A magical, mischievous tour

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It is hard to think of any other living author whose work has made such a contribution to the cultural life of young children. He is the one who finds the stories behind the nursery rhymes and puts the rhymes into fairy stories. The cataloger of babyhood and the bard of the classroom, Allan Ahlberg has been a gentle presence in young lives for over five decades.

But as the mind behind Burglar Bill, Allan is also the master of mischief. And so his Pearce lecture proved him to be. He had clearly signalled his intentions through an uncoventional title, but still, somehow, we were taken by surprise by this extraordinary tour of the Ahlberg imagination. By turns, funny, poignant and thought-provoking, Allan never let the audience settle into simply being lectured. From his seat by the sunflowers, he led us through a series of vignettes, snapshots, meditations.

He read letters from children – “Dear Mr Ahlberg, My favourite author is Dick King Smith …” He played us snatches of music – Sibelius, “Some Enchanted Evening”. He let us observe his delight in wandering serendipitously around a page of the Oxford English Dictionary. He read to us from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. He marvelled at why there is something, and not nothing. He sang to us. He had brought his beloved bear.

Here, then, the familiar themes and elements of an Ahlberg work were arrayed in all their extraordinary variety: a sense of audience (with an accompanying sense of humility), an ear for harmony and the aural qualities of literature; a fascination with words and meanings; a feeling for style and propriety; a sense of wonder; an affinity with the objects of childhood; love.

As the old maxim goes, he showed, but didn’t tell. Like his books, this was a talk that allowed its audience their part, to complete the story. All all worked together like a multimodal text that is more than the sum of its parts. And all was held together by a gracious presence, as summed up by a teacher in the audience:

“I looked around the hall at one point and saw lots of faces I knew: teachers and lecturers and parents of children I had taught. There was such respect, admiration and love in the room. We were in the presence of someone who had given us so much.”

Debbie Pullinger

Chris Riddell to give the 2017 Philippa Pearce Lecture

As we look forward to Allan Ahlberg’s talk tomorrow, we are pleased to announce that the 2017 lecture will be given by Chris Riddell. Twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and current UK Children’s Laureate, Chris really needs no introduction, and we are enormously excited that he will be able to give next year’s lecture. The lecture will take place on Friday September 8th 2017 at 5pm.

(PS: for those of you reading this post on Wednesday the 31st, there are just a few seats currently available for tomorrow’s lecture. You can book at www.pearcelecture.com)

Tom’s Midnight Garden – A Graphic Novel Adaption

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It is a nice coincidence that the day of this year’s Philippa Pearce Lecture is also the publication date of a new version of Philippa’s classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden. Adapted and illustrated by Edith, an acclaimed French graphic novel creator, the book is a full-colour retelling of the story in dialogue and pictures. Copies will be on sale after the lecture at the Heffer’s bookstall that operates during the wine reception. Selected titles from both Allan and Philippa will also be available.

Booking is open for the 2016 lecture by Allan Ahlberg

BOOKING IS NOW OPEN for Allan Ahlberg’s lecture,

JOHN WAYNE AND SIBELIUS
or
THE TRAIN HAS RAIN IN IT
A Rigmarole
in seven
or possibly eleven parts
with readings from
Marilynne Robinson
William Maxwell
William Strunk, Jr.
The Guardian newspaper
and
The Shorter Oxford
Dictionary
(some singing).

The lecture will take place at 5.00pm on the 1st of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge. After the lecture there will be a short wine reception.

Both lecture and reception are free.

To book your ticket please use the booking page. If you wish to book a second ticket please revisit the page and repeat the booking process. Once booked you will receive a confirmation email that includes your e-ticket. Print it out or download a mobile version, and take this with you to the lecture.

The lecture is funded by donations. If you would like to donate, you can do this when you book your ticket.

The 2016 Philippa Pearce Lecture: Allan Ahlberg


MUCH LOVED
, best-selling, author, Allan Ahlberg, will give the Pearce lecture in 2016 on September 1st in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge.

