Well hardly new, but certainly familiar faces wearing new hats. Two new children’s book imprints in fact.
Julia MacRae Books
The cheerfully singing blackbird is the colophon of a new publishing venture led by Julia MacRae who for twelve years was editor and Managing Director of Hamish Hamilton Children’s Books.
It was really the unusually seasonal snow last January which started it all. On New Years Day Julia fell off a toboggan and broke a leg. While convalescing she found herself with time to think and to face the realisation that her heart was not in the boardroom, it was with books. `My sympathies were more with the authors than the balance sheets.’
The opportunity arose to start her own list as a division of Franklin Watts, the American publishing house, and the new imprint was born. Julia MacRae is now back doing what she likes best, what she did when she first came to this country in 1959 from working as a librarian in Australia and began the career that has earned her international respect and reputation as a children’s editor. She is working with authors, developing the sort of personal involvement that makes her such a good editor. Our very good wishes to a publisher who stands for quality and integrity in children’s books and clearly cares about both.
Two of the first batch of picture books from Julia MacRae are among Jill Bennett’s pick of the picture books (see page 7).
A new partnership between these two publishers has produced a list which includes they say, ‘very high quality, full-colour picture books, information books and novelty books at astonishingly competitive prices’.
The first batch of books just out at the end of April include The Window Box Book and The Potted Plant Book (from How Does Your Garden Grow? series, £2.95 each) and Know Your Dogs and Know Your Cats (from Animal Friends series, £2.95 each). But it’s the Heads, Bodies and Legs series which really looks like a winner. Helen Oxenbury has created three spiral-bound board books with each page cut into three. Arrange the strips to make your own Crazy Creatures, Assorted Animals or Puzzle People (£ 1.95 each, 18pp).
Spring is here and awards are popping up all over the place again.
March: the Guardian Award for Children’s Fiction (presented by the Guardian newspaper)
The winner: Ann Schlee for The Vandal (Macmillan £4.50 0 333 26068 6) Paul (the vandal) lives in a time – a recognisable not-too-distant future – where pain, guilt, curiosity, violence have all been eliminated by the removal of the ability to remember. Noone remembers anything for more than three days and a personal MEMORY machine retains all it decides you need to know. Paul is unsettled, uneasy, driven to vandalism by something within himself he doesn’t understand but doesn’t want to forget. `A satisfyingly mysterious, provocative and finally exultant novel for any thoughtful over-13.’
Runners up: Joan G. Robinson Meg and Maxie (Gollancz £3.25 0 575 02555 7)
‘The shifting borders between love, jealousy, aggression and protectiveness in the feelings of a small girl for her baby brother are tackled with understatement and humour.’ For under-10s.
Alison Morgan Leaving Home (Chatto and Windus £3.95 0 7011 2432 6)
‘A sympathetic study for 9-12s of a small boy uprooted from his remote Welsh country home and set down in a clumsily well-intentioned suburban family.’
‘All three tell grand stories. But like all first class books there’s that bit more to them.’
(The quotations are from the judges’ report.)
April: the first National Book Awards made by the Arts Council
A prize of £7,500 was awarded to each of the winning books in this year’s categories – Fiction, Biography (including History) and Children’s Literature. (Categories will change each year). Books considered were those published in 1979. The judge for the Children’s Literature section was Sir John Betjeman.
The winner was: The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann, illustrated Jacqueline Tettmar (Heinemann £4.95 0 434 93430 5) The arrival of the bulldozers causes the animals to join together in their flight and search for safety. Colin Dann’s knowledge of and concern for the countryside is evident in this long (320 pp) saga of a fight for survival.
May: The Eleanor Farjeon Award will be presented to Dorothy Butler.
The award is made by the Children’s Book Circle of the Publisher’s Association – an informal group with over 100 members all working in the children’s book departments of publishing firms – for distinguished services to children’s books. The award was instituted in 1966 in honour of the children’s writer Eleanor Farjeon who died that year. Recent winners have been Joy Whitby (from TV), Peter Kennerley (for his work with school bookshops) and Elaine Moss.
Dorothy Butler runs a specialist children’s bookshop in Auckland, New Zealand. She also lectures and writes about children’s books and reading. Her account of the role books played in the early years of her handicapped granddaughter Cushla and her Books (See Parents’ Bookshelf, p. 28), published last year, is both moving and inspiring for all who ‘believe in books’.
Dual-language Picture Books
The Bodley Head is experimenting with producing some of its picture books with the text in two languages. The idea, which originates in Australia, is to make books available to children and parents for whom English is a second language. There are obviously technical problems – finding books with adequate space for a second text, getting a good translation – and the series is developing slowly because the size of the demand is not really known. So far there are six titles available in this country and four languages have been used: Italian, Greek, Turkish and Gujarati.
The SBA is running a small project to see how these books are received. So far we are working with Greek and Gujarati speaking families. If you would like to be involved in a practical way and have good contacts with interested families, please contact Pat (address on inside front cover). We shall report our findings in Books for Keeps‘ September issue which will have an emphasis on books for a multi-ethnic society.
National Book League goes west… to Wandsworth
This month the NBL is moving from Albemarle Street off Piccadilly to its new home in Book House (County House as it used to be called for those who know the area). The NBL was created to promote books and reading on the widest possible scale – the move will give those who work there some much needed extra space in which to get on with the job.
As Children’s Books Officer, Bev Mathias has plenty of ideas about how she can contribute to this (see Meet Beverley Mathias, page 61. If you’re anywhere near Wandsworth, why not drop in for a chat!