NCRCL Blog

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.

RoundTable Journal Launch

Welcome to the launch of RoundTable, the English and Creative Writing Department’s new postgraduate journal:

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RoundTable is a peer-reviewed journal which actively promotes original and imaginative work by postgraduates and early career researchers within the fields of Children’s Literature, Creative Writing, and English Literature. RoundTable is invested in fostering a postgraduate community committed to research and practice beyond discipline boundaries.
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Bookings for the NCRCL Open Day!

NCRCL Open Day

Saturday 13th May 2017 | 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Duchesne Building, Ground Floor, Digby Stuart Campus

Welcome to the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature’s spring event for MA/PG Dip and PhD students past, present, and future! The Open Day is an opportunity to meet the NCRCL team over tea and cakes, celebrate current research, and hear fantastic speakers.

We are delighted to announce that award-winning Canadian author and educator Zetta Elliott, an advocate for greater diversity and equity in publishing, and distinguished children’s literature critic Peter Hunt, the first Professor of Children’s Literature in the UK, will be joining us this year.

Current students and alumni are all warmly invited as is anyone curious about the work of the NCRCL, and anyone interested in applying to the MA/PG Dip in Children’s Literature, or undertaking doctoral research at the NCRCL!

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Volunteering Opportunity with Prison Reading Groups (PRG)

PRG is a project hosted by the University of Roehampton to set up and fund reading groups in prisons.  We currently support over 45 groups in more than 35 prisons nationwide. PRG are now recruiting volunteers to support prison Family Days.

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Prison Family Days allow prisoners to spend a whole day with their partners and children. With our partners Give a Book, PRG provides a book bag with a specially chosen book and accessories for each visiting child. In 2015 volunteers from the NCRCL created a database of age-appropriate books and in some cases also volunteered to help out at a prison on the day. Have a look at the 2016 Report or go to the Prison Reading Group website.

The project was a great success and is now an ongoing part of our work. We are currently recruiting volunteers who would be willing to go to one of the prisons involved to encourage the parents to read with their children and generally to help out with activities.

The prisons are widespread but each could be managed as a day trip and PRG would pay all travel expenses. They are as follows:

Prison                        Location                                Family Day date

Albany                       Isle of Wight                           10th April

Lewes                         East Sussex                             19th April

Wymott                      Preston, Lancashire              29th May

Dovegate                    Staffordshire                          31st May

Brixton                       South London                         15th June (tbc)

Huntercombe            Henley, Oxfordshire              2nd August

Thameside                  South East London                2nd August

We are also planning to support an additional 11 prisons in the second half of the year, with dates still to be circulated once they have been confirmed.

If you are interested, please contact prg@roehampton.ac.uk as soon as possible to discuss it in more detail!

Roehampton Readers: Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi

Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

Review by Clare Walters

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Cover via Heyday Books

The Fighting for Justice series ‘introduces young readers to real-life heroes and heroines of social progress’ through engaging words and pictures. This fascinating and beautifully produced book about a Japanese-American man who, along with approximately 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, was interned by the United States’ government during World War II certainly fits that bill, and would be suitable for children from top primary to lower secondary school age.

Although born, educated and living exclusively in the United States, after the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, in which many American sailors were killed, Fred Korematsu was arrested as an ‘alien enemy’ and jailed. Two years on from his arrest, with the help of a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Fred argued in the Supreme Court that summarily imprisoning Japanese-American citizens violated their constitutional rights. He lost his case and was sent to a prison camp at Tanforan, south of San Francisco, where, with many other Japanese-American detainees,  he lived in appalling conditions in the horse stalls of a former race track.

Almost 40 years later, in 1983, Korematsu challenged the original court ruling – and this time he won. Subsequently he continued to campaign for social justice issues and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton in 1998. Now in America 30 January has been designated as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, and there is currently a movement to make this day a national federal holiday. Korematsu’s life history is quite a story… and it’s very well told in this impressive, well-researched, non-fiction title.

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Mapping the Antarctic for Children: Publication in Children’s Literature in Education Journal

NCRCL PhD candidate Sinéad Moriarty’s article “Unstable Space: Mapping the Antarctic for Children in ‘Heroic Era’ Antarctic Literature” was published in Children’s Literature in Education  in January 2017.

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Illustration of a map in William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey which Sinéad discusses in her article. Image via William Grill.

