We are putting the spotlight on Information Books in this issue of Books for Keeps. Not this time, though, on particular books or themes; instead we are raising larger and more general questions about who decides what is worth learning, where information books come from, how information is packaged and presented. With increasing discussion of the ‘information- led curriculum,’ of helping children to become active, self-directed learners, these become issues worth thinking about. A good way to start Books for Keeps 1986 we thought; so we started our own question trail (see page 4) and asked Marion Glastonbury what thoughts five years on the TES Junior Information Book Award panel had raised (see page 6).
A look back at 14 years of the TES Information Book Awards is instructive in itself. Three times the Junior panel has not been able to find a book of sufficient quality to make an award – the last time was in 1984. Natural History is the subject of the largest number of winning books in both Junior and Senior sections. Why? Is it because the subject lends itself so well to visual presentation – especially with the technical advances in close-up photography which make some of these books so staggeringly beautiful? Or is it a strong English nostalgia for our rural past which prompts publishers and consumers to favour this topic in preference to industry or technology – which appear only twice in the awards. The 1985 winner in the Junior section was Kwa Zulu, South Africa in the A & C Black Beans series: the story of a child living in a black township. The politics of the situation were indicated, a moral stance was implied but not spelled out. Should the book have taken a stronger line? So many topics of interest and concern in today’s world have a moral and political dimension. History is no longer a ‘safe’ subject as we ask from whose point of view it should be told. When everything is so complex how can we present information so that it is understandable and accessible?
The challenges facing non-fiction editors are considerable, and they include matters of form as well as content. In the information field in schools, books are fast being joined by video and computer software. What does the book form do best? Are we getting the books we need? If you have thought about these or any other questions let us know.
Picture Book Studio – a new name for an established imprint, Neugebauer Press (see page 20) is moving into non-fiction. First titles are in the favourite natural history area but they all do what good books in this area should: make you look at the world with new eyes and understanding. The very newest, The Goose Family Book does just that. It is what Konrad Lorenz in his introduction says all books that seek to teach children about the natural world should be: `a thing of beauty that vividly brings home the beauty and harmony of nature and the natural system as a whole.’ The story text, simple but richly informative, and the superb full colour photographs are by Sybille Kalas who is everything the writer of an information book should be: expert, enthusiastic and sensitive to her readers. Her delight in and feeling for the wild greylag geese whom she lives with and researches are clear in every image.
The book is the latest in a list with a considerable reputation for quality of design and production. They are indeed beautiful books, as Michael Neugebauer clearly intends. Picture Book Studio is looking to establish itself more firmly in the UK market. As the list grows we wonder if it will move beyond its current strengths – exquisite reworkings, notably by Lisbeth Zwerger, of classic stories, folk and fairy tales. Beautiful illustrations are very desirable but we hope that Picture Book Studio editors will take their values into the difficult waters of new stories and contemporary themes.
Like Sybille Kalas, Geoffrey Patterson is the ideal guide to new ideas. His books bring the past alive and illuminate the present through a close and careful consideration of artefacts, tools and methods of working. The Story of Hay appeared in 1982 and immediately stood out as a delightfully fresh and original approach to social history – line drawings, full colour illustrations and text uniting in a most satisfying and absorbing whole. Subsequent titles have been outstanding examples of information books for the middle years and we are delighted to celebrate Geoffrey Patterson as one of the few individual and highly distinctive writer/artists working in the non-fiction field (see Authorgraph, page 10). Our cover illustration is taken from his most recent book, The Working Horse.
A Good Investment
Our How to… feature in this issue illustrates another way of bringing books and children together. Scheherazade was a direct result of Sue Stops’ `term off to research ways of promoting books and reading in primary school. Her secondment reinforced her conviction that the quality of experience children have at book events and the opportunities teachers make for follow-up and building on that experience are crucial. Interesting to speculate what the results might be if all LEAs decided to invest in this sort of research. Sue is now back in her infant classroom but she is already working on Eureka! an event specially designed for infants to show how books and science experiences go hand in hand. Sue tells us that some publishers have expressed an interest. `Providing books for infants is notoriously difficult. The tendency is to enormously under or over estimate what infants respond to and are capable of doing. We hope we can help by showing what can be done, how children work and what they need.’ Eureka! is happening in May; we’ll keep you informed.
By March you will have the second part (0-7) of the Books for Keeps Guide to Books for a Multi-cultural Society. We are putting the finishing touches to it now. It’s bigger (more books, more articles, a special section on dual language books), better (updated information) and just as beautiful as the ‘ first one. As this Books for Keeps goes to press we shall be setting up the exhibition based on the Guides in Bookspace at the Festival Hall in London. We are working on ways of perhaps making it available for showing in other parts of the country. If your LEA or Library Service is interested, let us know. Meanwhile – keep well informed.