The more things change…


The range of research interests among those of us from Cambridge who attended last weekend’s IBBY/NCRCL conference, let alone the wide variety of professions and passions represented by the attendees overall, illustrates just how relevant the conference theme, ‘Beyond the Book’, has become to the whole field of children’s literature. As noted at our PhD seminar this week, many more of our colleagues could have mined the conference’s riches handily, had it not unfortunately coincided with our (by all accounts fabulous) Open Day. If ever I have longed for a Time Tuner, it was last Saturday.
As a researcher focused on children’s theatre, I was prepared to be blown away by Sita Bramachari’s talk on adapting Shaun Tan’s The Arrival for the stage, and by David Wood’s discussion of his work putting children’s classics on stage with ‘lots of suddenlies’. (And blown away I was!) I was not however, prepared, to start seeing strands of my research in every session. The day opened with Matthew Grenby speaking about the symbiotic, cyclical relationship between oral culture, print culture, and manuscript culture in the origins of children’s literature. My lazy research habit of assuming a ‘This is very interesting, but it can’t possibly be relevant for me’ stance on most things historical was immediately replaced by twenty straight minutes of note taking. As Grenby himself noted, taking stock of the children’s story as flexible and multimedial is incredibly relevant to today’s reading culture, in which digital and print are negotiating for space.  As the day progressed, we heard and saw accounts of developments in interactivity, from picturebook apps by Nosy Crow, Winged Chariot, and Hot Key to Pop-up Festival experiences to Carnegie/Greenaway reading groups and websites. Talk about bringing a book to life! Jim Kay closed the day with an account of his process illustrating A Monster Calls, reminding us that creating, reading, and reacting to beautiful books are, in fact, kinds of beyondness as well. No book that moves us is static, and awareness of the innovations in new media that have joined the world of children’s literature provides us with opportunities to appreciate that inherent dynamism in superficially ‘old’, tangible media like books–and theatre–in a new light. The entire day, the cumulative effect of seeing connections with children’s theatre in talk after talk, was galvanising. I walked away more convinced that ever that adaptations from page to stage are taking on a new role in children’s story consumption as digital and media cultures evolve, helping negotiate the relationship between media and imagination, digital and analog.
Speaking of moving beyond the page…and of performance for that matter, Saturday’s conference also marked my first public presentation of a paper. I’m very pleased to have passed that particular milestone, and look forward to giving conference presentation another go, hopefully having more fun and less knee-knocking nervousness next time…

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