Speculating about Post-anthropocentric Childhoods with Donna Haraway’s “The Camille Stories" (Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak)

In “The Camille Stories”, Donna Haraway imagines future children as "the symbiont children” who “developed a complex subjectivity composed of loneliness, intense sociality, intimacy with nonhuman others, specialness, lack of choice, fullness of meaning, and sureness of future purpose" (149). As the final chapter of Haraway’s scholarly book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016), “The Camille Stories” confirms the centrality of the child and childhood to our thinking about the future. Yet we can also look at it as a YA dystopian story that we could read with a childist orientation, that is, inquiring into how it represents and produces children and childhoods. If we do so, we can see that Haraway’s story rests on the motif of the redemptive/scapegoat/savior child onto which adults place the burden of creating an ecological civilization without asking what their own burden is beyond enabling the child’s agency. While it effectively depicts human-more-than-human connectedness through butterflies’ enhancement of human beings, it is thrown into a future relying on linearity and teleological thinking. Hence, while the story pushes us to think more-than human futures, these futures continue to endorse a human figure that stems from White privileged childhoods. The association of children and futurity is in fact an all-pervasive way of thinking about children and childhood in Western culture (see Edelman’s critique of reproductive futurism in No Future. Queer Theory and the Death Drive).It is also the central tenet of children’s literature and culture studies. Thinking with “The Camille Stories”, we argue for the necessity to reflect on the limits of our imagination: we need new stories about humankind and the planet but how new can they really get? Would it help to tell after-childhood (Kraftl) stories in which the child comes into and out of focus and in which human exceptionality is challenged more deeply? We propose to speculate further about new stories for post-anthropocentric worlds. 

Required reading

Haraway, Donna. “The Camille Stories: Children of Compost.” In: Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (2016).  

Kraftl, Peter. “Introduction: Thinking and doing after childhood.” In: After Childhood. Re-thinking Environment, Materiality and Media in Children’s Lives (2020).  

Mattheis, Nikolas. (2022). “Making kin, not babies? Towards childist kinship in the ‘Anthropocene’.” Childhood. 090756822210981. 10.1177/09075682221098155. 

Preparatory task for students taking credits

Please write a 400 to 500-word reflective speculation about 3 generations of future children in response to Haraway’s ideas. Make sure you define the context – place, moment in the future, and time span. You can include drawings if you want. Deadline: 30 June, 2023. Send your work to Justyna at justyna.deszcz-tryhubczak@uwr.edu.pl and Macarena at mgarciay@uc.cl 

The Secret Life of Things. Rethinking affect and agency though human-object relations as sites for posthumanist ethics in eco-philosophical children's books (Anna Kérchy)

According to Greg Garrard, “the widest definition of the subject of ecocriticism is the study of the relationship of the human and the non-human” in culture. This workshop will explore how humans’ relationships with non-human objects influence our understanding of being and non-being in the nature-culture continuum. How do encounters with things shape our phenomenological sense of enworlded, embodied identities, our spatiotempotal dis/locations, our affective belongings, and our general philosophical ideas about a life worth living? We shall start out from three, apparently simple children’s stories – Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2000), and David Lucas’s The Lying Carpet (2008) – which thematise the charismatic pull of objects (toy, machine, artwork) brough to life by human imagination that is revitalised by their thing-power, on its turn. These thought-provoking tales allow us to ask important questions about how childhood’s favourite things shape adult futures, how capitalist material culture’s commodity fetishism can be challenged by fantastic it-narratives, how objects can talk back to propagate a posthumanist ethics where all are recognised as equal actants in a complex network of entanglements.

Required Reading List

Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit (1922)

Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2000)

David Lucas’s The Lying Carpet (2008)

Preparatory Tasks for all Students

1. Think of an object that was of special importance to you when you were a child. Write a piece of flash fiction, a very short memoir of a few sentences or a paragraph in which you recall your childhood self from the perspective of that object. Make this object the narrator of the reminiscence.

2. Read the three stories and compare how they represent anthropocentric and non-anthropocentric notions of space and time (home, memory, forgetting, history, etc).

3. Watch Czech Surrealist puppeteer Jan Svankmajer’s short film Dimensions of a Dialogue (1983). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-gGpWpra-g How does his stop-motion animation of ordinary objects create an uncanny effect? What do these object-encounters say about the challenges of human communication?

Additional Task for Students Taking Credits

Think of an object that was of special importance to you when you were a child. Write a short memoir of 500-700 words in which you recall your childhood self from the perspective of that object. Make this object the narrator of the reminiscence. Submit your assignment as a Word document to akerchy@gmail.com no later than 20 July 2023. Please use the subject heading “CL Summer School: Things.”

Like water for children: Eco-activism in Arabic picturebooks (Yasmine Motawy)

Arabic picturebooks that advocate environmental awareness often present the environment as a politically safe subject, akin to good manners and hygiene. The environment, however, is a very political matter, particularly in countries experiencing growth and in the process of developing comprehensive environmental regulations. Picturebooks that invite the child to participate in eco-activism in this context, do so by allowing them various degrees of agency.

