CLUGG: A snapshot of what happens in the group’s weekly meetings

The Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group (CLUGG) holds weekly 2-hour meetings where members pick a relevant theme to discuss together, allowing us as researchers to broaden our academic interests, learn from one other and engage more widely with the Children’s Literature academic community. By posting about our previous sessions, we hope to give you an idea of some of the research interests of CLUGG members, as well as the work that they are currently undertaking.

In this blog post, MLitt Student Enya-Marie Clay looks back on the first few CLUGG sessions of Semester 2. Further posts about CLUGG sessions will feature on the blog in the future, as and when members can contribute, so please bookmark the blog if you’re interested in future updates relevant to all things Children’s Literature at Newcastle University.

 

Session 1: 30th January 2019

In this session we discussed extracts from Peter Hollindale’s Signs of Childness in Children’s Literature (1997), specifically chapters 1 and 5: ‘The Uniqueness of Children’s Literature’ and ‘Signs of Childness: A Summary and Critical Approach’.

This prompted discussions surrounding key critical questions of the field such as:

  • What is a child?
  • What is children’s literature?
  • What is the relationship between the intended reader and the producers of children’s literature?

We also discussed how Hollindale’s work sits within the broader landscape of scholarship by thinking about how it compares with the prominence of Jaqueline Rose’s work. This led to comparisons with non-British theorists within children’s literature, such as Perry Nodelman, and an exploration of how different social and geographical contexts affect the prominence of different works. In doing this, we also discussed which texts stand out as seminal reading and how these texts connect with the development of children’s literature as a discipline.

We ended the session by planning Semester 2 CLUGG meetings with the view to increasing the variety of activities and interests, such as student presentations and primary texts, and to move towards more student-led sessions now that the academic year is more established.

 

Session 2: 6th February 2019

In this session we welcomed Rachel Pattinson, the Vital North Partnership Manager, who kindly brought along books from the IBBY UK Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities (2017) from Seven Stories.

We spent the session exploring the books and discussing their features. We were all struck by the importance of communal reading as a theme across the books, with many encouraging collaborative reading between the reader and child, such as Morgh-e Sork-e Pa Kootah (The Little Red Hen), which Rachel and Helen read together using the step-by-step guide to unfold the tactile story.

With the collection featuring books in over 40 languages from a variety of countries, we also had the opportunity to discuss how the books reflected their cultures of origin and how this compares with our understanding of children’s literature as British scholars. Yasuhiro Hunimori’s Ren-chan hajimete no mitori: Obaachan no shi to mukiau (Good-bye great grand-ma: A young girl’s first encounter with end-of-life care-giving), an incredibly moving photographic picture book with realistic photos of death, is a good of example of this, as we considered such stark images to be unusual in British children’s literature. This prompted conversation around how representations of trauma in children’s literature vary greatly across cultures and how this can reflect distinct attitudes to children and childhood.

The collection also features portrayals of disability (category 3), a notable example being a graphic novel titled El Deafo (2014) by Cece Bell. It was interesting how this novel transformed the bullying taunt ‘deafo’ into a superhero persona (hence the novel’s title), and thus showed a young protagonist celebrating their own disability. We discussed the novel’s use of speech bubbles, in which the text fades or disappears entirely to reflect the protagonist’s hearing loss, and how these effectively communicated the main character’s disability in a way that was accessible to readers who may not have experienced hearing impairment.

More details about the collection can be found on the IBBY website.

 

Session 3: 13th February 2019

This week’s session centred around an article provided by doctoral candidate Rebecca Jane titled ‘“Away with dark shadders!” Juvenile Detection Versus Juvenile Crime in The Boy Detective; or, The Crimes of London. A Romance of Modern Times’ written by Lucy Andrew. We used the article to discuss ideas surrounding penny dreadfuls, such as their use in juvenile court cases as Andrew discusses and how their depiction of violence differed in comparison to other periodicals of the time, such as The Boy’s Own Paper.

This led to discussions on ideas from Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, such as how lurid descriptions and publicisation of a trial or a punishment can serve as a way of making the public an agent of control. We discussed this in the context of how violence was written about in the 19th century and then thought about how a degree of ‘acceptable’ criminality in the upholding of justice seemed to be a trope of the detective genre more generally.

