When we asked in our last issue, ‘What will the parents say?’ we had no idea that the question would be answered by no less a parent than the Prince of Wales. ‘I can’t understand some of the books for children now,’ was his reported response on being presented with a copy of John Astrop’s Ghastly Games which had just figured in the British Book Production Awards. ‘Horrible’ was the Prince’s judgement – in particular of a game of snakes and ladders to be played on a double-spread drawing of intestines. And then there was Roald Dahl (who has a nice line in nastiness himself) in full support of HRH in the Daily Mail and going on to accuse children’s books of being too political. Here in BfK we continue the debate with Jessica Yates’ annotated listing of books with political themes, promised as a follow-up to our March feature: Children’s Books and Politics. Jessica, as you will read (p.24) thinks Dahl has got it all wrong. In similar vein Nicholas Tucker lets us into the secrets of his developing relationship with Judy Blume (p.4).
We have been topical in other ways too: Shirley Hughes, Jan Mark, James Watson, Anthony Browne, Ron Maris – recently featured in BfK have all appeared in award lists (see p. 12 & 26). Congratulations on recognition well deserved.
Opportunities for Ores
The five-page feature on Fighting Fantasy adventures (p.7-1 I) also reflects a current preoccupation. David Hill a teacher and keen Dungeons and Dragons gamesman joins forces with Pat Thomson to investigate the popularity of role-play adventures and suggest how this current passion might lead to more reading. Pat Thomson who has been feeding hitherto ‘reluctant to read’ D&D freaks with solid fantasy wrote, ‘I really thought I’d cracked it when a group came asking for War and Peace. It was only later I discovered that covered with a sheet the two volumes were just right for making a mountain.’
Of course the predecessors of Fighting Fantasy role-play adventures are the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. First in the field and still going strong are Bantam. There are now 24 titles in the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series for 9-15’s, a dozen in the Skylark series for 6-9’s and a growing number in the newer Inter-Planetary Spy (multiple choice in comic strip) and Time Machine (Medieval Knights or Dinosaurs so far) series. For lots of good ideas (on the same lines as David Hill’s) for using these books in the classroom ‘send for Chris Burgess’ Teachers’ Guide. (Write to The Marketing Director. Corgi Books, Century House. 61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA.)
From the States, like the Bantam books, are Hilary Milton’s Plot-Your-Own Horror stories (Magnet), and the Zork trilogy, for younger readers (Puffin). European versions ,of this sort of storytelling are more in the thriller/detective adventure line, following the lead perhaps of Wolfgang Ecke whose ‘Super Sleuth’ books, translated from the German, have been published here by Methuen/Magnet for more than ten years. In these stories the readers spot clues and make deductions on the basis of evidence in the text. Martin Waddell has adopted this approach and used it along with the choose-your-own adventure format in his new Solve-It-Yourself series (Blackie). So far there are four adventures each starring the Mystery Squad: the readers score points for skill in detection and at the end discover how they have done in the Detective Rating Chart (60-70 Sherlock Holmes!) Even the Famous Five have taken to the format. Coming soon from Hodder are four ‘adventure game’ books complete with cards, maps and coded messages. Will the Famous Five survive?
Longest established – and arguably the best written – of the home grown products is Alan Sharp’s Storytrails (CUP) – fewer choices, fewer endings but good material for developing readers and in classrooms usually better value than more sensationally jacketed alternatives which have instant appeal but are less popular in the long term. Thanks to Piccolo even the very youngest can join in; the Magic Road Books (hardback £3.99), based on fairy tale characters are designed as read alouds. And at the other end of the scale and almost upon us are Sweet Dreams-type Choose-Your-Own-Romance stories. Where will it all end?
The Old Magic
On computers of course. We already have The Bytes Brothers, computer detectives, (Armada) and Usborne issue an invitation to Write Your Own Adventure Programme; but that is only the beginning. ‘Inter-active Literature’ (like D&D born in the States) is our destiny. A few software stories with the reader/keyboard operator as hero (heroine?) are already available – The Hobbit (Melbourne House) and the Korth Trilogy (Penguin) are but two. More write-it-yourself cassettes are promised. Fantasy and Detection, as with the books, are favourite themes; so it is not surprising to hear that software ‘publishers’ are looking speculatively at the Narnia books which must be top of the children’s long-term bestsellers.
Ann Pilling wants nothing to do with ‘computerised classics’ preferring the original texts which is not surprising since she wrote her M.Phil thesis on C.S. Lewis and – at their request – has just been re-reading The Magician’s Nephew aloud at the tea table to her two sons. We asked Ann to undertake this issue’s rather unusual Authorgraph (the first to feature a dead author) as C.S. Lewis seemed just the right complement to Fighting Fantasy. Ann could well become a candidate for a BfK Authorgraph herself. Her most recent book The Year of the Worm has just appeared in Kestrel and last year Armada published her first book, Black Harvest written under the name of Ann Cheetham – which has been chosen for this month’s Children’s Choice BMC promotion. A sequel, The Beggar’s Curse is promised from Armada in October.
Is Ann Pilling, and all new writers like her, destined to become an anachronism? Are ‘real’ books a thing of the past? Not on the evidence of our report from Felicity Trotman on this year’s International Children’s Book Fair. Felicity’s Bologna Diary (p.13) (replacing for this issue John Mason’s New York Diary) gives a vivid account of a very important event in the children’s book calendar. News from publishers in other countries helps to put our position in perspective. In Spain it seems they are just beginning and teachers are helping to create a market by recommending books to children and encouraging reading. No school bookshops as yet though to immediately meet the demand that is inevitably created by the approach advocated by Joan Barker and David Bennett (p.21-23) in Lifeline Three. Like the other Lifeline series this one is intended to be of severely practical help to teachers looking for support in working with books and children in the form of tried and tested advice and ideas. They, and we, hope that many of you will follow their lead through a year’s reading aloud and book sharing. Start now and be ready at the start of the autumn term with your first book.
Also announced at Bologna were the winners of this year’s Hans Andersen Awards (see BfK 25). The winning illustrator was Mitsumasa Anno, the author Christine Nostlinger. Both are published in this country (Anno by Bodley Head, Nostlinger by Andersen Press) but Christine Nostlinger is not as well known as we think she should be. We were delighted to hear she had been honoured with this major international award, especially as we will be featuring her in our May We Recommend … series in September. We’ve got lots of things planned for you for the autumn which we hope you will find interesting and useful. Especially exciting is the first part of a special publication: The BfK Guide to Books for a Multi-Cultural Society, written by Judith Elkin as an extension of her Lifeline Two. As well as lots of recommendations for books (all annotated) it contains articles and information. So much is being published in this area at the moment that we hope this will help you to keep up.
Useful, if expensive, is Prince Siddhartha (Wisdom) a picture book re-telling of the life of Buddha – particularly good for reading aloud to younger children but it would not be out of place in secondary schools which are exploring our multi-faith society.
Enjoy the summer. Good holiday reading. See you in the autumn.