce a short summary of the discussions. Below is the results of the group’s thoughts on 2021 Greenaway shortlisted title, The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, and 2021 Carnegie shortlisted title, Eight Pieces of Silva, by Patrice Lawrence. If you would like to join the group, please fill in the contact form at the end of this blog post.


The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

Usborne Books 2019

Illustrated by Honesta, Kathrin

There were divided opinions in the group about this fantasy novel, with some members finding it hard to engage in the main premise of the story of a girl who transforms into a bear. Others found suspension of disbelief made quite possible by the power of the story telling. Most of the group appreciated the skill with which the story is woven using folk and fairy tale motifs and the telling of traditional stories within the story structure, the significance of which to the narrative of the central character Yanka is gradually revealed. These stories are charmingly delineated with illustrated borders

This is partly a follow up to The House With Chicken Legs, which some members found to be the more successful novel, and the house has an important role in moving the plot on in this story. Some commented that the plot development was sometimes clumsy and overt. Character development is also key to the plot and strong female characters dominate.  Many journeys physical, emotional and developmental take place and it can be read as a coming-of-age novel disguised within the folk transformation genre. Themes of body awareness, identity and what makes a family, loyalty and friendship abound. Learning to see things from a different point of view, in this case quite radically from that of a bear, is part of this development. We were impressed with the descriptions of sensory perceptions of the bear, such as feeling the movements of small creatures under the floorboards, rolling in pine needles to get their scent, and learning to live in the moment enhancing these and other experiences. Strengths of the book discussed included the sense of place, especially the forest,  supporting the theme of caring for and being at one with the environment, enabled by the powerful sensory descriptions and by the beautiful, and welcome, illustrations.

The element of humour introduced by the animal character Mousetrap was welcomed, and the diverse nature of the “herd” Yanka gathers around herself including Yuri the deer, the wolf and the owl was seen as a significant theme. It was felt, however, that this central message of valuing difference whilst developing a sense of identity and belonging was thumped home towards the end of the book in an intrusive and unnecessary way.

The intended age group is seen as around 9-13 years. The length of the book at around 400 pages could be a challenge although the illustrations help. We felt there were one or two adventures too many. The ending is very positive, almost happy ever after, suitable for the intended readership but not entirely winning over all of our group. 


Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence

Hodder, 2020

We discussed the very strong sense of place, both geographically and culturally, set in contemporary London, specifically Hackney. Becks and Silva are very contrasting characters and each is portrayed truthfully and skillfully and using different literary techniques. The portrayal of Silva is a poignant portrait of a young woman grieving the death of her mother which despite a supportive and safe family environment, sends her into obsessive behaviour and a toxic relationship with Logan. 

All the main characters are seen differently – and see themselves differently – by the end of the book. And as readers we see them, particularly Silva, from different people’s points of view as the mystery of Silva’s whereabouts is discovered. We thought about the nature of the book – part thriller and part psychological journey creepy at times but also very funny with cutting observations on contemporary London life and the experiences of a young gay woman, in Becks, who “never had to come out because she was never in”. 

The wealth of contemporary cultural detail – such as K pop heroes and the Black Panther movie – is crucial to the plot and is both a strength and possible weakness of the book adding to its strong identity but giving it a short “shelf life”. We considered whether or not the denouement was successfully wrought from a rather crowded cumulative cast of characters, and noted some inconsistency of detail. On the whole a satisfying read with a realistic, not over happy, ending.


If you would like to join the Roehampton Readers Group or have any questions, please use the contact form below:

Parallel Worlds in YA Fiction

Guest post from Frances Lamb

Ever since I read Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life (1977) as a teenager I have been drawn to fiction concerning parallel worlds. I am intrigued by the idea of different events and decisions creating different worlds, and the concept that alternate versions of a person (analogues) might exist. For my dissertation I combined this literary taste with my feminist concerns, and investigated the representation of the identity of female characters in YA parallel worlds novels. I looked at books published in the last fifteen years where a teenage female protagonist encounters another version of herself.

