Review written by Emily Corbett.
Two PhD students embark on a field trip to Newcastle to talk all things children’s and YA literature
‘Building New Communities in UK Children’s Literature Research: A Colloquium for Contemporary Issues in the Field’ was organised by Cambridge doctoral student, Andy McCormack, to bring together PhD students and academics from Roehampton, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cambridge universities. It was hosted by Newcastle University and Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, and so fellow PhD student Harriet Salisbury and I ventured north to meet new people, share our research and enjoy all that the colloquium had to offer. As it turns out, the colloquium had plenty to offer!
Professor Kimberley Reynolds and Paula Wride began with an exciting keynote entitled ‘“Sod off you bastards.” How Robert Westall Changed Children’s Literature.’ I had to smile walking into the first of the day’s festivities with that quotation in bold print across the screen – an amusing start enjoyed by all who attended. The collaborative keynote brought together Reynolds’ literary analysis and Wride’s archival knowledge to discuss the impact and relevance of Westall’s work in shaping children’s literature. (I believe that the keynote was recorded, so when it becomes available, I will make sure to share the link here!)
Following the keynote, sixteen researchers (myself and Harriet included) shared bite-sized portions of our own research across four panels: Textuality, Diversity, Materiality and Futurity. The papers and subsequent discussions were interesting, thought-provoking and a testament to the broad range of children’s and YA literature research currently being conducted by PhD and post-PhD researchers in the UK. Paper topics included children’s books in adult imagination, religion in twenty-first century children’s literature, mentally disabled mother characters in YA literature, changing the patriarchal bias in children’s literature, transgender YA literature (me), the construction of the working-classes in neo-Victorian children’s books (Harriet), refugees in Beverley Naidoo’s fiction, multicultural Indonesian children’s books, metafictive picture books, posthumanist approaches to aetonormativity, the history of the CILIP Carnegie Medal, cheap children’s literature from 1799-1890, displacement in children’s fantasy fiction, adolescence in the Arabic adolescent novel, and horror in Disney’s and Pixar’s animated world. Sorry reader, I mislead you. I said that ‘the topics included’, but that was all sixteen of them. Once I started trying to choose a selection, I realised that every paper was too good and different not to get a mention!
While we were there, attendees were fortunate enough to get a taste of the wonderful archival material available at Seven Stories. Newcastle University Research Associate Hazel Sheeky-Bird spoke about the new research avenues into the Aiden and Nancy Chambers collection acquired by Seven Stories in 2016, Rachel Pattinson spoke about upcoming research opportunities, and we were shown a selection of the other materials available at the centre!
We finished the colloquium with the most engaging Seven Stories storytime session I could ever wish to attend. Hearing the sharp gasps of several infants at the conclusion of Nadia Shireen’s Good Little Wolf (2011) was a highlight of mine, so much so that I bought the book from the gift shop! All in all, the colloquium was a great opportunity to be part of a new research community – one which I hope will continue to flourish. Our thanks go to Andy McCormack, Newcastle University, Seven Stories, and to the AHRC funding for making such an event possible.