|NEW MONOGRAPH| ‘Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics’ by Alison Waller


Alison Waller is a Senior Lecturer at the NCRCL, University of Roehampton. She specialises in the practice of remembering and rereading childhood fiction, asking how adults negotiate relationships with books from their past.


Alison Waller’s excellent new monograph, Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics, is now available!

Click this link to go to Bloomsbury’s purchase page.

Front cover of Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics.


You can also hear about Alison’s ideas and her academic journey while writing Rereading Childhood Books on Episode Two of the Critical Attitudes podcast, hosted by Dr Nathan Waddell.



Ontological Dialogues & Metaphysical Structures: NCRCL Research Talk with Lisa Sainsbury

paul kidby
Illustration for Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Paul Kidby

“It’s not someone unless it can talk! Otherwise it’s just food!”
Ontological Dialogues and the Metaphysical Structures of Children’s Literature

Dr Lisa Sainsbury, NCRCL
Department of English and Creative Writing, University of Roehampton

In this talk I will reveal a pattern of dialogue that can be found in children’s books across different periods and cultures. The ‘ontological argument’ is a polemical vein that runs through dialogues in children’s literature from Tom’s Midnight Garden (1958) by Philippa Pearce to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014). Evaluations of power are central to dialogues that rehearse tensions between Kantian and Cartesian notions of existence as property — and I show that changing attitudes to childhood and its literature can be traced in the way these dialogues are framed. Some of these arguments are between one child and another (peer dialogues), as is the case in Pearce’s novel, while others are between adults and children (adult-child dialogues), as in The Book of Everything (2006) by Guus Kuijer. The dialogues offer a form for the working through of power relations rooted in and out of existential crisis. For the characters involved, being is at stake in the dialogue — ‘Nothing exists any longer. I don’t either’ (Kuijer 2006: 14) — and the common factor across these texts is this sort of ontological struggle. The wider significance of this existential concern is revealed by the ubiquity of such dialogue and I will suggest that close examination of the ontological argument is key to understanding the formal structures and deep concerns of children’s literature.

Wednesday 21st March 2018, 1-2pm*
Fincham Building, Fi 001
Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton


* Please note that this talk will be accompanied by a research talk by Dr Kate Teltscher: ‘“Gigantic children of the sun”: Kew’s Palm House and the Victorian Cultural Imagination’

Crossover Robinsonades: NCRCL Research Talk with Ian Kinane

NCRCL/English and Creative Writing Research Talk

‘Fairchild’s Noble Savage and the Social Contract in Several Classic Crossover Robinsonades’

 Dr. Ian Kinane, University of Roehampton

In this paper, I argue that the island trope in several Robinsonade narratives functions, in part, as a means of interrogating the relationship between individualism (the single, solitary Crusoe-figure who exists in isolation) and socialisation. I will examine the conflict between the individual castaway’s desires to subsist in isolation and the inevitable pull exerted by her/his obligation to the society or social model from whence she/he came. Using Fairchild’s concept of the noble savage (a watchful, reflective entity), I will explore the ways in which the child configures her/his relationship to others on the island, and the ways in which she/he carves out a metaphoric “I-land” for her/himself.

Detail from Neil Gower’s 2011 cover for William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Image via Gower.

Wednesday 30th November 2016, 1 pm

Duchesne 001, Digby Stuart, University of Roehampton


Tomorrow! Prof David Rudd on Enid Blyton at Scarborough Art Gallery

Image Source
Image Source

The Life & Work of Enid Blyton

Professor David Rudd, University of Roehampton

Scarborough Art Gallery

Friday 15th April, 7:30pm

If you happen to be in the North East tomorrow evening, Prof David Rudd will be speaking on Enid Blyton’s life and work, questioning the criticisms leveled against her and discussing her more positive and enduring qualities. Tickets are available in advance from the Scarborough Art Gallery 01723 374743.

