International Research in Children’s Literature

A Year in the Life

Twelve months on

In October 2008, just a year after our first paper call, editors and contributors are busy checking proofs for Volume 1.2 (publication date, December 2008). We are reviewing the latest round of submissions for Volume 2.1, for July 2009 publication, and are already receiving papers for Volume 2.2, the special issue on ‘Globalisation’ scheduled to appear at the end of that year. We are also looking forward to papers arising from the Frankfurt Congress, with its theme of ‘Cultural Diversity’ and discussing ways, too, of opening out at least one issue in each cycle to more general contributions. We have also recently had the good news that International Research in Children’s Literature has been accepted for indexing with both the MLA and the British Humanities Index (BHI), a crucial mark of academic legitimacy for any journal.

One year on from Kyoto, then, seems a good point for saying something about launching the IRSCL journal, and where we have come so far.

Starting out

When IRSCL members came together in Kyoto in August 2007, we had known for only a short while that our new journal had found approval. We had a name, International Research in Children’s Literature, a contract with Edinburgh University Press (UK), and two of the first editors were in place: Senior Editor, John Stephens (Australia), and myself, Pamela Knights (UK), as congress editor. Our reviews editor, Vanessa Joosen (Belgium) joined the team at Kyoto, in time for our first meeting.

John Stephens and Vanessa Joosen
Celebrating the new journal: Editors, John Stephens and Vanessa Joosen, in Kyoto, August 2007. (Behind the camera, Pamela Knights.)

International Research in Children’s Literature was not quite a blank. Many IRSCL members had long seen the need for a journal, and, when IRSCL Fellow, Ann Lawson Lucas (UK), had successfully carried a proposal to Edinburgh University Press, members endorsed the idea with enthusiasm. This would be a scholarly publication which, like IRSCL as a whole, would be international in outlook and represent as broad a spectrum as possible of current research and current approaches in Children’s Literature studies. The cycle of issues would aim to include revised submissions from the recent congress, but would try to look more widely than typical ‘proceedings’: following the custom of the IRSCL congresses themselves, its pages would be open to contributions from non-members. This would be an important factor, for establishing the journal in future indices and ranking-lists.

We also had a schedule for our first issues: July and December 2008 – a very short deadline, and a myriad matters yet to be decided.

Empty IRCL cover

After Kyoto

Over the next few months, our inboxes overflowed. We became accustomed in the morning to finding new messages from every country of IRSCL, and, as Editors, we became skilled in hitting the moment of the day most likely to find the three of us online, in our different time-zones.

Design and logistics

We built up our Advisory Board ­– composed of willing colleagues from a wide range of IRSCL regions, many of whom had shared in the initial consultations about the journal. We worked with designers, incorporating the new IRSCL logo into the journal’s cover, discussing style-guides and colour charts, and making use of Edinburgh University Press’s expertise on creating an appropriate ‘look’ for the publication.

Clare Bradford, IRSCL President, and Mavis Reimer, Treasurer, shouldered the task of establishing with the Press the procedures for subscriptions – a tricky process, even in the days of electronic payments, involving as it does complex issues of arranging members’ discounts, means of payment, and maintaining parity across national currencies.

IRCL cover

Academic conventions

At the same time, academic affairs proceeded apace. We discussed questions of whether and how to include original languages in quotations (Yes – to maximise access and enable readers to take their own views on translations); whether to have abstracts and keywords (Yes to both); whether to make use of an automated system for receiving and responding to submissions (No – we hoped to maintain a personal touch); or whether to feature an ‘article of the month’ on the website (No – this could prove invidious).

Legal problems also came into our brief – most notably, problems of determining copyright across various countries, and queries about what permissions would be needed.

Articles and reviews

Most importantly, we issued our first paper calls, based on the Kyoto theme of ‘Power and Children’s Literature, Past, Present and Future’; and we were delighted at the overwhelming number of submissions from around the world. Teams of readers put enormous effort into considering, commenting, and advising, on the many papers, and we were only sorry not to be able to have space for even more articles.

