MA student Megan Ayres on her experiences in the children’s publishing industry.
It could just be me, but I feel like a career in publishing is synonymous with images of manuscripts & proof copies strewn artistically across desks, as a dedicated editor sifts and read their way through it to find the Next Big Thing that will catapult an otherwise unknown author into notoriety. Just think of the happy accident that sparked the cultural revolution that is Harry Potter. Romantic, I know, but these were images clouding my idea about how my career was going to go after I finished my undergraduate degree in 2016.
is actually a super competitive commercial business with commercial aims and
attitudes. So, it’s not really a surprise that most of it is centred in London.
Yet through research and sheer refusal to live there I landed a job in a
publishing house in the Midlands. I moved away from my family ready to enter
the book industry working in the production department of a, predominantly,
children’s book publishing company, working to coordinate the manufacturing
process of books.
like to stress the difference between trade and mass market literature, since I
wasn’t myself aware of it when I started. Mass market companies cater to
consumer demand – their main clientele will be retailers like supermarkets,
places that can sell book products inexpensively. They may even have a contract
with specific brands, designing and producing material on behalf of them, or
taking existing designs and facilitating the production. So, the mass market
publisher will work with the client in mind, kind of like a takeaway – the
restaurant only produces the food that the customers order. It can be good and
bad – more fast-paced but if the customer wants something culturally out of
date (pink/ballerinas/fairies for girls, blue/superheroes/trucks for boys) you
The ties that
trade publishing has to consumer demand is perhaps less simplistic and
explicit, even though it’s still there masked under an ethos of independence
and forward-thinking-ness. This is ‘traditional’ publishing. To get a sense of
that, think of all the books Waterstones sells and the sense of prestige that
comes with being ‘well read’. (What does that even mean anyway??)
I worked in
the former environment helping produce mass market books, and I acted as a
liaison and coordinator for the manufacturing of said books. But these weren’t
simple books, they had bells & whistles: sound modules, stationary,
puppets, stickers… massive books, tiny books, books that didn’t even look
like books. It was all very adventurous, which I think is the glory of the mass
market – you’re so tied to attracting customers that you’re constantly working
to get that wow-factor. But it means you need the right people – ones who can
source weird components, printers that can produce large quantities, and so on
– all at a cheap price.
My role involved
communicating with international suppliers to negotiate delays, quality issues,
schedules, and the like. It really built my capacity to talk professionally,
forge bonds with people on the other side of the world and be firm. It took a lot
of self-organisation and problem-solving: risk assessing products for children
comes with a whole health & safety side that you probably wouldn’t realise.
houses are multifaceted but working in production means you get to be the
spider at the centre of the web. I worked directly with the editorial
department to discuss design & technical issues; for me, resolving these
issues was always the most gratifying. You could have a really tricky, horrible
specification for production but when the book would come in (and we were
always the first to see it!) getting the final product in your hands and being
able to take it to the editorial team to show it off was always a real score.
worked with the sales team, which gave me a nice foundation of marketing &
selling knowledge. It was often a slight battle: they had a tricky job with the
customer on the other end of the line asking for quicker schedules & lower
costs – yet better quality – which obviously wouldn’t always be possible on our
side of things. But to be honest I always found it kind of fun – it would keep
the day fresh and it was worth it for those moments when you could pull it out
the bag for them.
production means getting to be around and work with a lot of people, which I
think is one of the most important skills you can have. I also got to work with
the operations and shipping teams, because in order to get to shops they’ve got
to sail for weeks on the sea first! That comes with its own set of requirements
about quantities, pallets, and packing – all of it burned into my brain. I got
to produce some things for really big brands and seeing them in shops was
always a bit of a smug moment. It’s weird seeing something in the real world
and knowing you had a hand in it, even a hand no-one really thinks that much
Ultimately, coming back to university for my Masters has been the right choice for me, no doubt, but I’m deeply appreciative of the experience I’ve had. It’s improved my outlook and way of thinking about work; I have more confidence in myself. It gave me the buzz I needed to choose to come back for my Masters and to focus specifically on children’s literature. I realised how integral the actual process of publication is in impacting the books that are available to children, especially how tied to trend and consumer demand they are. I always thought of publishing as very forward thinking, but there’s a lot more to it than that. This really sparked my academic interest and reignited that sense of intrigue, not just for publishing but for literature in general. Books have such a complicated and multifaceted role within the cultural space. More generally, being in employment full time improved my initiative and work ethic, which is important for postgraduate study!
For anyone trying to get into publishing, I would say to look outside the box a bit; look at the roles in production, sales, design, & operations. They each play to different strengths and can be really rewarding. Editorial is awesome, no denying, but there are loads of roles out there – it’s brilliant for anyone who loves fast-paced and innovative environments.
We invite any prospective children’s literature students to visit us next week and hear from current students and staff. All are welcome to the public lecture from Professor Karen Sands-O’Connor. See the poster for information.
It is widely accepted that what we now call children’s books were born in the 18th century, when both the Enlightenment and commercial reasons made some farsighted men and women start publishing books that were explicitly addressed to children. But children existed also before the 18thcentury, so what did they read?
Some of them were so lucky that their parents or their preceptors commissioned, wrote, and even assembled books that were to be used exclusively by them. Let us think to the illuminated manuscript assembled for Claude of France in the early 16th century [picture 1], or to Fénelon’s Adventures of Telemachus, written in the 17th century for his pupil Duc de Bourgogne, second in line to the throne of France. Not to mention the nursery library assembled by Jane Johnson for her children in the early 18th century.
