Pearls Before Swine? Child Readers and the Missed Intertextual Reference (Clémentine Beauvais)

Children's literature is full of intertextual and intervisual references that are doomed to be 'missed' by the child reader - whether misunderstood, misattributed, or, most often, not understood as references at all. The intertextuality of children's literature is in fact almost exclusively chronologically warped, with the discovery of the 'original' coming later than, or only in consequence to, the encounter of its 'reference' in a children's text. 

This does not at all contradict the theory of intertextuality as developed by Bakhtin and Kristeva, for whom the concept does not rely on the reader's ability to decipher or identify a text's more or less clever allusions to other texts, and for whom intertextuality is not necessarily conscious on the part of the author. But it does contrast with the popular understanding, also widely practiced in Literature classes, that intertextuality is what good authors do, and that a 'good' reader is a reader who is able to 'get the reference': to look inside their own cultural and literary database for the enlightening flash of recognition. Some people thus go as far as to say that intertextual references in a children's text are 'pearl before swine'. 

But what children's literature shows us, as I argue here, is that the literary education we get from reading children's literature is exactly inverse to the elitist view of intertextuality as a recognition game. Children's literature teaches readers that texts can be, and are, 'activated' along the life course by later encounters with 'what they referred to'. They carry within them an incompleteness of meaning that promises to develop, albeit arbitrarily and sporadically, year after year. As current research on lifelong reading shows, this goes much further, of course, than simple allusions to other texts. 

In this talk, I discuss the implications of this question for approaches to reading and to literary education in general, arguing for the preservation of such ways of reading in adulthood, where a 'missed' or misunderstood reference becomes not shameful but thrilling. I lean on the works of Pierre Bayard, particularly the notion of anticipatory plagiarism, to discuss ways of conceiving of reverse intertextual chronologies as a natural, and highly exciting, literary phenomenon.

The (Im)possibility of Children's Literature in the Times of Anthropogenic Extinction: The Case of the Odra River (Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak)

The potential of children’s literature to promote hope for humankind in the (post-)Anthropocene is being the subject of intensive research that stresses the central role of young generations in addressing anthropogenic changes in Earth's ecosystems (Goga et al. 2018, Oziewicz and Saguisag 2021, Oziewicz 2022). Yet I argue that the viability of this hopeful disposition needs to be continually interrogated whenever we witness the degradation of biodiversity and devastation of land, water and air. I ask whether it is still possible -- after ecocide -- to create texts addressed to young people that mandate hope for the planet. Should such texts also mourn the loss of multispecies kinships and the demise of life on the planet, including our own extinction? I focus on the Odra river ecocide (summer 2022, Poland), in which over 100 tons of fish and other species of fauna and flora died as a result of poor monitoring and contamination. As I have found no children’s books about the Odra, I wonder whether there will ever appear texts for young readers that will embrace grief, mourning, and anger at the loss of multispecies river communities. Grappling with these questions, I therefore invite a reflection on hope in children’s literature in times when cultivating the belief in the possibility of better realities is becoming increasingly difficult.

Becoming childists! A proposal for decolonising the reading list (Macarena García-González)

In this talk, I use the notion of “epistemologies of the South” by Boaventura de Sousa Santos to expand the demand about cultural diversity and social justice in children’s literature towards the need to question our ways of knowing. Today we appear better equipped to recognize how children’s books narrate White, middle-class, heteronormed, and able worlds, naturalizing them. Yet we still need to push harder to get other stories published and to read differently. In this talk, I propose to move from claims on the importance of representation to those on the importance of understanding how it is that the colonization of minds and desires has taken place. I argue that to integrate decolonial epistemologies in children’s literature scholarship, we need to unsettle our understanding of what literature and literacy are and that childish approaches help us to challenge Western hegemonic exclusions.

Choreographing Kinship and Destigmatizing Dependency: The Adult-Child Pas de Deux in Fact, Fiction, and Film (Marah Gubar)

Highlighting the existence of a dance tradition she dubs the adult-child pas de deux, Marah Gubar celebrates the special capacity dance has to depict dependency on others not as a despised deficiency or difference that divides some human beings from others, but rather as a uniting factor that derives from our shared status as embodied, vulnerable, and mortal beings. In any pas de deux, but especially in ones that feature intergenerational pairings, she shows, significant asymmetries may exist in terms of who the partners are and what they do without canceling out their shared status as agential yet non-autonomous fellow dancers. When that happens, such dances can serve as a moving metaphor for the adult-child relationship that’s in line with the caringly egalitarian vision of what it means to be a child that Gubar calls the kinship model. Literary critics who work within the context of cultures that characterize kinship as biological and denigrate dependency on others, she contends, can use this and other arty analogies to align ourselves instead with anthropologists who define kinship as cultural and philosophers who recognize that morally respectful relationships between any two individuals (regardless of age) are inevitably somewhat asymmetrical.

