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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Children's Literature, Children's Lives

Organised by Lucie Glasheen (QMUL) and Professor Kiera Vaclavik (QMUL)

Children's Literature Children's Lives is part of the Centre for Childhood Cultures (CCC). If you're interested in joining the cluster mailing list, please get in touch at

You can read our blog here.

Previous Organisers: Dr Aneesh Barai (University of Cambridge), Dr Céline Clavel (University of Oxford) and Dr Nozomi Uematsu (University of Sussex).

Thursday 27th May, 5:30 - 7pm

Formy Books: The Creation of an Independent, Black-Owned Children’s Book Publisher

Child and woman reading picture book together in a chair

In their talk, Ebony and Leighan will discuss the motivations behind the formation of Formy Books, a family-run independent children’s book publisher focusing on ‘own voices’ stories. They will discuss the failings of the traditional publishing industry, both in terms of access for Black publishers and creatives, and the representation of Black characters; and will address the intervention that Formy Books is making. Ebony and Leighan will also offer a rundown of the four upcoming children’s books scheduled for release this year, and offer some insight into some of the projects that Formy Books hopes to run in the future.

Ebony Lyon is founder and head of marketing at Formy Books. As a mother of three, and with a background in sales, she is the brains behind Formy Books.

Leighan Renaud is a lecturer in English at the University of Bristol, and will be publishing her first children’s book with Formy Books this year.


Thursday 28th October 5:00-6:30pm

Alison Waller

Young People and YA Fiction in the Time of Covid-19

Hybrid (booking required): GC203, Graduate Centre, Queen Mary University of London and online.line drawing of chairs in circle with text 'Reading 4 normal'Image Credit: anne malewski

Researchers have argued that reading has provided 'refuge' for young people during the Covid-19 pandemic (Clark & Picton 2020), but there are still concerns about adolescent mental health following this period of disruption to 'normal' life. There are signs that the crisis is in retreat in the UK, but the future is uncertain. In this talk, I will discuss my British Academy-funded 'Reading for Normal' project, which offered enthusiastic teen readers a temporary community for talking about their own lives in relation to YA fiction during a period of lockdown. I will argue that reading contemporary British realist novels offered these young people recognisable versions of their own pre-pandemic worlds, and that exploring moments of 'ordinariness' together benefited them in various ways. I will also interrogate the notion of 'normal' and suggest ways that reading YA fiction might help enthusiastic teen readers do the same.

Dr Alison Waller is a Reader in Children's Literature, English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton. Her latest monograph, Rereading Childhood Books: a Poetics (Bloomsbury 2019), examined how adults negotiate relationships with books from their pasts and she is now collaborating with schools and young people to create digital YA reading communities for her Covid-19 related project, 'Reading for Normal'.

Professor Corinne Fowler, with a pupil from the 'Colonial Countryside' project, A Children's History of Country Houses and Empire

Tuesday 3rd November 2020, 5:30 - 7pm

Prof Corinne Fowlere with pupils gathered around a table in a project activity

Colonial Countryside is a child-led history and writing project which seeks to make country houses' colonial links widely known.

In this talk, Professor Corinne Fowler discusses children's encounters with history and their reshaping of it with a Colonial Countryside pupil from Birmingham.

Together they discuss what this history is, why it matters and what impact it had on the children who participated.


Professor Corinne Fowler lectures in the School of Arts at the University of Leicester and is author of Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England's Colonial Countryside (Peepal Tree Press, November 2020).


XazQ is a secondary school pupil in South Birmingham. She has researched India's colonial history and spoke about her experience of the Colonial Countryside project at the British Museum annual conference in 2019.


Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Human-Avian Entanglements: Exploring Attentiveness to Birds in Ecopoetry by Children

Tuesday 16th June 5:30 – 8pm.

