Brian Alderson donates rare children’s book collection

Dr Brian Alderson, a long-standing supporter of Newcastle University and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books, is donating his amazing children’s book collection jointly to both organisations. In this blog post, I reflect on meeting Brian, and my experience of his work and his collection.

Brian describes himself as ‘a student of children’s books’. But when I first met Brian, as he gave a Looking at Children’s Books talk on the ‘fairy tales’ of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, illustrated with books from his personal collection, it was clear to me that he is an authority on their work. Such a detailed understanding of the tales’ origins, their translation, their illustrators and publishers could only be acquired through a lifetime of researching them.

Dr. Brian Alderson gives a Looking at Children's Books talk at the Philip Robinson Library. Image: Newcastle University
Dr. Brian Alderson gives a Looking at Children’s Books talk at the Philip Robinson Library. Image: Newcastle University

In fact, I would go as far as calling Brian a true expert on children’s books. He seems to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of children’s literature, from its origins to the present day. Brian is an informed and thorough critic, an author and translator, a previous children’s books editor for The Times, and has done much to further the study of children’s books bibliography and history.

Yet Brian is always modest about his expertise. In 2016, when Newcastle University the importance of Brian’s work by awarding him an honorary doctorate, Brian accepted by saying, ‘I do not quite perceive, despite the kind words of the orator, why I ought to be here… I’m not sure that I’m deserving anything of this honour that is laid upon me.’ I guess that more than anyone, Brian is aware of how much there is still to know in the field of children’s literature studies…

Newcastle University awarded Dr Brian Alderson an honorary degree in 2016. Image: Newcastle University
Newcastle University awarded Dr Brian Alderson an honorary degree in 2016. Image: Newcastle University

Last year I was also lucky enough to visit Brian and explore his extraordinary children’s book collection, which goes far beyond editions of Grimm and Andersen (although it does include plenty of those)! From unique examples of early children’s books, to editions of classic children’s books that I’ve never come across, to original illustrations, it’s a real treasure.

So it is hugely exciting for Seven Stories and Newcastle University that Brian is donating his collection to our two institutions, and a milestone for the Vital North Partnership. We share the aim that Newcastle becomes a centre for excellence in children’s literature – and for our collections, research, teaching and public engagement, Brian’s generous donation is truly excellent news.

The History of Goody Two Shoes; with the adventures of her brother Tommy. Embellish'd with elegant engravings. Glasgow: Published by J.Lumsden & Son, & sold by Stoddart & Craggs, Hull. Price Sixpence, no date [circa.1814].
This 1841 edition of The History of Goody Two Shoes from Dr Brian Alderson’s collection will feature in the Robinson Library’s summer exhibition, A Lilliputian Miscellany.
To mark the start of the transfer of the Alderson collection to Newcastle, the Philip Robinson Library will be hosting an exhibition curated by Brian himself, A Lilliputian Miscellany, which will be on display from June to August 2017. Brian will also be giving a Looking at Children’s Books talk, Every book has its own history: Reflections of a collector of children’s books on Wednesday 14th June, 5.30pm in Room 152, Philip Robinson Library. Both the exhibition and talk are free entry, and all are welcome.

Thank you, Brian!

Find out more about Brian and his work on the Brian Alderson website, or view the items from Brian’s collection that have already been catalogued on Newcastle University’s Library Search.

First year work shadowing at Seven Stories

The graduate job market is competitive. Alongside academic performance, employers are looking for students with relevant work experience. Demonstrating your employability is key, and it’s never too early to start – which is why Newcastle University’s Careers Service offers a work shadowing programme for first year students.

As part of the 2016/17 programme, Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books welcomed three first year students to their Visitor Centre to shadow our Learning and Participation and Front of House teams for a day over the Easter vacation. I talked to the students about what they got out of the experience…

Hello Akiba, Hannah and Katy! Tell me about your first impressions of Seven Stories.

Akiba: It’s even more exciting than I anticipated!

Hannah: And so colourful!

Tell me about your studies.

Hannah: We all study English Literature at Newcastle University, so we sort of knew each other before we came to shadow at Seven Stories. We’re all in our first year – so far, I love it!

Hannah in the Michael Morpurgo exhibition. Image taken by Katy.
Hannah in the Michael Morpurgo exhibition. Image taken by Katy.

How did you find out about the First Year Work Shadowing programme and secure this placement at Seven Stories?

Katy: I met Rachel at the Seven Stories stand at the Creative Careers event on 1st March and signed up for more information about placements. Then, Rachel contacted me with about the First Year Work Shadowing opportunity, and I emailed her with my CV and a couple of paragraphs on why I was interested in the placement.

What attracted you to undertake a work shadowing placement at Seven Stories?

Hannah: I visited Seven Stories as a child – so I wanted to see what careers here were like as an adult!

Akiba: I’m interested in going into a career in publishing, and Seven Stories encourages children to explore the world of books, so I was attracted to explore careers related to the publishing industry.

Katy and the unicorn in the Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories gallery. Image taken by Akiba.
Katy and the unicorn in the Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories gallery. Image taken by Akiba.

