Library filing cabinet

Dr Sarah Pyke

Munby Fellow 2023-24

Email: sap42@cam.ac.uk

Dr Sarah Pyke is an early career academic with research interests in materiality and children’s books, queer histories of reading and of the book. Most recently, she has been MHRA Postdoctoral Research Associate at Anglia Ruskin University, working to support the general editors of the three-volume Cambridge History of Children’s Literature in English. Following the completion of her PhD in 2020 at the University of Roehampton, Sarah worked on the AHRC-funded project Living Libraries, collecting oral histories now held at the British Library, and held research fellowships at the Institute of English Studies and Freie Universität, Berlin.

In 2023, she convened and taught a London Rare Books School course on the material object of the children’s book and co-convened, with Malcolm Noble, the three-day conference Queer Bibliography: Tools, Methods, Practices, Approaches. A co-edited special issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society on this emerging area will be out in 2024. Sarah has also published on readers' nontextual experiences with books, on childhood, rereading and queer temporality, and on public and institutional library practice. She is the recipient of the SHARP 25th Anniversary Award 2023-24.

Munby Fellow Project:
‘A real book, paper covered’: Illustrated children’s book covers and dust jackets in the twentieth century

This project will use the University Library’s legal deposit holdings (the Tower Collection) to survey illustrated dust jackets and covers of children’s books from 1910 to 1990. To use Gerard Genette’s term, dust jackets and covers comprise one of the ‘paratexts’ which not only surround and frame a text, but play a key part in interpretation. Usually a reader’s first, formative encounter with a book, dust jackets and covers shape expectations and the reading experience. Indeed, readers’ memories of books are often a composite of such paratextual cues, material qualities, and the powerful affective pull they retain. While paratexts have recently received attention from book historians, the children’s illustrated cover or jacket has received little sustained analysis, especially from a bibliographical rather than art historical perspective. This project reunites the jacket with the book. Tracing the history and development of twentieth-century children’s illustrated jackets and covers, it examines how they work to situate texts in particular ways, and to construct particular kinds of childhood, in terms of gender, race, nation, sexuality and class. The Tower Collection, which, unusually, preserves dust jackets and shelves works chronologically by size, offers an unparalleled opportunity to build a broad picture of changing trends. Keeping in mind Graham Greene’s dictum that all books in childhood ‘are books of divination, telling us about the future’, the project asks how covers were read, what kinds of identification they invited and what strategies they used (mediated by illustrators, authors and publishers) to shape and invite readerly investments. Folding together the haptic, visual and affective aspects of children's book covers and dust jackets, this project will make the case for renewed attention to these overlooked book parts as critical not only to our cultural history but to our development as readerly subjects.


  • ‘“The childhood I was meant to be in”: The queer time of reading’, Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History 15 (2023): 97-113.
  • ‘Nontextual preferences: On not reading, book use and queer subjectivities’ in Ursula Rautenberg and Ute Schneider, eds. Alles außer Lesen: Praxeologien des Buchgebrauchs (forthcoming, 2023), pp. 381-391.
  • ‘Roundtable Review: Queer/ing Book History. SHARP: Moving Texts. 2021’. SHARP News, 15 November 2021.
  • Review of Gabrielle Owen, A Queer History of Adolescence: Developmental Pasts, Relational Futures (University of Georgia Press, 2020), International Journal of Young Adult Literature 2.1 (2021): 1-4.
  • ‘Serendipity and Children’s Literature Research in the Library’ (co-authored with Kenneth Kidd and Lucy Pearson), International Research in Children’s Literature 9.2 (2016): 162-178