A six page feature on anthologies? Whatever is there to say about that old hat kind of publishing? Well, quite a lot as we found when we set Pat Thomson investigating the past, present and future of story anthologies. Poetry anthologies burgeon and flourish but about collections of stories publishers have very different opinions as you will see (page 4). So do the compilers (page 6) especially when they are giving hundreds of children a chance to choose their `best stories’ (page 8).
Reading is Fun
If reading isn’t fun it won’t be the fault of Allan Ahlberg and Colin McNaughton. Their eight Red Nose Readers must be the best possible introduction to reading anywhere. `Keywords’, `controlled vocabulary’ and `caption text’ acquire a whole new meaning when Ahlberg’s ideas are matched with McNaughton’s fast-moving, inventive and very funny pictures. As one of their famous ward sums might say: Ahlberg + McNaughton = genius. (Illustrate that!) Which is one of the reasons we are particularly pleased to feature Colin McNaughton in our Authograph (page 12). And also why it is very good news that Red Nose Readers are coming out in Yellow and Blue. You can read all about it in Cliff Moon’s review of the rapidly increasing number of series for beginner readers which are coming from mainstream publishers. Are these in danger of becoming reading schemes writ small? Or can they retain that vital quality of `real’ books? (see page 20).
On our cover this issue we feature an illustration from Ben and the Bear, one of a new series from Walker Books, Fun-to-Read Picture Books. The stories, while offering just the right kind of support for beginner readers are without a trace of `formula’ writing – which is exactly what you would hope from writers like Jan Mark and Dick King-Smith who are among the authors who appear in this promising list.
Terry Downie reports for us on the one-day Children’s Book Conference: Finding Facts and Fighting Fantasy, at which I was one of the speakers (page 10). It was a very interesting day and I could have listened to a lot more especially from Ann Parker and Margaret Marshall who, like me, were charged with talking about Trends and Opportunities.
At one point the conference was in grave danger of `blaming it all the teachers’ which would have been perpetuating another fantasy. Michael Marland’s criticisms of teachers who don’t read are indeed shocking if he is talking about secondary English specialists. But it is quite unrealistic to expect all primary teachers to be equally devoted to keeping up with the latest research and information about books and reading. The classroom teacher in the primary schools is trying to keep up with the latest moves in all curriculum areas – Maths, Science, Environmental Studies, Movement, R.E. etc., etc. For most teachers except for those who have a special responsibility for leading and supporting colleagues in that area, Language and Reading is just another subject, and often the one with the most pressure associated with it because of parents’ anxieties. Not a situation that makes for experiment and innovation.
Publishers and booksellers often accuse teachers of not understanding the economics of the book trade. (We expect books to be cheap, or free!) The book trade has to understand the realities of being a classroom teacher – and perhaps put its mind to ways of making it easier for teachers, the enthusiasts as well as the dutifully interested, to became more knowledgeable and better informed about books. In turn as Terry suggests, teachers could find time to tell publishers more about how their books are being received, to protest when a book goes out of print, to suggest how the gaps might be filled. Whether a book or a writer or an artist `takes off’ s often a matter of chance. If `the grapevine’ had got hold of Willi Baum sooner we might all be able to decide whether we share Eric Hadley’s enthusiasm (see Talking Point, page 22). As it is, sadly, we hear that Willi Baum has stopped doing children’s books. The word didn’t spread fast enough. Now we can only borrow, not buy.
The conference inevitably touched, an more issues than our report could cover. Michael Marland trailed his coat by describing teachers who decided that the available books were too difficult or too middle-class for their working class pupils, as ‘anti-book’. He referred ironically to their belief that their own resources `written in the odd evening’ and produced by the reprographics unit were superior. Challenged by Robert Leeson to explore the situation in more detail Marland side-stepped neatly and the conference passed on. Condemning the resources teachers have made doesn’t necessarily make the books they rejected any more acceptable. The wrong book is of as little value to pupils as a worksheet or booklet that encourages them to `circumnavigate print’. Teachers are constantly in search of books that more closely match their pupils needs and this search will intensify with the introduction of GCSE and the spread of curriculum initiatives like CPVE and TVEI. As Ann Parker painted out this is a challenge and an opportunity for publishers. (PS. I completely agree with every thing Michael Marland said about libraries in schools!)
Another challenge to publishers has come from senior librarians, members of the Working Group against Racism in Children’s Resources. Actually it was more of an invitation to co-operate than a challenge, though the librarians did mention their combined spending power of £40 million a year as an inducement to concentrate on the issue! The group is campaigning for `the recognition and combating of racism in children’s books’ and wants to ‘encourage the production and dissemination of books that promote a more positive view of all ethnic and cultural communities’; a first meeting between publishers and members of the group representing Library Services from all over the country was held recently. We hear it was a productive session and look forward to the results It should bring.
Meanwhile we’ll concentrate an bringing you our special Picture Book issue of BfK in May.