Congress Report: 24rd Biennial Congress in Stockholm, Sweden

Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature

August 14 - August 18, 2019
Stockholm, Sweden

2019 IRSCL Congress Logo

Convenor: Docent Åsa Warnqvist, the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books

Committee Members: Professor Elina Druker (Stockholm University), Professor Björn Sundmark (Malmö University), Docent Åsa Warnqvist (The Swedish Institute for Children’s Books), Docent Mia Österlund (Åbo Akademi University)

Congress Website:

2019 IRSCL Congress Website

Keynote Speakers:

Vanessa Joosen, Associate Professor, University of Antwerp, UK
Bob Davis, Professor, University of Glasgow
Temi Odumosu, Senior Lecturer, Malmö University
Boel Westin, Professor Emeritus, Stockholm University
Andrea Mei-Ying Wu, Professor, National Cheng Kung University


Financial support

The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences; The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland; The Swedish Research Council; The Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland; The Nordic Culture Fund; Malmö University; Stockholm University; Åbo Akademi University; The Swedish Institute for Children’s Books; The International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL).


City of Stockholm; Moomin Characters Oy Ltd; Astrid Lindgren AB; Rabén & Sjögren; Junibacken; The Astrid Lindgren Society; Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award; Bonnier Carlsen; Lilla Piratförlaget; Alfabeta; Natur & Kultur; Berghs Förlag; The Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize

Attendance Estimate:

IRSCL Award Winner(s)
Lena Hoffmann, Crossover. Mehrfachadressierung in Text, Markt und Diskurs

Summary of IRSCL Award-winning Publication(s) and Merit:

In her monograph, Lena Hoffmann analyses multiple address in crossover literature from the late 19th century until the present. The thesis focusses on the structures and strategies of multiple address, and contrasts that concept with ›double address‹ and other related terms.

The concept of multiple address, and therefore of crossover literature and media, can be properly comprehended only when analysed within the context of literary market strategies and the use of the term in public discourse. Lena Hoffmann develops a methodological framework along the examples of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island", Otfried Preußler's "Krabat", Michael Ende's "Die unendliche Geschichte", Markus Zusak's "The Book Thief" and Wolfgang Herrndorf's "Tschick". The monograph therefore responds to and contradicts the common view that multiple address and crossover are synonymous with fantasy and merely catchphrases of publishers and distributors and underlines the idea that crossover can be identified as a distinct genre of fiction. Summary from:

IRSCL Research Grant Recipient:
Ada Bieber (Germany) Marta Larragueta (Spain)

Summary of IRSCL Research Grant Project
Dr. Ada Bieber (Humboldt-University in Berlin) was awarded the IRSCL Research Grant for her research project “Relations with the Natural World: Animals and Urban Landscapes in Shaun Tan’s Work.” Her research brings together the representation of nature and animals that challenge the experience of cultural landscapes of cities in Shaun Tan’s work. In her research, Dr. Ada Bieber argues that Tan’s urban landscapes depict fusions of natural and cultural world, inhabited by animals as figuration of ‘the other.’ Marta Larragueta (Universidad Camilo José Cela) received the IRSCL Research Grant for her project entitled “Picturebooks Repertoires: Children and Teachers’ Preferences.” Her project aims at identifying children’s preferences regarding picture books but also teachers’ preferences regarding picture books. Dimensions that the project takes into account include but are not limited to: illustration, quantity of colour and technique, text, and narrative elements. Marta Larragueta’s methodologies include reading sessions and interviews. Summaries from:

Describe the accomplishments of the Congress: The 24th Biennial Congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature took place in Stockholm, Sweden 14–18 August 2019. It was hosted by the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books (Sweden) in collaboration with the co-organizers the Department of Culture, Languages and Media at Malmö University (Sweden), the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University (Sweden), and the Faculty of Arts, Psychology and Theology at Åbo Akademi University (Finland). The Organizing Committee consisted of the institute’s Research Manager and Docent Åsa Warnqvist with Professor Elina Druker, Professor Björn Sundmark, and Docent Mia Österlund. The committee also received invaluable help from Congress Assistant Simon Springare in the planning of the Congress.

Organizing Committee

The Organizing Committee. From the left: Elina Druker, Björn Sundmark, Åsa Warnqvist, and Mia Österlund.

