Alumni Q&A: Helen Swinyard’s Library Epiphany

We caught up with Helen Swinyard who completed the MA in Children’s Literature at the NCRCL in 2003. Through the MA, Helen discovered that being a school librarian is an exciting way to pursue her love of children’s literature.

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Helen Swinyard speaking at the Haringey Children’s Book Award which she set up. In the background: authors Philip Womack and 2016 winner SF Said.


What led you to the NCRCL?

I had friends from school studying their undergraduate courses at Roehampton (it was the University of Surrey Roehampton then) and I remember visiting them a couple of times and walking past the NCRCL on campus and thinking ‘what’s that?’ I thought it sounded like an exciting place.

I had always enjoyed reading as a child and wanted to be a writer when I ‘grew up’. So even though the demands of secondary school meant I didn’t read that much, I always wanted to read English at university level. However, during my undergrad degree I had a first year set course and then had second year modules I didn’t really enjoy – the experience wasn’t what I had anticipated at all. Finally when I was completing my degree I suddenly rekindled my love of reading and analysing, and luckily had the chance to carry straight into an MA as I didn’t want it to end! The NCRCL was top of my list.

What did you most enjoy and take from the MA?

It was a real indulgence for me at the time to spend a full year immersing myself in children’s literature and surrounding myself with others who love that world as much as I do. After 3 years of studying general English literature, and having to read things that didn’t really interest me, that year helped me regain my love of reading.

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Alumni News: Disability and Belonging in Arabic Children’s Literature

Susanne Abou Ghaida is a first year PhD student at the University of Glasgow, researching the Arabic Young Adult Novel. She completed her MA in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton in 2014. In that same year, she presented her paper “Disability in Arabic Children’s Literature: Inclusion, Participation and Belonging” at the IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference. Susanne developed her conference paper for publication this year in eSharp, entitled “In the world but not of it: Disability and belonging in Arabic children’s literature on disability”.

By Susanne Abou Ghaida

I first began to look at disability in Arabic children’s literature in 2011. At the time, I was coordinating the Arabic Children’s Literature and Reading Programme, and one of our activities was a prize for books on disability. We asked publishers to nominate entries, and it was an opportunity to discover books on disability from different Arab countries. We noticed a clear will to portray disability positively, but also some confusion, including in our own minds, about how to do so. Our next step was to organise a workshop, the first of its kind in the Arab world, on inclusive and accessible books with the wonderful Alexandra Strick.

What began as a professional interest morphed into academic engagement. When I was doing my MA in children’s literature at Roehampton University, I wrote an assignment on representations of disability in Arabic children’s literature, getting introduced in the process to disability studies which continues to inform my views on this topic. Later, when the NCRCL and IBBY UK announced that the theme for their 2014 conference was “Belonging is… an exploration of the right to be included and the barriers that must be overcome”, I sent in an abstract, entitled “Disability in Arabic Children’s Literature: Inclusion, Participation and Belonging”, that was later accepted.

In keeping with the theme of the conference, I decided to focus on how Arabic children’s literature depicts disability in social space. Disabled people, real and fictional, do not live in a vacuum but within various social units, from friendship circles to families to larger communities. The vast majority of Arabic children’s literature has a clear agenda of promoting inclusion, a vision of disabled people at the heart and not the fringes of their communities. However, if one looks more closely, are there fissures and problematic features within this seemingly unified message? In addition to examining how these books promote inclusion, I pay special attention to a trope that recurs frequently in this literature, the disabled achiever or ‘supercrip.’ I argue that achievement often becomes a requirement for societal acceptance, a ‘tax’ to be paid while the belongingness of non-disabled characters is never in question. As I like to end on a high note, I then closely analyze two wonderful children’s books that make us look at disabled achievement in new ways: Heya, Huma, Hunna She, The Two of Them, They] by Nahla Ghandour (author) and Jana Traboulsi (illustrator) and Moghanni al-MatarThe Rain Singer] by Zakariyya Muhammad (author) and Ahmad Al-Khaldi (illustrator).

