Picturebook Conference, Day Three!

For reasons I can’t fathom, there is eduroam at Arlanda airport in Stockholm, allowing me to write this blogpost as I wait for my flight. Yet further evidence that Sweden is awesome. There is also a bag full of dried moose sausage and pickled herring next to me. But there are more memories in my head than there are souvenirs in this bag.

The third, shorter day of the conference was kicked off by Maria Nikolajeva, representing, in the absence of our beloved Ghada Al-Yagout (who’s just started her new lecturing job!), their collaborative work on the new theoretical vocabulary of picturebook apps.

I have to mention the fact that Prof N then went on to download an extremely noisy app on her iPad, which produced joyous rattles and claps in the middle of another presenter’s talk

We need a new theoretical vocabulary for apps because, Maria argued, picturebook theory ‘urgently needs to stay in touch with the digital development of picturebooks’. Their research will hopefully be published soon – it is red-hot, and ‘urgent’ indeed. As long as we don’t agree as to what to call the child-reader-of-apps (user? Kristin Hallberg doesn’t like that. Reader? it’s not just that. Player? not quite!) and other app-specific features, we won’t be able to progress towards a more all-encompassing theorisation – from good to bad and ugly, from the useless Goodnight Moon app to the sensitive creativity of The Heart and the Bottle.

Moon Sorbet, by Baek Heena

Elina Druker then walked onstage and said, ‘Oh dear – I was almost about to thank you all for having me!’.

But despite being the conference organiser, her own selection of her own abstract was justified – she took us through the depths of ‘shoebox photography books’, including a particularly outstanding Korean picturebook where the Moon, melted by a heat wave, is gathered into a bucket by a grandma, who then freezes it into a sorbet which she feeds to all the neighbours…

But apart from that, children’s picturebooks are simplistic, straightforward, unimaginative and formulaic, right?

‘Fusion novels’ and mix-and-match books rounded off the conference, and a bunch of very tired us left Stockholm University to go home – some via the Museum of Modern Art for lunch.

But not before we’d discussed future plans for our research network. A book? Several books? A Facebook group? And what name should we give our little clan? And where and when will the next gathering be? The PhD workshoppers gave their opinion on their experience; others suggested that the papers should, next time, be circulated in advance and be assigned a discussant. Some merrily disagreed.

Eve and I (Clementine) left by the 4.50 bus to Arlanda – exhausted and happy. Conference after conference, we have confirmation that the children’s literature world is a small, affectionate, friendly, yes – even familial – community; but above all an incredibly dynamic, curious, omnivorous one.

People are working on wildly different topics, because the field is a playground of undiscovered treasures. It’s a mess in places and much more finely mapped in others. Some digs attract more researchers than others – I think we can all agree that it’s all about geography and technology at the moment. But everyone is still feeling free to critique, offer and receive advice, and talk to people in completely different areas – something no Canonical Literature scholar would ever dream of.

Other photos will come, I’m sure. Meanwhile, back to work…

Well, sleep first. And it wouldn’t do us bad to lose a bit of that typical conference weight.

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