Online, sign up via Eventbrite:

Photo by Piotr Tryhubczak showing a swan with cygnets

[image: Photo by Piotr Tryhubczak showing a swan with cygnets]

Posthumanism and new materialist perspectives allow for approaching texts authored by children as expressions of one of many creative agencies constituting children’s literature—an assemblage of matter, discourse, forces, intensities, energies, power relationships, the human, and the nonhuman. Developing this thought, Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak examines sample poems about birds from the corpus of ecopoetry written since 2012 by pupils attending John Clare Primary school in Helpston, UK. Currently, circa 600 poems are stored in folders available at the school’s reception, but they are not publicized or distributed in any way. Read in light of multispecies studies, these poems encourage the arts of noticing and attentiveness (van Dooren et al. 2016) to birds’ lives as constituting the dynamic environments we share with multiple non-human others. Justyna concludes her presentation by reflecting critically at her discussion of the children’s texts as a preliminary step towards a more complex study of the poems, grounded in new materialism, relational ontologies, and post-qualitative methodologies.

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak is Associate Professor of Literature and Director of the Centre for Young People’s Literature and Culture at the Institute of English Studies, University of Wroclaw, Poland. She is the author of Yes to Solidarity, No to Oppression: Radical Fantasy Fiction and Its Young Readers (2016). She is a Kosciuszko, Fulbright and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow. Since 2017 she has served as a member of the executive board of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature. She is currently working as a visiting researcher at Anglia Ruskin University on Ecopoetic Entanglements, a project funded by Bekker Programme of the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA).

Torsten Schmiedeknecht: "Building Worlds - Architecture and Postwar Picture Books in the UK".
(Tuesday 7th May 2019, 4 – 5:30 pm, Scape Room 0.11, Queen Mary University of London)

In the UK our image of home is often associated with Victorian or Georgian ideals. Many suburban new build homes still mirror the pitched roofs and familiar windows of these times, and ‘period features’ are often a much sought-after aspect of the most urban of dwellings. Modern architectural movements, however, don’t seem to enjoy the same synergies with ‘homeliness’. This presentation, based on an exhibition currently running at RIBA North in Liverpool, looks at how modern architecture has been portrayed in children’s picture books since 1945, and explores the potential influence of illustrations and portrayals of home, the workplace and the public realm. As future architects, clients and users of buildings, what kind of architectural worlds and ideals are children exposed to in their formative years? What impact might this have on the architecture of the future?

Dr Torsten Schmiedeknecht teaches design and history & theory at the School of Architecture, University of Liverpool. His research interests include the representation of architecture in print media; rationalism in architecture; and architectural competitions. He is the co-editor of Modernism and the Professional Architecture Journal; The Rationalist Reader; Rationalist Traces; An Architect’s Guide to Fame; and Fame and Architecture. He is currently working on an RIBA funded project about the representation of (modern) architecture in UK picture books for children. 

This event was jointly hosted by Queen Mary's City Centre research centre.


Session 28: Arianna Bassetti: "Arendt’s Children: Three Comics Representations"
(Thu 28th February 2019, 5:30 - 7pm, City Centre Seminar Room, Bancroft 2.07)

Narratives about unaccompanied migrant children have an important role to play both in exposing the plight of these young people and in educating readers within a human-rights culture. While everyone seems to agree that children – and especially lone children – should be protected, the complexities of enforcing human rights in the case of young people who are not only bare of status but also in a weak position to claim it, without adult sponsorship, are frequently glossed over. Human-rights scholar Jacqueline Bhabha coined the phrase ‘Arendt’s children’ in order to refer to subjects caught in this ‘ambiguous position between inalienable and unenforceable rights’ (2009: 412), either because they lack legal identity or because they are unable to prove it. In this talk, I will use this expression to include Etenesh, the Ethiopian teenage girl whose testimony provided the material for Paolo Castaldi’s graphic narrative Etenesh, l’odissea di una migrante [Etenesh, A Migrant’s Odyssey] (2011); Ebo, the preadolescent boy from West Africa whose journey to the UK is narrated in the fictional young-readers comic book Illegal: One Boy’s Epic Journey of Hope and Survival (2017); and the three runaway adolescents that Gipi places in an imaginary war-torn contemporary Italy in his speculative graphic novel Appunti per una storia di guerra [Notes for a War Story] (2004). Focusing on how a documentary ‘effect’ is produced in the spatial language of comics, I will analyse the ideological implications of these texts located at the crossroad of notions of minority and otherness.

