Each year, the Children's Literature Unit brings several speakers to Newcastle to give lectures or conduct seminars on aspects of children's literature and culture. These events are designed for anyone interested in children's books, whether students, researchers, lecturers, publishers, booksellers or general readers. Several of these events are held in conjunction with Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book. The high-point of each year's series of lectures is the Fickling Lecture. Generously funded by David Fickling Books, this event brings a major contemporary voice in cultural affairs to Newcastle to address a very wide audience on an aspect of children's books and culture.

See below for more details of:

Fickling Lectures

The 2012-13 Fickling Lecture will be delivered by Frank Cottrell Boyce on 27 February 2014.

Previous Fickling Lectures:

25 April 2013 - Sarah Brown, 'A Promise to Malala - Children's Literature and Education for All'. This year's Fickling Lecture stresses the importance of supporting literacy and education initiatives globally, a need brought to public attention when Taliban gunmen attempted to assassinate schoolgirl-activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2012. Sarah Brown's Lecture will focus on the Education for All drive to get the 61 million children into school who are missing out, and the 200+ million more who need education and learning. Sarah will have children's literature as her starting point as the basis of good learning and personal development, and will reference international examples of children's stories used in learning/education context. Sarah will also talk about the scope of the campaign and various global activities to provide education for every child by the end of 2015 (the deadline for the UN's Millennium Development Goals, including Universal Primary Education). Sarah will also talk about her visits to Seven Stories and her engagement with Book Trust over the years. Sarah Brown is an advocate for women’s health and global education issues around the world. She is a member of the High Level Panel for Global Education, the Founder and President of the Children’s charity PiggyBankKids, and the author of Behind the Black Door, an account of life in Downing Street during the Prime Ministership of her husband, Gordon Brown.

Tuesday 6 March 2012 - Shami Chakrabarti, 'Enlisting Dumbledore’s army: children’s stories and human rights'.

The seventh Fickling Lecture was delivered by Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty. Shami asked Where do Human Rights come from? Are they passing figments of the imagination or something more real and enduring? What makes us value them all over the globe and from one generation to the next? She drew from some of her favourite children’s writing to argue that these stories may be as potent a force for fundamental rights and freedoms as political speeches and legal doctrine.

Thursday 18 November 2010 - Roddy Doyle, 'Fighting Words: the Write to Right'

The sixth Fickling Lecgture was delievered by Roddy Doyle, author of some of the most influential recent depictions of childhood and young adulthood – perhaps most outstandingly in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and the Barrytown trilogy - and himself a writer for children. Roddy spoke about 'Fighting Words', a writing centre for children and young people - and a couple of old ones - that he co-founded in Dublin, in 2009.  He talked about why he became involved, and what inspired him.  Fighting Words is free for everyone who comes through the door, and Roddy explained how, and for whom, the centre operates.  He also spoke about Fighting Words' approach to creative writing: Write First, Worry Later.

Thursday 26 November 2009 - Nick Hornby, 'Why All Fiction Should Be Young Adult Fiction'

The fifth Fickling Lecture was delivered by Nick Hornby, writer of many celebrated memoirs, screenplays, reviews and novels, including Slam, a book for Young Adults. Nick argued that all writers have a great deal to learn from Young Adult fiction, not least about how tricky – but also how vital – it is to hold the reader's attention. His lecture was a fervent address about the importance of young people's reading, irrespective of the cultural value accorded to what they are reading, and about the obligation of writers to produce books that people actually want to read.

Tuesday 4 November 2008 - Sandi Toksvig, 'In the pink - in search of the non-weedy girl in children's literature'.

The fourth Fickling Lecture was delivered by the writer, broadcaster and comedian, Sandi Toksvi. In the lecture, Sandi bemoaned the many drippy girls in children's literature from the princesses who couldn't even stomach an apple but loved to clean up after seven men to Janet, of Janet and John who never did anything that could be called a plot. She went on to wonder why interesting girls such as Jo in Little Women or George in the Famous Five had to have boys names and to celebrate the arrival of Harriet the Spy and Tracy Beaker. Sandi was weeding out the weedy for a girl's good read. 

Tuesday 13 November 2007 - James Naughtie,'Caring for the Coral Island'
The third Fickling Lecture was delivered by Jim Naughtie, well-known as a BBC presenter – of Radio 4's Today programme and its monthly Bookclub – as well as an opera enthusiast, author and commentator on contemporary literature. He is married to Eleanor Updale, author of the award-winning Montmorency series of children's books.

