Here is a glimpse into the research conducted in the Children’s Literature Unit, Newcastle University and CLUGG members this year.
Helen King: I’m writing up my PhD on the work and archive of Beverley Naidoo. She is a UK-based South African writer of novels and picture books, and her novels especially often have a political or social mission, narrating stories of apartheid, colonialism, and displacement. I’m interested in her construction of political childhoods, and her vision of the political potential of childhood reading. My research explores her published work, her collaborative creative process with children, reader responses to her novels, and her dialogues with her readers, which I use to theorise about the agency of children as both producers and consumers of children’s culture. I’m also interested in postcolonial and critical race approaches to children’s literature, trauma theory, and participatory research with children.
Karen Sands-O’Connor: I am the British Academy Global Professor for Children’s Literature, which is a fancy way of saying I got a grant to come here because I had some unique knowledge that could usefully contribute to Newcastle University, Seven Stories, and the nation in general. My research for the last 20 years has concentrated on the history of Black British children’s literature, mostly but not exclusively Afro-Caribbean children’s literature; and how the authors of this literature have written against, challenged, and contrasted with the images and stereotypes created during the British Empire. I’ve moved into policy work, trying to embed Black British children’s literature into book and literacy organisations across the country, including Seven Stories, the Youth Libraries Group, and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.
Lucy Pearson: I am a Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature, arriving at Newcastle University in 2007, first as a PhD student and then as a member of staff. Throughout that time, I’ve worked closely with Seven Stories, and I’ve been lucky enough to work in their amazing archival resources throughout my career. This has been really important to my research: I am a book historian and am interested in how books are published, marketed and received. I’m currently working (very slowly) on a history of the Carnegie Award, considering how it has shaped ideas about quality children’s literature in the UK.
Devika Mehra: I am a postdoctoral research associate working on the archives of Grace Nichols, John Agard, Grace Hallworth, and Valerie Bloom held at Seven Stories. The second part of my project deals with analysis of representation and diversity in Carnegie-Kate Greenaway medals and the shadowing process. What I love most about my work at Newcastle University is the opportunity for collaborative knowledge exchange work with external partners such as Seven Stories and the Youth Libraries Group. My research looks at the constructions of marginalised childhood/s and the child-signifier in contemporary global and South Asian children’s literature, archival study, contemporary Black British and minority ethnic literature for children, Western and South Asian media and film cultures for children.
Jo Yuanyuan Zhou: I am a PhD student here in Newcastle University for one year as part of my PhD programme. After 7 years of teaching in higher education in China, I am interested in Chinese children’s literature and childhood study and its relation to the world children’s literature, especially in the UK, America and East Asia. I am working on the comparative study of translated Chinese children’s books and mainstream publications in the UK in terms of family stories/genre. Also, another work that I have planned to do is to research how children’s agency is developed in China and the UK social contexts, and how it is presented in literary books and movies after the 1970s.
Megan Adams: I am an MLitt student currently writing my dissertation on how blindness and visual impairment is presented in children’s literature for which I was awarded an IRSCL research grant. I am interested in all aspects of literary disability studies and hope to continue my research into a PhD at some point.
Stephanie Lyttle: I am a part-time PhD student in Creative Writing, researching bisexuality and magic in recent YA Fantasy novels. The creative component of my thesis is an original YA fantasy novel. The first books I ever read were Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo and Pat Hutchins’ Don’t Forget the Bacon (and I still recommend them both!).
Emily Murphy: I am a Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Newcastle University (UK), with research interests in international children’s literature, childhood studies, and global citizenship education. My monograph, Growing Up with America: Youth, Myth, and National Identity, 1945 to Present (University of Georgia Press, 2020), was the winner of the 2021 International Research Society for Children’s Literature Book Award. The book explores the role of the figure of the adolescent in challenging national myths about U.S. identity, and looks at both canonical American novels and young adult fiction, including Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and M.T. Anderson’s Feed, to support its argument. I have published essays in The Lion and the Unicorn, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, and Jeunesse, and my work also appears in Prizing in Children’s Literature (ed. Kenneth Kidd and Joseph Thomas) and Connecting Childhood and Old Age in Popular Media (ed. Vanessa Joosen). Currently, I am working on a new book project entitled The Anarchy of Children’s Archives: Children’s Literature and Global Citizenship Education in the American Century, for which I have received multiple travel grants to conduct research in some of the top special collections in children’s literature.
