Child’s First Tales written by the Brontë sisters’ headmaster Reverend William Carus Wilson. Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, c. 1829 © British Library Board

Matilda and Miss Trunchbull by Quentin Blake, from Matilda by Roald Dahl. Puffin, 1988 © Roald Dahl Story Company/Quentin Blake

Illustration by M.A. and W.A.J. Claus in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. First UK edition, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1908 © British Library Board

Original artwork for ‘When the Bell Rings’ (better known as ‘The Bash Street Kids’), by Leo Baxendale, published in Beano, 20 July 1957 © D.C. Thompson & Co. Ltd.

The ultimate punishment: the class is banished to the Scottish Highlands © D.C. Thompson & Co. Ltd.

Zog, Princess Pearl and Sir Gadabout from Zog. Alison Green Books, 2010 © Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Original artwork for What Planet Are You From Clarice Bean? Orchard Books, 2001 © Lauren Child

Detail of Lauren Child’s collage technique © Lauren Child

Page from Charlotte Brontë’s fair copy manuscript of Jane Eyre, 1847 © Brontë Parsonage Museum

Outwitting the Beast in Billy and the Beast by Nadia Shireen. Jonathan Cape, 2018 © Nadia Shireen

Cover art for Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. Walker Books, 2018 © Jessica Love

Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels (8 November 2019 to 1 March 2020) is a free British Library exhibition spotlighting famous rebels in children’s literature. Featuring such perennial favourites as Tracy Beaker, Pippi Longstocking, Jane Eyre and Matilda, as well as new characters including Omar from Planet Omar, Billy from Billy and the Beast and Dirty Bertie, the exhibition shines a light on the Library’s vast collection of children’s literature and explores an array of vibrant characters who break the rules and defy conventions.

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Books and manuscripts from the Library’s collections, in addition to original artwork, tell the history of rebels in children’s literature, from the 17th century to items published as recently as this year. In addition, there are loan items from Axel Scheffler, Beano Studios and D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd., David Roberts, Lauren Child, Marie-Alice Harel, Sir Quentin Blake, The Folio Society, the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Seven Stories and Zanib Mian.

The exhibition highlights how rebels in children’s literature have been presented in many different ways: characters who stand up for what they believe in, break away from convention, have a cause they are striving for, are extremely resilient, survive difficult situations, or are just a bit naughty.

Exploring characters’ adventures and adversities at home, at school and on journeys, the exhibition also includes interactive elements such as the opportunity to write your own story, or dress up as a rebel.

Amongst the instantly recognisable characters on display, highlights include:

  • The oldest item in the exhibition, a Latin textbook containing doodles from rebellious schoolboys, titled Sententiæ pueriles, 1680.
  • A first edition of Pippi Longstocking published in Sweden, 1945.
  • The first UK edition of Anne of Green Gables, 1908.
  • The first colour version of George Cruikshank’s illustrations of Oliver Twist, 1911.
  • The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Raúf, winner of best story at the Blue Peter Book Awards and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019.
  • Jessica Love’s Julian is a Mermaid (2018).
  • Original artworks by much-loved illustrators including Axel Scheffler (Zog), Sir Quentin Blake (Matilda), Nick Sharratt (Tracy Beaker), Judith Kerr (When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit), which demonstrate the crucial relationship between authors and illustrators in the creation of children’s literature.

“Children’s literature over the last 300 years has shown that rebels come in all shapes and sizes,” says lead curator Lucy Evans, “from the wilful, bold Matilda, the ambitious Princess Pearl, to the resilient Ahmet from The Boy at the Back of the Class. Many of the books displayed in the exhibition share powerful messages highlighting contemporary themes prevalent amongst the younger generation and illustrate how literature can inspire and motivate society today.”

A series of events inspired by the exhibition includes a range of adult learning courses from Illustrating Children’s Literature and Interactive Fiction to a weekend creative writing masterclass and a study day on fairy tales. School groups can enjoy exclusive access on Tuesdays and Wednesdays including free, activity-led facilitated workshops for primary students.

Event highlights include:

  • Monday 11 November: Jacqueline Wilson Rebel Girls, celebrating her latest Tracy Beaker book, We Are The Beaker Girls.
  • Friday 15 November: Hey, That’s Like My Friend, celebrating a new raft of diverse voices in children’s literature with Zanib Mian, winner of the Little Rebels Award (Planet Omar), and Onjali Raúf, Blue Peter Book Award winner and the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 (The Boy at the Back of the Class).
  • Sunday 17 November: Relaxed Early Opening for Families, with children on the autism spectrum and other sensory need.
  • Monday 25 November: Crick Crack Club: Rebel Children, Performance storytelling by Jan Blake and Ben Haggarty.
  • Sunday 1 December: A Marvellous and Mischievous Sunday, featuring three sessions with world-famous authors such as Lauren Child, Dougie Poynter and Patrice Lawrence.
  • Thursday 12 December: Literature Matters: Young Rebels, with former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, reflecting on her writing career and how her work has been adapted into graphic fiction, plays and TV series.

Marvellous and Mischievous is a free exhibition, but booking is recommend in advance. During its run, the British Library is offering a children’s lunchbox for £4 in The Last Word cafe on the Piazza, the Upper Ground Cafe and the Terrace Cafe (Floor 1) or a free children’s main course with any adult main course purchased in the Terrace Restaurant.
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