So what have you been up to during your work shadowing placement?

Katy: I sat in on Beth’s school session with the Reception class in the Studio. First we had a workshop, which the kids loved – and it was really interesting to see how Beth changed the activity every ten minutes or so to keep the children engaged. She gave every child the chance to participate and she knew how to get everyone’s attention when she wanted the class to listen.

Hannah: It was really interesting to watch how the teachers interacted with the Storycatchers, too. Today we’ve seen careers at Seven Stories and careers in teaching.

Akiba: We went to watch a storytime with Cathy, and I loved the performance aspect! I don’t think I could do it though. We also spent time in the exhibitions, reading books in the bookshop and talking to the Front of House team.

Akiba in the Michael Morpurgo exhibition. Image taken by Katy.
Akiba in the Michael Morpurgo exhibition. Image taken by Katy.

What have you learned from today, and what impact will your work shadowing placement have on your studies at Newcastle University?

Hannah: We’ve recently been having some lectures on children’s literature by Professor Kim Reynolds, and there’s more to children’s books than you might think. Today’s visit has definitely reinforced that: children’s books are about children’s first steps into reading and they play a really important role in language development.

Katy: Reading the books in the bookshop also made me think that children’s books can represent serious and dark themes – Pandora by Victoria Turnbull was heartbreaking. And images can be just as important as the words in children’s books.

Any final comments?

Akiba: I truly appreciated the kindness of the Seven Stories team for being so warming, making me feel comfortable and answering on any questions that I had. Thank you!

Exploring the IBBY Honour List

Seven Stories is the national home of children’s books in the UK, and a member of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY). This Spring, the IBBY Honour List Collection came to Seven Stories – and students and staff from Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics had the chance to explore it, too!

IBBY describes the Honour List as ‘a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books, honouring writers, illustrators and translator from IBBY member countries.’ IBBY sections from around the world recommend books for the Writing, Illustration and Translation Honour List categories.

Collections of the Honour List books are then circulated around the world, travelling between institutions, conferences and book fairs, which fulfils IBBY’s objective to ‘encourage international understanding through children’s literature’. And this year, Seven Stories were lucky enough to recently host the IBBY Honour List for Illustration!

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

Having such an amazing international collection in Newcastle also seemed like a great opportunity for Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit, so I got in touch with colleagues there and organised opportunities for staff and students to explore the Honour List.

First, I took the collection up to the University to the Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group. We spent around an hour looking at the different items and discussing which books we were particularly drawn to. Professor Kim Reynolds, who led the session, said: ‘I loved the way many of the authors and illustrators play with the idea of the book as an art form and the variety of shapes and ways of understanding “the book” they exhibited.’ MLitt student Jennifer Shelley said: ‘What really stuck me as a whole were the similarities (e.g. common themes such as empowered children) but also the differences: some books looked quite traditional and even old-fashioned, possibly because publishing of children’s books is at different stages in different countries.’

Staff and students from the Children's Literature Unit Graduate Group discuss the IBBY Honour collection. Image: Newcastle University
Staff and students from the Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group discuss the IBBY Honour collection. Image: Newcastle University

The same afternoon, Dr Helen Limon and the MA in Creative Writing students visited Seven Stories and explored the IBBY Honour List as part of their seminar. With this group, there was a lot of discussion about the different stories the books were telling. Student Caitlin Kendall said: ‘I thought the collection was really fascinating in that it seemed to highlight some universal themes for children such as belonging, identity, recognition and philosophy whilst at the same time highlighting some profound cultural differences in what is appropriate in literature for children in terms of narrative, illustration and message.’

MA in Creative Writing students exploring the IBBY Honour Collection. Image: Newcastle University
MA in Creative Writing students exploring the IBBY Honour Collection. Image: Newcastle University

I had two opportunities to explore the collection – my favourite item? So difficult to choose, but I particularly loved Zullo and Albertine’s Mon Tout Petit (La Joie De Lire), nominated by Switzerland. And with these charming illustrations, it’s not difficult to see why…

Germano Zullo and Albertine's Mon Tout Petit, published by La Joie De Lire.
Germano Zullo and Albertine’s Mon Tout Petit, published by La Joie De Lire.

Fantasy Worlds with Frances Hardinge

Last month, Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit and Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books were delighted to welcome Frances Hardinge, award-winning author of The Lie Tree, to Newcastle for a very special event.

In conversation with the Children’s Literature Unit’s Aishwarya Subramanian, Frances talked about the borders between fantasy and reality and the inspiration for her writing. I asked Aishwarya about the experience of hosting the event…

Frances Hardinge signs books after her talk. Image: Newcastle University
Frances Hardinge signs books after her talk. Image: Newcastle University

Hi Aishwarya! Thank you so much for chairing Fantasy Worlds with Frances Hardinge. How was it for you?

It was terrifying! I’ve interviewed people before, but in print, where you have the luxury of editing (and of not being in front of a big audience). Once we’d got past the first couple of questions, though, it was a lot of fun.

How did the opportunity to take part in this event come about?