Many more children must have encountered the printed materials that circulated
widely among peasants, working classes, servants, etc. since the invention of
the printing press. In spite of the fact that literacy rates differed depending
on urbanism, religion, emigration, and many other factors, it has been
discovered that a great part of illiterate or semi-literate people not only had
many opportunities to enjoy narrations by just listening to them, but were also
keen on buying cheaply printed products even if they were not able to work them
out completely. How about their children?
Examples of cheap print for children are attested before the 18th
century. Book of secrets, containing recipes and medical remedies, were a
successful genre already in the age of manuscripts; so successful that a Dutch
publisher issued a book of secrets explicitly addressed to children as early as
1528. [picture 2]
A quite renowned collection of ballads preserved at the British Library and named after their collector, the Duke of Roxeburghe, contains at least two 17th century moral ballads that might have foreseen children as a privileged audience. [See banner image.]
Moreover, children were likely to share cheap print with the rest of the
society. Chapbooks printed in Glasgow by J and M. Robertson in the first two
decades of the 19th century carry an interesting woodcut on their title page:
it represents two adults and a child singing ballads together. This must have
been an advertising strategy (title pages functioned as covers in chapbooks),
and it is also evidence that cheap print of any kind would have reached
juvenile audiences by the means of orality. [picture 4]
Printed broadsheets that narrated stories through pictures with a small
amount of text as captions were probably appreciated by semi-literates, and for
the same reason they must have encountered the attention of children. Sometimes
they were not even conceived of as reading materials, but they contained a
really limited amount of text, as in the Venetian fogli da ventola:
single sheets mounted on a stick in order to be used as fans. They were not addressed
to children, but there is evidence that young people were enjoying them as well,
thus encountering written words even if they did not attend schools. [picture 5]
More didactic and educational printed materials must also be mentioned,
such as ABCs, primers, catechisms, that represented, for instance, about the 18%
of French chapbooks, the so-called Bibliothèque bleue. But they weren’t confined
to schools, since it was not only young people that needed to practice on them.
Moreover, it was not understood that children in schools had to read didactic
books: in the 16th century the Venetian schoolmasters declared that
children practiced reading on chivalric romances in cheap editions instead of
using primers. And in the 18th century they still complained about
that. Also in France, in the 17th century, bishops banned from
schools fairy tales, romances and prophane books that were used to teach them
Social history research on 18th century France has shown that
young peasants and thieves carried sorts of cheap print on their bodies when
inspected by the police. Even in 18th and 19thcenturies,
when books for children were increasingly issued, most families would not
afford them. Cheap print for the general public was still an option; moreover,
some clever publishers started to issue massively cheap print for children.
This British books of wits, printed probably in the early 19th
century, has a larger number of woodcuts than the standard layout of a chapbook,
and in fact it is specifically addressed to children. [picture 6] Chapbooks for children issued
by Kendraw of York are among the most renowned examples [picture 7], but also in other countries
cheap print for children became a proper publishing genre in the 19th
century. Let us focus on Spain, where pliegos de aleluya, broadsheets
containing images and captions, were used both as games (lottery) and as
ancestors of comics. Traditionally addressed to the general audience, in the 19th
century they were increasingly dedicated to children and proposed to them traditional
narrations such as popular romances and fairy tales. [picture 8]
Similar products were printed all over Europe also before that the so
called Imagerie Populaire was founded in Épinal, France, by Mr Pellerin. It was a
printing shop specialising in lithography that took over the business of
printed images selling them across Europe. Through some agreement Pellerin’s
broadsheets were also translated into English and printed in the United States.
In addition, new printing techniques made illustrations and colours
cheaper, so that broadsheets could even become cheap toys. Pellerin even
printed a Chinese Shadow Theatre: sheets were intended to be pasted on
cardboard and then cut in order to build the shadows of animals and people that
would act on the stage of a cardboard theatre. [picture 10]
Research on all this is still at an early stage, but it is evident that cheap print represented a large part of the publishing market, especially in 18th and 19th century, and that it was often enjoyed by children. This means that we have only a partial understanding of what children were reading in the past. Cheap and ephemeral printed products are very likely to tell us more about that.
Elisa Marazzi is a Marie Skłodowska Curie Research Associate at the School of English, Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University.
It’s that time of year again, and nothing says Christmas like the scatological humour of children’s author and illustrator, Nicholas Allan. I was fortunate enough to spend a day at Seven Stories rummaging through his uncatalogued Christmas archive last Winter, and one year later I thought I’d take the opportunity to share what I found.
If you don’t know Nicholas Allan,
he is best known for his toilet-tastic titles including The Queen’s
Knickers, The Giant’s Loo Roll, Cinderella’s Bum, The Royal Nappy, as well
as his more festive work, like Jesus’ Christmas Party, Father Christmas
Needs a Wee and Father Christmas Comes up Trumps. Having been
fortunate enough to vicariously enjoy these books via a younger sibling, I was
absolutely thrilled to learn I could put them to use for an undergraduate
assignment on Lucy Pearson’s Children’s Literature Module, ‘Home, Heritage,
History’. In fact, I ended up enjoying my day at the archive so much, that I
ended up sticking around to do an MLitt!
This was my first time visiting the
Seven Stories Felling site, and was a perfect way to get me into the Christmas
spirit. I was greeted by Paula Wride, who showed me the ins and outs of the
archive before setting me up with my work – although I’d hardly call it work,
it was like Christmas came early!
The first item I came across was
a hand-painted mother’s day card signed by Allan, which features an image of Mary
holding Jesus in the same style as the illustrations for Jesus’ Christmas
Party. There’s no way of knowing which came first – the card or the
illustrations for the story – but I’d like to think this is what inspired him.
