Sherlock in SFF panel ‘reading’ list

Yesterday I was moderated an Eastercon panel on Sherlock Holmes in Science Fiction and Fantasy. The panellists were fabulous: Fran Dowd, D.C., Nik Vincent and Aliette de Bodard. The conversation was fun, informative and enaging; thanks everyone.

With such knowledgable panelists, lots of properties were mentioned. I hope that I’ve captured all of the, but if I haven’t, please let me know!

The Tea-Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The Case of the Scented Lady by Nik Vincent, in Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes ed. George Mann

Hagar of the Pawn Shop by Fergus Hume

Miss Sherlock (TV- available from Amazon Prime in the UK)

Doctor Who- DC discussed the 4th Doctor whose costume at times echoed Holmes’ deerstalker and caped Ulster coat and the Master as a Moriarty figure

Arsene Lupin, the Gentleman Thief by Maurice Leblanc, particularly the stories featuring “Herlock Shomes”

The Irregulars (TV- available from Netflix UK)

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Creeping Man by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Judge Dee (Di Renjie) starting with The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Gong’An) by “Buti zhuanren” trans. Robert van Gulik who went on to write his own sequels

Madame Vastra from Doctor Who. Big Finish, the audio drama company, has produced stories about Mme Vastra, Jenny and Strax solving supernatural crimes.

Sexton Blake, who was also a Baker St consulting detective

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as the archetypal Holmes (in my opinion) (TV- streaming on Britbox)

Elementary- we particularly liked the character of Joan Watson (TV- streaming on Amazon Prime)

Rivals of Sherlock Holmes collected by Nick Rennison

Thanks again to D. C., Fran, Nik and Aliette, and the great programme and tech teams who made this panel happen!

Guest post- Eggcundles recipe

Today my amazing stepson shares the recipe for his favourite lunch, Eggcundles: egg and cucumber noodles. You will need an egg, some cucumber and a packet of instant noodles. He wrote the recipe to share with his teacher.


1. We have to boiled the egg
2. We slice the cuecumners
3. We put the noodles with boiling water
4. Put and draind the noodles
5. We pulled the egg
6. We put sauce on the bowl
7. We make eggcundles

Home learning at its best! I hope you enjoy your eggcundles.

Active reading for anxious brains

These are techniques that work for me. Other brains may differ.

  1. It is better to actively read one section of a text for 10 minutes than to stare passively at pages for an hour and take nothing in.
  2. What I mean by “active reading” is to read with a purpose; to get specific information.
  3. By the end of actively reading you should have some information that you can use in a text.

Step 1- find the section need to read by using contents page, index and skim-reading.

Step 2- consider whether this is relevant to your assignment. If it is:

Step 3-generate a question. What do you need to find out? (for example, what does theorist X have to say about the phenomenon I am researching?) Create a table like this:

My questionAuthor, year, page referenceParaphrase in my own words

Do not copy down quotations. Use paraphrase and if you need a direct quotation, use quotation marks and jot a couple of words as aid memoire. This will avoid issues of academic misconduct.

Step 4- go back to the original text and read again to check that you have paraphrased accurately.

I find it helpful to time myself- I have 20 minutes per text. I have a 5 minute break after each one. So after just over an hour I should have enough reading to write a section of an assignment. You should have enough information to write an assignment if you do this for a day.

I hope that this is helpful. Let me know!

Magical schools to enjoy after Harry Potter

There have been many discussions over the years of what to read after the Harry Potter series ended in 2007, and over the last couple of years, for reasons that are eminently google-able, this subject has come up again. This list on the Australian broadcaster website ABU is a great resource, but being a children’s fantasy literature scholar, I think I can add to it.

Tamora Pierce has been writing children’s fantasy since 1983, starting with Alanna- the First Adventure, but my favourite sequence in the Tortall universe is about Keladry of Mindelan, who is the first girl to openly apply to train as a knight after Alanna’s trailblazing, where she had to hide her gender. Kel has several challenges ahead of her: not only is she a girl, but she is also tall, broad and strong so she deals with body shaming as well as outright misogyny. She was brought up in the Yamani Islands, former enemies of Tortall, so is unprepared for the levels of snobbery/ class prejudice and bullying she encounters. Kel refuses to change who she is; she will not hide her gender and challenges the bullying in the system as well as overcoming her fear of heights to get through her training. 12+.

