Congress Report: 23rd Biennial Congress in Toronto, Canada

Possible & Impossible Children: Children's Literature & Childhood Studies

July 29 - August 2, 2017
Toronto, Canada

2017 IRSCL Congress Logo

Convenor: Cheryl Cowdy and Peter Cumming

Committee Members: Stacey Bliss, Geneviève Brisson, Jeffrey Canton, Kabita Chakraborty, Natalie Coulter, Andrea Emberly, Alison Halsall, Gurbir Singh Jolly, Larisa Julius, Anah-Jayne Markland, Fazina Mohammed

Keynote Speakers:

Peter Hunt, Professor Emeritus, Cardiff University, UK
Suzanne Pouliot, Professor Emerita, l'Université de Sherbrooke, Canada
Robin Bernstein, Professor, Harvard University, USA
Daniel Goldin Halfon, Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico
Michèle Petit, CNRS-université Paris I, France

Panel of Past IRSCL Presidents: Sandra L. Beckett, Professor Emeritus, Brock University, Canada; Clare Bradford, Professor Emerita, Deakin University, Australia; Mavis Reimer, Professor, University of Winnipeg, Canada; Kimberley Reynolds, Professor, Newcastle University, UK; John Stephens, Professor Emeritus, Macquarie University, Australia

Invited Roundtable Participants:
Indigeneity and Children's and Young Adult Literature: Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, Drew Hayden Taylor, Cuauhtémoc Germán Cuaquehua Calixto (Cuauhtémoc Wetzka); Moderator: David McNab
Mediated Possibilities: Young People as Creators, Producers and Audiences of Film: Elizabeth Muskala, Carol Nguyen, Julianna Notten, Haya Waseem; Facilitator: Natalie Coulter
The Medium and the Messengers: Local Artists, Globalized Genres, and Transnational Audiences: Zetta Elliott, Shauntay Grant, Rukhsana Khan, Vivek Shraya; Moderator: Gurbir Singh Jolly

Sponsors: Children's Studies Program (now Children, Childhood and Youth), Department of Humanities, York University; York University (Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; Faculty of Graduate Studies; Faculty of Education; Academic Vice-President and Provost; Vice-President of Research and Innovation; Department of History; Department of Communication Studies; Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies; Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean; Winters College; Scott Library; Bookstore; Accommodation & Conference Services; University Informational Technology Services); Toronto Public Library; Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox

2017 IRSCL Congress Website
2017 IRSCL Congress Call for Papers - English
2017 IRSCL Congress Call for Papers - French
2017 - Program for Possible & Impossible Children: Children's Literature & Childhood Studies, 23rd biennial congress in Toronto, Canada

The Toronto Congress

IRSCL Delegates at York University

Possible & Impossible Children: Intersections of Children's Literature & Childhood Studies, the 23rd Biennial Congress of IRSCL, was hosted by the Children's Studies Program (now Children, Childhood and Youth) of the Department of Humanities, York University, Toronto, Canada, from July 29 through August 2, 2017. As the Call for Papers (CFP) announced, co-convenors Cheryl Cowdy and Peter Cumming, with the support of their organizing committee, aimed to enable timely and vital discussions related to production, representation, and reception of children's and young adult texts from all media, particularly in relation to international intersections between the emerging, evolving, and globally expanding multidisciplinary field of children's, childhood, and youth studies and the longer-established field of children's and young adult literatures and media.

