“IRSCL Congress in Stockholm – Celebrating Children’s Culture” by Anna Mik

If Stockholm is not the capital of children’s literature, it certainly might be considered one of the most important centres of studies focusing on this very phenomenon. The heritage of Astrid Lindgren and influence of Tove Jansson (a Finish author writing her Moomin saga in Swedish) are present on every corner of the city and in the local children’s culture. The most beautiful playgrounds I have ever seen, are a visible part of Stockholm infrastructure:

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Figures 1: Fruit playground in Liljeholmskajen district, phot. by the author of the post.

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Figures 2: Fruit playground in Liljeholmskajen district, phot. by the author of the post.

No wonder this place was selected as the venue for the 24th Biennial Congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature, August 14–18 2019, with the theme: “Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature” [WEBSITE]. As it was a very unique experience – and important to me personally – I have decided to share here some impressions from my visit to Stockholm.

The Congress was held in the beautiful building Norra Latin, a former boy school, where the ancient heritage (with Greek mythology and Latin language) was considered the most important part of education. In 1989 it became a conference centre and it is now already a magical place, chosen as thea ‘title character’ of a Swedish young adult novel by Sara Bergmark Elfgren:

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Figure 3: Norra Latin Conference Centre in Norrmalm district, SOURCE.

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Figure 4: Book cover of Sara Bergmark Elfgren’s novel, SOURCE.

The Congress itself was full of amazing lectures and opportunities to meet researchers from all around the world. Probably the most important to me were two keynote’s papers: Vanessa Joosen’s, putting an emphasis on what diversity, especially represented by young researchers, can bring to the children’s literature studies, and Boel Westin’s, the famous biographer of Tove Jansson, who reminded everyone (with a little help from Moomins) the real meanings of silence. What was also inspiring and very unique, were the events accompanying the panels – all connected to the children’s literature.

We had the opportunity to visit Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, have a tour to Astrid Lindgren’s apartment and go to Junibacken – a museum and cultural centre of Swedish children’s literature. After a greeting from Nyls Nyman – Astrid Lindgren’s grandson – we attended the meetings with Swedish authors and illustrators of children’s books – among others with Sara Bergmark Elfgrem (the author of “Norra Latin”) and Linda Bondestam, who illustrated several Ulf Stark’s books (“Mit Egen Lilla Liten”, “Djur Som Ingen Sett”):

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Figure 5: Book cover of Min egen lilla liten, 2014, SOURCE.

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Figure 6: Book cover of Djur som ingen set tutom, 2016, SOURCE.

In Junibacken we also took a ride on the Story Train, where Astrid Lindgrend’s voice narrated the most famous Swedish stories from folklore and children’s literature. It certainly reminded all the researchers of the joy of childhood and showed them the magical Stockholm – just beneath their feet:

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Figure 7: Stockholm by night in Junibacken, phot. by the author of the post.

My presentation took place on the last day of the congress – after all the panels and all the events. I discussed the case of the ‘silenced beast’ from Marcin Szczygielski’s book: “The Heart of Nephthys”, a numb centauride Haro [link to the entry by Maciej Skowera on the Our Mythical Childhood Survey]. Quite a lot of participants were surprised that classical antiquity has such a strong place in Polish culture. But they were even more surprised that it also is a part of Korean children’s literature – as Suh Yoon Kim presented her paper on Echo and her influence on children, dealing with parental disputes. It was one of the rare opportunities to confront the ideas of classical mythology, coming from such different (yet similar!) cultures. Especially when shared in Norra Latin – where classical tradition and children’s literature met once again.

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Figure 8: Haro from “The Heart of Nephthys”, scan by the author of the post.

Post written by Anna Mik

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