Pierce’s Circle of Magic books are more consciously diverse- there are 4 protagonists from different geographical parts of the universe, and from different social classes. The two women in charge of the 4 children are in a relationship, and in later books the relationship is polyamorous. Each of the initial series is told through the perspective of all protagonists, so the reader gets the perspective of aristocratic white Sandry, nomadic Black trader Daja, white middle class Tris and Brown former street boy Briar.

Unfortunately these books are not easy to find in the UK, but they are available as e-books.

Coincidentally Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series was also first published in 1983. It is an intrusion fantasy along the lines of E. Nesbit or Edward Eager, where two children discover that magic is abroad in the mimetic world, in New York. Both protagonists are Latinx and lower middle class, dealing with bullying, family issues, school and their feelings for each other throughout the 11 novels. Diane was a guest of honour at Dublin WorldCon last year, and she was funny and engaging. Again, these books have not had a wide publication in the UK, but are available as e-books.

My third suggestion is Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor books, starting with The Trials of Morrigan Crow. These books are playful, inventive and thought provoking, with a great relationship between Morrigan and her mentor, Jupiter North, and his nephew Jack. So far there are two books published in the series, with a third to come in September (hint to my loved ones- it would make a fantastic birthday present…) The second book in the series has the school story element, and has a diverse cast, though Morrigan is fully the protagonist and the story is limited third person. They are delightful.

Finally, for young adults and adults, I recommend Gabby Hutchison-Crouch’s hilarious Darkwood and Such Big Teeth. Gabby is a former writer for BBC’s Horrible Histories, News Quiz and Now Show, so the funniness should not come as a shock. I first encountered her through her brilliant podcast Portenteous Perils in the Twenty Third Century, which has frequently made me laugh aloud on train journeys.

Robert Leeson’s Reading and Righting: Culture and representation in children’s literature, 34 years on

Image: Walker Books

Introduction to the symposium 20th June 2019.

Robert Leeson was born on 31st March 1928 in Barnton, Cheshire. His father, a former soldier, worked as a labourer, and his mother as a cleaner and laundress. Leeson won a scholarship to grammar school, and on leaving school at 16, worked as a trainee journalist on a local paper. In his biography on the Walker Books website, Leeson describes roaming his local area, a post-industrial landscape of “abandoned salt workings, canals, villages” making up adventure stories, and the local Primitive Methodist chapel put on entertainments during WW2 where sketches that he wrote were performed.

At the age of 17, Leeson joined the army and was posted to Egypt. In the postscript to the Collins Modern Classics edition of The Third Class Genie Leeson explains that being stationed in Egypt led him to question Western interpretations of the Crusades, and to investigate other versions of the Arabian Nights (2000, p.186). On leaving the army, he returned to journalism and became literary editor and features writer at the Daily Worker (later Morning Star) while writing novels.

Leeson’s career as a children’s author started after his own children started school, because the range of genres interested him, but he was insistent on writing for working class children. His first 3 novels were historical fiction and his 5th was The Third Class Genie about which I will speak later today. Haru Takiuchi outlines in his 2017 book British Working Class Writing For Children that established middle class critics were often more unfavourable towards contemporary realist novels for children featuring working-class themes, protagonists and settings than they were fantasy or historical novels featuring similar themes, protagonists and settings. Bob Dixon outlines the opposition to the Nippers series of reading scheme books featuring working class characters and protagonists of colour written by Leila Berg and Beryl Gilroy; teachers felt that school should promote middle class norms to elevate children. Of course, this attitude persists to the present day; critics such as Anne Fine and journalists in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express have objected to novels such as Melvyn Burgess’s Doing It and Jacqueline Wilson’s The Story of Tracy Beaker and My Mum Tracy Beaker all of which feature working-class protagonists.

Reading and Righting

As well as writing many articles for Signal Approaches to Children’s Literature, the independent magazine set up by Aidan and Nancy Chambers, Leeson wrote two books on children’s literature: 1976’s Children’s Books and Class Society Past and Present Edited by the Children’s Rights Workshop, and Reading and Righting: The Past, Present and Future of fiction for the young (1985). In the latter, Leeson asks why, when there had been two Golden Ages of children’s literature, there were still reluctant readers. As Leeson states, “A literature evolved out of the needs and concerns of one privileged social group could not simply multiply itself and expect to be accepted without question by the majority” (p. 13).

