Meet the Collection team in our new regular blog feature and peak behind the scenes at the Seven Stories Archive.

What’s your name and what do you do at Seven Stories?
Hi, I’m Josie Sommer and I’m Collection and Exhibitions Assistant.

Josie cataloguing the Nick Sharratt Archive
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Can you tell us a bit about your role?
I’m based at the Seven Stories archive in Felling, Gateshead, and my main activities include cataloguing, preparing material for researchers, visitors, workshops and handling sessions as well as maintaining the Store and responding to enquiries. Basically, my role is to provide access to the Collection and to assist with the care of the Collection. It would be hard to describe an average day, because the role is so varied and there are always new things happening at Seven Stories, which is exciting!

What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m cataloguing the Nick Sharratt Archive, which is pretty big. The sheer volume of work and the number of titles he’s illustrated is huge. There a lot of roughs that really help you to get to grips with his process, and I find that fascinating, and it’s very cool seeing the original artwork for the Jacqueline Wilson novels you remember from your childhood! Also, the colours in his final cover artwork are brilliantly bold.

A selection of material from the Nick Sharratt Archive
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

What’s your favourite item in the Seven Stories collection and why?
I really enjoy seeing the Beverly Naidoo Archive – I haven’t seen it all yet (it’s pretty big), but every time I look at a new series of material I’m enthralled. Beverly is a prolific author whose work is framed by ideas of racial equality and delves into a lot of issues that need to be discussed in children’s literature. Her most famous work is probably Journey to Jo’burg (Longman, 1985).

I’ve recently been helping out with an alphabet book project that is to run with local schools that Seven Stories Collections Officer, Paula Wride, has been involved with. As part of this we worked with the material we have in the archive surrounding the alphabet picture book, S is for South Africa (Frances Lincoln, 2010), written by Beverly, with photographs by Prodeepta Das. There are some fascinating, thought-provoking and fierce letters about how race is portrayed in the book, particularly when it comes to which photographs are used. It’s great to have the correspondence between Beverly and her editors, which could be seen as a snapshot in time of the values reflected by children’s literature as well as demonstrating just how strong an influence children’s books can have. She’s a brilliant author and her archive is filled with such rich material that is valuable on so many levels and I think really palpably shows that books can not only respond to, but also take part in social change.

Beverly Naidoo's S is for South Africa (Frances Lincoln, 2010) and correspondence, BN/02/02/01
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

What has been your favourite experience of working with the Seven Stories collection?
I’ve been at Seven Stories since July and already it’s been such a fantastic experience. I enjoy being involved with different projects and doing something different every day. My top Seven Stories moment so far has been cataloguing the Pearl Binder Archive (read my post about it here), just because she is such a fascinating illustrator that I’d never heard of before and it was so brilliant to learn about her and see her beautiful, energetic artwork. Being able to work up-close with the collections is such a privilege and I feel like you really build up a relationship with the work.

It’s also quite surreal meeting people you admire. Recently, for example, poet Rowan McCabe came to the archive to select material to use in workshops as part of his residency at Seven Stories - that was pretty cool.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I can remember loving Not Now, Bernard by David McKee (Andersen Press, 1980). The deadpan ordinariness of the whole book is brilliant – I think it shaped the sense of humour that I have now. But my favourite children’s book was On the Way Home by Jill Murphy (Macmillan, 1982). It’s a story about a girl who grazes her knee and tells all of these fantastical stories to different people about how she got it, like a dragon dropping her from a height, or crashing to the ground from a spaceship. But then in the end when her Mum asks her how she got the graze, she cries and admits she fell over in a very ordinary way. I think I liked it because of all the cool animals – not only a dragon, but a hefty gorilla too - and also because I used to exaggerate (not lie…) and tell odd stories quite a lot as a child. I also used to fall over a lot. And the end always gets me.

If I had to pick a favourite children’s book now, I think it would be anything by American illustrator and author William Wondriska.

The ending of On the Way Home by Jill Murphy (Macmillan, 1982)
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Seven Stories was able to support the position of Collection and Exhibitions Assistant through support from a Heritage Lottery Fund ‘Collecting Cultures’ grant. This has been awarded to Seven Stories in recognition of the museum’s national role in telling a comprehensive story of modern British children’s literature. For more information on our HLF Collecting Cultures project see:

If you’d like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collections, you can browse our catalogue, explore our archives online, email us via or leave a comment below!