A broad distribution of the CFP resulted in the submission of 434 paper and panel proposals from scholars in more than 50 countries. With the essential help of 70 IRSCL volunteer vettors, the organizing committee accepted 353 proposals. Of these, 273 papers, including a handful of Skype presentations (for scholars unable to travel because of USA travel bans), most in English but with a few in French, were presented in 13 parallel streams and 7 sessions. Presenters came from Canada, USA, UK, Latin America, Australasia, East and South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

Congress Venue

York University, with its goals of interdisciplinarity, international collaboration, and social justice, provided major support to IRSCL Congress 2017: the Academic Vice-President and Provost declared the conference an "academic" and "internal" event, thereby offering IRSCL complimentary use of large lecture halls and small seminar rooms for keynote speakers, roundtables, and panel and paper presentations; York's Faculties of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Graduate Studies, and Education, and a variety of departments, research centres, and the library and bookstore provided financial and in-kind support to facilitate special events at the Congress; and faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students of the Children's Studies Program and Department of Humanities, including paid assistants and unpaid volunteers, undertook many of the tasks required to facilitate an event of this scope. External sponsors included the Toronto Public Library and the Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox. And IRSCL itself provided a seed grant to enable fundraising and initial organization of Congress 2017.

IRSCL Delegates at York University IRSCL Delegates at York University

IRSCL Delegates at York University

Academic and Social Program

IRSCL Congress 2017 opened with Knowledge Keeper Amy Desjarlais welcoming delegates from around the world to the traditional territory of many Indigenous Nations on which York University is located. The convenors, with French interpretation by organizing committee member Geneviève Brisson, then declared Congress 2017 open. Following the opening keynote address, a Panel of Past Presidents of IRSCL moderated by IRSCL President Elisabeth Wesseling, an opening reception was held, including music by child and youth performers from Toronto Tabla Ensemble and an official welcome from York University by Academic Vice-President and Provost (now President) Rhonda Lenton.

The academic program for Congress 2017 featured 10 prominent keynote speakers. The opening keynote featured a Panel of Past IRSCL Presidents, Sandra L. Beckett (Canada); Clare Bradford (Australia); Mavis Reimer (Canada); Kimberley Reynolds (UK); and John Stephens (Australia), addressing the Congress theme.

IRSCL Presidents Panel

Kimberley Reynolds, Clare Bradford, and Sandra Beckett on Past President's Panel

IRSCL Presidents Panel

Mavis Reimer and John Stephens on Past President's Panel

On the second day, Peter Hunt (UK) conducted a valuable and extensive historical review of children's literature studies and their intersections with childhood studies in "From Librarianship to Childhood Studies: The Curious Journey of Children's Literature."

Peter Hunt Keynote

Keynote Speaker Peter Hunt

The third keynote, "Réception critique des oeuvres publiées en littérature pour la jeunesse de 1920 à 2000, au Québec," was delivered in French by Suzanne Pouliot (Québec, Canada) with simultaneous interpretation in English.

Suzanne Pouliot Keynote

Keynote Speaker Suzanne Pouliot

The fourth, by Robin Bernstein (USA), was "Children, Literature, Things: On Going-to-Bed Books."

Robin Bernstein Keynote

Keynote Speaker Robin Bernstein

Finally, IRSCL Board Member Evelyn Arizpe (UK) facilitated "Poverty and Riches in Children's Literature and the Promotion of Reading: Taking Paths Back and Forth between Latin American and the 'First World,'" a joint presentation in Spanish by Daniel Goldin Halfon (Mexico) and Michèle Petit (France), with simultaneous interpretation into English. Presenting two of the keynote presentations in languages other than English with professional interpretation into English was a major-but hopefully valuable-undertaking by Congress 2017.

Keynote Panel

Keynote Panel: "Poverty and Riches in Children's Literature and the Promotion of Reading"

In addition to the keynote addresses, Congress 2017 organized three special roundtables. "Indigeneity and Children's and Young Adult Literature," moderated by Professor David McNab, featured authors, performers, and illustrators from Indigenous communities in the colonial settler states of Canada and Mexico: Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton, Drew Hayden Taylor, and Cuauhtémoc Germán Cuaquehua Calixto (Cuauhtémoc Wetzka).

