This is the home of the NCRCL blog, where you will find news, updates and posts from members of the staff, students and alumni at the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL) at Roehampton University in west London.  You can read more about our popular MA in Children’s Literature which is run on-site and through distance learning, as well as undergraduate teaching in children’s literature in both our English and the Creative Writing departments. Please feel free to comment with questions or thoughts.


Ontological Dialogues & Metaphysical Structures: NCRCL Research Talk with Lisa Sainsbury

paul kidby

Illustration for Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Paul Kidby

“It’s not someone unless it can talk! Otherwise it’s just food!”
Ontological Dialogues and the Metaphysical Structures of Children’s Literature

Dr Lisa Sainsbury, NCRCL
Department of English and Creative Writing, University of Roehampton

In this talk I will reveal a pattern of dialogue that can be found in children’s books across different periods and cultures. The ‘ontological argument’ is a polemical vein that runs through dialogues in children’s literature from Tom’s Midnight Garden (1958) by Philippa Pearce to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014). Evaluations of power are central to dialogues that rehearse tensions between Kantian and Cartesian notions of existence as property — and I show that changing attitudes to childhood and its literature can be traced in the way these dialogues are framed. Some of these arguments are between one child and another (peer dialogues), as is the case in Pearce’s novel, while others are between adults and children (adult-child dialogues), as in The Book of Everything (2006) by Guus Kuijer. The dialogues offer a form for the working through of power relations rooted in and out of existential crisis. For the characters involved, being is at stake in the dialogue — ‘Nothing exists any longer. I don’t either’ (Kuijer 2006: 14) — and the common factor across these texts is this sort of ontological struggle. The wider significance of this existential concern is revealed by the ubiquity of such dialogue and I will suggest that close examination of the ontological argument is key to understanding the formal structures and deep concerns of children’s literature.

Wednesday 21st March 2018, 1-2pm*
Fincham Building, Fi 001
Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton


* Please note that this talk will be accompanied by a research talk by Dr Kate Teltscher: ‘“Gigantic children of the sun”: Kew’s Palm House and the Victorian Cultural Imagination’

Sinéad Moriarty & Anne Malewski Talking Moomins at the Dulwich Picture Gallery


Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

On 15th December 2017, two NCRCL PhD candidates — Sinéad Moriarty and Anne Malewski — were invited speakers at the Dulwich Picture Gallery‘s sold-out A Moomin Winter’s Eve event in connection with their Tove Jansson exhibition.


Feeling at Home: Home Spaces in Tove Jansson’s Moomin Novels

In The Poetics of Space (1964), Gaston Bachelard talks about the home as “the human being’s first world” and argues that “always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle”. The concept of home is also fundamental within our first literary world: children’s literature. In our talk, we explored ideas of home and home spaces in Tove Jansson’s Moomin novels.


Anne on the left, Sinéad on the right

We discussed the importance of the idea of home in human culture generally and in children’s literature in particular, examined spaces Tove Jansson made a home for herself in ‘real’ life and through her art, and then analysed representations of home in four of her Moomin novels: Finn Family Moomintroll, Moominland Midwinter, Moominpappa at Sea, and Moominvalley in November.

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Happily Ever After: The Power of Story

The 24th annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 11th November 2017 at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education in London. This year’s theme was ‘Happily Ever After: The Evolution of Fairy Tales Across Time and Cultures’. Nick Campbell, who completed his PhD with the NCRCL this year, reports on his experience of the conference.

Once upon a time, not my time, not your time, but a very good time, a bold traveller arrived at a marvellous, gleaming building, in a city of endless rains – and there, I was given a cup of coffee, a biscuit and a schedule for the annual IBBY/NCRCL conference. This year, the theme of the conference was fairy tales: telling them, retelling them and rereading them.

There is a strange magic in the collaborative nature of this conference: the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature, and the International Board on Books for the Young, which seeks to promote international understanding through children’s books. Added to that interdisciplinary character was our venue that day, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education. The conference audience was formed of teachers, librarians, academics, writers and illustrators, representing many perspectives and experiences. This multiplicity was reflected in the speakers: researchers, writers, a translator, an illustrator, a publisher.

blackberry blue

Cover of Jamila Gavin’s fairy tale collection Blackberry Blue. Image via illustrator Richard Collingridge

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2018 NCRCL Scholarships


We are pleased to announce that the current round of applications for our annual scholarships in children’s literature is open.




TECHNE AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership 2018

We invite applications from outstanding candidates for our TECHNE AHRC doctoral studentships. Studentships are awarded in departments across the university, but the NCRCL will consider applications for projects related to children’s literature or creative writing for children. Projects drawing on our archival holdings – such as the Richmal Crompton archive – will be especially welcome. For more information and details of how to apply, please see our Graduate School pages:

There will be an Open Evening for interested applicants on Tuesday 7 Nov 2017 from 5.30 p.m. at Grove House on our Froebel campus – please register here and contact Prof. Peter Jaeger for details


Postgraduate Research Studentships – Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship 2018

In addition to TECHNE studentships, we will award our annual Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship to a candidate of the highest calibre. Applicants for TECHNE awards will be considered automatically for the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship, so please apply for a TECHNE studentship in the first instance. Candidates who do not secure TECHNE funding will be eligible to compete for the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship – you do not need to apply separately (please note that although TECHNE funding can be secured by students who have already started their doctoral studies, the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship is only open to new applicants).

