A Beautiful Conversation

There was mounting anticipation as the queue moved through the foyer of the auditorium. We had come to hear one of our most celebrated illustrators and a recent children’s laureate, Chris Riddell – and the wait was very nearly over.

Oh, hang on. It was over. Even as we scrabbled for seats in the packed auditorium, the big screen at the front was filling with images. Political cartoons, book characters … an image of the speaker himself, then captioned, “I have a strange feeling of being watched.”

And so it continued for over an hour, as drawing after drawing flowed effortlessly from a soft pencil or stick of charcoal, giving substance to the stories. It was mesmeric. Like seeing live thinking on the page. Even in the Q&A, Chris thought through his fingers, his words glossing each emerging image. Perhaps this is what prompted one question about whether children should be taught this language of drawing, just as they are taught the language of writing. Chris’s wry reply: an ironic speculation about what would happen if drawing were subjected to the same methods of teaching and assessment as are now employed for conventional literacy.

Expounding his theme, “The age of the beautiful book”, Chris talked of the wonders of modern book production and of his negotiations with “The Department for Making Books Beautiful” (aka the production department). Matt coating, spot varnishing, foil embossing, sprayed edges and other technological tricks of the trade open up mouth-watering possibilities for an artefact that engages and delights all the senses. For reading, for children and adults alike, is so much more than making sense of the words and images on the page.

Books may be beautiful, but that doesn’t mean they have to be handled with kid gloves,­ at least as far as Chris is concerned. For him, a book is part of an ongoing conversation, and any space on the page an obvious invitation to get your pencil out. To the slight discomfort of those of us reprimanded for crayoning in books as children, he proceeded to draw all over a centre spread in a copy of Paul Stewart’s Returner’s Wealth – and then flipped over its pages to reveal his “illustrative annotations” proliferating through every chapter. But for Chris, this is just a natural response. “I’m drawing in books because I want to celebrate the book. Why would you not want to have a conversation with it?” he asks. And so word and image become part of a rich, intertextual dialogue. Chris’s own fiction, too, is part of that ongoing conversation, bringing in authors of his own childhood and earlier reading, including C S Lewis and Herman Melville.

As the conversation in the room unfolded, we were reminded of the sensory, visceral qualities of book-making – a process of creating where things have particularity and personality. It was truly a celebration of the delights of material book and the very primal activity of drawing with the hand. Surely one in the eye for all that digital nonsense!

Except, these drawings are constantly shared on social media. Sketches, drawings of odd quotations and the illustrative marginalia have, Chris has found, brought him closer to readers, allowed him to share enthusiasms, and even opened up opportunities for new projects. A recent convert (via an unfortunate incident involving a pair of jeans, his mobile phone and a washing machine) he quickly came to appreciate the power of the image on social media – as well as “the warm fuzzy glow produced by multiplying blue thumbs”. It seems like a marriage of some kind. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

 New media inevitably cast old media in a new light. Certain aspects are thrown into relief. Benefits newly appreciated. So it would seem that if we are, as Chris believes “in the age of the beautiful book”, then technology has ushered it in – in all sorts of ways. And, as Chris demonstrated, there are so many possibilities for conversation between the old and the new, between the digital and the analogue.

But for all the exciting possibilities of machine and screen, paper and graphite always offer more. As Chris observed, if you watch people in a public space – one poring over a phone and one writing or drawing in a little notebook – you instinctively feel that there’s something much more interesting going on in the book.

After the talk, another queue: a line of hopefuls at the book-signing table. It was slow moving, but no one seemed to mind. Wine and conversation flowed all around, and one by one, happy readers left the table, each clutching their own beautiful book complete with its own personalised drawing.

Save

Allan Ahlberg: 2016 Lecture Notes

We are very pleased to be able to present a set of notes for Allan Ahlberg’s 2016 lecture.

This document reproduces Allan’s manuscript in full, along with notes and annotations. It also includes images of many of the books, cuttings and other ephemera that were used to illuminate his talk. No video or audio recording was made of the 2016 lecture, so it is wonderful to have this record available.

The link below will open the PDF in your browser, and it can be downloaded for printing and viewing offline. The document is A3 in size, but can of course be reduced to fit on A4. Please not that the layout has been designed so that each A3 page will tile across two A4 sheets comfortably.

Allan_Ahlberg_2016_PP_Lecture

Booking is now open for the 2017 Philippa Pearce Lecture!

CHRIS RIDDELL: THE AGE OF THE BEAUTIFUL BOOK


The lecture will take place at 5.00pm on Friday 8th of September in the Mary Allan Building, Homerton College, Cambridge. As always, after the lecture there will be a short wine reception. 

Both lecture and reception are free.

To book your ticket please use the form on the booking page of the lecture website.

The Philippa Pearce Lecture is hosted and funded by Homerton College. The lecture is free, but running costs are supported by donations. If you would like to make a donation, you can do this at the lecture website: www.pearcelecture.com

A magical, mischievous tour

P9010372

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

9780192747051_TOMS_MIDNIGHT_GDN_GN_CVR_FIN

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

P1010233

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”.