Experiments in Rereading, a talk by Alison Waller

You are invited to a Reading, Writing and Memory Research Group seminar

Wednesday 13th January

1-2pm, Fincham 001 

‘Experiments in Rereading: childist criticism and the bibliomemoir’

Alison Waller, NCRCL 

When Hugh Crago mused in an article in Signal in 1979 ‘whether it could be useful if I, and some others, were to set down what we do recall about our reading habits in childhood’ he was a relatively lone voice representing an interest in autobibliography in the field of children’s literature. In the years following, autobibliography – or bibliomemoir – has become an increasingly visible and valid methodology for exploring questions about childhood reading, with critics and popular writers examining their own youthful reading histories from a variety of perspectives and for multiple purposes. In this paper, I focus particularly on the practice of rereading in autobibliographical criticism and in the boom of contemporary bibliomemoirs, exploring what adult voices can tell us about early reading experiences by reflecting on childhood books they have returned to later in life. This alternative ‘childist criticism’ raises new issues and reflects a range of assumptions about children and their personal reading, and in this paper I will set out some of the patterns of ‘compliance’ and ‘resistance’ that can be observed in accounts of rereading such as Francis Spufford’s The Child that Books Built (2002), Rick Gekoski’s Outside of a Dog (2009), and Patricia Meyer Spacks’ On Rereading (2011).


Scripted Learning: Talks by Dr Jane Carroll and Dr Amy Palmer

You are invited to an interdisciplinary research seminar with the

Department of English & Creative Writing:

Scripted Learning: plays and educational dialogue for children

Dr Jane Carroll and Dr Amy Palmer, University of Roehampton

Wednesday 23rd September, 1-2pm

Fincham 001, Digby Stuart, University of Roehampton

Dr Jane Carroll

National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature, Roehampton

“Instruction and Entertainment: Educational Dialogues in the Hammersmith & Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection”

Children are often overlooked in discussions of 19th century material culture and, perhaps because they do not earn and do not spend, are often assumed to be somehow outside of economy and to exist outside of the system of objects and the circulation of goods.  My work uses children’s literature as a window onto Victorian material culture and examines the way things were marketed to, mediated for, and used by children in the period. In particular, I evaluate the role of two popular genres – the ‘object lesson’ and the ‘it narrative’ – in inculcating child readers into contemporary material practices. My paper will focus on two texts from Roehampton’s recently acquired Hammersmith & Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection: Samuel Prout Newcombe’s Pleasant Pages (1853) and Annie Carey’s The Wonders of Common Things (1880).  Aimed at home educators, these texts transform ordinary household items into resources for object lessons and show the reader how a perfectly ordinary piece of cloth or a lump of coal can become the basis of a series of lessons about geography, history, geology, economy and even morality. Both Newcombe and Carey structure their texts as a series of dialogues – between a parent and child and between children and objects – which seek to draw child characters and readers into conversation, encouraging dialogic and playful learning. These texts aimed to instruct, but also to entertain and this paper will assess the tensions between didacticism and humour in these texts and the ways in which they blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, between pedagogy and play.


Dr Amy Palmer 

Early Childhood Research Centre, Roehampton

“Guiding creativity: British Froebelian educators and plays for children, 1891-1939”

The teaching of drama is by its nature associated with a child-centred, active approach to education where children are freed from desk-bound, formal instruction.  It is not surprising, therefore, that drama has had a long association with Froebelian educators in Britain, who, in the early twentieth  century, were keen to associate the name of their founder with emerging approaches to progressive education. Improvised role-play and children’s own creations have dominated British drama lessons since the second world war but in the first half of the century, many Froebelian educators used scripted material as a significant part of their teaching. This is evidenced by the fact that Child Life, the journal of the Froebel society’s British branch from 1891-1939, contained numerous advertisements for, reviews of and articles about plays written for children to perform.  In the pages of this journaland elsewhere, Froebelians discussed whether or not the use of this material was pedagogically appropriate, reflecting on key questions about the relationship between freedom (child-directed learning) and guidance (teacher input).  This paper offers an analysis both of this debate and of the scripted plays.  What emerges is that the playwrights, often Froebelians themselves, were frequently alive to the criticism that using adult-created material restricted children’s freedom.  They therefore sought ways to demonstrate their commitment to child-centred education by aiming to inspire children’s independence and creativity, both within the confines of the staged performances and within their wider lives.


