It’s Spring and Information Books are bursting out all over this issue of BfK. Our cover picture Holiday traffic on its way to the coast, August 1960′ may evoke nostalgia, interest, curiosity or speculation. Whatever the response, if it encourages close looking that is what Penny Marshall had in mind when she selected for Cars (0 356 l 1393 0) in her The Camera as witness series for Macdonald (see pages 21-23). Investigating the use of photographs in information books has revealed a lot more to discuss. We shall be back. Another of our themes- Thinking Globally- (pages 4-7) coincides with the publication in April of the report of the World Commission of Environment and Development which has been working since 1984. Its themes. and ours. are reflected in Only One Earth a 14 part series which begins on BBC2 on April 27th. The series reveals the extent of the crisis and looks at different human initiatives in the Developed and the Third Worlds that try to come to grips with it. A companion book by Lloyd Timberlake who was an advisor for the series (BBC/Earthscan 0 503 20549 0, £6.95 pbk) details the experience of individuals like Anna Ngwerume who with her friends and neighbours runs a gardening group in Zimbabwe, or the Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka who advises his villagers about tree planting. or the British couple farming organically in Somerset. It’s an ideal resource for teachers who want to make the issues real and understandable for their pupils. Children’s publishers should be encouraged to be more adventurous in this area: there are many gaps to be tilled.
One publisher very much aware of this is Christine Baker. editorial director of Moonlight Publishing whose Pocket Worlds series is enthusiastically reviewed by Terry Hyland (page 5). These little books were originally published in France by Gallimard. Christine Baker, a French woman married to an Englishman, has been responsible for much productive cross channel children’s book traffic. It was Christine who in 1983 brought us the Pocket Bears series (also from Gallimard) as a joint Methuen-Moonlight venture (see BfK 22). Somehow these lovely books never reached their market so it’s good to see them being relaunched in April as Pocket Puffins – an indispensable Source for any teacher promoting learning to read with real books.
In February four Canadian children’s authors paid a lightning visit to this country. If you were in the right place at the right time you might have had the pleasure of meeting or listening to Monica Hughes, Jean Little, Kathy Stinson or Camilla Gryski. One stopping place on their tour was organised by Enid Stephenson of the Hungate bookshop in Norwich and we were delighted when Enid’s husband, Chris, agreed to write a May We Recommend feature about Jean Little (page 26). Jean is partially sighted and was accompanied on this trip by the distinguished American writer Katherine Paterson. Both writers have tackled the difficult subject of death in their stories for children. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson’s award-winning novel was written from powerful first-hand experience as Stephanie Nettell-s account of her meeting with the author shows (Authograph, page 14).
Points of view
Censorship of children’s books is making news again. Literary agent Gina Pollinger started it in The Bookseller last November. By February it had surfaced in the TES and the rumblings are still audible. Quoting letters from editors turning down her author, books Gina Pollinger spoke of ‘hard pressed editors being leant on by bully persons with an ulterior motive’, ‘a task force from the alternative society with ‘the new perspectives of the “loony left”, interested only in “‘gritty realism”. the cliche of the decade’ and with ‘scant respect for the story teller’s ways and means.’ Questions of literacy merit have she says been shelved because of ‘the schemes of extremists for change in our society’ hatched by ‘the pedlars of poison.
It’s difficult to respond to such venomous prose, particularly as the (few) extracts quoted from editors’ letters seem to be in the main fairly mild requests for characters, settings and storylines which more closely reflect the experiences of most young readers. To analyse this in political terms – and if the loony left’ is the villain then virtue must reside with the right’ – is a gross distortion of reality (a phrase Gina uses herself about what she sees as the pressure to remove hope, optimism, compassion etc from the teenage novel ). Like many others I have used my voice in support of a literature which has genuine meaning for the children I am trying to help to become readers- The so-called ‘middle-class world of many children’s books does not reflect the lives of any children I know of whatever class. Some writers who are being published depict a world which they seem to be unaware has vanished, if it ever existed. I’m not asking for gloom and horror either; just an approximation to reality. It’s hard to believe too, that we are being denied really outstanding books because editors are afraid to exercise their own literary judgment. The debate sill of course continue. Read Nat Hentoff’s The Day They Came to Arrest the Book (Puffin Plus,0 14 03 2138 1,£1.95) which tells the story of a school where some parents and students decided that Huckleberry Finn should be banned. Then note a recent Bookseller report that Reinhardt Books is planning to republish the Little Black Sambo books, withdrawn by The Bodley Head after complaints -not from extremists – but from some of its authors and illustrators. And for a view from a writer of ‘gritty realism’ who is also taking on the challenge of television read Bernard Ashley on TV Reality (page l6). What’s your view?
Things have moved on since we reported on Computer Books in 1983. Different sorts are now in demand (page 24). And the computer, at least in some schools, is moving into new areas. two teachers tell how they are using it to help pupils find books they want to read (page 18). All teachers. with or without computers in their libraries. will he interested in Library Alive! a handbook for promoting reading and research in the school library (A & C Black, 0 7136 2900 2. £5.50). By Gwen Gawith. a New Zealand librarian, it contains ideas and activities which you can photocopy and use direct from the book. For several years I’ve shared my Australian copy with teachers who fall on it enthusiastically so I was delighted to be asked to co-write the introduction to the UK edition. I recommend it unreservedly.
At BfK we have a new project due for publication this summer- a guide to Poetry in Schools, with a bibliography selected by Morag Styles. To find the time to edit this l’ve put the May edition of BfK into the very capable hands of guest editor Chris Powling. I’m looking forward to getting my copy,
Until July-good wishes.