I felt that presenting a paper at a conference was an ideal starting point for a chapter or journal article. Getting my abstract accepted was a confidence boost, and I had a clear deadline to have a draft ready. I also found the feedback I got insightful and encouraging. Later when eSharp, a postgraduate journal edited by MA and PhD students at the University of Glasgow where I am currently doing my PhD, launched a call for papers on the theme of ‘Inclusion and Belonging’, I sent in an abstract. Once the abstract was accepted, I had two months to revise the paper I had presented at the NCRCL/IBBY Conference paper. This draft was sent to an anonymous peer reviewer (also a postgraduate student), who fortunately only requested a few clarifications and asked me to rewrite my conclusion which I did while making sure that my paper complied with the journal’s style guide. Then, like a proud parent, I saw my paper let loose into the world.

To read the full version of my paper, “In the world but not of it: Disability and belonging in Arabic children’s literature on disability”, click here; a short version of the paper is available on the IBBY UK website. Also, a French translation of Heya, Huma, Hunna [She, The Two of Them, They] is available from Amazon.

Alumni news: English children’s literature in the Irish Free State

NCRCL alumni Mairéad Mooney, now studying for her PhD at University College Cork, on her academic journey from BA to PhD and her current doctoral research.

Serendipity has always been pivotal in my academic trajectory. I almost bypassed English as a subject choice for my B.A., having found it a singularly joyless learning experience in preparation for my Leaving Certificate examinations. Fortunately, studying literature at university is a far more gratifying undertaking. I later qualified as a librarian by distance education and anticipated graduation with much relief as the course had been quite an exacting two-year commitment.

However, instead of savouring my liberation from study, I chafed under the freedom and within a couple of months had registered for an M.A. in Children’s Literature through the University of Roehampton’s distance education programme. My dissertation topic was inspired by a birthday present given to me when I was ten: Tim Kennemore’s YA short story collection Here Tomorrow, Gone Today, in which I explored the author’s destabilising of chronological age and the adult-privileging witholding of power from the young. With scholarly fervour, I determined to progress to PhD studies and again, my topic was dictated by an incidental book recommendation: Tom McCarthy’s account of the burning of Cork City’s Carnegie Library in December 1920, a casualty of reprisal burnings during the War of Independence.

The newly-formed Irish Free State sought to create and promote a distinctive and separate sense of nationality following independence from Britain. This purging of the colonial legacy included the establishment of a punitive Censorship of Publications Board in 1929, in response to the perceived contaminating influences – morally and culturally – of foreign publications. Four decades of intense scrutiny and censoring of adult literature ensued.

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The Carnegie Library, Anglesea Street, Cork, which was destroyed by fire in December 1920 (The Lawrence Collection, Cork Past and Present).

My initial plan was to document the children’s literature banned during this period but to my astonishment, this proved a fruitless exercise. I then began to examine the accession records of the children’s collection as developed by the city library once it had been re-established. What was striking was the very lack of responsiveness to the ideological project of nation-building that was otherwise very strongly evidenced in the early decades of the post-independence period. In consequence, the almost total dominance of British texts as the staple recreational reading for children in Cork remained. The self-image of imperial Britain, together with its assumptions of cultural superiority, was thus effectively embedded as a norm for the children who were to be the future citizens of the new state.

If, as F.S.L. Lyons asserts, “[i]t was English manners and morals, English influences, English Protestantism, English rules, that they sought to eradicate”, then the library’s circulating of English children’s literature was in conflict with national sentiment. My research investigates how this anomaly was rationalised and the role of the library in constructing conflicting models of identity for the child reader. This will be based on archival research and the close textual scrutiny of a number of pertinent texts from a post-colonial perspective.

Student Profile: Flávia Lins e Silva, The Magical Hammock

NCRCL Distance Learning MA student, Flávia Lins e Silva, writes about her experience visiting the Roehampton Library and explains the inspiration behind many of her children’s books.

