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”


Review written by Charlotte Taylor.

On Saturday May 18th 2019, members of the NCRCL gathered at the gleaming Duchesne building at the University of Roehampton for their annual MA Open Morning. After informally gathering over tea, coffee and pastries amidst a colourful display of vintage and contemporary children’s books, the members headed to the lecture theatre where the director of the NCRCL, Lisa Sainsbury, welcomed the group and began the morning’s programme. The group comprised of potential and current MA students as well as some distinguished alumni, and so Lisa explained about the different modules available to those starting the course in September. In addition, Nicki Humble and Alison Waller also spoke about their courses and their respective current research projects: Nicki on the presentation of craft and hobbies in 20th Century Children’s Literature, and Alison on her recent book Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics.

Continue reading “|EVENT REVIEW| NCRCL MA Open Morning”

|EVENT| Being Human Symposium & NCRCL Open Day

We are delighted to share two exciting events at our NCRCL coming up in May 2019. See below for more detail, including how to book your place on each day!

double poster

Being Human in YA Literatures

A symposium hosted by the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, London.

Friday 17th May 2019
9.30am (for a 10am start) – 4.45 pm

What does it mean to be human? Identity categories such as race, religion, gender, ability, size, and age intersect in definitions of the self, shaping how we construct ourselves and are perceived by others. Humanity is also under scrutiny, as other forms of consciousness help define what we are and what we are not. A growing corpus of young adult narratives across a range of genres and media attempt to engage with the plurality of the human experience. The NCRCL’s symposium will consider how ‘being human’ is explored through YA narratives. It will feature a keynote paper from renowned YA literature critic Dr Alison Waller, and include a plenary from Dr Leah Phillips, founder of YALMCA and co-organiser of Adolescent Identities.

Tickets now available via

More information on conference speakers and how to get to the University of Roehampton can be found on the Blog.

NCRCL Open Day

An open day hosted by the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, London.

Saturday 18th May 2019
10am – 1pm
Duchesne Building, Ground Floor, Digby Stuart Campus


10.00 Registration & refreshments

10.20 Introduction from the NCRCL team

10.30 Research Talk from Dr Karen Williams: ‘‘…an entirely new line’: The Creation and Reception of the Juvenile Christmas Annuals’

11.15 MA Poster Presentations (a chance to talk to current students about their work), refreshments, and meeting the NCRCL team

12.00 Q&A with MA/PhD Children’s Literature Alumni: Isabel MacDonald & Karen Williams

12.45 News from the NCRCL and Student Prizes

1.00 Farewell

Refreshments and cakes will be available to everyone.

NB If you would like to look around the library (and you are not a current student) you will need to sign in with photo ID for a temporary day pass, so please do remember to bring ID with you. There is a café in the library if you need more substantial refreshment than cake and biscuits!

The Open Day is free, but please book your place so that we have numbers for catering. Please contact Julia Noyce in conferencing to confirm your booking:

NCRCL Open Morning

Saturday 2 June 2018 | 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Duchesne Building, Ground Floor, Digby Stuart Campus

use cupcakes teapot books

You’re invited to the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature’s summer event! The Open Morning is an opportunity to learn more about our children’s literature programmes, meet the NCRCL team over tea and cakes, celebrate current research, and hear fantastic speakers. Current students and alumni are all warmly invited as is anyone curious about the work of the NCRCL, and anyone interested in applying to the MA/PG Dip in Children’s Literature, or undertaking doctoral research at the NCRCL.

Zoe Jacques
Zoe Jacques

We are delighted that Zoe Jacques, lecturer at Cambridge University and author of Children’s Literature and the Posthuman will be joining us this year to talk about her work on animals in children’s literature

Two MA alumni, Daisy Johnson and Mat Tobin, will also be in conversation with Alison Waller, discussing the exciting projects they have developed following their time at Roehampton.

There will be a chance to visit the Children’s Literature Archives and Collection, and plenty of time to talk to new and old friends. You can also buy second-hand books from a pop-up bookshop!


10.00 | Registration & refreshments

10.20 | Introduction from the NCRCL team

10.30 | Beyond the MA: in conversation with alumni from Children’s Literature

11.15 | MA Poster Presentations (a chance to talk to current students about their work), refreshments, book displays, and meeting the NCRCL team

12.00 | Zoe Jacques: on animals in children’s literature

12.45 | News from the NCRCL and Student Prizes

Refreshments and cakes will be available to everyone. If you would like something a little more substantial, the library café will be open for sandwiches and small snacks.

At the end of the morning you will be able to visit the Children’s Literature Collection in the library with Archives tutor, Dustin Frazier Wood.

There will also be a pop-up bookshop selling second-hand books.

There is no charge for the open day, but you will need to book a place for catering purposes. In order to book please email Madalina Miron at  before 25 May.

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.

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.

Continue reading “Alumni Q&A: Helen Swinyard’s Library Epiphany”

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.

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.


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.

Continue reading “Student Profile: Flávia Lins e Silva, The Magical Hammock”

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.

Continue reading “Discovering Diamonds: MA student publication in John Meade Falkner Society Journal”

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.


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.