Girls reading comics

As Reynolds, Rosen and Rosen (2018) have demonstrated, in the early part of the 20th century children’s books and magazines were an important part of the work of politically radical groups to engage and educate children to build a better, more inclusive society in the future. The final chapter of radical children’s novelist Geoffrey Trease’s 1944 book Tales Out Of School is entitled “To You: For Action” and calls for all interested in the future of children’s literature to demand more of authors, publishers and readers; to eschew clichés such as stolen jewels, hidden tunnels, twins, riding stables and the French Revolution. He also called for more rigorous reviewing of children’s books. He quotes May Lamberton Becker, from her 1937 book Choosing Books for Children “The Best that any century can do for civilisation is to do its honest best to pass on to its children the ideals it believes to be best for its children”. The questions, of course, are whose ideals are being passed on, what we mean by best, and who are the children discussed.

So, today, we will hear from 6 researchers in children’s literature on politics and diversity in children’s literature, where we might unpack these questions further. I look forward to an enlightening and stimulating day with plenty of questions and discussion.

You can download my paper given at this symposium, ‘Working Class Fantasy: The Third Class Genie’ here:


•Chambers, C. (Wed 20th Nov 2013) Robin Leeson obituary (Accessed 08/06/2019)

•Dixon, B (1977) Catching Them Young: Sex, Race and Class in Children’s Literature London: Pluto Press

•Leeson, R. (N.D.) Autobiography,  Walker Books online (Accessed 08/06/19)

•Leeson, R. (1976) Children’s Books and Class Society Past and Present London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative

•Leeson, R. (1985) Reading and Righting London: Collins

•Leeson, R. (2000) Postscript to The Third Class Genie London: Collins

•Reynolds, K., Rosen, J. and Rosen, M. (2018) Reading and Rebellion: An Anthology of Radical Writing for Children 1900-1960 Oxford: Oxford University Press

•Takiuchi, H (2017) British Working-Class Writing for Children London: Palgrave McMillan

•Trease, G. (1948) Tales out of School: a survey of children’s fiction London: New Education Book Club

My Dublin WorldCon Schedule

I’m very excited to share my schedule! I hope that some friendly faces will be in the audience for some of these- WorldCon is so busy and there is always so much wonderful stuff to do.

‘The Countryside in Children’s Fantasy Fiction’

Format: Paper

In 1932, a mass trespass organised by working class people on Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, led to limited changes in the law allowing access to parts of the countryside in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In the years following this change, there was a growth in family adventure stories that featured urban children on holiday in the countryside – camping, cycling, and engaging in other pursuits largely without adult intervention. The countryside and the people within it were largely portrayed as benign, and children who behaved responsibly were uninjured by it. 

This paper will seek to outline the supernatural countryside in the children’s fantasy fiction of Elizabeth Goudge, Alan Garner, and Peadar Ó Guilín. It will seek to consider the gender and social class of the protagonists, and their relationships to the countryside and to the supernatural. It will draw on the work of John Clute, Farah Mendlesohn, and Victor Watson to consider elements of fantasy in children’s literature.part of: YA

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 10:30 – 11:20, Odeon 6 (Academic) (Point Square Dublin)

YA book to film adaptation

Format: Panel

16 Aug 2019, Friday 10:00 – 10:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)

We all know text to visual screen adaptions are hard. What unique difficulties does the YA genre present in the translation from print to screen?

This panel will be chaired by Megan Leigh of one of my favourite podcasts, Breaking the Glass Slipper, and fellow panellists are Eoin Colfer and Ed Fortune! It’s sure to be very entertaining.

The story of the concept album

Format: Panel

16 Aug 2019, Friday 12:00 – 12:50, Wicklow Room-3 (CCD)

Concept albums and science fiction have been intertwined for half a century. Join our panellists for a trip down memory lane as they discuss mainstream classics of the genre like David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, their favourite obscure gems, and where modern performers like Janelle Monáe are taking the genre.

