An Invitation: Open Day at the Children’s Literature Unit

Wednesday 7th February, 3:30 – 5:30 pm

We would like to invite you to visit our Children’s Literature Unit on Wednesday 7th February 2018 from 3:30 to 5:30pm, as part of Newcastle University’s Postgraduate Open Day. 

If you’re considering an MLitt, MPhil or PhD, come along and find out about studying children’s literature or creative writing for children and young people in Newcastle. Meet current students and discuss your research project with potential supervisors, and find out more about our outstanding research collections with staff from Special Collections and Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books.

Register your attendance for the afternoon here. We look forward to meeting you soon. In the meantime, you might like to read about last year’s Open Day.

We Come Apart with Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

We would also like to invite you to the event We Come Apart with authors Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan, chaired by author and Teaching Fellow by Liz Flanagan. This event is free, and will be followed by a drinks reception and book signing. 6:30 – 8:00 pm. Find out more about the event and book your place here.

Revolution in the Library! A Conference on the ‘Children’s ‘68’

Dr Lucy Pearson

The anniversary of 1968 approaches, and with it memories of radical change: workers and students united on the streets of Paris; draft resisters and anti-Vietnam protesters; flower power and violent revolution. The 60s revolution is usually regarded as a youth phenomenon, yet little attention is paid to the literal ‘children of the revolution’. This is the gap that Sophie Heywood proposed to address with her research network on The Children’s 68. On October 12th, CLU colleagues Kim Reynolds and Lucy Pearson headed off to Tours, France, for an interdisciplinary conference organised by Sophie Heywood and Cécile Boulaire exploring the many dimensions of childhood and ‘the spirit of ‘68’.

The conference brought together scholars from many different countries and many disciplines. For some of us, 1968 was clearly a landmark moment, while others questioned whether there was a ’68 moment at all in our countries of interest. Topics included children’s books, radical magazines, television, art culture, feminism and workers’ rights. What emerged from this comparative approach was that there were many correspondences across the experiences of different nations, but also that even within a single cultural context the ‘meaning’ of ’68 encompasses a variety of different and often conflicting ideas.

There were many examples of culture which tried to give children a voice or encourage them to resist the power of adults. Olle Widhe’s paper on the children’s rights movement in Sweden, for example, showed us books which encouraged adults to resist the ‘indoctrination’ of their children, and encouraged children themselves to rise up against the power of adults. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, on the other hand, showed that West German texts sought to ally children with other marginalised groups: a collaborative revolution in which children helped to overcome the systems of power.

Kim Reynolds vividly evoked the feelings of power and possibility experienced by children and young adults in 1968 USA, and showed that while children’s culture failed to produce texts directly addressing the Vietnam War, these young people co-opted the adult culture of popular music to articulate their feelings and beliefs. Other papers, though, raised the possibility that the child was co-opted by adults as a symbol for their own ideologies and desires. Andrea Francke showed a range of exciting picturebooks which questioned the existing social order, but ruefully acknowledged that while these were exciting and important for the women in the feminist collectives who produced them, many children found them uninteresting. In David Buckingham’s paper on the controversial schoolkids’ issue of Oz magazine, he suggested that the magazine included both the authentic concerns of schoolchildren and a discourse around childhood which served the interests of the adult men who edited the magazine.

‘You can get anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant’: Kim Reynolds showed how song lyrics became a key part of ’68 youth culture.

One striking theme was the degree to which this ‘counter-cultural’ moment was institutionally supported and disseminated. Helle Strandgaard Jensen showed that the state broadcasting of Denmark incorporated radical voices into its children’s television. My own paper, on Leila Berg’s Nippers series, considered the intersection between progressive education and mainstream educational publishing and policy. Cécile Boulaire showed that even traditional Catholic publishers in France produced radical material in the form of children’s magazine Okapi.

Left: Leila Berg’s ‘Nippers’ books for children grew out of her activism on children’s rights. Right: Anti-authoritarianism for supper? Critics of Leila Berg’s ‘Fish and Chips for Supper’ complained that it gave children ‘the wrong sense of values’ and that ‘father should not be the object of criticism’.

Another theme which preoccupied me throughout the conference was the question of intersectionality. One of the most striking aspects of the May ’68 revolution in Paris was the way it brought together different constituencies: students and workers manned the barricades together.

