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 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.

Time & History in Children’s Literature

We asked Clare Walters, one of our MA in Children’s Literature alumna, to write about her experience auditing the Time and History module taught by Dr Lisa Sainsbury in Spring 2015.

All Things Must Pass

A reflection on the Time and History module for the Children’s Literature MA

Audited and reviewed by Clare Walters

The module began with a discussion of what might be meant by ‘historical fiction’. We loosely defined it as books that, at the time they were published, engaged with the past, often mixing in real historical characters with fictional ones. We noted that the nineteenth century texts – The Children of the New Forest and Kidnapped – reflected a fairly stable view of British history, but acknowledged that these books are now viewed in a different light. They are ‘doubly’ historical in that, being read years after first publication, they can reveal more about the time they were written than the period they describe. This was true even of the mid-twentieth century novel The Eagle of the Ninth.

A number of questions were posed of each text. Could a particular ideological framework could be identified, or a didactic purpose revealed? Were authenticity and accuracy of primary importance? And who was the implied reader? We applied these questions to fictional histories, too – those first-person novels where the narrative framework relies on an individual’s (potentially unreliable) memory, such as The Stonebook Quartet, Issac Campion and Code Name Verity. We discussed the inclusion of historical objects in fiction and asked whether these could provide continuity to the present; and we debated the role of images in the historical picturebook Rose Blanche.

Around Week Five the focus changed to the time-slip novels Charlotte Sometimes, A Stitch in Time and Midwinterblood, where the action shifts between various time frames. In these books less emphasis is placed on the historical and more on the personal. The text becomes an emotional dialogue between past and present, and there is often interplay between a linear structure of time (chronos), and a more mythical sense of time, in which significant moments repeat themselves (kairos).

Continue reading

Candy Gourlay: Diversity is not about Difference…

The 21st annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 8 November 2014 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Belonging is… an exploration of the right to be included and the barriers that must be overcome’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panelists and parallel sessions.


Candy Gourlay: Diversity is not about Difference…

By Clare Elsom

The afternoon of the IBBY/NCRCL conference continued with the fantastic Candy Gourlay, author of Tall Story (2011) and Shine (2013). Gourlay vividly described her childhood in the Philippines and her deep love of books that began at a young age. However, in the stories that she was delving into, Gourlay revealed that she saw nothing that resembled her own childhood – no brown skin tones, no Filipino culture, “no coconut trees” which eventually led her to the heart-breaking belief that “Filipinos are not allowed to be in books.”

Candy Gourlay about age 6. Candy used this photograph during her presentation to illustrate her 'AHA!' moment that she wanted to be an author.

Candy Gourlay, about age 6. She used this photo during her talk to illustrate her ‘AHA!’ moment that she wanted to be an author. Photo credit.

One of the phrases that stood out from Gourlay’s talk, and echoed repeatedly throughout the day, is the need for “different ordinary worlds” in books. Any child needs to see their own ordinary world: their race, their gender, their hobbies, their disability, their emotional state, their family set-up…. and this needs to happen by natural inclusion, not with a gimmick or a specialist tale. (Gourlay mentioned that the specific pitfall for a story about the Philippines is to be disaster related.) All children need to be included in their literature, it is essential for them to see their own life reflected in the narratives that they read. In her talk, Gourlay referenced the popular Twitter campaign, #weneeddiversebooks, a movement that has kicked off many conversations in the US about the need for more diverse books that would reflect those “different ordinary worlds”.


As a writer, Gourlay had her initial novel idea rejected, largely due to the central characters (white, male, British) being so different to herself. Gourlay suggested that the feelings of exclusion she experienced from books as a child had followed her and led her to ignore who she was, even in her own writing. She became determined to write not only “what you know”, but to write “who you are”. This process led to the publishing of her award-winning, debut novel, Tall Story (2011), starring Filipino hero Bernardo. Through her presentation and her novels, Gourlay leads by example in workings for more diversity in children’s literature and reinforcing her own mantra: Diversity is not about Difference… It’s about Inclusion.

ncrcllogoClare Elsom is an alumni of Roehampton, having graduated from the Children’s Literature MA in 2012. Previously she studied a BA in Illustration at Falmouth University and has worked as a children’s book illustrator since 2007. Her most recent projects include the picture book The Last Chocolate Chip Cookie with author Jamie Rix, and the young fiction series Maisie Mae published by Little Brown Books.

Announcing our Open Day!


NCRCL Open Day   

Saturday 7th June 2014 |10.00 am to 1.00 pm


Duchesne Building | Ground Floor | Digby Stuart Campus


The NCRCL invites you to an exciting summer event for MA/PG Dip and PhD students past, present and future.

 Current students and alumni are all welcome as is anyone interested in applying to the MA/PG Dip in Children’s Literature, or undertaking doctoral research at the NCRCL.


  • Tea, Coffee and Conversation – meeting the NCRCL team.

  • Adèle Geras discusses her work as the best-selling author of over ninety books for children and young adults, including dark retellings of fairy-tales in the Happy Ever After trilogy, stories woven from the Trojan War in Troy and Ithaka, and historical fiction in Lizzie’s Wish and Cecily’s Portrait.

  • Presentations from NCRCL Staff about research and teaching interests.

  • Book launches – recent publications from the NCRCL team.

  • Research Talk by Beth Rodgers (Aberystwyth University) on ‘Competing girlhoods: constructing the ‘girls of today’ in late Victorian girls’ periodicals’.

There is no charge for the open day, but you will need to book a place for catering purposes.

In order to book please contact Julia Noyce


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.