Marvellous Imaginations: A Wonderful Day

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.

Marvellous Imaginations: A Wonderful Day

By Suzanne Curley

On Saturday November 5th Roehampton University once again hosted the annual IBBY/NCRCL Conference. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations: Extending thinking through picture books’.

There was, as always, a plethora of fascinating sessions from academics and leading experts in the field of picture book study and creation.

The day began with a lovely array of tea, coffee, pastries and socialising, with an opportunity to browse the display tables, including the IBBY Collection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, which showcased a range of books representing a variety of disabilities both physical and mental, from board books, right up to young adult fiction.


A teeming display table

Continue reading

Marvellous Imaginations: Reflections on the makers and readers of picture books

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.

Marvellous Imaginations: Reflections on the makers and readers of picture books

By Lesley Smith

Martin Salisbury: “The New Picturebook-Makers: Visual Thinker as Author”

Martin Salisbury is Professor of Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University and leads the MA Children’s Book Illustration programme.

Picture books are usually 32 pages, which gives you 12 spreads between the end papers and titles. People think picture books are easy to write but pictures are a language in themselves, not just an extra to the words. Drawing is another way of thinking, a way of reasoning on paper and many people are visual thinkers, working out their ideas through drawing – “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies” (Le Corbusier).

In picture books for children, it the image used to merely reflected the words, but the authorial side of illustration has come to the fore in recent years and there is often more meaning in the pictures than there is in the text (e.g. There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins). Publishers are, however, still a little nervous about wordless books where all the writing is in the pictures.

In France, picture books are more sophisticated. In China, interest in picturebooks is increasing as entertainment is becoming as important as overt didactism. In Germany, the Wimmelbuch (literally teeming book, like Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally?) is on the rise.

Vivienne Smith: “Playing at Reading? Why picturebooks really matter in the teaching of reading”

Vivienne Smith is a lecturer in Primary Education at the University of Strathclyde. She is particularly interested in reading as a creative and social practice.

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

Marvellous Imaginations – Excitement, enthusiasm, and new insights

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.

Marvellous Imaginations – Excitement, enthusiasm, and new insights

By Mark Carter

Somehow I have managed to reach the ripe old age of 37 without ever having attended any type of conference so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of the IBBY/NCRCL MA ‘Marvellous Imaginations’ conference but I went away full of excitement, enthusiasm and new insights into the world of picture books. One of the final speakers of the day, Jane Davis from The Reader, began her talk by saying that she felt like she was home – all the things she had heard or seen through the day were things that were already in her head or in her heart and I wholeheartedly agree.

The day began with a talk by Martin Salisbury, who talked about the notion of ‘Visual Thinkers’ and of drawing and image as a form of thought. He showed us some beautiful examples of work from his students and former students who are blurring the lines between author and illustrator, and picked up on Oliver Jeffers’ coining of the term ‘Picture Book Maker’ as a more appropriate term than either author or illustrator. One aspect of David’s talk that I found absolutely fascinating was his discussion of what he called the ‘culture clash between makers and thinkers’. He suggested that the makers and ways of making are too often thought of as being something separate from the scholarly work that is done purely in words and scholarly articles. He gave some excellent examples of people who are beginning to present their research and theory in visual terms, including a PhD student who had presented their academic paper on Wimmelbücher as a Wimmelbuch! (And in case you don’t know (which I didn’t) Wimmelbuch means ‘teeming book’, a book teeming with visual details)

Vivienne Smith from the University of Strathclyde was next with a brilliantly energetic and inspirational talk on reading and play which lamented the fact that all too often play is seen as something different from reading; particularly in the current school system where the aim of reading education is purely about decoding the words on the page. Unfortunately this fails to teach children how to become sophisticated or meaningful readers or to appreciate the great possibilities of literacy – something that can really only be achieved by playing with words and language. The current mode of teaching reading, Smith argued, is incredibly limiting, particularly for children of deprived backgrounds who may not experience opportunities to explore texts outside the classroom. As Smith rightly observed, playing with language is how we learn to control language and the ability to control language is a source of significant power in society. ‘Good books’, she said  ‘help children understand that they are powerful’. Smith illustrated her points wonderfully by reading to us extracts from a number of books, including Claire and Kes Gray’s Oi Dog! and Colin McNaughton’s Don’t Step on the Crack, contrasting their wonderful playful anarchy with the rather unimaginative phonic decoding text of Julia Donaldson’s school reading scheme book, Top Cat.

Continue reading

NCRCL Scholarships 2017-2018

We are delighted to announce that applications for our annual NCRCL Scholarships 2017-18 are now open.

Department of English and Creative Writing and the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL)

logoa-colourTECHNE AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership 2017

We invite applications from outstanding candidates for our TECHNE AHRC doctoral studentships. Studentships are awarded in departments across the university, but the NCRCL will consider applications for projects related to children’s literature or creative writing for children. Projects drawing on our archival holdings—such as the Richmal Crompton archive—will be especially welcome. For more information and details of how to apply, please see our Graduate School pages:

There will be an Open Evening for interested applicants on Tuesday 8 Nov 2016 from 5.30pm at Grove House on our Froebel campus – please contact Prof. Ian Haywood for details:


Postgraduate research studentships – Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship 2017

In addition to TECHNE studentships, we will award our annual Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship to a candidate of the highest calibre. Applicants for TECHNE awards will be considered automatically for the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship, so please apply for a TECHNE studentship in the first instance. Candidates who do not secure TECHNE funding will be eligible to compete for the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship—you do not need to apply separately (please note that although TECHNE funding can be secured by students who have already started their doctoral studies, the Jacqueline Wilson Scholarship is only open to new applicants).