Meanwhile, Vanessa garnered from numerous publishers stacks of books for review, for the journal and for the web-site. After our initial worries about whether any books would arrive in time for us to send out to colleagues, this was especially heartening. It was particularly good to see research by IRSCL members well represented, and to have before us such an array of approaches and topics.

In selecting articles, we looked at revised versions, additions, corrections and emendations, and awaited news of the essential ‘permissions’ for illustrations and images. Once these were granted, we underwent the frustrations of transferring huge image documents across the world – servers crashed and tempers frayed. But all this was soon behind us. We made our deadline successfully, and, at the end of July, had the satisfaction of seeing the first issue.

IRCL cover


IRCL appears in two formats: a traditional print version and an electronic one. At the same time as we were preparing our inaugural issue, Edinburgh University Press was launching its own new website, with greatly enhanced features for online publishing.

EUP website

Innovative technology offers authors and readers exciting creative opportunities. So far, with IRCL, we have exploited the merest fraction of these: we have used the site to include extra images, and colour versions of illustrations, over and above the limited number of black-and-white illustrations possible in any one printed issue. Direct links to cited websites are something now taken for granted, but are a significant advantage of reading online.

But authors who want to do more with their article have considerable scope. Each article has its own web-space, where authors can post additional scholarly data: illustrations, photographs, interviews, even video-clips, or the kind of extensive bibliographical materials, appendices or notes, or tables and graphs, impossible in a printed article. Copyright and ethical issues, must, of course, be addressed, and requisite permissions sought in advance; nonetheless, possibilities abound. So, research into reader-response, for example, might include detailed transcripts of interviews, links to comparative studies, or questionnaires inviting further interactions with readers of the journal.

Researchers have unprecedented resources, too. While we take for granted search engines and online delivery; online journals maximise the benefits. We can use abstracts and keywords for rapid overviews and scanning for relevant materials. Even without a subscription, any researcher who can afford it can use a pay-as-you-go system to download single articles for instant reference.

For those of us, as I am, old enough to remember the long procedures involved in manual searches – lifting heavy and out-of-date catalogues off shelves, spending hours turning their pages, trawling through bibliographies, writing to other libraries, travelling to archives, waiting months for interlibrary loan deliveries – all this seems nothing short of miraculous.

Statistics and tracking

Citations Toolbar

Another aspect of online production is the tracking system. In the weeks following publication, it has been interesting to follow the changes in the ‘most downloaded article’ box provided next to the list of contents. Instead of wondering, as lone authors might once have done, whether anyone ever reads their work, curious authors may track their own citations at the click of a button. (We were recently shown a statistic that indicated on-line availability increased citations of an article by 150%.) For following up the impact of any piece of research, locating other interested colleagues, or alerting others to new materials, all these buttons provide effective short-cuts, and promise savings of time and labour.

However, such statistics for downloads could be seen as double-edged, part of the rise in global surveillance in the early twenty-first century. Libraries and institutions can, and increasingly do, deploy these to check the use of subscriptions. In times of cost-cutting, managers will not hesitate to produce low scores as reasons for dropping a journal from the list. Evidence from citations and journal rankings is already being marshalled in many countries to rank universities, departments and individual researchers within them.

But (to take a positive view) for children’s literature researchers, such statistics might also prove valuable testimony. Citations, evidence of a widespread and strong research culture, all give strong signals to our institutions and grant-funding bodies, that we are being read, throughout the world, and that we are working in an established and ever-burgeoning field.

Working on IRCL

Behind the scenes

All IRSCL members involved with the journal, whether advisors, editors, readers, or reviewers, are unpaid volunteers, working without secretarial or administrative help. Although we do our best to respond quickly to contributors, we all have to find ways of fitting the diverse tasks into busy lives as full-time academics, teachers, researchers and writers.

However, we are very fortunate to be part of the larger enterprise of the prestigious Edinburgh University Press. If we had feared a remote, impersonal corporation, we were quickly reassured. The press, based in an old house, in one of the prettiest squares in this beautiful city, is a place where we have found new, interested, colleagues: Diana Spencer, our contact in the crucial founding days, and now Sarah Edwards, who oversees the development of journals, Ann Vinnicombe who steers us through production, and Wendy Gardiner who manages publicity and marketing. Here, we are treated as individuals, and all our own questions meet with instant and constructive help.