This studentship will be awarded to an emerging scholar working in the field of children’s literature or creative writing for children. The Jacqueline Wilson Scholar will be based in the award-winning NCRCL with access to the Children’s Literature Collection and archives, and will join a lively community of researchers, writers and students. This fully funded scholarship will cover home/EU fees of £4,195 for Home/EU students and maintenance of £16,553 p.a. for 3 years full-time subject to satisfactory progress. (NB – these figures are correct for 2017-18 and are yet to be confirmed for 2018-19).

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Bookings Open for 2017 IBBY/NCRCL Conference!

24th Annual NCRCL MA/IBBY UK Conference

‘Happily Ever After: The Evolution of Fairy Tales Across Time and Cultures’

Saturday 11th November 2017, 9:15 a.m. – 4:45 p.m.

Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, 44 Webber Street, London SE1 8QW


Image via IBBY UK

Happily Ever After: The Evolution of Fairy Tales Across Time and Cultures

The same fairy tales often appear across different cultures. How and why does this happen? 
Should fairy tales be updated – or even subverted – to appeal to modern audiences?
How have fairy tales evolved as they’ve been retold across the centuries?

This year’s IBBY UK/NCRCL Conference will explore these issues as they are reflected in international children’s literature, with a range of plenary speakers and parallel sessions.

Keynote Speaker: Professor Vanessa Joosen, University of Antwerp
Other speakers include: Jackie Morris, author and illustrator; Beverley Naidoo, author; Jamila Gavin, author; Hilary McKay, author.

Book your place online at

For further information, please contact Ann Lazim

Roehampton Readers: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

By Kay Waddilove

Salt to the Sea is a historical YA novel set in the closing months of World War II. As with her debut Between Shades of Gray (2011), previously shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, Ruta Sepetys weaves a fictional narrative around an actual, but little-known historical event. In the final months of the Nazi regime a multitude of refugees, both civilians and soldiers, fled from the advancing Soviet army to the Baltic Sea ports in the hope of boarding a ship to safety, and escaping the chaos of war-torn Europe. Several German ships were conscripted for this evacuation, dubbed Operation Hannibal, including the Wilhelm Gustloff, a large cruise liner designed for around 1400 passengers. Approximately ten and a half thousand refugees were loaded onto this ship, which, on 30 January 1945, was hit by Russian torpedoes. It sank in less than one hour, in a snowstorm, and approximately 9000 people died, over half of them children.

As Sepetys informs the reader in her postscript, this sinking was “the deadliest disaster in maritime history”, with a death toll exceeding those of the Titanic and Lusitania combined, yet it is a tragedy that is virtually unknown outside Germany. As a writer committed to shining an ideological light onto such “hidden chapters of history” through “the child and young adult narrative” (Between Shades of Gray did this for the plight of Lithuanian deportees to Siberian labour camps), Sepetys explores the event from the different perspectives of a group of young protagonists. The refugees came from Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the author builds her story around four contrasted fictional characters: Joana, a young Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a Polish teenager; Florian, a Prussian art preservationist; and Alfred, a punctilious Nazi soldier. They all have a secret; carrying their guilt, their fate, their shame, or their fear – or perhaps all four – as psychological burdens which they describe as “hunters” in the opening chapters.

Cover via Penguin


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Roehampton Readers: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Review: The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

By Lorna Collins

The Bone Sparrow tells the story of 9-year-old Subhi, whose family have fled Burma (Myanmar) as a result of the persecution of the Muslim minority known as the Rohingya. Subhi, however, knows nothing of his homeland, since he was born in the Australian detention centre in which the story is set.

Subhi’s life consists of permanent hunger, constant threats from other detainees as well as from the ‘Jackets’ who run the centre, interspersed with involvement in smuggling packages for older members of his ‘family group’.  His only escape is the magical ‘Night Sea’ of his mother’s stories which he believes brings him gifts. We later discover these ‘gifts’ are left by Queeny, his seemingly heartless sister as  mementos of their father, knowing (as Subhi does not) that they will never see him again.

Jimmie, a girl who lives outside the centre, manages to get in through a hole in the fence. Her mother had died 3 years previously and we gradually learn that she has been pretty well ignored by her father since then, resulting in her skipping school and being unable to read. She carries with her a book of stories written by her mother which she longs to read. Subhi is able to read and longs to hear fresh stories, since his mother, previously an avid story teller, seems to have given up altogether. The two children quickly form a bond. Jimmie also able to bring with her a thermos of hot chocolate which is an unimaginable delight to Subhi.

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