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.
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 Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group (CLUGG) holds weekly 2-hour meetings where members pick a relevant theme to discuss together, allowing us as researchers to broaden our academic interests, learn from one other and engage more widely with the Children’s Literature academic community. By posting about our previous sessions, we hope to give you an idea of some of the research interests of CLUGG members, as well as the work that they are currently undertaking.
In this blog post, MLitt Student Enya-Marie Clay looks back on the first few CLUGG sessions of Semester 2. Further posts about CLUGG sessions will feature on the blog in the future, as and when members can contribute, so please bookmark the blog if you’re interested in future updates relevant to all things Children’s Literature at Newcastle University.
Session 1: 30th January 2019
In this session we discussed extracts from Peter Hollindale’s Signs of Childness in Children’s Literature (1997), specifically chapters 1 and 5: ‘The Uniqueness of Children’s Literature’ and ‘Signs of Childness: A Summary and Critical Approach’.
This prompted discussions surrounding key critical questions of the field such as:
What is a child?
What is children’s literature?
What is the relationship between the intended reader and the producers of children’s literature?
We also discussed how Hollindale’s work sits within the broader landscape of scholarship by thinking about how it compares with the prominence of Jaqueline Rose’s work. This led to comparisons with non-British theorists within children’s literature, such as Perry Nodelman, and an exploration of how different social and geographical contexts affect the prominence of different works. In doing this, we also discussed which texts stand out as seminal reading and how these texts connect with the development of children’s literature as a discipline.
We ended the session by planning Semester 2 CLUGG meetings with the view to increasing the variety of activities and interests, such as student presentations and primary texts, and to move towards more student-led sessions now that the academic year is more established.
Session 2: 6th February 2019
In this session we welcomed Rachel Pattinson, the Vital North Partnership Manager, who kindly brought along books from the IBBY UK Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities (2017) from Seven Stories.
We spent the session exploring the books and discussing their features. We were all struck by the importance of communal reading as a theme across the books, with many encouraging collaborative reading between the reader and child, such as Morgh-e Sork-e Pa Kootah (The Little Red Hen), which Rachel and Helen read together using the step-by-step guide to unfold the tactile story.
With the collection featuring books in over 40 languages from a variety of countries, we also had the opportunity to discuss how the books reflected their cultures of origin and how this compares with our understanding of children’s literature as British scholars. Yasuhiro Hunimori’s Ren-chan hajimete no mitori: Obaachan no shi to mukiau (Good-bye great grand-ma: A young girl’s first encounter with end-of-life care-giving), an incredibly moving photographic picture book with realistic photos of death, is a good of example of this, as we considered such stark images to be unusual in British children’s literature. This prompted conversation around how representations of trauma in children’s literature vary greatly across cultures and how this can reflect distinct attitudes to children and childhood.
The collection also features portrayals of disability (category 3), a notable example being a graphic novel titled El Deafo (2014) by Cece Bell. It was interesting how this novel transformed the bullying taunt ‘deafo’ into a superhero persona (hence the novel’s title), and thus showed a young protagonist celebrating their own disability. We discussed the novel’s use of speech bubbles, in which the text fades or disappears entirely to reflect the protagonist’s hearing loss, and how these effectively communicated the main character’s disability in a way that was accessible to readers who may not have experienced hearing impairment.
More details about the collection can be found on the IBBY website.
