Posted on October 27, 2014 by Tia Lalani

Dr. Lydia Kokkola is Chair of English and Education at the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden. She will deliver a series of lectures and sessions at Augustana and on North Campus, Nov 10-20.

Dr. Lydia Kokkola

Dr. Lydia Kokkola

Dr. Lydia Kokkola

Chair of English & Education

Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

See her complete list of events below!

International attention to the ways in which radically political ideologies and the personal lives of children intertwine in children’s literature has increased dramatically in recent decades. Since the 1980s, scores of titles taking on the most difficult moments in history and in the individual life have been published for children and young adults around the world. Several leading scholars have responded to the changes in the field with ground-breaking work that analyzes texts, how they make meaning, and how they influence their young audiences. Dr. Lydia Kokkola is one of those leaders.

Professor Kokkola’s main research interests are Children’s Literature, Adolescence, Holocaust Studies, Trauma Studies, Cognitive Literary Theory, and Reading in English as a Foreign Language. She is beginning work on the emotions and reading, including the reading of new media and electronic literature. Two strands run throughout her entire oeuvre: a focus on the reading child or adolescent and on narrative as a communicative medium.

She currently holds the Chair in English and Education at Luleå University of Technology. In the past she was project leader for the Academy of Finland project, Silence as Voice: Re-empowering the disempowered in contemporary English literatures (2008-2011), which produced four PhDs. She has also been a Research Fellow of the Academy of Finland (2009) and a collegium researcher in TIAS (Turku Institute for Advanced Studies) (2009-2012), University of Turku, Finland. Prior to that, she completed her post-doctoral training within the Finnish Ministry of Education project ChiLPA (Children’s Literature: Pure and Applied) (1998-2001) project under the Humanities Faculty of Åbo Akademi University.

In her books and articles, Dr. Kokkola encourages us to think seriously about the profound impact that literature can have on young readers. Her Representing the Holocaust in Children’s Literature explores a corpus of over 100 books, all of them narratives that cover Jewish experience but also the experience of Gypsies, homosexuals, and others victimized by the Nazis. This study makes a well-considered contribution to our understanding of how literature affects children’s thinking and beliefs about the Holocaust and fascism, and has been compulsory reading on courses in Holocaust education in Belgium, Israel, and the UK.


Image by Rafael Lopez, used with permission.

Dr. Kokkola’s most recent monograph, Fictions of Adolescent Carnality: Sexy Sinners and Delinquent Deviants, fills a lacuna in contemporary scholarship with its focus on sexuality in young adult fiction. Drawing from close to 200 young adult novels and short fiction written in English since the Second World War, this study analyzes the ideology of adolescence and its intersection with the representation of carnality. Arguing that adolescence is constructed as a time of angst in order to exalt adulthood and preserve the notion of the innocent child, and that sexuality is the rigorously-policed boundary between adulthood and adolescence, Dr. Kokkola finds that adolescent carnality is variously punished, policed, or problematic. Her concern with how adolescent readers might learn to resist ideologies presented in these texts grew out of this study.

In recent years, her attention has returned to how children make sense of different types of text. Underpinned by research in neurology and perception studies, her recent work focuses on how young readers can learn to resist ideologies that run counter to their private belief systems. These more empirically based studies of literature consider matters such as how children can learn to identify when a text is trying to manipulate them emotionally and the differences between reading fiction and reading online texts. Dr. Kokkola’s focusses on the adolescent who is reading not only these texts, but also a great deal of information available through the internet. Working within the relatively recent paradigms of cognitive narratology and neurolinguistics, this recent work has taken her back to the issue of how readers make sense of the texts they read, but also how the texts they read affect young readers’ cognitive development. This work combines empirical studies of young readers with examinations of features of text, and speaks to concerns expressed in the popular media about the role of digital technology in children’s lives.

During her visit to the University of Alberta, Dr. Kokkola will be involved in various activities related to the study of children’s literature, including guest lectures to undergraduate and graduate students, seminars and lectures open to the public, and a town and gown presentation.


Augustana Campus Events, November 10-14

12:00pm | Monday, November 10

Augustana Lunch & Learn:

The Politics of “Looking Like” in the Picturebooks of Allen Say

While many children do not “look like” their birth parents, cross-culturally adopted children are often forced to address this topic within a social context that pathologizes the lack of physical resemblance as though it signals a lack of community. A challenge for the authors of children’s book is addressing the complex emotions that arise from adoption without imposing a singular narrative outcome. In this seminar presentation, Dr. Kokkola will examine how this topic is addressed in picturebooks by Allen Say.

C-103, Classroom Building, Augustana Campus

$5 includes lunch: RSVP to


7:30pm | Monday, November 10

FREE Public Lecture:

The Reading Brain: Creating Connections in Fiction and Digital Texts

This presentation draws on work within neuroscience as well as literacy education and cognitive literary studies to examine differences between the deep reading of traditional narratives and the reading of digital media. Since both game-playing and extended novel reading can affect how the brain develops, teachers need to understand how they can enable their pupils to develop the neural pathways that make flexibility of reading style possible. This means engaging with the impressive array of research available within the neurosciences on learning to read. The particular facility examined is connectivity. The nature of instant access to anyone who is on-line and the use of hyperlinks are contrasted with the connectivity with fictional others proffered by the deep reading of novels, specifically fantasy series.

