On Wednesday 15 March 2023, researchers, librarians, teachers, literary organisations such as Iedereen Leest, authors, illustrators, and children’s literature aficionados gathered for an afternoon filled with reflections on the theme of this year’s children’s book month: Happiness in Children’s Literature. The event was organised by Andrea Davidson, who recently defended her doctoral dissertation on Aidan Chambers at the University of Antwerp.
Vanessa Joosen, Professor of Children’s Literature and Literature in English at the University of Antwerp and host of the event, opened the afternoon with the talk “Happiness in times of despair? Hope and children’s literature about climate change,” a consideration of the complex ways in which climate change is depicted in books for young readers, and the role that intergenerational relationships play in creating a consciously hopeful story.
Then, Sonali Kulkarni, who works as a lecturer at both Tilburg University and the University of Antwerp, presented her research on “Book Talk on BookTok: Reclaiming Affect in Children’s Literary Criticism”. By showing how young readers express their affective experiences with books via the BookTok platform in short film recordings, Kulkarni launched thought-provoking questions about what affect and emotion can mean within critical discourses.
Heather Phipps joined from the University of Regina, based in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her talk on “Happiness and intergenerational friendship in Julie Flett’s Birdsong/Mon Amie Agnès” inspired the audience to think about friendship across ages on the basis of Flett’s picturebook, Mon Amie Agnès, translated as Birdsong.
Adam Silvera’s They Both Die at the End was then analysed by Lien Claeys, a new member of the children’s literature team at the University of Antwerp, in terms of a framework that questions queer experiences of happiness.
To close the day, the audience was treated to verses read by Dutch author and poet Edward van de Vendel in his talk, “Gelukkig en blij”. He received rounds of applause and smiles after every single passage he read, which goes to show that this marked the end of an afternoon filled with – you guessed it, “happiness”!
Text by Emma-Louise Silva