I already had a number of suitable primary texts, and when seeking others discovered a particularly helpful Goodreads list: YA Books with Parallel Universes. It was relatively easy to decide that my overall feminist approach would be guided by Roberta Seelinger Trites’ arguments in Waking Sleeping Beauty (1997). There is, however, very little literary criticism regarding the use of parallel worlds in YA novels. Although at one level this was disappointing, I found it exciting and satisfying to be exploring a new area which I felt deserved research. I was pleased to find much relevant material in criticism concerning subjects such as adult SF parallel worlds novels, the depiction of girls in YA fantasy and SF, and the representation of women in general children’s and YA literature.

Indeed, the novels offered so many interesting aspects to investigate that I decided that I had to limit my research and focus on three key areas. I looked at two aspects of identity with regard to the depiction of the teenage female protagonists: personal identity (character traits, behaviour, beliefs, interests, abilities and aspirations), and social identity (in relation to female friends, and as a partner in a romantic relationship). I also considered how the portrayal of adult female characters in general, and mothers in particular, offers reflections on potential future identities for girls.

Continue reading “Parallel Worlds in YA Fiction”

Children’s Literature Research Podcast

We’re very excited to announce the launch of a brand new podcast covering all things Children’s and Young Adult Literature. In the latest episode, Perry Nodelman discusses his current project as well as describing his journey into the world of Children’s Literature research and his experiences in writing and publishing books for children.

And in case you haven’t listened yet, in the first episode you can hear NCRCL PhD students Mark Carter and Emily Corbett talk about Emily’s experiences helping to create a journal and conference in the midst of a pandemic.

The podcast is available below or from wherever you get your podcasts.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1501129

YA Studies Around the World – A Digital Conference

YA Studies Around the World is a digital conference hosted by the YA Studies Association from 2-6 November. The conference offers a variety of fantastic opportunities to engage with YA and YA studies, both asynchronously and synchronously. Over the five conference days, there are twenty-eight live events — roundtables, panels, workshops, socials, and one rather special book launch — for you to enjoy. Each of the live events are being recorded and those recordings will be available for registered attendees to watch and rewatch at their leisure.

The conference begins on Monday 2nd November, but registration remains open until Friday 6th November. Once registered, you can access all conference materials including recordings until the end of November.

You can find a preview of the YA Studies Around the World schedule on the YA Studies Association’s website: https://yastudiesassociation.com/events/yasa-conference-2020/

To register for free, visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ya-studies-around-the-world-tickets-123474291931

Book Launch: Aidan Chambers ‘The Age Between’

We have great pleasure in inviting you to join us for the launch of Aidan Chambers’ new book, The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction.

This event is being hosted in conjunction with Fincham Press as part of YA Studies Around the World, an online conference considering young adult literature, media, and culture.

This free-ticket event will take place online
Wednesday 4 November
18.30-19.30 GMT.

It will feature:

  • An introduction by Lisa Sainsbury, Director of the NCRCL
  • Aidan Chambers in conversation with his editor, Alison Waller 
  • Q&A 

Winner of the Carnegie Medal, Printz Award and Hans Christian Anderson Award, Aidan Chambers is a longstanding friend of the NCRCL whose critical and creative work will be familiar to many NCRCL members and supporters. In this series of essays, Chambers explores the history and form of classic texts such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Anne Frank’s Diary, and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. He also examines his own fascinating experiences of reading and writing youth fiction, weaving these together with fresh insights from narrative theory, anthropology and neurology. 

To book your free place, Register Here

Roehampton Readers – New Members Welcome

The University of Roehampton’s Carnegie and Kate Greenaway award shadowing group is welcoming new members.  More information about our group is included below. If you have any questions or would like to sign up, get in touch via the contact form.

Continue reading “Roehampton Readers – New Members Welcome”