CFP Spring 2024 "Plant Tendrils in Children’s and Young Adult Literature"

2022-11-13

Co-guest editors: Melanie Duckworth (Østfold University College), Lykke Guanio-Uluru, (Western Norway University of Applied Sciences), Antonia Szabari (University of Southern California)

Recent botanical research focussing on plant capabilities has led to a re-examination and revaluation of the roles played by plants in philosophy, literature, and art. In the introduction to the edited volume The Language of Plants: Science, Philosophy, Literature (2017), Monica Gagliano, John C. Ryan and Patricia Vieira note:

Generally speaking, works of poetry and prose in the Western tradition tend to represent plants as part of the landscape and as the backdrop for human and, on occasion, animal dramas (…). For many writers, plants become, at most, the correlatives of human emotions, eliciting feelings of pleasure and displeasure, triggering memories, and reflecting human states of mind (…). (x)

While this may be accurate, there are likely chemical reasons for the noted tendency of many writers to weave references to plants into their fiction when portraying human emotion: Many plants use pheromones to communicate, and these pheromones also affect humans – a recognition of this fact is, for instance, the fundamental premise of aromatherapy, as well as the foundation of pharmacology. Plant chemistry and its effects on human and animal lives is of interest also to biologists. In The Triumph of Seeds (2016), Thor Hanson discusses how plants ‘repel attackers with alkaloids, tannins, terpenes, phenols, or any of the many other compounds invented by plants (139) and notes how many of us are addicted to stimulating plant chemicals – be they the mental pick-me-up of the caffeine in coffee (151) or the pungent attacks of the anti-fungal capsaicin of the chili (140). Says Hanson: ‘It’s only a slight exaggeration to call us servants of our food plants, diligently moving them around the world and slavishly tending them in manicured orchards and fields’ (184).

While such perspectives bring into focus the often-overlooked agency of plants, the vegetal in young adult (YA) literature, as in literature more generally, is frequently metaphorical. In Exploring Literary Conceptualisations of Growth (2014), Roberta Seelinger Trites notes how writers of childhood and adolescence tend to employ growth metaphors. Drawing on cognitive psychology, she also comments that ‘our brains tend to create metaphorical structures in terms of the embodied experiences we have lived, we structure our thoughts in ways that replicate physical experience’ (66). This helps explain the ubiquity of plants in language, since plants make up 99% of the biosphere. Entangled in our embodied experience, plants are integral to our thinking – emerging in the form of language and family trees, as figures of philosophy (like Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘rhizome’) and as, often fruitful, poetic and linguistic figures.

                Aristotle famously found growth, the foremost psuche, or capacity, of plants – and it is likely this propensity for growth that leads to the frequent metaphorical comparison of children and adolescents to plants, which must be nurtured and tended to grow right. A connection between childlikeness and vegetal life can be found in the myths of many cultures – for instance in William of Newburgh’s haunting 12th century story of two mysterious green children, who emerge from the earth, green hued, and eat only broad beans. Metaphors of seeds, saplings and shoots are also readily applied to children. A question of interest to this special issue, is the extent to which plant metaphors vary with genre and across media in stories for children and young adults. Are plant metaphors age and genre specific?

                Trites’ concept of embodied experience links plant representation and real-life experience, and the capacity of children for play lends itself to tactile engagements with plants less emphasized in adult life, such as climbing trees, twirling helicopter seeds, drawing with sticks, and hiding under leaves. To what extent are such plant-child interactions emphasised in children’s fiction? And what are the tropes of plant-adolescent relations, if any?

                Embodied experiences are central also to gameplay, where the player plays ‘as’ their player avatar, situated ‘in’ a digital environment. In Playing Nature (2019), Alenda Y. Chang briefly discusses the (problems involved in the) digital rendering of trees and plants in videogames, as well as what plants feature in game development model libraries. She also queries ‘the tension between computational power or graphics capabilities and botanical accuracy’ (115), noting that ‘digital media also raises the question of how closely aligned new media and the natural are’ (120). In this special issue we remain interested in such questions, as well as in analyses of the configuration between child and adolescent players, avatars, and in-game environments – with an emphasis on representations and interactions with – and as –plants.

Overall, we welcome explorations of plant-human sympoeisis in fiction for children and young adults, as well as considerations of relationships and entanglements between plants and children or adolescents in texts produced for adults. We seek internationally diverse contributions, and encourage decolonizing and non-western perspectives. Topics addressed could include (but are not limited to):

  • Phyto-morphism in fiction (broadly defined) for children and young adults
  • Plants and the adolescent body in young adult fiction
  • Weeds in children’s and young adult literature
  • Representations of plant ‘children’, adolescents, and plant families
  • Plant relationships in ecobiography
  • Plant metaphors in different genres of children’s and YA fiction, and across media
  • Plant representation and -interaction in video games and interactive fictions for children and adolescents
  • Plant characters and plant language in children’s and YA fictions
  • The relationship between plants and child- and adolescent agency
  • Indigenous, postcolonial, and decolonising texts linking plants with children or young adults

We invite contributions in English and French. Please submit a 300-word abstract to the editors by January 15th 2023: Melanie Ruth Duckworth: melanie.duckworth@hiof.no, Lykke Guanio-Uluru: hagl@hvl.no , and Antonia Szabari: szabari@usc.edu.

Final essays for the research article section should be between 6,000 and 8,000 words (including abstract, keywords, and bibliography). Completed manuscripts are due July 15, 2023 via the Ecozon@ website, which also provides a style guide.