I was also surprised to see so many different cover designs for Jesus’
Christmas Party with such vast differences, including the version I have on
my shelf at home. Some featured angels, some included the whole nativity and some
even had the titles in different languages as well! There was even his final
watercolour artwork for the figures later produced for the accompanying
activity playset and designs for the cover of, what has now become, Jesus’
Christmas Party: The Musical! Here are some of the covers in circulation
now, the middle being the most recent:
The image at the top of this
article is, perhaps, my favourite painting by Allan. The final print of Father
Christmas Comes up Trumps does not do justice to the original version I was
fortunate enough to see. I was blown away by the vibrance of the colours
against what ended up on the page, but what was even more surprising, is that a
coffee stain in the clouds (top left of the second page if you look carefully)
made it to the final text. I’ve since wondered whether the editor missed it, or
if the picture was just too good to waste!
I couldn’t believe the intricacy
of some of Allan’s drawings. The files were filled with tiny scraps of paper with
detailed miscellaneous final artwork the size of a penny. There were bells,
holly, gifts, and even a specific gift design for the Father Christmas Needs
A Wee barcode! It’s clearly a lot of work being both an author and
illustrator, but seems like a lot of fun to have so much input in your work.
Of course, the Seven Stories
Archive is not just home to Christmas picturebooks, but is brimming with
exciting resources all year round. With that said, I don’t think any Christmas
will compare to seeing Allan’s watercolours of Father Christmas breaking wind
in various locations.
It seems only natural to conclude
by quoting the final pages of Father Christmas Comes up Trumps:
‘So the world
wakes up, And the children all cheer…
has come up trumps, Now it’s the BEST day of the year!’
Nicholas Allan, Father
Christmas Comes Up Trumps (2013)
Merry Christmas from all of the Children’s Literature Unit here at Newcastle University!
So, you’re partway through your MA (or maybe finished a long time ago and want to go back to school again!), and you know that you want to do further study, and that you want that further study to be centred around children’s literature. But where do you start? How do you even begin tackling such a task? Maybe you’re in a one-year MA course, so you haven’t even handed in any papers yet – how can you go about applying for PhD?
Well, we here in Newcastle University’s CLU have been there!
Here are some thoughts and suggestions on how to go about it.
First of all, and MOST importantly: THE APPICATION DEADLINES
ARE MUCH EARLIER THAN YOU THINK THEY ARE. Yes, even earlier than that.
Seriously. Especially as you probably have deadlines starting to come up in
December and January as well, and you really
don’t want to be trying to get your PhD applications in at the same time as you
are writing your first MA papers. Put the deadlines in red in your diary, and
then set reminders for them at least two weeks before. Check when any other
deadlines or breaks you might be having are (as the applications are typically
due across the Christmas holidays), and block out times when you will sit down
to prepare for them.
But where do you want to apply to? You can’t start thinking
about deadlines until you know where you are going, as every university has a
different deadline and a different application process! Well, that’s actually
quite a complicated question, so let me try to break it down for you.
There are two main ways to go about deciding where to study.
The first is looking at universities that have a strong children’s literature
unit. A good indicator for this is whether or not they offer MA courses
specifically for children’s literature (or, failing that, at least an
undergraduate course) and exploring things like library resources for
children’s lit. The second is looking at the major critical works that have
influenced your thinking and your desire to study children’s literature, and
then seeing if any of those critics work at universities that you could attend.
You should also look at what kind of funding opportunities the universities and
the departments have!
Once you have a list of places you think might be feasible,
spend time finding out about the university and the literature department as a
whole. I know how hard this is to do from overseas, but chat forums and the
school websites are helpful – if you can’t even navigate the website, it may
not be the place for you! If you possibly can, try to visit the campus.
While you are doing this, you need to sort out a clear idea
of what you actually want to study in your head. ‘Children’s Literature’ is a
vast and multi-faceted area of study that crosses over several departments
(literature, linguistics, history, psychology, etc) and covers several
centuries and many different cultures. Is there a particular period or author
that you are interested in? Why? Is there a problem that you think needs
addressing? Are you interested particularly in a specific language or country,
or want to do a cross-comparison of, for example, American and Canadian
The next step is to get in contact with the researcher that
you want to work with. Send a quick email, explaining who you are, what you are
studying, what you want to study, and why you think that your work would fit
with this researcher, and ask if they think that they might be interested in
supervising your PhD project. If you are not applying straight from a one year
MA, then ideally you should do this in the summer, as university teachers are
very busy in September and October and it may take them some time to get back
to you. Don’t worry too much if you can’t, though. It is KEY to do this: your
supervisory relationship will be one of the most important things throughout
the process of your PhD, so you should at least get a feel for what your
supervisor might be like to work with. Do they reply in a timely manner? Do
they seem enthusiastic? Do they want to hear about your thoughts, or does it feel like they might take over the
project? All of these you can get a feel for relatively quickly!
In my own case, I emailed multiple places. I was politely
turned down by one person, which is not unusual, and you should not let
yourself get too down about. I was invited to a Skype meeting to discuss my
research plans by two other researchers, which gave me a chance to get a feel
for what supervisory sessions might feel like with them. It is also great to
get that encouragement that someone in the field thinks that your ideas are
worth exploring! I also got a wonderfully enthusiastic and very encouraging
email from my now-current supervisor, who offered to look over drafts of any
applications to the school or for funding.
