Awards & Prizes!

Awards season is upon us here at the NCRCL, and as ever we’re delighted to celebrate the achievements of our MA and PhD students with prizes and pictures. On the red carpet this year…

The Pinsent Prize for outstanding work on the MA in Children’s Literature – on site

Eleanor Hamblen was awarded the Pinsent prize for outstanding work on the onsite programme. Elle’s coursework was of a very high standard overall but her it was her dissertation – entitled “Closer to Nature: miniature fantasies and environmental values in the work of Steve Augarde and Timothée de Fombelle” – was especially brilliant. On the surface, the dissertation was a straightforward comparison between the Touchstone trilogy (The Various 2003, Celandine 2005, Winter Wood 2008) by British author and illustrator Steve Augarde and the Tobie Lolness duology (La Vie Suspendue 2006, Les Yeux d’Elisha 2007) but Elle’s research revealed the many subtleties in these texts and showed that miniature children’s literature can convey complex environmental values. Elle showed that while Augarde’s and de Fombelle’s work emerges from very different fantasy traditions, both authors use miniature characters and miniature worlds to examine wider issues of ecological crisis and environmental responsibility.  As well as balancing theoretical engagement with careful close-readings of texts and illustrations, Elle provided her own translations of de Fombelle’s work.  As a result, the dissertation really showcased Elle’s skills, allowing her to build on the critical skills honed through the taught modules on the MA programme and draw on her own areas of expertise and experience.  The result was a sophisticated and impressive piece of work.

Elle receives her award from Chancellor Jacqueline Wilson

Elle receives her award from Chancellor Jacqueline Wilson.

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Carnegie Roehampton Readers Review: Rooftoppers

Carnegie Greenway Medals

The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at Roehampton University to discuss the books, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove. 

Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

By Eleanor Hamblen

Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers begins with a baby floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel. All that follows is equally distinctive as both the protagonist, Sophie, and the story grow into something rather exceptional.

Happily, Sophie is fished out of the water by fellow shipwreck-survivor Charles Maxim who is perhaps a more stereotypical scholar than tightrope-walking Katherine Rundell, herself a fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. He claims to “understand books far more readily than [he understands] people” but as the story unfolds Charles displays an intuitive understanding of his young ward with “hair the colour of lightening” and “eyes the colour of candlelight”, enabling and encouraging her adventures.

Rooftoppers by Katherine RundellThe first chapters chart Sophie’s unconventional early years in London. There is more than a hint of Pippi Longstocking in her upside-down habits of replacing plates with books and sleeping on top of a wardrobe. Such eccentricities are the cause of much sighing, frowning and note scribbling from Miss Elliot, a representative of the National Childcare Agency. On Sophie’s twelfth birthday, this oppressive organisation threatens to take her away from Charles which prompts their escape to Paris in search of Sophie’s long-lost mother.

Facing more difficulties with the French authorities, Sophie is forced onto the Paris skyline while Charles seeks legal advice. It is here that she encounters the “rooftoppers” or “sky-treaders”, a ragged troop who give us an insight into their bird’s eye view of the world. With their help, Sophie confronts her fears as she scales Notre Dame and leaps from roof to roof in pursuit of her quest.

Rooftoppers features traditional tropes of children’s literature such as orphans and rapturous descriptions of midnight feasts. However, Rundell’s voice is fresh and she handles these familiar images in interesting ways. For example, the “rooftoppers” are adamant that they are not street children since the street belongs to everyone. Their life is hard but private and liberated, they repeatedly claim that “the sky belongs to [them]”.

The reference to street urchins is one of just a few details which anchors the story in the nineteenth-century. There is also mention of an icebox, a horse and carriage and, significantly, the fact that women do not play cellos. The historical setting is not emphasised and the dialogue can appear incongruously modern at times but this is forgiven as the reader is swept away by Rundell’s style, characterisation and well-crafted plot.

