In September 2013 I started studying for my Masters Degree in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton. In a few weeks I will be donning the gown and mortarboard and graduating at the Royal Festival Hall by the Southbank. It seems only fitting to look back on the degree which I will always wish I could do over and over again…
The University of Roehampton is home to the National Centre for Research into Children’s Literature (NCRCL). It is consequently a magnet for internationally respected scholars and the teaching is innovative. It is the longest running Children’s Literature degree in the country, which means that Roehampton is recognised as the best place to study Children’s Literature. Many authors are also involved in the running of the NCRCL, including Melvin Burgess and Jacqueline Wilson. This means from time to time you may see them wandering around campus with lecturers (which leads to a lot of awkward jaw dropping) or you may be invited to workshops and seminars led by them.
The range of facilities available as an MA student is vast. There is a collection of about 3,000 critical, theoretical, and reference works and an archive of first edition children’s books. There is also a school experience library with stacks of picture books and early reader books. Sitting alongside past student’s dissertations (a few of them now current lecturers) there are a series of specialist children’s literature journals. Once a year, Roehampton organises and hosts the the IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference which showcases themes from members’ research interests. The 2013 Conference even had a visit from Judith Kerr and we celebrated her seminal works including The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968).
I found this degree to be very challenging at times and a real labour of love, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Lecturers encouraged me to use critical theories in a way I had never considered before. I studied a range of children’s poetry, charting the movement from didactic verse through to innovative and nonsensical poetry. Fairytales and folk tales were a key focus of one module, and we applied readings to modern day picture books using broader theories. An autumn module focused on landscapes within children’s books, and allowed us to discuss everything from maps to oceans to gardens.
The essays I completed as part of the MA are titled:
- Cultivated Enclosure and Vast Wilderness: Landscape in The Secret Garden and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
- The Tiger Who Might Come to Tea Again: Negotiating Desire in Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
- ‘I’ll Eat You Up!’: Grotesque representations of food and cannibalism within Carroll, Burton and Dahl’s poetry for children.
- ‘I detest rude, unladylike girls!’: Expectations of female politeness and domesticity in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Little Women.
Each MA student is also required to complete a 20’000 word thesis. My dissertation was titled:
- Teenage Wastelands: The Rise of Female Power and Agency in YA Dystopian Series Novels.
If I was ever given a chance to go back and complete this MA degree again, I would run back without hesitation. It gave me the opportunity to delve into historical, cultural and subversive worlds of Children’s Literature and to be inspired by the most established scholars in the field. I will never forget how huge a task the MA seemed when I was sitting in the introductory seminar, or how immensely empty I felt when I handed in my dissertation and finished the degree. As sad as I am that it’s over, I am proud to have come out the other end in one piece!
So, I will graduate on the 27th July with a Masters in Children’s Literature and fill the hole with another bookcase or two…