As I have just submitted my thesis (along with prayers to what gods of vampire literature there may be), I have time to reflect on what has easily been one of the best years of my life. So I thought I’d share that with you. Below are 10 important things I’ve learned since starting the Mphil; about the course, the people and the literature itself.
1. Apparently it’s totally acceptable to have a crush on a fictional character, as long as you can use theory to justify it – finally, after years, I can validate why I had so many fictional attachments under the age of 12, including Aslan the lion.
2. It doesn’t have to be ‘highbrow’ children’s literature to make an impact – I can remember our first class so well. I was terrified. We were all discussing our childhood reading habits and everyone’s list was impressive and seemingly serious. Biting my lip, I put my hand up: ‘I actually really enjoyed the Animorphs series, and they taught me a lot.’ There was a miserable momentary pause, before three people excitedly burst out ‘me too!’ Clearly, I was in the right place.
3. Picturebooks. They’re awesome. – I hardly read any picturebooks as a child. I was a driven four-year-old determined to read ‘real books.’ However, I utterly missed out, and doing this course has proved that. They are a visual and literary delight to read, and my mother recently had to rein me in from buying 10 Julia Donaldson picturebooks for 10 pounds (It was a GREAT deal).
4. You will find kindred spirits on the course – what other course would supply a load of other students who not only jump at the chance to accompany you to Harry Potter premiere to stand in a potential downpour just to see Helena Bonham-Carter’s enormous hair over the crowd (along with our tasteful signs reading ‘Neville for the Chosen One’ and ‘Snape, we ❤ you!’), but also agree to go to the museum of childhood with you and play at puppet shows and dress up?
5. You don’t spend a lot of time reading kid’s books on the course – might sound obvious, but you really don’t. You read what you need. But the theory is fascinating and I now have an extensive ‘to read’ list of children’s books. Sorry adult novels, but you’ll just have to join the back of the queue.
6. The supervisors get just as excited as you – I originally thought that being taught by such respected experts meant I should restrain my level of enthusiasm. We went to Anglia Ruskin to talk to the illustration students and were casually introduced to Alexis Deacon (author /illustrator of Beegu). We students just about restrained ourselves through the session and then forced ourselves to casually mention to Morag that we thought it was exciting he’d been there. She spun round. ‘I KNOW! I knew he’s been helping out, but I DIDN’T expect him to BE HERE!!!’ Over excitement? Shared.
7. Your favourite children’s books might not be that nice, in reality – I’ve already had to accept that there is some dubious content in Peter Pan, and that The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is a lot more allegorical than I realised. I’ve come to see that the Oompa Loompa’s are a prime example of exploited workers and my thesis is about how damaging the Twilight Saga is for pre-teen girls. Apparently, there’s a serious critique of The Velveteen Rabbit somewhere, but I’m refusing to read it.
8. No one else wanted to be Beth from Little Women as a child except me, apparently. People wanted to be Jo, or Meg. Re-reading it this year I can sort of understand. She might be angelically good, but how many characters end up dying from virtue of being boring?
9. You really are doing an important subject. Every person you meet will be able to name a book that was important to them as a child, whether a novel, a comic, or a picturebook. These texts are so important in the formation of who you become: escaping into new worlds, thinking about right and wrong, and having adventures to share with friends. Who could possibly think that that’s not worth studying?
10. You’ll have the time of your life on this course. Promise.