IRSCL Congress 2019: Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature (guest post by Siobhán Parkinson)

What a fabulous venue we had for the 2019 IRSCL congress: an elegant conference centre (a neo-classical building that formerly housed an elite grammar school) centrally situated in the magical city of Stockholm! Yes, magical. Any city with a magnificent gold room in their water’s-edge city hall, where they do the Nobel prize ceremony, counts as magical in my book – and that is before we even mention Astrid Lindgren or indeed Tove Janson.


The theme of silence and silencing, proposed by Åsa Warnqvist of the Swedish institute for Children’s Books, was a rich and many-layered one, and it elicited a fascinating range of responses and interpretations. The keynote speakers were truly inspiring – and I must make particular mention here of the first keynote speaker, Vanessa Joosen of Antwerp University, who gave a comprehensive overview of the development of thinking in the area of children’s literature, laying particular emphasis on positionality and affect, which fed directly into the concerns of the second keynote speaker, Temi Odumosu, of Malmö University, recently a Swedish citizen, outlined in her considered and moving address on the experience of people of colour. The theme of silence filtered out into the papers given in the numerous parallel sessions, which considered, for example, the censorship and suppression of children’s literature; silence and secrets as a theme in fiction; silence as a provocative narrative strategy, inviting the reader to fill in the unspoken. And more, much more …


At a huge congress like this, all one can do is scratch the surface of the myriad presentations and discussions, but anyone I spoke to was enthusiastic about the quality of the papers they heard and the discussions they generated. Hats off to the committee that waded through all the abstracts submitted, made judicious selections and teamed presenters up to create panels that cohered. They managed to ensure that promising young scholars got the opportunity to present their research, as well as giving participants the opportunity to hear from expert presenters such as (our own) Emer O’Sullivan, Evelyn Arizpe, Maria Nikolayeva … Some extra-academic voices were also heard (artists, publishers, practitioners of various kinds in the field of children’s books), giving additional texture to the experience for audiences.


Panels varied in style and tone as well as in content, and this variety afforded listeners breathing spaces, as different types of paper required different kinds of attention. Some sessions presented insight into what is going on or has gone on in the past in various parts of the world, while other panels provided focused studies on individual authors or texts or made more theoretical or generalised arguments. Panels that were convened as such by their participants (for example the Irish and Brazilian panels, and I am sure there were others) had the advantage that the presenters knew each other and each other’s work, and there were cross-references and echoes in the content that gave these sessions a special coherence, but panels thoughtfully formed by the organisers also sparked off each other as discussions developed. At the end of every session the conversations continued informally and cards and email addresses were exchanged as participants found interests in common or recognised that a relationship might flourish beyond the congress itself.

(L-R) Siobhán Parkinson, Pat Ryan, Ciara Ní Bhroin, and Jane O’Hanlon present their panel at the IRSCL Congress.

The Irish panel on ‘Silence, Censorship and Gatekeeping in Irish Children’s Literature’, convened by Jane O’Hanlon of Poetry Ireland, represented a wide range of interests within the Irish children’s literature community. Jane’s own paper looked at gender, Patrick Ryan focused on storytelling in schools, Siobhán Parkinson spoke about the challenges facing children’s publishing in Ireland, and Ciara Ní Bhroin gave an insightful account of the fiction of Siobhán Dowd. There were Irish contributors to other panels also. Hot off the plane on the first day of the congress, Kate Harvey of NUIG raised interesting questions regarding child agency and suppression in theatre for young audiences by looking at the Abbey Theatre’s ‘Priming the Canon’ series. Under the intriguing title ‘Secrets and Lies’ Siobhán Callaghan, a PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin, gave a paper on the work of the Australian Children’s Laureate Morrs Gleitzman’s Once series entitled ‘Deceit and the child’s narrative voice’. 


It is, I suppose, too subjective a judgement to declare this the best congress ever, but it certainly took the prize for being the most amazingly well organised, starting with super-fast, super-smooth and super-pleasant registration on the first morning. With five hundred participants, it was the biggest IRSCL congress ever, and with dozens of parallel sessions each day, it was remarkable that they all started lickety-split on time and, even more remarkably, ended on the button. This was due largely to the vigilance of the various session chairs, who kept a watch on the time, as well as the co-operation of the speakers. Special thanks are due also to the corps of volunteer “angels” who answered questions, found lost things and provided a “room host” for each session, who supported the session chairs and made sure that the inevitable technological wobbles were quickly and calmly resolved. The congress was organised by the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, in collaboration with the Department of Culture, Languages and Media at Malmö University, , Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University, and Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. Quite a line-up!


