Seriality, literarity and popular culture in picturebook studies

deadline for submissions: 
April 17, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Dominique Perrin Associate Professor in French Literature and Language - Université Lyon 1-INSPE (France)

Seriality, literarity and popular culture in picturebook studies

International call for papers

adapted with the help of Sophie Heywood (Associate Professor in French, University of Reading) in collaboration with Dominique Perrin, from the call for papers « Critiquer l’album sériel. Vers un décloisonnement des corpus légitimes et populaires dans les études sur l’album »)

Deadline for proposals (between 2000 and 3000 characters, spaces and bibliography included) plus a short biography and bibliography : 17 April 2022 to be sent to

Deadline for submitting full articles (30,000 characters, spaces and notes included): 5 October 2022

Deadline for completion of any revisions required: 16 December 2022

Date of scheduled online publication: 15 February 2023

Picturebook series, featuring recurring characters, groups and/or universe, named in the title and depicted on the cover of each picturebook, occupy a central place in the field of literature aimed at children. They are at the heart of children’s reading practices, from books for the very young to early readers series. They exemplify the conditions of production and creation in mainstream children’s literature: the relative anonymity of the author or multiple authors, the comparative importance of the publisher and adult mediators, as well as the all-important balance between production costs and retail price. They also raise issues specific to tradition – in the complex sense of mediation, transmission and recreation of cultural content – in the child’s introduction to literature. As diverse in terms of artefacts as they are recognisable from their main editorial characteristics, in their own way they symbolise the unique nature of children’s literature.

It is not surprising then that picturebook series have an uncertain status in the quest for legitimacy for children’s literature. It is more surprising to find that they have rarely been the object of study, while children’s literary studies has by and large acquired its place in academia, as well as serial literature for adolescents and young adults (Besson 2009, Reimer, Mavis et al. 2014, Letourneux 2017, Kümmerling-Meibauer 2017). Thanks to scholarship from the history and sociology of literature, reading and culture, research in communication studies, and occasionally from other disciplines, work to develop a scientific analysis of children’s picturebooks series is well underway. By contrast, in literary studies this vast and important part of children’s culture is generally only mentioned by way of providing context, while syntheses and monographs are generally based on complex criteria of literary value.

With the exception of historic classics such as Babar, picturebook studies more generally appear to exclude all bestselling and so-called ‘commercial’ picturebook series, and in so doing, many of the books that play an important role in the social practices of children’s reading. The explanations for this exclusion are to be found at the crossroads of formal and ideological analysis. Mass market serial production has traditionally been perceived and presented as formulaic, unimaginative and filled with stereotypes These assumptions are the product of distinctions between ‘legitimate’, ‘commercial’, and ‘popular’ forms of culture, perpetuated by the lack of in-depth analyses or comparative studies of the genre. (The extent to which these distinctions hold true, and what criteria are used, in view of the complexity of the publishing field, also needs to be discussed).

This construction of barriers effectively hinders the study of the vital relationship between form and meaning in the genre, as well as the conditions in which the books are developed and the way children read and appropriate them. As C. Boulaire (2010) and B. Kümmerling-Meibauer point out (2017), the importance of the serial form in the historical development of children's books as well as the publishing field more generally – from the most respected authors to the least – invites us to challenge the assumptions surrounding picturebook series. Alongside historical approaches, there are thorny theoretical questions to be asked. The world of the picturebook series, tainted by its association with mass distribution and popular audiences, is more or less explicitly excluded from academic analyses for not constituting an iconotext in the strict sense of the term. Will detailed analyses of significant corpora and/or modes of children's reading, help to confirm, nuance or overturn this hypothesis?

This special issue proposes a cross-cutting approach to the diversity and complexity of the picturebook series as a part of children’s culture and a site for both social and literary interactions. Certainly many established authors have spoken of their childhood love of reading non-canonical literature, while studies by scholars such as L. Marcus (2007) and C. Boulaire (2016) have shown that industrial production does not necessarily preclude literary creativity. The study or comparison of different series, titles or authors as well as international series with greater and lesser degrees of cultural legitimacy has the potential to advance current thinking on these issues.

Examples of series with international circulation include: Paulette Bourgeois & Brenda Clark (Canada), Miroslav Sasek (Czech Republic), Carla & Vilhelm Hansen (Danemark), Danièle Bour, Thierry Courtin, Marcel Marlier & Gilbert Delahaye, Pierre Probst, Annette Tison & Taylus Taylor (France), Janosch, Ali Mitgusch, Markus Osterwalder (Germany), the “Les petits métiers de la rue” collection (Guinea, at the junction of fiction and documentary issues), Samaneh Ghasemi, Farhad Hasanzadeh & Hoda Hadadi, Fariba Kalhor, Hooshang Me’marzade, Zohre Parirokh (Iran), Yuki Akinoya, Chirri & Chirra, Tarō Gomi, Anno Mitsumasa (Japan), Dick Bruna (Netherland), Stian Hole (Norway), Piotr Socha & Wojciech Grajkowski (Poland), Eva Eriksson, Maria Frensborg, Gösta Knutsson, Sven Nordqvist, Stina Wirsen (Sweden), Rotraut Susanne Berner, Marcus Pfister (Switzerland), Rev. W. Audry, Enid Blyton, Anthony Browne, Julia Donaldson & Alex Scheffler, Roger Hargreaves, Eric Hill, Jane Hissey, David McKee, David Melling, Brian Moses, Beatrix Potter, Tony Ross (UK), Else Holmelund Minarik & Maurice Sendak, Stan, Jane and Mike Berenstain, Margret and H.-A. Rey, Kay Thompson and Hillary Knight, Mo Willems (US)[1].

