Pop Up Projects

Celebrating uniqueness through literature.

Participants in The Rainbow Library in Belfast, 2022.

Words and stories connect us and create touching tales and adventures. However, stories do not always represent our unique experiences and allow us to celebrate them.

Pop Up Projects is on a mission to shift storytelling in children’s literature by promoting diversity and challenging representation. The non-profit literature agency seeks to present “the kind of books that give children and young people the empathy to understand that everyone is different.”

Challenging the usual storyline

Through compelling stories and illustrations, Pop Up Projects aims to celebrate the uniqueness of individuals and help children connect with different communities and ideas.

We don’t all speak, think or see the world in the same way, but looking at many children’s books, you’d never know it.
Pop Up Projects

With over a decade in operation, the team has reached thousands of young people through high-quality literature and by providing mentorship, experiences and publishing opportunities for aspiring authors and illustrators of all ages. Their Pop Up Festival literature programme for mainstream and SEND schools impacted 140,000 children and young people.

The organisation challenges the traditional model of literature, with typically passive readers and active authors being replaced by storylines that come from what children actually want to read. Their work incorporates marginalised voices and diverse narratives not typically seen in children’s literature, such as coming out, non-binary characters and seeing more people of colour represented.

Pathbreaking routes into publishing

Pathways is their flagship programme providing a range of courses to help creators gain essential skills and connections for their future careers. It supports authors from under-represented backgrounds to get into publishing – providing an alternative avenue for a career path that many without academic backgrounds, connections or money struggle to get into. Many participants have gone on to be commissioned by publishers. Pathways also offers a range of open courses, including for LGBTQIA+ artists interested in children’s book illustration.

The pandemic caused major disruption to their programmes, and the solitary practice of literature could have felt even more isolating for their community. But Pop Up Projects saw an opportunity to radically transform. They rethought their purpose and model and made their Pathways programme even more accessible by delivering online workshops and reaching rural young people who may have felt even more cut off from communities during lockdowns. “Pathways has been a wonderful focus to have during the pandemic, it kept me going and has helped my mental health,” said Holly Bushnell from the 2021 Pathways class.

Pathways Projects: The Rainbow Library artwork by Fredde Lanka, 2022.

Connecting people through stories

Pop Up Projects has built a strong national community of young people, authors, illustrators, and publishers. Rainbow Library is one example of their participatory literature work that brings queer young people and children’s writers and illustrators to co-develop inclusive narratives that challenge near-invisibility of LGBTQ+ identities in children’s books. The project will result in a co-created UNESCO conference in October 2023 and culminate in the publication of six new titles in 2024/25.

Among other bold plans for the future, Pop Up Projects wants to deliver a programme focused on the stories of refugees. They want to help challenge stereotypes and break misconceptions by giving the authority and individuality to people who should be telling the stories. For Pop Up Projects, the ability to tell and publish stories is what helps connect people.

The vision, determination and desire for structural change make Pop Up Projects a compassionate and inspiring case in the field of children’s literature and illustration. Working with various young talents and continuously supporting them, the team is seeding the roots for the innovation in the field and carefully nourishes it with their practice.


By Palina Shturma, King’s College London Cultural & Creative Industries MA.

Other case studies
Updated on 20 march 2023

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