THE MAGICAL HAMMOCK

By Flávia Lins e Silva

This summer, I visited the Roehampton campus with my character, Pilar, and was really impressed with the library. Books by J.M. Barrie that I have never heard of before and the amazing collection of Richmal Crompton! Wow! If you are near this library, you are lucky! But I live in Brazil and, as a distance learner on my second year of the Children’s Literature MA, I could only spend a day there.

I was on my way to the Gothenburg Book Fair where Pilar had a meeting with Pippi Longstocking and the Moomin family! Well, in fact, I was going to give a speech about ‘how we get interested in other cultures’. In my Pilar’s Diary series, the main character travels with a magical hammock to Greece, Egypt, Nigeria, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon (illustrated by Joana Penna). On each trip, she hears local stories, local myths, languages, and recipes and the adventure transforms her.

I am a Brazilian Children’s writer from what I would call the 3rd generation. First, we had the generation of Monteiro Lobato, who created Sítio do Picapau Amarelo and the famous Emilia doll. Then came the 2nd generation of writers like Lygia Bojunga and Ana Maria Machado, both winners of the Hans Christian Andersen Prize. Now the third generation, the one I am included in, and that has talents like Luciana Sandroni, Bia Hetzel, Mariana Massarani, and the great Roger Mello who just won the Hans Christian Andersen for Illustration.

When I was young, only a few books were translated in Brazil and we had to import expensive books from Portugal to read stories like The Hobbit. Now, many books that are considered classics in the U.K. are finally arriving in Brazil. (And we can buy e-books, what a revolution!).

I believe we can discover a new culture with many senses. With our ears: hearing a music from Cape Vert, for example. With our mouths: tasting a delicious curry from India… And travelling. But travelling is still unaffordable to many people. So a way to travel is through stories, page by page, book by book.

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Discovering Diamonds: MA student publication in John Meade Falkner Society Journal

NCRCL MA student, Jonathan Brough, writes about his experience in researching and writing his essay/article ‘Prosper the Bonaventure… Storm Coming Now’ for Travels in Children’s Literature. The article will now be published in John Meade Falkner Society Journal (forthcoming July 2015).

Discovering Diamonds

By Jonathan Brough

Appropriately enough for an essay to be submitted as the Travels in Children’s Literature assignment, it all began with a trip to New York City and a side-adventure to the bookstores of Union Square. Barnes and Noble was the source of a copy of the latest Horn Book and, having read an intriguing review (and succumbed to some very clever advertising) for a new teenage title by South African writer Michael Williams, I journeyed through the eighteen miles of books shelved in the nearby Strand Book Store and finally found a copy.

diamond boyEvery so often in life, perhaps once every eight years or so, I’ve discovered a book that just stops my world, everything else pales into insignificance and venturing through the narrative of the novel is the only thing that matters. I’m transported into a world utterly alien to me, but one that I can also completely understand; I’ve never had any of the experiences depicted in the plot, but I can empathise with all the characters nonetheless. The list is short: The Remains of the Day, To Kill a Mockingbird, Waterland, The Fault in Our Stars perhaps, but my find that day has definitely become a member of the short but select group. I started reading it on a bench in Union Square, somehow — I genuinely don’t remember how — I got myself back on the subway to my hotel room and I finished it at about two o’clock the next morning. It was Diamond Boy (2014) by Michael Williams.

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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.

milkweedAbstract

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.

Post MA thoughts

This post was written by Daisy Johnson, one of our MA students who has completed her MA dissertation and coursework. Daisy was part of the Distance Learning programme and writes here about the experience. Our congratulations go to Daisy and all of the other new graduates from our MA in Children’s Literature.

Originally posted on August 21, 2011 by nobodyjones on her blog.

