Sunday, 28 February 2010

Further education and other unexpected encounters

Sometimes our academic wanderings take us to places which we would perhaps not discover on our own. Last Friday I attended a conference on Thomas Bewick of whom I must admit my complete ignorance. (I just happened to be in Newcastle for something else). The conference reminded me of my days on the Board of the Swedish Selma Lagerlöf Society, with annual meetings attended by her passionate admirers who knew every line and semicolon by heart. The Bewick scholars were discussing the subtle difference between first and second editions of Bewick's illustrated Aesop's fables and influences from earlier engravers, and the audience had questions that demostrated their full knowledge of the subject. I always view such occasions as further education. Not directly relevant, but widening horizons. 18th century has never been my strong side.

Then I got an unexpected bonus. The programme announced a contemporary illustrator of Aesop, my ignorance of whom felt worse than my ignorance of Bewick, until the moderator mentioned his most famous picturebook, just reprinted. And warm memories of my youth came over me. The Giant Jam Sandwich! I read it forty years ago, as a beginning children's literature scholar and translator behind the iron curtain, one of those completely random books that made their way to Moscow and that we, hungry for any English children's books we could get hold of, read it with delight. I can recite it even now. And here was the author, large as life. If A A Milne had turned up at that conference, I wouldn't have been half as surprised.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


Curiouser and curiouser! This place is still full of surprises. Today I was asked to do course evaluations. Well, in my previous life, course evaluations meant that you gave students an evaluation sheet (sometimes electronic) that they filled or ignored, and then you produced nice staple diagrams that everybody admired for a minute and threw away. Here it is more complicated. After the diagrams, someone not involved in the course goes to talk to the students - in case there is something they did not say in the written evaluations. And there surely was! I had never met such outspoken students before. I think they genuinely appreciated that I listened to them. Of course it is a lot of extra work, but I think I like it. Somehow it makes everything worth while. Not just staple diagrams.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The other side of the table - again

I wish job inteviews were more like those TV shows where the panel can push a button to say "Thank you, you may go" after thirty seconds rather than having to sit and listen to gibberish for forty-five minutes.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Joy of recognition

I could not have said it better myself.

Resisting temptations

I am quite proud of myself that I had, until this morning, resisted one of the greatest temptations of my life. Just ten miles from here lies a Very Dangerous Place, at least if you are a crazy dolls-house maker. They call themselves The largest dolls house shop in the world and after I've been there I am prepared to believe it.

The reasons I had resisted the temptation are plenty. One is like waiting to open your Christmas present, or even better, as Winnie-the-Pooh says: there is a moment even better than eating honey, it's the moment just before you are going to eat honey. For a year and a half, I had been waiting to go to the largest dolls house shop in the world. Then of course I am a recycler so buying thing for the dolls house is not half as fun as making them and then comparing your own creation to something you see in a magazine or on the web, stating that yours is no worse and much better. But I also know that I am very bad at resisting temptations. And in the largest shop in the world it is all too easy to abuse your credit card.

Still I decided to go today, and my brave husband went with me because we both thought it would be in a village with a nice bar or coffee shop nearby. In fact, it was in a barn in the middle of nowhere, and the coffee shop was closed. So Staffan had to sit in the car while I drooled over magnificent houses and zillions of small things most of which I can make myself, no worse and much better, and supplies and tools and... well, I told myself to be sensible, and I told myself that I am a big girl and can get myself a plaything every now and then.

Afterwards, I feel ambivalent. I've succumbed to some furniture kits. At least I have to glue and paint, so it's not quite like buying a ready thing. But who knows what this may lead to. The shop is dangerously near.

On the other hand, I keep telling myself, I wish this was my greatest sin.

PS The reason I finally decided to visit the shop is that last week Staffan surprised me with a splendid dolls house he found at the Tesco recycling station. I now know that it is called The Corner Shop and that there are thousands of things to fill it with.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A dream come true

I don't remember when I got interested in children's literature. I mean, I always loved children's books, even when I should be growing out of them; but I remember when I was in upper secondary school my great-aunt tried to entice me into School of Librarianship, where she worked, by mentioning that you could study children's literature as an academic subject. I also remember my mother suggesting that I study Swedish because I liked Astrid Lindgren. So it all began before I went to university.

I then took a long and winding road to children's literature, but I always had a vision of a research centre. When I applied for a chair in Stockholm - goodness, twelve years ago - a centre was on my programme. I had a good experience when I was involved in a project in Finland: it was physically a centre, where a group of researchers worked day to day, with lunch seminars and scholarly discussions over afternoon tea. In San Diego I was very close to a centre, but it fell through then. They did get a centre after I had left.

So when we opened the Cambridge/Homerton Research and Teaching centre for children's literature last week it was a dream of a lifetime come true.