A new school year, the tenth Books for Keeps, and our circulation rising steadily. A good time to start our new series The World of Children’s Books. One of the main impulses behind the launching of Books for Keeps was the desire to open up the world of children’s books. To introduce teachers and parents – who often feel like outsiders – to publishers; to give publishers a chance to get off their island and find out about the rest of us. We believe that knowing the area gives everyone a better chance to navigate a surer course to where we all want to be – the place where children and books meet successfully.
But what sort of things determine whether that meeting will be a success? How do the actions of people who inhabit this world affect what children read, or whether they read at all? Finding an answer to these important and fascinating questions involves looking closely at these people: publishers, booksellers, librarians, teachers, reviewers, parents and not least, children. It involves discovering how the world of children’s books works, and how all the people in it do (or don’t) have contact with each other.
This is what our series aims to do. And with all these metaphors of exploration, voyaging and travel flying about, it seemed obvious to start with a map. As background to your journey we offer you our – somewhat lighthearted – map of the children’s book world (page 4). Throughout the series we will be looking at different parts of this map, starting this issue with The Editors. Enjoy the trip!
From time to time – less often than most of us would like – parts of the children’s book world are charted by researchers. In this issue we report on two forays into the difficult and dangerous waters of children’s reading habits, their attitudes and responses to books. (pages 20,21 )
Jennie Ingham’s long-awaited report of the Bradford Book Flood Experiment makes fascinating and at times heartbreaking reading. Get it and read it. Not for the extensive statistical analyses which end up by proving nothing much; but for the descriptions of and interviews with teachers, parents and children about books and reading. It’s a salutary experience. Again the inevitable conclusions emerge: if we are not to sell children short on reading a great number of teachers need ‘to change their ways; those with positive attitudes – often lone voices in our schools – need positive help, encouragement and support. All teachers need more and better information about books. That’s why we think Books for Keeps and magazines like it are important. Also important are groups of teachers getting together locally to talk about books. The exchange of ideas and experiences among teachers who know each other and each other’s situations is irreplaceable. Many of these groups already exist, producing lists and reviews for local schools. We’ve been interested to read copies of those which have been sent to us. Several teachers have asked for advice about setting up and running a group. We’d like to produce a short leaflet about this compiled from the experiences of people already doing it. If you are part of, or have information about a local reviewing group please write and tell us about it and – very important – how it works.
The appeal of pulp
Jennie Ingham’s research also confirmed (yet again) the popularity. of ‘detective series’ like Nancy Drew. Speculating about the reasons for this she suggests that the sort of books children are able to take on at 10+ may be related to the sort of books they encountered when learning to read; that learning to read with the restricted style of reading schemes may mean feeling safe only with formula written stories. If you feel there may be something in that you’ll be interested to read Jill Bennett’s article (page 14). Jill has long advocated throwing out reading schemes in favour of real books. Here she gives some advice on how to choose books for this job. Steve Bowles (page 25) has his own ideas about the appeal of pulp and suggests that with a little effort we might be able to manage without it.
A Family Affair
This issue should be of particular interest to the Dickinson family. Father. Peter, is the subject of our tenth Authorgraph; daughter, Philippa, was largely responsible for putting together Up with Skool, Puffin’s latest funny (page 28). Philippa went into publishing by accident. Seven years ago she was all set to go from school to university and become a lawyer, and got a temporary summer job with the Puffin Club. After six weeks Kaye Webb asked if she’d like to stay on and it was goodbye to Law.
Eighteen months ago she left the Puffin Club and joined the editorial team working on The End. For Up with Skool she sifted through literally thousands of jokes sent in by children (and teachers), She hopes she’s not getting type cast. After two books I’m asking myself, “Am I turning into a joke book editor?” If she reads The Editors she can at least console herself with the thought that she’s helping to keep writers like her dad in print.
Richard Hill’s report to the Council of the School Bookshops Association in July was confident and full of plans for the future. Welcome news was the announcement that our grant from Lloyds Bank was to continue for another three years and be made inflation proof. We are most grateful for this support and also pleased that the Council (made up of publishers, teachers, booksellers, librarians and parents) so enthusiastically endorsed what we are doing and hope to do. Showing their faith in practical terms are Hodder and Stoughton who, at our invitation, sponsored this issue’s cover. (You’ II notice a lot more colour in this issue, a trend we hope to continue. Unfortunately it also means that this issue will be a little late reaching you; we are only just learning about the implications of full colour printing!)
The Dazzle, our cover book, is Edna O’Brien’s first book for children; but this is not an established writer dashing off a quick story for the kiddies to earn some easy money. She knows it’s not the gruesome ‘horrors’ that really frighten children but quite ordinary things and the power of their own imaginations. Her story of how a mouse and The Dazzle’ help Tim to overcome his fears is a delight verbally (no concessions, no writing down) and visually (Peter Stevenson’s illustrations exactly capture the feel of the story and the book is beautifully designed). (ISBN 0 340 26491 8, £3.95)
The Dazzle is one of many lovely books coming this autumn. More of that in November.