Monday, 11 April 2011

Final report from Norway

What can I add to my students' witty reports? What did I take with me home? I think this was the first conference ever which I attended exclusively as a shepherd... umh, mentor. I was at a late stage asked to moderate sessions and be on the final panel, but that's not why I was there. I wasn't there to see old friends - although it was really wonderful to catch up with some of them whom I hadn't seen for a long time. It was absolutely wonderful to listen to Svein Nyhus whom I admire so much, and to see a glimpse of a sketch he drew of me four months ago at the PhD defence in Oslo. I don't think he had his old sketchbook with him by accident. But he didn't let me have the sketch.

I was there to support my students, and - let me admit it - show off. I am so endlessly privileged to have them, and it is so gratifying to hear compliments from colleagues, some with a touch of envy. Allow me the pleasure, I think I have deserved it.

The conference was inspiring, but not without glitches. A female participant from an Arab country talked about images of nature in some Arabic picturebooks. We asked what "Arabic" meant, and whether there was such a thing as "Arabic" children's literature. My student from Kuwait said there wasn't. No more than there is a "European" children's literature, which another paper focused on. Then there was a male participant who talked about Islamic children's literature, with many illuminating examples. It was quite frightening and reminded me of the worst Soviet propaganda. The female Muslim speaker protested but was dismissed by the male colleague. We didn't know what to make of it. Later, my student from Kuwait made a brief comment from which it became clear that the male speaker was in actual fact critical of what he was talking about. The audience perceived it as exactly the opposite of what he meant. Cultural clash? Language barrier? Suppose I didn't have a student who could clarify this total misunderstanding?

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