Well we asked for feedback and we got it. Waiting to hear what you thought of Books for Keeps, wondering if you'd even bother to tell us, was nerve-wracking. Thank you to all who wrote (there were many) for your enthusiasm, support and suggestions. I hope to reply to everyone in time. Meanwhile we've responded straightaway to a nationwide plea. You asked for ISBNs to be included: you've got them.
Books for Keeps on `Bookshelf'
Did you hear us on Radio 4's Bookshelf on April 6th? We were delighted to be asked on the programme: it's lively, informative and does an excellent job of taking the cultural mystique out of books and arousing enthusiasm instead. Imagine how we felt when Frank Delaney, the presenter, said he thought that's just what we were doing with Books for Keeps!
But enough trumpet blowing - a magazine is only as good as its next issue.
What's in this issue?
There's a lot about parents. Richard Bourne, asked to comment on the Cuts (page 4). talks about `bringing in the organisational and financial muscle of the parents'. Great, where it exists. In many schools financial muscles are already strained; but you can help organisational muscle to develop (see How To... p. 20). For me the best reason for involving parents is that they then understand more clearly what teachers are trying to achieve and what their problems are. So informed, they can add their voices to the demand for better provision for books in schools and libraries. They might also be able to persuade those who decide such things that what teachers who run school bookshops want is not the opportunity to retire after three years, but time off to run the bookshop as a vital part of the curriculum.
Prizes for the Winners
For the winner of the Eleanor Farjeon Award there is a modest prize of £50, `an appropriate gift' and the honour of having been chosen. The winners of the new National Book Awards receive £7,500 and a medal. (See News, page 22) It's good to see a writer getting a substantial award; but let's hope that the Arts Council doesn't think that it has now done its duty by Children's Literature. One more award isn't going to help persuade more children and young people that books and `the Arts' aren't just the province of some cultural elite but are instead a source of satisfaction, excitement and sheer enjoyment that is open to all. We shall be looking carefully to see what else is forthcoming for children and books.
A clutch of coincidences
It was pouring with rain the day Richard Hill, Richard Mewton (our photographer) and I went to interview Penelope Lively; but the snowdrops were thick in the banks and the welcome at Duck End (very appropriate) was warm and friendly. Richard (Hill) and Penelope discovered a mutual passion for vegetable gardening and we very nearly got an Authorgraph full of hints on growing onions and avoiding carrot fly. By a happy coincidence the Arts Council Award for adult fiction has gone to Penelope Lively for Treasures of Time (Heinemann). Our warmest congratulations. The police and parking meter people had better watch the double yellow lines outside Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford! Now she really can afford to pay the fine! (See Authorgraph, page 14).
By another coincidence Ann Schlee's The Vandal (Guardian Award winner) shares with Penelope Lively's stories a concern with memory. It's a powerful and intriguing story. Roll on the paperback.
Astercote on TV
Penelope lively told us that BBC TV are going to serialise Astercote and that only a few days before our visit she had been driving around Oxfordshire looking for suitable locations. We asked her how she felt about having a book televised. `I'm glad they've chosen a book which I don't feel deeply bound up with. It will be fun to watch. If it was a book I felt strongly about, like Going Back, I should feel I wanted to interfere all the time.'
A book to set everyone talking
Is it or isn't it a children's book? What? Gentleman Jim, of course, the latest picture book from Raymond Briggs and successor to Father Christmas and Fungus the Bogeyman, It's the story of a lavatory attendant, Jim, whose dreams of becoming an executive, an ace pilot, a cowboy, etc. are thwarted at every turn by the system (he hasn't got The Levels), by money (cowboy boots £57) and by bureaucracy.
It certainly won't mean much to young children - but does that matter? Forget categories and welcome a book that is funny, satirical, poignant and even tragic and makes reading picture books respectable for everyone.
Gentleman Jim Raymond Briggs Hamish Hamilton £3.25 0 241 10281 2
A book to treasure
Alison Uttley's first four Little Grey Rabbit stories have been out of print for some years, and the original, familiar Margaret Tempest illustrations have been lost. Heinemann, wanting to reissue the stories in an anthology, asked Faith Jaques for new illustrations. The result is a joy - 54 line drawings and 4 colour plates so much in the spirit of the stories that there is no room to regret the lost originals. The increased number of illustrations, plus larger print, should in fact make these rather long stories accessible to even more children and their parents.
Tales of Little Grey Rabbit Alison Uttley, Illustrated Faith Jaques Heinemann £4.50 0 434 96924 9
Up and Up!
Printing and paper costs mean that another round of price increases for books is on the way. Hardbacks that have been in print for some time will look like very good value - it might be a good idea to do some searching while there's still time. Some paperbacks are still under 50p. Why not start a `bargain' section in the bookshop?
Best wishes and keep writing!