International congress focuses on theme of ‘possible and impossible children’

More than 300 scholars of children’s literature and childhood studies will converge on York University’s Keele campus to attend the 23rd Biennial Congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) from July 29 to Aug. 2.

Cheryl Cowdy

This is only the third time this prestigious international conference has been held in North America since IRSCL was founded in 1970. The conference will be hosted by the University’s interdisciplinary Children’s Studies program and convened by Department of Humanities Professors Cheryl Cowdy and Peter Cumming.

Peter Cumming

With 10 keynote speakers, 300 papers in English and French by scholars from around the world, and roundtables on Indigenous creators of children’s and young adult literature, intersections of diversity and youth filmmakers, there’s plenty to explore at the IRSCL Congress.

This year’s theme, “Possible & Impossible Children: Intersections of Children’s Literature & Childhood Studies,” is derived from York University’s Children’s Studies program. Cowdy, who is the coordinator of the program, regards the event as “an exciting opportunity for scholars in the interdisciplinary fields of childhood studies and children’s literature to come together. The congress theme reflects in generative ways core values of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and the York community, such as interdisciplinarity, international collaboration and social justice.”

An organizing committee of full-time and contract faculty members, and graduate and undergraduate students from the Departments of Humanities, Communication Studies and Sociology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), as well as the Faculty of Education, worked for two years to prepare for this global conference.

Graduate students and junior scholars have been given priority in the IRSCL program, which includes an opening night meet-and-greet, a “M(e[a]t) a Professor” mentorship lunch that pairs established and junior scholars, and professionalization panels on publishing and research centres.

Anah-Jayne Markland

“We have received overwhelming and enthusiastic responses from international graduate students and junior scholars eager to take part in our events, which are designed to facilitate connections and develop professional skills,” says Anah-Jayne Markland, a PhD candidate in humanities at York University. “Already, there are over 60 delegates registered for the opening night meet-and-greet, more than 50 attending the pub night, and over 40 senior scholars and 50 junior scholars who will take part in the mentorship lunch.”

Keynote speakers include five past presidents of IRSCL, from Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, as well as Professor Peter Hunt (the first full professor of children’s literature in the U.K.), Professor Suzanne Pouliot on Québecois children’s literature, Professor Robin Bernstein from Harvard University speaking on “Children, Literature, Things,” Daniel Goldin Halfon from Mexico’s Biblioteca Vasconcelos and Michèle Petit from France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. One keynote address will be presented in French, and another in Spanish.

A map showing the home countries of presenters attending the IRSCL Congress

Some 20 scholars (faculty and students) from York University’s Faculty of Education and the Departments of Communication Studies, English, Humanities and Sociology in LA&PS will present papers alongside international colleagues from East and South Asia, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe, the U.K., the USA, Latin America and across Canada. There will also be a special meeting of these global scholars on the role of children’s literature and childhood and youth studies scholars given the very real challenges faced by children and young people, particularly prompted by current global political crises.

IRSCL Congress 2017 delegates will also be able to participate in tours, roundtables, and receptions co-sponsored by the Toronto Public Library’s Lillian H. Smith Library and the Toronto International Film Festival’s Bell Lightbox, as well as attend special performances at York University.

More detailed information about IRSCL Congress 2017 can be found on the conference website at

IRSCL Congress 2017 is being made possible through support from the Faculties of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Graduate Studies and Education; the Academic Vice-President and Provost and the Vice-President of Research and Innovation; the Departments of Humanities, History and Communication Studies, and the Children’s Studies program; the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies and the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean; Winters College; and the Toronto Public Library, the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the International Research Society for Children’s Literature.