We share our research with other scholars and interested readers by means of academic journals and specialised magazines. On this page, you can find a short introduction to each publication as well as a link to read the full text. Most of our research is published in Open Access, which means you can read the texts for free. However, some journals choose to make the publications available for free only after a few years. You can browse publications regarding a specific topic or author from our corpus by using the tag filter on the right.
Intergenerational friendship or desire?
Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock (1984) and Ali Smith’s Autumn (2016) are two British novels that evoke an intense friendship between a girl and an older man. In this article, Vanessa Joosen explores their experimental narrative forms which include a complex chronology, unreliable narrator, dream scenes, gaps, and a rich intertextual network to frame an intergenerational friendship that can be read as intergenerational desire. The experimental narratives and reflections on the fluidity of age enable Smith and Jones to evoke this controversial topic without fulling addressing it. A lot is at stake for Fire and Hemlock, given that it is addressed to young readers and there is concern that children’s books could be used for grooming. Controversially, both novels locate the desire in the young girl rather than the old man and explore the agency and moments of disempowerment that the female characters experience. However, an age gap between childhood and adulthood is crucial in qualifying a relationship as “intergenerational desire,” and here, the novels’ experimental structures and fuzzy chronologies create ambiguity. In addition, the books create confusion about the nature of the attraction between the characters. They exploit the ambiguity that incomplete memories, unreliable narration, narrative gaps, metaphors, and intertextual references leave when thematizing what could be defined as friendship, kinship, love, and/or sexual attraction.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Holding Hands: Intergenerational Desire in Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock and Ali Smith’s Autumn’.
Poetics Today, vol. 44, no. 1–2, 2023, pp. 131–156.
No country for old women
In this essay, Michelle Anya Anjirbag uses Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, The Sleeper and the Spindle, and ‘Chivalry’ to examine the intersection of age and gender in his fairy-tale appropriations to consider how fantasy can reiterate stereotypical representations of older women. By drawing on the age studies work of Sylvia Henneberg and Susan Pickard to consider ageism as a cross-section to gendered constructions in Gaiman’s works, she makes visible how age affects perception and construction of gender, which can lead to the intertwining of age stereotypes and gendered double standards.
Anjirbag, Michelle Anya. ‘No Country for Old Women: Age, Power, and Beauty in Neil Gaiman’s Fantasies’.
Marvels & Tales, vol. 37, no. 1, 2023, pp. 3–20.
Encounters of a dreamy kind
Dreams can function in children’s books as a means to connect young characters and older figures in the story. In this article, Vanessa Joosen presents three methods to study intergenerational encounters in and through dreams in a selection of contemporary Dutch children’s books. She does this by means of a digital analysis of a corpus of 81 books to shows that the older the characters are, the less they are described as dreaming. Next, a close reading of intergenerational dreams lays bare, amongst others, the associations of dreaming with healing and death. Finally, a reader response study reveals that young children already understand some dream mechanisms and that older readers sometimes may draw on Freudian theory to interpret dreams, but that some also resist that.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Encounters of a Dreamy Kind: Dreams as Spaces for Intergenerational Play and Healing in Dutch Children’s Literature’.
Traum und Träumen in Kinder- und Jugendmedien, edited by Iris Schäfer, Brill, 2023, pp. 35–49.
Connecting research regarding age
Despite their shared interest in questions of age, prejudice and agency, the fields of childhood studies, age studies and children’s literature studies remain relatively separate. This is clear from their diverging definitions and uses of terms such as ‘ageism’, ‘aetonormativity’, ‘adultism’ and ‘childism’. In this article, Vanessa Joosen employs the concept of ‘childism’ (John Wall) to point out the benefits that a collaboration between these fields would bring, mainly in terms of researching intergenerational relationships. Drawing on Anne Fine’s The Granny Project (1983), she further shows that children’s books themselves can contribute to the paradigm shift envisioned by Wall. Fine’s novel about four children’s resistance to their parents’ plans to take their grandmother to a retirement home demonstrates a belief in the agency of young readers. The potential for intergenerational understanding that Wall puts at the heart of his concept of ‘childism’ also comes strongly to the fore.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Connecting Childhood Studies, Age Studies and Children’s Literature Studies: John Wall’s Concept of Childism and Anne Fine’s The Granny Project’.
Barnboken, vol. 45, 2022.
