Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

UK university courses in Children’s Literature and Book Illustration

Posted on | April 22, 2014 | 9 Comments

Seeing as you’re here reading my blog, you no doubt have an interest in children’s literature, and the art to be found in books for children but have you ever thought about taking that interest further, and studying at university, as an evening course, or at a summer school?

Thanks to a query from Catherine Butler, originally posted on the JISCMail’s Children’s Literature UK list, I’ve gathered together the UK university courses which include at least a module on children’s literature, or illustrating books for children and young people.

Even if you don’t want to take an academic course (though do read this article by former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen on “why it pays to study children’s literature“), many of the links below include reading lists and course outlines, and offer plenty more books to add to your TBR pile!

Children’s literature courses at UK Universities

smallbookThe University of Roehampton offers an MA/PGDip in Children’s Literature . This course can also be completed by distance learning and you can get a good flavour of it here. You can follow the Roehampton course on Twitter: @NCRCL

The University of Bolton runs an MA in Children’s Literature and Culture, led by David Rudd. This is a part-time course, and a course outline can be found here. The University of Bolton also has two modules on the undergraduate BA English programme: Children’s Literature: Exploding the Canon and Constructing the Child in Film and Media (which includes adaptation). A brief description of these two courses can be found here.

Reading also offers an MA in Children’s Literature (the oldest accredited children’s literature course in the UK). Staff include Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, Sue Walsh and Neil Cocks.

Birkbeck used to offer both an MA Children’s Literature and MA Children’s Literature and Writing. Staff included former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) and author Julia Bell (@JuliaBell). I’ve included the link here as the course overview is still available (as of April 2014) and may be of interest.

An MA in English (Literatures of Childhood) is offered by Cantebury Christ Church University.

The University of Sunderland runs a Children’s Literature MA.

Cambridge University runs an MPhil/MEd Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature course and is closely linked to The Cambridge/Homerton Research and Teaching Centre for Children’s Literature.

From next year (2014-2015) you could study for an MA in Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths.

BJ Epstein (@bjepstein) teaches an undergraduate course in children’s literature at The University of East Anglia. Here’s a reading list and course outline.

The Open University offers a module in children’s literature. Click here to see the course outline. The Open University is dedicated to distance learning, and so this module is open to anyone worldwide (who meets the entry requirements).

Cardiff University runs a Level 1 course, “Exploring Children’s Literature“. It is not currently running, but you can register your interest for when it become available again. The webpage includes a course outline and reading list.

Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education sometimes offers a course on Edwardian Children’s Literature, which is open to the public. The course is run by Dr Sara Zadrozny (@s_zb).

Regular undergraduate students at Oxford can also take an optional paper in Children’s Literature in in their 3rd year, though I cannot find an online link to the course details.

Anglia Ruskin has an undergraduate module in ‘Theorising Children’s Literature‘, and is about to validate a summer school MA in Children’s Literature.

The University of Central Lancashire runs Children’s Literature modules as part of the BA English Literature Programme, taught by Helen Day. Helen also runs the MA Writing for Children, which includes the History of Children’s Literature, Crossover Fiction and Screenwriting for Children.

The Children’s Literature Unit at Newcastle University is part of the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics and they have three staff who specialise in children’s literature. There are several children’s literature modules across their undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes, and they also offer an MLitt in Children’s Literature. A list of staff and their interests can be found here. The unit collaborates closely with Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children’s Book (click here for a review of my last visit there).

The University of Southampton offers a module on Children’s Literature, co-ordinated by Karen Seymour.

The University of Worcester hosts the International Forum for Research in Children’s Literature (IFRCL). A module on children’s literature is available as part of the English Literary Studies BA, and is taught by Jean Webb.

At the University of Glasgow you can take an Honours option in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century British Literature for Children in the English Department, or an M Ed in Children’s Literature and Literacies in the School of Education.

The University of Wolverhampton offers a second year module in children’s literature.

Sheffield Hallam offers an optional Children’s Literature module for undergraduates on their BA English, BA English Literature, and BA Creative Writing courses.

The BA in English and BA in English and Education Studies at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln include a second-year core module on ‘Children’s Literature’ covering texts from the eighteenth century to more recent work by Malorie Blackman, J. K. Rowling, and picture books.

The University of Lincoln has a third-year module on the literature of childhood, looking at texts about and by as well as for children, taught by Hannah Field.

The University of West England has a third-year module on ‘Children’s Fiction since 1900′, taught by Catherine Butler and Ann Alston, who also supervise PhDs in the field of children’s literature.