The Congress theme was “Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature”. As the organizers noted in the Call for papers, the relationship between silence and books for young readers is complex and filled with contradictions. Functioning as a discursive practice that silences children on the one hand and a tool of empowerment that gives voice to children on the other, books for young readers both reinforce and challenge the silent child ideal. In addition, the Call for papers underlined that silence is also ever-present in children’s books in the form of what is left unsaid or censored.

Through the Congress theme, the organizers aimed to stimulate discussion within the research community on the intricate connections between children’s literature and silence. Inviting their fellow scholars to join them in causing “an ‘alarum’ that will be noisily heard throughout the world of children’s literature – and beyond!”, the organizers wished to bring together a polyphonic multitude of perspectives on how silence operates in children’s and young adult literature. The call was met with great enthusiasm from their fellow scholars and other professionals within the field of children’s literature. With 513 delegates from 52 different countries, IRSCL Congress 2019 is the biggest Congress in IRSCL history to date.

Since IRSCL Congress 2019, the discussions initiated by the Congress theme have continued in other forums within the field. In 2020, the Congress organizers co-edited a special issue of the journal International Research in Children’s Literature and a guest theme in Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research, both focusing on silence and silencing in children’s literature. In addition, the organizers have co-edited a Congress volume, Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature (2021), which gathers the IRCL and Barnboken articles as well as the five keynote contributions in the same volume. In this manner, the Congress theme continues to cause “an alarum” long after the end of the actual Congress in Stockholm.

Congress Venue

The Congress venue was the City Conference Centre located in the historical building Norra Latin. Situated in the heart of central Stockholm and built in a Neo-Renaissance style, Norra Latin was originally a school. From the inauguration in 1880, it remained an all-boys school until the first female students were admitted in 1961. In 1989, Norra Latin was turned into a conference and concert venue.

Congress Venue

The Congress venue Norra Latin.

During IRSCL Congress 2019, the Welcoming and Closing Ceremonies were held in the Auditorium where the five keynote speakers also delivered their presentations. The panels were held in smaller seminar rooms. During coffee and lunch breaks the delegates could browse the sponsors’ stands which lined the corridors. The sponsors’ stands gave delegates the opportunity to buy children’s books and other merchandise or have a chat with representatives of different publishers and organizations. Lunch was served in Restaurant Cabaret at Folket Hus, located across the street from Norra Latin, while the Congress Dinner was served in Norra Latin’s Pillar Hall.

Coffee break at Norra Latin

Coffee break at Norra Latin.

Delegates mingling outside the auditorium

Delegates mingling outside the Auditorium.

Sponsors' stand

Sponsors’ stand.

Academic and Social Program

On Wednesday 14 August, the Congress opened with a Welcome Ceremony which included speeches by the Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research Matilda Ernkrans, the President of the IRSCL Lies Wesseling, and the Organizing Committee. The Welcome Ceremony was followed by the first keynote presentation by Vanessa Joosen.

During the Congress, five keynote speakers delivered presentations related to silence and silencing in children’s literature. Covering a wide scope of material from different historical, geographical, and cultural contexts while also drawing on a variety of interrelated scholarly disciplines, the keynote presentations all illustrated the relevance and complexity of the Congress theme. The five presentations were: - Vanessa Joosen, University of Antwerp, “Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature: Theoretical Perspectives, State of the Art and Future Goals” - Temi Odumosu, Malmö University, “What Dreams May Come? Dealing with History and Decolonising Imagery for Children” - Andrea Mei-Ying Wu, National Cheng Kung University, “The (Silent) Archival Stories of Children’s Literature: Munro Leaf, Taiwan, and Beyond” - Bob Davis, University of Glasgow, “Silence, Sirens and Sleep: The Experience of Lullabies” - Boel Westin, Stockholm University, “A Hundred Miles of Silence: The Moomin Stories of Tove Jansson”

Temi Odumosu

Keynote speaker Temi Odumosu.

Keynote speaker Andrea Mei-Ying Wu.

Keynote speaker Andrea Mei-Ying Wu

The panels were divided into ten sessions that each consisted of 13 parallel panels. With about 420 presenters, the panel program offered a dynamic mix of topics and theoretical approaches which reflected the wide scope of children’s literature as a research field. The topics, genres, and theoretical concepts addressed in the panels included but were not limited to children’s rights; poetry; graphic novels; reading practices; muteness; child agency and suppression; indigenous voices; cognitive criticism; picturebooks and migration; social inequality; nonsense; women and girls unsilenced; music; publishing and gatekeepers; disability; war and memory; political silencing and resistance; race; fantasy; child agency and normalcy; queer; folktales; age studies; taboos; multiculturalism; ecocriticism; trauma; translation; digital perspectives; secrets and lies; and animal studies. Bringing together presenters from all over the world, the panel program also resulted in a truly international atmosphere with great potential to inspire further collaborations between scholars from different countries, cultures, and language areas."