We then discussed Andrew’s take on class and power tensions in The Boy Detective and explored the idea that penny dreadfuls could be a way of upholding conservatism through subversion; in other words, they can act as an abstract platform to explore ideas of criminality which exhausts the desire for this exploration in real life.

The latter part of the session then looked at ideas about radicalism in children’s literature and how different parenting styles globally can affect childhood experiences and the way that we ultimately come to research children’s literature. This led us to talk about attachment theory, the sacralisation of the mother/child relationship and how children’s literature traditionally reinforces this, and the adult fear of the loss of control over children as they mature. Through considering this, we recognised how our understanding of a text’s intended reader is socially constructed depending on context and how this must be considered when discussing texts.

Photo Credit: Rachel Pattinson, Vital North Partnership Manager, @rachelalmost. Texts from the IBBY Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities.

28 Tales for 28 Days: The Dependant’s Tale

CLUGG is sharing space and broadcasting writers’ stories of those who experience indefinite immigration detention in the UK and those who work with them.

Today’s tale is from the perspective of a child, showing the impact of government policy on the life of her family, as told to Marina Lewycka and read by Julie Hesmondhalgh:

Read more about Refugee Tales and the #28for28 campaign here.

28 Tales for 28 Days

CLUGG is sharing space

We are sharing our blog and broadcasting writers’ stories of those who experience indefinite immigration detention in the UK and those who work with them. Many organisations, including the Royal Society of Literature and Literature Cambridge, are doing the same. Over 28 days, you will find tales here, showing the fundamental power of literature to bring about change.

The UK is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely for administrative purposes and without judicial oversight under immigration rules. Rooted in the work of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, and supported by the University of Kent, Refugee Tales shares the tales of those who have been indefinitely detained in immigration detention. To highlight the call for a 28 day time limit for immigration detention, Refugee Tales is releasing 28 tales online – one each day over 28 days on the website www.28for28.org. Writers and actors lend their words and voices to asylum seekers, refugees and people in indefinite detention. CLUGG supports the Refugee Tales call for an end to indefinite detention. Over the next month we will be sharing 3 of the 28 tales that centre around the child’s experience. In the meantime, watch the Refugee Tales statement:

#28for28

About Refugee Tales

Through Refugee Tales, writers collaborate with asylum seekers, refugees and people in indefinite detention who share their stories. Taking Chaucer’s great poem of journeying – Canterbury Tales – as a model, writers tell a series of tales as they walk in solidarity with detainees. As they walk, they create a space in which the language of welcome is the prevailing discourse.

An Evening with Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan

Liz Flanagan, teaching fellow in creative writing and author of Eden Summer (David Fickling Books, 2016), recently chaired an event at the School of English with Brian Conaghan and Sarah Crossan to explore their co-authored verse novel We Come Apart (Bloomsbury, 2017). Here are some of Liz’s thoughts on the evening.  

I was delighted to chair this event. For me, Brian and Sarah are two of the most important contemporary YA authors, and I love the fearlessness of their writing, both in its form and content. They tackle urgent and complex subjects, while telling stories in unusual and innovative ways.

Liz introduces Sarah and Brian.

Sarah and Brian’s working relationship began at the award ceremony for the Carnegie Medal 2015, when Sarah was shortlisted for Apple and Rain, and Brian for When Mr Dog Bites. At that time, Brian was thinking of writing a novel in verse and he asked Sarah about the form. They began corresponding via WhatsApp, sending messages and chunks of text back and forth in what became a swiftly unfolding digital conversation. The whole novel was written this way, its authors working in different countries, not meeting in person until afterwards.