This workshop will critically engage with the visual and textual discourse of picturebooks from the Arab world in order to support participants in:

  1. Understanding of how the ways in which children are encouraged to care for the environment is entangled with political and social factors (Motawy 2021).

  2. Exploring how human-nature interactions are presented to children in a non-Western context (Glotfelty 1996).

  3. Considering what agency children have in imagining and enacting eco-activism (Heggen 2019).

Key questions in this exploration include:

  1. How is the environmental problem presented? Who is responsible for it? What approach is valorized in caring for the environment?

  2. What role does imagination have in coming up with solutions?

  3. What do these solutions ‘solve’?

  4. What is the place of humans in nature?

  5. How are humans bonded to nature?

  6. What ecological projections are presented?

  7. What is said/omitted about the political and social angles/implications of the ecological problem?


Glotfelty, Cheryll & Harold Fromm. The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996.

Heggen, Marianne Presthus. “Children as eco-citizens?” Nordic Studies in Science Education 15(4). Dec 2019: 388-402.

Motawy, Yasmine. al-Sukun ma bayn al-Amwaj: Kutub al-Atfal al-Musawara wal-Mujtama’ al-Misri al-Mu’aser (Stillness between the waves: Egyptian Children’s Picturebooks and Contemporary Egyptian Society). Cairo, Dar El Balsam, 2021.

Reading list

shared on Blackboard

Aisawi, Sabah. “Perspectives on Nature in Contemporary Arabic Picturebooks.” in Looking Out and Looking: National Identity in Picturebooks of the New Millennium. ed. Åse Marie Ommundsen, Oslo: Novus, 2013: 29-44.

Motawy, Yasmine. "The wisdom of getting involved: activism in contemporary Egyptian children's literature." Literary Cultures and Twenty-First-Century Childhoods. ed. Nathalie op de Beeck, Palgrave, 2020: 41-55.

Preparatory task for all students

Conduct a cursory scan of the news in order to come to a basic understanding of the water problem in Egypt today. Make a list of aspects of Egypt that may impact the water crisis (e.g. geographical location, topography, borders, expansion of cities , treaties, etc.). Also consider how Egypt has engaged with the UN’s SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation and SDG 14: Life Below Water. Bring your list and notes to the workshop.

Additional task for students taking credits

Select a contemporary picturebook preferably from your own country and in your own language, that addresses an ecological issue and submit a 500 word essay that (1) contextualizes the books in terms of author, audience, and publisher, (2) summarizes the book, (3) discusses how the text engages with the workshop’s key questions as well as with international calls such as SDGs (4) makes a statement on the greater implications of the mode of engagement depicted in the text.

Email your 500 word essay by the 14th of July 2023 as a pdf, making sure to include bibliographic information on the book that you have selected to: ymotawy@aucegypt.edu.

Engaging the Readers in Eco-Activism through Environmental Non-Fiction Picturebooks (Krzysztof Rybak)

For few years now environmental picturebooks have been a significant part of the children’s book market. That includes non-fiction works that offer information about climate change: picturebooks that are often not only beautifully illustrated and printed but also thoughtfully conceptualised and written. As one of their aims is raising climate awareness and engaging in eco-activism, authors need to balance between artistic quality and didactic message if they want to inspire their readers: this balance between artistry and didacticism will be the main topic of our discussion during the workshop.

The workshop aims to discuss verbal and visual strategies used in environmental non-fiction picturebooks to engage the readers in eco-activism. First, we will discuss current trends in presenting information in contemporary non-fiction works for children, learning basic terms and definitions introduced by researchers such as Joe Sutliff Sanders and Giorgia Grilli. Then, we will analyse the ‘ecopedagogical potential’ (Suzanne van der Beek & Charlotte Lehmann) of Be a Tree! by Maria Gianferrari and Felicita Sala and other non-fiction picturebooks that the participants will bring to the workshop. As an outcome, the participants will develop critical tools used to analyse non-fiction picturebooks, environmental works in particular.

Required reading list

Beek, Suzanne van der, and Charlotte Lehmann. ‘What Can You Do as an Eco‐hero? A Study on the Ecopedagogical Potential of Dutch Non‐fictional Environmental Texts for Children’. Children’s Literature in Education (2022). Available in Open Access here: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-022-09482-z

Gianferrari, Maria. Be a Tree!. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. (Available on Blackboard. The book was translated in many languages, so you may also read other edition than English)

Preparatory task for all participants

Read Suzanne van der Beek and Charlotte Lehmann’s essay What Can You Do as an Eco‐hero?, list different strategies authors of children’s literature use to engage the readers in eco-activism and try to find them in a poetic non-fiction picturebook Be a Tree! by Maria Gianferrari and Felicita Sala. Then take a closer look at a non-fiction picturebook of your choice (preferably in your language/from your country) and reflect on this. Come to the workshop with a hard copy of that picturebook (if possible — if not, take some pictures with your phone), and be prepared to share your thoughts with the others.

Assignment for students taking ECTS credits

Referring to van der Beek and Lehmann’s essay, analyse an environmental non-fiction picturebook of your choice (preferably in your language/from your country). Focus on verbal and visual strategies used to engage the reader in eco-activism. The text should not exceed 700 words, but the images are welcome in any amount. Send the Word or Pages file to km.rybak@uw.edu.pl before July 16th.

