It’s not every day that two internationally acclaimed artists in children’s books get together to talk about their work. But that’s exactly what happened last month when Shirley Hughes and Mitsumasa Anno met at their publishers, The Bodley Head. And we were there – because we arranged it, as part of this Books for Keeps Picture Book Special issue. What better way to reveal the particular nature of Anno’s unusual and original talent than by having another, equally talented artist to write about him. Shirley Hughes was the obvious choice and we were delighted to find that Shirley was as enthusiastic about the idea as we were. Being present at this unique meeting was a rare privilege; They talked through an interpreter (Anno’s English is limited and Shirley has no Japanese) but there was an immediate rapport between two people who have a great admiration and respect for each other’s work. At the end of the meeting they ceremonially exchanged books with obvious pleasure. As we expected Shirley Hughes’ article offers a fascinating insight into the nature of Anno’s genius. (page 4)
Congratulations and Welcome Back
Last year Shirley Hughes won the Eleanor Farjeon Award for services to children’s books, a distinction which this year, we are delighted to report (Stop Press), goes to Robert Leeson. Congratulations Bob, it’s well deserved. It’s the award-giving season and we are particularly pleased to have the winner of the Mother Goose Award on our cover again. Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts appeared in Books for Keeps last May as one of our Pick of the Picture Books: we thought it was a rather special book and it comes as no surprise to find the Mother Goose judges unanimously making it a clear winner. Also in Books for Keeps – many issues ago – I remember wondering why David McKee’s Two Can Toucan had been allowed to go out of print. That amusing and economically told tale of how the Toucan got its name has always been one of my favourites. Now, twenty-one years after the first publication it’s being reissued by Andersen Press with new McKee illustrations (0 86264 094 6, £4.95). Anyone interested in developments in picture books over the last twenty-one years could profitably compare them closely. For a taste of the current McKee style you’ll find some of the artwork for the new cover of The Day the Tide Went Out … and Out … (being reissued by Blackie) on page 21.
Looking again at Two Can Toucan, an early Picture Puffin, made me realise how much has happened in publishing since the first picture paperbacks.
Elizabeth and Gerald Rose’s Old Winkle and the Seagulls was one of the first titles in the series of ‘paper-covered editions’ of picture books launched by Faber and Faber in 1966. This revolutionary move made popular Faber titles available for the first time in reduced size (7″ x 5″) editions which, with the pages stitched and glued into a tiny spine, sold for only 4s (20p). The hardbacks from which they were taken were then selling for 12s 6d (62½p). Last September Faber brought out another Elizabeth and Gerald Rose title in paperback, Wolf! Wolf!. The pages are still stitched and glued but this edition is the same size as the original hardback and sells for £2.50. The story of those two books illustrates very neatly some of the recent developments in paperback publishing of picture books, and there’s more to it than an apparent increase in price: adjusted for inflation books are no more expensive now than they were nineteen years ago.
For Faber it’s a move back into picture books, in the footsteps of publishers like Macmillan and OUP who for several years now have been producing original size picture paperbacks at what they define as the ‘quality’ end of the market. That original trail-blazing series from Faber didn’t last long. In 1968 Picture Puffins appeared at 3s 6d (17½p) quickly established a list and dominated the mass market unchallenged for six years. In the last ten years they have been joined by Picture Lions, Piccolo, Carousel, Magnet, Sparrow and Hippo. Most of these are published in a standard size – it helps with selling from the all-important spinners and racks; picture paperbacks are not easy to display. Magnet are now the smallest (7½” x 6″) and are beginning to look a little cramped when compared with the enlarged Picture Puffin format (since 1980) and the generously sized Hippos (9″ x 7½”) and Sparrows (9″ x 8″), all in the same price range (£1.25-£1.75). To find what editors are currently thinking read our feature on page 21.
Making it Difficult
OUP and Charles Keeping have been determinedly publishing picture books up the age-range ever since The Highwayman. The latest, a collaboration with Leon Garfield, is The Wedding Ghost, a story which uses, among other things, the theme of the Sleeping Beauty. It’s provided a lot of talk and much uncertainty among the ‘older readers’ I’ve given it to try. ‘I couldn’t make the bits come together to make sense’, ‘Some parts were really good’, ‘It’s sexist, a classic male fantasy’, ‘The pictures force you to a particular reading which isn’t necessarily the only one’. Talking to editor Ron Heapy I asked him about Wedding Ghost; he was amused it was causing so much trouble to reviewers. ‘I thought it was just a jolly good romantic story.’ He also told me how it came about. ‘Leon was reading The Highwayman to a group of 9-13 year-olds and they were getting a little restless. He said “I’ve got a story. I know the beginning; I know the end but I don’t know the middle”. He told it to them and they were spellbound so I said, “Why don’t you write it and we’ll get Charlie (Keeping) to illustrate it”.’
I want to see more picture books in secondary schools, so I wanted very much to like this book. I’m not sure I do. Still, any book that can provoke so much talk and argument is worth a try in any classroom.
Making it Interesting
Aside from picture books two titles about classrooms which are enjoyable to read and full of ideas. Not Daffodils Again!: Teaching poetry 9-13 is edited by Kenyon Cathrop and Janet Ede for the School Council (Longman, 0 582 17236 5, £3.95) and consists of teachers reporting on their own practice. Contributors include our very own David Bennett and Joan Barker whose Lifeline Series comes to an end in this issue. Teaching Literature 9-14 by Michael Benton and Geoff Fox, (OUP, 0 19 919066 6 £5.95) is illuminating, entertaining and useful. Words which we’ve been hearing about our own Guide to Children’s Books in a Multi-Cultural Society. It is selling fast. Got yours yet? And we’ve already started work on the second one, 0-8, which should appear this Autumn. Tell your friends!