A new school year and two national book promotion events on us almost before we can say Kenneth Baker (and check to see what he is up to). The beginning of October sees the start of this year’s Children’s Book Week and a bid by the organisers to get into the Guinness Book of Records with the most performances in one week of a single play. The response to the offer of royalty-free performances for the plays which have been specially written for CBW by David Wood with Dave and Toni Arthur has been very encouraging. Heroes and Heroines, the theme of the week, are being celebrated all over the country and with the Readathon also going strong books should be being talked about and read. Hard on the heels of CBW comes Teen Read the Book Marketing Council’s latest promotion aimed at getting teenagers (defined as anyone over 11 !) buying and reading more books. Given the problems and pitfalls lurking in this notoriously difficult area it’s a brave attempt. Sensibly the BMC abandoned its original idea that a group of 11+ teenagers’ should provide a list of their favourite books. (What about all the books they might have enjoyed but had never heard of?) Instead a ‘Top 100′ titles has been created from a combination of publishers’ submissions and information from booksellers and librarians. On 13 October twelve ‘young people’ will meet to choose their ‘Top 20’. We haven’t been told anything about these twelve selectors which, given what we all know about matching books to readers, must have made it difficult for publishers to decide what to submit. As it is the list of 100 includes Cormier and Cheerleaders, Forever and My Friend Flicka, A-Ha and Mahy, Spitting Image and Lord of the Rings. There’s no information yet about how the twelve went (will go?) about making their choices. Will they be given 100 books each? Will they just browse and take away what tickles their fancy? (If that’s the case this could well tell us most about cover designs and blurb writing.) Will they be expected to read (or at least start) all the titles? How will they agree among themselves where there is no clear consensus? The final selection will be of greater interest and value if we know something of this. Teen Read as a promotion will run for three weeks with a free ‘jazzily designed and loudly coloured’ magazine featuring the ‘Top 100’ to support it. After the event, BfK is looking at teenage reading in January; so if you have any comments on Teen Read or observations from your own experience, please write.
Teen Read – Train Read
By a nice coincidence three of the Top 100 Teen Read titles are by Lois Duncan, our Authorgraph for this issue (see page 14). Lois, like many of the writers on the list, is American; finding a voice many teenager readers can tune in to seems a transatlantic talent. I was particularly pleased to meet Lois Duncan on her first visit to England because, as a very new editor of BfK, Killing Mr Griffin was the very first novel I was given to read in pre-publication proof. Hamish Hamilton, I believe, thought some teachers and librarians might think it a little ‘strong’. I read it on the train between Paddington and Temple Meads and was entirely gripped by a very unusual story.
Lois Duncan’s books have a quality that would translate well into film. Books have always been a rich source for TV drama – not least for children, as Paul Stone points out talking to Chris Powling about his new BBC Production of Vivien Alcock’s The Cuckoo Sister (page 8). We’ve given a large section of this BfK to the relationship between television and books-nowadays very much a two-way affair. Many of Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s original creations for television have been translated into books. We went to see them in their amazing and delightful studios in Kent (page 9). They had just finished Tottie and the Big Wish and we were very surprised to hear that (as yet) there are no plans for Rumer Godden to turn her screenplay into a sequel in book form to The Dolls’ House. Peter Firmin’s Pinny came to him indirectly via television but appeared first in books; now it seems books will follow the screen stories.
It was quite a challenge for Tony Robinson to put his very modern television re-tellings of Odysseus into books-especially as an integral part of the telling was the locations used for the filming. Tony has some fascinating things to say about storytelling and television (page 4). He took me to meet producer, David Bell, who was busy editing Odysseus. Some of the episodes were already complete so we had a preview. I’d recommend you to make a special effort not to miss this remarkable performance. Tony’s version of Odysseus and the Sirens, for instance, is amazing; it lasts over seven minutes and he did it all in one take in a rowing boat attached by a very long rope to the jetty at Mevagissey.
An equal tour de force was the production of HABIM (the abbreviated title everyone involved gave How a Book is Made). No TV spin-off – this is the book of the calendar! Aliki, the writer and illustrator is so good at in what she calls her ;learning picture books (page 16). As well as ‘conventional’ information books like HABIM, these must include the many books Aliki has done which help particularly young children to learn about themselves; books like Feelings and Jack and Jake (which takes an original look at being twins). Out this month is the latest result of her collaboration with husband Franz Brandenberg. Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Bodley Head, 0 370 31004 7, £5.50) is a beautifully designed and illustrated book for the youngest with a storyline rooted in animal and human communication.
For an alternative view of human communication read Thelma Davey’s account of sharing books with her class of special teenagers (page 18). I found it very moving – and instructive; quite a different perspective on Teen Read.
Just time to note our new reviewers: Cathy Lister is taking a break while she settles into her new job as head of a primary school in Stafford. Good wishes, Cathy. Welcome Nigel Spencer and Bob Jay. Nigel, deputy head of a village school in Essex is a teacher librarian and school bookshop organiser. Bob is head of a Junior School in Tunbridge Wells and an enthusiastic book event organiser.
A busy term for all of us; but, we hope, a peaceful one in which long-closed school bookshops and book clubs can get going again.
Any relaunch stories?