Yet I felt that very few of the examples considered fully expressed such unity between children’s rights and the interests of other groups. Children are not only children, of course: they are also defined by their gender, class, ability, race etc. Many texts sought to explore the power dynamics of such categories, and many promoted the rights and agency of the child, but neither the cultural productions of the sixties nor our scholarship achieved a fully intersectional understanding of childhood. I wondered if this gap was a partial explanation for our sense that many of these radical ideas had not had as great a legacy as some of us wished.

The conference closed with the accounts of practitioners: children’s librarians, curators, and educators. Alex Thorp, Education Curator at London’s Serpentine Gallery, showed some fascinating examples of projects which demonstrated the radical potential of play and the degree to which the young people of today continue to experience their relationship with the adult world as one of oppression. All the discussion in this closing session drew attention to a crucial gap in the conference discussion: almost none of our papers included the accounts of actual children. For scholars of childhood, the question of how to include the child’s voice is a perennial problem, but our subject really brought this to the fore. The network hopes to partially address this in an exhibition on ‘Le ’68 des enfants’ taking place May-June 2018, to be held at the French children’s archive Heure Joyeuse, preserved at the Mediathèque Françoise Sagan. Working with graphic designer Loic Boyer, the archive will develop an interactive exhibition which invites children to participate; accompanying workshops with illustrators will also help to bring children’s voices to the fore.

It was a stimulating few days which generated many productive conversations and (I hope) some lasting collaborations. For me, it was a great reminder of how interlinked different aspects of children’s culture are: I can’t wait to do more work with colleagues from other disciplines. Perhaps together we can revive something of the spirit of ’68!

Perhaps some of you were ‘children of ‘68’ – or the children of those children! What was the spirit in your country? And how has it shaped children’s culture today?

A Fresher at Fifty

The Occasional Diary of a Mature Postgraduate Student at Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit

Jennifer Shelley

Episode two: an Ancient Monument

Driving to the station to catch the train to Newcastle University last September my mind went back to 1984 when I was starting university for the first time. Back then, my mum and dad drove me from Dundee to Edinburgh, where I was to spend four years studying English literature – and making friends that I’m still close to today.

Now, however, my mum’s sadly no longer with us, and rather than being an 18-year-old excited about leaving home for the first time, I’m 50 years old, married, and living in the Perthshire countryside with my husband, greyhounds and chickens.

But the me of today still has a few things in common with that eager teenager: for one thing, my taste in music hasn’t changed much – David Bowie is blasting out of the car’s CD player, just as he was back in the 1980s, although back then it would have been a cassette player. And the 50-year-old me was also excited about starting a new degree, although a bit nervous about what it would entail.

Jen in her halls room back in the 80s
Jen in her halls room back in the 80s

Even getting to this point had been a bit of a journey: having decided to apply to do an MLitt in children’s literature, one of the first steps was pulling together the information to prove I met the entrance requirements. Essentially what I needed was a 2:1 or higher in a related subject, so that should have been tickety-boo: but I hadn’t reckoned with my great age.

The application form required ‘transcripts’, by which it meant a documentation that showed all the courses I had taken – and the marks achieved – in my undergraduate degree. I had my degree certificate, but had never even heard of transcripts.

A call to my alma mater – the University of Edinburgh – confirmed that they could send me an academic statement, but the kind young man on the other end of the phone explained it might take some time. ‘You see, our records don’t go back that far, so we’ll have to dig it out of the archives,’ he said. Yes, it seems there is a room somewhere in Edinburgh University filled with big books containing the details of past students – and to retrieve mine would involve someone physically going to the room and wading through these tomes and taking a copy. This process was set in motion, and when the document finally arrived, it turned out to be merely confirmation of my first degree and overall result. The ever-helpful and patient postgraduate admissions staff at Newcastle confirmed that this was okay – they are happy to be flexible with mature students, it seems – so the application progressed, and ultimately was successful.

Arriving at the university campus in all its freshers’ week pomp also brought back memories, although there were of course some differences: this time, I was (sadly) largely disregarded by the eager young students peddling leaflets about societies, or offering cut-price beers or nightclub entry to people who looked like they might be freshers. ‘I’m a student too,’ I screamed (but silently).

