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Sustaining multilingualism and social and emotional well-being among multilingual families during the pandemic

In our second webinar of the virtual events series ‘Re-imagining language education during and after Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and possible futures’ we attend to the lived experiences of multilingual families during the pandemic. We show how the digital mediation of communication has shifted language use in transnational families (in some cases towards the majority language for home schooling purposes, in other cases in support of the heritage language, celebrating the oft-ignored role of grandparents in heritage language maintenance), expanded possibilities for interaction between extended family networks and facilitated the creation of new “brave spaces” (Mahera Ruby) to express uncomfortable feelings associated with, for example, grief and financial instability.

Our four invited panellists Dr Mahera Ruby (Personal growth and family coach, founder of ‘Blooming Parenting’); Busra Akgun-Ezin (PhD candidate, Goldsmiths, University of London); Dr Sara Young (Lecturer, UCL/Institute of Education) and Linda North (parent and teacher assistant at the Czech School without Borders London) share personal and community experiences on these and other topical questions raised by the audience:

  • How has communication adapted and changed within multilingual families during the pandemic?
  • What role can language play in sustaining social and emotional resilience during times when we are told to keep apart in order to stay safe?
  • What new possibilities for language learning and interaction within families might the digital mediation of communication open and how might these be sustained?

The webinar is organised and moderated by Dr Froso Argyri and Dr Vally Lytra.

Watch the webinar and join the conversation.


About ‘Re-imagining language education during and after Covid-19: opportunities, challenges and possible futures’: We are a group of researchers based at the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, at Goldsmiths and UCL BiLingo. We are passionate about multilingualism and language education and want to share our passion with language educators from formal and non-formal educational settings, parents, researchers, policy makers and other interested parties. The pandemic has brought about unprecedented change and we wish to collectively reflect on how it has affected language education in the UK and beyond.

Group members: Dr Froso Argyri (UCL BiLingo), Dr Jim Andrerson (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Vally Lytra (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Merle Mahon (UCL BiLingo), Dr Vicky Macleroy (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths), Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic-Smith (UCL BiLingo and hld) and Dr Cristina Ros i Solé (Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths).

Blog by Dr Vally Lytra

Mark Kirkbride on Learning to Write by Doing It!

Inspire Conference 2021

Mark Kirkbride delivered an important online workshop as part of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning’s Inspire conference, which was organised by Dr Francis Gilbert (Head of MA Creative Writing and Education) and Dr Vicky Macleroy (Head of MA Children’s Literature). Here you can read a summation and reflection of his important work.

This is an unedited video of Mark Kirkbride’s talk at the Inspire Conference 2021.

Mark Kirkbride: Learning to write by doing it!

The timeline of my experience of the ‘Inspire: Exciting Ways of Being Creative’ conference begins at 9:30am on Thursday when I get to attend the introductions from Dr Vicky Macleroy, Dr Francis Gilbert and Carinya Sharples, then promptly have to log off to give an online workshop elsewhere.

In my lunch break, I catch Jake Smith’s presentation on ‘Re-writing Narrative’, championing nonlinear narrative, and wish I could adopt a nonlinear approach myself because by then it’s time to switch platforms and deliver another workshop. That finishes at 4:30pm, by which time the first day of the conference has already ended. I’ve missed so many great sessions with fascinating topics but at least I’ll be able to catch up via the videos and while I wish I could have been present for the whole day, the dipping in and out has certainly had an energising effect on the external workshops.

The second day starts with Camilla Chester’s presentation on ‘What Makes A Successful Author Visit?’ As well as being informative, it’s also hugely entertaining, with the highs – effectively being treated like a rock star – sounding like they make up for the lows.

At 9:30am it’s time for my presentation on ‘Promoting Active Learning’, exploring the dilemma inherent in teaching creative writing that knowledge acquired second-hand doesn’t have the same impact as discoveries made for oneself, and setting out to demonstrate that if as much learning as possible is embedded in prompts and exercises, that sense of discovery can still be retained. I illustrate what I mean by running through how I would teach characterisation for beginners. We each construct a character from two or three traits, together with a flaw, then describe that character as if to a friend. The workshop is even more interactive than I’d hoped with some really astute comments in group chat and complex characters emerging. For example,

Bill enjoys the company of others but often overshares his thoughts.

Sadly people avoid him. He has no idea this is happening.

Next we convey our characters’ qualities without describing them at all. Instead, we dramatize them, using action and dialogue, and more work comes through in chat, including

 I rap my knuckles against the reception desk as they continue to sift

through my belongings, removing a laptop, pens and a six-pack of

Dr Pepper. The sign next to me says, ‘Please keep noise to a

minimum on arrival.’ I rap a little harder, the micro-rebellion

thrilling me.

       The tiny red-head manager pulls one final item from my case.

       ‘Oh, come on, I’m not allowed biscuits?’ The words slingshot out,

high-pitched and pink-cheeked.

In just this mini-scene, one really gets a sense of a fully-formed person acting and speaking for themselves.

The half an hour goes quickly, so I race to the conclusion. While new writers might think, perfectly reasonably, that adding more and more layers of detail to the description of a character will bring that person to life more vividly for the reader, they demonstrate, to themselves, that characters live or die on the page by what they do and say. The trial and error involved in writers working in isolation and figuring things out for themselves is designed into the workshop, so that they have a sense of making their own discoveries. Loading prompts and exercises with key knowledge, so that the lightbulb moments happen during the writing, enables new writers to become active participants in their learning, thereby increasing engagement.

The half an hour comes to an end and it’s time for me to introduce Emily Davison’s presentation on ‘Using social media and fairy stories to inspire creative writing’. I at least get to enjoy all of that before having to rush off again, this time to take a family member to a hospital appointment, a trip that takes longer than expected, meaning I once again miss a lot of the day but at least get back in time for the Plenary. It’s a privilege to witness the progress of Emma Brankin’s drama pupil and be there for the launch of Niall Bourke’s book.

Somewhere between work and life, we reflect.


Mark Kirkbride is the author of two novels and a novella published by Omnium Gatherum in LA. His most recent novel was a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Awards 2019. His short stories have appeared in Under the Bed, Sci Phi Journal, Disclaimer Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine and So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. He teaches creative writing and writing for wellbeing and is currently an Arts Facilitator for OPEN Ealing arts centre and a Creative Workshop Tutor for the University for the Creative Arts.

