Maya Zakrzewska-Pim is a first year PhD student, who did her MPhil here 2 years ago, and has come back to research adaptations of Dickens for children.
Valencia, Spain: 30 March – 1 April
It’s that time of year again when The Child and The Book conference brings together lots of children’s literature and education people. This year, we had the pleasure of spending a few days at the University of Valencia in Spain, participating in a fantastic conference amid delicious food and lots and lots of sunshine. I was pretty nervous – it was my first conference, and in a country where I knew basically nothing of the language. My fears were, of course, unfounded – just as I’d been told before traveling, everyone was absolutely incredibly nice and helpful.
The conference opened up with a keynote by Perry Nodelman on reading museum art as picturebooks. One of the main differences our attention was that of contact; picturebooks are intended to be touched and explored, while museum art is surrounded by signs forbidding any such interaction. Museum pieces nevertheless still inspire a variety of reactions and interpretations, and so this talk drew attention to how all art can be seen as narrative art, not just picturebooks.
Linked to this, there were a number of talks on the relationships between picturebooks and the art we’d usually encounter in museums – Erica Hateley’s talk on Edward Hopper’s work in picturebooks, or Farriba Schulz’s presentation on Hieronymus Bosch.
Picturebooks were also connected to music in Mark Withers’ keynote on Friday morning, which had us all singing (and before any coffee breaks, too!) as we discovered the process of bringing a picturebook to life by creating a song inspired by it (as we did with Beegu). Janet Evans’ talk focused on picturebooks inspired by songs, with the lyrics often forming the verbal narrative, as they do in the upcoming Imagine, or the discussed And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.
Music appeared as a topic in discussions of young adult fiction as well. Ben Screech discussed the presence of pop music in YA novels, and the highly personal meanings and importance songs can have for teenagers and their sense and development of identity. Marit Elise Lyngstad talked about music as a tool of agency and rebellion in YA dystopian fiction in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Mockingbird and Allie Condie’s Delirium, and how it is linked to the importance of the freedom of cultural expression.
With the frequent inclusion of songs in animations for children, the animated musical was also analyzed. Anna Mik talked about the role of the American musical in influencing Disney’s adaptations of fairy tales, discussing Beauty and the Beast, A Little Mermaid and Hercules. Caitlin Boyd focused specifically on musical adaptations of Harry Potter, as well as other creative productions, and how these relate to the original text by J.K.Rowling.
Talks of adaptations included discussions of Alice in Wonderland: the variety of dramatic Croatian productions by Smiljana Narančić Kovač, and adapting the illustrations for a Polish audience by Karolina Rybicka. My own paper was in this area too: adapting Scrooge from A Christmas Carol into a recognizable children’s protagonist in two animations of Dickens’s narrative.
There were also, of course, the presentations on more hands-on research. Maria Alcantud Diaz told us about Project TALIS, which links the various creative disciplines (painting, reading, dancing etc.) together, instead of teaching them separately, offering a more holistic integration in education. Cambridge’s Jen Aggleton talked about the impact of illustrations in novels on children’s reading experience, based on her research and discussions with children.
Macarena Garcia-Gonzalez delivered a keynote on the makings of cultural memory, and how picturebooks or animated films deal with such problematic topics as war and other forced displacements. Marek Oziewicz and Brad Fern dealt with similarly difficult issues in their talk on how art can help in coping with trauma. The final keynote was given by Tzina Kalogirou on ekphrasis, or, evoking the five senses when experiencing art.
In between all these talks, there were coffee breaks and lunches, workshops concerned with different ways of approaching and teaching poetry and creative writing, a conference dinner, and a lunch to end everything on Saturday, where we had the chance to sample Spanish wine, paella, and look out onto the gloriously sunny beach framed by palm trees. It was a truly wonderful few days, and a great chance to meet scholars from so many different places, working on so many different things. It’s definitely a conference to look out for in the future, you don’t want to miss it!