Thursday 9 November 2006 - Andrew Motion, 'Reading for Life: Children, Books and Culture'
For the second Fickling Lecture, Poet Laureate Andrew Motion considered the nature of the many kinds of writing we give to children and calling for children's literature that stretches, challenges and enriches. The lecture encompassed traditional books and their literary heritage as well as more recent ways in which children engage with narrative fiction and become writers themselves.

Tuesday 27 September 2005 - Philip Pullman, 'Strangeness and Charm'
The inaugural Fickling Lecture on Developments in Children's Literature, in association with Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book. Master storyteller Philip Pullman looked at what he calls 'the elementary particles of story - the quarks and mesons and leptons and gluons and so ons of which stories are made' - teasing apart the fundamental forces that hold stories together.

The Children's Literature Unit Lecture Series

The CLU holds regular lectures on relevant subjects. All are welcome to attend these events. Unless otherwise indicated, the lectures take place in room 2.24 in the Percy Building, and commence at 5pm. For more details please contact Matthew Grenby (0191 222 6182).

Wednesday 15 May 2013: Mark Philp (Oxford University) and Matthew Grenby (Newcastle), 'William Godwin: Diary and Letters' (including a discussion of Godwin's role as pioneering publisher for children)

Wednesday 12 February 2013: Peter Hunt (Visiting Professor, Newcastle University), 'Ransome's Rivals: Arthur Ransom and Children's Literature of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s', N.B. this event will take place in the Robinson Library, Seminar Room 152, at 5.30pm

Thursday 7 February 2013: Keith O'Sullivan (Church of Ireland College of Education), 'Irish Children's Literature', N.B. this talk will take place in the Politics Building Room SR110 at 4pm

Wednesday 6 February 2013: Andrew O'Malley (Ryerson University, Canada), 'Crusoe on Stage: Pantomime and the Spectacle of Nostalgic Childhood'


Previous Children's Literature Unit Lectures:

Wednesday 25 April 2012: Aidan Chambers, 'A lifetime in YA literature'

Wednesday 29 February 2012: Peter Hunt (Visiting Professor, Newcastle University), 'Secret Gardens' (5.30pm, Seminar Room 152, Robinson Library)

Wednesday 1 February 2012: Katharine Kittredge (Ithaca University, New York), '"I am vicious because I like it": The short life and varied work of Thomas Dermody'

Tuesday 10 May 2011: Peter Hunt (Visiting Professor, Newcastle University), on the centenary of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (5.15pm in the Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building).

Monday 21 March 2011: Faye Hammill (Strathclyde University), ‘Sophisticated children' (G10, Percy Building).

Monday 28 February 2011: Susan Manly (St. Andrews University), ‘"Schools for Treason": subversion in radical writing for children by Godwin and his contemporaries' (G10, Percy Building).

Wednesday 23 February 2011: Lissa Paul (Brock University, Canada), 'Adventures in Biography: Eliza Fenwick' (Research Beehive, Old Library Bdg, 12.30pm)

Monday 14 February 2011: Hannah Green (Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book),‘"Just a hurried scrawl...": Rosemary Sutcliff in letters' (G10, Percy Building).

Monday 6 December 2010 at 6pm: Alison Waller (Roehampton University): ‘Memory, re-reading and children's books'

Monday 29 November 2010 at 6pm: David Anderson (film-maker): 'Adapting the Children's Book Dreamland Express for Animated Film'

Monday 15 November 2010 at 6pm: Lynne Vallone (Rutgers University, New Jersey): 'The Tom Thumb Trope in the Scientific and the Political Imaginary'

Monday 10 May 2010 at 5pm: Lucy Pearson and Kate Wright (Newcastle University): 'Kaye Webb and Puffin: The Making of Modern Children's Literature'

Monday 1 February 2010 at 5pm: Farah Mendlesohn (Middlesex University): 'Geoffrey Trease, and the radicalisation of children's fiction, 1934-47'

Monday 30 November 2009 at 5pm: Kiera Vaclavik (Queen Mary University of London), 'To Hell & Back: Descent Narratives for Young Readers'

Wednesday 25 November 2009 at 5pm: Nick Tucker (formerly Sussex University), 'Diana Wynne Jones - Life into Art'

Thursday 29 October 2009 at 12.45pm: Peter Hunt (Cardiff University, emeritus): 'Editing Alice, The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, and The Secret Garden: Footnotes from the Cutting-Room Floor'

Monday 22 June 2009 at 12.30pm: Claudia Nelson (Texas A&M University): 'The Child-Man, the Victorian Family, and Social Threat'

Monday 20 April 2009 at 5pm: Rachel Falconer (Sheffield), ‘Young Adult Fiction and the Crossover Phenomenon'