Blog by Mark Kirkbride


Niall Bourke on Inspiring Creative Writing in Schools


Niall Bourke delivered an important keynote address as part of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning’s Inspire conference, which was organised by Dr Francis Gilbert (Head of MA Creative Writing and Education) and Dr Vicky Macleroy (Head of MA Children’s Literature). Here you can read a summation and reflection of his important work.

Below is an unedited video of the introduction to Niall’s keynote address for the Inspire Conference, 2021. Please note Dr Vicky Macleroy, Dr Francis Gilbert and Carinya Sharples introduce this talk.

Niall addressed these key questions: What does it mean to write creatively? What are the barriers to facilitating creative writing practices in the current educational landscape? How might we overcome them? Why should we bother? Can writing creatively be means to a wider academic end? Does this matter? Should we, as educators, try to justify creative writing as having tangible benefits for students? Can we afford not to? Is it important that educators make time to be creative themselves?

His keynote address sought to answer these questions and more, while also providing practical ideas, exemplars and resources to help educators of all persuasions facilitate creative writing exercises with their students.

You can find his PowerPoint here and his notes here. Please note you will need a OneDrive account to open these documents.

Niall’s reflections

It wasn’t long ago that I was a Goldsmith MA student myself, so it was a great pleasure and a privilege for me to deliver this keynote speech for the Inspire Creativity conference.

My focus was to look at some of the barriers to fostering creativity (and particularly in the domain of creative writing) in the current educational landscape, and then offer ideas, resources and suggestions as to how educators can foster creativity in students. Although I stressed that, in general, educators should resist pseudo-justifications encouraging creativity (i.e. – being creative is almost always a valuable process in and of itself and regardless of outcome), being the Head of an English department myself I was particularly keen to be pragmatic when acknowledging the pressures teachers are under. Therefore, I sought to suggest creative exercises which, while excellent in their own right, can also be used to develop understanding of some of the core threshold concepts of English Literature and Language curriculums. Through a series of short activities, I looked at how educators can encourage ‘low-stakes’ creative exercises, and then go on to foster creative response from students by using high quality style-models. The extracts used on the day included the Lyrics of Barrie Louis Polisar’s ‘All I Want Is You’, Leone Ross’s ‘The Woman Who Lived in A Restaurant’ (from her collection ‘Come Let Us Sing Anyway’ – Peepal Tree Press, 2017), John McGregor’s ‘The First Punch’ (first published in Granta Magazine) and ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, by William Carlos Williams. It was a lot of fun!


Niall has taught English for sixteen years (in Ireland, New Zealand and the UK) and is currently Head of English at St Michael’s College, in Bermondsey. He completed the Teacher/Writer MA (as it was called then) at Goldsmiths in 2015. His writing has been published widely in magazines and journals, in both the UK and Ireland, and his poems and short stories have been listed for numerous awards, including twice for the The Costa Short Story Award, The ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, The Mairtín Crawford Short Story Prize, The Hennesy New Irish Writing Award and the Fitzcarraldo Novel Prize. In 2017 he was selected for Poetry Ireland’s Introductions Series. His debut poetry collection Did You Put The Weasels Out? was published in April 2018 and was longlisted as one of The Poetry Schools’ books of the year. In April 2021 Tramp Press  publishied his debut novel, Line. In 2020, The Arts Council Awarded him a grant to develop a ‘Choose Your Own Poetry Adventure’ collection called The Erection Specialists, which will be published by Broken Sleep Books in 2022. He is represented by Brian Langan at Storyline Literary Agency. He blogs on his website about both creative writing and education.

Twitter: @supersplurk

Niall Bourke


Wild Writing


Helen Moore delivered an important online workshop as part of the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning’s Inspire conference, which was organised by Dr Francis Gilbert (Head of MA Creative Writing and Education) and Dr Vicky Macleroy (Head of MA Children’s Literature). Here you can read their summation and reflection of  her important work.

Wild Writing: co-creative practices & inspirations

It’s a truism that teaching and learning go hand-in-hand. And yet participating in the conference and contributing my insights to an audience of writers and teachers was far richer than I’d anticipated, particularly given its virtual nature. And although I’d always prefer an onsite setting to explore ‘wild writing’, I was delighted to sense that my attempts to convey it online were successful, both in describing it and through a short workshop, with participants sharing what I sensed to be deeply felt experience of wildish places.

But to start at the beginning, what is ‘wild writing’ and how is it ‘co-creative’?

Acknowledging that there are doubtless many definitions, I understand ‘wild writing’ as part of my own ecopoetic practice, stemming primarily from a desire to respond to the social and ecological crises that we collectively face. I believe wild writing encourages an ‘untaming’ of its practitioners, and builds resilience and wellbeing, allowing us to get in touch with our ‘humanimal’ nature and offering us the opportunity to progress the development of the ‘deep ecological self’ advocated by the ecophilospher Arne Naess.

At this point I shared some examples of my own ‘wild writing’, and I’ll include a poem here – ‘Green Drift’, from my debut ecopoetry collection, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins, (Shearsman Books, 2012).

Green Drift (by Helen Moore)

“There is no force in the world but love.” – Rilke

Crawling into bed like a peasant,

with mud-grained feet, soil under the nails

of my toes – but too tired to care –

the heaviness of the day’s exertions draws


my body downward – each muscle and bone

finding its bliss – and I close my eyes

on a green panorama, shades of every

nuance, the contours of leaves in high


definition.  A film encoded on the visual cortex,

I observe again those lanceolate shapes, the forage silk

which slipped between our fingers and thumbs

(still redolent with that Ramson scent),


the mounding herbage that we plucked,

backs bent as in a Van Gogh study.

Behind my eyelids, vernal waves rise and fall,

hymn of this community to which my senses flock –


ancient rite of magnetic birds, Dionysus riding me,

greens rushing on the inside of my eyelids,

mosaics of foliage, fingers ablaze with Nettle stings,

soles still alive to the narrow woodland path,


its vertebrae of roots, pad of compressed earth.

High on Spring, I’m a biophile

and incurable; nor would I care for any cure –

would only be a node in Great Mother’s body


where, drifting into the canopy of sleep, I see foliar veins

close-up – illumined as if by angels –

feel the breathing of stomata.  Then, like a drunken Bee,

I surrender to this divine inebriation.


So how does wild writing happen?

Given that it’s a practice emerging from the wilder aspects of our consciousness, there is a strong need to carve out space in our busy schedules/timetables to get away from the digital world to nourish our creativity and deepen our connection with the other-than-human natural world. But we don’t need to seek out places that might typically be defined as ‘wild’. The wild is everywhere, even in our local park/garden/school playing fields.