This studentship will be awarded to an emerging scholar working in the field of children’s literature or creative writing for children. The Jacqueline Wilson Scholar will be based in the award-winning NCRCL with access to the Children’s Literature Collection and archives, and will join a lively community of researchers, writers and students. This fully funded scholarship will cover home/EU fees of £4,121 for Home/EU students and maintenance of £16,296 p.a. for 3 years full-time subject to satisfactory progress. (NB – these figures are correct for 2016-17 and are yet to be confirmed for 2017-18).

The scholarship is open to new students only and preference may be given to proposals that build on the research interests of the NCRCL. These include, but are not limited to: young adult fiction; philosophy; historical fiction; landscape; memory; reading. Applicants are encouraged to identify potential supervisors as part of their application.


 The Department of English and Creative Writing with over 600 students and 33 academic staff, has a growing international reputation for its research and teaching excellence. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), 80% of all our research publications were ranked as “world leading” or “internationally excellent” for their impact. The successful candidate will become part of an active and growing community of postgraduate scholars in a vibrant research culture, established external collaborations with London institutions and a very good track record of student success.

The Department is looking for candidates of the highest quality, capable of submitting a Ph.D. thesis within 3 years. Applicants should have completed an MA degree in a relevant subject, such as children’s literature, reading or memory, prior to the start of the studentship. Applicants should also be able to demonstrate strong research capabilities and fluency in spoken and written English that meets the university’s entrance criteria for doctoral study.

The University of Roehampton is set on a beautiful, traditional campus in south-west London. The University provides its students with exceptional facilities, high quality teaching and a close-knit, collegiate experience. It has a diverse student body and a cosmopolitan outlook, with students from over 130 countries.

Deadline for applications: see information via TECHNE link above

For further information or for informal discussion please contact Dr. Lisa Sainsbury:

Please visit to find out more about postgraduate research at Roehampton. For all non-academic queries relating to the studentships, please contact Graduate School Admissions on 020 8392 3848, email


Research Talk: Transitional Identities: Crossing the Threshold in Young Adult Genre Fiction

English and Creative Writing Research Talk

‘Transitional Identities: Crossing the Threshold in Young Adult Genre Fiction’

Human Sadri, University of Gothenburg

Wednesday 19th October, 1pm

Fincham 001, Digby Stuart, University of Roehampton

Do the protagonists of Young Adult genre narratives correspond to the status of monomythical hero, and if so to what extent? 

Maria Nikolajeva has noted that fiction written specifically for a younger audience tends to correspond to the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, as defined by the mythologist Joseph Campbell. This pattern describes the trajectory of the protagonist of any given narrative from that which they are now towards the person they are ultimately meant to become. Nikolajeva argues that “[t]he hero in Campbell’s model is a young person going through a rite of passage. In this respect, the pattern of all children’s literature is similar to the monomyth, and all characters in children’s fiction are a further development of the mythic hero.”1 She suggests that this is doubly true of fantasy-based Young Adult (YA) and children’s literature, wherein the crossing of the threshold tends to be represented by the literal transportation of the protagonist to some kind of alternate world or reality.2 In contrast to the literalism of this approach, in which Campbell’s narrative model is taken in its entirety as the basis for YA narrative structure, this paper sets out to suggest that these fantastic realist narratives – while conforming to monomythical structures and tropes – actually represent only the fulfilment of the first chapter of Campbell’s pattern. By the conclusion of their narrative trajectory the protagonists have achieved only the crossing of the threshold into burgeoning maturity or adulthood, as opposed to enlightenment or a boon for mankind. Throughout their respective narratives, these nascent heroes develop transitional identities, and the boon they achieve is to cross the threshold towards eventually becoming their true selves. This analysis is supported through a dual methodology. Firstly, through close readings of three key YA genre texts – Coraline by Neil Gaiman, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond. These have been chosen not only for the contrasting ways in which they approach folkloric and mythological tropes and storytelling patterns, but also because of the differing ages of the novels’ protagonists; in this way I also explore the different implications of the transitions in question on young people at different stages of their emotional development. Secondly, the stages of the Hero’s Journey itself, and the movement of the adult hero towards the boon of enlightenment are contrasted with that of the young hero towards the goal of beginning his or her journey anew, and in doing this the monomyth is shown to be open-ended in nature: enlightenment does not need to be a boon that is only granted once.

1 Nikolajeva, Maria. “The Changing Aesthetics of Character in Children’s Fiction.” Style Volume 35, No.3, 2001. (p431.) 2 Ibid.


Bookings Open! IBBY/NCRCL Conference ‘Marvellous Imaginations’ 2016

23rd Annual NCRCL MA/IBBY UK Conference 

Saturday 5th November 2016, 9:00-17:00

Froebel College, University of Roehampton 

Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picture books

This year’s conference explores the ways in which picture books contribute to the development of the child (or / and indeed the adult) through critical, imaginative, empathetic, creative or other responses.  We will look at the international world of picture books; at trends and developments in creating picture books and publishing; at research on children’s interaction with picture books; and at some of the wide range of programmes and projects that use picture books as a starting point for their work.

We will hear from eminent illustrators, including Laura Carlin who will be presented with her medal for winning Biennale of Illustration, Bratislava, one of the oldest international honours for children’s book illustrators, and about the new Klaus Flugge Prize for the most exciting newcomer to picture book illustration.

Find out more details from the programme on the IBBY UK website

Book tickets online at the Roehampton e-store now!