After the process of registration was completed – one member of staff kindly confirmed I wasn’t quite the oldest she’d seen that day – I had an initial meeting with my supervisor, Lucy Pearson. More of an informal chat, we discussed my areas of interest and she recommended some initial reading. She also reminded me of events set up to welcome postgraduates, including a get-together (with quiz!) held by the Children’s Literature Unit, and a drinks reception organised by the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics.

The latter, I confess, was an eye-opener: chatting with a couple of recent graduates about to embark on PhDs, I enquired about their subject areas, and realised I didn’t even understand what they were. What on earth was ecocriticism, for example (when I found out I immediately started wondering if I could apply it to Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School books – and why not?).

All in all, it was a lot to take in, and a lot to think about – would this ancient monument be able to cope?

 

We really hope so! In the meantime, if you missed episode one of A Fresher at Fifty, read it here.

A Fresher at Fifty

The Occasional Diary of a Mature Postgraduate Student at Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit

Jennifer Shelley

Episode one: deciding to go back to study

At a recent family meal my nephew was bemoaning the difficulty of getting back in the way of studying after taking a year out to gain some work experience.

I’m afraid I just laughed – and told him to try it after 28 years.

Because that’s the gap between my first graduation (in English Literature from Edinburgh) and the decision to study for an MLitt in children’s literature at Newcastle.

So why did I decide to do it? Of the many reasons, the first impulse probably came from children’s books themselves. A long-time collector and enthusiast, I had agreed to give a paper at the Fourth Bristol Conference on Twentieth Century Schoolgirls and Their Books this summer. My talk was on the Drina books by Mabel Esther Allan (written under the name Jean Estoril), a series about a young girl’s fight to learn to dance and subsequent rise to become a ballerina. The books were written between the 1950s and 1990s and most were updated once or twice. What fascinated me was how the books unwittingly provided clues and evidence of the social and other changes that were going on in the second half of the last century – from the building of the Forth Road Bridge to whether it was okay for young girls to go out without a hat and gloves.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing the research for the paper and realised that it made me feel very alive – as if my brain was working in a different way, and waking up an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt for a while. It almost felt like a drug and I wanted more of it.

A couple of people asked afterwards whether the paper was part of a formal research programme, which probably planted the seed, but there were other reasons too. Like a lot of people, I’d often vaguely thought about studying for a second degree. I lived through my husband’s PhD (as a mature student) a few years ago so knew it was no sinecure, and had thought it might be something I’d like to do when I retired. But a couple of wake-up calls (in terms of friends’ and colleagues’ early deaths or illnesses) made me think that waiting wasn’t the best plan. Plus, although I enjoy my work (as a freelance journalist and health writer) I’ve been doing it for a long time. All in all, change was in order.

Having made the decision, I then started looking around for the best course. Living in Highland Perthshire, I checked the Scottish universities first, but the only children’s literature courses seemed to be hooked in to education departments, which wasn’t really my interest.

A friend suggested a distance learning MA in children’s literature in the south of England, but the content of the course didn’t particularly grab me – then another friend mentioned the MLitt at Newcastle; it sounded very good.

I’d already checked out the Newcastle University website, partly because I’d heard about its collaboration with Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, and partly because I know and love the area having worked on one of the local newspapers 20 years ago (although I must say the city has transformed since then).

The beauty of the MLitt, or so it seemed to me, was that I could structure it around areas that fitted my interests, rather than what some great authority thought should be part of a children’s literature degree. The course involves writing three or four shorter research assignments totaling up to 24,000 words, then a dissertation of the same length, in a year full-time or over two years part-time. It was also, somewhat to my surprise, given that there is a lot of contact with a dedicated tutor, cheaper than even distance learning options elsewhere. This was a consideration as I’m self-funding.

A telephone call with one of the lecturers, Dr Lucy Pearson, confirmed that this would be a good option for me, so I decided to apply…

 

Did you know Seven Stories is a member of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People? Earlier this spring CLUGG had the opportunity to explore the latest IBBY Honour List. Learn about it on the Vital North blog

Books from the IBBY Honour Collection. Image: Newcastle University
Books from the IBBY Honour Collection. Image: Newcastle University.