Musings on the 2018 NCRCL Open Morning

Emily Wilde, current MA student, writes…

The sun shone for the annual NCRCL Open Morning on Saturday 2nd June 2018 as delegates were welcomed on the registration desk by current PhD student Emily Corbett. The ground floor of the Duchesne building on the Digby Stuart Campus at Roehampton was home for the morning to a pop-up book shop, an exhibition of ‘Research Methods’ posters by MA students, displays of Carnegie books, animal stories from the Children’s Literature Collection and an inviting refreshment area. Amidst a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, new and current students met and chatted to staff and alumni over drinks and cakes (baked by the teaching staff!) before gathering for introductions from members of the NCRCL.

NCRCL events always involve cakes or biscuits

Beyond the MA: in conversation with alumni

To start the morning’s events, Dr. Alison Waller introduced and chaired ‘Beyond the MA’ with alumni Daisy Johnson and Mat Tobin to discover where life can lead after studying Children’s Literature at Roehampton University. Daisy spoke about the ways in which her MA had given “legitimacy” to her interests and provided a framework of resources and support within which to find her voice and gain the confidence to pursue a career which encompasses “a bit of everything”. Daisy described her various roles from blogging, writing articles, teaching and lecturing to working as a librarian and being ‘Writer in Residence’ for a Cambridge University creative writing project about the notoriously busy A14 road! She talked about her research into ‘landscapes’ for her MPhil and her fascination with mapping, explaining the exciting possibilities offered by being able to journey around the UK visiting significant sites encountered in children’s literature through a “filter of fictionality”.

Daisy Johnson

Mat echoed Daisy’s endorsement of Roehampton’s MA in Children’s Literature as “interesting challenging and engaging”, describing how it had provoked a “thirst for reading” and provided the opportunity to move in new directions from his career as an Assistant Head in a Primary School to Lecturing at Oxford Brookes University and now pursuing a PhD. He described how his first MA module had taught him to read books in a completely different way, taking account of theoretical perspectives such as structuralism, feminism and semiotics which subsequently led to the writing of an original Marxist fairy tale for his dissertation. Mat spoke of his current research into the presentation of landscape in children’s fiction, following his discovery of the work of author Alan Garner. Speaking of his interest in history and mythology, Mat described how this has shaped his research into the potential for children to connect with their local environments through the books that they encounter. He talked passionately about his determination to champion the power of children’s literature in the classroom and the importance of bringing together teachers, children, authors and illustrators to enable positive engagement with ‘reading for pleasure’.

Mat Tobin

Zoe Jaques: on animals in children’s literature

Following a break for more delicious refreshments and the chance to view the MA poster presentations, we were fortunate to be able to listen to an entertaining and compelling talk by Zoe Jaques, Fellow in Education and Children’s Literature at Homerton College, Cambridge and author of the fascinating Children’s Literature and the Posthuman: animal, environment, cyborg. Zoe talked about her work in the complex field of human/animal relations. She emphasized that, “animals and children are repeatedly and continually brought into dialogue with one another” and the irony which exists in the fact that humanity appears to consider itself to be hierarchically superior to animals but nevertheless, repeatedly adopts an “animal spokesperson” as the dominant mode of teaching children how to be human! Discussing anthropomorphism and using examples from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Zoe discussed the potential that exists within children’s literature for exploring and blurring the boundaries between animals and humans.

Zoe Jacques

The end of this enjoyable and enlightening NCRCL Open Day was marked by a celebration of current student’s achievements: Emily Wilde and Irit Collins won prizes for their Research Methods posters, Jessica Taylor won the Lathey dissertation prize, Jill Osborne won the Hancock prize for distance learning achievement and Nicola Oakes-Monger won the Pinsent Prize for on-site achievement.

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About Alison Waller

I am a Senior Lecturer at the National Centre for Research in Children's Literature (NCRCL) at Roehampton University in London. My main research areas are young adult fiction and the practice and philosophy of reading. My monograph Constructions of Adolescence in Fantastic Realism was published by Routledge in 2009 and I have also edited a collection of essays for the Palgrave Macmillan New Casebook Series on Melvin Burgess (2013). I am currently working on a project called Rereading Childhood Books: a Poetics, which asks how adults reread and negotiate relationships with books from their pasts.

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