Goodbye to 1984 but not I fear to one of Orwell’s concerns – the effect of government on books and literacy. Going into 1985 the campaign to avert the imposition of VAT an books and journals is at full flood; worries about the Arts Council’s intentions towards literature are still unresolved; and many librarians are joining together in their own campaign against cuts and moves which seem to be attacking the tradition of free public libraries built up and enjoyed in this country for over a century. In Somerset, cuts in library funding mean that no new adult fiction will be bought in 1985-6. Even more insidious is the growing tendency for libraries to make charges for services not concerned with books (these have to be freely loaned by Act of Parliament). Lord Gowrie, Minister for Arts and Libraries, opening a new library in Ealing last September. is quoted as saying, ‘If a charge is made for peripheral services provided by a library then the user will appreciate what he or she is getting, use will be restricted to those who really have an interest rather than a whim, and extra resources are available for the service as a whale. I suggest that a well run library authority should always raise a charge if it is legally entitled to do so.’ To some this may seem a reasonable argument. What’s wrong with making a charge for records and cassettes if it means more books? But think again. Libraries are the natural location for community-based computer information services. Is access to those to depend on the ability to pay? If knowledge is power the rights of all to have access to it must be protected or we shall not be so far from Orwell’s world as we think:
The Library Campaign provides a rallying point for all who want to defend the role of the library in the community. Local action groups are needed in every local authority: ordinary library users must make their views heard alongside the professionals. If you want further information contact: The Library Campaign, c/a Central Library, Surrey Street, Sheffield S I 1 XZ.
The Struggle for Literacy
No less cause for concern as we begin 1985 is the lack of access to books for children and young people in the Third World. The production and distribution of children’s books in developing countries was the theme of the 19th Congress of IBBY (The International Board an Books for Young People) held in Cyprus last Autumn. For three days representatives from all over the world discussed the continuing struggle for literacy in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Lack of public funding, the problems of diverse dialects and languages, the shortage of publishers and their reluctance to take risks: all were identified as obstacles to progress. While countries develop their own publishing traditions they are inevitably dependant on imported books. That too means money and very few places are even as fortunate as the one in Botswana described by Jane Goodwin (p 22). The British Section of IBBY launched its Third World Book Fund in 1983. It has already helped projects in India, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania and the Philippines. Rosemary Stones who contributes a review of how the Third World is presented in children’s non-fiction to our Information Please series (p 4) is a member of the Third World Book Fund Committee. Contact us if you want to help; we will put you in touch.
The First BfK Guide
It is important for children in this country to have a proper understanding of the Third World and of their own society. Books can play an important part which is why we have produced the first Books for Keeps Guide: Books for a Multi-cultural society (8-12). Compiled by Judith Elkin, this is much more than a book list – it contains features on authors, reports of interesting activities, lists of publishers and sources of supply and information – though the heart of the guide is an extensive, annotated list of over 200 books and other materials. We have brought together a lot of useful information which is often scattered and difficult to find to make a really useful, practical guide. It is being printed at this moment and Judith is working on the other two parts (0-8 and 12 plus) which will follow. We are very excited about this venture. We hope you will want to support it and tell us what you think. We intend to revise and reprint so your comments and contributions could help to make the second edition even better.
That’s our new publishing venture. Walker Books. starting only its third year as an independent imprint is astounding children’s publishing with its success (p.14). Our cover features some of the artists Sebastian Walker has been able to attract to his list: you could use it as the basis for a competition we thought, but be careful some of the books won’t be published till later this year.
Also into its third year is Barn Owl Press, a Welsh imprint publishing children’s books in English. Sally Jones who launched the list says ‘the vast range of English Children’s literature, magnificent though it may be, is largely irrelevant to the average Welsh working-class child. We don’t want to be parochial; but we do want to offer a more accurate, more positive picture of Wales and its culture.’ For the last two years the English language Tir na N-Og Award has been won by a Barn Owl title. (p 24). Good luck to all small publishers and booksellers in 1985. We need them for their care and concern for particular areas of the market, as our Multi-cultural Guide clearly shows.
And what of mainstream publishing?
Lots of good things are coming in hardback and paperback which you will be able to read about in BfK. And there is the usual desperate race to keep up with crazes and enthusiasms. We’ll all be wanting books on hand for those post-Christmas BMX owners.
Best of the bunch for those into freestyle and stunts are BMX Action Hot Shots (Hippo. 0 590 70373 0, £1.95) and BMX Freestyle, Dave Spurden (Hamlyn, 0 600 34775 3, £3.99). Full of facts statistics, practical advice and lots of superb colour photographs. Why, I wonder has no major publisher done anything an Breakdancing and Body-Popping yet? (I know of only one title, Street Dance by Yonina Knappers (Zamba Books, 0 946391 60 2, £ 1.99), which is illustrated with black and white photographs on rather poor paper.) The appeal isn’t quite as universal as the A.Team’s but I’ve noticed an interest in most schools I go into – including the Infants!
Rivalling the A.Team for popularity is Richard Carpenter’s TV series, Robin of Sherwood (p 18). A second series is due for screening in March and a third is about to go into production. The book of the second series, Robin of Sherwood and the Hounds of Lucifer (Puffin) is already in the shops, something which Richard Carpenter was not over-enthusiastic about when I spoke to him recently. ‘I realise publishers want to have the book available and TV companies do change transmission dates; but this book is a spin-off, it’s based on the series and it’s out months in advance. I’ve always been a TV writer who turned his scripts into books – even Catweazle started that way – and I’m not at all happy as a story-teller that the viewers who have read the book will already know the outcomes. How can I surprise them, keep them in suspense?’ I can’t help thinking he has a point. Those who have already read the book will know what he means. If you haven’t, save it for later and discover, via television, how Richard coped with the news that Michael Praed (the actor who plays Robin) would not be available for the third series. (He left to star in a Broadway musical of The Three Musketeers, which flopped; but watch out for him in Dynasty – or is it Dallas?) Can there be Sherwood without Robin? Watch this space – and the popular press – about March.
Meanwhile, good wishes for 1985.