Once you have someone you think that you could work with,
and whose work aligns with yours, you need to write the application piece. If
you have managed to make contact with a potential supervisor and have already
established a rapport with them, ask them to check over your application before
you send it in. IMPORTANT: Bear in mind that you will have to order transcripts
from your school and that some universities still require that these be sent by
post! Make sure that you order transcripts, for both UG and your Masters, well
in advance of the deadline.
In terms of writing the main body of your application: every
university will require different lengths and levels of detail. My suggestion
is to write the longest one first,
and polish that one to the best that you can. Then, once it is as good as you
can make it, choose what to cut out for the other applications. Make it as
PRECISE AS POSSIBLE. Discuss your own particular projects, mentioning critical
works that you have already read, to show that this is not a pipe dream but
something that you have put serious thought into and already know what some of
the discussion around your chosen area is saying. If the word count allows for
it, try to give draft chapter titles, and a brief idea of what the thesis would
look like broken down into these chapters. At the end, spend a paragraph
talking specifically about why you want to attend that particular university. Mention that you already have someone
willing to supervise you, talk about library and archival resources, and about
any relationships the university might have with outside groups (such as
Newcastle University’s partnership with Seven Stories). Make it clear that you
have done the research into the place itself and that you are enthusiastic
about studying there.
Finally – send it in! Check that you have filled out
everything that the university wants (multiple checklists may be required).
Once you have done that, though, don’t just wait: you need to get your funding
application deadlines in a row next! Most of these will not be due until after
you know whether you have been accepted by the school, but some require earlier
applications, so keep a careful eye out. Make sure that you keep going back to
what you want to study, and thinking it through more, as some of the most
comprehensive funding bodies (such as the AHRC) often want far more detail than
the general school application, partly because they want to see that your
thought processes have moved on since your initial application.
Good luck! I hope that this was helpful, and that your
applications go as smoothly as possible!
Silent Survival: Representations of Refugee Children’s Traumatic Separations
Dr Maria Chatzianastasi, Helen King and Lucy Stone
‘It feels a bit like the first day of school,’ Helen said as we made our way into the auditorium of Norra Latin, The Stockholm City Conference Centre, for the opening of the 24th Biennial Congress of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) this summer. A fitting statement in more ways than one. Norra Latin, as we soon learned, is a former school. The first time for Helen and Lucy, we were bundles of nerves, excitement and anticipation. We’d carefully selected our outfits, had our ‘school bags’ over our shoulders (we were issued with congress tote bags and Moomin characters notebooks) and compared timetables, the extensive congress programme.
There were many panels that applied the congress theme – Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature – to readings of representations of child refugees in children’s and YA novels. One panel brought together Ruth Lowery who spoke on refugee children as agents of social change, Evelyn Arizpe who explored the empowering potential of refugee narratives for displaced children, and Michael Prusse who explored the problems in claiming to “give voice” to the refugee experience. In another panel on refugee picturebooks, Lesley Clement, Margaret Reynolds and Petros Panaou discussed the representative challenges posed by communicating the trauma of displacement in pictures. Pictorial representation of the refugee-migrant experience was also the focus on which Mavis Reimer, Karin Nykvist and Jaana Pesonen spoke.
One recurring question was about the voice of the child refugee: how can it be heard?; is there such a thing as an authentic voice, when often the experiences and trauma of refugees are absorbed by authors and/or illustrators with no direct experience of forced migration through “listening” to various sources such as others’ accounts, the media, and the arts?
In our panel, we proposed another kind of listening. Trauma theory has shown that silence can be a significant form of communication for those who have been subjected to traumatic experiences. We discussed texts in which children’s silence features as a response to separation, exile and refugeedom from different war zones and time periods, providing important insights into understanding refugeedom.
‘It’s wonderful to be a refugee’: the apparent optimism of Judith Kerr’s drawings made as a child exile from Nazi Germany
Our panel opened with Lucy’s paper ‘It’s wonderful to be a refugee’: the apparent optimism of Judith Kerr’s drawings made as a child exile from Nazi Germany. In this paper, Lucy paid tribute to Judith Kerr, remarkable child artist and children’s author-illustrator, who sadly passed away in May. Lucy discussed two of the drawings ten-year-old Kerr made as a child in 1933 Switzerland, the first country in which the Kerr family sought refuge from Nazi Germany.
Their subjects – children dancing as they sing ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ – is a ring game that has long been played across Europe. Peter and Iona Opie suggest that it is ‘almost a synonym for childhood’ (1985, 221). Here, it would seem a joyous, harmonious childhood. However, in this paper Lucy argued that reading these drawings in light of their biographical and historical contexts shows that the trauma of childhood exile that appears to be absent is in fact silently present. By reading the drawings in this way it becomes evident that Kerr was able to symbolically express some of the trauma she suffered as a consequence of the family’s forced migration from Nazi Germany, but also work through it and simultaneously develop drawings skills that she would employ in her illustrations as an adult. What also emerged over the course of this paper is the fact that child Kerr belonged to what Manon Pignot has termed a ‘graphic community’ (2019, 174) – children with experience of war, exile and/or persecution who draw, or drew. Reading Kerr’s drawings within this community helps illuminate her childhood creative practice. At the same time, Kerr has a unique position within this community. In studies of children’s war-time drawings, it is often the case that little is known about the children who created them. Moreover, frequently just a handful of drawings by each child is conserved. In the case of Judith Kerr, however, her archive at Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books spans from the pre- to post-exile years and holds many examples of juvenilia, making it possible to explore how a child refugee, with the opportunities to draw freely, was able to work through challenging exilic experiences.
“Have you ever listened to silence speaking?”: Trauma and survival in the Cypriot story “Maria of Silence” (1998).