Riverdale and Sabrina: Small Town Gothic

Format: Panel

16 Aug 2019, Friday 16:30 – 17:20, Odeon 5 (Point Square Dublin)

The Archie Cinematic Universe? Really?  That’s what we’re starting to get, and it has a distinctly Gothic tone. We discuss how the two shows blend the familiar and the new to create an American Gothic for 2019. What reference points are they drawing from? What are their most striking innovations? How might this fledgling universe develop?

Send in the crones: older women in SFF

Format: Panel

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 21:00 – 21:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)

Very often SFF stories centre on young women, with older female characters being consigned to background dressing at best and cliched depictions of elders and antagonists at worst. Is anyone writing stories that focus on older women? Where are the middle-aged heroines?

Academics and acolytes: learning in SFF worlds

Format: Panel

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 12:30 – 13:20, Odeon 4 (Point Square Dublin)

Whether they’re apprenticed to an assassin, a grunt in basic training, downloading knowledge from an online academy, or learning spells from wizardly professors, characters often need to gain skills and qualifications of some kind. How and when they do this is an important element of worldbuilding and there are endless options. What does it tell us about the Discworld that wizards attend university and witches are apprentices? How does Starfleet Academy differ from the Imperial Academy? From Hogwarts to Brakebills to the Oha Coven, how does magical instruction differ?

This is chaired by Shaun Duke from another of my favourite podcasts, The Skiffy and Fanty show!

I am always very happy to chat to new people at cons- there’s no ice breakers needed! We like the same stuff! So please feel free to come and chat.

Goodbye, Judith

I was terribly sorry to learn of the death of the wonderful Judith Kerr, author and illustrator of the Mog books, When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit and sequels, and my eternal favourite, The Tiger who Came to Tea.

I never got to meet her, and I’m not sure what I would have done if I had. I’ve loved her books all my life- quite literally, since I was born the year that Tiger was published. I wish, however, I could have told her how that picture book led me to my path as children’s literature researcher. You see, this image from Tiger has stayed with me for probably 45 years:

Sophie, Mummy and Daddy walk down a street in the eveening. Car and bus lights are on, and a ginger striped cat is under a street light

Although I now know that Judith Kerr and her family lived in West London, and the bus is a red London bus, that street could have been the High Street of my small home town. The cafe that Sophie, Mummy and Daddy go to could have been the Golden Egg cafe where I used to eat egg and chips dowsed in salt and vinegar, with a slice of bread, and my Nana would let me make a chip butty. Therefore, adventures like a visit from a tiger could happen to me! Inclusivity, diversity and all children seeing themselves in stories is my passion, and what I research.

May Judith’s memory be a blessing to all who loved her and her books. Thank you, Mog and the Tiger, for my happy hours of reading your books to myself, to my classes and to my stepson, who loved Mog’s Christmas Calamity that we read it as a bedtime story for nearly 5 months.

Increasing engagement and confidence in critical thinking with Level 6 undergraduates

This is a paper I didn’t get to present at a research day at my institution in 2018. My university is inner-city post-92, where many students the first in their families to attend higher education. Most on my course are non-traditional students, many of whom had a break from study. They are wonderful, engaged and committed students, but are often unsure about what critical reading and thinking means. We ask students to be “critical” but we are not always effective in developing these skills. This paper outlines what I do to support Level 6 Early Childhood Studies students in developing criticality.

Critical reading group activities in Level 6 seminars: a work in progress

Alison Baker, Early Childhood Studies

In September 2016, I moved from teaching Primary PGCE to a module leader and lecturer on the Early Childhood Education and Care pathway of BA Hons Early Childhood Studies. My module was Level 6, with 49 students instead of 40 Level 7 students per P group so I had not anticipated a big change to my pedagogy. I had not realised the different needs of students who meet once a week for 3 hours from those who spend most of the week in the same group, when it came to group discussions and critical thinking.

The challenge

It was clear that some students were very uncomfortable with feeding back from group discussions in front of the whole group. The same 6-8 students would feed back every week. When I was circulating around the teaching space, it appeared that some students had not done the reading- some admitted that they had not; some would avoid my eyes and scroll through the reading on their phones or tablets. When students did respond to me in one to one discussions, they often required a lot of scaffolding to make links between readings, and between curriculum and theory. As a result, I felt compelled to over-teach.

