The bedrock of Books for Keeps, the part which most serves the needs of our readers, must be the review pages. With around 7,000 books published each year, it is impossible to review every title. No one would want us to – some of them shouldn’t have been published in the first place.
The role of a magazine like BfK is to attempt to pick out the best. And even then we don’t have sufficient pages to do them all justice, leaving aside the debate about what is meant by ‘best’.
Up until now, we have deliberately focused on books just out in paperback. But the publishing environment has shifted perceptibly. Simultaneous hardback/paperback publishing is increasingly the norm and the old division of hardback publication for libraries followed, 18 months later, by the paperback for classroom and home use is no longer so applicable. Our selection criteria must now change to reflect current publishing realities. In publishers’ jargon, ‘format’ will now be only one factor in our decision whether to review or not. From January on, readers will encounter new hardbacks in the body of our review pages.
Altering a reviewing policy that has stood since our launch in March 1980 is not the only change we are contemplating. The recession in children’s book publishers has been the worst ever, with its repercussions still, perhaps, not fully revealed. One obvious and lamentable victim has been new talent – the first book from a new author or illustrator. At BfK we believe one of our roles is to support and nurture the emergence of that fresh talent. So, next year we plan to highlight a first book in each issue – if, of course, we can find one.
Some books are ground breaking or simply unmissable. From January, BfK’s new editor, will choose one particularly special title to focus on in our new ‘star review’ slot.
New editor? Yes. After seven years Chris Powling is stepping down. Chris has taken us from BfK 58 through to our centenary issue last month. Producing over 40 issues is an impressive achievement. His dedication and commitment have helped to make Books for Keeps the essential reading it now is for everyone concerned with children and books. Jan Powling, who so ably assisted him, has also decided to move on. Our warmest thanks and good wishes go to them both.
Our new editor, Rosemary Stones, will already be known to many BfK readers as the editor of the bestselling A Multicultural Guide to Children’s Books 0-12 published in 1995. Rosemary is well known for her pioneering work in the 1970s and 80s as a co-founder and co-director of the organization, Children’s Rights Workshop. Amongst many other campaigns, CRW successfully argued the case for the importance of a non-stereotypical presentation of gender, race and class in children’s books. For the last ten years Rosemary has worked in children’s publishing as an editorial director, first at HarperCollins and latterly at Penguin where she was Associate Publisher for Children’s Books.
In addition, Rosemary started a school bookshop, has been a bookseller, was a judge of the Mother Goose Award for illustration, chaired the Literature and Media Panels of Greater London Arts and is the author of a number of innovative books for younger teenagers on such topics as divorce and bullying.
A new editor invariably brings a new voice and fresh perspectives. Over future issues of this magazine there will be changes to the balance, diversity and critical tone of the editorial content. This is not only to be welcomed but is indeed essential. All of us working with children’s books must meet the huge challenges now facing schools and education, libraries, bookselling and publishing due to a decline in public expenditure and the gathering impact of new technology.
Books for Keeps will continue to play its part in the way it always has done with a wide range of information and practical help at one end through to literary and critical comment at the other. It will continue to address, as it was originally founded to do, the many constituencies that make up the world of children’s books in its familiar accessible, independently minded, stimulating and enjoyable fashion.