The 21st annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 8 November 2014 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Belonging is… an exploration of the right to be included and the barriers that must be overcome’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panelists and parallel sessions.
The Unconventional Pairing of Gypsy Children and the Moomins: Parallel Session F
By Clare Merrett
Marian Devons is a primary school teacher with responsibility for her school’s library. She completed the MA in Children’s Literature at University of Roehampton in 2004 and based her dissertation on the representation of gypsies in books for children. Her talk for the IBBY/NCRCL conference was entitled ‘Do Modern Gypsy Children Find a Place where they ‘Belong’ in Children’s Literature?’. Acknowledging the difficulties around defining ‘gypsy’, Marian focused on English novels from the 1950s onwards that explicitly used the term. She identified decade long trends switching between the romantic, realistic and historical, with an overarching trend for portrayals that were either stereotyped or ‘issue’ books.
It was interesting to hear that Marian feels little has changed in the time since her dissertation was written. Her talk highlighted the practical decisions that have to be made about books held in a school library, and the challenges the lack of incidental gypsy characters and stories about modern gypsy children can bring. In an apt and fortunate twist, however, storyteller Richard O’Neill entertained delegates in between conference speakers with stories based on his own Romany background, perhaps representing change.
Anne Malewski is a PhD student at University of Roehampton. Anne started her talk, ‘Age and Belonging in Tove Jansson’s Characters’, by defining ‘age’ and ‘belonging’, pointing out that age often marks out a territory of belonging that encompasses expected or allowed behaviour. Whereas childhood is often defined in terms of transition and becoming, adulthood is largely perceived as stable, as being.
Applying this framework to the Moomin series, Anne showed how Tove Jansson challenges this dichotomy through a series of slippages related to appearance, behaviour, and attitude. For example: characters in the Moomins are most often distinguished by accessories rather than by age related characteristics; the child and adult characters share a love of adventure, and all engage in play; Moominmamma and Moominpappa are quite relaxed in their parenting, allowing the children to make their own decisions, but sometimes Moomintroll reprimands his parents, safely challenging adult authority.
Anne convincingly argued that in the Moomin series Jansson subverts the notion that age is restrictive; no authority enforces pre-conceived ideas of belonging, instead it is about choices and relationships.
Through their different subjects the talks showed just how wide the notion of difference and diversity is. While we looked in on representations of gypsies from the outside, age is something everyone experiences and something we can all think about from within. Thanks to Marian and Anne for two thought provoking presentations.