Monday 9 March 2009 at 5pm: Bethany Schneider (Bryn Mawr College), ‘“Pa, get me that little Indian baby!”: Zitkala-Sa's Impressions of an Indian Childhood and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie'

Wednesday 6 November 2008 at 1pm: Peter Hunt (formerly Cardiff), 'The Wind in the Willows: A (Curoious) Case of Mistaken Identity'

Wednesday 5 November 2008 at 5pm: Norma Clarke (Kingston) 'TheAdventures of Jack Luckless; an eighteenth-century Irish life'

Wednesday 15 October 2008 at 5pm: David Rudd (Bolton), 'An Eye for an I: Neil Gaiman's Coraline and the Freudian Uncanny'

Tuesday 7 October 2008 at 5.30pm: Michael Morpurgo (former Children's Laureate), 'Senseless Huge Wars'

Wednesday 23 April 2008 at 5pm: Jill Shefrin (Toronto), '"A Ready Way for Children to Learn”: Educational Pastimes & Progressive Educational Theory in Early Modern Britain'

Wednesday 20 February 2008 at 5pm: Penny Brown (Manchester), 'French Children's Literature and the Holocaust'.

Friday 1 February 2008 at 5pm: Keith O'Sullivan (Church of Ireland College of Education, Dublin), 'A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? Philip Pullman: Simple Storyteller or Iconoclastic Mythmaker?'

Friday 1 February 2008 at 5pm: Pádraic Whyte (Trinity College Dublin), 'Men, Sex and Disclosure: Nick Hornby and Writing for a Teen Audience'

Wednesday 17 October 2007 at 5pm: Ulla Lundqvist (Sweden), 'Astrid Lindgren: Humour and Compassion' (with generous support from the Swedish Embassy)

Wednesday 2 May 2007: Paul Goring (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), 'Laurence Sterne, Nicolai Wergeland and eighteenth-century "systems of education"'.

Wednesday 7 February 2007, at 5pm: Matthew Eve, 'War and Beyond: The children's books of Enid Marx'

Wednesday 13 December 2006, at 5pm: Brian Alderson, ‘Reassessing William Mayne'

Wednesday 1 November 2006, at 5pm: Nicholas Tucker (formerly Sussex University), ‘Children's Literature and War'

Wednesday 25 October 2006, at 5pm: Rosemary Johnston (Sydney University of Technology), 'Time, Great Time, Tense and Tension in Children's Books'

Wednesday 26 April 2006, at 5pm: Vanessa Joosen (University of Antwerp), 'Disenchanting the fairy tale: magic and realism in contemporary fairy-tale retellings'.

Wednesday 15 March 2006, at 5pm: Michele Cohen (American International University Richmond), ''A dry and uninteresting study': gender and education in the eighteenth century'.

Wednesday 15 February 2006, at 5pm: Lynne Vallone (Texas A&M University), 'Questioning Beauty: Images of Childhood in Contemporary Photography'.

Wednesday 11 January 2006, at 5pm: Patricia Crown (University of Missouri), 'The Child in the Visual Culture of Consumption in the Romantic period'.

Wednesday 7 December 2005, at 5pm: Nadia Crandall (children's author and critic), ‘But I was disturbed by the wildest dreams: Cyberspace and the Gothic novel'.

Monday 21 November 2005, at 6pm: Nicholas Tucker (Sussex), 'Hans Andersen and the place of depressive stories in children's literature', responded to by Peter Hunt and Nina Christensen. At Seven Stories.

Friday 10 June 2005, 4pm - Ruth Bottigheimer (State University of New York Stony Brook): 'Children's Literature, Children's Books, Children's Reading'.

The Miriam Hodgson Perspectives series.

Generously funded by Egmont Books, these events commemorated the life and work of celebrated children's books' editor, Miriam Hodgson, who died in 2005. The events were hosted jointly by the Children's Literature Unit and Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book. They were designed to explore the making of books for children, focusing for instance on the role of the editor, the making of illustrations, the changing experiences of authors, the procedures of commissioning, publishing, marketing, designing and reviewing - or any of the many other processes by which books are created and put into children's hands. The Miriam Hodgson Perspectives series has now ended.

The series commenced on Thursday 23 November 2006 with a platform discussion led by Gina Pollinger and Anne Fine, celebrating the life and work of Miriam Hodgson and the opening of the Robert Westall exhibition at Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book:

A Touching of Minds: the Unseen Hand of the Editor.