Session 3: 13th February 2019
This week’s session centred around an article provided by doctoral candidate Rebecca Jane titled ‘“Away with dark shadders!” Juvenile Detection Versus Juvenile Crime in The Boy Detective; or, The Crimes of London. A Romance of Modern Times’ written by Lucy Andrew. We used the article to discuss ideas surrounding penny dreadfuls, such as their use in juvenile court cases as Andrew discusses and how their depiction of violence differed in comparison to other periodicals of the time, such as The Boy’s Own Paper.
This led to discussions on ideas from Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, such as how lurid descriptions and publicisation of a trial or a punishment can serve as a way of making the public an agent of control. We discussed this in the context of how violence was written about in the 19th century and then thought about how a degree of ‘acceptable’ criminality in the upholding of justice seemed to be a trope of the detective genre more generally.
We then discussed Andrew’s take on class and power tensions in The Boy Detective and explored the idea that penny dreadfuls could be a way of upholding conservatism through subversion; in other words, they can act as an abstract platform to explore ideas of criminality which exhausts the desire for this exploration in real life.
The latter part of the session then looked at ideas about radicalism in children’s literature and how different parenting styles globally can affect childhood experiences and the way that we ultimately come to research children’s literature. This led us to talk about attachment theory, the sacralisation of the mother/child relationship and how children’s literature traditionally reinforces this, and the adult fear of the loss of control over children as they mature. Through considering this, we recognised how our understanding of a text’s intended reader is socially constructed depending on context and how this must be considered when discussing texts.
Photo Credit: Rachel Pattinson, Vital North Partnership Manager, @rachelalmost. Texts from the IBBY Selection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities.
In this blog post, PhD candidate Helen King feeds back on our recent workshop on creative approaches to academic writing.
Within CLUGG we to like vary our activities as much as possible, and jump at the chance to learn new skills and develop as researchers. On the 13th March we had the pleasure of a visit from Ann Coburn, a children’s and YA novelist and playwright who lectures in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is an accredited Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Ann led us in a workshop on creative approaches to academic writing, using a variety of exercises to help us reflect on our work in progress.
Writing can be the hardest and also the most solitary part of a research process, requiring a balance of the methodical and the creative that is often hard to get right. Getting together to explore the writing process helped us dwell on the pleasure of the writing experience without the pressure of a looming deadline or set of criteria. This was also a challenge; as researchers we invest much of ourselves into our writing, and sharing our writing with a group required a certain level of vulnerability. Ann was good at getting each of us out of our comfort zones by tasking us with short bursts of writing without any planning, which we then shared with the group.
For one such activity, she handed rounded a bag of objects: an apple, coins, a bottle of water for instance. We were to choose something that could represent our work in progress (WIP, as you shall see written here), be it a PhD, Masters thesis, book or journal publication. We then wrote for 10 mins to explore why we felt drawn to that object as a analogy for our work. Here are some examples from three of us at CLUGG:
My work in progress is like a Danish kroner. It has value, both in the money it costs me to do and in the sentimental value it has in looking back at the same texts I used for my undergraduate dissertation and inspired my aspiration to be a researcher. Currency is passed from person to person and from pocket to pocket, accumulating more wear and marks as people exchange it. This is also what happens to research, as ideas are exchanged like currency. I borrow aspects of my research from the pockets of other researchers and hope to add to the wear and marks that they have made in my own use of it. The hole in the centre of the kroner is like the hole at the centre of my work in progress. The only difference between them is that the hole in the kroner is permanent, but the hole in my work is destined to be filled in.
My current WIP is a history of the Carnegie Medal. It’s like a pine cone, in that it has many small, individual parts, each of which is distinct, but which interlock to create a bigger thing. Unlike a pine cone, though, all the individual parts are quite different in size and shape – it’s not neat and regular. As with a pine cone, though, once you start pulling all those bits apart to look at them more closely, it’s really hard to fit them neatly back together again!