Photo credit: Photo by Jane Carroll. From the Hammersmith & Fulham Early Children’s Books Collection, University of Roehampton.

Margaret Jull Costa wins 2015 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation

In September we announced that Dr Gillian Lathey, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, was a part of the English-Speaking Union‘s event to announce the shortlist for the 2015 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation. 

The Marsh Award23 January 2015 — The winner of the 2015 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation is Margaret Jull Costa for her translation of The Adventures of Shola, from the original Basque text by Bernardo Atxaga. The ceremony was held at Dartmouth House in London, the home of the English-Speaking Union, who have administered this award on behalf of the Marsh Christian Trust biennially since 2007. The Award has been offered since 1996 and celebrates, encourages and promotes the high quality of translated fiction for young readers.

Speaking of Jull Costa’s winning piece, the judges said, ‘this is a delightful book which can be enjoyed by anyone as it is full of humour, for young people and adults alike. There are delightful characters with very real personalities and some truly philosophical moments throughout. This is such an accessible text, made up of stories which are so satisfying to read aloud and the wonderful translation really makes the story come alive for a new audience.’ 

The Adventures of Shola translated

Margaret Jull Costa, the winning translator, told the assembled audience at Dartmouth House: ‘I am absolutely thrilled to win this award, because it’s a book I absolutely love, and because any translation prize is also a prize for the original author, in this case the wonderful Bernardo Atxaga and his equally wonderful illustrator Mikel Valverde. I would also like to say how important I think this prize is, celebrating as it does children’s literature in translation.’ 

Adam Freudenheim, Publisher and Managing Director at Pushkin Press said, ‘We are absolutely thrilled and delighted with this award and honour. It’s particularly gratifying as Shola was one of the first books I acquired for this new imprint, which was founded in 2013. It was a delightful surprise to find that Pushkin Press had 3 books on the shortlist, and even more delightful to find out that we had won! All credit must go to Margaret for her flawless translation, and for first bringing the book to my attention.’ 

Professor David Rudd on ‘The Imaginary World of Children’s Literature – and its Discontents’

The Department of English & Creative Writing

Professor David Rudd, NCRCL
The Imaginary World of Children’s Literature – and its Discontents

Child Reading

This paper seeks to tackle the cultural and historical roots of the problems involved in conceptualising children’s literature, which are forever enmeshed in definitions of what constitutes ‘the child’. It then examines more recent shifts in the field, which seek to open up spaces of childhood, although these too are handicapped by countervailing, institutional forces.
Wednesday 21st January 2015
1.00-2.00pm, Fincham 001
University of Roehampton

Boys and Girls, Then and Now

Boys and Girls, Then and Now:

Remembering Childhood Books / Some Perspectives on Childhood Reading

BAOn 8 October, Dr Alison Waller hosted an evening on childhood reading with Professor Peter Hunt and Dr Jane McVeigh at the University of Roehampton. It began with an exclusive tour of the Richmal Crompton Collection in the library, which includes not only a wide collection of Crompton’s published work and numerous drafts, notes and letters, but also her writing desk, as well as memorabilia such as a Just William boardgame.  

The Richmal Crompton Collection
The Richmal Crompton Collection
Dr Alison Waller
Dr Alison Waller


Dr Waller reported on her recent research project ‘Men Remember The Secret Garden,’ in which she interviewed male readers about their memories of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 classic and their impressions after re-reading the book. She explained how an important image such as the hidden door into the garden can be merged with real autobiographical memories (of a door in a wall on a childhood walk in Yorkshire, for example, or an encounter with a mysterious ruin in a jungle). She also argued that gendered readings might affect what and who is remembered over time, noting that Colin’s sickness and recovery play a particularly key role in male recollections. The project is part of a larger study on ‘Rereading Childhood Books’ which sees personal memories of reading childhood books as a valuable resource for academics.