The inaugural event in the Miriam Hodgson Perspectives series

Great editors are rarely praised enough. They labour with sharpened pencils in the back rooms of literature, while their authors accept the bouquets. Miriam Hodgson was just such an editor - one who saw her job as a touching of minds, a dialogue in which she helped her writers to find their voices and sing better than they ever dreamed they could. Robert Westall dedicated Kingdom by the Sea to her: For Miriam, who understood. Her perceptive editorial hand lay behind many other celebrated writers including Jamila Gavin, Michelle Magorian, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, and Jenny Nimmo. Her unique gifts and achievements as an editor were publicly recognised in 2003 when she received the Eleanor Farjeon Award for services to children's literature.

To commemorate her life and work, Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book and the Children's Literature Unit in the School of English at Newcastle University, generously sponsored by Egmont Press, inaugurated an annual series of events - The Miriam Hodgson Perspectives - designed to investigate the creative process involved in the making of books for children. On Thursday 23 November 2006, distinguished editor and literary agent, Gina Pollinger explored the role of the editor – remembering, in particular, the work and experiences of her friend Miriam Hodgson - in 'A Touching of Minds'. Former Children's Laureate, Anne Fine, award-winning author of such favourites as Madame Doubtfire, Goggle Eyes, and The Road of Bones, joined her for a question and answer session - giving a writer's perspective on the editor's job.

The second event was held on Thursday 8 March 2007:

Geraldine McCaughrean, in conversation with Peter Hollindale: 'The making of Peter Pan in Scarlet'.

In this second Miriam Hodgson Perspective, award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean, known for the varied, imaginative, sometimes historic, landscapes of such books as Plundering Paradise, Stop the Train and The White Darkness, revealed to critic Peter Hollindale how she dared to write a sequel - Peter Pan in Scarlet - to JM Barrie's Peter Pan. For a writer who has spent her life 'trying not to write like anyone else', immersing herself in Barrie's Neverland but making it her own was a fascinating challenge.

The third event was held on Thursday 3 May 2007:

The Alchemy of Book Design

Good design is an essential part of any picture book. It provides a framework for text and illustration and the subtle weave of words and pictures that allows both to tell one seamless tale. By its very nature, it is nearly invisible, yet it sets the tone for everything and can tell as much of the story as the words and pictures do.

How is this alchemy created? Tiffany Leeson, Art Director of Egmont Books and Louise Jackson, Art Director of novelty and gift books at Walker Books, have both worked on very different picture book projects with Tyneside born illustrator, Jan Fearnley, best known for her series of books about Mr Wolf and The Search for the Perfect Child,. Together they explore the role of the designer in the creation of a picture book in this illustrated behind-the-scenes look at how choices about size, paper, style, layout, typeface and colour palette can bring an illustrator's work engagingly to fruition.

Looking at Children's Books Series

With Brian Alderson and Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book

Every year the distinguished historian of children's books, Brian Alderson, delivers a series of talks in the Children's Literature Unit, in collaboration with Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book and the University's Robinson Library. This series represents an unparalleled opportunity to access some of the unique holdings from Seven Stories' archival collections, and from Brian's own collections, and to gain an insight into the development of British children's literature.

The talks take place in Seminar Room 152, Robinson Library.

In 2013-14, the talks will focus on Picture Books. This year, Brian's talks will be supplemented by lectures on the same theme by other experts in the field: David Almond and Polly Dunbar, and Dr Hanneke Jones.

Picture books are some of the first books we encounter, but  how did they develop? What is their history, and how are they created? This series of lectures will give new insights into picture books. Supported by Seven Stories and the Robinson Library, the lectures offer the opportunity to view original material and rare books and to learn more about them, provide insights into how picture books can be used, and reveal the process of creating a picture book.


30 October 2013, 5.30pm: Brian Alderson: Looking at Picture Books: Part 1 (Seminar Room 152, Robinson Library). The history of picture books in Britain, from Caxton to ‘the death of print’.


20 November 2013, 5.30pm: Brian Alderson: Looking at Picture Books: Part 2. (Seminar Room 152, Robinson Library). What techniques have picture book artists used, and how do these affect what appears on the pages of children’s books?


10th February 2014, 5.30pm: David Almond and Polly Dunbar: The Making of a Picture Book. How does a picture book make its way into the world? Renowned children’s author David Almond and illustrator Polly Dunbar talk about their collaboration on My Dad’s a Birdman and the process of writing and creating a picture book.


12 February 2014, 5.30pm: Brian Alderson: Looking at Picture Books: Part 3. (Seminar Room 152, Robinson Library). The third in Brian Alderson’s historical look at the picture book and its creators. What can the physical book tell us about the development of children’s literature?


