John Dunne retires
Anne Marley pays tribute…
John Dunne is finally hanging up his date stamp after almost 40 years service in the Children’s and Schools Library Services. He started as a Library Assistant in Barnet in 1968 and is now leaving to take early retirement, after working for Hertfordshire and Hampshire, where he was latterly Head of Children’s and Schools Library Service and also Head of County Services.
John has been a tireless champion of international librarianship, having been closely involved with IBBY and also IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations. He has always wanted to encourage children from all over the world to have access to books and reading and to enable librarians to feel that they can provide that for them.
John has been Chair of the Youth Libraries Group of the then Library Association. He was the first Editor of Youth Library Review in 1986 and was a leading member of SOCCEL, the Society of County Children’s and Education Librarians, and later ASCEL. He has always had a great interest in children’s book publishing and was often to be seen at book launches and parties, the contacts from which enabled Hampshire Libraries to host the Wessex Children’s Book Fair from 1984 to the present day.
In recent years John has been on the steering committee for the Children’s Laureate and he will continue to be involved after his retirement. John will be a very great loss to the profession – his commitment to children’s books, his calm, friendly, warm demeanour, expert knowledge and above all his ability to make people feel valued and involved, will be sadly missed, but we all wish this ‘Peter Pan’ of the children’s library and book world well in his early retirement.
The newly released biopic of Beatrix Potter, Miss Potter , starring Renée Zellweger, provides young readers an insight into being a children’s author as well as offering an extensive portrait of the writer who was also a scientist manqué. Film Education has produced a Miss Potter study pack aimed at key stage 3 pupils which is being sent free to English and media teachers. It is also available online, at www.filmeducation.org . Meanwhile a new biography of Potter, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear (Allen Lane), presents a very different view of Potter’s childhood from that depicted in Margaret Lane’s The Tale of Beatrix Potter .
Harry Horse (Richard Horne)
Caroline Sheldon writes…
Harry Horse was a genius with words and pictures. He worked as an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator and his political cartoons appeared in the Guardian , the Independent , the New Yorker and the Sunday Herald . I was lucky enough to be his literary agent.
For Harry, every book was a work of art. His first children’s book Opopogo – My Journey with the Lock Ness Monster was published in 1983 and won the Scottish Arts Council Writer of the Year Award. His next sequence of books was inspired by the mongrel dog Roo, which he and his wife Mandy rescued from the Portobello Cat and Dog Rescue Home in Edinburgh.
The manuscript of The Last Polar Bears arrived at Puffin Books in a beautifully manufactured parchment parcel knotted with string and covered in hand drawn postage stamps. It looked as if it had indeed come from the North Pole where the book is set. Within moments, the editors were huddled round the exotic parcel and an offer quickly despatched.
The writing in these loved novels is quirky, quixotic and deeply affecting. When Roo was interviewed she said, ‘Writing is quite easy – I don’t know what all the fuss is about’, but one knew Harry laboured over every word. The illustrations have that rare combination of perfect draughtsmanship and the capacity to tear at the heartstrings of the reader. The Last Polar Bears was made into a Christmas special for television. Nigel Hawthorne played Grandfather; Roo was herself. A later title The Last Gold Diggers won the Smarties Gold Award while The Last Castaways won the Smarties Silver Award. In 2006, after 16 years together, Roo died in Harry’s arms on her favourite beach in the Shetlands with her family around her and listening to her favourite music.
Harry also wrote and illustrated full colour picture books for younger children. His latest titles were about Little Rabbit, an enchanting character living with his large family and with illustrations reminiscent of Ernest Shepard. Little Rabbit faces the fears and struggles of a child growing up in stories told with delightful humour. Little Rabbit Lost won the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award and a new title Little Rabbit’s Christmas will be published by Puffin Books on 4 October 2007.
Harry Horse’s work was translated into 12 languages and was particularly admired in America. Among notable illustration commissions he took on were the illustrations for Fup by Jim Dodge, Chewing the Cud which was Dick King-Smith’s autobiography and The Great Rock Discography by Martin Strong.
Harry’s partnership with his wife was extraordinary. She was his most solid support for years but when she contracted chronic and terminal MS he cared for her with love, tenderness and practicality. They died together in the Shetland Isles on 10 January 2007.