“Have you ever heard Silence speaking? If you try to listen carefully, you will […] Sometimes, its words can reach the heart” (Charalambous, 1998: 37).
This is a challenging question, even a paradoxical one we may assume? And how could we listen to something which is not even there? How could we listen to an absence or maybe a gap, would be the next question. However, despite the paradox embedded in the narrator’s words in ‘Maria of Silence’, this quote carries a strong message about the powerful impact of silence; it encourages readers to listen to its words and try to understand and interpret it, but it also attests to the value of the words and stories found in small texts that are beyond our reach or knowledge.
Maria’s paper explored the significance of silence in Cypriot juvenile writing about trauma as experienced by some enclaved families who refused to leave their place of origin in the north after the events of 1974. Focusing on a particular example of writing, the paper set out to listen to and interpret the ways in which ‘silence’ is used to represent, register and express a quotidian form of trauma.
Agni Charalambous’ short story «Η Μαρία της σιωπής» [“Maria of Silence”] (1998) about enclavement creatively incorporates the “enigmatic relation between trauma and survival”: an expression used by Caruth based on Freud’s notions of trauma. According to Caruth, “for those who undergo trauma, it is not only the moment of the event, but […] survival itself […] can be a crisis (9). In the story crisis finds form in Maria’s prolonged silence from the moment she is violently separated from her family. Her trauma, however, remains permanent and so does her silence, to which Marilena, Maria’s friend, begins to listen. When she begins to understand and explore the possibilities of listening through silence Marilena addresses readers with the challenging question: “Have you ever heard Silence speaking?” (Charalambous 1998, 37). As the literary reading of the story began to listen to and unravel the literary uses of silence in the text, it also added to trauma theory. Rather than merely listening to what theory says and silently reproducing it, the discussion also listened to what theory does not say. In so doing, it spoke something to trauma theory and helped extend it.
As Maria’s paper has shown, the text is constructed around an aesthetics of silence, in which silence is used as a powerful literary device to represent the traumatic suffering arising from family separation and refugeedom as a result of the confining conditions of enclavement. It is first used as a symptom of trauma but also as a form of testimony that creates several layers of witnessing and allows readers to bear witness to another perspective of trauma associated with refugeedom. It points towards the power of silence over voice or words and encourages a critical form listening, one that respects the otherness of the traumatic experience and finally it poses questions and challenges a specific political situation.
Ultimately, as Maria concluded in this paper, Cypriot children’s literature is a body of literature with a wider theoretical importance as its study can reveal issues surrounding the experiences of refugees from another not widely known but nevertheless significant perspective that speaks to and addresses trauma theory.
“How could she ever put those terrible pictures into words?”: The paradox of silence in Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth
In her paper, Helen explored silence as both a survival mechanism and a source of trauma for the child refugees in Beverley Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth (2000). She explored the Naidoo archive held by Seven Stories, revealing something of the tug of war between speech and silence that is part of being a refugee child. The archive shows both how the bureaucracy of the UK asylum process perpetuates this traumatic silencing of the refugee child, and how the act of storytelling allows the child to recover some agency.
The Other Side of Truth tells the story of children Sade and Femi, who must flee Nigeria following their father’s criticism of the government and their mother’s subsequent murder. Using false passports and withholding their names and story from the UK authorities, the children’s silence can be read as a survival mechanism, a form of ‘micro-political resistance’ to the oppressive structures they find themselves within (Wagner 2012, 100). However, this silence also entails a form of secondary trauma for Sade: the injunction to lie undermines her moral code; her silence precludes her psychological healing, causing traumatic recurrence of the ‘terrible pictures’ of her mother’s death; the withholding of their story inhibits their father’s plea for asylum (Naidoo 2000, 51). This reveals the paradox of silence in Naidoo’s novel, in which the condition of refugeehood places the physical and psychological health of the child at odds.
The Naidoo archive holds paraphernalia from the UK immigration system, telling a depersonalised version of the story of seeking asylum, and indicating that the trauma experienced by refugees often has a social dimension. The story and subjectivity of an individual or family, in order to be processed through the immigration system, is reduced to a number, to a place in a queue, to the identifier of ‘a person who is liable to be detained.’ However, within this traumatic silencing the archive reveals the ‘possibility of testimony’ (Caruth 1991, 129). Naidoo encountered individual refugees during her research process, and their stories have informed the narrative as much as any of the official documents. That hearing individual stories was such an important part of the research is evident in Sade’s development, as she instigates social change by publicising her family’s story.
Although there were there were many voices discussing representations of child refugees, we did feel that at such a huge event these voices got a bit lost and didn’t talk to one another as productively as they could have. This led us to reflect that a symposium where this is sole theme, and it is possible to hear most of the papers and there is greater time for discussion and networking, would be a better forum to give this topic the depth of attention it deserves. But the size of the Congress was also an enormous positive, giving delegates the opportunity to attend panels on topics different from your own research areas and interests. Moreover, against the backdrop of Stockholm, the Congress was able to offer a rich cultural programme – highlights included a traditional Swedish Smorgasbord in the fairy tale-like Golden Hall of the Stockholm City Hall, a guided tour of Astrid Lindgren’s apartment and the Nordic children’s literature night at Junibacken, a children’s culture centre focusing on children’s literature.