My WIP is like an onion because, to paraphrase the great poet Shrek, it has layers. And sometimes it stinks, and makes you cry. This PhD feels more vulnerable and personal than I think I had ever imagined it would. If it has layers, then my research is currently in the outer layers. This means that I don’t know what I’m going to find. I can guess – and the more I look the better my guesses get, but I am not going to know until I get in there with a good sharp knife. These outers layers, be it ‘children’s literary criticism’ or ‘reader response theory’ or ‘critical race theory’, have to be got through before I can get to the more specific details, the details that are really mine. And like an onion, what it needs is patience. You can’t expect to blast it over a gas flame for 3 mins and not have a charred mess. It needs time, low heat and a lot of butter.
In doing this exercise, we were surprised at how it revealed new ways of thinking about our research. For a few of us, there was a realisation of how much one personally invests in academic research, whilst it helped others to reimagine their position as a researcher as being like one part of a greater dialogue that made up their field.
The rest of the session was spent drawing associations between opposing themes within our research, and then free writing using these associations as a trigger. Free writing involves writing continuously for a set period of time, without planning, and without any particular regard for spelling, sentence structure or content. We were all surprised at how this exercise allowed us to see connections that we had not been able to see before, and to tap into a more intuitive of way of thinking about out subject.
As well as being good fun and getting us out of out comfort zones, this session has given all of us tools that we will be able to draw on as we continue with our research. Thanks go to Ann Coburn for her expert leadership, and PhD candidate Lucy Stone for organising the session.
Books always were my best friends; ever since I was a child they shared with me their facts and knowledge, their flights of imagination, with fun, dread and suspense.
There is always a bond between the author and reader, every book is a bridge, having something different to offer […] Books are lasting, they do not lose their leaves in autumn as trees do.
Tomi Ungerer, A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader 2018, 216
The Tomi Ungerer I first knew was not Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur, the prolific illustrator and trilingual writer of 140 books. Rather, he was Tomi Ungerer, the precocious child artist who, in the summer of 1940, aged 8, witnessed the Nazis invade his hometown in Alsace. A few months later, he recorded this sight on paper:
Many years after that date, this pencil drawing would illustrate his memoir of his childhood under the Nazis, first published in French as À la guerre comme à la guerre (1991, in German as Die Gedanken sind frei, 1993 and in English as Tomi: A Childhood Under the Nazis, 1998). By the time of this drawing, Ungerer could only sign his drawings TU within the safety of his home; in Nazi-occupied Alsace he had to change his name from Tomi (Jean-Thomas) to Hans (Johann). Street names, as well as resident’s first names changed from French to German; French books and berets were banned and one word of French, one bonjour, one merci would land you in an internment camp. Ungerer’s sister, Genevieve, who worked at the government prefecture during the war, would take home formulas and certificates of military allocations, and he would draw on the back of these. Ungerer drew, among other subjects, images of the Nazis; had they been discovered…
Thankfully, they were not. Tomi Ungerer’s mother conserved 500 of the drawings he made in his childhood (both before and during the war), and they formed part of the collection for the Musée Tomi Ungerer – Centre Internationale de L’Illustration in Strasbourg, which holds 11,000 graphic works by Tomi Ungerer and collections by artists such as André François, Maurice Henry and William Steig.
I have been fortunate to work on the collection of child art as part of a doctoral project exploring the significance of juvenilia in the formation of artists whose backgrounds include exile and war.
One of my museum visits coincided with the press conference for the museum’s 10th anniversary, and the museum curator, Thérèse Willer, kindly invited me and introduced me to Tomi Ungerer. I was very moved. There were many important people present, my spoken French was – and still is – abominable, but Tomi Ungerer took leave of them from time to time that morning to hear about my project and talk to me about his life, his influences. ‘Books are everything,’ he told me. Books? I was surprised. Was it not drawing that should have been everything to this remarkable artist? No, books, he said, books that he had read as a child had marked him for life.
