Roehampton Readers

The Roehampton Readers Group has been going for several years and was formed as part of The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Shadowing Scheme to read and discuss texts that have been shortlisted for these awards. The group meets regularly and after each meeting, one of the members will produce a short summary of the discussions. Below is the results of the group’s thoughts on 2021 Greenaway shortlisted title, The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson, and 2021 Carnegie shortlisted title, Eight Pieces of Silva, by Patrice Lawrence. If you would like to join the group, please fill in the contact form at the end of this blog post.


The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

Usborne Books 2019

Illustrated by Honesta, Kathrin

There were divided opinions in the group about this fantasy novel, with some members finding it hard to engage in the main premise of the story of a girl who transforms into a bear. Others found suspension of disbelief made quite possible by the power of the story telling. Most of the group appreciated the skill with which the story is woven using folk and fairy tale motifs and the telling of traditional stories within the story structure, the significance of which to the narrative of the central character Yanka is gradually revealed. These stories are charmingly delineated with illustrated borders

This is partly a follow up to The House With Chicken Legs, which some members found to be the more successful novel, and the house has an important role in moving the plot on in this story. Some commented that the plot development was sometimes clumsy and overt. Character development is also key to the plot and strong female characters dominate.  Many journeys physical, emotional and developmental take place and it can be read as a coming-of-age novel disguised within the folk transformation genre. Themes of body awareness, identity and what makes a family, loyalty and friendship abound. Learning to see things from a different point of view, in this case quite radically from that of a bear, is part of this development. We were impressed with the descriptions of sensory perceptions of the bear, such as feeling the movements of small creatures under the floorboards, rolling in pine needles to get their scent, and learning to live in the moment enhancing these and other experiences. Strengths of the book discussed included the sense of place, especially the forest,  supporting the theme of caring for and being at one with the environment, enabled by the powerful sensory descriptions and by the beautiful, and welcome, illustrations.

The element of humour introduced by the animal character Mousetrap was welcomed, and the diverse nature of the “herd” Yanka gathers around herself including Yuri the deer, the wolf and the owl was seen as a significant theme. It was felt, however, that this central message of valuing difference whilst developing a sense of identity and belonging was thumped home towards the end of the book in an intrusive and unnecessary way.

The intended age group is seen as around 9-13 years. The length of the book at around 400 pages could be a challenge although the illustrations help. We felt there were one or two adventures too many. The ending is very positive, almost happy ever after, suitable for the intended readership but not entirely winning over all of our group. 


Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence

Hodder, 2020

We discussed the very strong sense of place, both geographically and culturally, set in contemporary London, specifically Hackney. Becks and Silva are very contrasting characters and each is portrayed truthfully and skillfully and using different literary techniques. The portrayal of Silva is a poignant portrait of a young woman grieving the death of her mother which despite a supportive and safe family environment, sends her into obsessive behaviour and a toxic relationship with Logan. 

All the main characters are seen differently – and see themselves differently – by the end of the book. And as readers we see them, particularly Silva, from different people’s points of view as the mystery of Silva’s whereabouts is discovered. We thought about the nature of the book – part thriller and part psychological journey creepy at times but also very funny with cutting observations on contemporary London life and the experiences of a young gay woman, in Becks, who “never had to come out because she was never in”. 

The wealth of contemporary cultural detail – such as K pop heroes and the Black Panther movie – is crucial to the plot and is both a strength and possible weakness of the book adding to its strong identity but giving it a short “shelf life”. We considered whether or not the denouement was successfully wrought from a rather crowded cumulative cast of characters, and noted some inconsistency of detail. On the whole a satisfying read with a realistic, not over happy, ending.


If you would like to join the Roehampton Readers Group or have any questions, please use the contact form below:

Parallel Worlds in YA Fiction

Guest post from Frances Lamb

Ever since I read Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life (1977) as a teenager I have been drawn to fiction concerning parallel worlds. I am intrigued by the idea of different events and decisions creating different worlds, and the concept that alternate versions of a person (analogues) might exist. For my dissertation I combined this literary taste with my feminist concerns, and investigated the representation of the identity of female characters in YA parallel worlds novels. I looked at books published in the last fifteen years where a teenage female protagonist encounters another version of herself.

I already had a number of suitable primary texts, and when seeking others discovered a particularly helpful Goodreads list: YA Books with Parallel Universes. It was relatively easy to decide that my overall feminist approach would be guided by Roberta Seelinger Trites’ arguments in Waking Sleeping Beauty (1997). There is, however, very little literary criticism regarding the use of parallel worlds in YA novels. Although at one level this was disappointing, I found it exciting and satisfying to be exploring a new area which I felt deserved research. I was pleased to find much relevant material in criticism concerning subjects such as adult SF parallel worlds novels, the depiction of girls in YA fantasy and SF, and the representation of women in general children’s and YA literature.

Indeed, the novels offered so many interesting aspects to investigate that I decided that I had to limit my research and focus on three key areas. I looked at two aspects of identity with regard to the depiction of the teenage female protagonists: personal identity (character traits, behaviour, beliefs, interests, abilities and aspirations), and social identity (in relation to female friends, and as a partner in a romantic relationship). I also considered how the portrayal of adult female characters in general, and mothers in particular, offers reflections on potential future identities for girls.

Continue reading “Parallel Worlds in YA Fiction”

Children’s Literature Research Podcast

We’re very excited to announce the launch of a brand new podcast covering all things Children’s and Young Adult Literature. In the latest episode, Perry Nodelman discusses his current project as well as describing his journey into the world of Children’s Literature research and his experiences in writing and publishing books for children.

And in case you haven’t listened yet, in the first episode you can hear NCRCL PhD students Mark Carter and Emily Corbett talk about Emily’s experiences helping to create a journal and conference in the midst of a pandemic.

The podcast is available below or from wherever you get your podcasts.

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1501129

YA Studies Around the World – A Digital Conference

YA Studies Around the World is a digital conference hosted by the YA Studies Association from 2-6 November. The conference offers a variety of fantastic opportunities to engage with YA and YA studies, both asynchronously and synchronously. Over the five conference days, there are twenty-eight live events — roundtables, panels, workshops, socials, and one rather special book launch — for you to enjoy. Each of the live events are being recorded and those recordings will be available for registered attendees to watch and rewatch at their leisure.

The conference begins on Monday 2nd November, but registration remains open until Friday 6th November. Once registered, you can access all conference materials including recordings until the end of November.

You can find a preview of the YA Studies Around the World schedule on the YA Studies Association’s website: https://yastudiesassociation.com/events/yasa-conference-2020/

To register for free, visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ya-studies-around-the-world-tickets-123474291931

Book Launch: Aidan Chambers ‘The Age Between’

We have great pleasure in inviting you to join us for the launch of Aidan Chambers’ new book, The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction.

This event is being hosted in conjunction with Fincham Press as part of YA Studies Around the World, an online conference considering young adult literature, media, and culture.

This free-ticket event will take place online
Wednesday 4 November
18.30-19.30 GMT.

It will feature:

  • An introduction by Lisa Sainsbury, Director of the NCRCL
  • Aidan Chambers in conversation with his editor, Alison Waller 
  • Q&A 

Winner of the Carnegie Medal, Printz Award and Hans Christian Anderson Award, Aidan Chambers is a longstanding friend of the NCRCL whose critical and creative work will be familiar to many NCRCL members and supporters. In this series of essays, Chambers explores the history and form of classic texts such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Anne Frank’s Diary, and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. He also examines his own fascinating experiences of reading and writing youth fiction, weaving these together with fresh insights from narrative theory, anthropology and neurology. 

To book your free place, Register Here