A new centre for Research and Teaching in Children’s Literature has been formally launched this week in Cambridge as part of the Faculty of Education.  The centre consists of thirteen researchers, all of whom are existing members of the Faculty.

Researchers will survey the impact of various cultural materials upon the ideological development of children, from an early age through to adolescence. Less-traditional media platforms, such as videogames and fan fiction, will be analysed alongside literary classics such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Experts in the fields of Education and Children’s Literature attest the importance of such studies, arguing that films and books have a profound impact on children, shaping their sense of identity and perception of the world around them.

Morag Styles, a member of the steering group for the centre, said: “The texts we read in childhood can have lifelong significance to us. Many of these texts are rich and deep and worthy of detailed analysis”.

Professor Maria Nikolajeve, the first director of the centre, indicated that the centre’s work will play an important role in influencing the messages and forms of children’s popular culture, stating, “If what we regard as trash is popular with young people, we need to know why and whether, as researchers and teachers, we can offer them something that addresses the same needs but also deals with these themes in a critical and ethical way”.

She also defended the choice to study unconventional sources such as comic books and Disney films, saying, “We live in a multimedia society. If we just pretend these things do not exist, we could lose a very important dimension of children’s competence at interpreting stories”.

Although a small selection of similar institutes already exists in the UK, founders of the centre maintain that the research carried out in Cambridge signifies a unique contribution to the field, due to its scope and multidisciplinary approach. Scholars will attempt to draw links between previously disparate areas of study, such as literature and the social sciences.

Ms. Styles pointed out that Cambridge has taught Children’s Literature courses for over two decades, but sees the centre as an exciting progression. She said, “Having a centre draws attention to our work and attracts new scholars”.

An international conference on teenage literature entitled ‘The Emergent Adult’ will take place in September. Experts at the centre anticipate high-profile speakers such as Philip Pullman, who is attending the autumn conference of 2011.