If we were superstitious we might have anticipated the putting together of this issue – Books for Keeps 13 – with some unease. In the event all the bad luck seems to have been hurled in the path of Number 12, our January issue. At one point we were beginning to wonder if you would ever get it.
Our January gloom was made, if possible, even gloomier by the arrival of the National Book Committee’s report on Public Library Spending in England and Wales. It’s a profoundly depressing document: more severe cuts in bookfunds (only eleven out of 119 library authorities have maintained or improved their bookfunds since 1978-9), branch libraries closed and mobile services withdrawn, provision for minority groups such as pre-school children, the disabled, adult illiterates severely eroded or withdrawn completely, schools library services under attack, reductions in the availability of specialist staff, like children’s librarians and school librarians. The implications for education are dire.
By law (the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act) the Secretary of State for Education has a duty to superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service. Library Authorities must provide a comprehensive and efficient service for all citizens who desire to make use of it. Clearly these duties are not being carried out. As rate-payers we should make sure that everyone knows about this. Sometimes it seems difficult to fight for books in the face of demands for the old, the ill, the homeless. It’s easy for local authorities to talk about ‘priorities’ and to dismiss those campaigning for libraries as ‘middle-class do-gooders’ or ‘cultural elitists’. The point is that there should be no conflict, no question of priorities. Libraries and books are essential if we are to have a literate, well-informed society. Literacy is freedom of a very particular kind as Margaret Meek points out in her splendid book, Learning to Read (see page 4). We must preserve it. For ammunition you’ll need the booklet. Get it from The Publications Officer, NBL, 45 East Hill, London SW18, 2QZ. Please enclose a stamped, addressed A4 envelope.
By our next issue the country will be engulfed in a wave of football mania. Many of you, we know, will be seizing the opportunity to give some children a nudge along the path to literacy. To help you prepare we offer Bill Boyle’s selection of football titles (page 12). Prominent among them is Colin MacNaughton’s Football Crazy, a picture book for all ages which we are delighted to feature on our cover. We think the picture we’ve chosen is a masterpiece of insight and humour – two characteristics which mark all Colin MacNaughton’s work. In this book he uses the comic-strip format so inventively that the pictures do everything but move – and they come pretty near to that. Football Crazy is out in paperback, from Piccolo, in April. Great timing.
A new feature
Getting prepared to seize the moment, finding new ideas, keeping up with new developments: things all good booksellers try to do. We hope that Sales Point (page 26), our new regular one-page feature for all those who sell books in schools will help with this. We hope too that you will look upon it as YOUR page. So if you have any ideas, experiences, advice, problems, queries, let us know.
Linked with Sales Point is this issue’s How to… (page 25) which is packed with ideas and advice from the organisers of Wingfield Primary School’s Book Fair. A report on Children’s Book Fairs prepared for the Book Marketing Council last autumn indicated that school-based events like Book Fairs are the most effective way (aside from school bookshops) of promoting enthusiasm for books. Where their own teachers organise the activity on-the-spot, the children become more involved. Good advance publicity is also a crucial requirement. So Wingfield with its six month build-up seems to have got it right – and first go too.
Also new on the scene are the distinctive tap, click and buzz sounds currently to be heard coming from the SBA office. It’s our new computer. Immediately it is helping us to keep track of your subscriptions to Books for Keeps and printing the labels for us to send it to you. But we are also putting on to it all the available information about school bookshops. This information is widely scattered at the moment and no-one has yet tried to bring it all together in one place. We hope eventually to have, for instance, a more precise idea of exactly how many school bookshops there are – no-one knows for sure – where they are and how they operate. Even our very preliminary activities are giving us a fascinating insight into how the school bookshop movement grew and revealing that even now in some parts of the country school bookshops are still very thin on the ground. Our research should give us insights into how existing bookshops can be best served and how we can encourage the growth and development of new ones. You can help by filling in our School Bookshop questionnaire if you haven’t already done so. (Our thanks to all of you who have.) Just drop a line or give us a ring and we’ll send you one.
Children’s Books in Perspective
Another arrival in the office, equally potent in stimulating ideas, suggesting connections and increasing understanding is the classic Children’s Books in England by F.J. Harvey Darton, (CUP, 0 521 24020 4, £12.95). First published in 1932, this is the third edition, revised exhaustively (and, it seems, exhaustingly) by Brian Alderson. Darton was born in 1878 into a publishing family and spent all his working life in the book world as publisher, editor, writer, reviewer and editor of Chatterbox, a children’s magazine. His review of children’s books in England runs from the publication by John Newbery in 1744 of A Little Pretty Pocket Book, to approximately 1910. But it is no mere history. It is an immensely readable and enjoyable survey of children’s books by a man who knew and loved books and understood the commercial workings of the book world. In a few paragraphs about Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1806) Darton reveals effortlessly the state of the nursery and of Shakespearean theatre so that it is easy to imagine how the children of the time would receive the book. (With this perspective how interesting to look forward to Leon Garfield’s Tales from Shakespeare promised from Kestrel later this year – see page 14).
A fascinating book. Let’s hope the libraries have enough left in the book funds to buy it. Put in a request – just in case.