By Lina Iordanaki and Aline Frederico, two of our PhD students.
From May 19 to 21 we attended The Child and The Book Conference in Wroclaw University, Poland. Below some of the reasons why this was one of the best conference experiences ever.
1) The theme: “Children’s literature and play”
Is literature play? How can play and playfulness manifest in literature? What playful features do the different literary forms (novels, picturebooks, comics, apps) afford? How is play depicted in literary texts? With a theme like this, we could only have lots of fun and get to know some wonderful playful literature from all over the world!
2) The interesting presentations
From fresh Masters and PhD students (e.g., us!), passing through young acclaimed scholars like Vanessa Joosen and Phil Nel, to senior Professors like William Teale and Kim Reynolds, the program was packed with very interesting research in all fields of children’s literature.
Professor Kim Reynolds opened the conference by presenting on how, in early 20th century children’s literature, there was a left shift from the representation of white middle class children’s bodies to a more diverse representation of British society and how their bodies could be made healthier through play, exercise, diet and the environment.
Professor William Teale, from University of Illinois at Chicago, talked about e-stories, a term he suggests instead of e-picturebooks, and how they support, or not, literacy development. For him, apps such as Petting Zoo, by Christoph Niemann, although a fantastic ludic experience, might not offer much in terms of literacy development.
Professor Lee Galda, from The University of Minnesota, made a wonderful comparison between what happens when children are engaged in socio-dramatic play and when they are reading and responding to picturebooks, concluding that both are very similar forms of meaning-making. It seems, though, that this is not a unanimous position as another keynote, Professor Hans-Heino Ewers, concluded his talk about children’s literature and games in the 18th Century suggesting that reading, even in read-alouds, and playing are in fact significantly distinct.
3) The Cambridge crew
Some of us travelled together. We met a few others there. And then, we were all wandering around on the picturesque streets of the city and the classrooms of Wroclaw University.
With butterflies in the stomach and last minute changes in the slides, presenting our own work and getting feedback was also an important part of the conference. Lina presented her work on the responses of Greek children to the playful features of the wordless picturebook Follow the Firefly/Run Rabit Run, by Bernardo Carvalho, which tells two different stories whether one starts reading from left-to-right or from right-to-left. Aline presented on the the different kinds of play present in the hybrid text of Nosy Crow’s Little Red Riding Hood app and how children responded to or subverted the different forms of play intended by the producers.
Lucy Stone, who graduated from Cambridge’s MPhil last year, presented on Judith Kerr’s juvenilia as play and a form of negotiating her experience of exile, research which she’ll be continuing on her PhD at Newcastle. Yan Zheng, another former Cambridge MPhil student and now doing her PhD at The University of Glasgow presented on the differences between interaction and interactivity, an essential definition whether studying playful print of digital literature.
We attended each other’s presentations and are so proud of each other’s work. Go Cambridge!
4) Our fellow PhD students from across the UK
Meeting other PhDs doing very interesting research in CL is always a pleasure. Exchanging interesting readings, the challenges of fieldwork or just the nerves of conference presentation makes this group of junior scholars from Cambridge, Roehampton, Glasgow and Newcastle, that meets every once in a while in conferences like this, a nice community.
From this experience, a great idea came out: why not create a UK Children’s Literature Grad Student Network, so that we can visit each other and exchange more often? More about it, hopefully, in future posts.
5) The people we hadn’t met before but with whom we will definitely keep in touch
Conferences and networking usually go together. It feels so grateful to meet people genuinely interested in our work and providing valuable advice and feedback. The various discussions during the conference (and after the conference in nice Polish restaurants!) are also an important source of inspiration, making us challenge some ideas and at the same time making us feel that, yes, we are becoming experts in our fields, and yes, we have something to say about these topics. There is also the opportunity of meeting some senior scholars, having a chat and even a beer with them, discuss our current and future projects and sketch collaborations!
It is not a surprise that this year Wroclaw is the European Capital of Culture. Unique architecture with Austrian and Bohemian influences, an amazing market square, beautiful bridges and river, an idyllic botanical garden, more than 300 cute little dwarves hidden everywhere in the city. Plus the beautiful sunny weather!
7) Polish food
We tried many different flavours of Polish dumplings, the so-called pierogis, so much that now we’ll need to look for a Cambridge pierogi provider (any suggestions?). Pierogi with mushrooms, cottage cheese, beef, spinach, potatoes, strawberries, apple etc.
8) Polish prices
Let’s not talk much about economics and the difference between pounds and zlotis, but the prices in Poland and especially in Wroclaw are so low that we had the chance to go shopping and to eat out without feeling guilty or thinking about the red numbers in our bank accounts. Some of us also had the chance to go to the Opera with a ticket of… less than 2 pounds! Some design T-shirts including that of Little Red Riding Hood and the Good Wolf were some of the lovely and cheap souvenirs that we brought from Wroclaw.
Now, add to your calendar: 2017, The Child and the Book in Valencia, Spain! (Yes, by the beach!)