We wanted to do something different for our third `Christmas’ edition of Books for Keeps, so we dreamed up Extra. Lots of you have been telling us how you use bits of Books for Keeps with children in schools. This eight page supplement is designed principally with 7-13’s in mind (though we hope our readers of all ages will enjoy it) and aims to stir a little interest and enthusiasm among those who don’t habitually consider books as a very important part of their lives, as well as entertain and inform those who do. Thanks to the advance orders which came pouring in (We were quite bowled over by your faith in our ability to come up with something good) we have been able to print thousands of extra copies of Extra. So, if you would like additional copies (prices on the order form) just post your order or give us a ring and we’ll send them off to you as fast as we can.
Our very favourite book people at the moment are Raymond Briggs and Ron van der Meer. Fungus was first choice for Extra (‘I’d buy anything with Fungus in it,’ was a not untypical response when we were trying out a few ideas on the market.) But we didn’t anticipate when we went to interview Raymond Briggs for the Authorgraph (page 17) that we would come back with the promise of a Raymond Briggs original for the cover of Extra. We couldn’t have wished for anything better.
For anyone contemplating a PhD on the sources of Raymond Briggs’ Bogey ideas we can offer at least a footnote on one bit of the Plop-up Book. Our researches took place in Raymond Briggs’ (I’m sorry, I’ll have to use the word) bathroom. Pinned to the wall beside the (brace yourselves, here we go again) lavatory is a letter from a lady in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania expressing her outrage at having bought Father Christmas for her children and finding in it a picture of that gentleman ‘performing an act of personal hygiene.’ Mr Briggs was accused of gross indecency and recommended to ‘the power of positive thinking.’ Those who can bring themselves to pull the toilet paper in the Bogey bathroom scene of the Plop-up will find a reference to this same ‘act of personal hygiene’ and an invitation, if offended, to write to the Fungus Complaints Department. (So far Hamish Hamilton have heard from no-one.)
The person responsible for the bit of paper engineering on that page which reveals Fungus’ slimy long johns is Ron van der Meer. He and Raymond Briggs worked together on the Plop-up. Ron, who came to this country from Holland in 1969 to study at the Royal College of Art and has lived here ever since, really enjoys making pop-ups. ‘The challenge is to get the maximum surprise effect for the lowest cost of production.’ His latest, The Pop-up Games Book (Heinemann, 0 434 97103 0, £5.95) contains four games. A variation of tiddley winks in which you use the tail feathers of a goose to flip the button, and a ‘pathway’ game in which the players are given silly things to do are our favourites. Good family fun.
The van der Meer preoccupation with scissors, card and glue is having its effect at home. Not long ago one of Ron’s young daughters delivered a mass of cut and stuck paper to his desk and said, ‘Give that to the publisher.’ For other would-be paper engineers he has written a book about how to do it which will be published next year. We are delighted to be given a taste of this in Extra. To explain how to make a paper mechanic in the space we allowed couldn’t have been easy. Needless to say Ron solved the problem splendidly – we are very grateful.
Open Season on Ratty and Mole
In last November’s issue Jan Needle revisited Treasure Island for us. In this issue John Rowe Townsend chooses Wind in the Willows as his favourite classic (page 14). The copyright in Kenneth Grahame’s famous book expires at midnight on December 31st. Methuen are making the most of their last few months of exclusivity: but come January Kestrel/Puffin have a new edition with illustrations by John Burningham; Armada have a paperback with pictures by Hargreaves and Heinemann/ Quixote Press are going one better (or worse, we shall have to see) with A Fresh Wind In the Willows, more adventures of Toad, Ratty, Mole and Badger by Dixon Scott. Watch out, too, for two TV versions coming soon.
As one Lifeline ends
This issue also sees the conclusion of Elaine Moss’s Lifeline Library: fifty books which together make a survival pack for any primary teacher wanting to get started with books. We know from the response of our readers how much the series has been appreciated. Suggestions for sure-fire additions to any section of this basic library are always welcome. Why not tell us what you would add?
Starting in January, Judith Elkin will be joining us with a six-part series on multi-cultural books. Something which we think will be seized as another lifeline by many of our readers. Proving her versatility, in this issue Judith writes about Mary Norton and the newly-published fifth book in the Borrowers series (page 21).
Our comments about the enterprise of Hertfordshire libraries seems to have provoked some friendly rivalry. Bedfordshire were quick to tell us about their Children’s Book Week in August. Polly Elder of Putnoe Library, Bedford, enlisted the help of the SBA in devising a Treasure Hunt based on our map of the World of Children’s Books. Enlarged, it makes an ideal Treasure Map and encourages very close looking. Get in touch with us if you would like to know more. It seems to have been a very exciting, event-packed and successful week. Rather like Hertfordshire’s canal trip during which they managed to do lots of things including losing one of Fat Puffins feet! Good to think that because of the efforts of librarians like these thousands of children had memorable and enjoyable meetings with books this summer.
To Rich Pickings (page 18) I must add our cover book for this issue. Wake Up, Bear… It’s Christmas. It’s a delightfully simple story of a bear who sets his alarm to wake him for Christmas because he has heard it is a happy joyful time, and so far he has always slept through it. On Christmas Eve he wakes, gets his tree ready, and has a visitor with a long white beard and a red coat. Together they talk, sing (the bear plays a guitar) and enjoy each other’s company. As he leaves the visitor invites the bear to join him for a sleigh ride. The bear’s innocence, the reader’s knowing and Stephen Gammell’s charming pictures make this, for me, the best Christmassy book this season.
Picture books aside, the richest picking this Christmas must be The Rattle Bag, a splendidly varied anthology of poems edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. (Faber, hardback 0 571 11966 2, £10; paperback 0 571 11976 X, £4.95.) It is intended, say the editors, for those who have ‘awakened in themselves a need to widen and confirm their sense of poetry’: and there is nothing else quite like it for scope and range. Because it is arranged not thematically or chronologically but alphabetically by title you dip into it with an exciting sense of not knowing what will come up. It’s a marvellous bran-tub of a book, full of riches and surprises. Except for a few translations, Heaney and Hughes have left themselves out, which seems a pity. The book seeks to ‘amplify notions of what poetry is.’ Their writing certainly does that; but then so, it proves, does their picking.