It’s also about holding an intention, what does life want to show me today? In approaching it this way, we can experience magical encounters that lift our spirits/bring joy/inspire. It’s important to see the time we give it as ‘sacred’; time for nurturing soul and the ensouled world, and ideally we cross a threshold (which might be a garden or park gate, a path to a beach or forest) in order to mark the transition into it. Whilst in this space, we avoid conversations with other humans and open ourselves to the other-than-human world.

We begin by walking, slowing our pace, letting our mental chatter subside in order to open ourselves. We let our bodies soften, our senses receive information such as the breeze on our skin, scents in the air, taste, sounds near and far, and visual aspects such as colours, shapes, patterns. At the same time, we watch what is at the edge of our consciousness, breathing it in and out, honouring any uncomfortable feelings, breathing them in and out. We avoid getting attached to any of those thoughts, or letting ourselves build them into narratives, and instead keep returning our attention to the present moment.

We also practise the Five Ways of Knowing, which Bill Plotkin advocates. These are sensing (with all five senses), feeling, intuiting, imagining and thinking. Practising and valuing these additional ways of knowing helps to balance out the dominant rational mind and allows us to become more receptive to the multiple wild voices and natural sign languages that are usually so ignored in our culture – in fact, the American ecopsychologist, Theodore Roszak, talks about us having become deaf and mute towards the other-than-human world.

We also connect with the elements, the weather, darkness/light, rhythms of growth, abundance and decay, and notice what these may mirror within us. Observing dead wood riddled with insect holes and fungus, we may see what needs to fall from our own lives, what needs to be composted, as we embrace a deeper understanding of impermanence.

Through these acts of paying deep attention, and then finding language, imagery and form to reflect our experiences, we are engaging in wild writing. However, often that process of finding language is tentative, provisional. Our experiences may be difficult to communicate, and so we simply ‘splurge’, forgetting grammar, spelling, punctuation. Sometimes the seed of a poem or story is found later in just a few words of that splurge, a phrase that has a certain ‘energy’ that we want to explore further.

Wild writing fundamentally requires us to practise non-judgement – at least in the initial phase, when we allow everything in. Later we can practise the discernment of the editorial eye, but for now we are open to including all of our experience. Which connects with the co-creative aspect of this methodology.

What is co-creation?

In our culture we’re conditioned to think of the act of creation as happening almost in a vacuum. We’ve come to think of the creative ‘genius’ working in isolation. Often it’s a white, male figure, possibly inspired by a female muse. However, everything happens as a co-creation in Nature. A tree does not grow on its own, but responds to light, soil, water, weather, insects. It interacts with other trees through mycorrhizal relationships. Trees are also home to birds, creatures, insects, all of whom may have a symbiotic relationship with the tree. A bird might find its home in the tree’s branches, eat its berries, benefitting from this food source, and then pooping out the seeds, thereby disseminating them.

This shows that co-creation is at the heart of all experience. All beings are infinitely connected through the web of life, the ecosystems and communities we inhabit. Our co-creation as humans is with other writers and teachers who inspire us, and with the other-than-human as an interspecies experience. It may also involve consciously working with the Universe, the Divine, Spirit, Oneness, however we may call it.

This co-creation can come about through inspiration, and of course the word ‘inspire’ was key in the context of the conference. ‘Inspire’ connects us with the breath, the air we share with all beings. It is the insights, ideas, sudden intuitions which we ‘breathe in’. And as educators then ‘breathe into’ others when we inspire them.

At this point I invited people to prepare for the wild writing workshop section of my contribution to the conference, with an attunement to our wilder selves through the body and breath. I’m sharing my notes here in case they may be useful for others to adapt for their own purposes:


o Getting comfortable, close eyes, feet on floor, align spine etc

o Noticing breath’s journey in & out of body

o Breath can be shallow, deep, irregular

o What does it mean to be at home with our breathing/to inhabit our breath?

o Air penetrates deep into our lungs through this act of respiration, reaching the minute balloon-shaped air sacs that could be leaves at the end of the respiratory tree’s branches.

o Their function is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules to and from the bloodstream.

o Of all the elements we’re able to survive the least amount of time without it

o We share the air, as we do water, with all human and other-than-human beings. Here we are inescapably experiencing this miraculous existence together inside a delicate pocket – Earth’s atmosphere, a phenomenon I explore in this section of my poem:

READ EXTRACT: ‘From the Pocket’s Circumference’ (ECOZOA, Permanent Publications, 2015)

“… here’s the rub – don’t we all live together in the same pocket? From outer space we see the pale cloud, and here and there the holes. If Earth were a fist balled up and thrust in a pocket, the atmosphere would be as thin as that cotton fabric. Our lungs know this. Drawing 20,000 breaths per day, these twin inflatable pockets point up towards the element on which they depend.”


Walking into a forest/woodland you know. Air filled with sounds of birds. The Spring sunshine is gently warming the air and your face. Sap is rising. Season when our ancestors would have celebrated the Earth’s awakening. Birth. Regeneration. As you walk, perhaps you’re starting to breathe in the scents of blossom, new leaves, Wild Garlic?

Talk about Japanese Forest Bathing – Shin-rin-yoku. As we walk in woodland, we’re breathing more oxygen-rich air. Also we’re benefitting from the forest’s natural aromatherapy. Inhaling the aromatic compounds released by trees and plants, called phytoncides. These have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, and studies show that they support the white blood cells in our immune systems. Take time to be in this space etc.

Finally, I invited people to plunge into some splurging, and gave them five minutes. After that, I asked them to look at their writing and circle any parts that had interest/energy, which might serve for further development.

In the final minutes of the session, people typed into the chat some wonderfully rich snippets, read out some sections of their writings and asked questions. I’m hugely grateful for everyone’s engagement, and I’m open to ongoing dialogue with anyone who may want to know more.


Helen Moore is a British ecopoet, socially engaged artist, writer and Nature educator. She has published three ecopoetry collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books, 2012), ECOZOA (Permanent Publications, 2015), acclaimed by John Kinsella as ‘a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics’, and The Mother Country (Awen Publications, 2019) exploring aspects of British colonial history. Helen offers an online mentoring programme, Wild Ways to Writing, and works with students internationally. In 2020 her work was nominated for the Forward and Pushcart Prizes and received grants from the Royal Literary Fund and Arts Council England. She’s currently collaborating with Cape Farewell in Dorset on RiverRun, a project working with scientists and farmers in Dorset to examine pollution in Poole Bay and its river-systems.