The University of Winchester runs an MA in Writing for Children, whislt Bath Spa offers an MA in Writing for Young People. These are a practical courses for aspiring authors, rather than literature appreciation courses.

Children’s Book Illustration courses at UK Universities

smallbookAnglia Ruskin University runs a well established MA Children’s Book Illustration. Martin Salisbury and Pam Smy lead a team of staff which includes many visiting children’s book illustrators. The University also runs a week long Children’s Book Illustration Summer School.

The University of Central Lancashire also runs an MA in Children’s Book Illustration. Undergraduate students can also modules on children’s book illustration as part of UCLan’s BA in Illustration.

Other universities with a strong tradition in general illustration though not specifically children’s book illustration include the University of Brighton, Kingston, Falmouth and the University of West England. The Manchester School of Art MA/MFA Illustration also incorporates elements of illustration for children, as does the University of Worcester’s BA in Illustration (where the course is run by illustrator Piet Grobler).

The MA Children’s Literature and Culture at the University of Bolton includes a unit, ‘Visual Narratives’ which looks not only at illustrated books but also comics and graphic novels. Unlike the others listed above this is not a practical art course but focuses on the interplay of text and illustration in young people’s texts, drawing on cultural theory, art theory and visual studies.

Looking to continental Europe, there are practical children’s book illustration courses in Italy (Sàrmede), Spain (Ilustratour) and Portugal.

My thanks go to to Catherine Butler, Farah Mendlesohn, Linda Sever, David Rudd, Pat Hanby, Lucy Pearson, B.J. Epstein, Diane Purkiss, Vanessa Harbour, Jean Webb, Martin Salisbury, Marta Borges, Maureen Farrell, Hannah Love, Julia Cameron, Zoe Boyd Clack, Daisy Johnson and Gabriela Steinke for their original responses on either the JISCMail’s Children’s Literature UK list, the JISCMail Picture Book Research List or Twitter.

All errors are of course my own. Please let me know about any other courses you know of, including those which are part-time and open to to the interested general public.

42? Sausages? On the meaning of life and Tim Hopgood’s Little Answer

Posted on | April 17, 2014 | 4 Comments

littleanswerBoth giggle inducing and surreptitiously brain expanding, Little Answer by Tim Hopgood is about BIG questions (“What is the meaning of life?”, “What is the secret to happiness?”).

And sausages.

Yes, really. It’s about sausages.

And I say that even though you could in fact argue Little Answer is ultimately about the biggest existential questions any of us face; it’s about trying to find out who we are, about trying to understand how we fit into the big wide world.

Profound AND full of laugh out loud moments, kindness and good old fashioned silliness, this is a fabulous book for all ages.

In this philosophical and joyously absurd book Little Answer actually knows his name (‘Sausages‘), but the worrying problem is that he can’t find his question. Something’s missing in his life, and until he can find the Q to his A, things just don’t feel right.

With help from a friend, Little Answer asks around. Could he be the answer to “What makes the wind blow?” or “Where did everything come from?”. There must be a question out there just right for him to answer…

Children will recognise themselves in the gloriously satisfying end to this book, and they and their parents will enjoy the inclusion of brief answers to all the more challenging questions posed in the story. Indeed this is the perfect book for children always asking “Why?”

Tim’s richly textured illustrations are bright and beautiful. His scribbles and prints, full of energy, have an appealing child-like quality to them. Thick crayon strokes look like they’ve just been drawn on the page. And Little Answer’s characterization is brilliant; he’s utterly personable and endearing!


Tim’s told me that the idea for this book came to him during a question and answer session at the end of one his school visits.

One boy put his hand up and said “I’ve got a guinea-pig” and the teacher then explained to the boy that that wasn’t a question.

She then asked the class “What does a question need?” to which they all replied “An answer!”.

And at that point Tim immediately thought, “But what if the answer can’t find its question…”

I do hope that little boy and his guinea pig one day find out they’ve inspired a wonderful, witty, and warm book perfect for feeding (and satisfying) curiosity.


You know a book’s hit home when within just a couple of hours of it arriving, the kids are already at play, inspired by the book. And so it was with Little Answer. Balloons were filled with rice (making them lovely to hold), and then eyes, smiles and legs were added to make our own Little Answers.


M couldn’t resist making a BIG Answer too! And the answers didn’t go nameless for long.


They were called:

  • Butterfly
  • Mummy
  • Chocolate
  • Loa Loa
  • Ovaries
  • Mint
  • and… 55 (she was the BIG Answer)

  • The girls told me that these were all answers to questions they had come up with, and it was now my job to find out what those questions were.

