Spring is round the corner – or so they say. Certainly the arrival of World Book Day lifts the spirits. Around the country children have trooped into class dressed as a favourite book character, thousands of £1 tokens have been distributed encouraging visits to a bookshops, while authors have gone to schools and libraries to read, perform and create with young readers (or even non-readers). Indeed as one author commented, it is no longer World Book Day but World Book Week. It is hard to believe that this celebration is no more than twenty years old.
There is also excitement as the various awards, such the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the Branford Boase Award, the new Klaus Flugge Prize and the Children’s Book Award, reveal their shortlists. Publishers are flexing their printing muscles and you can see the proof in Books for Keeps as new titles and new authors crowd the pages and website. The world of children’s books is flourishing. Indeed the statistics indicate that the sale of children’s books is experiencing a real boom – and this appears to be a global trend. Libraries are also reporting an increase in loans of children’s books, and five children’s writers appeared on the list of the ten most borrowed authors. Literacy is a hot topic and some children’s authors are household names. How is this reflected in the newspapers that, despite everything we are told, are still read by millions?
Traditionally children’s literature has been seen as very much the poor relation of adult books; authors who write for children say that other people rarely consider this a ‘proper’ job. In libraries, delivering children’s services is often given to the newest unqualified assistant or volunteer, while school librarians are marginalised. In the book pages of newspapers children’s books are almost invisible (although books in general make a very poor showing against the amount of space given to the latest film or album).
There have always been complaints about the coverage of children’s literature in the press. Pre-1980, the TLS devoted whole supplements to reviewing the books and the authors. Indeed many of the newspapers would produce a special insert – usually at Christmas and in the summer – for children’s books. At the time this was, rightly, not seen as enough – but the situation today is much, much worse and newspapers rarely cover books for young people at all. Online there is activity – Books for Keeps is a prime example – but access to information about the books needs to be widespread and prominent in everyday life. It is with such considerations that the author S.F. Said has launched his campaign #CoverKidsBooks to encourage the editors of daily newspapers to give more space to reviewing children’s books. As he says, ‘This is a golden age for children’s literature. By winning the overall Costa Book of the Year Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree shows there are children’s books being written today that are in truth books for everyone … Newspapers need to wake up to this golden age and give children’s books the space and coverage they so richly deserve.’ And it is not just books for older children that should be covered. Statistics show the majority of books bought for children are for five to ten-year-olds, and there are many outstanding writers for this age range who deserve the spotlight and critical attention.
When researching reviews for such a well-known author as Jacqueline Wilson, I could find little coverage in newspapers. What about authors struggling to make their mark? We need to raise awareness, provide a door to further information, and reflect the real world. Thirty percent of book sales are of children’s books yet they make up only three percent of newspapers’ book pages!
Above all we need to establish the fact that writing for children is not just a hobby: it is vitally important. Perhaps by dismissing the books they read, we reveal what we really think of childhood and children.