Beyond the Uniform and The Big Ideas Project: Parallel Session 1

The 23rd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 5 November 2016 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picture books’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions.

Beyond the Uniform and The Big Ideas Project: Parallel Session 1

By Andrew Pope

In The Big Ideas Project, researchers investigated a range of concepts through children’s books with 60 primary school children. Beyond the Uniform is a collabroative project that uses children’s and YA fiction to examine social attitudes to women military veterans. Attended by a select group of no more than 10, this session was run by Debbie Beeks and Helen Limon, both of whom came across as formidably powerful characters in their field.  I chose this session because of its potential relevance to my next assignment, in which I plan to write about Apache, by Tanya Landman, the story of a Native American girl/warrior.

Debbie Beeks from the Seven Stories foundation in Newcastle explained how the researchers in The Big Ideas Project were obliged to demonstrate that they had informed the local community of their work, and that, through her and Seven Stories, they had selected children’s picture books in order to provide focus for sessions with groups from local schools. Debbie is apparently trained in Drama, and her inventiveness was very evident in the stimulating exercises which were used to encourage the children’s understanding. Thoroughly inspirational!

Helen Limon, who works at Newcastle University, then reported on her work with military veterans, investigating the use of picture books and YA literature in easing the rehabilitation process, particularly for women. Again, her commitment and observation were inspiring; both speakers stressed the need to adjust one’s view, or ‘frame’, when considering picture books, since the images and ideas may seem innocuous, and yet the underlying assumptions that they reinforce may well be less than even-handed!


One of the picture books used in The Big Ideas Project. Image via Alexis Deacon.

Andrew Pope is currently in the first year of  the MA in Children’s Literature by distance learning at the University of Roehampton. He is a retired teacher of English to children in prep schools.


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