SELCIE Goes to the Edinburgh International Book Festival!

None of us imagined when we first started unpacking the Museum of Childhood book collection over 2 years ago, that we would subsequently be performing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  But it has happened!

In May 2017 I sent a tentative email to the book festival organisers, explaining that we were planning to create an exhibition of children’s books based on our findings in the archives.  And that with the generous funding of the University of Edinburgh, we would have a publication to go along with the exhibition.

At this stage we hadn’t written the book or finalised our themes for the exhibition, but we knew we had a good idea and that everyone loves children’s books!  Fingers crossed, they would be interested.  In October we finally met with them and described the wonderful collection, the work that SELCIE had been doing to bring the collection out from its crates and into the public domain.

After 4 months waiting, in February this year we heard that SELCIE and the Museum of Childhood would indeed be part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  We were all very excited – and all rather nervous about making sure we had the publication finished in time!  Sarah Dunnigan kept us to task, and the whole SELCIE team contributed to the final product – the Growing Up With Books book.

You can buy the book at the Museum of Childhood shop for a bargain price of £6.00 with the proceeds going to Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital.  And it will be available at the SELCIE conference on 23 November (more information about that here).

As the big day arrived we gathered at Charlotte Square where we hung out with fellow authors in the Author’s Yurt, and browsed the extensive book shop.

SELCIE hanging in the signing tent while Gordon Brown photo bombs in the background.

On the same day as our event, 15 August, some other celebrities were at the festival, notably the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Brian May from Queen, June Sarpong, Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin.  All quite daunting, but exciting too!  How amazing that SELCIE was part of this international festival.

Sarah and I got microphones attached and were led into our tent ‘theatre’ where our audience were waiting for us to tell them about ‘What children have been reading’.  We had almost a full house, and it certainly felt like we were being led onto a stage, about to perform. Sarah and I had so much we wanted to share with our audience about the Museum collection, so it was hard to condense it into 45 minutes, but we managed not to go over time, which meant the audience had a chance to ask us questions at the end.

I outlined the history of the Museum and the breadth of the book collection, highlighting some star objects and then describing the SELCIE project and five themes of the exhibition and book:

  • Learning to Read – Picture books, ABCs and nursery rhymes
  • Worlds of Knowledge – Early subjects that children studies, Natural History, Religion and Humanities
  • Shaping Identities – Gender specific publications and guides for how boys and girls should behave
  • Worlds of Imagination – The worlds of fairy tales and imaginary worlds
  • The Lives of Books – How people have interacted with books, inscriptions, owners and drawings

Sarah then talked about the theme of lost voices and emotional memory the archive: how it showed the importance of women writers and illustrators in the history of children’s literature across a diversity of genres; and contained imprints and traces of the young readers who once loved these books

We received an enthusiastic response after our talk, with a good selection of questions and conversation afterwards.

It felt like a privilege to be involved in such a prestigious festival, but I also know that the book collection stands on its own merit.  It is of national significance, which is recognised by the Scottish Government, and this is the start of its journey in being known to more people and being a valuable resource for students and the public.  None of the above would have been possible without the SELCIE team volunteering many hours, so I would like to say THANK YOU SELECIE and here’s to many more future projects.

This post written by Lyn Stevens

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