Beth, our Learning and Participation Coordinator at Seven Stories, explains why #archivesrock. She uses our collections to inspire children to love books, to love writing and drawing, and to feel confident to create.
As Learning and Participation Coordinator, using material from the Seven Stories archive is my favourite part of my job!
Although we hold some sumptuous final illustrations and masterfully crafted typescripts in our archive, for me the magic of our collection material is that a lot of it ISN’T perfect. Because Seven Stories collects all items relating to the process of creating a book, our Collection Team treats scribbles, crumpled research articles, notes, scruffy sketches, incomplete letters and coffee-stained manuscripts from authors and illustrators with just as much special care as their final printed books.
DA/02/01/06 - Manuscript notes on the plot, characters and setting for 'My Dad's a Birdman' by David Almond. ©Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
One of my highlights has been sharing David Almond notes and Polly Dunbar’s artwork for My Dad’s a Birdman with teachers. When education professionals see the ‘mess’ that goes into creating a seemingly perfect finished book, they often have a lightbulb moment about how to approach creative writing or arts activities with their classes. I remember one teacher saying during a professional development session - “we’ve been teaching it all wrong, haven’t we?”   I think she meant that there can be too much expectation on children and young people to create something that is perfect first time, when actually the true creative process is surprising & full of tangles along the way!
Photograp©Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
However, the best reactions often come from children and young people themselves. During one partnership project, we used Michael Rosen’s notes and scribbles to inspire children in their own creative writing. When they saw that he had jotted down funny poem ideas on the backs of torn envelopes and letters from his child’s school, it opened their eyes to the real lives of writers and changed their perception of what ‘proper’ writing is. In that way, the archive material helps children to see that being a confident writer is achievable and that there is no right or wrong way to approach writing for pleasure.
MR/01/08 - Draft material  by Micheal Rosen relating to various poems first published in 'The Hypnotiser' in 1988.  ©Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
Pictures created when illustrators were children can also be hugely inspiring. Judith Kerr’s childhood drawings from her time as a refugee during WWII, which were carefully protected by her mother during the years that the family travelled through Europe, are a perfect example of this – when children see the pictures it is as though they have a window into Judith’s life. They can see that she is not an untouchable celebrity but a warm human being, who was once 11 years old and interested in drawing exactly the kind of things that they are interested in. The fact that these original children’s drawings are so many years old makes the children gasp, but so does the fact that they are considered to be special enough to be framed in a gallery. It’s a powerful realisation. The 11-year-old children have a new confidence when later on we ask them to create their own illustrations telling the story of their own life.
Inspired by Judith Kerr. Photograph ©Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
When school groups visit us at Seven Stories, we ask them to look closely at the collection material in our exhibitions and to share what it tells them about how authors and illustrators work. They tell us that it’s brilliant to see that even ‘real’ writers make mistakes. We agree, it is brilliant – after all, mistakes help you learn! At the end of our sessions we ask the children and young people, “Would you like to have an exhibition at Seven Stories one day?”
Photograph ©Damien Wootten for Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books
It’s an important question, and we listen carefully to their answers, because (if they make enough mistakes, and keep their notes and sketches safe)…who’s to say that they won’t?




- Beth Coverdale

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