Delegates listening

Delegates listening to a presentation.

Mavis Reimer

Presentation by Mavis Reimer.

The Congress schedule also included several well-attended evening activities. On the first evening of the Congress, the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books arranged an open house where delegates mingled while also learning more about the institute and its vast collections. On Thursday evening, the City of Stockholm hosted a reception at the beautiful Stockholm City Hall. The delegates were taken on a guided tour of the building before tucking into a Swedish smorgåsbord in the famous Blue Hall, the banquet hall used for the annual Nobel Banquet.

Evening reception

Delegates enjoying the evening reception at Stockholm City Hall.

The Blue Hall at Stockholm City Hall

The Blue Hall at Stockholm City Hall.

The Swedish smorgasbord at Stockholm City Hall

The Swedish smorgasbord at Stockholm City Hall.

On Friday evening, delegates were invited to a Nordic literature theme night at the children’s cultural centre Junibacken, which featured two interview panels with Nordic children’s book authors and illustrators. Afterwards the delegates enjoyed refreshments, the Junibacken exhibitions, and the famous Astrid Lindgren Story Train.

Panel on Nordic children’s literature

Panel on Nordic children’s literature at Junibacken. From the left: Erik Titusson (publisher), Linda Bondestam (writer and picture book artist), and Stian Hole (writer and picture book artist).

Panel on Nordic children’s literature at Junibacken

Panel on Nordic children’s literature at Junibacken.

The Junibacken exhibitions

The Junibacken exhibitions.

The Junibacken bookshop

The Junibacken bookshop.

The Junibacken evening buffet

The Junibacken evening buffet.

On Saturday, the evening activities concluded with the Congress Dinner. The 200 attending delegates were served a three-course dinner in Norra Latin’s Pillar Hall. The dinner guests were treated to performances by a quartet from Stockholms Studentsångare (Stockholm Academic Male Chorus), who were also joined by co-organizer Björn Sundmark. During the Congress dinner, Maria Nikolajeva and Kimberley Reynolds were also awarded Honorary Fellowships. In addition to the evening activities, Congress delegates were offered the possibility to visit world-renowned author Astrid Lindgren’s apartment where members of the Astrid Lindgren society gave guided tours. Moreover, on Thursday 15 August graduate students and junior scholars were invited to a mentoring lunch program, inspired by the hugely successful mentoring lunch arranged at the previous IRSCL Congress in Toronto in 2017. This year’s mentoring lunch was arranged by Sara Pankenier Weld and Matthew Roy. During the lunch, the participants had the chance to network with and receive advice from senior scholars within the field.

Mentoring lunch

All set up for the mentoring lunch.

Mentoring lunch in full swing

The mentoring lunch in full swing.

On Saturday 17 August, the IRSCL Members’ Meeting took place in the Auditorium. The meeting included reports from the President and Treasurer 2017–2019, reports from the convenors of the IRSCL Congress 2019 and IRSCL Congress 2021 respectively, and the election of the new board.

On Sunday 18 August, convenor Macarena García-González gave a short presentation of the upcoming IRSCL Congress 2021 (Santiago, Chile). The presentation was followed by a Journal Editor’s Roundtable, where representatives of eleven academic journals presented their work: Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research; Children’s Literature in Education: An International Quarterly; Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature; Barnelitterært Forskningstidsskrift: Nordic Journal of ChildLit Aesthetics; International Research in Children’s Literature (IRCL); Libri & Liberi: časopis za istraživanje dječje književnosti i kulture / Journal of Research on Children’s Literature and Culture; Children’s Literature in English Language Education: CLELE Journal; The Lion and the Unicorn; Research on Diversity in Youth Literature (RDYL); Filoteknos: Children’s Literature – Cultural Mediation – Anthropology of Childhood; and Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Kinder- und Jugendliteraturforschung.

The final day of Congress concluded with a Closing Ceremony during which Kristina Rennerstedt, Chairman of the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, gave a speech. The Closing Ceremony also included the Organizing Committee thanking all delegates, speakers, moderators, abstract reviewers, partners, sponsors, and volunteers for making the 24th Biennial Congress an event to remember.

The Organizing Committee are pleased to announce that the IRSCL Congress 2019 returned a profit which, in accordance with the IRSCL Board’s wishes, were used to fund the publication of the Congress volume.

