Chris Smith is the new Labour government’s Secretary of State for National Heritage, an appointment widely welcomed by the book industry. The minister in Smith’s department with responsibility for libraries is Mark Fisher who believes that the public library service is the ‘cornerstone of the cultural welfare state’. Tom Clarke will cover heritage.
A coup for Doubleday who have acquired Anthony Browne’s next picture book, Voices in the Park (’98 publication). Browne was previously published by Julia MacRae.
Gary McKeone has been appointed Director of Literature at the Arts Council of England. He has been with the department since 1993. His predecessor, Alastair Niven, has been appointed Head of Literature at the British Council.
Following Penguin’s acquisition of Gollancz children’s list, editorial director Chris Kloet has moved with it to Penguin on a six month contract. The list (authors include Dick King-Smith, Hilary McKay and Peter Dickinson) had a turnover in 1996 of £885, 500.
Martina Challis, managing director of Random House children’s list, has left the company to spend more time with her family. Following her appointment last year (she was previously at Victoria House), the division is thought to have eliminated its losses in 1996 and returned a small profit.
Alec Williams, formerly of Calderdale Libraries, has been appointed Head of Children’s Services at Leeds Library and Information Services.
Waterstone’s children’s sales development executive Michelle Birch (co-editor of Waterstone’s Guide to Children’s Books) is taking a year’s sabbatical. She will not be directly replaced and there is concern from some publishers that impetus in promoting and selling children’s books at Waterstone’s will be lost.
Charlie Sharp has been appointed Publicity Manager at Walker Books. She was previously at Orchard.
Contributors: BfK team, Keith Barker. Submissions welcome.
The Children’s Book Award
The overall winner of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual Children’s Book Award is The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour-Dog by Jeremy Strong (Viking). This title also won the Shorter Novels category. The Picture Books category was won by Debi Gliori’s Mr Bear to the Rescue (Orchard) and the Longer Novels category by Ian Strachan’s Which Way Home? (Methuen). Now in its 18th year, this is the only UK award that is chosen entirely by children.
The Mother Goose Award
The Mother Goose Award (for a first major illustrated book) has been won by Clare Jarret for Catherine and the Lion (Collins Children’s Books). Runners-up were Richard Kidd for Almost Famous Daisy! (Frances Lincoln), Tiphanie Beeke for The Brand New Creature (Levinson Books) and Nick Maland for Welcome Night (Cambridge University Press). The winner received a bronze goose egg and a cheque for £1,000 from award sponsor Books for Children.
The Brazilian educator and thinker Paulo Freire who died on 2nd May was known for his inspirational approach to teaching literacy which involved working with his peasant students rather than for them. He believed that ‘learning to read the word’ is related to ‘learning to read the world’. His seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was published in English in 1972.
Launched in 1996, Heinemann’s Get Published competition invited school students to write a storybook for 5-7 year olds with a view to being published. The winners are Hana Baig of West Hove Junior School, Sussex and Emily Lines of Maharishi School, Ormskirk (7-11 year olds category) and Andrew James of Gosworth High School, Newcastle and Ashok Dhillon of Drayton Manor High School, London (12+ category). The winning mss will be professionally published and the authors will receive royalties.
Readathon Gets Children Reading
Launched in 1984, Readathon is now Britain’s biggest reading event involving three quarters of a million children who read three million books between them and raise money for charity by so doing – over £1m last year which will be divided between the Roald Dahl Foundation and the Sargent Cancer Care for Children charity. The flexibility of Readathon is something that greatly appeals to schools and libraries – it can be organised as part of a book week or festival or on its own; it can take place at any time of the year; it can last as long as need be and it ensures that children read.
The idea is simple – children undertake to read books of their choice in return for pledges of money from family and friends. All the money raised is donated to charity by Readathon. ‘The important thing,’ says Readathon Campaign Director, Brough Girling, ‘is that reading is not reduced to a chore – we encourage children to visit their school or public library, to borrow or swap with friends, try the school book fair, shop or club or reread an old favourite. They choose the books.’ Readathon is now funded by the Arts Council. Details from Readathon, PO Box 89, Chipping Norton, Oxon OX7 4PR (01608 730335); in Scotland, Readathon, Book Trust Scotland, The Scottish Book Centre, 137 Dundee St., Edinburgh EH11 OBG.
