Alison Waller

Rereading Childhood Books: Memory and Emotion

Alison Waller‘s research examines how adults remember, reconstruct and reread books from their past. She aims to challenge dominant views which oppose childhood and adult reading, establishing in their place a model of the reader in time. The monograph she is writing (Rereading Childhood Books: Memory and Emotion) explores in detail the forms of memory implicated in remembering childhood fiction, and suggests ways that these cognitive faculties interact with emotions and the reading imagination. It also investigates relationships between private memories and broader cultural narratives, with a particular focus on British readers who were children in the twentieth century.

As well as analysing autobiographical accounts by children’s authors and other writers with an interest in childhood, Alison’s study introduces the voices of general adult readers from the UK who have participated in a rereading project. Between 2010 and the present she has surveyed around 100 adults about their memories of childhood reading and their recollections about the content and context of significant childhood texts. She has worked with 30 participants who were willing to remember and reread a significant book they had not read since childhood. These individuals have produced accounts of remembered reading and accounts of rereading, either in written form or in interview with Alison.

Alison has undertaken two sub-projects:

  1. Rereading Swallows and Amazons. A collaborative study on intergenerational reception, comparing the responses of five children reading Arthur Ransome’s novel for the first time, and five adults remembering and rereading the novel.
  2. Men Reread The Secret Garden. A study with five men who remember reading Burnett’s novel when they were boys, to interrogate its status as ‘girls’ classic’.

Publications related to this research:

  • ‘Childhood Books as Time-Capsules: Rereading the Self’ in Sebastian Groes (ed.) Memory in the Twenty-first Century: Critical Perspectives from the Sciences and Arts and Humanities. Palgrave: forthcoming 2015.
  • ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever!: how adults and children engage in reading a classic text’. Children’s Literature in Education 42:4 (December 2011) 354-371. Co-authored with Fiona Maine.
  • ‘Revisiting Childhood Landscapes: from Druid’s Grove to Narnia.’ The Lion and the Unicorn 34:3 (September 2010) 303-319.
  • ‘Psychic Barriers and Contact Zones: Rereading Rose and the Rupture between Child and Adult’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35: 3 (Fall 2010) 274-289

The Memory Network

Since 2012 Alison has been co-organiser of The Memory Network, a multi-disciplinary AHRC-funded enterprise that brings together researchers, creative practitioners, and organisations to provoke and fuel original thinking about memory in the twenty-first century. More information about the Network’s activities and publications can be found here:



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