Congress Survey

A survey was sent out to all delegates after the Congress and the organizers were amazed at the wonderful response. When estimating the overall experience on a scale from 1 to 5 (where 5 was the maximum) the mean was an incredible 4.79. Taking all questions into account (on Congress theme, content, balance between different elements in the program, information and communication, venue, food and refreshments, and receptions and other events) the mean was 4.77. A total of 286 Congress participants answered the survey.

Below are some quotes from the survey responses.

I found all Congress events meaningful and well organized. For me personally, the following aspects of the Congress stood out: --the most perfect organization of the panels (everything worked!); --excellent communication with the participants (e.g., all my email requests were answered promptly!); --the superb cultural program; --the Mentoring Lunch; --the venue was excellent; --the Congress packet with its aesthetically attractive bag and enclosed materials and little presents; --the helpfulness and friendliness of the organizational committee at the Convention Center (members of the committee were highly visible and available); --the book exhibit; --the Astrid Lindgren display; --the meals, etc. This is just a few aspects of the Congress that produced a positive impression on me and many other participants I talked to.

I found the conference to be well organised. Communication was excellent beforehand, the programme was full of interesting presentations, the venue was spacious and well appointed; there was plenty of space for connecting during breaks; the food was plentiful and delicious; the helpers were approachable and helpful, and there were many of interesting evening events. I thank the organisers very much.

I really loved that the sessions were interspersed with breaks where we could continue conversations, or meet up with other colleagues to chat, and that we didn't have discussants so that there was a nice bit of time for people to really talk about the work presented. It didn't feel rushed like so many other conferences are. In addition, I appreciated how the opening keynote speaker set a tone of collegiality, charitability, and of talking with each other across disciplines and different ideological positions with humility and respect. In addition, I was one of the people who had significant food allergies, and I was SO well taken care of. It was impressive, and it made such a difference to not have to constantly be worrying about food. Frankly, this was probably the best conference I have been to.

The organized lunches were very convenient (and delicious!) I appreciated the variety of the keynotes, which all have given me much to consider. Everything ran very smoothly and in a timely fashion, even with so many people. I enjoyed the mentoring lunch; my mentee did not appear, but given the setting I was able to converse with two other students and felt that I was able to provide some helpful advice. This was my first IRSCL, and the panels provided exactly what I was hoping: many opportunities to encounter scholars and texts from outside the U.S.. Given that I was traveling alone, I really appreciated the organized evening activities, especially since they were included in the conference fee. Both Junibacken and the City Hall reception were incredible opportunities to experience Stockholm, mingle with conference attendees, and, not incidentally, eat more outstanding food (with some good vegetarian options throughout the week)! The conference venue was one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered, and the Clarion Sign was an outstanding choice for the conference hotel--comfortable, convenient, and extremely reasonable in price. Oh, and I loved the free afternoon on Saturday--I walked around Gamla Stan and had a great time!

The mentor/mentee lunch was very nice! Also, the papers I listened to were very carefully thematically grouped into panels with related subjects. You could tell that there had been lots of work done on this behind the scenes. This led to very stimulating discussions that benefited both those who gave papers and the audience. Also, the atmosphere was overall inclusive and encouraging, which many people (especially those new to the conference) commented on as quite unusual. I think we should be proud of this and keep honoring this tradition. Of course, critical debate is and should be part of any conference, but behaving decently towards each other should always be the ultimate goal. Unnecessary fault-finding and nasty comments never helps anyone.

Fantastic food - the finest top to bottom at any conference of this size I have attended. I think that really helped people to feel they got a lot for the cost of registration. The keynotes were fantastic and had a big event aura.

I have been thoroughly impressed with the conference, its organisation, its beautiful location, and the depth of papers presented at it. The receptions and evening events were well beyond my expectations for an academic event. Special thanks to all organisers and volunteers -- you are an excellent team, very dedicated and professional!

This was one of the most smoothest, well organized conferences I've ever attended. I am very thankful to every person who worked so hard to make it such a fantastic experience.

I have attended lots of congresses and conferences world wide during the past 10 years, but I have to admit that this was the most well organised and well prepared congress of them all. Congratulations you have made it to the top!

This IRSCL Congress report was prepared by Hanna Liljeqvist, research assistant at the Swedish Institute for Children’s Books, and Åsa Warnqvist, on behalf of the IRSCL Congress 2019 Organizing Committee.

Photos:Janne Kulosaari