Two of Dr Waller’s interviewees discussing the project with research student Sarah Pyke.
Two of Dr Waller’s interviewees discussing the project with research student Sarah Pyke.
Professor Peter Hunt
Professor Peter Hunt


Professor Peter Hunt provided a fascinating insight into his research for editing the centenary edition of The Secret Garden for Oxford University Press. To demonstrate that the way the reader encounters a book influences their reading, Professor Hunt mentioned various editions and paratexts of The Secret Garden, including picturebooks, films, and even a novel about making a film adaptation of The Secret Garden (Noel Streatfeild’s 1949 The Painted Garden). The Secret Garden has become “common property”, as Professor Hunt put it. [Secret Garden image] According to him, reasons for its lasting popularity may be the fact that it has been a crossover book from the beginning and that the author masterfully combined cultural references. She was, he said, “a magpie” who borrowed names, contemporary ideas of health, vitality and Christianity, as well as the garden metaphor for her own creative work. Although she was only one of many authors writing about gardens at the time, her story survived. Her work has become culturally embedded to the extent that, as Professor Hunt said, “even if we haven’t read it, we feel like we have.”


Before re-reading it as an adult, Professor Peter Hunt remembered The Secret Garden as a story of spooky rooms much like Jane Eyre and Heidi.
Before re-reading it as an adult, Professor Peter Hunt remembered The Secret Garden as a story of spooky rooms much like Jane Eyre and Heidi.


Richmal Crompton
Richmal Crompton


Finally, Dr Jane McVeigh who works on Richmal Crompton’s adult fiction, offered another perspective on childhood reading by sharing extracts from letters between Crompton and a young admirer of her work (to protect his identity, Dr McVeigh called him David). Upon Richmal Crompton’s reply to his first letter, David wrote that he now was “the happiest fellow alive”. From then on, the boy and his beloved author exchanged affectionate letters discussing not only the Just William books (and David’s kinship with the protagonist) but also their personal lives. Their friendship through correspondence lasted from 1953 until Richmal Crompton died in 1969; thirteen of these letters are held in the Richmal Crompton Collection.

Archives at the Richmal Crompton Collection
Archives at the Richmal Crompton Collection
6. Alison, Kate, Jane
Co-President of the Just William Society and Crompton’s great-niece Kate Massey (centre)

Dr McVeigh claims that the letters “are very much a story in their own right,” showing a special relationship between a child and his childhood reading but also hinting at the caring and loyal nature of the author. Her account was complemented by short talk by the Co-President of the Just William Society and Crompton’s great-niece Kate Massey, who, with plenty of humour, shared memories of her “Auntie”.

Lively discussions were also had by the attentive audience who lingered to share recommendations and reminisce about their childhood reading.
Lively discussions were also had by the attentive audience who lingered to share recommendations and reminisce about their childhood reading.


Prior to the event, participants had been asked to name a significant book they remembered reading in their childhood. A selection of those books was then presented on a book table.
Prior to the event, participants had been asked to name a significant book they remembered reading in their childhood. A selection of those books was then presented on a book table.
9. Kornelia
Kornelia Cepok

The event – and the ‘Men Remember The Secret Garden project – was funded by a British Academy and Leverhulme Small Grant. If you are interested in finding out more about ‘Rereading Childhood Books’ you can email Alison Waller at a.waller@roehampton.ac.uk.

If you would like to view the Richmal Crompton Collection or other parts of the children’s literature collection at Roehampton, please contact Kornelia Cepok at k.cepok@roehampton.ac.uk

Photographs by Anne Malewski

Remembering Childhood – David Almond and Nadia Budde

Bath Kids Literature FestivalHalf a Creature from the SeaOur childhood provides us with memories which influence our imagination throughout our lives.

At the Bath Children’s Literature Festival on Saturday 4th October Alison Waller talks to Skellig author David Almond about Half A Creature From the Sea, inspired by his childhood in the north-east of England. They are joined by award-winning German author Nadia Budde, who vividly recalls growing up in the GDR in her illustrated children’s book.

The event will take place at The Guildhall Hall, High Street, Bath, at 8pm and tickets are still available through the festival website.