The special issue will be divided into four major areas for investigation, and questions may include (but are not limited to) the following:

Methods and corpus construction

  • Which tools should we use to study the picturebook series, notably in the case of prolific series, whether contemporary or historical?
  • What are the relationships we can discern between picturebooks and the series they belong to?
  • What are the structural characteristics that we can identify to enable comparison across shorter and larger series, or series with recurring characters?
  • How far can we adapt methodologies developed for other forms of serial children’s literature to study picturebook series? 
  • What are the archiving strategies that have been used to conserve popular series, past and present?
  • What statistical information do we have in order to analyse their distribution and consumption in domestic and institutional/ educational settings?
  • What statistical studies have been carried out on their sales figures, print runs and longevity?

Literary analysis

  • How are the imaginary, phantasmatic and reflexive elements constructed between the logic of variation characteristic of popular cultures and the polyexploitation characteristic of contemporary industrial media systems ?
  • If the majority of the series appear to be based on various forms of reiteration without character development, do they nevertheless present some of the effects of integration and totalization proper to the cyclical forms of serial literature? What is their significance for young readers?
  • Beyond the general impression of standardisation, the aesthetic and graphic universes of picturebook series are in fact quite varied, and many present singular traits. How are meanings made by text, image, format and design? How can we take analysis beyond identifying ideology?
  • How have the conditions of production (the degree of autonomy afforded to authors and artists, material and technological conditions circuits of production) varied across time and space?
  • What light can the ‘mechanics of seriality’ (Letourneux, 2017) shed on the objective diversity of this production in series?  
  • What are the specificities of serial children’s picturebooks according to countries and cultural areas? How can this vast popular corpus be described and conserved in the countries where it has developed?
  • How can the place of multigenerational series in the cultures and mythologies of childhood be recognised? According to which market but also cultural mechanisms do picturebook series transcend time and borders ?
  • What is the role played by adaptations, rewritings and editorial revisions in this process? What contrasts can be observed between series books of literary origin (popular in the 20th century) and those adapted from television (popular in the 21th century)?

Authorial and artistic statusHeritage, canonisation, internationalisation


Indicative bibliography

Besson, Anne (2009) « Du Club des Cinq à Harry Potter, cycles et séries en littérature de jeunesse contemporaine », dans Nathalie Prince (dir.), La Littérature de jeunesse en question(s), PU de Rennes, 117-154.

Boulaire, Cécile (2016) Les Petits Livres d’or. Des albums pour enfants dans la France de la guerre froide, Tours : PU François Rabelais.

— (2010) « Caroline, Émilie, T’Choupi : des séries d’albums à succès ». La Revue des livres pour enfants, CNLJ, 114-122 / « Caroline, Émilie, T’Choupi, iconotextes et albums pour la jeunesse en série » (expanded original version of the reflection published in 2010), Album '50' :

Bruno, Pierre (2010) La littérature pour la jeunesse. Médiologie des pratiques et des classements, Editions universitaires de Dijon.

Chamboredon, Jean-Claude, Fabiani, Jean-Louis (1977) « Les albums pour enfants, le champ de l'édition et les définitions sociales de l'enfance », Actes de la recherche en Sciences Sociales, n° 13, 60-79, n° 14, 55-74 (republié en 2021)

Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina (2017) “Seriality in picturebooks”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks (ed.), New-York : Routledge, 103-109.

Kümmerling-Meibauer, Bettina (2017), “Seriality in Children’s Literature” in Clémentine Beauvais and Maria Nikolajeva (eds), The Edinburgh Companion to Children’s Literature, Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 167-178.

Letourneux, Matthieu (2017) Fictions à la chaîne. Littératures sérielles et culture médiatique, Paris : Le Seuil.

Marcus, Leonard (2008) Minders of Make-believe. Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature, Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

— (2007), Golden legacy. How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon along the Way, New York : Golden Books.

Nières-Chevrel, Isabelle (2017) Au pays de Babar. Les albums de Jean de Brunhoff, PU de Rennes.

Pasquier, Dominique (2005) « La "culture populaire" à l'épreuve des débats sociologiques », Hermès, vol. 42, n° 2, 60-69.

Passeron Jean-Claude (2002) « Quel regard sur le populaire ? » (Entretien avec Joël Roman), Esprit, mars-avril 2002, 145-16.

Piquard, Michèle (2004) L’Édition pour la jeunesse en France de 1945 à 1980, Villeurbanne : Presses de l’ENSSIB.

Reimer, Mavis, Ali, Nyala, England, Deanna, Unrau, Melanie and Girard, Justin (eds) (2014) Seriality and Texts for Young People. The Compulsion to Repeat, Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

Rémi, Cornelia (2017) “Wimmelbook”, in Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks (ed.), New-York : Routledge, 158–168.

Rudd, David (2000) Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children's Literature, New York : St. Martin's Press.

Weber, Nicholas Fox (1989) The Art of Babar. The Work of Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff, New York : Harry N. Abrams.



[1] Thanks to Charlotte Lindgren (Sweden), Fatemeh Farnia (Iran), Cécile Boulaire (France) and Laura Taylor (Australia) for their help in putting together this indicative overview.