Over the coming months we are exploring the theme of radicalism in children’s books. Through form, style or content – radical children’s literature encourages readers to see the world and their place in it in new ways and from fresh perspectives and to challenge norms, not least of which is the perceived innocence of children and childhood and the need to preserve this.

Throughout the 20th century and now 21st century we have witnessed a steady movement towards an increasing amount of radical children’s and YA publishing that empowers children and young people to question the status quos, in terms of race, gender/sexual identity, prejudice and injustice in all forms, environmental issues and many other topics.

Here at Seven Stories we collect material from the 1930s onwards, so the Collection and the Book Collection together charts the emergence of Radical Children’s Literature as a driving, innovative force in modern British publishing: from socialist illustrator of children’s books, Pearl Binder (1930-1970s) to Geoffrey Trease’s left-wing retellings of historical stories (1930s/40s). One of the things the Collection shows is that the development of radical children’s books is problematic, whatever the intentions of the publishers and authors. Take Leila Berg’s editorship of the ‘Nippers’ series (1960s), which addressed the absence of working-class lives in children’s publishing and BAME people in children’s publishing in general. Despite being well-intentioned and inspired by Berg’s fundamental beliefs in the rights of children and a desire to increase diversity in children’s publishing, some titles were criticised for their stereotypical and simplistic portrayal of issues of race and prejudice.

The 1970s saw a new wave of children’s and young adult publishing that produced radical content for readers, and which shaped modern British children’s and YA publishing. Macmillan Education’s ‘Topliner’ imprint, edited by Aidan Chambers, set about addressing issues of race and racism, and realistic portrayals of young people’s relationships, including non-judgemental exploration of sexual relationships. With this the language of children’s and YA books changed, with calls for greater realism that reflected the reality of children’s lives, so too did the content. In the later 20th century authors such as Aidan Chambers, Melvin Burgess and Beverly Naidoo have pushed boundaries in children’s fiction and YA fiction through a range of subjects, frankly dealt with. In their work are themes of sexuality and sexual identity, drug addiction and refugee experiences in Britain with all of this being mapped in the Seven Stories Collection.

There are criticisms of Radical Children’s and YA Literature including the notion that it serves adult needs, such as to politicise children and young people or to promote liberal/social agendas. Here at Seven Stories we are charting these emerging discourses for future generations through work with our extensive Collection.