Newcastle's Seven Stories centre marks seventh anniversary
PUBLISHED: 13:50 24 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:10 20 February 2013
Newcastle's centre for children's literature has marked a special anniversary and has big plans for the future, as Paul Mackenzie reports
For generations the authors of books for young people were not given the same kudos as their counterparts on the adults shelves of bookshops and libraries. But no more. In spite of the rise of the computer game and all the other distractions available to todays youngsters, childrens literature has never been in better health.
The reputations of writers for children have soared and that can be put down partly to a ground-breaking centre in Newcastle. Seven Stories marked its seventh anniversary with a party where the guest of honour was one of the most respect and prolific childrens authors, Dame Jacqueline Wilson.
The Seven Stories centre celebrates books for children, and chief executive Kate Edwards said: We want to put across that whether its a novel or a picture book, every book is the product of a process of imagination and great artistry.
We had a very clear mission when we started to save and to celebrate books for children and to instil a love of reading across generations. And we have not changed our vision of how we do that in a fun and child-friendly way.
The centre, which is housed on seven storeys of a former Victorian mill, is also a research centre and is home to many manuscripts of classics of childrens literature from the 1930s to the present day. More than 100 authors including Judith Kerr and Shirley Hughes are represented in the collection and Kate added: In the 90s there was nowhere that saw as its role to be a repository for our literary heritage for children.
Manuscripts were being lost to overseas collector, particularly American collectors. Our collection is of national importance, and covers the time from the 1930s to the present day and includes work by more than 100 authors and illustrators.
Our long term plan is to be the Quite a lot of works are going to auction and we are increasingly having to fundraise and often to a very tight time scale to try to keep these works in the country because once thye have gone, they have gone for good.
When deciding what works we want to add to our collection we have to balance what has popular appeal, learning opportunities, research value and literary significance.
In the last five years more than one million people have enjoyed the centres exhibitions both at its home in Newcastle and on tour around the country, and they plan to work with almost 12,000 schoolchildren next year.
Kate, who has been involved with the centre for 10 years, said: When I came here we were a small but ambitious organisation. We have grown since then but we are no less ambitious. We had to grow quite rapidly to open seven days a week and run artistic and education programmes.
In recent years how we view the importance of childrens literature has changed. And our perception of the quality of writing for children has changed too. There was a time when writers of childrens literature were regarded as not writing proper books. Those ideas have changed in the last couple of decades and I think we have played an important part in that.
Reading and being read to as a child is as big a factor, if not bigger, than your ethnic origin and your place of birth in terms of your life chances.
Britain has been pioneering in childrens literature since the worlds first book specifically for children was published in the 1600s and British authors have continued to innovate ever since.
Whats really interesting about childrens literature is its sociological importance and the way it reveals attitudes to children and the context in which it was written and the time at which it was written.
As a child, Kates favourite books were a version of Edward Lears Quangle Wangles Hat illustrated by Helen Oxenbury and, later, The Hobbit. And her nine-year-old son Jamie is enjoying Cressida Cowells How To Train Your Dragon series, which is the subject of the latest exhibition to open at the centre.
The Vikings Guide to Deadly Dragons exhibition will run for a year. n
To find out more about Seven Stories, go to www.sevenstories.org.uk.