Indigeneity and Children’s and Young Adult Literature roundtable

Indigeneity and Children's and Young Adult Literature Roundtable

"Mediated Possibilities: Young People as Creators, Producers and Audiences of Film," facilitated by Professor Natalie Coulter, was hosted by Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and included Elizabeth Muskala, TIFF Director of Youth Learning and TIFF Kids, as well as youth filmmakers Carol Nguyen, Julianna Notten, and Haya Waseem.

Mediated Possibilities: Young People as Creators, Producers and Audiences of Film roundtable

Mediated Possibilities: Young People as Creators, Producers and Audiences of Film Roundtable

And "The Medium and the Messengers: Local Artists, Globalized Genres, and Transnational Audiences," moderated by Gurbir Singh Jolly, was hosted by Toronto Public Library (also offering tours of the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books and the Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy) and featured Zetta Elliott, Shauntay Grant, Rukhsana Khan, and Vivek Shraya.

The Medium and the Messengers Roundtable

Zetta Elliott, Shauntay Grant, Rukhsana Khan, and Vivek Shraya at The Medium and the Messengers Roundtable

The 273 papers presented at Congress 2017 addressed the Congress theme through a variety of lenses, including misfit children, gendered childhoods, girlhood, boyhood, LGBTQ childhoods, sexuality, dystopian youth, keywords, animals, writing and reading by children and youth, adaptations, racialized childhoods, indigeneity, postcolonialism, narratology, embodiment of childhood, cognitive childhoods, relations of generations, schools and pedagogy, libraries and archives, games and play, philosophy, youth culture, mediatized childhoods, politics, ideology, representations of alcohol and drugs, slavery, children's rights, genres (including poetry, crossover literature, children's magazines, digital culture, children's nonfiction, history, picture books, memoirs, graphic novels, animated film, fantasy, realism, folktales and folklore), eco-criticism, war, agency, diasporic childhoods, space and place, nation, (dis)ability, historical periods and events and national or cultural sites (including 19th century childhoods, World War I and II, the Holocaust, childhoods under Chairman Mao, Bloodlands fiction, Latino/a children's literature, Germany's National Socialist children's literature, South Asian conflict zones, child soldiers), and individual authors (Edith Nesbit, L.M. Montgomery, Lewis Caroll, J.K. Rowling). (Since Congress 2017, Professors Cheryl Cowdy and Alison Halsall of York University have guest-edited a special issue of International Research in Children's Literature based on the Congress theme and papers arising from Congress 2017: see IRCL 11.2, December 2018.)

On Sunday, July 30, York's Scott Library hosted a reception for a new children's literature collection acquired as part of the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections. Throughout Congress 2017, York University Bookstore displayed and sold books. The Beguiling Books and Art sold comic books and graphic novels. LEN: Democratic Purveyors of Fine Art and Beautiful Things displayed and sold distinctive Canadian art items, and Black Creek Pioneer Village Gift Shop offered a discount to delegates wishing to buy Canadian souvenirs.

On Monday, July 31, IRSCL members were invited to a special "brown bag lunch" meeting to discuss a proposed "IRSCL Statement of Principles." Initiated by member Philip Nel and pursued by the IRSCL Executive Board, this statement of principles was an attempt to develop a response by children's literature scholars to the lives of children in current negative political contexts. As President Elisabeth Wesseling wrote, "the values that IRSCL cherishes cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, in this historical moment, they need explicit articulation and staunch defence."

On Tuesday, August 1, the IRSCL membership meeting included Executive Board reports; a presentation of IRSCL awards; adoption of the IRSCL Statement of Principles; and the election of the 2017-19 Executive Board. At Congress 2017, IRSCL developed a statement of principles which it subsequently released in multiple languages on Universal Children's Day, November 20, 2017. See the IRSCL Statement of Principles, with the written text and oral presentations in multiple languages.