    Well I like a challenge, and I was certain that one of the questions must involve cake, so off we set for a cafe.


    To the huge delight of the girls, I was WRONG! None of their answers involved anything to do with a cafe (though they were more than happy to try some cake, just to be sure).


    I thought I better up my game, so I then decided that the local library would be a good place to look for questions. M was very obliging and looked up the dewey numbers for the books which might help me find the right questions to the answers she and her sister had prepared.


    So at least I was in the right section for some of my questions…. and I started knuckled down to work, with the Little Answers looking along side me.


    The Big Answer preferred to lounge about!


    I have to admit, it was quite a struggle to find the right questions. But in case you’re wondering what they were here they are:

  • What has antennae, wings and is beautiful?
  • Who do you find in Ancient Egyptian tombs?
  • What does Cadburys make?
  • Name a nematode that might live in your gut
  • Name a part of a flower
  • What’s my (M’s) favourite herb?

  • And are you ready for the really really BIG question?

  • What is 165 divided by 3?

  • I especially liked the big question. It really reminds you how different the world can see when you’re a kid!

    Even if I struggled to find all the questions in the library, we had so much fun with this activity. Any game where the kids are in the know and the adults are clueless is always popular in this home! Plus, along the way we got to practise research skills and giggle a great deal. What could be better?

    Music we listened to whilst making our little answers included:

  • There Are More Questions Than Answers by Johnny Nash
  • The Dewey Decimal Rap
  • What’s The Answer? by Gene Harris & The Three Sounds

  • Other fun activities to try out alongside reading Little Answer include:

  • Playing Sausages! Great for a quick giggle… go on, give it a go!
  • Printing your own fabric to match the dress worn by Daisy in the book. Here’s a how the Artful Parent did child friendly fabric printing.
  • Making a snail friend for your little answers. Older children might enjoy making these ones from old tights or sweaters, whilst everyone will love eating these ones!
  • Reading Tim Hopgood’s BIG! (here’s my review) or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, both of which pair perfectly (though in different ways) with Little Answer.

  • What are you the answer to? What questions are you looking for? :-)

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Little Answer from the author.

    In Heaven

    Posted on | April 14, 2014 | 6 Comments

    This weekend I was in heaven. 48 hours of being surrounded by articulate, engaging, thought provoking, charming, and downright inspirational people does a lot towards making the world seem a good place.

    Here are just a few of said people:

    Cressida Cowell was on a high from having come pretty much straight from being present at the recording of the film score for ‘How to train your Dragon 2′. Always enthusiastic, my favourite line from her was, “Writing picture books is like writing haikus for aliens.”

    Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve need to put on a West End/Broadway Show; they have it all in terms of panache, fun, costumes and great song. We also got a sneak peek of their next book, ‘Cakes in Space’. Wow.

    Meg Rosoff bravely shared pictures of her brain with us (yep, the slide above shows her brain when she sits down to try and write a new book). If ever you have the opportunity to listen to Meg talk, seize it with both hands. She was incredibly engaging, witty and clever. I sound a bit like a fawning teenager, but seriously, she was incredible.

    Two people I met this weekend made me cry with their beauty and thoughtfulness, and one of them was Ruta Sepetys. As you can see, Ruta also made me BEAM. If you haven’t read her books, you have such a treat ahead of you, and when you learn some of the stories behind the books your heart will break and then be made whole again.

    lyngardner450Lyn Gardner spoke with such infection enthusiasm for her Olivia I found myself wanting to run off to stage school.

    kategreenawaywinnersAnthony Browne (centre) terrified all of us present with stories about how a gorilla once took a chunk out of his leg, and the TV crew filming insisted on carrying on! Helen Oxenbury sparkled with charm and mischief. It was especially interesting to hear how even though both illustrators use a lot of watercolour in their work, they approach it in such different ways.

    There were very many more treasured moments this weekend, but I was too busy listening or deep in conversation to take photos! On a very personal note, I had enormous fun interviewing Damian Kelleher, Cate Cain, Sarah Crossan, Anne Cassidy and Ian Beck. It was simply an honour to share a stage with them.

    So the folk around were pretty amazing (slight understatement there!), and the setting was beautiful:



    Over the next couple of days, more photos of all the authors and illustrators I shared my weekend with will be up here. But now I’m off to do a little bit of reading (I returned this weekend with 63 books….)

    Happy Reading to you all!

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