Back in the museum library, Thérèse Willer showed me the Benjamin Rabier albums that Tomi Ungerer’s brother and sisters had handed down to him and contained his first scribbles, Jean de Brunhoff’s L’ABC de Babar, one of the few books that had been Tomi Ungerer’s very own as a child and that would in part inspire his Mellops family, the family of pigs in his first published children’s books.* She also spoke with me about the young Ungerer’s reading of Le Journal de Mickey and the books by the Alsatian artist Hansi (Jeans-Jacques Waltz). Mickey Mouse appears in drawings Tomi Ungerer made before and during the war: when Tomi Ungerer’s world was turned upside down, Mickey Mouse was a figure remnant from his pre-war world that provided him a reference point as he sought, on paper, to navigate the place his home had become.
Many of the soldiers he drew at this time (when not at school!) are not those of the Second but First World War; Tomi Ungerer’s dislike for the Nazis was in great part informed by the anti-German propaganda Hansi wrote and illustrated in his children’s books around the time of the so-called Great War.
the books read in childhood lay the foundations of a writer’s literary aesthetic; they provide the models, the anti-models, and the springboards for subsequent generations
Kimberley Reynolds, Radical Children’s Literature: Future Visions and Aesthetic Transformations in Juvenile Fiction 2007, 9.
In many ways, Hansi’s books became the anti-models for Tomi Ungerer’s work as an adult that fought against social injustice and prejudice and for pacifism. Firmly believing that children should not be shielded from the reality of war, his picturebook, Otto: the Autobiography of a Teddy Bear, which fictionalises some of his own childhood experiences, does not shy from the violence and persecution of the Second World War; schools in France often use the book to teach children about war and the Holocaust. Perhaps stemming from the role creativity played in his own childhood, he also strongly advocated for children to use their imaginations and stretch their minds (Ungerer always liked to include words in books child readers would not necessarily know).
On Saturday afternoon I saw that the Tomi Ungerer Museum had changed the profile picture on their Facebook page: a black circle; their cover photo a black banner. What exhibition is this for, I wondered, what is Tomi commenting on with this blackness in his latest artwork. Then I realised. These changes were not for an exhibition. There was no new artwork. Tomi was dead. Yet, as I learned the following day, yesterday, black was not only appropriate for marking our loss of Tomi, but also to represent one of his philosophies. In a video clip the Ungerer family posted, Tomi explains:
When I say far out is not far enough, it means that no matter how far you’re thinking […] no matter how far it is, it’s still not far enough. Because one challenge [to be] worthy at all has to be followed by a greater challenge. It’s the unknown, that’s what’s really fantastic about death and death is to be welcomed, and when I die I’ll find out what’s behind the far out. Maybe there’s nothing. But nothing is fantastic too, because if you’re faced with nothing, you can fill it up with your mind.
Tomi, whatever may or may not be behind the far out, may your incredible imagination serve you well.
Wanted! Outstanding candidates interested in fully-funded doctoral projects in collaboration with Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Seven Stories is a groundbreaking museum, archive and visitors’ centre with a mission to preserve and celebrate Britain’s rich heritage of children’s literature. As the National Centre for Children’s Books, Seven Stories hold manuscripts, artwork and archival material relating to British children’s books from c.1930 to the present day, representing over 250 leading authors and illustrators ranging from Enid Blyton to Michael Morpurgo, and correspondence and other material from editors and publishers. See here for an overview of current holdings. Seven Stories shares this collection with the public through events in their visitor centre, and exhibitions which tour nationally. Through their award-winning creative learning and engagement programme they work closely with schools and community groups.
To take advantage of this opportunity you will:
be a resident of UK or EU
be seeking to begin a PhD in October 2019
have an outstanding academic record, including a first degree in a relevant subject and (in most cases) a master’s degree either in hand or shortly to be completed OR relevant and equivalent working experience
have an interest in working on a doctoral project in collaboration with Seven Stories, in one or the areas listed below.