Sophie’s guiding principle, inherited from Charles, is to “never ignore a possible” and her hopeful determination is what drives the narrative towards its thoroughly satisfying conclusion. Rigid convention and attempts to limit female agency are criticised in favour of imagination and bravery which the book’s child characters possess in spades.

Rooftoppers is Katherine Rundell’s second novel (her first novel was Girl Savage) and has already been awarded the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. I feel that this original, uplifting and completely charming story would also be a worthy recipient of the Carnegie Medal.

Book Review Series: Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle

The NCRCL Book Review Series is a monthly series written by  NCRCL students and published on the first Wednesday of every month. The aim of this series is to reflect the diverse research areas of NCRCL’s students and open a dialogue about particular texts, themes, and traditions. 

Review of Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone

By Eleanor Hamblen

Toby Alone

Tobie Lolness, the eponymous hero of Timothée de Fombelle’s Toby Alone, is just one and a half millimetres tall and on a mission to save his parents along with the tree in which they live. This thoroughly enjoyable debut novel is an action-packed adventure story with emotional depth and an ecological message at its core.

The narrative begins in medias res as Toby lies injured and hunted, a fugitive from the miniature community which populate the tree. This exhilarating opening anticipates the pace of the narrative, bounding from episode to episode and interspersed with flashbacks. We learn that Toby’s current predicament is the result of his father’s discovery of a process which harnesses the tree’s energy. Professor Sim Lolness refuses to share the secret of his findings for fear of their potentially devastating effect. This enrages Jo Mitch, the greedy industrialist and dictator, who first banishes the Lolness family to the lower branches and then imprisons them. Having escaped, Toby must act quickly to divert both personal and environmental catastrophe.

In his contribution to the well-established miniature tradition within children’s fantasy Fombelle creates an immersive alternative world which readjusts the reader’s perspective. The tree represents the entire universe of the characters and thus the weevil, previously nothing more than a minor pest in eyes of the reader, is transformed into a monstrous creature which is capable of large-scale environmental destruction. Toby inherits his father’s deep admiration for the tree and a desire to preserve its life-giving force at all costs. Fombelle’s ecological agenda is clear and yet his didactic intentions do not detract from the imaginative delight of the story. Toby Alone strikes a balance between suspenseful action, relieving humour and compelling characterisation. Admittedly some characters, particularly Toby’s enemies, are rather two-dimensional which simplifies Fombelle’s otherwise powerful message. The novel is littered with lyrical descriptions all of which are beautifully rendered in English by Sarah Ardizzone’s skilful translation. The text is accompanied by François Place’s pen and ink illustrations which reinforce the reader’s impression of Fombelle’s intricate world and his use of scale.

Toby Alone speaks not only of ecological awareness but also of love, friendship and courage. The miniature hero’s coming of age is accelerated as he is forced to take on considerable responsibility. The novel ends by reopening the adventure, leaving the reader impatient to turn to its sequel Toby and the Secrets of the Tree. Fombelle’s work has received several awards in France including the 2007 Prix Sorcières in the Romans Juniors category while Ardizzone’s translation was awarded the 2009 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation. One would hope that success stories such as this will help to encourage a higher level of translation in children’s publishing in the UK, thus giving young readers access to the literary output of other cultures.

Elle Hamblen Name: Eleanor Hamblen

Research area: My dissertation explores representations of nature, ecological messages and miniature communities in French and British children’s fantasy.

Path to Roehampton: BA in French. Extended essay on 17th century fairy tales. I never outgrew children’s books so was delighted to discover I could take an MA in them!

Favourite re-read: The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge – my favourite book as a child and it didn’t disappoint the second time round.

Unsung Picture Book: Patrick by Quentin Blake – so joyful! (Mister Magnolia is another favourite)

Unsung Young Adult Novel: William Nicholson’s Wind on Fire trilogy.


Series edited by Erica Gillingham.