Becoming wiser over time
In this article, Leander Duthoy discusses how child and adult readers of children’s literature use the concepts of innocence and wisdom as age norms to reflect both on their own age and the age of fictional characters. He gathered data through semi-structured interviews and focus-group discussions with readers aged nine to seventy-five. In these conversations, Leander and his readers reflected on two Dutch language children’s books: Iep! (1996), written by Joke van Leeuwen, and Voor altijd samen, amen(1999), written by Guus Kuijer. Younger readers demonstrated an awareness of adult discourse surrounding childhood innocence, which some adopted without criticism, while others admitted to ‘performing’ innocence to escape adult ire. Furthermore, these same young readers also used innocence to ‘age’ young characters. For late adolescent and early adult readers, both young and old characters were sometimes deemed innocent. In contrast, older readers emphasised their own wisdom and reflected on the age of characters through that lens. Wisdom therefore emerged as a key age norm older readers used not only to praise older characters, but also to give positive meaning to their own experience of older adulthood. Notably, some characters that were perceived as especially wise by older readers were thought of as naïve and innocent by younger readers. Thus, the complexity of the readers’ responses challenged straightforward age-bound generalisations of wisdom and innocence.
Duthoy, Leander. ‘“I Became Much Wiser over Time”: Readers’ Use of Innocence and Wisdom as Age Norms in Responses to Children’s Literature’.
International Research in Children’s Literature, vol. 15, no. 3, 2022, pp. 279–293.
Shaping the self in the metanarrative
David Almond’s The Savage (2008), illustrated by Dave McKean, demonstrates how narrating enables the adolescent protagonist, Blue Baker, to explore themes of loss, grief and bullying in the embedded graphic narrative he creates about a savage boy, a story Blue calls ‘The Savage’. The metanarrative utterances in The Savage not only reveal Blue’s reflections regarding his role as narrator of ‘The Savage’, they are vital for understanding his experience of continuity-in-change. The Savage, which is ultimately a book about storytelling and illustrating, shows Blue engaging in reflective and transformative ‘narrative self-shaping’ (Hutto 2016). Based on narrative medicine, cognitive narratology, age studies and children’s literature studies, this essay underscores the importance of analysing age-related metanarrative comments in characters’ creative acts of shaping the self via narratives, ultimately showing how narrating tales and sharing stories can be empowering, and this across the lifespan.
Silva, Emma-Louise. ‘Continuity-in-Change in David Almond’s The Savage: Narrative Self-Shaping in Moments of Metanarrative’.
European Journal of Life Writing, vol. 11, 2022, pp. 93–111.
Shuffling and sighing
Children’s literature is traditionally seen as a carrier of various ideologies as well as an important factor in children’s socialisation, for example in terms of the representation of age. A children’s book that portrays older characters as frail people with old-fashioned habits will influence the young reader’s perception of older people in their own environment, perhaps resulting in them viewing the older generation with a negative attitude. Vice versa, when children often come into contact with stories in which older characters walk their own paths full of zest for life, they are likely to view older people differently in real life. In this article, Lindsey Geybels argues that not only children’s literature, but also fiction for young adults and adults, has an impact on the perception of age, specifically older adulthood, among its readers. In a corpus of 41 Dutch books written for different ages, the representation of older men and women is studied using the verbs, grammatical possessions and adjectives associated with characters of this age.
Geybels, Lindsey. ‘Shuffling Softly, Sighing Deeply: A Digital Inquiry into Representations of Older Men and Women in Literature for Different Ages’.
Social Sciences, vol. 12, no. 3, 2023, p. 112.
Adult authors and child characters experiencing memory
This essay demonstrates the fruitfulness of applying a lens based on 4E-inspired cognitive narratology to David Almond’s My Name is Mina (2010) in order to illuminate how the so-called cognitive-affective imbalance between children and adults needs reassessing, especially when it comes to memory. Merging recent developments in 4E – or embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive – approaches to cognition as proposed in philosophy of mind, with concepts such as fictional minds and storyworlds as discussed in cognitive narratology, I engage in close readings of My Name is Mina that reveal kinship between the adult author and his child character. Adults and children alike are “memorial fabulators” (Chambers), and 4E approaches to the cognitive study of literature can enrich the field of children’s literature studies and its considerations of adult authors’ mind depictions of child characters.
Silva, Emma-Louise. ‘Cognitive Narratology and the 4Es: Memorial Fabulation in David Almond’s My Name is Mina’.
Age, Culture, Humanities, vol. 6, 2022, pp. 1–29.