Bhabha, Jacqueline, 2009. ‘Arendt’s Children: Do Today’s Migrant Children Have a Right to Have Rights?’, Human Rights Quarterly, 31 (2): 410 – 51.

Arianna Bassetti is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London. Her thesis compares a selection of contemporary comics in English, Italian, French and Spanish that explore traumatic events in the material, socio-economic and narrative dimension of the ‘graphic novel’.

Session 27: Sophie Heywood: "The Power of Children's Imaginations: The Children's '68"
(Thu 22.11. 2018, Bancroft 2.07)

“Why am I talking to you about May ’68?”, asked the children’s publisher Arthur Hubschmid, “well, it changed things for us radically, that’s why”. The years around May ’68 are widely understood to have marked an important moment for children’s literature, particularly picturebooks, in France. This paper argues that the visual transformation, and change in status of picturebooks, were also the product of a wider, political debate around children’s books, and that we should take seriously the role of ’68 in this narrative. This period can also tell us a lot more about the history of the child in the cultural rebellions of the sixties, and how children and their culture became caught up in postwar social and cultural ideals and their counter cultural response.

Sophie Heywood is Associate Professor in French at the University of Reading (UK). She is a specialist in the history of children’s literature, publishing and archives policy in modern France. She has published widely on these topics in French and English. She was a STUDIUM / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow 2016-17, based at the University of Tours, Laboratoire InTRu, where she led the research project “The Children’s ‘68”:

Session 26: Brian Sibley, "You Might Make a Joke On That!": Alice in Cartoonland
(Thu 11.10. 2018, Bancroft 1.02.6)

Writer, broadcaster and President of the Lewis Carroll Society, Brian Sibley explores the many adventures of Lewis Carroll’s heroine among cartoonists and caricaturists from the work of Sir John Tenniel (parodying his own illustrations for the Alice books) to the work of such contemporaries as Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Steve Bell and Martin Rowson.

Brian Sibley is an award-winning dramatist of works by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, T. H. White, Mervyn Peake and Ray Bradbury. His books include biographies of Rev. W. Awdry and Peter Jackson; histories of the Walt Disney Studio, Aardman Animation and Guinness advertising and books on the making of the Harry Potter films, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. He is currently President of The Lewis Carroll Society.

Session 25: Child Researchers in Children’s Literature
(Tues 12.06.2018, Museum of Childhood)

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak talked about her experiences working with child researchers on utopian literature as part of her Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship in Cambridgeshire.

Session 24: Children’s Literature and Childhood in Argentina's Billiken Magazine
(Mon 22.01.2018, City Centre Seminar Room, Bancroft 2.07)

Lauren Rea discussed her AHRC Leadership Fellowship work on the literature in the longest running children’s weekly magazine. We also looked at some of the challenges facing Billiken as its centenary approaches.

Session 23: Exhibiting children’s literature 
(31.10.2017, City Centre Seminar Room, Bancroft 2.07)

Gillian Rennie talked about putting together an exhibition on Michael Morpurgo and her work as Senior Curator at Seven Stories. She discussed working with children on curating and making objects for this exhibition.

Session 22: Laura White, "Lewis Carroll and Darwin." 
(30.05.2017, Room 217 Arts Two)

As has long been understood by scholars, Carroll's Alice books revel in complex jokes about Darwinian theory. But what did Carroll really make of Darwin's challenge to older thinking about nature, and what then are the satiric objects of his nonsensical jokes, such as the evolutionarily-challenged Mock Turtle? This presentation will examine the evidence concerning Carroll's views of Darwin and explore the nature of his jokes on Darwinian ideas.