Here is the abstract of Sinéad’s article:

This article examines the Antarctic landscape as one of the last places in the world to be explored and mapped, and as one of the most changeable landscapes in the world. The mapping exercises involved in the early, heroic-era Antarctic expeditions, helped to reduce a once mysterious and unknown landscape into a known entity, something that could be contained and restrained through visual representation. These maps focus on the limits of landscape, on the outer edges and the upper peaks and so mapping minimises and places limits upon landscapes, creating an image of the landscape which is static, re-presented for human consumption. The article will, therefore, look at the use of maps in a cross-section of six heroic-era Antarctic non-fiction narratives for children written within the last twenty years, and which recount the early Antarctic expeditions, recreating and re-presenting heroic-era maps as a means of enforcing stasis on this dynamic landscape. The children’s stories, such as Michael McCurdy’s Trapped by the Ice! (1997), Meredith Hooper’s Race to the Pole (2002), and Dowdeswell, Dowdeswell & Seddon’s Scott of the Antarctic (2012), show that the stultifying effect of maps is exacerbated in the children’s heroic-era narratives as they seek to fix the landscape geographically, as well as temporally, in the early twentieth century. The article will examine the way in which the maps in the modern retellings of heroic-era narratives seek to undermine the mutable nature of the Antarctic in order to present the child reader with an image of the continent, which is dominated by stasis.

You can access the article here.

Sinéad Moriarty is a PhD candidate at the NCRCL. Her work focuses on representations of the Antarctic in literature for children, and how authors have understood and represented this ‘wild’ landscape.

Book Review: Code Name: Butterfly by Ahlam Bsharat

The NCRCL Book Review Series is written by  NCRCL students. The aim of this series is to reflect the diverse research areas of NCRCL’s students and open a dialogue about particular texts, themes, and traditions. 

Review of Code Name: Butterfly (2016) by Ahlam Bsharat, translated from Arabic by Nancy Roberts

By Rebecca Sutton

code-name-butterfly-cover-2Butterfly, whose ‘real’ name is never revealed, lives in occupied Palestine. We join her on the journey towards adulthood as she deals with common adolescent concerns such as periods, first crushes, friendships, identity and sexuality. Alongside these, and through the eyes of Butterfly, writer Ahlam Bsharat offers frank descriptions of less universal concerns, of the violence and conflict occurring in Palestine’s occupied territories. With graphic descriptions of a “massacre”, the death of Uncle Saleh who was shot “over and over” and the mine that caused Bakr to lose both his legs, this is no ordinary adolescent journey, but a seemingly commonplace one for teenagers in Palestine. The novel is clearly pro-Palestinian in its ideology with vivid first-hand experience from Bsharat woven in throughout.

However, the conflict in Israel/Palestine is not the main focus; it is Butterfly’s inquiring mind, the questions she asks and the place where she stores these questions that occupy the main space of the narrative. Like many adolescents, she feels unable to talk to her parents, her siblings or friends, and so stores her questions and dreams in an imaginary treasure chest, which she declares almost full to bursting point. Herein lies the sadness: her questions are neither asked nor answered and her dreams are never shared, but by the end of the novel she realizes that grown-ups do not have all the answers and maybe more importantly, that they themselves have many unanswered questions of their own.

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Alumni Q&A: Helen Swinyard’s Library Epiphany

We caught up with Helen Swinyard who completed the MA in Children’s Literature at the NCRCL in 2003. Through the MA, Helen discovered that being a school librarian is an exciting way to pursue her love of children’s literature.

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Helen Swinyard speaking at the Haringey Children’s Book Award which she set up. In the background: authors Philip Womack and 2016 winner SF Said.


What led you to the NCRCL?

I had friends from school studying their undergraduate courses at Roehampton (it was the University of Surrey Roehampton then) and I remember visiting them a couple of times and walking past the NCRCL on campus and thinking ‘what’s that?’ I thought it sounded like an exciting place.

I had always enjoyed reading as a child and wanted to be a writer when I ‘grew up’. So even though the demands of secondary school meant I didn’t read that much, I always wanted to read English at university level. However, during my undergrad degree I had a first year set course and then had second year modules I didn’t really enjoy – the experience wasn’t what I had anticipated at all. Finally when I was completing my degree I suddenly rekindled my love of reading and analysing, and luckily had the chance to carry straight into an MA as I didn’t want it to end! The NCRCL was top of my list.

What did you most enjoy and take from the MA?

It was a real indulgence for me at the time to spend a full year immersing myself in children’s literature and surrounding myself with others who love that world as much as I do. After 3 years of studying general English literature, and having to read things that didn’t really interest me, that year helped me regain my love of reading.

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