You know how you go to an event and you promise yourself you will do an interesting blog post about it tomorrow? But tomorrow various busy things happen and you get to 5pm and you’ve done many things but not a blog post. So I’m going to try and do a catch up post of several of those events…
Peter Hunt (12 Feb 2013)
Ransome’s Rivals: Arthur Ransome and Children’s Literature of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.
It was slightly stunning to meet the author of so many of the children’s literature textbooks who was talking about lesser known books from between the two golden ages of children’s literature. This time had previously been described as “dull” and “retreatist” but it was now been reassessed. After all, it includes many memorable books and writers – William, The Hobbit, Mary Poppins and Arthur Ransome to name a few. The prevailing idea before was that children’s fiction of this era was ignoring important social movements. Hunt has struggled to find children’s books of the era which refer to things such as the Spanish Civil War. But does that prove they are “retreatist”?
Publishers did ask some writers to ignore the Second World War, however there were also incredibly popular books which focused on the war and it’s repercussions such as Visitors from London (Kitty Barne), I go by Sea, I go by Land (P. L. Travers) and We couldn’t Leave Dinah (Mary Treadgold). This shows children’s fiction was fully able to take on the war and produce stories which were popular with readers both at the time and afterwards.
Brian Alderson “How are we doing, Miss Butler?”: the children’s literature collections of the Robinson Library
(17 April 2013)
The lecture was preceded by a quick introduction to a new AHRC Cultural Engagement funded project to research Brian Alderson’s own archive and collection of children’s books as well as his own stories and recollections relating to those collections. This was described by Dr Kate Wright and Dr Tara Bergin and it sounded an absolutely fascinating project and I think many of the audience really envied their jobs over the next three months. They are aiming to digitise selected items, create a websiite and record some of Brian’s stories into an oral archive.
Brian then took the floor to talk about what had been the Joan Butler collection at Herfordshire County Libraries. He was disappointed to discover that many of the early eighteenth and nineteenth century books had disappeared before it had reached Newcastle but he still had some interesting pieces to talk about.
Sarah Brown “I am Malala” Annual Fickling Lecture (25 April 2013)
Sarah has blogged herself about giving this lecture and even kindly includes the full text which is wonderful for those who couldn’t make it to Newcastle.
Sarah emphasised first the importance and the power of stories and their impact on the world in which we live. She quoted Pullman’s lovely idea about the space between the reader and the book where your own ideas are given back to you clarified and magnified. I could immediately relate to that feeling. She continued the theme by affirming that literature and reading is not just a way of passing time, it was about finding meaning and books can teach children complex moral lessons. Stories have the power to tell us who we are. This is why the most terrifying thing for the Taliban is a girl with a book…
This led neatly into Sarah’s focus for the evening of education and the need for every child around the world to be in education. There is a goal set by world leaders in 2000 that all children should have a place in school by 2015 but currently that goal is still 61 million children short of being met… So the campaign is on to force world leaders not to forget their promise at A world at School
She wasn’t asking for our money, just our voice. To sign up to receive the newsletter, the tweets and to forward them to our followers and friends. Simple and effective. So do go and read the speech and sign up.
Brian Alderson “Enid Blyton and the big red ledger” (22 May 2013)
This lecture was held at Seven Stories who also kindly allowed us to visit the Enid Blyton exhibition (including sitting in the Noddy car…) to see the huge range of work Blyton created in her 600-700 works. Brian emphasised however, that the thread running through all her work was Education. She was trained as a Froebel teacher and one of her earliest efforts was a Teachers Treasury with ideas for work, stories, poems and plays. One unusual element was “Unfinished Stories” to be used for teaching narrative. A very forward thinking idea!
Natural history also runs through her work and she clearly believed that children should have a knowledge of animals, birds and the countryside. Even her Nature Readers are constructed around a story with an accompanying reference book to give the detail. She is converting instruction into a narrative. Brian also highlighted the immense variety in how her work is illustrated.
He then talked about the problem Blyton posed for librarians and their worries that there would be no urgency for a child to read anything else and her storytelling was limited in what it had to offer. After all, it was generally 2 boys, 2 girls and an animal in her adventure series with minimal differences between them. Oh, and the animal usually rescues the children at some point…. Brian asked “What did these children go on to read?” Well, as a Blyton child myself, I went on to read an awful lot but I do still have a love for series fiction. Perhaps that’s a Blyton legacy?