“Second to the left, and straight on ’til morning” : children’s literature and literary travels

Alongside this blog, I have another devoted specifically to my PhD research. What I want to do with this post here, is give you a little bit of a taster of that research as part of my contribution to #NNFN. NNFN is National Non-Fiction November and it’s a month spearheaded by the FCBG to explore the great world of non-fiction. If this is the first time you’ve heard of either, I’d urge you to explore those links in some depth – there’s some immense resources available on both.

My PhD centres on literary tourism and children’s literature. Sometimes I explain it, very glibly, as looking at sites connected to children’s books in real life: Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station for example, or Beatrix Potter’s books and the lake district. This description only really covers one part of my research as I’m also interested in the great systems of children’s literature and literary tourism; the way one text set in London calls and talks to another text in Bognor Regis which in its turn both calls back to that London set text, and on to another text set in Edinburgh. A Twilight Barking of books if you will.

As part of that, I come across a great deal of guidebooks which talk about literary tourism. These are fascinating reads, and I explore several of them in reviews over on my other blog. I want to share some of the best with you here and talk a little bit about their practical applications in the real world.

Joan Bodger: "How the Heather Looks..."

The first book is Joan Bodger’s How the Heather Looks : A Joyous Journey To The British Sources of Children’s Books. Even the title intrigues me about this, that subtle choice of “British sources” for “children’s books” – not “sources” for “British children’s books”. This poignant, graceful book is something of a contradiction. Elements are poorly written whilst others are almost perfect; and yet, I’d not pause from recommending it to anyone interested in the topic. One of the great things about literary tourism texts is how so very often they are more about the relationship people have with literature and what it means for them, as opposed to an investigation for the literature themselves. Read this if you want to be reminded of the magic, really, of what books can be for people.

Bodger’s text is deliberately wide in its approach, and I think there’s some great potential with adopting that in related work and education. Talk about books. Embed them in the real world. There’s a Narnia in every house (though the fur coats may be lacking). Allow that shift from the real to the unreal to happen and facilitate that shift. Spot the Gruffalo in the park. Leave the window open for Peter Pan. Place a cookie out for Father Christmas when he comes; and another one for The Grinch. Embracing the flexibility of our space and world is something children do very instinctively through imaginative play and we forget that too soon. Literary tourism allows us, and enables us to do that again. Read Winnie-the-Pooh in Ashdown Forest and then play Poohsticks off the bridge. Retrace The Fossil sister’s steps from Cromwell Road to the Victoria and Albert Museum on a wet day, and look at the doll’s houses. These exercises, these moments, strengthen our reads. Literary tourism is all about reading and the power of that read; we will ourselves into the narrative, we engage in dialogue with a text through our insistence that it happens. It’s not about escapism, not really. It’s about power and control and reading, always reading.

Check out my shelf on Goodreads relating to literary tourism, and also the titles mentioned in the image to the right. Of those, I’d particularly highlight Another Country, which focuses on children’s books set in Cumbria and the Lake District, and Storybook Travels which despite an occasionally problematic approach retains a palpable joy for children’s literature set both in the US and Europe.

I’m also happy to share with you information about books set in your particular area of the UK. I’m in the process of building a map of these, which hopefully I’ll be able to share at some point, but in the interim, let me know if you want any recommendations for books set in Manchester .. or the Isles of Scilly … or Totnes … or …. or …. ?

Happy travels!

4 thoughts on ““Second to the left, and straight on ’til morning” : children’s literature and literary travels

  1. Thank you so much for these recommendations – I look forward to hunting them down and reading them!

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