Christmas and Classics: two special features in this last BfK of 1986. This year the pile of Christmas books seems to be higher than ever and new titles are arriving even as I write. For our selection (page 4) we looked for books about the giving and getting of presents, books which feature Father Christmas and books which look a little deeper into the significance of gifts. We had to leave out some more general books which we’d recommend as good investments for this year and any other. An Oxford Book of Christmas Stories, compiled by Dennis Pepper (OUP, 0 19 278119 7, £7.95) is a lovely pudding of a book containing original and reprinted stories. The range of tone and content is satisfyingly wide and varied and the eighteen illustrations add to the richness of the mix. John Rhodes, head of English in a 13-18 comprehensive, out of requests for reading for carol concerts and festive occasions, put together Christmas: A Celebration (Faber, 0 571 13752 0, £6.95); here are 50 extracts and poems which show how Christmas has been celebrated since the middle ages, with his own brief but helpful introductions. The Puffin Book of Christmas Stories, fourteen stories compiled by the ever reliable Sara and Stephen Corrin (0 14 03.1967 0, £2.50) includes a complete version of A Christmas Carol, some traditional tales and some with a more contemporary setting. Harassed teachers and parents should welcome More Bright Ideas: Christmas Art and Craft (Scholastic, 0 590 70601 2, £4.95) with lots of practical ideas for decorations, presents, fancy dress and play costumes, and decorations from other lands. Things to make and do as well as stories come in two bright and cheerful album-type collections: Mary Batchelor’s widely liked Lion Christmas Book is now in paperback (0 7459 1220 6, £3.95) and The Happy Christmas Book (Hippo, 0 590 70593 8, £1.95) has Satoshi Kitamura’s inviting and amusing illustrations.
Two books that didn’t make our selection this year are new versions of The Twelve Days of Christmas, that ultimate feat of present giving. Between them they represent two distinctive strands of current publishing for children. Louise Brierley’s version for Walker Books is an elegant production: formally patterned, mannered illustrations, subtle and restrained colours, a faintly detectable sense of humour. It’s a book without a point of contact for most children. Sophie Windham’s book for Macmillan is highly decorative – lots of patterned borders with seasonal motifs – but there is no sign of my true love or ‘me’. An invitation to action – lots of flaps to lift – and on the surface most accessible, but where is the story?
Spin-offs are another publishing phenomena amply illustrated by what has befallen Pooh (see page 6). Raymond Briggs’ Snowman appears again this year in a pop-up which will mean most to those who have seen the Snowman film – it even plays the theme music. High quality paper engineering, but there must be better ways of spending £8.95 on books than this. The Snowman Easy Piano Picture Book (Faber) adds music and words to pictures from the film. Sometimes I fear Briggs’ exquisite and restrained original wordless picture book may be quite submerged. Not that all this is new. Beatrix Potter made a Peter Rabbit doll herself and was keen to get it on the market. ‘There is a run on toys copied from pictures,’ she wrote to her publisher. She also invented a Peter Rabbit board game, designed painting books and kept a close watch on her royalties from merchandising her characters to manufacturers. Want to know more? Read Judy Taylor’s excellent biography (see page 10).
Another classic artist being currently celebrated is Randolph Caldecott. Brian Alderson’s exhibition Sing a Song of Sixpence: the English picture book tradition and Randolph Caldecott is a tribute one hundred years after Caldecott’s death. It’s in the galleries of the British Library in Great Russell Street, London, until 25th January 1987 (admission free). The catalogue (CUP, 0 521 33760 7, £9.95 pbk) written by Brian Alderson provides a critical history of children’s book illustration from Hogarth to the present day and is essential reading for anyone interested in this subject. Frederick Warne’s new Classics series (£2.95 each in ‘little book’ size) has three Caldecott Collections of traditional rhymes and three of the Johnny Crow stories by Leslie Brooke, an artist who encouraged Warne to publish Peter Rabbit saying ‘it would undoubtedly be a success’.
In her letters Beatrix Potter refers to Norman Warne – who so sadly died soon after they became engaged – as Johnny Crow. As a maker of doll’s houses and travelling boxes for mice, Warne would have found much in common with Rodney Peppe, our choice for the Authorgraph and the cover of this issue. Stephanie Nettell who interviewed Rodney for us was enchanted by his collection of toys and models.
Nice to see that Margaret Fisher and BfK are in agreement about putting Noel Streatfeild among the classics. Mrs Fisher’s Signal Bookguide, Classics for Children and Young People (Thimble Press, 0 903355 20 5, £3.50), contains nearly 100 recommendations each concisely and elegantly annotated in a way that made me, for one, want to start re-reading. This is more a taught course than just a booklist, the guiding voice is questioning and challenging. A voice of similar quality can be easily heard in Kaye Webb’s I Like This Story, the 2000th Puffin (0 14 03.2000 8, £2.95). Kaye was editor of Puffin for eighteen years, a period when Puffin reigned unchallenged among children’s paperbacks. Celebrating 25 years in children’s publishing herself, Kaye has lost none of her touch in selecting extracts from and writing introductions to 50 favourite books (some of these are already in Margery Fisher’s selection as modern classics – others could well be soon). There are so many cliffhangers her young readers should be beating a path to library or bookshop to read on. As perhaps will viewers of the new adaptation of The Children of Green Knowe. Paul Stone clearly hopes so (see page 11). Look out too in the run-up to Christmas for the repeat of Paul Stone’s very successful production of another classic, John Masefield’s Box of Delights.
One of the latest Hamish Hamilton Cherrystones, The Librarian (0 241 11939 1, £4.95), features Reading Children’s Librarian, Jenny Kinnear. A photograph of librarians in the staff room carries the caption, ‘This is a good place to read reviews of the latest children’s books, and recent interviews with popular authors.’ Hastily we scanned the publications on the table. What, no BfK? Then we noticed. Of course, Books for Keeps was the magazine Jenny Kinnear was READING.