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Emergency children’s literature about COVID-19

My hero is you book cover. Credit: Inter-Agency Standing Committee
My hero is you book cover. Credit: Inter-Agency Standing Committee

Children’s literature is a cultural arena in which young people are encouraged to both escape real life and discover ways to deal with it. In crises, this potential is particularly charged; creators and publishers of children’s literature bear an obligation to construct authentic and bibliotherapeutic narratives in response to urgent realities. With this in mind, the dozens of stories and picture books which appeared in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic sought to instruct, inform, and entertain young people during distressing times that destabilised education and the publishing industry. This seminar will historicise the production of these primarily digital texts at the start of the pandemic, identifying the development of an “emergency children’s literature” as an early pandemic ritual equivalent to “clap for carers” and children drawing pictures of rainbows in windows.  

To explore this context, Gabriel Duckels will consider several COVID-19-related picturebooks commissioned by the International Board on Books for Young People, whose translation and circulation can be conceptualised as a symbol of solidarity amid accelerating rhetoric of national sovereignty. Duckels will then draw upon my research into British-designated examples of this emergency children’s literature (Duckels & Ryder, forthcoming) to consider the informational, stylistic, and extra-textual features of these early reflections of COVID-19 within his own national context. Essentially, this seminar will examine the content and emergence of this precarious archive, within its broader relation to the social, political, and technological contexts and chronologies of COVID-19.  

Speaker 

Gabriel Duckels is a Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholar completing a PhD in children’s literature studies at the University of Cambridge. His doctoral thesis examines the ongoing relationship between HIV/AIDS and American melodrama in queer young adult literature and popular culture. His research has been published or is forthcoming in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly and Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures.  

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