Once upon a time, a very long time ago, about last Thursday, the Cambridge–Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children’s Literature staged its first Open Day. It seems to have been a great success; our visitors appeared to enjoy themselves and we certainly had fun organising it. To be honest, the title was a bit of a misnomer, since it was really an Open Post-Meridian Three Hours. But this was children’s literature, a space out of time in which time is, as Maria Nikolajeva points out, mythical rather than linear, cyclical rather than sequential; thus, chronological terms became figurative rather than literal.
That said, a few weeks ago I had an idea that I wanted to make a large-scale timeline of children’s literature to go round the walls, a flowing linear backdrop to the utopian celebratory space. It was one of those rather daft and unnecessary projects that I tend to take on, particularly when faced with an already unfeasible schedule, just because I fancy it and because it looks slightly undoable and therefore intrinsically interesting.
My plan was to have a double-decker timeline, with significant children’s literature publishing events on the top and developments in critical and scholarly domains underneath. Even restricted, as it was, it to the UK, selection for the top deck was no easy task. After planting the undisputed milestones: Alice; Pooh; Potters, B and H … then what ? Enid Blyton: Noddy or Famous Five? Anthony Browne: Gorilla or The Tunnel? Twilight: In or out? Then I sent it round for comment, which of course only added to my dilemmas. It’s still a work in progress, but I printed out the latest version for Thursday and blu-taked it to the back wall.
Whether anybody noticed (apart from someone from the Faculty who complained about perilous amounts of blu-tak on the wall), I’m genuinely not sure. But it doesn’t matter because it was fun to do and, anyway, there were so many other attractions. There was Michael Rosen’s hilarious rendition of a Key Stage 2 SATs paper and his brilliant exposition of how poetry offers children relief from signifying. There was Clementine’s ingenious presentation of “The Seven Facts of Children’s Literature”, where her persuasive arguments in support of axioms as “anyone can write a children’s book” were comically subverted by the displayed cartoons. There was Professor Nikolajeva finally providing a solution to the problem of what to say when you meet someone who says, “Oh, you study children’s literature! Can you recommend a book for my three-year-old nephew?” There were fascinating insights into some of the Masters students’ research. There were the temptations of the fabulous Heffers Children’s bookshop. And, finally, there was what may best be described as a baked essay: Dr Jaques’ exquisitely crafted cupcakes offered a highly provocative critique on metaphors of consumption and the symbolic role of buttercream piping in children’s literature; responses to this significant new direction will doubtless be forthcoming in the usual journals.