Applications for a Collaborative Doctoral Award are invited in the following research areas:
Children’s and youth literature projects will make substantial use of one or more archival collections at Seven Stories. Critical and creative projects will be considered. While the Seven Stories collection represents material from the 1930s onwards, proposals on the history of children’s literature, as well as work focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, are welcomed. Themes of interest to Seven Stories in this application round are:
Makers of children’s literature: children’s book history; editing; publishing; education; bookselling
The art of children’s books: children’s book illustrations; picturebooks; comics; development of printing technologies; art history; visual experience; materiality
Childhood and place: national identity; global childhoods; cosmopolitanism; heritage and historical fiction
The child and the book: children; childhood heritage; literary heritage; the book as object; memory; childhood reading; reading contexts Museum and gallery studies projects will focus on Seven Stories’ role as a museum, focussing on our visitor centre and touring exhibition programme. Themes of interest to Seven Stories in this application round are:
Children and museums: children; young people; early years; museums; galleries; heritage; archives; digital technologies
Creative practice projects are invited in any artistic medium or discipline, that respond to our collections, spaces, work and audiences, and could adopt the form of residencies within our venues. Themes of particular interest to Seven Stories are:
The evolution of children’s books: children’s books; production; experience; distribution; experimental practice; participation; collaboration
The future of storytelling: storytelling; technology; artificial intelligence; machine learning; immersive technologies; interactivity; virtual reality; augmented reality; mixed reality In each of these research areas, we particularly welcome projects which explore themes around inclusion, diversity and representation: race and heritage; disability; gender and gender identity; sexual orientation; age; socio-economic status; religion; culture; children’s rights and human rights.
How to register an interest in a Collaborative Doctoral Award with Seven Stories:
Potential applicants are asked to select the research area they would like to pursue, and contact Dr Annie Tindley (email@example.com) to discuss ideas. They will then submit a project summary which will undergo an initial assessment in November 2018. Projects selected at that point will be supported into the main competition. For more information about Seven Stories please explore the website.
For queries about eligibility, suitability and for general enquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Current Northern Bridge Collaborative PhD Student Helen King says of the application process:
I found Seven Stories and my supervisors really supportive throughout the Northern Bridge process. It’s a lengthy process and I felt daunted by it at the start, but they were enthusiastic about my ideas whilst also challenging me to keep improving my proposal. I was made really welcome when I came for a visit so I got a real sense that I’d enjoy studying here. It’s important to remember that your potential supervisors have a wealth of expertise both on their subject and the application process. It’s also worth remembering that if they have accepted your expression of interest it means that they think your research is exciting and worth doing, and they will be rooting for you to get a place.
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.
Our second Children’s Literature Open Day for this academic year was held on February 8th 2017. It was a great chance to welcome visitors to Newcastle and to showcase the kind of work we do here at Newcastle. We were also lucky enough to welcome Costa Award-winner Frances Hardinge to Newcastle for a public event.
All about the Children’s Literature Unit
We kicked off with an introduction to the Children’s Literature Unit by Dr Lucy Pearson, who is just one of a great team of children’s literature scholars here at Newcastle. Professor Kimberley Reynolds (19th and 20th century children’s literature), Professor Matthew Grenby (18th century children’s literature), and Dr Pearson (modern and contemporary children’s literature) are at the heart of the Children’s Literature Unit, but they are joined by Creative Writing colleagues Ann Coburn and Zoe Cooper – both award-winning authors for children – and by a host of colleague whose work deals with children and childhood, including Professor Kate Chedgzoy (Renaissance childhoods), Dr Helen Freshwater (child performers and family theatre) and Dr Martin Dubois (Victorian nonsense rhyme and fantasy literature). This diverse team takes a whole range of approaches to children’s literature studies, but perhaps the most distinctive aspect of children’s literature at Newcastle is a common interest in historical approaches and book history. In different ways, CLU scholars are interested in how children’s books came to be and how they live in the world.