Having started with the venue, I will end with a note on the food. Simple but tasty sit-down lunches laid on by the conference centre sustained delegates, and 500 people got fed every mid-day with no fuss. Evening events also featured food, especially a most delicious buffet at the city hall. And of course the congress ended with a smashing and convivial grand banquet. Stockholm is a city to be revisited.

A conversation with Professor Kimberley Reynolds on Radical Children’s Literature

Have a listen to our latest podcast with Professor Kimberley Reynolds, the keynote speaker at the recent ISSCL conference.


The 2019 conference on Radical Young People’s Literature and Culture is fast approaching and the programme has just been announced! Click here to view the 2019 ISSCL conference programme!

Join us on Thursday 28 March from 6.00 p.m. to 8.00 p.m. for a Masterclass with Professor Kimberley Reynolds.

Register here for the Masterclass!


Registration is now open for the 2019 conference! 

There are four different rates available. Please select the applicable rate below.




ISSCL Membership and Conference Registration (Waged)





ISSCL Membership and Conference Registration (Unwaged/ Student)





Conference Registration Only (Waged)





Conference Registration Only (Unwaged/ Student)


Lunch and beverages will be available for purchase from Blasta restaurant on the campus of Marino Institute of Education throughout the conference. Other local restaurant options include Scrumptious Café on Philipsburgh Avenue and 22 on Sion Hill Road.

Click here for directions on how to find Marino Institute of Education: Conference Location

There are several accommodation options near Marino Institute of Education.

15-20 minutes’ walking distance from Marino Institute of Education is the Skylon Hotel.

There are also some Bed and Breakfasts available nearby.

For delegates who wish to stay in the city centre, the 123 bus goes from O’Connell Street to Marino Institute of Education. For information on the 123 bus route and timetable click here.

Radical Young People’s Literature and Culture

The Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature

 Friday 29th and Saturday 30th March 2019

 Marino Institute of Education, Dublin 9, Ireland

 Keynote address: Professor Kimberley Reynolds

It is now over ten years since Kimberley Reynolds highlighted the importance of radical dimensions of children’s literature in her book, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction. Texts for young people have always been embedded in norms, concepts and systems regarding socialisation, education, and enculturation and offer empowering and disempowering possibilities for everyone who engages with them. Concepts of childhood, youth literature and youth culture are situated and operate within diverse contexts and contested spaces which are negotiated by readers, audiences, publishers, creative industries, authors, librarians, teachers, families, gate keepers, institutions, cultural movements, and political and religious groups. Radical youth literature challenges dominant expectations and norms about childhood, society, socialisation, and young people’s reading, acts as a force for change and encourages children and young adults to question the authority of those in power. In today’s world, the role and liberating possibilities of radical youth culture and literature have become even more urgent.

This conference will explore the experimental, subversive and/or disruptive potential of Irish and international literature and culture for young people. The conference will also consider the extent to which children’s and young-adult texts and culture can promote, cultivate and/or establish radical representations and ideas. In what ways is today’s radical youth literature different from that of earlier decades? What contemporary issues are addressed in radical youth literature and culture and how? To what extent have publishing, schools, libraries, multimedia and entertainment industries engaged with radical youth texts and radical youth culture? How is radical children’s and young adult literature and culture created, distributed, enacted and experienced?

Radical Young People's Literature and Culture Conference

About the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature

The purpose of the Irish Society for the Study of Children’s Literature is to promote academic research into children’s literature. Membership is open to scholars from Ireland and other countries, and to researchers at all career stages, including postgraduate students. We welcome members from a wide range of disciplines, including literature, history, education, psychology, sociology, women’s studies, and fine arts. We seek to foster a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of children’s literature.  Our committee is elected every two years and you can read our constitution here

Would you like to know more about us and get involved?  Join the ISSCL

The summer 2018 ISSCL podcast explores retellings of fairytales and folklore in Irish children’s and young-adult literature. Dr Brian Mac Manus discusses the power of fantasy with award-winning novelist, Deirdre Sullivan, and academic and author, Dr Caoimhe Nic Lochlainn.

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