I’ve finished my MA in Children’s Literature. And now, a few days after passing my dissertation to the lady in the post office (MAKE THEM SIGN FOR IT WHEN THEY GET IT PLEASE IT’S VERY PRECIOUS ER YES IT IS JUST PAPER BUT PRECIOUS PAPER), I feel able to look back on the degree that I fell into by accident but loved every second of.

I started the degree in 2007, a few days after it had officially started. I caught it on a random google (I think I was looking for jobs) and said to my parents (with whom I was living at the time) that this looked amazing.

And lord love my dad but he said “Go for it”

Cue a slightly frantic stream of e-mails including a personal statement and a pdf of my precious Buffy undergraduate dissertation being sent off to the admissions tutor with the plea of “Am I too late?” Thankfully I wasn’t. I got accepted (still slightly stunned at the fact that somehow I’d decided to do a Masters) and that acceptance heralded four years of solid distance learning which culminated last week with the receipt of my dissertation.

What have I learnt? I’m a damn sight more confident about a subject I previously worshipped at a distance. I’ve learnt that my opinions have validity and I’ve learnt that I still don’t quite get on with Jungian theory. I’ve learnt that this subject is important and continues to be. I’ve learnt that I can commit to something and follow it through. I’ve learnt that I can write academic essays and they can be good. I’ve learnt to have faith in my abilities as a researcher / academician / writer.

My top five tips for those considering a Masters via distance learning?

  1. You have to enjoy the topic. That’s the only thing which will sustain you through those long hours of self-paced working. If you don’t enjoy what you’re studying or reading, you will sack it off and fall behind before you’ve even noticed.
  2. Set yourself realistic targets. I am a freak with deadlines. I write them in my diary and then give myself a fake deadline of two weeks earlier. That means I can push to get it done and then have that little breather at the end to pick up errors. This came in particularly handy with my dissertation recently when I picked it up from the printers. My title: “The gifted and talented child in British Children’s Literature” My bibliography: several texts from New Zealand …
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your tutor is here to help you and you need to make the most of this. Learn how to communicate with your tutor in the way that best serves you. I never once had a tutorial via phone despite that being freely on offer. I knew that if I did, I’d hang up and promptly forget everything we just talked about. Plus I also get very self-conscious talking about my work in public so I knew that wouldn’t necessarily be the most fruitful activity. I had all my tutorials via e-mail as this allowed me to have feedback and comments in writing and also allowed me to refer back to them.
  4. Use. The. Library. Use it early, use it often and get used to the distance learner service. Ask them questions. Find out the key names. If you can’t afford postal loan rates or if your institution doesn’t do postal loans, make friends with your local public library or find out about the SCONUL scheme. I was very lucky in that I worked at a university whilst studying at another so I was able to utilise the library collection at work (which had a spectacular children’s literature section) to support my degree. And make sure you know how Athens works fairly early on as you will need articles at some point.
  5. Understand how you study and how you study best. Early mornings? Late at night? By yourself? In a cafe? I tended to take the part of the module I was working with at that particular point of time and snatch fifteen minutes at lunchtime to finish off a chapter or make some notes. I study fairly well by myself but occasionally took myself off to the uni library and told myself I couldn’t come home until I’d written 2k worth of words. That in particular worked wonders during my dissertation.

It’s scary. It’s complicated. And you need to change how you think. A Masters is all about you leading the learning (obviously within certain parameters). You decide your essay titles and you decide what to write upon. You decide how to study and you decide to skip a little bit over that section on Freud but focus more upon the section on Iser. You lead your learning. That’s quite a step to take after being spoon fed throughout school.

But god it’s good. I’m so proud I’ve done this and I’m so proud that I’m (hopefully) going to be a MA, BA (hons) soon. Admittedly I’ll have to stop doing a sheep impression on the BA bit but you get the picture.

The thing about this degree is you think you can’t do it. You think that’s not going to work out for you. But then you realise that actually this is one of the best steps you’ve ever done. It’s all so blinking fab.

(And, you get to read the most amazing  books whilst going “For RESEARCH darling RESEARCH!).

What’s not to lose?