Sarah and Brian discuss their collaborative way of writing with Liz

We Come Apart is a love story that doesn’t shy away from darkness and difficulty, beautifully told in verse, with two narrative voices. At the early draft stage, the authors each wrote a section and sent it to the other, in a kind of creative tennis match. At first, Brian wrote the character of Nicu and Sarah created Jess’s voice. Both authors spoke about how different this was from their usual creative process in having to relinquish control of planning and respond to what they received. They found the quality of their writing improved because they were working collaboratively. They also learned about their own process by seeing the differences in the other’s working style (it definitely sounded as if Sarah was more of a planner than Brian!). However, in the later editorial stages, the process slowed down, and both writers worked on each character’s sections. A love story seems perfect for this dual narrative approach, with its layered perspectives, so that each character is shown to be struggling via their own interiority, but is also seen with compassion and understanding through the eyes of the other.

The authors described their careful approach to the depiction of difficult topics such as the domestic violence of Jess’s home life. Sarah wanted to write the scenes just explicitly enough, so that any young person who had experienced similar abuse would recognise what was happening; but so that it wouldn’t be traumatic for those readers who weren’t yet ready to understand the violence of the situation.

I asked Brian and Sarah about the issue of writing in the voice of someone from an under-represented group: in this case, that of Nicu, who is Romanian, of Roma ancestry. Brian talked about his experience of working with Roma teenagers, and how that fed into the creation of Nicu’s speech patterns, and both authors cited the extensive research they’d undertaken. They discussed the importance of privileging and amplifying ‘own voices’ narratives, while also resisting the idea that, as writers, we can only create from our own lived experience.

The conclusion to We Come Apart feels nuanced and in keeping with the subtle balance of light and shade within the novel as a whole. Sarah spoke about one particular tantalising WhatsApp exchange as they approached the end. She could see the little dots told her ‘Brian is writing’, but it took long minutes for the response to appear. They finally wrote three versions of the ending. I had an odd experience on first reading the novel: I think the ghost of the ending not chosen was haunting my perceptions, and I was braced for a more brutal denouement that didn’t come. However, on second reading, I could more fully appreciate the satisfying end to Jess and Nicu’s story.

Inspired by speaking to Brian and Sarah, I now want to experiment with collaborative writing in my own practice. I’ve started a conversation with a writer I admire, intrigued by the potential for surprises and innovation that these authors describe, and I’ve also devised a workshop for collaborative writing that I’ve begun using in my teaching. I’m very grateful to Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan for sharing their experience of working together, and to Dr Lucy Pearson for inviting me to chair their conversation.

Sarah, Brian and Liz

The event was organised as part of the Newcastle University Postgraduate Open Day, and presented in association with Seven Stories. Photographs by Rachel Pattinson.

A Week in the North

Dr Eve Tandoi

At the end of the academic year, the University of Gloucestershire – at which I work – kindly agreed to fund a short writing retreat. At first I thought of taking myself off to an isolated cottage, but then I quickly realised that what I needed after a year working in Initial Teacher Education was to immerse myself in a stimulating and inspiring environment where I was not ‘the lecturer’.

As part of an earlier project I had started exploring the field of children’s theatre. Therefore, I was aware of Dr Helen Freshwater’s work on theatrical representations of children and childhood. I was also aware that Seven Stories housed the playwright David Wood’s extensive archive of original plays and adaptations. The coexistence of archive and individual in a place – Newcastle – that just happened to house a thriving community of children’s literature scholars was simply too good to miss. Dr Lucy Pearson and Professor Kim Reynolds have been incredibly kind – putting me in contact with the archivist Kris McKie at Seven Stories and Dr Helen Freshwater. They also organised for me to attend the talk that Brian Alderson gave at the Philip Robinson Library and to give a talk myself at CLUGG.

The staff at Seven Stories were wonderful and Kris McKie was brilliant at introducing me to the David Wood collection. On learning that I planned to look at material related to six productions, he subtly hinted that I might not quite get through all thirteen archive boxes in the time available. On his suggestion, I started with the boxes related to David Wood’s adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden (1958), which kept me busily occupied. I have written more extensively about the work I did there for the Seven Stories Collection Blog (coming soon!). The material related to this adaptation and to many others is incredibly rich and it has provided me with a range of questions and perspectives to consider. Just as a tantalising nugget – I am sure that you are aware of the controversy over casting choices for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child but were you aware of the colour-blind casting for the premier of Tom’s Midnight Garden (Unicorn, 2000)?