150 registrants and guests attended the festive Congress Dinner at Black Creek Pioneer Village, adjacent to York University's Keele Campus; all delegates were able to visit Black Creek Pioneer Village prior to the dinner. Highlights of the Congress Dinner included the honouring of Professor Jack Zipes with a lifetime membership to IRSCL; the thanking of retiring IRSCL Executive Board members; the welcoming of elected 2017-2019 Executive Board members; and a presentation by the organizers of IRSCL Congress 2019 about Stockholm's Silence and Silencing Congress August 14 to 18, 2019.

2017 IRSCL Congress Dinner

IRSCL Congress Dinner at Black Creek Pioneer Village

Congress 2017 hosted three events for graduate students and junior scholars, aiming to foster professional development and relationships. On the first night of Congress, 30 delegates, many of whom were attending IRSCL Congress for the first time, mingled with new colleagues from around the world at a "Meet and Greet" barbecue buffet. Twenty delegates took part in a pub night in downtown Toronto on Monday July 31. And on the second day of Congress, 95 delegates participated in the "M(e[a]t a Professor" mentorship lunch. The organizing committee was thrilled with the enthusiastic response from mentors and mentees wanting to participate in the lunch, especially the generosity of senior scholars willing to share their experience with junior colleagues. Following the lunch, several of the planning committee members received glowing endorsements from the lunch participants, who had found the lunch to be helpful in their professional development and in fostering international connections that would have otherwise been more difficult to make. During the Congress's closing ceremonies, IRSCL president Elisabeth Wesseling (herself a participant) listed the mentorship lunch as one of the Toronto Congress's notable innovations, hailing it as an event worth pursuing at future congresses. (In January 2018, two graduate students on the organizing committee even held a "Post-IRSCL Symposium" at York University, "Re-connecting and Querying Impossible and Possible Children," enabling York faculty and students to network by revisiting papers presented at Congress 2017.)

2017 IRSCL Mentorship Lunch

IRSCL Congress Mentorship Lunch

The final sessions of Congress 2017 featured two special panels. "Journal Publishing: Children's and Young Adult Literature and Childhood Studies" showcased brief presentations by Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature; Children's Literature Association Quarterly; Children's Literature; International Research in Children's Literature; Barnboken: Journal of Children's Literature Research; The Lion and the Unicorn; Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures; Children's Literature in Education; Libri & Liberi; and Children's Literature in English Language Education. Then, "Research Centres: Children's and Young Adult Literature and Childhood Studies" shared brief presentations by the Center for Young People's Literature and Culture, Poland; the Institute for Child and Youth Studies, Canada; the Research Center Youth - Media - Education, Germany; Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books, UK; The Swedish Institute for Children's Books, Sweden; the International Forum for Research in Children's Literature (IFRCL), UK (Jean Webb); and the Centre for Research in Young People's Texts and Cultures (CRYTC), Canada.

The closing ceremonies for IRSCL Congress 2017 consisted of closing remarks by the co-convenors and organizing committee - including thanks to the many sponsors and volunteers who helped make the Congress a success; thoughtful reflections by IRSCL President Elisabeth Wesseling; and a glance ahead to IRSCL Congress 2019 (Stockholm) by convenor Åsa Warnqvist. Professor Ruth Koleszar-Green from York University reminded delegates about the traditional lands upon which IRSCL Congress 2017 had taken place.

With the major contributions made by York University, the organizing committee, and an army of volunteers, and with a rigorous vetting of paper submissions assisted by IRSCL vettors, IRSCL Congress 2017 was pleased to be able to pay all its expenses while still returning a profit of $10,000 (Canadian dollars) to IRSCL. The Congress 2017 convenors and organizing committee made every effort to make this Congress accessible to scholars from around the world, particularly to precariously employed scholars, graduate students and junior scholars, and scholars with little financial support from their home institutions and nations. It is the hope of Congress 2017 that some of profits from this Congress can assist in increasing broad access to future Congresses.

Prepared by Cheryl Cowdy and Peter Cumming, on behalf of the IRSCL Congress 2017 Organizing Committee