Allan is author of more than a hundred books for children, translated into many languages, and winner of many awards, including two Greenaway prizes for Each Peach Pear Plum and The Jolly Postman (with his late wife, Janet Ahlberg). Allan’s range is extraordinary and encompasses some of the best books ever produced for babies, and for older children.  These include wonderful versions of fairy tales, brilliantly funny stories and fine collections of poetry.Always warm, inventive, creative, his output connects powerfully with young readers. We know his lecture will be a rare treat.

Do not be afraid to be afraid

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On a warm September afternoon, under blue Cambridge skies, Meg Rosoff took to the podium in front of an expectant audience gathered from across the country for the 8th Annual Pearce Lecture.

“We knew when we invited you that you wouldn’t shy away from the difficult questions.” As Louise Joy went on to affirm in her concluding remarks, Meg Rosoff did indeed delight her audience with a lecture displaying a “combination of courage and lyricism”.

In a talk that ranged effortlessly from Goldilocks and the Tooth Fairy to Harry Potter and Albert Einstein, Meg left us in awe – but also inspired and empowered. Starting from her own particular connection with Philippa Pearce, she described how, having first met the octogenarian author as a “fawning middle-aged fan”, she went on to champion Pearce’s The Little Gentleman as a member of the Guardian Children’s Book Prize panel. Since the rest of the panel were not convinced that death was a suitable subject for children’s literature, it did not win. But there in the lecture, Meg felt, justice was done. And so, with humour and humility she examined the vital role of fantasy, fairytale and fear – and their attendant risks – in the lives of children.

Taking her title from a line in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Meg used her powers of storytelling, and drew on research, literature and personal experience, to demonstrate that fear itself is not the problem. And that, paradoxically, if we shy away from it, we will find ourselves in the grip of another fear – that of failure. Indeed, she observed, some commentators warn that we now have a society raising a compliant generation so fearful of failure they are unable to take risks, to be intellectually curious.

Conversely, as Meg argued, children all need to experience risk, to have the freedom to explore the “What ifs …” Which is precisely what stories of all kinds, from fairytales to young adult novels afford. Richard Dawkins may prescribe “fostering scepticism instead of filling their heads with fantasy”, but imagination – the quality that sets the human species apart – is needed for science as much as for storytelling. As Meg pointed out, for some of the most fantastic stories ever invented, you only have to turn to the spinning tales of multiverses and black holes.

But the message was not only for children and their parents, or for would-be scientists. Talking candidly of the very real challenges in being a writer, and of that “awkward period between novels when the existence of the next book is not a foregone conclusion”, Meg deftly turned her attention to the risk-taking required of the children’s or YA author, who “gives young people the power to shape their own stories”. Again, fiction and fantasy hold the key, and for her it is Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat (“reads like a postmodern anarchist’s handbook”) which supplies the essential image. “I have become my hero; I am the 58-year-old that sneaks into the house and causes havoc,” she revealed. Thus, she ended by issuing her provocation, not to her audience, or to child readers, but to herself: “think big thoughts, and do not be afraid to be afraid”.

Last week’s lecture

Meg Rosoff’s lecture was a great success. Clever, witty insightful and often funny too. A lot of the voices that I overheard in the auditorium and at the reception afterwards were saying that it was one of the best so far.

If all goes well there will be a lecture video here and on the 2015 lecture page in the next few days.

One more week to go!

One week to go until Meg Rosoff gives her Philippa Pearce Memorial lecture!

Entitled: Do Not Be Afraid To Be Afraid, it will take place at 5.00pm on the 10th of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge.

There are still some seats left, so do come to the Pearce Lecture website and book if you are interested. Remember the event is free! After the lecture there will be a short wine reception. Both lecture and reception are funded entirely by donations. There will be a collection immediately after the lecture.

Seats for Meg Rosoff’s lecture are still available

A quick update to remind all who follow us that seats are still available for Meg Rosoff’s lecture, Do Not Be Afraid To Be Afraid.

The lecture will take place at 5.00pm on the 10th of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge. After the lecture there will be a short wine reception. Both lecture and reception are free, but are funded by donations. There will be a collection immediately after the lecture.

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