As well as working within the archives I had a number of opportunities to catch up with friends over the course of the week. When I first arrived at Cambridge to take an MPhil in Children’s Literature, someone told me that the people I met and studied with would become friends for life and I feel incredibly fortunate to still be in touch with so many of them. As Roberta Seelinger Trites once said, “We do not eat our children” and the children’s literature community is an incredibly friendly and stimulating one of which to be a part.

As an author, reviewer, collector and translator of children’s literature, Brian Alderson is perhaps one of the founding figures of the children’s literature community. Therefore, it was lovely to be able to sit back and listen to him speak about a handful of children’s authors and illustrators that I was either unaware of or who I want to know better. The talk was given in honour of the exhibition that he curated for the Philip Robinson Library and that is open over the summer. I particularly enjoyed being reminded of the incredible work that Brian Wildsmith and Charles Keeping have done because I vividly remember pouring over their illustrations as a child. Needless to say, several of the picturebooks that Brain Alderson shared with us are currently winging their way towards me through the post!

My own talk that I gave to the assembled members of CLUGG was tightly focused on a reading event in which a Year 7/8 class read and responded to David Almond and Dave McKean’s The Savage (2008). It was a real luxury to have an hour to present and then discuss the children’s responses to the book and I felt that it provided me with a unique opportunity to ‘dig deeper’ and bring together ideas that had – until then – grown independently. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came to the talk – the questions you asked have given me so much to think about and I am very much enjoying revisiting my work in the light of them.

I had a wonderful time in Newcastle and it has been such a pleasure to reconnect with children’s literature friends and make new ones. The resources available at the University and at Seven Stories for researchers interested in children’s literature are outstanding and I have come away buzzing, so thank you – yet again – to all those who made my stay to enjoyable.

Paddington Bear: Liberalism and the Foreign Subject

CLUGG Meeting Report 

In a week where issues around immigration and borders are so high up the news agenda, our guest speaker’s talk on Paddington Bear could scarcely have been more timely.

CLUGG is the acronym for the Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group, and meets around once a fortnight during term-time. It’s a space where postgraduates and staff can discuss and get feedback on work-in-progress or share interesting research or ideas; it’s also an opportunity for exchanging knowledge and learning from other disciplines and organisations.

On 26 January, Dr Kyle Grayson, a senior lecturer in international politics at the University of Newcastle, who specialises in popular culture and world politics, visited CLUGG to present some of his research on liberalism and the foreign subject in Michael Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington.

It was fascinating from a children’s literature perspective to hear how a scholar from another discipline – politics – approached and analysed this classic British children’s book which tells the story of a marmalade-loving bear from ‘Darkest Peru’ who settles in London.

Kyle explained that he’d first become drawn to the text when he was reading it to his daughter, and its relevance to world politics leapt out at him. He shared a little of his thinking around how Paddington, as an immigrant in a supposedly liberal society, illustrates the tensions and ambivalence in such a society, as well as the precarious position the ‘different’ or ‘other’ character finds himself in. As Kyle said, you don’t get much more ‘other’ than a bear.

He spoke about how Paddington got his name – from the railway station where he met the Browns, who took him home to live with them – because his Peruvian name would be too difficult to understand (an experience that will be familiar to many from non-Anglophone cultures) and explored the challenges faced by Paddington in settling in to a strange land.

In the discussion that followed the interesting presentation, topics ranged from the recent Paddington film – which most of us felt heavily underlined the political messages that were perhaps more subtly dealt with in the book – to the importance of remembering that Paddington, as a child and a refugee, should have had rights rather than having to rely on the Brown family’s good will.

Inevitably, however, the discussion turned to the relevance of Paddington to the current geopolitical situation and West’s response to the refugee crisis caused by conflict in Syria and elsewhere. This led to people sharing ideas about how children’s literature can and does reflect and potentially influence attitudes and values around such issues.

We also discussed other books written for children that involve borders, whether they be between countries or, indeed, between ‘real’ and other worlds.

Thanks to Kyle for coming along to CLUGG and sharing his thoughts – and listening to patiently to ours – and we hope to see him again.

Jennifer Shelley