Laura White is John E. Weaver Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the author of several books on Jane Austen, her last being Jane Austen's Anglicanism (Ashgate, 2011). She has also published widely on interdisciplinary topics in nineteenth-century British culture and literature, and has recently inaugurated a data-mining site on Austen's diction, Austen Said ( Her most recent book, The Alice Books and the Contested Ground of the Natural World, is forthcoming from Routledge this spring.

Session 21: Lucie Glasheen and Kali Myers, "The Figurative Child as Political Agent" 
(7th March 2017 City Centre Seminar Room 2.07, Francis Bancroft Building, 5:30 – 7:00pm)

In each of these papers the figurative child is located as an index and inciter of anxieties around class, gender, and economic and social identity. Examining representations of the figurative child through discourses of art, play, fashion, and ephemera, these papers provide insight into the ambiguous and ambivalent status of the child as political agent.

Lucie Glasheen, "'down wiv high rents and low landlords!': Childhood, Politics and Housing in 1930s comics". 
In August 1939 the children's cartoon Casey Court showed child protagonists engaged in a collective rent strike. This issue replicated the important and symbolic role children had had in a series of rent strikes in East London in the preceding seven months. In this talk I will explore how children's play and the politics of housing coalesced in the 1930s British comics, culminating in the portrayal of children as political actors in struggles for a better way of life.

Lucie Glasheen is a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London. Her research looks at representations of children's urban play in the 1930s in relation to debates about slum clearance and regeneration in East London.

Kali Myers, "Alice As a Useful Category of Analysis". 
Since her first fall through the rabbit hole in 1865, Lewis Carroll's inquisitive young protagonist Alice has become – in the words of art historian Lori Waxman – part of 'our ideas of what a girl is and what a girl can be.' Alice, as British cultural icon, is an important figure in the creation of the social, cultural, and historical category of 'girlhood', and her varied and various manifestations throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries make explicit the often un-said and largely unnoticed assumptions and ideas that contribute to what a girl is or can be. Having been translated, transformed, and appropriated by innumerable other cultural and linguistic traditions, Alice – as this paper's comparative study demonstrates – provides a useful framework of analysis for identifying and understanding culturally- and historically-located assumptions of girlhood. Examining twentieth-century manifestations of Alice in Australian art, Japanese fashion, and US film and television, this paper considers what Alice as category of analysis reveals about girls, girlhood, and girl culture in these respective places.

Kali Myers is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her project explores the intersection between contemporary photography, mythologies of the girl, and the aesthetic of cute. She is based at King's College London for the 2016/2017 academic year.

Session 20: Child dunces in Victorian literature and culture 
(29.11.16, GO Jones Lecture Theatre)

Hannah Field 'Dunced'

Hannah Field discussed the nineteenth-century type of the dunce or dull child. She used dunces to explore Victorian childhood, failure, individual talent, and educability, but also aesthetic category or tone, and the child type. Key texts included Burnett's Little Princess across its multiple iterations, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Smiles' Self Help, the genre paintings of Thomas Webster, and a dunce automaton made by Vichy.

Session 19: Cross-Disciplinary Children's Research 
(Tue 26.04.16, Francis Bancroft, 3.20)

Jean Webb, 'Uncrossing the Wires: Approaches to Cross-disciplinary Research. Two Case Studies'

Professor Webb talked about collaborative projects she has done and the importance of thinking through how interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary work can operate in a multidisciplinary field like children's literature.

Session 18: Science Picturebooks for Children 
(Mon 07.03.16, Francis Bancroft, 1.09)

Francis Balkwill, 'Enjoy Your Cells'

Professor Balkwill talked about her experience of writing science picturebooks for children and how it led her to set up a science education centre for children, the Centre of the Cell at Queen Mary.

Session 17: Digital Dahl 
(Wed 02.12.15, Francis Bancroft, 1.02.6)

Jack O'Connell and Jon Meggitt outlined the development of the Dahl-inspired app which launched this summer as part of a marketing strategy for Persil. This was a fantastic opportunity to understand from the creators the processes of adapting a British classic to the scrollable screen.

