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Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books

Seven Stories is the UK’s preeminent museum and collection dedicated to children’s literature.

Seven Stories is the UK’s preeminent museum and collection dedicated to children’s literature. Newcastle’s Children’s Literature Unit (CLU) have worked with Seven Stories across a range of activities. From collection development to exhibitions to public engagement — developing understandings of its role as the ‘National Centre for Children’s Books’. Since 2015, this longstanding partnership has existed through the Arts Council England-funded Vital North Partnership.

The CLU has helped Seven Stories to develop its nationally significant collection. This is the only one in the UK dedicated to modern and contemporary British children’s books. It works to support the Heritage Lottery Foundation-funded ‘Collecting Cultures’ project. Their work has been important in helping to ensure that the archive includes previously marginalised voices. The 2017 ‘Diverse Voices?’ symposium brought together children’s literature scholars, practitioners, and publishers. They considered how Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic voices are represented in our national children’s literature. This helped to bring the archives of poets John Agard and Grace Nichols to Seven Stories. Another major acquisition supported by the CLU and ‘Collecting Cultures’ was the Aidan and Nancy Chambers Collection. This represents the entire life’s work of two major children’s book figures.

The partnership has supported some exciting research-led exhibitions. A 2015 AHRC/Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) produced ‘Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories’. This showcased the work of beloved author and former UK Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo. The KTP won the THELMA for Knowledge Exchange/Transfer of the Year 2017. The exhibition toured nationally, attracting over 60,000 visitors. The CLU built on this work to support Seven Stories in developing its first exhibition designed entirely around the collection. Where Stories Come From moves away from telling a single canonical narrative about children’s books to engage visitors in creative exploration of the many possible stories.

Discovering Children’s Books is an exciting new collaboration with the British Library. Using material from the British Library, Seven Stories, and other major national archives, it introduces children and young people to Britain’s heritage of children’s books. CLU worked with British Library and Seven Stories staff to identify exciting material from the collections. This included both well-loved characters and under-recognised authors and illustrators, and collaborated with contemporary children’s book practitioners to produce articles on subjects from Learning to Read to Changing the World. Visitors from all over the world can access the new resource.

All these activities — and more — have helped Seven Stories to develop its national profile as a centre which preserves and promotes an inclusive history of our national children’s literature.