PhD candidate Marie Gethins (School of English, Irish, and Communication) attended the Children’s Literature Association conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, funded by the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
The annual Children’s Literature Association (ChLA) conference (13-15 June 2019) brought together scholars and educators to consider the portrayal and influence of political, social, and cultural issues in children’s lit. With the theme ‘Activism and Empathy’ this year, panels considered how contemporary and historical texts raised awareness and/or promoted advocacy for those silenced or ignored. Topics spanned from Ancient Greek myth to recent diversity texts.
My paper ‘Physical Disability and Prostheses in L. Frank Baum’s Oz Series – Gothic Fable?’ was one of three-hundred and thirty-three on the programme and one of two on Baum. While the other paper focused on illustration, it provided some additional resources to explore for my own critical research and I will liaise with the author, Marie Lathers, from Hollins University in Virginia. My presentation generated some interesting questions and I was delighted to see the chair from my SWPACA panel in February was in the audience (waving enthusiastically).
The programme had a strong intertextuality flavour and I received questions on book/film comparisons. Graphic novels, texts adapted to song, YouTube featurettes populated papers and discussion panels.
While ‘Influencers’ is a buzzword relating to social media, ChLA was an excellent reminder of the role writers, illustrators, and educators play as influencers. Sessions generated thought-provoking discussions on the paucity of ‘own voice’ authors providing books on diversity and multi-cultural experiences for the children’s lit market. Equally, there is a need for academics to generate more critical assessment of historical and contemporary texts on depiction of minority and disabled characters (mentally and physically) to raise educator awareness.
ChLA provided ample new stimulus for my critical research on Baum’s Oz series. Support from a Faculty AHSS Award enabled me to make important connections and buoyed my resource list with new material to explore. At the final mixer, an academic from the University of Kansas and I traded Oz-inspired quips: ‘research twisters’ and ‘whirlwinds of inspiration’. Later, as I waited for the lift, an announcement came over the PA. Tornado warning. Perhaps things were getting a bit too meta.
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