Session 16: Dr Barnardo and Child Migration 
(Fri 29.05.15, Arts One, 1.31)

Alastair Owens and Tim Brown, 'Making Imperial Citizens? Dr Thomas Barnardo and the Preparation of Children for Migration in East London, 1882-1905'

Alastair and Tim focused on the early child migration schemes of the East End philanthropist Dr Thomas Barnardo. Through examination of institutional discourse and practice, they explored the ways that poor girls and boys from East London were 'morally' and physically prepared for a new life in Canada. While often framed in relation to their imperial ambitious, they argued that in the case of Barnardo, these early child migration schemes primarily need to be understood as a humanitarian response to the social and environmental problems of 'Outcast London'.

Session 15: London-based Children's Literature 
(Wed 29.04.15, Arts One, 1.36)

Jenny Bavidge, "'A Peep into London': Children's Guidebooks to London from the Nineteenth Century to the Present Day"

Jenny discussed some early examples of guides to London produced for a juvenile audience in the form of chapbooks and, later, picture books. How are children introduced to the city and how are its wonder and horrors narrated by early and contemporary guidebooks?

Aneesh Barai, "Urban Children's Literature in the Age of Modernism: T. S. Eliot's Practical Cats"

Aneesh explored 1930s representations of London in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by the modernist author T. S. Eliot. As even now people tend to believe that children are better suited to "natural", open spaces rather than urban lives, how did a writer in this time of mass urbanisation come to think of children's space in the city?

Session 14: Political Comics under Franco's Regime 
(Tue 31.03.15, Arts One, 1.28)

Rhiannon McGlade: 'Dissenting Voices: Children's Comics as a Critical Outlet under Franco'

Rhiannon discussed the boom in satirical and politically critical comic production under Franco's dictatorship, and the later censorship of this work from the 1950s. She highlighted the importance of comics as a resource for cultural analysis, while offering a platform for the Spanish tradition. This was a joint event with the Visual Cultures cluster.

Session 13: Architecture for Children 
(Fri 27.03.15, 4pm, Arts One 1.36)

Professor Kim Reynolds talked about architectural texts for children in the early twentieth century and ideas of town planning, and Amandine Alessandra presented her picturebook and urban project The Big Letter Hunt, on walking the city and seeing urban architecture afresh. This was a joint event with The City Centre at Queen Mary.

Session 12: Publishing Children's Poetry 
(Wed 25.02.15, 4.30pm, Francis Bancroft 3.40)

Jenny Swann at Candlestick Press and Jill Coleman, former head of Little Tiger Press, came to discuss publishing children's poetry, and the future of children's publishing in a digital age. This was a joint event with Queen Mary's Centre for Poetry.

Session 11: Discover Storytelling Centre 
(Wed 28.01.15, 4.30pm, Francis Bancroft 3.40)

Sally Goldsworthy, joint chief executive, and Kathy Everett, head of development for Discover children's museum, came to talk about installing museum exhibitions, and in particular their current interactive Oliver Jeffers exhibition.This was a joint event with the Visual Cultures cluster.

Session 10: Alice and Dress 
(Fri 21.11.14, 7pm, The Art Workers' Guild, Queen Square, London)

For our tenth event,  Emma Mawston talked at the Lewis Carroll Society about creating the Alice-inspired fabric collection 'Pictures and Conversations' for Liberty, and Kiera Vaclavik discussed her current project, 'Rethinking Alice Through Dress', which explores the different ways that Alice was dressed in printed texts and beyond in the nineteenth century, as well as the process of dressing as Alice.

Session 9: Ballet Black 
(Wed 14.05.14, 4.30pm, Arts 2 Film and Drama Studio)

Ballet Black celebrates the talents of black and Asian dancers from around the world, and is an Associate Company of the Royal Opera House. For this event, they performed an extract from their recent work War Letters, and discussed the challenges and pleasures of translating the written word into dance. They talked about their past and future projects, including their upcoming adaptation of the picturebook Dogs Don't Do Ballet. This was a joint event with Visual Cultures.

