Welcome to the new NCRCL blog. To start things off, I thought I’d post something I’ve put on my personal blog but which makes sense here as well.
I am writing today about the work I do at the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL) at Roehampton University in London. I thought some people might be interested in knowing more about what this sort of degree involves.
I originally came to do the MA myself in September 2001. I had been working in children’s publishing for the previous seven years, and while I enjoyed the creative process of editing and helping art direct/design picture books, I was getting fed up with the politics of the industry. I had absolutely adored my undergraduate study at Reed College, where I was able to write an undergraduate thesis on Victorian fantasy author George Macdonald. I loved researching and writing about children’s books in an academic context, but wasn’t ready then for further study (this was in 1992 – I feel so old!).
So back to 2001, I started trawling around the internet, and through finding out about the Children’s Literature International Summer School which was run at that time by the NCRCL, I also discovered that they had a Masters degree. I had looked at MAs in the US such as the one at Simmons, and discovered that it was significantly cheaper for me to do the one-year MA at Roehampton University in England than it was for me to study in the US. I’m not sure how much longer this will be true, as UK educational institutions are being forced to follow a more American model of pricing. But at the time, it was around a third of the cost.
So I figured, why not go to England for a year, learn more about books from a UK perspective, and get an MA degree at the same time. Modules I took included Critical Theory and Perspectives (CTP – required of all students), Visual Texts, British Children’s Literature 1900-1960, and Children’s Literature in Performance. I was especially impressed and engaged by the rigorous CTP module, which pushes students to apply various critical models, such as Marxism, Feminism or Psychoanalytic theory, to children’s books. I wrote my dissertation on graphic novels set around WWII and based on memories of the creators: Barefoot Gen, Maus and Ethel & Ernest. (There’s a list of dissertation topics up to this point here, and shows the breadth of topics people write about).
I graduated in 2002 with a great cohort of friends, many of whom I am still in touch with (such as Vanessa Joosen who teaches children’s literature at the University of Antwerp, Angela Colvert who teaches in the Education department at Roehampton University, Natasha Worswick who worked for Walker Books and now does freelance work for Booktrust, Posey Furnish who works at the General Teaching Council, and Leila Rasheed who is now a published children’s book author).
I am lucky now to be a part-time lecturer at the NCRCL. We are a close-knit team with a range of experience: Gillian Lathey, our director, whose expertise is children’s literature in translation; Lisa Sainsbury whose work currently focuses on children’s books and philosophy (alongside editing a series for Continuum); Liz Thiel who has published on the Victorian family and is now focusing on the degenerate child in nineteenth-century literature; and Alison Waller, who has published on YA fantasy and is currently looking at memories of childhood reading. Alison also runs the Distance Learning MA programme (DL) which has students from all over the world. It is a privilege to have five of us all teaching childen’s literature, as we can share ideas, resources and contacts.
While I primarily teach Creative Writing for a Young Audience to both MA and undergraduate students, I have also taught a DL Visual Texts module, as well as contributing to Children’s Literature in Migration, British Children’s Literature 1900-1960, and CTP. For the MA creative writing students, we meet once a week for a 2-hour session and focus on aspects of writing such as narrative voice, ideology and didacticism, the short story form, intertextuality and experimentation. Students write a short story for children and a self-critical analysis for their final submission. We have a combination of class writing exercises, peer review and tutorials to be sure that students get a good degree of feedback on their work. From my publishing experience, I am able to help students understand the children’s book market, but our main priority is learning the craft of writing for children.
I’m happy to answer questions if anyone has them. And I hope this helps anyone wondering about what is involved in a MA study of children’s literature.