A style for every age
The oeuvres of ‘crosswriters’ or ‘dual audience authors’ who write for both children and adults form the perfect touchstones for research on the similarities and differences between children’s literature and literature for adults. By means of stylometry, a digital research method that aids in studying style, the works of ten Dutch and English language dual audience authors were examined. Are there similarities to be found across the oeuvres of these authors? And are there differences within one author’s books that are targeted at different age groups? To research these questions, the target audience and the publication date were factors that were taken into account. By including interviews with the authors, the researchers also considered the writers’ views on style and readers. The main conclusion drawn from the case studies is that the style of the texts usually correlates more strongly with the age of the intended reader than with the time period in which the texts were written. In other words, books for young readers share more similarities than those for adult readers.
Haverals, Wouter, Lindsey Geybels & Vanessa Joosen. ‘A Style for Every Age: A Stylometric Inquiry into Crosswriters for Children, Adolescents and Adults’.
Language and Literature, vol. 31, no. 1, 2022, pp. 1–23.
Readers under the sorting hat
These days, children often devour the entire Harry Potter series during their years at primary school. At the time of each publication, the character grew along with the readers: each volume saw Harry growing up. Based on a digital analysis of the books, it appears that the style of the books and the themes covered in the books changed along the way too. Sentences became longer and more complex. Slowly but surely, themes turned from food, school, and animals, to spiritual topics and death.
Haverals, Wouter & Lindsey Geybels. ‘Putting the Sorting Hat on J.K. Rowling’s Reader: A Digital Inquiry into the Age of the Implied Readership of the Harry Potter Series’.
Journal of Cultural Analytics, vol. 5, 2021, pp. 1–30.
Digital humanities growing up
Digital techniques haven’t been put to use that often in studies revolving around children’s literature. They do, however, allow for large-scale research possibilities concerning book collections, and they can reveal unexpected patterns. Take for example the analysis of Guus Kuijer’s oeuvre. His novels, and more specifically his novels for children, contain a striking number of explicit reflections and generalisations regarding age. The child characters in Kuijer’s books often judge behaviour that is ‘childish’: they guard ideas on what it means to be a child more than adult characters do. Of course, it’s important to combine ‘distant reading’, techniques by means of which the computer searches for patterns in large corpora, with ‘close reading’, carried out by researchers who pay attention to the specific context of the novel in question. It’s clear that digital text analysis is no longer in its infancy, and that it can make a valuable contribution to the study of children’s literature, which can in turn contribute to the study of age.
Haverals, Wouter & Vanessa Joosen. ‘Constructing Age in Children’s Literature: A Digital Approach to Guus Kuijer’s Oeuvre’.
The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 45, no. 1, 2021, pp. 25–45.
You have to set the story you know aside
As with other twenty-first-century rewritings of fairytales, Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron complicates the classic ‘Cinderella’ fairytale narrative popularized by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm for new audiences, queering and race-bending the tale in its decidedly feminist revision of the story. However, as we argue here, the novel also provides an interesting intervention in the construction of age as related to gender for its female protagonists. Drawing on Sylvia Henneberg’s examination of ageist stereotypes in fairytale classics and Susan Pickard’s construction of the figure of the hag, we explore the dialogic between the fairytale revision, traditional fairytale age ideology and the intersection of age and gender in this reinvention of the classic narrative. By focusing on constructions of age, particularly senescence, we demonstrate how complex constructions of older characters might aid in overall depictions of intergenerational relationships, and how these intergenerational relationships in turn reflect historical and cultural impetuses of retelling fairytale narratives.
Anjirbag, Michelle Anya & Vanessa Joosen. ‘“You Have to Set the Story You Know Aside”: Constructions of Youth, Adulthood and Senescence in Cinderella Is Dead’.
Humanities, vol. 11, no. 1, 2022, p. 25.
But, grandma, why did you (not) grow stronger?
Many fairy tale adaptations play with the storylines and the values and norms of traditional fairy tales. Some of these fairy tales have stood at the centre of literary studies, such as Wolf (1990) by Gillian Cross, an award-winning rewriting of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Feminist perspectives have strongly influenced the fairy-tale rewritings of the past decades, but the intersection of gender with other identity markers deserves more attention. Gender is often interwoven with images regarding age. At first, Cross depicts the grandmother as a cunning, determined woman. But her story also includes stereotypical images of the ‘wise old mentor’ and the ‘incapable little old woman’, for example. Cross thereby leaves the intergenerational collaboration aside that does feature at the end of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ as it was written by the Brothers Grimm.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Rewriting the Grandmother’s Story. Old Age in “Little Red Riding Hood” and Gillian Cross’ Wolf’.
Fabula, vol. 62, no. 1–2, 2021, pp. 172–184.
