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.
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…
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.
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. Copies of Brian’s exhibition catalogue, A Lilliputian Miscellany: Bio-bibliographical Notes on a Collection are available to buy via the Newcastle University Webstore. 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!