Of course! We see it now. We should have known. The people to blame for the shortage of books in schools are… the teachers. And there we were thinking it had something to do with central government funding. It was the Secretary of State for Education, Sir Keith Joseph himself, who put us right. There was quite enough in the rate support grant for local authorities to provide a reasonable supply of books, he told the House of Commons Select Committee on Education. But the teachers’ unions asked for more than was set aside in the budgets; the local authorities accepted the claim and that’s where the book money went. ‘It’s been going on for years,’ said Sir Keith. Perhaps it would be a good idea to separate teachers’ salaries from capitation? Well, no. Sir Keith thought that would require him to behave like a dictator.
A story which makes a neat (though not planned) complement to one of the main themes of this issue of BfK: Children’s Books and Politics. There’s a growing debate about the appearance of so-called ‘political’ ideas in children’s books. Is it suitable? Is it advisable? A number of recently published books deal explicitly with subjects like racism, terrorism, revolution and counter revolution, nuclear war and nuclear disarmament, the police. Their titles and the names of their authors crop up frequently in discussions on the subject. Are these ‘political’ books? If so. what is a ‘non-political’ book? Time, we thought, to give the subject some space.
To start things off we asked Robert Leeson to take a general view and put the whole issue in some kind of perspective. (See page 4) Bob Leeson is a thoughtful, balanced and informed commentator as well as a writer of books which children of all ages enjoy reading. (Just out is Genie on the Loose, Hamish Hamilton, 0 241 11177 3, £5.75, a very entertaining sequel to The Third Class Genie, and promised for the autumn is a new survey of children’s literature, from Collins.) To follow his beginning we invited two writers, James Watson and Jan Needle, who have frequently had the label ‘political’ attached to their work to write about their approach to writing for children and young people and what they feel about ‘politics and Children’s Books’. (See page 6) I think you’ll find what they have to say is very interesting and stimulating. Later this year we will be featuring an annotated list of books, fiction and non-fiction, which deal with overtly political ideas. Meanwhile we’d be glad to hear what you think about this subject and of your experiences with specific books.
The Marvellous Storyteller
The second theme in this issue – Hans Christian Andersen – would be, we thought, a far cry from politics. We should have known that that particular subject is all pervasive. There was Naomi Lewis, one of three Andersen experts in this issue, telling us about Andersen’s shoemaker father, ‘a free-thinker, a political rebel who had a bit of genius’. He made toy theatres for his son and was perhaps partly responsible for Andersen’s totally original vision, ‘his ability to see the comedy of life and express it in terms of the kitchen and the toy cupboard, giving life to spoons and darning needles’.
Nor, we heard from Patricia Crampton, can you escape from politics when making an international award like the Hans Andersen Medal. (See page 16) IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People, which originated the award is dedicated to promoting greater understanding among children of the world through children’s books. As part of this IBBY designated April 2nd, Hans Andersen’s birthday. International Children’s Book Day, and invites libraries, schools, organisations all over the world to celebrate it in any way they choose. Why not join in?
The Hans Andersen Award is given, every two years, to an author and an illustrator who is judged to have made a lasting contribution to literature for children and young people. It is a great honour to be nominated. This BfK features two people whose work will this year be the subject of consideration by Patricia Crampton’s jury. Jan Mark, our 25th Authorgraph (page 12), has been selected as the British nomination for the Author Medal. (Raymond Briggs is the nominee for the Illustrator’s Medal, and three books have been chosen for an Honour List: for writing. William Mayne’s All the King’s Men (Cape), for illustration, Anthony Browne’s Hansel and Gretel (Julia MacRae Books), for translation, Elizabeth Watson Taylor, The Magic Inkstand from the German of Heinrich Seidel (Cape).) And to celebrate the international flavour of this issue we have on our cover the work of Lisbeth Zwerger, the Austrian nomination for the Illustrator’s Medal. (See page 21) Lisbeth, we discovered, spends quite a lot of time here and very recently married an Englishman, John Rowe, whom she has known for many years. At the moment they are looking for somewhere to live in this country, though, John says. they will still be spending a good deal of time in Vienna.
Words and Pictures
Brian Alderson, well-known for speaking his mind, is a useful irritant in the world of children’s books. (He’s had some rude things to say about the SBA and BfK in the past.) Andersen is one of his particular specialisms and we decided to give him his head on what the English had done to these Danish stories. (See page 22) Brian, I think, like Andersen himself perhaps, prefers his Tales unillustrated, and lavish picture book versions of the stories don’t usually arouse an enthusiastic response in him. That, of course, doesn’t stop publishers bringing them out. We feature the two newest (page 20) for you to make up your own mind. The text for one of them, The Wild Swans, is by Naomi Lewis, whose versions come with the Alderson seal of approval. Naomi Lewis’s own childhood recollections of Andersen suggest she too might find illustration superfluous. ‘I had this little edition, no space between the stories, thin paper, no pictures. But I never realised at the time there were no pictures because I think they are so visual.’
Her infectious and intense enthusiasm, like Erik Haugaard’s. (page 18) should send many of us adults scurrying Back to Andersen. ‘I read the stories constantly but now I’m seeing things in them which, of course. I didn’t see as a child. I discover things all the time.’
CBY will be back
Good news about something else which should help us to new discoveries. The NBL has announced that Children’s Books of the Year will be re-introduced from Summer 1985 as an annual event. The catalogue will be published by the NBL with financial support from the Eva Reckitt Trust, and the selection of approximately 300 books will be made by Julia Eccleshare, currently a children’s editor at Hamish Hamilton. One departure from the old format is that books will be chosen from those published between April 1st and March 31st instead of from a calendar year. The exhibition and publication, as before, will be in July/August.
If you can’t wait that long the next issue of BfK is our annual Picture Book Special and includes a selection of the best of ’84, so far.
See you then.
Lorenz Froelich, says Brian Alderson, is perhaps the greatest of all Andersen illustrators, although his work was done mainly for later, less well known stories. This pen drawing to ‘The Snail and the Rosebush has been used in a new translation Tales & Stories by Hans Christian Andersen by Patricia Conroy and Sven Rossel (Washington University Press. 0 295 95936 3, £9.50 paperback).
This volume has been prepared with adults in mind as much as children and is furnished with prefatory material, notes and a bibliography. The preface on translation is full of interest but the actual performance by these two scholars is rather wooden and lacking in verve.