Blog by Helen Moore



Deptford Storytelling Project 2020-2021

Figure 1: A multilingual community film-making project celebrating Deptford’s rich history and diverse community

Deptford Storytelling Project was launched in 2020 and brought together people of different ages, languages, and backgrounds to make films about people’s lives in Deptford. Film workshops were run from January-March 2020 resulting in 10 films and two screenings in March 2020 at Deptford Cinema in Deptford, South London. Details of the project can be accessed on the Language Acts and Worldmaking site. The films can be seen on the Critical Connections website with film details in the Film Booklet 2020.

This community-based filmmaking project celebrated Deptford’s rich history and vibrant and diverse community through stories of those living here. Set up in collaboration with Deptford Cinema and Goldsmiths, University of London it offered a creative space for exploring lifeworlds, asserting cultural alternatives, and developing a shared community. Making participant agency and collaboration central concerns, it expanded on our successful work in the Critical Connections project (2012-ongoing) and took filmmaking into the community for all ages. The public and private screenings at Deptford Cinema were wonderful celebratory events and Lucy Rogers, one of the directors of the project and a Deptford Cinema volunteer reflected: ‘the films make a great argument for the value of true grassroots cinema as a platform for creativity and self-expression’. The project was reported in Goldsmiths news.

Deptford Cinema had to close its doors a week after the screening due to the pandemic and the start of the first lockdown. The project directors wanted time to reflect on the filmmaking process with participants and talk to the filmmakers about their experiences of the project. As community events were put on hold, we set up online recorded conversations with participants to talk about their own films and other films in the project; the languages included; understandings of community; and their experiences of Deptford Cinema. Michael and Vanessa made the film Walk with Me and Michael reflected upon the experience.

‘The more I do this, the more I will learn about multiculturalism … Well, I believe that’s the way the world really is, people with different languages … that shows the true nature of the world … everyone’s got a different culture’.

Figure 2: Walk With Me (Michael Williams and Vanessa Crouch)

Walk With Me shows a snapshot of a week in Michael’s life. Michael sadly died in August 2020 and this film stands as a timely testament to his ideas about friendship and community.

As project directors we decided to reach out to the filmmakers in 2021 and see if they wanted to get together for the project’s one-year anniversary. We met with the project participants online and planned a virtual screening of the films on the Deptford Cinema online platform, DC @ Home. We held a celebratory launch of the online screening on Friday 26 March with 9 of the 10 original films and an extended version of My Bad Sister which has been shown at film festivals.

The 2nd edition of the Film Booklet 2021 can be accessed here.

The online screening of the films included pre-recorded introductions by the filmmakers reflecting on their films a year later in March 2021.

Deptford Storytelling Virtual Screening from Critical Connections on Vimeo.

The filmmakers also reflected on the project, ‘Deptford Storytelling Project: Celebrating One Year’ through creating short written pieces, photographs, artwork, poetry and recordings for the online Journal for Deptford Cinema.

The Deptford Storytelling project was funded by Language Acts and Worldmaking (a flagship AHRC Open World Research Initiative project aiming to transform language learning by foregrounding language’s power to shape how we live and make our worlds) and two of the project directors, Lucy Rogers and Vicky Macleroy, presented the project at the final online conference, ‘Languages Acts and Worldmaking Conference: Languages Future’ in April 2021. The online screening of the films hosted by Deptford Cinema @ Home became part of the international conference and shared with all conference participants. The conference presentation can be seen here.

The Deptford Storytelling Project has become a vital part of our multilingual digital storytelling work and research and became part of the larger international digital storytelling community when one of the project directors, Vicky Macleroy, presented the project at the online International Digital Storytelling Conference (June 2021), ‘Story Work For A Just Future Exploring Diverse Experiences And Methods Within An International Community Of Practice’. In the presentation ‘Cultural Webs of Deptford: Multilingual Digital Stories of Friendship and Belonging’ research was discussed that showed how the storytellers’ language repertoires were drawn upon and extended in their films. In the Deptford Storytelling Project (2020-21), we moved beyond school settings and worked across generations to see whether filmmaking could bring people together and play a vital part in multilingual activism and understanding our local communities.

As the Critical Connections project moves into its tenth year, we hope to build on the collaboration with Deptford Cinema. Deptford Cinema volunteers, Lucy Rogers and Louis Holder supported the online screening of ‘Our Planet Festival 2021’ with 20 films including 20 languages. Read about the ‘Our Planet Festival’.

We are in the process of planning next year’s festival and waiting to hear about further funding for our work in the field of multilingual learning, environmental activism and the arts. Margaret Jennings (in collaboration with Jun Koya) created a film for the Deptford Storytelling Project’, Urban Wildway Rooutes. Margaret set up the Eco Haven at Goldsmiths and the film explored the shift from human centredness to wildlife centredness. Margaret and other participants in the Deptford Storytelling Project are keen to be part of future filmmaking projects.

Figure 3: Urban Wildway Rooutes (Margaret Jennings and Jun Koya)

Please get in contact if you are interested in participating in future projects.

Project Directors: Lucy Rogers, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy

Blog by Vicky Macleroy

Our Planet Festival 2021

Critical Connections Project (2012-ongoing) 

Figure 1: Our Planet Festival Languages by Yu-Chiao Chung

In these uncertain times the theme of ‘Our Planet’ is a crucial topic for young people to engage with, research, and think about how to change their environments. In the online festival in June 2021, as well as the digital stories on the theme of ‘Our Planet’, students produced artwork and multilingual poetry to express their views.

Aims of ‘Our Planet Festival 2021’

  1. Connect children and young people with their environment, cultural heritage, and languages through taking action and telling stories on issues that matter to them (cosmopolitan citizenship).
  2. Connect children and young people with each other locally and globally.
  3. Develop children’s imagination, creativity, and multilingual repertories.
  4. Improve children’s communication skills and ability to make meaning through narrative and still/moving images and gain understanding of multimodal literacy and intertextual relationships.
  5. Gain understanding of issues and strategies in translation activities and subtitling (metalinguistic awareness).
  6. Enable creative and critical use of digital technology to transform stories.
  7. Encourage critical thinking, activist citizenship, and international partnerships.
  8. Develop children’s understanding of aesthetics and narration through creating artwork and poetry.