New research methods
How can you show which ideas regarding age are passed on in and via children’s using digital tools, among other methodologies? A first step is the assembling of digitised texts, which we acquired thanks to publishers, authors and the DBNL. Those texts generate masses of data, which means that it comes down to making choices. We looked into how often characters from certain age groups are depicted speaking in books, and whether differences are to be found regarding gender. We also wanted to find out which topics these characters talked about, and whether differences in age could be revealed. Books by Bart Moeyaert and La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman formed touchstones for these first steps. The observations and hypotheses that were the result of this particular study serve as guidelines for further research.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Constructing Age for Young Readers’.
International Research in Children’s Literature, vol. 14, no. 3, 2021, pp. 252–268.
Playing with jigsaw pieces until you find yourself
YA fiction is well known for stories that explore identity and identity change. Aidan Chambers’ Postcards from No Man’s Land (1999) explores such themes by telling the story of Jacob, whose characterisation and development can be considered by means of intertextuality. By looking at which ‘texts’, stories, or socio-cultural narratives have an impact on Jacob’s identity, and by exploring how such jigsaw pieces fit together, his identity can be considered as a text itself, shaped by the intertexts in his socio-cultural environment. This analysis focuses on how Jacob’s process of identity development is empowered through the various intertexts with which he is presented over the course of Postcards’ narrative.
Duthoy, Leander. ‘A Three-Dimensional Jigsaw made of Pliable Bits: Adolescent Identity as an Intertextual Construct in AidanChambers’ Postcards from No Man’s Land (1999)’.
Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 52, 2021, pp. 326–341.
Looking for the reader in Joke van Leeuwen’s novels
Just like people, books can’t always be put into one particular box. Especially when it comes to the status of children’s books and the borders surrounding these books, there has been much debate. Crosswriters such as Joke Van Leeuwen are not put off by such borders, and write for an array of ages: children and adults. However, a digital analysis of a large part of her oeuvre shows that there are differences to be found regarding the books marketed for different age groups. With only a few exceptions, the length of words and sentences rises, and the vocabulary varies more greatly the older intended readers get. There are also less child characters in books for older readers. Moreover, these child characters do not often speak in the books. The image presented of old people does stay roughly the same throughout Van Leeuwen’s oeuvre, based on close readings. The computer doesn’t reveal all about readers and reading. It is, however, a useful tool to discover patterns in a large number of books.
Geybels, Lindsey. ‘Over (de) grenzen: op zoek naar de lezer in het oeuvre van Joke van Leeuwen’.
Spiegel der Letteren, vol. 63, no.1–2, 2021, pp. 113–137.
Too childish for children? A digital inquiry into children’s literature
Age determines the form and content of children’s books in many ways. People havexed ideas about what is suitable for a particular age and what is not, and digital tools can help to map and ask questions about such age norms on a large scale. For this project, the computer ‘read’ 32 Dutch-language children’s books published between 1975 and 2018, and it appears that explicit comments are often made about age in children’s books. Not only do we pay attention to childhood in the project, other life stages are explored as well. It seems that children’s books guard age norms the most, but these comments are often coloured by conflicts, humour, and irony.
Joosen Vanessa. ‘Te kinderachtig voor de kinderen? Leeftijdsnormen in jeugdliteratuur digitaal onderzocht’.
Vooys: tijdschrift voor letteren, vol. 37, no.3, 2019, pp. 1–9.
Aging in children’s literature
Many books for children are about young characters. However, older characters are also often featured in stories for children, and characters’ ages can change throughout certain books. By reading such stories, children find out about ideas regarding age via books. Stereotypes such as the ‘old witch’, or the ‘wise old mentor’ spark ideas that old women are mean, or that old people are wiser than younger people. There are, however, just as well books that have the intention of distancing themselves from entrenched ideas. More and more attention is being given to intergenerational dialogue and a nuanced view of old age. Research on age in books and the ways in which readers deal with such images can show how children’s literature contributes to ideas on age.
Joosen, Vanessa. ‘Aging in children’s literature’.
Encyclopedia of gerontology and population aging, edited by Danan Gu and Matthew E. Dupre, Springer, 2022, pp. 280–284.
adaptation adolescence adulthood age author age intended reader age real reader Aidan Chambers Aline Sax Anna Woltz Anne Fine Bart Moeyaert childhood cognitive narratology David Almond digital humanities Ed Franck Edward van de Vendel fairy tales fictional characters Gillian Cross Guus Kuijer Hilde Vandermeeren intergenerational relationships J.K. Rowling Jacqueline Wilson Joke van Leeuwen Marjolijn Hof Neil Gaiman older adulthood Philip Pullman