As sales of children’s books continue to decline more publishers announce cutbacks in their lists.
In the last issue of Books for Keeps we reported big changes at Piccolo which included making editor Jill Mackay redundant and cutting back on new titles and originals. Now it’s the turn of the hardback houses.
From March 1st Chatto will no longer have a children’s list (it has been publishing about twelve children’s books a year). All its children’s titles will be transferred to its associate company the Bodley Head.
Also reacting to falling sales is Macmillan Children’s Books. Michael Wace, director of children’s books, blames the decline in sales to the institutional market. Schools and libraries have traditionally made up between 80 and 90 per cent of Macmillan’s sales of hardback novels, and this figure has been badly affected by shrinking book funds. Macmillan’s response is to cut back on the publication of novels and picture books. In future they plan to publish only three or four novels a year, and instead to concentrate on books that will sell well through the trade, in bookshops – maintaining the current level of publishing which is about 60 titles a year.
In both cases the children’s editors – Di Denney at Chatto, and Felicity Trotman at Macmillan – have been made redundant, emphasising that the cuts will mainly be felt in the fiction lists.
(For editorial comment, see page 3.)
National Tell a Story Week May 7-14th
Each year the members of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups organise a week long celebration of stories, story-telling and reading aloud. Groups all over the country read and tell stories in schools, libraries, shopping centres, parks and playgrounds, on barges, boats, trains and even balloons. All this accompanied by events and activities. The theme for this year is Treasure, to mark the centenary of the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Federation extends an open invitation to all enthusiasts to join in the celebration. Help in organising events comes in the form of a handout packed with ideas and suggestions for events, quizzes and competitions, a booklist, balloons (6p each) and stickers (Ip each), and a Treasure poster (6p each).
For details contact Sue Cole, Aptonfields, Hounslow Green, Barnston, Near Dunmow, Essex. Please enclose sae.
If you can’t manage an event of your own, look out for things happening locally. Or come along to the Grand Launch Day on May 7th aboard the Steam Coaster `Robin’ at St Katherine’s Dock, London. 10.30 – 4.30.
Fun for all the family: games by Colony Holidays, a special author appearance by John Ryan, a Bookshop, a Book Bus, and, of course, the permanent collection of historical ships by the Maritime Trust.
Children’s Book Week – the future
The National Book League has agreed to take over the running of Children’s Book Week from the Book Marketing Council.
Children’s Book Week was originated by the Publishers Association and in recent years has been organised by a committee of the BMC made up of representatives from different areas of the children’s book world.
With funding from Lloyds Bank (currently about £12,500) increased publishing and massive, enthusiastic support from schools, libraries and children’s book groups CBW has grown and grown. Commenting on the change, Desmond Clarke – director of the BMC – says that the Council’s function is largely to promote book sales. The activities of CBW, bringing children and books together through events in schools, libraries and the community he feels fit better into the terms of reference of the NBL, which includes the Centre for Children’s Books.
The NBL is very enthusiastic about the idea. We’ll keep you informed about developments.
The Whitbread Awards
This year’s £3,000 Whitbread award for a children’s book has gone to The Song of Pentecost by W.J. Corbett. (Methuen, 0 416 24730 X, £5.95)
It is William Corbett’s first book, and he’s a rather unusual winner. After leaving secondary modern school at 15 he joined the Merchant Navy, was an army PT instructor during his national service and now, at 44, “digs holes in the ground” on building sites and lives in a council house in Birmingham.
The Song of Pentecost is the story of a group of harvest mice (all with very recognisable human qualities) who leave their rubbish dump home and make a hazardous journey to safety. It is set in William Corbett’s own local Lickey Hills. Roald Dahl, this year’s judge called the book “an astonishing achievement – far superior to most children’s books of our time”.
The Runners-up were:
The Secret World of Polly Flint by Helen Cresswell. (Faber & Faber, 0 571 11939 5, £5.25)
A story of a girl who can see things others cannot, in particular the people of the lost village of Grimstone who have slipped the net of time.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Kaye and Ward, 0 7182 3970 9, £4.95)
Set in the first World War, Joey a young horse, tells his story of life on a Devon farm, the people whose lives he touches and their struggle for survival in the blasted wilderness of the Western Front.
Books at Breakfast?
The new Independent Television breakfast service – T.V. AM – promises good coverage of books and the arts generally, especially at the weekend. Children’s books seem likely to get more than a casual glance from the head of the children’s department who is Anne Wood – producer of Yorkshire TV’s Book Tower series and founder and coeditor of the magazine Books for Your Children.
New Bookguides from Signal
Two new Bookguides which offer help with book selection in difficult areas.
Plays for Young People to Read and Perform, 8-18, compiled by Aidan Chambers (0 903355 10 8, £3.25) is particularly welcome. Over 80 playtexts are collected, grouped and given careful critical consideration. The strength of this excellent compilation lies in the way Aidan Chambers deals with the texts: the needs of the reader, the performer, the individual encountering theatre and developing as a person, the aims of the teacher are all skilfully taken up and woven into a splendidly readable whole. There is an introduction sketching a historical background to plays for children and young people which takes in developments in education, publishing and theatre and nicely `places’ the list and its compiler. Useful because this is a very individual and personal review. The compiler’s enthusiastic, opinionated voice and stance is clear throughout. Listen, you’ll be entertained and informed.
Ways of Knowing – Information books for 7-9 year olds, compiled by Peggy Heeks (0 903355 11 6, £2.25)
Full of good sense as one would expect from the author of Choosing and Using Books in the First School.
(Available from The Thimble Press, Lockwood, Station Road, South Woodchester, Stroud, Glos GL5 5EQ. Prices include postage.)
Cornwall is at it again
Two years ago the first Cornwall Children’s Book Fair was launched. It was massively successful. Twenty authors made the trip West and between them met 2,000 children whose enthusiasm was reward enough for all the effort. Having drawn breath the organising committee is off again and the Second Cornwall Book Fair (as before at the Richard Lander School in Truro) takes place from February 10th-12th.
Already booked are Pat Hutchins, Elizabeth Beresford, Althea, John Ryan, Leon Garfield, Michael Rosen, Bernard Ashley, the Rev Awdrey, Gene Kemp and John Branfield. As well as authors there will be book binding, screen printing, kite-making, and a mass of other exhibitions and activities including a helicopter parked on the school field.
We wish them all good luck.