The official news of my MA came through last week so I can now put the letters behind my name. I am now officially MA, BA (hons). In all honesty it it was an odd moment. All I could think was ‘thank god’ and ‘No seriously, thank god’ and ‘right, so I don’t have another module to do? This is weird’. I don’t think it’s properly sunk in yet. As I shared the news with my friends and family, I got one reaction from somebody that made me stop to think: “Why children’s literature?”
Now, in the past I’ve trotted out some fairly trite cliches at this point. Something about fun, about books (woo yeah), and about my Chalet School obsession. But in my post-MA daze, I realised that actually my reasons for studying this topic – and hopefully devoting my professional career to it – were much deeper than I’d realised.
So, if you’ll humour me, I’d like to take a moment and explain why I study children’s literature and will continue to do so.
It all stems from my family. One of the key memories I have as a child is sitting on my father’s lap, with my brother, and listening to him read us the Chronicles of Narnia. Not the quietest of books, not the simplest, but he knew we’d like it. He threw that story at us and we swallowed it whole. My mother comforting me after a teacher ripped to shreds a story I’d been working on. Her reply, so simple, so matter-of-fact, “There’s always somebody jealous of talent,” sticks with me til this day.
I learnt that stories matter and I learnt that from my parents and their words. Their conjuring with words. Their fervent belief that the ‘before’ mattered; our histories, our culture, the myths, the legends, and why those little doors appeared in the walls of every chateaux we visited. They took me to the tombs of kings, and to the birthplace of emperors. Everyday my world slowly grew that little bit more. It all dates from those moments with my parents. All of it.
Books make people. Stories show us how to be brave and how to be bold and how to face the darkness when the world comes calling for you.
Children’s literature taught me how to live my life. Sure, I didn’t have a pony in the pantry or the Tiernsee on my doorstep, but I learnt how to tell right from wrong, how to do the right thing, and how to make sure I put the correct type of cloves in an apple pie. I learnt about death, about the awful pain-guzzling void of death, and the emptiness it brings. I learnt not to be afraid of being hurt, of loving people and loving life. I learnt that sometimes the bravest thing is to ask a question, to admit that I’m scared, to wait for the right woman, the right man, to believe in myself.
Children’s Literature, I shall tell my insouciant questioner, matters. The right story told to the right person at the right time can make them move mountains. What more of a rationale do I need?