The Northern Children’s Book Festival will run from 3rd to 15th of November to coincide with National Libraries Week. More than 50 authors and illustrators, including Allan Ahlberg, Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Browne and Brian Jacques will be visiting schools and libraries throughout the north-east of England. Further details from 0131 229 2186.
Pavilion bought by Collins & Brown
Pavilion, the publisher of children’s titles by, amongst others, Madhur Jaffrey, Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, has gone into receivership, leaving debts of over £6m. Its assets have been acquired by Collins & Brown which plans to maintain the list’s editorial independence and absorb Pavilion staff. Colin Webb, one of the founders of Pavilion, is retained as managing director.
Children and Young People:Library Association Guidelines for Public Library Services edited by Catherine Blanshard (Library Association, 1 85604 209 X, £15.95) have resulted from the 1995 report ‘Investing in Children’ and constitute a policy statement on the nature and quality of children’s library provision.
The Core Book: A Structured Approach to Using Books within the Reading Curriculum by Sue Ellis and Myra Barrs (CLPE, 1 872267 09 2, £11.00) relates literature to learning to read. The Core Booklist by Ann Lazim and Elaine Moss (CLPE, 1 872267 10, £4.50) is a companion bibliography of books that have been found to work in the classroom.
100 Best Books 1997 (0 85353 463 2, £1.50) is an annotated bibliography of picture books and fiction in paperback chosen by Young Book Trust. It is divided into age categories. From Book Trust, Book House, 45 East Hill, London SW18 2QZ.
BOOKS FOR STUDENTS
ROALD DAHL – BEST SELLER CHARTS
Top 10 Dahl Titles For The Last 6 Months
1. Matilda (film tie-in novel), Puffin
2. Fantastic Mr Fox, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
3. Matilda, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
4. George’s Marvellous Medicine, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
5. The Twits, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
6. Danny the Champion of the World, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
7. The Magic Finger, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
8. James and the Giant Peach, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
9. The BFG, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, ill. Quentin Blake, Puffin
This listing has been specially compiled for BfK by Books for Students from their sales data. Books for Students Ltd is a major specialist supply company to schools and libraries. Classroom study guides to the film versions of James and the Giant Peach and Matilda are available from Film Education, 41-42 Berners Street, London W1P 3AA.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
White Author/Black Characters
I have a problem. There’s a book I am yearning to write, and virtually every editor in London has told me that it is not a good idea.
The reason it is not a good idea is that it is about a Black family. And I am White.
These are the standard objections trotted out over and over:
1) You would get a lot of flak.
2) What do you know about Black people? (Like, what do I know about little boys or octogenarians or anything else that I don’t personally happen to be.)
3) Why do you want to write about Black people?
4) Black faces on covers do not sell books. (I have no idea whether or not this is true, but it certainly seems to be perceived as true.)
Ultimately, everyone comes back with the same suggestion: ‘Why can’t you just make them White?’ Same story, same characters… just a different colour.
If I could ‘just make them White’ I am not at all sure what this would say about the proposed book, since it’s a book which would be heavily character- rather than plot-led. And although on the one hand I strongly maintain that the time has come for writers to be able to write about children who are simply children – as opposed to White, Black or Asian children – it is nonetheless a fact that within this society the colour of your skin cannot yet, unfortunately, be dismissed as irrelevant.
I have based my family on a real family whom I know – because they happen to live opposite me. I have watched their four girls grow from infancy to youngwomanhood. Over the years they have become my four girls; and the fact that they are Black has inevitably, to a greater or lesser degree, shaped their characters and their destinies. I cannot ‘just make them White’.
So… am I being unreasonable? Unrealistic? Politically incorrect? Do I just give up and bow to editorial (and economic) pressure, or do I continue the fight?
It would be of enormous value to me to hear the views of my fellow authors and of BfK readers in general.
International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature
Much as I usually enjoy the personal invective that passes as a Brian Alderson review (BfK 104), I think the contributors to the Routledge International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature deserve a little justice, and your readers a little real information. The Encyclopedia consists of 90 essays (not 86) largely by world-ranking experts such as Gillian Avery, Iona Opie, Julia Eccleshare, Geoff Fox, Perry Nodelman, John Rowe Townsend and Michael Rosen (Mr Alderson declined the invitation to contribute). These are the writers of Mr Alderson’s ‘school exercises’. Far from being ‘only intermittently and casually “international”’, 51 of the 84 contributors are not British, and about 150,000 words (34 essays, not 31) are devoted specifically to international matters.