I’d discussed Frances’ last two books with other people in the Children’s Literature Unit as part of our Carnegie shadowing group in 2015 and 2016, and so everyone knew I had an interest in her work. Plus, my research is on British children’s fantasy, so I think they were hoping I’d have lots of things to ask.

What do you like about Frances’ writing?

Her books are odd and twisty and full of joy in language. Those are things I really responded to as a child (and still do). They’re also full of important things like moral complexity and revolutions and angry little girls. As an adult, I really appreciate that her books are pitched at a more middle-grade than young adult audience (insofar as those categories mean anything), because middle-grade fiction just doesn’t get enough love and it’s really good to see someone doing it so well and being celebrated for it.

Frances Hardinge reads from her novel, The Lie Tree, with Aishwarya Subramanian. Image: Newcastle University
Frances Hardinge reads from her novel, The Lie Tree, with Aishwarya Subramanian. Image: Newcastle University

How did you prepare for the event?

I speed-read (or tried to) my way through all her work again and wrote down many questions, most of which I ended up not asking because they were too specific. I didn’t quite manage to read every book—it was probably obvious to the audience which of the books were most fresh in my mind!

Were you surprised by any of the answers Frances gave to the questions you asked?

Not really—in most cases I was asking things I genuinely just wanted to know, so had no prior expectations of what she would answer. I did have a broad outline of what I wanted to discuss during the conversation, and had to reshuffle my questions a bit as things went on.

Tell me about your PhD research.

I study the presentation of physical space in British children’s fantasy over the mid-twentieth century, and connect that with the spatial politics of the end of the British Empire—essentially reading British fantasy as a form of postcolonial literature. I promise it’s a lot more fun than it sounds (and I get to write about some of my favourite books!).

Frances Hardinge signs copies of her books. Image: Newcastle University
Frances Hardinge talks to readers after the Fantasy Worlds event. Image: Newcastle University

Fantasy Worlds with Frances Hardinge was jointly hosted with Seven Stories. How have Seven Stories enhanced your studies at Newcastle?

My work is mostly text-based, so I’ve had less chances to use the archive than some researchers. But my research means that I have to think about things like what “British” children’s literature means, and nationhood, and heritage, and so having the national archive to hand is great. Plus, Seven Stories is a big part of why we’ve been able to establish a community of people who work on children’s literature, and having access to that community and the conversations it generates has been invaluable.

What have you learnt from hosting Fantasy Worlds with Frances Hardinge?

To rehearse my introductions, and not to try to speed read seven books! (Alternatively, never to interview prolific authors.)

Thanks Aishwarya! Aishwarya will be blogging as part of the Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog and maintains a personal children’s literature blog, Practically Marzipan. You can also find her on twitter @actuallyaisha.

Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit launches new blog

Interested in children’s literature? Then have a look at the new Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog!

It’s written and maintained by postgraduate students and staff from Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group. I’ll be contributing to the occasional post so I asked some of the other members of the group to introduce themselves, about their plans for the blog, and what they love about having Seven Stories in Newcastle…

Children's Literature in Newcastle blog.
Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog.

Roisin Laing

First Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog post: Children in Nineteenth-Century Australia

I plan to blog about: My research into nineteenth-century records about the education of Indigenous Australian children in New South Wales.

Favourite Seven Stories experience: I attended a Children’s Literature Masterclass organised by Newcastle University’s Children’s Literature Unit in 2015 and enjoyed exploring the Seven Stories archives during this event.

Aishwarya Subramanian gives a presentation at a meeting of the Children's Literature Graduate Group. Image: Newcastle University
Aishwarya Subramanian gives a presentation at a meeting of the Children’s Literature Graduate Group. Image: Newcastle University

Jennifer Shelley

First Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog post: A Fresher at Fifty

I plan to blog about: As well as my diary talking about the experience of going back to study after a 28-year gap, I expect to be blogging about mid-twentieth century fiction for girls. Subjects are likely to include career novels, Noel Streatfeild, Mabel Esther Allan and, for local interest, Lorna Hill and Elinor M Brent-Dyer, the author of the Chalet School books.

Favourite Seven Stories experience: Chatting to staff about the exciting treasures in the archive and plans for the future.

Lucy Stone

First Children’s Literature in Newcastle blog post: Imagining Wordsworth

I plan to blog about: A workshop on archival research for doctoral students held by the Wordsworth Trust and Northern Bridge at Dove Cottage and the Jerwood Centre in the gorgeous Lakes village of Grasmere.

Favourite Seven Stories experience: Every experience at Seven Stories is my favourite! There are no words to describe the sheer joy and excitement of looking at Judith Kerr’s juvenilia.

One of Judith Kerr’s watercolours made as a child, included in her memoir Creatures (2013). You can view the original at Seven Stories.
One of Judith Kerr’s watercolours made as a child, included in her memoir Creatures (2013). You can view the original at Seven Stories.

Talking of blogs, the Vital North Partnership blog has now been live for 6 months and has published 14 posts. And remember to take a look at the Seven Stories Collections blog and their All the Family blog too!