Health Humanities Series: Vanessa Joosen: ‘Connecting childhood and old age in children’s literature’

Ageing is not only a biological process, it is also informed by socially constructed age norms. The interdisciplinary field of age studies offers a critical examination of these norms. In Growing Up and Growing Old (1993), Jenny Hockey and Allison James already pointed out problematic parallels in the treatment of children and older people that still occupy caregivers and researchers in various domains three decades later. Drawing on the fields of age studies and literary studies, Vanessa Joosen explores how children’s books give a different meaning to the parallel between youth and old age than its usual associations with deficit and dependency. She discusses the importance of intergenerational dialogue and kinship that children’s books highlight and the agency that they attribute to young and older characters when it comes to having fantastical adventures, reflect on the meaning of life and combat social injustice.

Vanessa Joosen is professor of English literature and children’s literature at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where she leads the ERC-funded project “Constructing Age for Young Readers” and organises the Children’s Literature Summer School. She combines research on children’s literature and fairy tales with theories and methods from age studies, gender studies, translation studies and digital humanities. She is the author of, amongst others, Adulthood in Children’s Literature (London Bloomsbury Academic, 2018) and Hoe oud is jong? Leeftijd in jeugdliteratuur? (Letterwerk, 2022, How old is young? Age in children’s literature) and edited the volume Connecting Childhood and Old Age in Popular Media (University Press of Mississippi, 2018).


    20 april, 2023
    icon Aula Emma Vorlat
    Edward Van Evenstraat 4
    3000 Leuven
    Leercentrum Agora
    PhD postdoc ZAP