That novelty books (flap, board, pop-up, bath, smelly, die-cut etc) have only recently been regularly reviewed in the pages of BfK is perhaps one small indication of the confusion and distrust that continue to surround critical response to their publication. There has been relatively little debate about such titles in the children’s books world and yet there remain fundamental questions – what do we mean by novelty? Are such titles really books? What is their value to children? How are they to be assessed?
A part of our confusion perhaps stems from the very different marketing of novelty titles from other books. Libraries will stock some kinds of novelty (flap books, books with holes) but pop-ups are too fragile to survive a loans’ system and board books have no verso title page onto which library stickers may be attached. In the market place the high unit cost/low perceived value dilemma of novelty publishing has meant that its recent successes have been primarily sold via book clubs rather than via the trade. Many novelty books are bought in gift outlets as well as bookshops. Reviewing of such titles tends to be confined to the pre-Christmas press with reviews of the ‘my niece enjoyed this book’ variety.
Perhaps this is why critical discussion of novelty titles has been confined, in the main, to those interested in the history of children’s books for whom the current crop of novelty has little to offer in way of surprises. As Brian Alderson points out (see But Are They ‘Real’ Books?) by the end of the 19th century ‘almost all the natty dodges found in the present heap of new books had been perfected’. In this issue of BfK, Alderson (Chair of the Children’s Books History Society) assesses recent novelty publishing and divides the books into useful categories. That we have the beginnings of a critical language and a taxonomy in which to discuss such titles is largely due to his efforts and those of his colleagues.