Maria completed her doctoral thesis, Tracing and translating trauma: childhood, memory, and nationhood in Cypriot children’s literature since 1974, at Newcastle University in 2017 and she currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nicosia. Helen is entering the second year of her doctoral project, an exploration of the representations of displaced children in Beverley Naidoo’s fiction and archive, with a view to developing public engagement work with Seven Stories using refugee narratives. You can learn more about Helen’s project on the Vital North blog. Lucy is writing up her thesis, a case study of the juvenilia children’s author-illustrators Judith Kerr (1923 – 2019) and Tomi Ungerer (1931 – 2019) made in exile in the Nazi era. You can see highlights of the Kerr archive in the digital exhibition Tiger, Mog and Pink Rabbit – A Judith Kerr Retrospective on the Seven Stories website and read about her project in an interview for tomiungerer.com.
We would like to thank our moderator Dr Tzina Kalogirou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens), Dr Lucy Pearson, Professor Kim Reynolds and Dr Hazel Sheeky Bird for reviewing our draft papers, Kim and Dr Emily Murphy for being at our panel, Lucy for kindly promoting our panel via twitter and student members of CLUGG who provided invaluable feedback in the stage of composing our panel proposal last autumn. Emily gave an excellent paper on China and the Cosmopolitan Child in Elizabeth Foreman Lewis’s Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze (1932) and we extend congratulations to Kim for being awarded an Honorary Fellowship in recognition for her outstanding contribution to the IRSCL and field of children’s literature. These fellowships are awarded at each IRSCL Congress and a full list of recipients over the years is available on the IRSCL website.
Aesthetic and Pedagogic Entanglements, the 25th Biennial Congress, will be taking place in Santiago, Chile, 27 – 31 July, 2021. Information will be regularly updated on theIRSCL Congress 2021 website.You can read about the IRSCL and past 23rd Biennial elsewhere on the blog.
 Norra Latin is also the title of and setting for a YA novel by Sara Bergmark Elfgren. We had the chance to hear Sara speak about this novel at the theme night on Nordic children’s literature at Junibacken, a children’s cultural centre in Stockholm focusing on children’s literature. Unfortunately, Norra Latin isn’t yet translated into English.
 Kerr’s father, eminent writer Alfred Kerr, records this claim made by his 11-year-old daughter in his diary (1979, 26).
The purpose of Northern Bridge placements is to provide PhD students with opportunities for professional development outside the academy, to develop new skills and to apply our academic skills in a new setting. From March to May 2019, I undertook a placement at Seven Stories, where I worked on cataloguing the Laura Cecil collection. My own research focuses on childhood in Revolutionary France, and I explore in particular how schoolbooks and children’s literature versed young French people in republican politics and civic conduct. In this way, I have worked with children’s literature for my academic work, and this is what sparked my interest in Seven Stories. However, although there is some foreign-language material at Seven Stories, most of the collection is in English, pertaining to British children’s books, and dates from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I was intrigued to learn more about such books, and also to find out what an archive looks like from the other side.
Most academics in the arts and humanities have at least some experience of working with archival material, and we all know how much difference a comprehensive catalogue can make! Cataloguing the Laura Cecil Collection at Seven Stories has given me a window onto the process of compiling a catalogue, and insight into the kinds of considerations a cataloguer is faced with—and thus into what happens before a researcher opens the catalogue.
The Laura Cecil Collection contains over forty boxes of material from Cecil’s career as a literary agent. The first agent to specialise in children’s literature, Cecil worked with several well-known children’s authors and illustrators, including Robert Westall, Diana Wynne Jones and Edward Ardizzone. Upon her retirement in 2017, she donated her files to Seven Stories; they consist primarily of correspondence with and relating to her clients, c. 1970-2009.
Having been instructed to provide a description for each file, I was faced with the challenge of deciding what information to include. How do you decide what is significant, in a file that could contain any number of documents? How do you predict what might be pertinent to a research project that is, as yet, hypothetical? After an overview of each file, I selected letters and documents of note according to how they were distinct from others in the file, or how they contribute to our understanding of a particular book, perhaps in terms of its editorial process or reception. When uploading this to the catalogue, I also cross-referenced related documents in other Seven Stories collections to aid research across the archive. As an academic, my instinct was to address all possible lines of enquiry that the documents could be used for; I had to accept, however, that I could not anticipate every possible research project.
Similarly, as a researcher, I was drawn to arrange material in a logical order, to facilitate locating and retrieving files. Specifically as a historian, however, I wanted to maintain the files’ original order, as this is part of the collection’s history. Generally, it is considered good archival practice to maintain the original arrangement and structure of a collection, and so I tried to respect this. Where I could not discern any order to the arrangement of files, I highlighted this in the catalogue, and, in the case of the Robert Westall correspondence, I did re-arrange files chronologically. The pressure to make the right decision here, and not to make a mistake that was irreversible, was rather daunting. Although I had worked with archival material many times in my academic work, I had never given much thought to how material was arranged, and suddenly I felt an overwhelming responsibility to get it right! I hope I did!
Another challenge I faced was the need to remain impartial. Of course most academics try to write in an objective tone most of the time, but we nevertheless analyse and interpret our sources, working them into an intellectual argument. As a cataloguer, my task was simply to report what was in the box. I could try to anticipate and respond to academic enquiries to an extent, but I could not pursue them, nor could I make emotional or moral judgements on the material. Having read five years’ regular, amicable correspondence between Laura Cecil and Robert Westall, I felt some shock at Westall’s sudden death (in 1993), and I held back empathetic tears as I wrote, simply, ‘notable documents include… a note with costs for his memorial service (manuscript)’. The cataloguer sees and knows every document in a file; she observes and records, but her tone must remain detached.