Our Planet Festival 2021 celebrated the multilingual lives of children and young people through their artwork, multilingual poetry, and the bi- and multi- lingual digital stories they created during the pandemic. Educators worked with young participants (6 – 17 years old) across 16 educational institutions (primary, secondary, community-based complementary, pupil referral unit, NGO), 7 countries (England, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Germany, Taiwan, Turkey) and a range of 20 languages. The young people exhibited their striking and original artwork and poetry on the project website and their 3–5-minute films were shown at an online screening event supported by Deptford Cinema.

Online Our Planet Festival – Friday 11 June 2021

Michael Rosen opened the festival with a multilingual poetry performance including some of his latest poems from his book On the Move: Poems About Migration (2020). Michael Rosen commented on the theme of the festival.

‘We’re talking about ‘Our Planet’ so this is one of the things that we share. We share the fact that we are multilingual … one of the reasons why we are multilingual is because we migrate, we move … we don’t stay still … that’s why languages mix and change and we speak many languages’.

Project schools joined from different countries and students were thrilled to participate in a Q & A with Michael Rosen.

Children asked Michael about becoming a poet, writing poetry, his poems, his preferred language, and being an educator as well as a poet.

Artwork and multilingual poetry

Michael Rosen’s poetry performance was followed by a short online tour of the artwork and multilingual poetry children and young people created for the festival.

    Figure 2

   لما لا يسود السلام في العالم

   ‘Why not a peaceful world?’

   Sobhia Anfal Boularas

 Peace School, North London



This work can be accessed from the different schools on the project website here:

Multilingual Poetry Workshop

Michaël Vidon, spoken word educator, poet and French teacher (at Seaford Head School) led an hour’s online multilingual poetry workshop for all participants. Michaël Vidon engaged participants in thinking about words, about obstacles, about places where humans and nature are side by side fighting, about messiness, about danger and comfort. He talked about editing and when and how to move between languages in multilingual poetry and about rhyme and rhythm. Project participants experimented writing across languages.

Online screening event supported by Deptford Cinema

Figure 3: Congratulations, you have won a sheep! (Tawasol Community School, Cairo, Egypt)

There were 20 short films including 20 languages and short, pre-recorded introductions to each film. Participants watched the films together across the different countries and the screening was accessible on the Deptford Cinema @ Home platform for 6 weeks (Deptford Cinema). The films can now be accessed on Critical Connections website.

Deptford Cinema is a volunteer run, not-for-profit, community cinema in Deptford (close to Goldsmiths). Deptford Cinema volunteers, Lucy Rogers and Louis Holder, supported the online screening producing a film booklet and editing the overall screening. The Our Planet Digital Storytelling Booklet contains a listing of all the films and more detailed descriptions of the 20 films and project participants.

Our Planet Festival Booklet

The individual films can be viewed here.


The film festival was on national news in Taiwan (12 June 2021).

Figure 4: Revealing the Secrets of Joss Paper (Changsing Elementary School, Taiwan)

Children and young people shared their multilingual poetry, artwork and digital stories at local school and community events across countries in the project.

Children/young people reflected on the ‘Our Planet Festival 2021’

‘Some languages are very difficult to talk in. I knew some of the words. I wish I can read Greek and Mandarin’.

‘It was great to see children from around the world’.

‘We, the children, have to save our planet’.

‘We can all start from our homes and schools, influence a group’s opinion and hope they will influence others’.

‘I was very excited to see our film showcased. I loved watching other films’.

‘There were a variety of different films that intrigued me in many different ways, each one was unique, yet powerful’.

‘There are so many languages spoken in different countries.  I didn’t know that.  It was fascinating to see many films in different languages’.

‘People in different part of the world do different things and have their own ways of living and thought’.

Educators reflected on the ‘Our Planet Festival 2021’

‘Tainan Municipal Changsing Elementary School, Revealing the Secrets of Joss Paper. For most of us, this is a totally unknown world.  Even if one is not part of the culture, one could easily follow and understand the importance of the matter to local people, and that, after all, they are facing similar difficulties we have here, with big industries endangering local crafts’.

‘I had no idea about joss paper and I was wondering if there are any other traditions that potentially put our environment in danger. That is a topic I would like to research with children, starting from our little country, and try to find some solutions to either make the effect less damaging for the planet or completely change it with something nature-friendly’.

‘In my class, children have proved they can complete a range of tasks, technology wise, and achieve much more than what we expect of them. They were able to use a range of multimedia programmes to put a clip together, add subtitles and use other features’.

‘I am very surprised and impressed that my students can finish their films during lockdown.  I thought they would lose their motivation but the fact was that they were very engaged and responsible to work on their film.  It has proved that if they are given some tasks which mean a lot to them, they would enjoy working on them’.

Critical Connections project (2021-22)

As the Critical Connections project moves into its tenth year, we are in the process of planning next year’s festival and waiting to hear about further funding for our work in the field of multilingual learning, environmental activism and the arts. Please get in contact if you are interested in participating in future projects.

Project Directors: Dr Vicky Macleroy, Dr Yu-Chiao Chung and Dr Jim Anderson

Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, Goldsmiths, University of London

Our Planet Festival 2021 was supported by Goldsmiths Public Engagement Fund (2020-21) and Deptford Cinema.

Blog by Vicky Macleroy



Philip Pullman in conversation with Michael Rosen

Centre for Language, Culture and Learning Online Event –  21 May 2021

5.30 pm – Welcome from Head of Centre for Language, Culture and Learning – Vicky Macleroy

5.35 pm – Introduction by Head of MA Children’s Literature programme – Julia Hope

5.40 pm – 6.40 pm – Philip Pullman in conversation with Michael Rosen

6.40 – 7.00 pm – Questions from panel of MA /PhD Children’s Literature students – Alice Penfold, Mette Lindahl-Wise, Seraphina Simmons-Bah, Louis Garratt


What happens when you bring together two leading figures in the field of children’s literature?

We share some reflections and highlights from this brilliant event which was first planned between these two long-time friends and prolific well-known writers over a year ago. Originally planned as a live event (the week we went into lockdown and before Michael nearly died from COVID-19), the event was then transformed into an online conversation.

Michael Rosen is Professor of Children’s Literature and in the Centre for Language, Culture and Learning at Goldsmiths. Julia Hope, Head of the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths, introduced Michael Rosen and Philip Pullman in a warm, witty, political way that set the tone for this special event giving us a glimpse into the lives of these highly esteemed writers in the field of children’s literature.

