Reading for Normal
In 2020-21 I ran a project exploring the role reading can have for young people facing the isolation and stress of a global pandemic. Reading for Normal explored the benefits of providing teen readers with a temporary digital community for talking about their own lives in relation to fiction. The project asked what is gained when young people from around the UK encounter recognisable pre-pandemic worlds in British young adult literature (YA) and discuss these together. It examined how this shared experience can help address the challenges that lockdown has brought, including threats to mental health and wellbeing. Reading for Normal also critiqued problematic ideas of ‘normality’ in relation to adolescence, instead aiming to foster understanding of the common moments of ‘ordinariness’ that appear in textual representations of everyday British life. The project was funded by a British Academy’s Covid-19 Small Grant and the Southlands Methodist Trust, and now has an associated national reading programme, Reading4Normal.
The International Journal of Young Adult Literature
I launched this journal in 2020, with the aim of showcasing new scholarship covering the theory, critical interpretation, literary history, and cultural production of young adult literature from all parts of the world. IJYAL acknowledges the growth of the field of YA and takes it seriously as a subject of literary enquiry. Areas covered include theoretical work, considerations of form, genre, theme or style, author studies, comparative analysis, explorations of reception and response, and publication histories.
Aidan Chambers The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction
Working with Aidan Chambers to help edit his new collection of essays on 'youth fiction' was a joy, as I am a a longterm fan of his YA novels (particularly Postcards from No Man's Land) and regularly use his critical writings in my teaching. The Age Between was published by Fincham Press in 2020.
Lifelong Reading: New Stories
Remembering and rereading childhood books can provide the means for understanding identity over time. This project invited older adults living with dementia to explore their childhood reading in intimate discussion, and create new narratives in the form of ‘book boxes’. I worked with creative practitioners Gemma Seltzer and Wallis Eates, and the Holybourne Day Centre in Roehampton, and the result was an intense and exciting collaboration. We created a ‘Good Practice Guide’ and contributed to the Baring Foundation's Treasury of Arts Activities for Older People. I have written up the project and its methodology in a journal article ‘”Life goes through in a book”: a case study of a co-creative narrative enquiry involving older adults living with early-stage dementia’.
Men Reading The Secret Garden
In the second half of the twentieth century, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (1911) became canonised as a "girls' classic" and published accounts of the novel have often drawn on personal memories of girlhood reading. By interviewing men who read The Secret Garden when they were young, this project uncovered an alternative history of reception and tested some of the most common interpretations of the novel's characters, themes, and ending. My findings can be read in the article ‘“Girls Like it Most”: Challening Gendered Canons and Paracanons in the Case of The Secret Garden’.
I have supervised these wonderful projects to completion:
Nick Campbell: 'Children's Neo-Romanticism: The Archaeological Imagination in Post-War Children's Fantasy.'
Erica Gillingham: 'Lesbian Love Stories in Young Adult Literature and Graphic Novels: Narrative Constructions of Same-Sex Relationships between Female Characters across Genre and Form.'
Anne Malewski: 'Growing Sideways: Shifting Boundaries between Childhood and Adulthood in Twenty-First Century Britain'
Sarah Pyke: 'Queer readers remember: The textual and extratextual afterlives of childhood reading for LGBTQ adults'
Kay Waddilove: 'Good Enough? Representations of Motherhood in Populist Children's Literature from 1911 to 2011'
I am currently supervising these students:
Emily Corbett: 'Gender-Variant Identities in Twenty-First Century Young Adult Literature.'
Odhran O'Donoghue: 'It gets better? Homonormativity, queerness, and the illusion of progress in contemporary American LGBT+ young adult fiction'