Session 8: The Ragged School Museum 
(Fri 04.04.14, 5pm, Ragged School Museum)

Erica Davies, Oliver Gibson, 'In Search of Fresh Air: Health, Environment and Child Welfare in Late Victorian Britain'

This was our second event in collaboration with a local museum. Erica Davies is the Director of the Ragged School Museum, and Oliver Gibson is a PhD researcher at Queen Mary working on the museum and Victorian childhood. They discussed the work of the museum and how institutions like Barnardo's charity responded to late Victorian ideas about environmental influences on health and well-being, especially the role afforded to green space or 'nature' in promoting physical and moral health, as discovered in Oliver's research into the museum's archive.

Session 7: Making Picture Books 
(Tue 11.02.14, 4.15pm, Arts One G.19)

Lara Hancock and Nia Roberts

In this session, Lara Hancock and Nia Roberts, picture book editors at international publisher Simon & Schuster, gave a talk on their work. They discussed how they collaborate with writers and illustrators to bring text and image together. S&S publishes the Olivia series, Aliens Love UnderpantsClick Clack Moo, and the wonderful picture books of Anna Kemp (Queen Mary). This was a joint event with Queen Mary's Visual Cultures Forum.

Session 6: The Museum of Childhood: Relationships between Toys and Children's Literature 
(Wed 13.11.13, 4pm, Museum of Childhood)

Carolyn Bloore, Sally Spode and Madeleine Hoare

This was a behind-the-scenes exploration of the relationship between toys and children's literature at the Museum of Childhood, led by curators Carolyn Bloore, Sally Spode and Madeleine Hoare. This event involved short presentations on the museum's history, toys and children's literature by the curators, looking at and discussing the toys in the museum, and three short talks on toys in the research of Aneesh Barai, Mary Clare Martin (University of Greenwich) and Nancy Wei-Ning Chen (UCL).

Session 5: Room on the Broom and Its Film Adaptation 
(Thur 26.09.13, 6pm, Arts One: 2.07)

In the fifth session, we read Julia Donaldson's Room on the Broom in small groups, and all discussed how we might adapt it to film. We then watched the new film adaptation of the picturebook and reflected on how its approaches compared to our own ideas. This was a joint session with the Visual Cultures research cluster at Queen Mary.

Session 4: Girlhood and Teen Films 
(Tue 13.07.13, 6pm, Arts One: 2.26)

Catherine Driscoll, 'Visible Plasticity, Plastic Visibility: The Sexualisation of Girlhood'

For the fourth session, Professor Catherine Driscoll talked about debates on the sexualisation of girlhood in films for teenagers. Professor Driscoll historicised the debate by drawing on 19th-century photography, 1920s flapper girl films, and contemporary teen movies, such as American PieMean Girls and Easy A. 

Session 3: The Adapter and the Adapted 
(Mon 11.3.13, 5.30pm, Laws: 3.06)

Anna Kemp, David Duffy and Andrea Sadler, Dogs Don't Do Ballet

The third session was a roundtable discussion that brought together children's writer Anna Kemp with David Duffy and Andrea Sadler who have recently staged Anna's Dogs Don't Do Ballet for the Little Angel Theatre. Their puppet theatre adaptation has been a huge success with children around the country.

Session 2: The Adapter 
(Wed 13.2.12, 12.10am and 2pm, Barbican)

Paul Rissman, The Chimpanzees of Happytown

The second session focused on the work of composer Paul Rissman and took place at London's Barbican. Our group attended a London Symphony Orchestra performance for Key Stage 1 children of Paul's composition The Chimpanzees of Happytown. The picture book was projected above the orchestra while Paul narrated the story to an audience of c. 1000 children. The performance was followed by a conversation with Paul exploring his work.

Session 1: Multimedia Adaptations: The Issues 
(Mon 4.2.13, 5.30pm, Laws: 3.06)

Aneesh Barai, '"The mystical divinity of unashamed felinity / Round the cathedral rang Vivat!": The Musical of TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats'

PhD student Aneesh Barai led the first session which explored some of the key issues involved in the adaptation process, drawing on his own research on the transformation of Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats into a musical in the UK and France.

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