Petro-literacy: Children's Books and Fossil Fuel Culture (Lara Saguisag)

This workshop explores how oil has seeped into literature for children. We will examine how agencies and companies turn to children’s books to naturalize and promote dependence on petroleum. We will also study how children’s books produced by mainstream publishers express ambivalence toward oil and oil industries.

Required Reading List

Ungerer, Tomi. The Mellops Strike Oil. Phaidon, 2011.

Winter, Jonah and Jeanette Winter. Oil. Beach Lane, 2020.

Optional Reading List

Malouf, Michael. “Behind the Closet Door: Pixar and Petroliteracy.” Petrocultures: Oil, Energy, Culture. Edited by Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson, and Imre Szeman. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017, pp. 138-161.

Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Bayou Magic. Little, Brown, 2015.

Saguisag, Lara. “Blood in the Water: Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Bayou Magic as Petrofiction.” Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures vol. 14, no. 1 (2022): pp. 13-31.

Preparatory Task 

Listen to the Drilled podcast episode “The ABCs of Big Oil | Episode 1: First Day of School” (this is the first episode of a 4-episode mini-series. You have the option to listen to all four episodes). Write a 100-word response to the episode and be prepared to share your thoughts during the workshop.

Writing Assignment for Students Taking Credits

Read Petro Pete’s Big Bad Dream OR I Need to Know: An Introduction to the Oil Industry and OPEC. In a 500-750 word essay, discuss how the text you focused on represents oil industries and/or humans’ relationships with petroleum and its byproducts. Conduct research on the agencies that published this text. Why does it matter that we know who produces and distributes materials such as these?

Submit your assignment as a Word document to Lara Saguisag (lara.saguisag@nyu.edu) no later than 30 June 2023. Please use the subject heading “CL Summer School: Petro-literacy.”

En Plein Air: The creative arts for young people out of doors (Andrea Davidson)

In an interview, the young nature writer Dara McAnulty once admitted, “Many people ask if I love writing when I’m outdoors, and the short answer is no (apart from broad observations) – I find it almost impossible, although I have tried and it seemed like an act of great contrivance” (2020). Methods and meanings of creating artworks en plein air, or outdoors, is the starting point for this workshop. Interactions between the natural world and literature (or media) for children and adolescents in the outdoors will be our focus. We will engage in ecopoetics through both critical discussion of how nature features in children’s and YA literature (or other media) and our own creative practice. Weather permitting, this workshop will take place outdoors. Please bring a notebook or tablet so that you can write during the workshop, if you prefer not to use your laptop outside.

Required Reading List

Juan L Celis-Diez,  Javiera Díaz-Forestier,  Marcela Márquez-García,  Silvia Lazzarino,  Ricardo Rozzi,  Juan J Armesto. 2016. “Biodiversity knowledge loss in children's books and textbooks.” Frontiers of Ecology and Environments, volume 14, number 8, pages 408-410, doi: 10.1002/fee.1324

Teare, Brian. “En Plein Air poetics: Notes towards writing in the Anthropocene.” The Poetry Foundation, Harriet Blog, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet-books/2019/01/en-plein-air-poetics-notes-towards-writing-in-the-anthropocene

Optional Reading List

Cresswell, Tim. 2022. “Writing (new) worlds: poetry and place in a time of emergency.” Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, volume 104, number 4, pages 374-389. https://doi.org/10.1080/04353684.2022.2113551.

Kerslake, Lorraine. 2018. “Environmental Imagination and Wonder in Beatrix Potter.” In Imaginative Ecologies: Inspiring Change Through the Humanities, edited by Diana Villanueva Romero, Lorraine Kerslake, and Carmen Flys Junquera, Brill, Chapter 4, https://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/121383/1/Environmental-Imagination-and-Wonder-in-Beatrix-Potter.pdf.

McAnulty, Dara. 2020. “Meet the Author.” Penguin Books. https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2020/11/dara-mcanulty-diary-of-a-young-naturalist-author-interview.

Preparatory task for all participants

Find and reread a passage of nature description in a children’s or Young Adult book (or other media) that you know. Consider the following questions:

·        How much of this book is concerned with nature? Guess a percentage.

·        What are the possible effects of accessing nature through descriptions of nature? Do you feel immersed in nature while reading it?

·        What forms of nature are described and not described here?

·        Is there anything about this passage that makes it seem primarily for children or adolescents?

·        Did this author write this passage while they were outdoors or observing nature? Do you know of any authors who did/do write en plein air?

Assignment for students taking credits

After the workshop, an essay of 500 words analyzing the two pieces of writing that you did during the workshop. Focus on one of the following questions:

  • What did you do differently in the second writing exercise to address your piece of nature description to child or YA readers?

  • What theories of childhood or adolescence informed your creative practice?

  • What effect did writing outdoors have on you as a creative writer and/or as a critical thinker?

Please send your essay as a Word document to Andrea.Davidson@uantwerpen.be by 14 July 2023.