5 March 2014, 5.30pm: Hanneke Jones: Picture Books in the Classroom: Philosophy and Children. Hanneke Jones  (School of Education Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle) will offer some practical insights into how picture books can be used with children, focusing on their role in Philosphy for Children.


26 March 2014, 5.30pm: Brian Alderson: Looking at Picture Books: Part 4. (Seminar Room 152, Robinson Library). Looking at artistic techniques, the physical book, and the changing artistry of the picture book.

Brian's reputation as the doyen of children's literature studies rests on many different kinds of work. As well as being an author, translator and editor of children's books, he has written several of the most important critical works in the field, notably the first major study of English picture books (1986), revised editions of F.J. Harvey Darton's seminal 1932 history of the form (1982/1999) and (with Felix Marez de Oyens) a recent, much lauded study of the origins of children's book publishing called Be Merry and Wise (2006). He is the author of dozens of scholarly articles and numerous bibliographies, and has been a visiting professor or fellow at the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of California at Los Angeles and Yale University. He has curated celebrated exhibitions at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, the British Museum, British Library, National Book League, National Library of Scotland, Christ Church College Oxford and at Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book here in Newcastle. He was Children's Book Editor for The Times for almost twenty years, and he continues to write widely on the subject in the press.

Both his scholarly and public work have been widely recognised: he has been awarded the Eleanor Farjeon Award for services to children's literature, is president of the Beatrix Potter Society, and has been awarded a honorary doctorate from the University of Surrey. As a writer and speaker, and as the founder of the Children's Books History Society (1969) and editor of its Newsletter, Brian has done much to establish the scholarly study of children's literature both in Britain and around the world. He has also been a powerful supporter of Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book since the idea of opening a Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle was first conceived in the mid-1990s. He advises on Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book's collections and on the exhibitions held there.

Brian's work is informed by his conviction that the physical form of children's books, as well as their textual and illustrative content, must inform our understanding of their history, meaning and significance. Using original artwork, manuscripts and correspondence from Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children's Book, he offers a unique insight into the development of British children's literature in the twentieth century.

Previous talks in Brian Alderson's 'Looking at Children's Books' series


  • 22 October 2008: William Godwin: genius publisher

  • 12 November 2008: The Fisherman and his Wife

  • 10 December 2008: Good Words for the Young


  • 11 February 2009: Edmund Evans, publisher

  • 11 March 2009: Sambo, Peter and the little books

  • 6 May 2009: Harve and Margot Zemach: a celebration

  • 7 October 2009 - 'Charles Darwin among the Water Babies'

  • 28 October 2009 - 'Maria Edgeworth and Storytelling'

  • 2 December 2009 - 'A Little History of the Little Man and the Little Maid'


  • 10 February 2010 - 'Germany in England: 1840 - 1860'

  • 10 March 2010 - 'The Prodigious Labours of "The Heavenly Twins"'

  • 28 April 2010 - 'Colour Lithography in the 1940s'

  • 27 October 2010: 'Tommy Thumb'

  • 10 November 2010: 'The Robinsons'


  • 9 February 2011: 'Papernose Woodensconce'

  • 16 March 2011: 'Aunt Judy'

  • 4 May 2011: 'The Gaffer'

  • 18 May 2011: 'Mr David Gottlieb'

  • 9 November 2011, 5pm: 'What We Are Talking About: the exemplary Seven Stories holdings of materials by Elinor Lyon, author and sometime illustrator, and Judy Brook, author-illustrator'.

  • 14 December 2011, 5.30pm: 'Rooted in the 1930s: the illustrator Harold Jones and the editor Kathleen Lines.'


  • 11 January 2012, 5.30pm: Ursula Moray Williams and a lifetime of storytelling

  • 8 February 2012, 5.30pm: '"The born illustrator" - Edward Ardizzone'

  • 7 March 2012, 5.30pm: 'Peter Dickinson and a loftful of paper'

  • 16 May 2012, 5.30pm: 'Out of a clearer's skip - Faith Jaques, illustrator and fighter for "illustrators' rights'

  • 5 December 2012: 'The Brothers Grimm'

  • 3 November 2012: 'Edward Lear'


  • Wednesday 13 March 2013, 5.30pm: "Singularly sensitive to line": the graphic work of John Lawrence

  • Wednesday 17 April 2013, 5.30pm: “How are we doing, Miss Butler?”: the children’s literature collections of the Robinson Library

  • Wednesday 22 May 2013, 5.30pm: “Enid Blyton and the big red ledger” [N.B. This will be held at Seven Stories]