Alongside the staff who work in this area, there are of course our brilliant postgraduate students, who meet twice a month to share their work (and to create this blog!). Having a thriving group of scholars and students working on different aspects of children’s books means there is always someone to share your ideas with, a chance to learn something new, and a place to get a bit of moral support.
Studying at Newcastle
Two of our postgrads came along to share their experiences of Children’s Literature at Newcastle. Masters student Liam Owens spoke about the research he’s been doing on the MLitt in Children’s Literature. Liam says:
“Studying the MLitt is fantastic. It gives me the freedom to research the areas of children’s literature which interest me, and the structuring of the course means I’m able to write on as few or as many topics as I like. This term I’ve just completed a research assignment on the representation of the posthuman in the works of twice Carnegie winner, Patrick Ness. Now I’m in the middle of conducting research on digital story apps and arranging empirical research with a local primary school. Without the MLitt, I would never have been given the opportunity to research children’s literature in such diverse ways.”
Lucy Stone spoke about her PhD research, which draws on the amazing archives at Seven Stories:
I was 13 and beginning to learn German when I first read Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971). The story stuck with me over the years. It was at the University of Cambridge while I was undertaking an MPhil in Education that I learnt of Seven Stories here in Newcastle where Kerr donated, along with the manuscripts of her published picturebooks and novels, her childhood drawings, paintings and writings. I was struck by their colour, light and life, which appeared to be in contrast to the childhood of exile I understood Kerr to have led, despite the light and warmth infused in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Newcastle University works in close collaboration with Seven Stories and I was very fortunate to be awarded first a David Almond Fellowship and now a Research Excellence Academy Studentship to study the Collection and find out how and why Kerr’s juvenilia resounds with such joy and shows a humanity and remarkable talent.
Seven Stories and the Robinson Library
One of the most exciting aspects of working on children’s literature at Newcastle is our partnership with Seven Stories: the National Centre for Children’s Books. Archivist Kris McKie came along to share some details of the collection, which now represents over 250 authors and illustrators! You can explore the collection on the Seven Stories website, and if you’re interested in coming to work on archive material keep a look out for our annual David Almond Fellowships, which provide small bursaries to support work on the Seven Stories Collection.
The University’s Robinson Library also has fantastic children’s literature collections, including the Book Trust collection, and an extensive collection of modern and contemporary British children’s books.
Fantasy Worlds with Frances Hardinge
We were beyond thrilled to finish our Open Day with a fantastic event with Frances Hardinge! Frances’ books are favourites here in the Children’s Literature Unit and when our partners at Seven Stories suggested we might be able to invite her for a joint event we were very excited. The event was an in-conversation with PhD student Aishwarya Subramanian, whose research on British children’s fantasy after Empire has given her lots of thoughts on fantasy worlds and the way that authors play with them.
The discussion ranged from the role of the YA writer to the place of the fantasy author in our current political context. Frances spoke about her interest in times of transition: many of her books focus on historical moments of change (the impact of Darwinism in The Lie Tree; the aftermath of World War One in Cuckoo Song) or feature actual revolutions (Gullstruck Island andTwilight Robberyto name just two!). These ideas of transition seem especially relevant now, and Frances spoke about her desire to encourage readers to ask questions and the pleasure of writing for young people, who are naturally given to this.
Frances also spoke about the flexibility of young readers, which affords her the opportunity to write books which don’t conform to any one genre. In merging genres, she also takes the opportunity to pull in lots of interesting ideas she’s picked up along the way – her approach to history was a great reminder of just how much fun research can be!
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was Frances’ spontaneous recitation of the whole of ‘Jabberwocky’, which was word perfect. The poem helped to instil a love of language in Frances at a young age – one which has gone on to enrich and enliven her books. We can’t wait to see which worlds she wanders into next, and whether she finds a good use for place names such as Clenchwarton (a small village in Norfolk).
Find out more
If you’re interested in studying children’s literature at Newcastle, find out more on our children’s literature pages or contact one of the Children’s Literature Unit. If you’d like to know about future public events, join our mailing list.