Michael framed the conversation with his questions and the ebb and flow of the discussion was a real pleasure. Philip spent much of his childhood at sea and remembers being on the water and the movement of the sea and this sense of impermanence and ‘nowhere that I can really call home’. We heard that his mother used to write poetry and he had loved the rhythm of Hiawatha as a child and read ‘with enormous glee’ the Just So Stories and How the Camel got its Hump’. Philip shared his enjoyment of comics – swift and quick moving – Superman, Batman, The Eagle and Michael remembered becoming an ‘aficionado’ of comics but with his father’s running ideological commentary in his ear.

Philip and Michael reminisced about their time at Oxford and the odd disjuncture with figures in academia at that time and obstacles put in the way of success. Philip thoughtfully remarked that: ‘If I had my time again, I would have been a furniture maker’.

Michael moved onto talking to Philip about his earlier books and the influence of children’s writers on him such as Leon Garfield, Owl Service. Philip talked about reading Paradise Lost and words in poetry and how his ‘skin bristled’ and he was ‘intoxicated, spellbound by these words, what words, what phrases, how do you find words like that?’. He also talked about loving ballads and folk music.

We were given a rare treat into Philip’s current writing on the last book in the trilogy of The Book of Dust. In this book, Philip wanted to send Lyra, to Central Asia, to near Aleppo, but Aleppo one hundred years ago when it was a happy, thriving, bustling, busy, joyful place. Pantalaimon has decided Lyra has lost her imagination (because of certain books she has been reading) and has to leave Lyra to find her imagination and go east (to the Tian Shan Mountains in Western China). Lyra is following him and she is now in Syria, meeting strange events and strange people. Philip sees this novel turning into a romance, smaller scale than an epic, and about an individual questing for lost love. He was on p. 132 of writing the book at the time of talking and we eagerly await its publication.

Panellist reflections

 The event was then opened up for the 4 panellists to ask their questions and they reflect here on the questions and Philip’s responses.

Strong female characters (Mette Lindahl-Wise)

My question to Phillip stemmed from my interest in girlhood, feminism and children’s literature and I asked Phillip where his strong female characters came from – was he inspired by particular people or literary characters? Philip explained that he never sets out to create strong female characters for ideological purposes or to prove a particular political point, they just ‘turn up like that’. However, never having been a girl himself he is interested in examining female characters through the omniscient narrator, a non-human ‘spright’ ‘whose voice it is a privilege to inhabit’. Drawing on his many years as a teacher and observing classroom dynamics to create his many fabulous female characters like Lyra, Alice, Sally, Lila the fire-maker’s daughter he said there had been a ‘Lyra’ in every class he taught. Fascinating!

Fantasy genre (Alice Penfold)

My PhD research is focused on representations of mental health in young adult fantasy fiction. Due to my interest in genre, I asked Philip why he had chosen the fantasy genre for many of his novels and what unique possibilities he believes that the genre offers. Philip offered a very thoughtful and honest response and outlined how the ideas for his novels came to him before choosing a specific genre. I was particularly interested in his comment on the possibilities of fantasy to escape everyday reality and also for using fantasy to represent growing up, as shown in His Dark Materials through the fact that the daemons of young people (such as Lyra) can change, whereas those of the adults stay the same. It was such a pleasure to hear Philip’s answers and his conversation with Michael and to be reminded of the power that fiction has to help adult and young adult readers alike to make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

Anthropomorphism (Seraphina Simmons-Bah)

As I have been exploring the use of anthropomorphism as part of my research into societal power structures and children’s literature, I asked Philip about his use of the device through the daemons in His Dark Materials. Philip built on his answers to Mette and Alice’s questions, explaining that there was no deliberate ideological rationale for how he used the daemons, but fondly recalled the moment that he had had the idea to make it possible for children’s daemons to change whilst adult daemons cannot. When listening to Philip’s responses, what struck me the most was just how inspired he is by children and the resilience and adaptability they can have.

Writing prose (Louis Garratt)

 As a writer who aspires to the swiftness and clarity of Philip’s works, my question was if there is a rule, or set of rules or practices, that Philip adheres to when writing prose to capture the reader and instil a swiftness to the text. Philip’s response was to emphasise the importance of good habits, commenting that ‘habit has written far more books than inspiration has’. It is more beneficial and realistic to have an accomplishable routine when setting out on the task of writing. Philip also commented on my admiration for nonsense literature, naming The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster as well as the Alice books of Lewis Carrol, as examples of texts that are stitched together in a logical manner that aids the reader’s immersion.

Returning to Michael Rosen and Philip Pullman at the end of the panel discussion, Michael talked about how Philip had taken us on a roundabout route through story and posed the question:

What does story give us?

You can watch a recording of the event here.


 Philip Pullman shared some pages with us afterwards of his work in progress.

These words are not for reproduction or publication outside of this blog (and not to be posted on social media).

Work in progress

Lyra listened. The silence was vast. It was the sort of night when you might hear the planets moving among the stars. She found herself comparing it with the silence in the world of the dead, but that was a closed silence, where nothing was alive, and that world was stale and stuffy, for all its immensity. But the silence in Al-Khan al-Azraq was open, and not quite silence either; there were little scratches, little susurrations and clicks and rasps, none of them louder than a pinch of sand dropped on the skin of a snare drum, and they all meant … Nothing. She remembered a night some years before, in Oxford, when she had thought that everything had a meaning, and had seen how she might understand it. But that was before she’d read Gottfried Brande and Simon Talbot, at a time when Pan was still happy with her.

“You can’t hear them?” said Nur Huda.

She spoke tentatively, anxious that Lyra should believe her, and Lyra saw how young the girl was, and how much she’d suffered, and felt how tightly Nur Huda was still gripping her arm.

“Yes, I can a bit, but I don’t know what they’re saying. Is this the best place to listen to them?”

“It’s better in the market place. This way.”

They had to clamber over the fallen stones and make their way around the broken walls of a basilica before they came to an open area that did look like a market place, a public space to hold meetings: a forum.

The sand underfoot was so fine and white that it might have been newly-milled flour. In the centre of the forum there was a plinth where a statue had once stood. The statue itself lay in three pieces beside it, toppled by an earthquake, perhaps: a bearded god whose sightless eyes glared up at the moon. Lyra and Nur Huda sat on his muscular chest. There was nothing moving in the forum, not a sign of life anywhere, and everything around was drenched in moonlight and frozen in stillness.

