In this issue we thought we’d offer some things you might like to think about over the long hot summer holidays (if only …) and maybe a few ideas you could use with those bright eager new faces which will greet us in September.
Infant Science – an area of the curriculum that is coming in for a lot of attention just now – seemed a good bet for a solid feature on non-fiction; but before we knew where we were the Eureka people (see page 20) were showing us how useful fiction (especially picture books) can be as starting points for enquiry. Amazing how a passing comment can change your whole perspective. Suddenly I was looking at picture books in a whole new light and when The Lighthouse Keeper’s Catastrophe (Deutsch, 0 233 97891 7, £5.25) -the latest in the Armitage’s delightful series about Trinity House folk – I found myself enthusing about its potential for problem-solving, demonstrating the use of pulleys, etc., etc. It’s a good story too.
The idea for our main feature Getting to Know You, (see pages 4-7), began in January at the exhibition based on our two guides to Children’s Books for a Multi-cultural Society. `Why are there no books about Romanies?’ demanded one visitor, with justifiable irritation. We explained that the omission of that culture along with some others, had been a conscious decision; but our visitor’s enthusiasm and commitment set us thinking and we decided that perhaps we could slightly redress the balance by a special feature in BfK. As things frequently seem to fall out with us as soon as we started planning I suddenly began to bump into all sorts of people connected with Travellers, books about Travellers and the education of Traveller children. The more we found out, the more sure we were that we should do the feature so that those of our readers who were as ill-informed as we were when we began might find something to think about and a place to start, and more of you already partly involved and aware might find information to help you go further. (It’s the same approach we took to compiling the multi-cultural, guides).
Jose Patterson, whose book Traveller Child we feature on our cover with one of Liba Taylor’s delightful and informative photographs, was a mine of information, not least about the life-styles of different Traveller groups. The Gypsy Travellers have the most clearly defined culture, having their own language, literature and customs. But the patterns of living of Fairground and Circus families, the two other groups Jose defines, are as `strange’ to most of us and as prone to being distorted. The best assault on damaging stereotypes is a blend of information and imaginative story-making. We are grateful to Jose Patterson and Liz Wilson for showing us the way.
Carnegie is 50
The focus is on fiction too in our Awards feature which celebrates 50 years of the Carnegie medal. This feature may not be greeted enthusiastically by all our readers. That is if any share the views of one of our subscribers who wrote in January asking for – ‘less of the commercialism of books: who has won which award; … notes on publishers etc., and more of the quality articles which originally recommended your publication to one … less froth and more matter.’ I don’t know how many would agree with that – perhaps you’d like to tell us.
We carry reports and feature articles on award-winning books because the giving of awards seems to us an interesting part of the world of children’s books. Some awards seem to be given more for ‘commercial’ reasons (i.e. specifically to sell more books) than others but we hope our reporting reflects that. Many more awards – the Carnegie and Greenaway included – we believe draw attention to the quality and range of children’s books available, and raise questions and issues about how children’s books are judged, what gets published, the quality of design and production etc. which all of us involved with children and books could usefully ponder. Colin McNaughton’s article on The Mother Goose Award (not given this year) in the May BfK is a good example of this as is Keith Barker’s interesting historical look at Carnegie (see page 10-11) and Gill Johnson’s fascinating glimpse of how panels go about making awards (see page 8).
Writing to me about the Library Associations’ Awards Gill commented `I think that once people had seen one or two of the early titles in the series they saw later ones as “just another Banana book”. Librarians are always trying to convince teachers that they should look at each book as an individual piece of work so I hope this award will show that we do try to practice what we preach sometimes.’
The garlanded and the unsung
Anyway, its good to be able to congratulate Kevin Crossley-Holland as the Carnegie winner for Storm – a little jewel of a book. It says something for the way an award reflects its time, I think, that the Library Association has finally felt able to give the award to a novel for younger readers.
Amazingly Joan Aiken, our Authorgraph for this issue (see page 12) has never won the Carnegie Medal. (Now there’s something to think about.) Her many fans will be delighted to welcome another Dido Twite story – she must be one of the most attractive and enduring heroines of all children’s fiction.
Someone who has been honoured – and deservedly – is Judith Elkin. We were all delighted when we heard the Eleanor Farjeon had gone to Judith. She has done so much and all of it without fuss or trumpets. It’s time for a fanfare. It has been (and we are sure will continue to be) a pleasure to work with her on the multi-cultural guides. Congratulations Judith!
One footnote on fiction: Make sure you grab a copy of a new book from another Eleanor Farjeon winner. Dorothy Butler – author of Babies Need Books has now moved up the age-range with Five to Eight (Bodley Head, 0 370 30672 4, £4.95 pbk) a really enjoyable read and an invaluable guide to books for these crucial years.