Nevertheless, getting to know a collection can be an exciting process—not least because some boxes contain hidden treasures! For instance, I was fascinated to discover a mock-up for an unpublished book by C. Walter Hodges, with original artwork, and to see how Sarah Garland illustrated her letters to Laura Cecil. On the other hand, there can be disappointments too. After half an hour engrossed in a draft of Robert Westall’s novella, The Duplicator, I was left with a cliff-hanger when I realised the text was unfinished! I have since emphasised in the catalogue that this story is both unpublished and unfinished, so that researchers will not make the same mistake!
After three months at Seven Stories, I would say that cataloguing a collection is something every academic should have a go at, if interested in archival research. My experience on this placement encouraged me to explore a collection as a whole, making links between individual documents, and to think more about the provenance of material. It also highlighted the value of an open-minded approach to research, where research questions may not yet be defined, and may be shaped by the material discovered. Of course, as academics, we know these things, but often practicalities and time constraints compel us to pre-select material and not to widen our parameters. Sometimes, though, the most useful document is in the box you might not have opened… Sometimes it might not be specifically highlighted in the catalogue—despite the cataloguer’s best efforts to predict your project!
Invites you to celebrate the society’s 50th Anniversary and to enjoy a study day on Families in Children’s Literature
At: The Art Workers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AT
On: Saturday 16th November, 2019 from 10.00am – 5.00 pm.
The Children’s Books History Society was co-founded by Brian Alderson, recipient of a honorary doctorate from Newcastle University in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the field of children’s literature. The Society exists to promote an appreciation of children’s books in their literary, historical and bibliographical aspects, and further to encourage a distribution and exchange of information on children’s literature.Now in its 50th year, the Society invites you to join celebrations and talks on families in children’s literature. Speakers and topics include:
Jane Cooper Happy Families? What does go on in Mrs Molesworth’s children’s books
Elizabeth Galvin The Extraordinary Life of E. Nesbit
Dame Jacqueline Wilson Missing Mothers
Nicholas Tucker Attempting to protect family values through nursery rhymes
Anne Harvey & Ann Thwaite In conversation about the remarkable novels of M.E. Atkinson
This year is a landmark for the CILIP Carnegie Medal: for the first time ever, the award goes to an author of colour, Dominican-American Elizabeth Acevedo. Acevedo’s verse novel The Poet X is a sensitive and nuanced depiction of the life of a young Dominican American. It’s striking that the novel won not only the main prize, but also the inaugural ‘Shadowers’ Choice’ award: there’s often a divergence between the shadowers’ favourite (as expressed through the Shadowing website – this is the first year there’s been an actual award) and the judges’ choice. This is definitely not because of a lack of competition – in fact this year’s shortlist was particularly exciting and included many worthy contenders – but I think it reflects a key characteristic of the novel: it’s simultaneously boundary-pushing and immediately familiar.
The verse novel has grown in popularity in YA circles in the last few years (Sarah Crossan’s novel One won the Carnegie in 2016) but it’s still a relatively new form, and one which is exploring the boundaries of form as a means of expressing the YA experience. Acevedo uses the form of slam poetry to explore questions of voice and voicelessness for her bilingual protagonist Xiomara, caught between the strict religious views of her Catholic mother and her own sense of herself and her place in the world. Xiomara’s experience is particular to her place, her culture, and her historical moment. Yet the book also has a universal resonance in the way that the best books do. As someone who was a young woman more than two decades ago, growing up not in Harlem but in provincial County Durham (in a decidedly monocultural environment), I was moved by Acevedo’s powerful expression of female desire and the experience of being in the body of a young woman. The book spoke to me, and spoke about experiences which I rarely see on the page. I think this combination of newness and ‘universality’ is what made the book speak to both the adult judges and the child shadowers.
By coincidence, the day the award was announced was the same day that my article with Karen Sands-O’Connor and Aishwarya Subramanian on Prize Culture and Diversity in British Children’s Literature. Part of a special issue of International Research in Children’s Literature on ‘Curating National Literatures’ (also edited by us), this article provides a context which demonstrates just why it’s significant for the Carnegie Medal to be awarded to an author of colour for the first time. We show that despite a genuine desire to promote ‘quality’ children’s literature, in practice mainstream children’s book awards in the UK have tended to uphold a view of quality which is white, English and (largely) middle-class, and to exclude the voices of Britain’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. This was precisely the concern voiced by many participants in the event which prompted our special issue: the Diverse Voices?Symposium jointly hosted by Seven Stories: the National Centre for Children’s Books and Newcastle University in 2017. That year’s Carnegie Medal shortlist had seen widespread criticism of the Carnegie Medal after the longlist failed to include a single BAME author: speaking at the symposium, YA novelist Alex Wheatle commented that ‘otherness, that feeling of being different wasn’t quite adjudicated for’. What our research for the article revealed was that children’s book prizes only represent a diverse range of voices when they are consciously working to ‘adjudicate otherness’: in other words, good will and a genuine belief in ‘objective’ criteria are not enough to ensure a broad understanding of literary quality. Only conscious engagement with the question of how literary quality intersects with wider culture ensures that the idea of literary quality isn’t shaped by unconscious biases.
The Carnegie Medal has a long tradition of engaging with wider culture. It was set up in 1936 with an activist mission: to encourage publishers to produce high quality children’s books. The late 1960s saw a new era of activism as the library profession expanded, prompting changes to the Medal which enabled radical new winners such as Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners(1975). And since 2017, CILIP has once again engaged with the hard work of creating radical change, beginning with a Diversity Review of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards led by Margaret Casely-Hayford, and continuing with the implementation of many of that report’s recommendations. It’s this hard work which has produced a radically different shortlist: one which featured four authors of colour and produced the first ever win by an author of colour.