Lyra gradually became more aware of the scratchy little susurrus, the scraping of insect claws, the clicks and rustlings like dry leaves in a porcelain bowl being stirred by a breeze. The girl’s arm pressing against hers, her flesh warm in the cold air, made Lyra realise a little of what their dæmons must be feeling, so bare and vulnerable away from the solid comfort of a human body.

She gathered her breath to say something, but Nur Huda whispered “Sssh …”

Lyra could hear no difference in the tiny scratchings and scrapes. She strained to hear better, and tried to focus her ears on whatever was there, and then remembered Giorgio Brabandt telling her how to see the secret commonwealth: You got to look at it sideways, he’d said. Out the corner of your eye. So you gotta think about it out the corner of your mind. Its there and it ent, both at the same time.

Of course. She shouldn’t strain at it. She relaxed her mind and her eyes and her ears, and let the night flow in and out of her body. A nimbus of perception spread out around her as if her senses themselves were slowly merging with the city of the moon.

And in the clicks and rasps and scratches she began to hear words:

… you alone … we will talk only to you … what we have to say is not for the world to know …

Then she said into the dark “Who are you? Are you angels?”

… we are beings of another kind …

“Are you part of the secret commonwealth?”

… deeper by far than that … we come from the gulfs between the good numbers …

“The gulfs between … Did I hear you properly?”

No reply.


Philip Pullman

From The Book of Dust, Part 3


Many thanks to Philip for this rare glimpse into a ‘work in progress’.


         The Book of Dust, Part 3   

You can find information about the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths which has 3 pathways: MA Children’s Literature: Issues and Debates; MA Children’s Literature: Creative Writing Pathway; MA Children’s Literature: Children’s Book Illustration.

Blog by Vicky Macleroy (with panellist reflections by Mette Lindahl-Wise, Alice Penfold, Seraphina Simmons-Bah, Louis Garratt)



Gabriel Troiano: The forbidden and creativity

Below is an unedited video of Gabe Troiano’s talk on the Forbidden and Creativity, 15 April 2021, hosted by  Goldsmiths Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and MA Creative Writing and Education Please feel free to scroll to the relevant section.


Gabe writes:

It was an absolute pleasure to participate in the Inspire conference on the 15 and 16 of April 2021. I was impressed with what the participants had to showcase, their work has great value and will certainly be of importance moving forward in the field of critical pedagogy, creativity, and writing. In regard to my session ‘Forbidden’, I wanted to explore a creative writing practice that can take place in a variety of formats.

By formats I mean not only writing, but other artistic forms of expression such as painting, drawing, etc. This goes along with a part of my presentation where I talk about other artistic creations and how they impacted me as a writer. My idea with this piece was to think about a scenario where a person or character finds themselves in a difficult place, a moment where him/her is doing something forbidden or dangerous that could potentially impact their life in some way.

This was the driving force behind my story, and I believe that this simple action of doing something forbidden can and has been extremely explored throughout the artistic world. Some of the examples from different genres that I utilized in my presentation are shown below:

Adam eating the apple, 1786 by Parmigianino (1503 – 1540)

Adam eating the apple | Works of Art | RA Collection | Royal Academy of Arts

Dream Theater’s “Metropolis PT 2: Scenes From a Memory”

Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory - Wikipedia

The generous feedback from my peers and visitors at the conference (which also included my mother, father, and grandmother!) also allowed me to showcase this point quite clearly. After the completion of the freewriting exercise, I was shocked to see so many responses and the amount of creativity that was embedded in only 8 minutes of writing. Some of the comments below say more than I could ever express into words:

‘She’d do what she needed to do. It was the mantra that she kept replaying to herself all those lonely months. And now she was here. The worst was over. Now all that was left was to cover the thing that had fallen out of her in the soft, sweet smelling earth of her parent’s back garden. Then she could go back into the house; get into bed and tomorrow she would just be a cheerleader again.’

‘I stood in the bathroom stall shaking and unfolding the crumpled piece of paper where I had written all the math formulas. My forehead dripped with sweat and my ankles felt stiff. I tried to scan the paper as quickly as possible. When I walked back to the classroom my sneakers squeaked through the cold and quiet hallway. When I opened the door to classroom 2D, Mr.s Levin looked at me. “She knows”, I thought. “Play it cool” i told myself. I slipped back into the seat to look at my math quiz and I had forgotten all the formulas.’

‘I lied. I don’t usually lie. It is hard to do so when one has been brought up in a strict ‘Thou shalt not lie’ household. I lied to my children. I thought at the time I was protecting them and to this day I do not know if that was a good thing. But they lied right back at me. They pretended that they believed my lie. so we lived for years dancing around this strange thing, this lie. It coloured everything and as it turns out, they were having to work harder to protect me. And I had no idea that any of it was going in. How would our lives have been if I’d told them the truth from day on? What would it have been like if they had not lived, knowingly, with that lie, played it out for years? That lie. It had so much power. It carved the gorge that our life path took. To this day I can’t work out if I did the right thing but I remember the shock when my children told me they knew I had lied to them. Did it make them accepting of lies, of untruths? Did it colour their lives. If it did, I hope it has been for the good. But I will never know. I can’t turn back the clock, change that act.’

Overall, the experience of attending the conference as an observer and presenter was a truly magnificent opportunity. It always blows my mind to see so many talented people that are not afraid to showcase their work and inspire people to grow and be creative. I have always thought that creativity is something that you must be born with it, but attending conferences like this makes me reflect on the value of pedagogy and serving as a mentor to others who may want to explore their more creative, abstract side. It is easy for us writers and educators to sit down and jot our ideas to ourselves, but it is when we shed light on the why and how of this process to others that we fundamentally alter the way in which creativity is practiced and perceived. That is to say, one can do the work and stimulate their ideas to oneself, but one can also share pieces of the puzzle that was developed throughout a body of work in order to truly mend these different pieces together. I hope that you become inspired by watching the conference as I did, observing and interacting with the different pieces of the puzzle produced by the trend setting collection of inspirers.


Gabriel Troiano was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1996. After moving to the United States in 2013 to complete his high school and bachelor’s degree, Gabriel relocated to London, United Kingdom, where he currently resides and is completing a master’s from Goldsmiths University in Creative Writing & Education. His first original poetry and short story collection entitled Inner Worlds is set to publish in 2021, one which he compiled throughout the span of his academic life. The author is also deeply interested in social work and acts as a volunteer for The Reader organization based in Liverpool, United Kingdom. Besides his literary ventures, Gabriel enjoys topics relating to sports, health & wellness, music, and is an advocate for mental health.

