The archive of the British author, educationalist, critic, and champion of children’s literature Aidan Chambers and his wife, Nancy, the publisher of Signal and Thimble Press, is a treasure trove for researchers. Andrea Davidson (research group ACDC) consulted Aidan Chambers’ papers at Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle, U.K. Her research reconstructed the process by which Chambers wrote his first Young Adult (YA) novels between the late 1960s to the early 1980s. (Text: Andrea Davidson)
“I believe this is Socratic,” Aidan Chambers began the conversation when Andrea Davidson interviewed him in November 2019. What Chambers meant was: I am open to answering open-ended questions. The phrase that Davidson first took as her cue to begin asking and listening eventually became the backbone of her doctoral dissertation about authorship, education, and the construction of age in Chambers’ YA fiction.
An all-age pedagogy for literature
At the same time that Chambers wrote Breaktime (1978) and Dance On My Grave (1982), he was collaborating with a group of in-service teachers to develop a pedagogy for introducing literature in primary-school classrooms. Called the “Tell Me” approach, this pedagogy invites children to talk about books by describing their reading experience.
Davidson found that the “Tell Me” approach also features in Chambers’ YA fiction. Not only does Chambers represent “Tell Me”-style conversations in his novels’ stories: he also used the “Tell Me” approach to prompt his writing. This pedagogy proved equally resonant for an adult author and his intended adolescent readers as it was for Chambers in primary-school classrooms.
The conversation that happens during a “Tell Me” class is called “booktalk.” When Chambers sat down in 1975 to write YA fiction, he eased himself into a “Tell Me”-style practice of authorship that Davidson names “Writing Talk.”
Many of the conversations about books and writing in which Chambers engaged during this time have been preserved in his archive. Some of these conversations are even fictional, such as when Chambers wrote scripts of dialogue between himself and one of his characters. What he talked about, with whom, and how, galvanized literature pedagogy into literary creation.
Andrea Davidson: Andrea.Davidson@uantwerpen.be