Feedback from students

There was recognition from many students that I was over-teaching, and that I had lost faith in group reading discussion, even though module evaluations were very positive:

  • Term 1 evaluation:

“I do feel that there are times where the lecturer delves into a topic too much to the point where they say the same stuff just in different ways”

  • Term 2:

“Engage more on peer activities”

“More opportunities for independent working”

“Seminars to be more organised”

Literature circles

At the UK Literacy Association International Conference in June 2017, I attended a paper presented by Dr Naomi Boakye from University of Pretoria, where she discussed the difficulties many Sociology students had in reading critically, and her use of literature circle roles in developing critical reading with her students. In her 2011 article, Boakye quotes Elley (1996):

Instructional programmes that stress teacher directed drills and skills are less beneficial in raising literacy levels than programs that try to capture students’ interest and encourage them to read independently (Boakye, 2011, p. 116)

Duncan (2014) discusses the pedagogy of teaching adult readers using grouped reading activities, and he summarises features of group reading activities:

  • Non-hierarchical
  • Turn-taking
  • Collaborative, with peer-to-peer teaching
  • Involve discussion.

Levy (2011) discusses her use of literature circles in undergraduate English classes in the United States; a different higher education system where students complete a range of general education courses before specialising, so these students are not English Literature majors. She argues that students who struggle with writing will also struggle with reading; she argues for a “structured methodology of scaffolded, low-stakes and collaborative” approach to reading activities (Levy, 2011, p. 54).

Seminar reading activities 2017-2018

I decided to adapt Boakye’s approach to literature circles. Since I had a group of 39, I wanted to have no more than 7 groups, so I could get around each group in the 35-40 minutes of seminars I intended to give over to discussion groups. I allocated students to groups at random after week 1, except for the only male student in the group, who I asked which group he would be comfortable with. In the week 2 seminar, I gave the students a newspaper article to read with cards outlining the reading group roles:

  • Director- keeps the discussion going and ensures everyone has a chance to speak
  • Clarifier- predicts words and phrases which may be difficult to understand and suggests meanings
  • Connector- makes connections to other readings and to real life experiences
  • Questioner- thinks of some questions related to the reading to ask during the group discussion
  • Summariser- summarises the discussion and feeds back to the seminar group.

I explained that these roles will circulate weekly. Feedback after the first week was positive. As the weeks progressed, it was interesting to see that no students seemed to be reluctant to take the role of summariser, and that all students were engaging in discussion. As I circulated around the groups, it seemed that although there were always some students who had not done the reading, the peer pressure of the group activity appeared to motivate them to engage in discussion and to be conscious that they were inconveniencing their group.

Outcomes after Term 1.

After marking Assignment 1, a higher proportion of students passed the assignment at above 50% than Assignment 1 last year; 89% 2017 as opposed to 79% in 2016. (Of course, my own improved confidence, and a different group of students, may affect this number). Additionally, these comments from the mid module evaluation demonstrate a positive attitude to the literature circle activities:

  • “When in seminars we had reading groups. They were really helpful”
  • “We should continue with group activities as usual”

Inclusion issues

One student commented in the mid-module evaluation that they did not like group activities, and there are reasons why students may find them difficult. One student asked to move groups in week 3 due to previous conflict with another student. Students with social anxiety or other mental health conditions may find working in a group challenging, as may autistic students. Some dyslexic students may find the role of summariser hard. However, it has been made clear to students the pedagogical reasons why reading group activities are being used, and that both PGCE study and working in education settings are likely to involve group work, and students have accepted that. It should be noted that the most enthusiastic participants have been students with English as an additional language.

In conclusion

There is still another term to go for this academic year, so while outcomes for students appear to be positive so far, end of module evaluations and assignment 2 marking will determine how successful this approach has been. I hope to obtain ethical approval for interviews with students about their experiences of reading group activities and their recommendations for how the approach could be extended or modified in the future.

Reference list

Boakye, N (2011) ‘A Multifaceted model for designing reading programmes for L2 learners at tertiary level’ Per Linguam Vol 27 No 2 p. 114-132

Daniels, H (1994) Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Student Centered Classroom Markham: Pembroke

Duncan, S (2014) Reading for Pleasure and Reading Circles for Adult Emergent Readers: Insights in Adult Learning Leicester: NIACE

Levy, R. J (2011) ‘Literature Circles go to College’ Journal of Basic Writing Vol 30 No 2 p. 52-83