Julia Eccleshare writes…
Best known for Tom’s Midnight Garden which won the Carnegie Medal in 1959 and has remained in print and of great influence ever since, Philippa Pearce, who died following a stroke on 22 December 2006, was a writer of originality and distinction. She was an outstanding stylist who combined luminous lucidity and a delicious and delicate sense of humour with brevity; a characteristic contemporary authors would do well to emulate. But almost more important than her style was the sensitivity of her insights into the feelings of children and the very particular way in which they see the world. She liked children and their views; always, and even when doing events with children in the last years of her life, she enjoyed their questioning and open mindedness. She relished childhood and the freedom it could and should allow children both physically and mentally, seeing it as a time of great specialness. This came in part from her own childhood which she remembered vividly and which she poured directly into Tom’s Midnight Garden by setting it in the garden of her childhood home – an old mill house on the outskirts of Cambridge. She also loved the interaction of the very young and the very old, a theme which appears first in Tom’s Midnight Garden and which she recapitulated in her very last book, The Little Gentleman (2004) through the friendship between a little girl and a mole who is blessed, or not, by eternal life.
Many of Philippa’s books had an element of fantasy about them; not high fantasy with dragons and magic which interested Philippa not at all but more an exploration of possibilities – the ‘what’s ifs?’ that could happen if time barriers could be crossed or an animal could talk. For Philippa, animals, like children, were regarded with due deference and respect. They featured largely and importantly in her own life as well as in her fiction most successfully perhaps in The Battle of Bubble and Squeak (1978) which won the Whitbread Children’s Book Award.
Meeting Philippa was always a memorable experience. She had a most distinctive way of speaking, a precise use of words which could make you feel rather foolish if you hadn’t been so precise in thought or word yourself. Not that she ever did so unkindly. Kindness and warmth were at the heart of all interactions with Philippa; she was gracious, generous and always fascinating to listen to whether in private conversation or on a platform. She spoke unpatronisingly to all ages but with great wisdom; many of her wise words will never be forgotten.
Diversity Still Matters
It was encouraging of you to see positive signs in the amount of young, enthusiastic people attending the Diversity Matters conference last June (see BfK No. 160). It was, but I found it depressing that we still seem stuck in the idea that publishing to reflect the diverse society that we are living in is something we should be doing as a ‘good thing’‚ but something which is vaguely uncommercial. One of the speakers was at pains to point out that ‘publishing is, after all, a business’.
I would have hoped that the demographic changes in the last 20 years would have put that particular old chestnut to rest, and that, with the huge rise in the numbers of children from Black & Minority Ethnic and mixed backgrounds, publishers would recognise that they are failing to cater for a market, promote to or make money out of it. After all, Malorie Blackman’s books are a massive commercial success and there’s huge demand.
I was disappointed with some of the interpretations offered of the opinions of young people interviewed for the Bookseller ’s ‘Books for All’ supplement in June 2006. One of the commentators went so far as to say that young people were tired of ‘multicultural publishing’. I thought the young people quoted were incredibly culturally sophisticated. One student, bemoaning the lack of books which reflect the reality of growing up and going to school in such a diverse world said, ‘there is too much segregation… We’re not integrated enough in books – publishers aren’t letting us mix in.’ Another added, ‘Books don’t show the different friendships we have. They’re either all white or all Indian.’ I think children and young people have moved beyond the very self-conscious ‘issue books’ of the past and are hungry for books which simply describe and reflect the diverse world they are growing up in.
I’ve recently written a picture book about a little girl going to the library. She’s a very cute little black toddler, she has a lovely day reading stories and singing nursery rhymes, then she and her mummy go home. It’s very simple – and very lacking in ‘issues’. Published in April last year, UK sales are coming slowly but surely. In the US however, it sold out in hardcover in five months and was licensed to commercial outfits like Book-of-the-Month Club (in fact she’s so cute they put her on the cover!). The US publishers were excited about the sales potential of the title and certainly did not see it as something they ‘should’ be doing. Perhaps as a result, it’s a roaring success.
So maybe the demand for ‘multicultural books’ is huge and out there and we’re just not getting the publishing right. Diversity does still matter and it needs to be reflected in what we publish, and what we select and buy!