Alumni News: Looking for Ideology in Children’s Fiction Regarding the Holocaust

NCRCL Alumni Spotlight: Nadine Majaro, Distance Learning MA 2012, has recently published an article based on her MA thesis, entitled ‘Reimagining Significances: do authors of children’s fictions about the Holocaust convey ideological positions which reflect their national background?’. Below is a short piece from Nadine on how she made the transition from MA thesis to publication, an abstract for the paper, and a link to the full text of the article.

boy-in-striped-pyjamasFrom Nadine Majaro

Those of you who have completed your dissertations will know how they take over your life – you go to bed thinking about the perfectly crafted sentence and hope that, when you wake up, you will remember your brilliant night-time ideas.

I am sure that some of you feel that, once all the writing and proofing is finished, you never want to look at your dissertation again.But I felt a bit differently.I was proud of my work and wanted to try to make it more widely available. Gillian Lathey recommended that I consider editing my dissertation for the Journal of Children’s Literature Studies.I did a bit of research on the journal and found that I could not even access it through the British Library – this set a few alarm bells ringing but I decided to give it a go anyhow.

The first stage was to cut 20,000 words down to 6,000. Pretty daunting. My dissertation was on the ideologies conveyed by three books about the Holocaust for young readers.I argued that those ideologies are strongly influenced by the history or culture of the countries in which the authors work. I wrote about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne from Ireland, Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli from America and Once by Morris Gleitzman, who lives in Australia.

I decided that the easiest way to deal with the word count would be to take out an entire section. I cut out the section on the Gleitzman book – not without regret as I thought it was the best of the three books I had covered, but it is in some ways the most complex so I thought it would be harder to abbreviate.Once I started cutting words out, it became surprisingly satisfying!

I submitted the article to the editors and received some very helpful comments from two referees.Having made their suggested changes and put all the referencing into the form required by the journal, I received a nasty shock.The journal had gone out of business, so perhaps I should have heeded the earlier warning signs.However, Bridget Carrington and Pat Pinsent, the editors, told me that the New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship were looking for contributions, so I sent my article to them.To my delight, it was accepted with no further need for refereeing.All I had to do was change the referencing system for the third time – still, it was worth it to see my work in print.


This article examines two books about the Holocaust, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne from Ireland and Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli from America, and argues that they contain both overt and covert ideological positions, some of which are strongly influenced by the history or culture of the countries in which the authors work. This argument is supported by a detailed examination using a toolkit derived from work on ideology by a number of academics, including Peter Hollindale, Robert Sutherland, and John Stephens. This examination of the texts is extended to cover some of the questions raised in the extensive debates on Holocaust literature including whether there is a moral responsibility to convey facts accurately and how the victims of the Holocaust should be portrayed. This work demonstrates that the shared surface ideology of the books co-exists with extensive differences in hidden ideology, some of them troubling.

Link to article

Nadine Majaro completed an MA in Children’s Literature after a long career as an accountant in the City of London. She is now heavily involved in various charities.

Book Review Series: Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird

The NCRCL Book Review Series is a monthly series written by  NCRCL students and published on the first Wednesday of every month. 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 Lost Riders by Elizabeth Laird 

by Karen Williams

Having recently moved to Dubai, I felt I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to review a children’s book that tackles some of the issues and complexities that exist in this now famous Emirate. Elizabeth Laird’s 2010 book, Lost Riders tells the emotional story of Rashid and his brother, Shari, two young Pakistani boys trafficked from their home country into a life of danger and abuse working as camel jockeys in the Gulf state. It is based on the real-life testimony of boys eventually repatriated to Pakistan after the UAE outlawed the use of child camel riders in 2002[1]. The result of Laird’s meticulous research is an emotional and hard-hitting story of abuse, exploitation and survival.

The third person narrative is focalised through the figure of Rashid, a young boy of around seven years old.   Laird uses his viewpoint to gradually awaken in the reader an understanding of how the boys’ family are duped into sending the children to Dubai with promises of a better life for them all.  As Rashid and Shari journey to the Gulf with their Uncle Bilal, it quickly becomes clear that promises of toy cars, or comfortable lives in large houses are false, and instead the brothers are taken to separate uzbas – or camel farms – way out in the desert, and their life of exploitation begins.

In this novel, Laird does not shy away from the terrible reality of the abuse and dangers suffered by these young children on the camel farms.  The reader is directly privy to Rashid being beaten by the ‘Masoul’ (head) of the uzba and again by Abu Nazir the camel trainer.  All the children are starved to keep their weight down and made to exercise the camels for hours at a time as well as negotiate the dangers of the camel races.  Laird however, projects the worst of the violence and abuse onto characters outside of Rashid’s direct view: the figure of Mujib who Rashid replaces in the uzba and who has been killed in a fall from a camel, is an ever-present spectre in the minds of all the children.  Amal too, who has broken his arm in a fall at the racetrack, is used to hint at the lasting psychological as well as physical damage suffered by the children.  However it is through the mistreatment of Shari that Laird shows the worst abuse. Close to death after a fall, it is only through the intervention of the spirited Rashid himself, and the kindness of the owner of Rashid’s uzba, that Shari is saved. Laird’s revelation of these experiences through Rashid or through insinuation in the narrative, allows the author to tread a successful line between revealing the true extent of the abuse suffered by these boys whilst allowing her principal character some leeway to become more than a victim of exploitation.  Rashid is a fully rounded character whose success at riding the camels allows for some reprieve from his desperate situation, but who is always aware that he, like his brother and the other boys, is only ever one beating or one fall away from serious injury or death.

However, Laird’s novel is not just about the children she portrays in the novel.  A careful reading of the text also reveals the ultimate underpinning of child trafficking by a complex interplay of relationships that extend well beyond the borders of the UAE.   Her characters are often drawn to raise larger questions about issues such as poverty, morality and criminality that cross into grey areas that have no simple resolution. The head of Rashid’s uzba, for example, is an ambiguous figure, making a better life for his own children in Pakistan from his involvement in camel racing but also complicit in the abuse of the boys. Likewise, some of the parents of the juvenile riders are desperate for their children to return, whilst others are shown by Laird to be willing participants in this trade of children: Iqbal’s father, for example has been “trafficking children too” (270).  Driven by poverty, driven by greed, lacking humanity, showing compassion, by writing such complexity into her characters, Laird produces an absorbing and thought-provoking read whilst balancing the relative optimism of Rashid and Shari’s repatriation with a wider plea to finally eradicate the continuing world-wide trade in children[2].

[1] For further information see article in the Khaleej Times  (May 2005), accessed 13/3/2014

[2] Laird, in fact, dedicates this book to: “the increasing numbers of children throughout the world who are trafficked away from their homes and families to work in far countries, including the UK, in many forms of slavery” (Introduction to Lost Riders).

About the Reviewer:

Karen Williams

Name: Karen Williams
Research area: Humour in early nineteenth-century children’s literature
Path to Roehampton in 140 characters: Undergrad in Eng. Lit at Oxford then many years working in marketing before returning to my first love through MA and PhD in Children’s Lit at Roehampton….
Favourite re-read: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse – I always take out something new when I re-read this verse novel.
Unsung Picture Book: The ‘Mungo’ books by Timothy Knapman and Adam Stower – brilliant fun for children and adults alike
Unsung Young Adult Novel: Feed by M.T. Anderson  – seems scarily prophetic to me!


– Series edited by Erica Gillingham