October 26th was a big day that I (and many others) had been looking forward to for quite some time – the Cambridge/Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children’s Literature Open Day! At this event, we invited children’s literature lovers to join us as we showcased the work we do in our research centre as well as the amazing people who do it.
The day started well with lovely sunshine. Early in the afternoon, we were ready to welcome our guests!
The early birds arrived and started looking around displays of our publications, current students’ work, and the many activities that we are involved in during term. These include a creative writing group, children’s book reading group, PhD seminars, and our work with the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, Jacqueline Wilson Award, Caribbean Poetry Project and Philippa Pearce Memorial Lectures. Of course, there was some interactive fun too: we asked our guests to try to match quotes from some of our favorite books with their titles.
After some browsing, we gathered for a series of short talks about the Centre. Morag Styles gave us a brief history of how the Children’s Literature course began, and how it has grown into the course we know and love today. Ashley gave our first student-talk, discussing the experience of being a PhD student. She humorously likened the PhD experience to that of four of the literary characters she studies: Elsie Dinsmore (Elsie Dinsmore) who may struggle but never gives up her dreams; Pollyanna (Pollyanna) who is an optimist and never loses faith in herself; Emily (Emily of New Moon series) who sees writing as her destiny despite encountering setbacks; and Katy (What Katy Did) whose struggles make her doubt herself, until her supervisor (ie, Cousin Helen) encourages her to learn from the “School of Pain”. Which heroine might you be?
Our second speaker, Dawn, shared how she moved on from the MPhil to the PhD and continued to explore her passion for Children’s Literature in-depth. Then, Diane shared her experiences juggling her work as a part-time MEd student and a full-time deputy head of her school. Our last two speakers’ PhD titles are still warm from the PhD oven – Dr. Clementine Beauvais and Dr. Erin Spring. As a newly-minted Doctor, Clementine decided to take a serious approach to theorising the doctoral experience – a multimodal and metaphorical approach through, of course, comics. Yes, comics can be serious. You can take my word for it. The title of her comic was Beach Academe.
Clementine relates a story of academic-innovation, as the young PhD student ‘digs’ through the academic sand to discover something new. At the end, her supervisor congratulates her and lets her start another journey on her own. Ever since then, she has not stopped digging. (If you feel inspired too, you know what I mean when I say that comics can be serious).
After Clementine’s theoretical illustration of her PhD journey, Erin skyped in from Canada. Regardless of unpleasant noise caused by a technological problem, we all enjoyed Erin’s story of the academic support she received during her PhD, and hearing of the new University job that is waiting for her in the coming year.
At our tea break we hosted a charity cake sale, which was one of the highlights of the events. Options included walnut chocolate cake, gingerbread, Victoria Sponge, triple chocolate cake, Earl Grey cupcakes, apple banana cinnamon cake, chocolate brownies and velvet cake. Many thanks to Faye, whose baking and organizational efforts made it all possible, as well as the generosity of the many other talented bakers on our course. Thanks to them and the support of our guests, we raised £212.35 from the sale. All the money will be donated to Project Little Dream (http://www.littledream.org/
) to bring primary education to rural villages in Cambodia, and help set up libraries for school children there.
Our last speaker of the day proved himself to be not only a talented writer but also a brilliant presenter – Marcus Sedgwick. There was no fan-screaming among the audience because Children’s Literature scholars know how to conduct themselves professionally (when people are looking). However, the audience reaction and engagement spoke to the high quality of Sedgwick’s humorous and enlightening presentation. Marcus Sedgwick talked about his new book, She Is Not Invisible, and shared his research on ‘coincidence’, as well as his obsession with the number 354. While coincidence often surprises us, it is actually possible to calculate the probability of coincidences occurring, and sometimes the chance of not having a coincidence may be surprisingly lower than actually having one. I’m looking forward to finding the many recurrences of 354 that Sedgwick told us were hidden in the book. Though his insistence on 354 made his editor’s life complicated, the idea of imposing limitations on his creative writing (the book is 354 pages long, with one chapter written in sentences of 3, 5, and 4 words respectively) is a fascinating one.
Marcus Sedgwick’s visit ended with his book signing. As our Open Day ended, there were contented smiles all around. The excitement of the day has lingered, with kind words from our supporters on Facebook, and lovely emails and congratulations sent. Thanks to all those who made this day possible!