The rewards as editors are manifold. We are in touch with colleagues all over the world, and are privileged to have insights into their work in progress and into contemporary Children’s Literature research internationally. The cross-cultural contacts are enormously interesting and productive, and, if I might introduce a personal note, as first congress editor I have been learning a tremendous amount -- from all potential contributors, and advisors, and, not least from my fellow editors. Seeing the whole cycle of an article, from first submission (or even conference presentation) to publication, is deeply satisfying.

Some IRCL contributors

What has appearing in the new journal meant to its first contributors? A few of our authors comment here:

Miyuki Hanabusa

Miyuki Hanabusa

In an email interview, Miyuki Hanabusa, from Ochanomizu University in Japan, gives a personal view.

Although Miyuki has published several articles in her own language, Japanese, this was her first article to appear in an English-language journal, and was ‘a most thrilling experience’. Miyuki is a PhD student at the moment and thought it would be a long while before her writing might reach an international audience.

Reading Dual Meanings Screenshot

Miyuki said that she was glad to have a chance to ‘send a message’, placing ‘ my knowledge on the genre of manga in the framework of “international children’s literature.” Manga has been and is a familiar medium in our culture, but it is only recently that it has begun to draw international attention.’ She hopes to see it further established within an academic context, where there is ‘space for discussion’; and was delighted that ‘personally, I could make a contribution from my own culture.’  

On the experience of submission, Miyuki added that she had owed an immeasurable debt to the mentoring tradition of IRSCL, which IRCL seeks to maintain, in the work of its readers and editorial processes. Miyuki emphasised that the process was ‘educational’: in the way the journal had ‘picked up my (student) paper, and pulled it up to the standard of publication’.

Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills

Jonathan lives in Tokyo and teaches at Sagami Women’s University High School, and his article grew out of his presentation at the 2007 IRSCL Kyoto conference together with Professor Yasuko Kato. As Miyuki commented of manga, Jonathan was delighted to be able to publish on a Japanese genre, the eighteenth-century picturebook genre of early kusazōshi: although this genre ‘holds a significant place in the history of Japanese picture books, in modern times they have been little known or researched even in Japan itself’. As Jonathan explains: ‘One of the main reasons for this is the huge changes that happened in the Japanese writing system from the late nineteenth century, which means that all kusazōshi have to be transcribed into modern characters before they can be understood. In the research group that I work with, named the Sō-no-Kai, we perform this work of transcription and follow it up with basic research on the works.’

Presenting at the congress and developing an article for IRCL, Jonathan reported, ‘gave me a wonderful chance to look at works in this genre from a much more general point of view, and it gave me many insights into their relevance in the wider field of world children’s literature. I was also pleasantly surprised how much interest there was from the audience in this topic, and this has given me a huge impetus to introduce more works from this delightful and extremely varied genre to a wider public’.

Lindsay Myers

Lindsay Myers

Lindsay Myers works at the National University of Ireland Galway. Lindsay contributed on her research area in Italian children’s literature, with an article about a small-press picturebook from 1930s Italy: ‘Meo’s Fists: Fighting For or Against Fascism? The Subversive Nature of Text and Image in Giovanni Bertinetti’s I pugni di Meo.’

Lindsay believes that there has long been a need for an International Journal on Children’s Literature, and she is confident that IRSCL’s journal will rapidly become one of the leading journals in the field. She feels honoured that her article was chosen to appear in the first issue and she looks forward to reading future articles from long-time colleagues and emerging scholars.

Again, Lindsay was particularly pleased to see her research reaching a wider audience: ‘Both I and Giovanni Bertinetti’s Italian publishers, Viglongo, are delighted that the work of this significant writer is finally receiving the academic attention that it deserves not just in Italy but internationally.’

Lindsay also commented on the support she had received during the editorial process, and wished IRCL every success.

History by:
Pamela Knights
Congress Editor, Volumes 1 and 2 (2008-09)
Department of English Studies, Durham University (UK)