And yes, the tone, style and content of the books does vary – just as the world of children’s books does – and I think that is a very positive thing. I would not (unlike Mr Alderson) expect a world academic expert on stylistics (John Stephens) to adopt the same tone as the major authority on books for the handicapped child, Beverley Mathias, or the General Secretary of IBBY India (Manorama Jafa) to sound like an expert on American children’s publishing (the former children’s book editor at William C Morrow, Connie Epstein).
Of course, some mistakes will occur in 450,000 words – and I acknowledge them with great regret. But most of Mr Alderson’s rudeness simply betrays his own ignorance: for example, had he managed to get his legendary Penguin Companion to the stage of requiring an index, he would have been aware that the indexing and its proofing is often out of the hands of even the most conscientious editor. But my contributors will no doubt console themselves with the thought that at least they got to be read, warts and all – unlike those very many writers (such as myself) whose work was swallowed up (without apology) into the black hole of Mr Alderson’s unpublishable (and therefore unreviewable) masterwork.
As a contributor to the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature and one of several singled out for critical comment in Brian Alderson’s review (BfK 104), I am not ideally placed to defend Peter Hunt’s achievement. Nevertheless, I will briefly respond.
The sub-text to the Alderson review was that he, who spent twenty years working on, but not producing such a Companion, would have delivered a better text. Perhaps this is so, but one of Hunt’s virtues is that he gets many provocative and informative works about children’s literature out into the public domain, including the encyclopedia in question. A large volume such as this with huge scope and many disparate contributors, produced in a relatively short time, will inevitably have some flaws, but I would rather have a text like this to read and discuss than wait another twenty years for a tidier version. There is nothing else quite like the encyclopedia on the market and it is an invaluable resource for scholars of children’s literature.
Hunt and Alderson are different kinds of scholars. Hunt has been one of the key people in Britain to put children’s literature on the map, particularly in terms of critical theory. Alderson has more of the typical historian’s approach to books – meticulous research and the eye of a perfectionist. We need both kinds of expertise, but could it be one reason why Alderson seems incapable of appreciating Hunt’s flair?
Finally a personal word. Of course I have heard of the fine female and non-university educated anthologists Alderson cites. But the point I was making still remains true. In the last two centuries most anthologists collecting poetry for children have neglected women, working class and black poets; they have also marginalised the work of those who wrote directly for the young. One reason for this is that most anthologists are middle class, university educated males, some of whom are not in touch with young readers.
‘Good’ Children’s Books and Stars that ‘Damn’
Garry Kilworth’s letter on star ratings (March BfK) helped me to articulate my own uneasy feelings about your new book reviews system. Two or three years back I recall wondering if your reviewers ever received poor books as they seemed too uncritical. Now the opposite strikes me; criticisms which could usefully stand alone are sledge-hammered home with a damning single star which means ‘sad’ (presumably in the fashionable rather than traditional sense).
In the same issue of BfK I was encouraged by Peter Hunt’s down-to-earth approach in asking what are books good for? The same book (five-star or not!) can be great for some purposes and some people; useless or unendurable for others. My own literary growth was stunted in childhood, I suspect, by well-meaning adults trying to wean me off Blyton onto ‘good’ books, and I have to curb my own impulse to repeat this mistake with my son, an avid Goosebumps collector.
A star system sweeps aside such subtleties. It is more arbitrary and subject to whim than a descriptive, reasoned account of each book’s subject, style, strengths and weaknesses. Let’s settle for the latter and forget the stars.
‘What is a good children’s book?’ asks Peter Hunt with admirable pertinence (March issue).
To add further fuel to the fire:
If the emphasis is genuinely on children, surely no book can pass the test unless it
(1) is readily accessible to young readers from the opening paragraphs;
(2) makes the young reader want to keep on turning the page right through to the end.
For this reason, I believe that a lot of so-called ‘children’s classics’ are really ‘child-like books suitable for the adult reader’ – which is a completely different matter.
I was disappointed to read your comments concerning the Carnegie/Greenaway Awards in the News section of May’s Books for Keeps. The news item suggested a lack of worthiness in the panel of all women selectors.
Librarianship is a largely female profession once again dominated by many men at the more senior positions. Perhaps male librarians’ ambitions lie here and not with the more worthy field of children’s book publishing and reading.
I am sure a professional librarian can make worthy judgements on new fiction whether they are male or female.
K Gibbins (School Librarian)