Matilda Rostant: How to get started on building your fantasy world

YouTube Video

Below is the link for an unedited video of Matilda Rostant’s talk at the Inspire Conference 15th April 2021, hosted by Goldsmiths Centre for Language, Culture and Learning and MA Creative Writing and Education. Please feel free to scroll ahead to the relevant sections.

The Blurb for this Conference Workshop

The magic of a fantasy story is the exciting world that you are introducing to your reader, a place where they can get lost and explore. Your world will be the backbone of your story, the home to your characters and the beginning of their adventure.

In the 30 minute workshop, we explored the world in which your story is set, whether that is in an alternative London, or your very own Narnia. World building is an integral part of fantasy writing, although sometimes it can be daunting and difficult to know where to begin. Through a series of writing exercises, we broke down the process into manageable tasks to help you get going with creating your fantasy world.

Exercises and responses

Below are the exercises covered in the workshop. You could focus on one question, or try and answer as many of them as possible to get a wider idea of what your world might look like. By first creating a character, we then used our character to show us more of the world around them, whether it was through where they live, or their place of work.

Create a character who inhabits your world (3 mins)

Give them an attribute that doesn’t exist in our world – occupation/physical/clothing etc.

Who are they? Name/age etc.

What do they do for a living?

What are their hobbies?

What are their dreams/ambitions/goals?

What stands in their way from achieving those things?

Describe your character’s home (3 min)

Where do they live? Show us around their home.

Use all the senses – vision, touch, smell, taste, and sound.

What is the climate like where they live? What season is it?

Does your character like where they live?

Can you incorporate something into the home that doesn’t exist in our world?

Write about a day in the life of your character in your world (7 mins)

Where are they going and why? (could be relating to their job/hobby/goal)

What do their surroundings look like (street/village/town/city)? Any landmarks?

Who else lives there apart from your character?

 To take it one step further:

What is the political system?

Is there magic in this world? Magic always comes with a price, what would be the price for using magic in their world?

What plants and wildlife exist in their world?

For this workshop, I included as many questions as possible so that people could find an area that they felt comfortable writing about, whether that was wildlife, or going into more details about someone’s job. However, as discussed in the workshop, when introducing fantasy in a classroom, some might struggle if the brief is going in too many directions. In those cases, it is best to narrow it down to one question and focus on that scenario – such as ‘what if…’.

Writing fantasy isn’t always as easy as one might imagine. Where some writing focuses on having you look inward to what you know, fantasy asks you to let go of what you know of your world and create something out of the unknown. And that can be daunting. Therefore, it was lovely to find that some people who had never written fantasy before, and found it challenging, came up with the most imaginative stories and enjoyed writing them.


Born in Sweden, Matilda Rostant is a fantasy writer who now lives in London. She graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London with an MA in Creative Writing and Education in 2020. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including Reader’s Digest. The aim of her workshop is to encourage anyone interested in creating their own fantasy world to take the first step.

Note about the Inspire conference and anthology

‘Inspire: Exciting Ways of Being Creative’ was a conference hosted online by Goldsmiths’ Centre for Language, Culture and Learning, on 15th and 16th April 2021, 9.30am-4.15pm.

The conference explored through a series of dynamic online workshops and lectures how we can inspire people of all generations to be creative. It was in part a celebration of the publication of Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing (ed. Brankin, Gilbert & Sharples: 2020). You can access a free copy of this wonderful book here:


Refugee Narratives

At present I am writing a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Refugee Narratives, to be published imminently.  It is entitled: ‘Fostering empathy, or presenting refugees as victims, in need of “white saviours”? Reviewing recent middle grade/ young adult children’s literature about refugees.’

For the past 15 years I have been researching children’s literature about the refugee experience, identifying early on the exponential growth in books about this controversial subject as an “emergent genre” (Hope, 2008, pg.296).  By the time of the publication of my book “Children’s Literature about Refugees: A Catalyst in the Classroom” (Hope, 2017) I could include an appendix of 250 titles on the subject published in English in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and since then more titles are continually appearing, with several books achieving considerable notoriety in recent years.  Obviously, the theme is topical, particularly since 2015 with the escalation of conflict in Syria contributing to “the world’s largest refugee crisis in decades” (UNHCR, 2021), but children’s literature does not always reflect reality so closely.

I have looked at how these books are authored, studied in the classroom, mediated by teachers, and read by refugee and non-refugee children alike, and over the years, I have come to recognise that, although not a homogeneous category, much middle grade/ young adult literature of this kind (targeted at 8 – 18 year olds) could well be described as “docu-novels … whose priority is to narrate a social circumstance, or which have a message to tell” (Wilkie- Stibbs, 2008, Pg.12) following an almost formulaic representation of the refugee experience.  More recently, I have begun to notice a trend towards increasingly grim and explicit depictions of the suffering of refugee children, especially when trapped in refugee or detainment camps.

This chapter, therefore, questions the motivations of authors, the messages of such stories, and the images of refugees proffered by the books.  I will be examining in depth three middle grade (8-12)/ young adult (12-18) texts all of which are set mainly or partly in refugee and detainment camps, and been published since 2016, receiving public acclaim – Zana Fraillon’s “The Bone Sparrow” (2016), Elizabeth Laird’s “Welcome to Nowhere” (2017) and Ele Fontain’s “Boy ‘87” (2018).  Drawing on close textual analysis I will ask, controversially, how far should we go in exposing the horrors that children may be experiencing in the current global setting?  Does this foster empathy and a humane response, or do some of these narratives depict refugee children as victims of politically sanitised global disasters, without background explanation of the causes (Vassiloudi, 2019) and in need of “white saviours” to bring them to safety.  I will argue instead that we need a new framework of RefugeeCrit (Strekalova-Hughes, 2019) that promotes criticism and discussion, avoids pity and “othering”, and does not take war, violence and persecution for granted, but examines more closely the complex contexts about conflict leading to flight.

Dr Julia Hope is Head of the MA Children’s Literature programme. You can find information about the MA Children’s Literature programme at Goldsmiths which has 3 pathways:

MA Children’s Literature: Issues and Debates

MA Children’s Literature: Creative Writing Pathway

MA Children’s Literature: Children’s Book Illustration.


Blog by Julia Hope