Elizabeth Acevedo has said that the inspiration for The Poet X was her desire to meet the needs of young readers who asked ‘Where are the books about us?’ It’s fitting, then, that her book has received the award in a year when CILIP have done a great deal of work to consider how the Medal might better reflect a wide range of readers. There’s still work to be done: it’s notable that this year’s shortlist continued to reflect a sense of race as something which is ‘out there’, not an integral part of UK life. Only one BAME author was shortlisted, and Candy Gourlay’s excellent novel Bone Talkis a historical novel. In the future, I’d like to see the Carnegie Medal go to a book which reflects one of Britain’s BAME communities in the nuanced, vivid way that Acevedo depicts the Dominican American experience. My hope is that the work so far will help to bring about change in the area the Carnegie Medal was originally meant to influence: the UK publishing industry. The more the Carnegie Medal and other prizes champion a wide range of voices, the easier it will be for publishers to ‘take a chance’ on a new voice, or to invest their resources in promoting books which don’t align with the literary mainstream. The varied, stimulating Carnegie shortlist this year, and the unanimous enthusiasm for Acevedo’s compelling voice, demonstrates that work can bring about radical change.
On Wednesday 8th of May, our weekly CLUGG session had a dramatic twist – that evening a group of us had booked to see Sabrina Mahfouz’s stage adaptation of Noughts and Crosses performing at The Northern Stage.
Based on the first book of the bestselling Young Adult dystopian series by Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses makes for an intensely emotional play. With particularly talented performances from Heather Agyepong, refreshingly energetic as Sephy, brought realism to the stage, and Lisa Howard, whose highly empathetic performance as Meggie, Callum and Jude’s mum stole the show; the emotional impact was close to that of Blackman’s novel. Yet, ultimately, it was hampered by the odd pacing of the character development, understandable given the mean task of condensing a complex 440-page novel into a two-hour play; and at times, painful over-acting from some of the performers.
The story is set around two star-crossed teenagers, Callum and Sephy, who are at opposite ends of the spectrum in a society actively segregated by race with Sephy being a privileged Cross and Callum being a disadvantaged Nought. The parallels between how this dystopian society deals with race cast a harsh light on the way in which racism is historically and currently ingrained in modern society with the dystopian twist being that it is people of colour, Crosses, who are privileged over white people, Noughts.
As the story progresses, we see these racial political tensions interfere with the lives of Sephy and Callum increasingly as their stories and that of their families become intertwined. Dealing with a broad range of controversial and sensitive issues, this story is one that doesn’t hold back any punches when tackling sensitive questions and, sadly, remains as relevant now as it did when it was originally written by Blackman in 2001. For instance, a poignant part of the play involves a Nought, a white character, being injured by people protesting the desegregation of a local Cross school which clearly alludes to the 1954 Little Rock desegregation following Brown vs Board. In the play, there is then a quip about the colour of the plaster on the Nought’s face not matching her skin colour and how this is another example of Cross privilege. This issue was brought to media attention in the real world just recently at the end of April when the press picked up on a viral tweet made by Dr Dominique Apollon about his emotion on finding a plaster that matched the colour of his skin for the first time in 45 years. (1)
Clearly then, making connections between the racial segregation in the dystopian world of Noughts and Crosses and the racial injustices present in our world is a priority for Mahfouz. Yet, despite the self-professed want to attract young adult audiences, the play remains heavily intertwined with the curriculum in its promotion. (2) The play comes with its own teaching resource pack produced by Pilot Theatre which features interviews with the cast, pre-show workshop ideas, and video recordings of the play’s key scenes. Most notably, however, is its section on ‘Why Stage Noughts and Crosses Today?’ – a video of teenagers discussing their thoughts on that very question which makes for thought-provoking consideration on the play’s importance and impact. (3) Scholars in the field of children’s literature will be all-too-aware of this difficult balance between didacticism and entertainment that guides most of the creative work aimed at young people. Is the resource pack, marked for teacher and classroom use, really necessary to this play?
Perhaps instead, general discussion questions echoing those sometimes found in the back of YA novels would have been a better compromise and ultimately, more useful and accessible to the intended audience of young adults.
In an interview with the Guardian, Sabrina Mahfouz said that she wanted Noughts and Crosses to show ‘how oppressive systems can destroy and determine people’s lives from a young age. In some cases, they’re powerless, in others they’re able to take back the power and make some change, but it’s not without a huge amount of sacrifice and pain’. (4) While Noughts and Crosses was a step in this direction, it didn’t feel like it managed to get all the way there with the pacing of the character development feeling off-centre and, consequently, undermining this message. Yet, it is an optimistic start. By adapting a story as powerful as Blackman’s into a memorable piece of theatre aimed at young adults, Mahfouz’s contribution to the future of YA literature being performed on stage is commendable, even if it falls short of achieving her ambitions. As for the Noughts and Crosses novel, a BBC TV adaptation has been in the works since 2018 with the rumoured release date due to be sometime this year. (5) It will be a six-part miniseries with each episode having a running time of one hour – this should provide ample time for a more satisfying character development that is missing from the play. In the meantime, the iconic YA series will be going back on my ‘to-be-reread’ list, and if it isn’t on yours already, I highly recommend it.
Evans, Greg. “Viral Tweet Explains Why the Colour of a Plaster Is so Important.” indy100, The Independent, 27 Apr. 2019, www.indy100.com/article/plaster-colour-skin-tone-dominique-apollon-tweet-viral-8889176., accessed 27 May 2019.; ‘Should the Colour of Plasters Match Skin Tones?’, BBC News, 26 April 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/48060767, accessed 27 May 2019.