Vegetal visions. Ecocritical encounters with plant kin in transmediated fairy tales (Anna Kérchy)

Wondrous vegetation – enchanted woods, wishing trees, briar roses, magic beans, poisoned apples – play a significant role in the fantastic worldbuilding of classic fairy tales, owing to the simple narratological strategy of defamiliarizing the familiar. However, reading through the lense of critical plant studies, we may convincingly argue that faerial flora is much more than decorative background. It foregrounds the capacity of non-human organisms to make a difference in the world: by acting as animate agents on their own right, plants shape the globally entangled web of interspecies relationships we all belong to. Fairy-tale philosophies often use vegetal metaphors to celebrate the empowering potential of imagination: according to Chesterton’s “ethics of Elfland” we may explore the non-utilitarian, speculative, “other side” of things, the realm of unfulfilled potentialities and empathic solidarities, if we recall the wonder a simple tree can ignite, provided “we consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the skies for no reason in particular” and not as food “for the giraffe to eat.” Despite the difficulties in leaving behind the anthropocentric perspective, the human engagement with plants is often believed to contribute to the flourishing of individual, social, and ecological life.

I examine postmodern recyclings of the “people-plant-interaction” as a fairy-tale trope in a select corpus of contemporary children’s literary and cinematic works which conjoin ecocritical and posthumanist concerns (regarding the twinned crisis of our environment and humanity) with the problematisation of our “aetonormatively disciplined” cultural construction of childhood. My analysis of the plant child in fairy-tale films, interprets Jan Švankmajer’s Little Otík (2000), Peter Hedges’ The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012) and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinnochio (2022) as trauma narratives which critically reflect on collective anxieties related to issues like consumerism, infertility, pollution, totalitarianism, ableism, normative hegemonic oppression, the systematic exclusion of othereds, and the ideological process of monstrification. On the other hand, a focus on anthropomorphic plant figures in children’s/YA literature – including Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man (2009), Alessandro Sanna’s Pinocchio: The Origin Story (2011), and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (2016) – allows for the discussions of bioethical dilemmas. Relying on Michael Marder’s notions of “plant thinking,” or the “philosophy of vegetal life,” we may ask ourselves how plants benefit from therapeutic horticulture and seek possibilities “to think differently about differences.”

In conclusion, I wish to demonstrate that the contemporary artistic and cultural uses of fairy tales, characterized by an explosive spread of transmedia storytelling practices, adopt a ’plant logic’ that resonates with philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s botanical metaphor of the “rhizome.” A rhizome is a root-system that branches off in many directions, and once separated each piece is able to give rise to a new plant. This vegetal design models a non-hierarchical, non-dualistic, decentred way of thinking that apprehends multiplicities in fungal networks of creative energie

Children’s Non-Fiction Now! On Rediscovering Informational Books for Young Readers (Krzysztof Rybak)

Despite its long-lasting and vivid presence in the children’s book market, for decades non-fiction has not been popular among researchers of children’s literature, who preferred fiction. I was one of them, until — thanks to Frauke Pauwels and the very first edition of children’s literature summer school — I rediscovered wonders of non-fiction and looked at it via scientific lenses. Taking my academic journey to (forgotten by many) land of informational books for the young readers as the point of departure, in this talk, I guide you through some research areas in the field of children’s non-fiction, referring to international examples, including Polish bestseller ‘Mapy’ by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński. Drawing a map of current trends in children’s non-fiction research (such as hybridity, critical engagement, translation, and ideology), I will refer to recent research in the field (Sanders, Grilli, Goga et al.) and show you places on the map that wait for deeper investigation. Hence, the aim of my talk is twofold: to present informational works for children as diverse, surprising, and intriguing (what Giorgia Grilli calls ‘new’/’artistic’ non-fiction) and to spark participants’ interest in research on children’s non-fiction.

Reconsidering Children’s Literature: Telling Stories in a Climate Emergency (Lara Saguisag)

In this talk, I consider how creators, activists, and educators around the world have turned to children’s and young adult literature to raise consciousness about the climate crisis. By juxtaposing narratives from the global north and the global south, we can study how literature for young people reproduces and/or challenges Western priorities in approaches to climate change and climate-driven disasters. Taken together, these texts coax readers to feel a range of emotions–grief, fear, hope, joy—and also urge their audiences to take action against climate change.

But could our conceptualizations and idealizations of children’s and young adult literature also restrict our understandings of and responses to climate change and climate injustices? Can institutions of children’s literature effectively challenge cultures and economies that extract and pollute, when they operate within these very cultures and economies? What lessons can we draw from the Climate Stories Project, the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities’ My Climate Story initiative, The Climate Museum’s Climate Speaks, and the pag huwas stories told by Typhoon Yolanda survivors, in order to enhance the democratic, collective, intergenerational, and liberatory aspects of storymaking and storysharing?

Hybrid Novels, Multiliteracies and Diverse Voices (Eve Tandoi)