Dissertation Corner with Hannah Tindale: The Family Saga in Children’s Literature

In this week’s instalment of dissertation corner, Hannah Tindale tells us about her project on the family saga in children’s literature.

Tell us about your dissertation, what is it about?

The focus of my dissertation is on the ‘family story saga’ and examining how that saga is constructed and featured within children’s literature. Examining the roles within the ‘family story saga’ in terms of the home alongside traditional gendered roles of father and mother and the impact which those roles have for the overall narrative.

How did you choose the texts for your dissertation?

When I finally decided that I wanted to focus my dissertation on the family story saga I think I came up with a list of over 30 possible texts which I could’ve chosen from. I knew that I wanted to centre my argument on children’s literature which helped narrow it down and then I decided that I wanted to choose something from middle-grade fiction. At first, I was dead set on focusing on several Jacqueline Wilson texts but I ended up settling on the Harry Potter series. I initially felt that it wasn’t ‘academic’ enough but after discussing with a few colleagues I realised that it worked well with the theory and what I was trying to argue.

Has your project changed much since the proposal stage?

My premise was always to focus on the ‘family saga’ but since my proposal stage and after a lot of research many aspects I initially wanted to argue have changed. I originally was just going to focus on gendered roles such as mother and father but instead, I’ve now started to investigate other aspects of the family such as the family home as a primary focus.

Why are you interested in this topic?

I’ve always had an interest in children’s literature and after the ‘Cultures of Childhood’ module this interest continued to be presented, especially surrounding the idea of the ‘family saga’. I wanted to investigate why the ‘family saga’ is a prominent feature throughout children’s literature despite often families appearing briefly or just in the background. As everyone has a family and I was interested in examining how the family is presented and constructed and the Harry Potter series presented the opportunity to do that. As an outliner in children’s publishing, the Harry Potter series despite being a children’s book really captured the imagination of people around the world and I wondered if the significance which family plays in the series linked to people’s interest. Whether the variety of family structures and exploration of the family narrative was why so many people were able to resonate with the series.

What have you enjoyed most about the project?

I really enjoyed the research and engaging with the research which academics have already done concerning the ‘family saga’ but also the Harry Potter series. Finding critics which have already engaged with the text academically allowed me to enjoy it and feel more secure about the project and worry less that it wasn’t academic enough as lecturers across the globe are already examining the series. The research has been something really allowed me to engage with the series in a critical sense and it has been fun engaging with critics and arguing against or with their criticisms in terms of my own argument.

What has it been like working closely with an academic supervisor?

My supervisor has been Sarah Lawson-Welsh who has also been my academic tutor throughout my time at York St John. Working with Sarah as my supervisor has been absolutely fantastic and a privilege. Sarah has a wealth of knowledge and her support from day one of this project has been immeasurable and I cannot thank her enough. The dissertation is unlike any other project on the course and being able to work alongside a supervisor allows a lot of discussion and encouraged and enables you to develop the best piece of work that you are able to.