Love or Romance?
There are now four paperback teenage romance series available. All the indications are that they will sell and sell. Is this because they are `romances’ – a word which has associations of dream, unreality, `a picturesque falsehood’, a `wild and wanton exaggeration’ (as the OED defines it)? Because they offer an alternative to the less-than-perfect world their readers inhabit? But what if those readers start believing in `romance’? And where is the reflection of the intense sexual feelings boys and girls are experiencing? And where is love in all this? These are some of the questions raised by our feature (page 4). Write and tell us what you think and give us your suggestions for love stories which you’d like to see on a reading list for teenagers.
Two new books by British writers which have a fair bit to say about love – if very little about sex and romance – are Voyage by Adele Geras (Hamish Hamilton 0 241 10988 4, £5.50) and The Dragonfly Years by Mollie Hunter (Hamish Hamilton 0 241 10976 0, £5.50). The Voyage is across the Atlantic in the winter of 1904, the passengers are Jews fleeing from the pogroms. `All human life is here’ in this very readable story which has something to say about love in all its forms. The Dragonfly Years also has a wider perspective. Bridie McShane (of A Sound of Chariots) lives her teens in 1930’s Edinburgh. Her story is as much about politics, family, and realising a driving ambition as it is about falling in love. Will these non-contemporary, more broadly-based stories appeal to the readers of Sweet Dreams? It would be nice to think so.
I’ve always thought of Gollancz as trail blazers in teenage fiction: Robert Cormier, Rosa Guy, S. E. Hinton, Ursula Le Guin, are only a few of the important writers whose work they have brought across the Atlantic. This month they have the third book by Sandy Asher (a writer worth watching). Things Are Seldom What They Seem (0 575 03760 X, £5.95) breaks new ground by being about, among other things, paedophilia (or at least a teacher who likes stroking and touching adolescent girls). It is written with good sense and understanding. Which is much more than can be said for Liz Berry’s Easy Connections (also from Gollancz) which begins with a rape which the rest of the book goes on to justify. It’s a glamorous story about `beautiful’ international rock stars and a beautiful, super-talented eighteen year old girl art school student. It’s got a glittering, reader-grabbing surface; but its attitudes are confused and confusing and the dominant message is that `physical magnetism’ is irresistible and women really rather like being knocked about and dominated. It left me feeling sickened and uneasy. We need strong, accessible stories from British writers, but this cheap sensationalism is not one of them. Try again Gollancz.
On our cover this issue is Robin Hill, three year old son of Angie and Richard who run the SBA. Robin was born soon after Books for Keeps and has become our home grown tester of books for babies. (Brother Simon, now nearly one is following rapidly behind.) When we took this picture Robin was absorbed in Moving House one of Methuen’s Chatterbooks by Camilla Jessel, the subject of our May Authorgraph. Robin was equally taken with Leila Berg and her stories when he came along to the photo session for our twenty-first Authorgraph (page 14). Leila Berg is a natural with children and soon had a captive audience for her stories as our picture shows. (The other listener is Leila’s grandaughter.)
As our Authorgraph shows Leila Berg has always run delightfully and productively counter to accepted trends in publishing for children. Her contribution to the current Books for Babies explosion appears from Methuen in the autumn; it’s a series she describes as ‘anti-concept books’. They are fresh and funny and well worth looking out for.
Chew on This
Just as Books for Keeps was planning to do something about books for the very young we heard that British IBBY had had the same idea and was holding a one-day seminar called, appropriately, Chew on This. (Chris Kloet reports on it on page 17.) We were delighted when Harvey Cox, whose talk on how young children perceive books was a highlight of the day, agreed to write for us. His account of Jenny, her mum and her books is an object lesson in what could and should be the experience of all three year olds.
It is interesting that Jenny’s favourite books are stories. A salutary reminder to some publishers who seem to be hell bent on turning books into toys: zig-zag books (horribly confusing to babies just learning how a book works) with press out bits (easy to lose) are not top of my list of priorities. As usual Janet and Alan Ahlberg are an honourable exception. Their Daisychains which unfold like paper cut outs have plenty of story and child appeal. Our favourite Ready, Teddy, Go appears on page 17.
A shrewd eye on the market may well be behind this publishing explosion. Equally significant it appears is the number of artists being inspired by their own babies to turn in this direction. Helen Oxenbury and husband John Burningham, Colin MacNaughton, the Ahlbergs all acknowledge an interest aroused by their own children. When we talked to Michael Foreman recently (BfK, March) he was enthralled by the idea of making books for young Ben. Appropriate we thought to show him with Ben (page 28) to illustrate the announcement of yet another Kate Greenaway medal – this time for two books which illustrate the range of his distinctive style. We shall see if he can make room for a `baby’ book in his busy schedule.
Happy holidays. I hope the sun keeps shining for all of us.