How would Beatrix Potter react to the assertive marketing strategy for her books outlined by Barry Cunningham (see p. 5). Judy Taylor’s account of Miss Potter (p. 4) suggests she might be less outraged than some of her more conservative fans might suggest. Penguin hopes to win a lot of new readers for Beatrix Potter, though they may have to pay -a little more for those exquisite little books and there are no paperbacks planned. Nice to hear though that part of the new strategy is to bring back the dust jackets.
Less welcome for some will be the news that an American businessman – a former vice-president of Walt Disney – is planning Beatrix Potter theme parks and looking to have at least one open in 1987/88. One person he will have to consult is Judy Taylor who, in one of her many guises, `looks after’ Beatrix Potter’s image for Warne. She’s also a member of the UNICEF Greeting Card Committee and has obviously been instrumental in arranging for a lovely Potter card to be included in this year’s selection (that’s my Christmas card problem solved). The design was originally intended by Beatrix Potter for the Invalid Children’s Aid Association.
Beatrix Potter theme parks may be on the horizon here but there are already Asterix playgrounds on the continent. How has all-time favourite Enid Blyton got left out? Perhaps because the Enid Blyton Trust for Children has been busy sponsoring a much more worthwhile project. In co-operation with Margaret Marshall they are setting up a National Library and Information Centre on Books, Reading and the Handicapped Child. The Centre which will have a full-time librarian running it will open in Spring 1985 and aims to provide a comprehensive reference collection and information service on all aspects of this area. With the post Warnock developments in integrating the handicapped into ‘normal’ education, this will be a much needed and welcomed resource for all teachers, and clearly owes much to Margaret Marshall’s particular vision. We hope to carry more news of the library as it develops.
Meanwhile in this issue Margaret draws our attention to Books for All – the rallying cry of all who are concerned about book provision in the third world. We hope readers will want to contribute. One hundred pounds’ worth of unums can be directed to a particular project with which those donating can feel a real association. Perhaps Books for Keeps and its readers could sponsor a project. How about it? Send donations to Effingham Road and we’ll keep you informed.
Mixing the Ingredients
Our May We Recommend… series is intended to keep you informed in another area. This time Pat Thomson recommends Christine Nostlinger, winner of this year’s international Hans Andersen Award but by no means as well-known here as she should be. Pat writes about the books and Andersen, Christine Nostlinger’s publisher in this country, has provided us with a delightful snatch of her autobiography:
‘I don’t any longer think I know much about myself, apart from a few officially acknowledged dates, such as: born 13.10.36; birth of two daughters, 1959 and 1961. I also know I’m married. As we have lost the marriage certificate, I can’t give the exact date, but it will be a few months before the birth of my elder daughter.
‘I grew up in a working-class district of Vienna, where I was considered a “posh” child, because my mother ran a nursery school and my grandfather had a shop. In the area where I lived, these were very exalted positions. My father was unemployed at the time of my birth, and during my childhood was marching on the return trip to Moscow. Photographs prove that he was a very handsome man. It is my own story that he was the dearest, cleverest and most magnificent possible of human beings, and I shall probably stick to it until my dying day, since I have been offered plenty of evidence that this was not entirely the case, and have rejected it indignantly.
‘Like all daughters, I always had a rather difficult relationship with my mother. The answer I give to the frequently asked question of whether I had a “happy” childhood is sometimes a radiant “yes” and sometimes a sad “no”. Both are true. All childhoods are very happy and very unhappy.
‘I do not intend to describe here the particular problems of writing for children, when one cannot formulate ideas out of one’s own consciousness, but must be constantly adapting oneself to readers of whom one knows nothing, at whom one can only guess. That would be a mammoth undertaking. I would just like to admit that I am always wangling things. I have certain notions of what children like to read, and certain notions of what children ought to read. Then I have the urgent need to get certain things written out of my mind and brain. And I also have a firm conviction that children like to laugh when they read. I usually mix these four ingredients together to make my books.’
Children like to laugh when they read. They also like do-it-yourself adventures as the July issue of Books for Keeps showed. Now we find Corgi joining forces with the whole wheat nourishment of Weetabix to offer free `Choose Your own Adventure’ books with your breakfast cereal. And Puffin, according to Barry Cunningham, are yet again ahead of this trend. After Fighting Fantasy comes, what at Puffin they refer to as, Fighting Feminist books. Multiple choice but with `the girls making decisions about how to play out their lives in terms of romance and adventure. These are not just another drippy teenage romance series; these are something completely different, more in tune with the spirit of the eighties.’ They are thinking of launching them on St Valentine’s Day!
News of Puffin’s spirit of the eighties arrived coincidentally with a comment on Ann Pilling’s defence of C. S. Lewis as anti-feminist in the July Authorgraph. Margery Fisher writes of how she and two other women asked, as post-graduate students, to attend C. S. Lewis’ seminars. They were told they could ‘if we sat at the back and didn’t speak’. Terms which they accepted. ‘Of course’, adds Mrs Fisher perceptively, ‘that was before his marriage’.
I hope the new school year has started well – and for those following Barker and Bennett, keep reading. We are busy getting the festive spirit for the next issue.