Mayer Family Community Hall, Performing Arts Centre, Augustana Campus



3:00pm | Tuesday, November 11

The Child Prostitute: Historical, Historicised and Contemporary Portrayals of Child Prostitutes in Fiction for Youth

This presentation will examine changes in the presentation of child prostitutes in fiction for young people focussing on the didacticism of this breach in the cult of innocence surrounding the child.

This session will be held at the home of Dr. Roxanne Harde. Please contact her if you wish to attend.


10:30am | Wednesday, November 12

The Young Child in Holocaust Literature

Dr. Kokkola will present a variety of child characters in Holocaust fiction for the young with a focus on how understatement functions as a rhetorical device.

F1-305, Faith & Life Building, Augustana Campus

RSVP to Dr. Kim Misfeldt.


9:35am | Thursday, November 13

The Throwaway Child: The Homeless Queer Adolescent in Fiction and Reality

This presentation examines the way same-sex desire relates to geographical space with a focus on how these issues affect family dynamics. Dr. Kokkola will combine presentations of works of fiction with evidence on how much more likely queer children are to become homeless than their heterosexual peers.

L2-102, Library, Augustana Campus

RSVP to Dr. Paula Marentette or Dr. Yvonne Becker


12:50pm | Thursday, November 13

Is this real? Teaching the Holocaust through Literary Texts

This presentation offers a variety of Holocaust literature for youth with a focus on how the texts engage with historical truth, and how they might be used in Holocaust education.

Roger Epp Conference Room, Forum Building, Augustana Campus

RSVP to Norma Williams


12:50pm | Friday, November 14

Fictions of Pregnancy in Adolescence

This presentation will draw on a large corpus of Anglophone fiction to summarise the main trends in fiction depicting pregnant teenagers and relates this to wider issues of social debate.

A-024, Auxiliary Building, Augustana Campus

RSVP to Dr. Geraint Osborne or Dr. Kierstin Hatt


North Campus Events, November 17-20

9:00am | Monday, November 17

Suicide, Depression and Self-harming in Literature for and about Adolescents

The most common reason for adolescent death in most parts of the Western Anglophone world is suicide. This presentation examines fiction about suicide, depression and self-harming with an emphasis on how engaging with such “ugly feelings” might be beneficial for those most at risk.

SLIS RS 3-22, North Campus

RSVP to Dr. Margaret Mackey


12:00pm | Monday, November 17

Is this real? Teaching the Holocaust through Literary Texts

This presentation offers a variety of Holocaust literature for youth with a focus on how the texts engage with historical truth, and how they might be used in Holocaust education.

122 Education South, North Campus

RSVP to Dr. Claudia Eppert


10:00am | Tuesday, November 18

Workshop in English & Film Studies:

Critical Plant Studies: A Vegetable World View

In this discussion group, Dr. Kokkola will set three theoretical texts to read alongside a section from a Cuban novel written as a series of poems. Faculty members and graduate students will work with a set of questions about the text and during the interaction will endeavour to outline the main strands within this emerging area of eco-criticism and apply our understandings to the text.

RSVP to Natasha Hurley


4:00pm | Tuesday, November 18

Public Lecture:

The Romance of the Road? Romani Children in British, Finnish and Swedish Children’s Literature and Schools

The Romani child in fiction tends to fall into one of three categories: 1) the dangerous, feral child 2) the child of nature 3) the victim. Very rarely is she granted interiority or autonomy. This presentation considers the portrayal of the Romani child in fiction from three different countries alongside outlines of educational practices and legislation. It will conclude with a summary of recent initiative in teacher training programmes at Luleå University of Technology.

Humanities Centre L-3, North Campus

RSVP to Michael O’Driscoll


2:00pm | Thursday, November 20

A Philosophy of Tops and Balls: The Scientific Writing of John Newbery

This interaction focuses on books for children by John Newbery (1713-1767), who developed entertaining ways of addressing children on scientific, moral and other matters which acknowledged their lack of experience without condescension. Newbery also found a new way of addressing the children’s parents which flattered their middle class sensibilities and instructed them on how to behave in society.

Tory B-70, North Campus

RSVP to Mark Morris


5:00pm | Thursday, November 20

The Reading Brain: Creating Connections in Fiction and Digital Texts

Two seemingly incompatible views about teenagers’ ability to focus when reading have emerged. One camp alerts us to teenagers’ inability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time (as they flip between TV channels while checking their phones and Facebook pages) and the other observes the lengths of several popular novel series, such as the increasing length of books in series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, and Inheritance. The former camp posits that teenagers who play computer games for two hours or more each day are “hard-wired” in a way that makes extended periods of concentration difficult if not impossible. The latter celebrates young people’s engagement with books, although they often worry about the poor quality of some of the more successful series (especially Twilight). Both views are well supported by evidence, and this alone can leave parents, teachers, and professionals bewildered as to how they can best guide young readers towards the literacy skills they will need to navigate an increasingly complex range of text types and reading functions.

There is an impressive array of research available within neuroscience on these topics, and this may well prove the most valuable route forwards. Unfortunately, most of the really valuable information about how the brain functions when we read is published in formats that are not easily accessible to or comprehensible for the general public. The presentation will be given in layman’s terms, but it will draw on work within neuroscience as well as literacy education and cognitive literary studies to examine differences between the deep reading of traditional narratives and the reading of digital media. The particular facility examined will be connectivity: the connections readers form with fictional others through the deep reading of continuous prose will be compared with digital interactions. Taking the goal of enabling young readers to vary their reading strategies to suit their reason for reading, the presentation will set out what we do and do not know about how different media affect the developing brain.

122 Education South, North Campus

RSVP to Dr. Patricia Boechler

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