What exams does Santa Claus take?
Ho! Ho! Ho! Levels
What do angry mice send each other at Christmas?
Ah Christmas! Crunching snow, rosy cheeks, shining eyes, church bells, chestnuts popping, sparkling tree, and the family gathered around a glowing fire listening to magical stories. What a fantasy! Well, even if the reality is more likely to be sludge underfoot, dropping noses, popping gas fires, and the family clustered round the telly again – it won’t be Eileen Colwell’s fault if the magic of storytelling doesn’t feature somewhere this season. Her article for us (p. 4) coincides with the publication of her latest book Storytelling (Bodley Head, 0 370 30228 1, £4.95). All her wisdom and experience as a world-famous storyteller is distilled into this practical, down-to-earth handbook for all would-be storytellers. For a Starter Kit for Storytelling NOW, see How to… (p. 20), compiled by Chris Powling, headmaster and storytelling addict. Armed with that and Eileen Colwell’s list of sources for stories for Christmas, how can you fail?
The power of the word in the air
Storytellers we may become, but there’s no longer a living oral tradition of British folk tale. What is recorded and available to us was in the main captured by nineteenth century collectors. Since then, says Alan Garner, British folktale has become either the province of the scholar or something we use for children’s moral education. ‘There remains no middle ground.’ He voices these thoughts in the introduction to his latest book The Lad of the Gad (Collins, 0 00 184711 2, £4.95) which is ‘an attempt to recover the middle ground.’ Garner is acutely conscious that ‘the word in the air is not the same as the word on the page.’ But, ‘I have tried to place my literate ear in the way of a preliterate voice so that… the force may be recreated and felt.’ And it is. The language is powerful, and the vigorous rhythms of ‘ordinary’ speech are moulded into the poetry of the storyteller. (Impossible to escape metaphors of craftsmanship in trying to describe Garner.) The reader/listener moves through a landscape peopled by men and women whose lives, spent accepting the ‘crosses and spells’, enchantments and quests placed on them, are lived with the logic of dreams. Get it, share it, and let the yeast of the images work in your imagination.
More Uses of Enchantment?
Barbara Janzer, a library consultant in West Germany, has sent us news of yet another slant on Fairy Tales. Results of a medical research study of 76 children (reported in The German Tribune) indicate that children who are told fairy tales are ‘more intelligent, calmer, mentally more balanced and more open-minded than those who are not.’ We are finding out more about the study. Meanwhile, better get storytelling – just in case.
Some follow up to our September multi-ethnic special issue. The bad news? Ann Harries’ The Sound of the Gora has been banned in South Africa. Official reason: ‘it would be prejudicial to the safety of the state.’
The good news? We have been hearing lots more about books and sources of information you might find useful. We are gathering it together in a mini-supplement for the next issue.
There was a boy called Thomas Mead
Who never ever learned to read.
“l wish you would!” his teacher sighed
“Why should l?” Thomas Mead replied.
Pat Hutchins wrote that verse for a librarian in Des Plaines, Illinois who wanted something to encourage children to read. Eventually it turned into a book. The Tale of Thomas Mead (Bodley Head 0 370 30357 1, £3.25, January 1981) which is a positive and hilarious answer to ‘Why should I?’ Pat says, ‘I liked the idea because both my children found reading difficult.’ We are delighted to have Thomas Mead on our cover and Pat Hutchins in the Authorgraph (p. 14). We discovered she is a great admirer of Arnold Lobel’s work. (He’s also in this issue, on p. 26) She repeated to us a remark he made which she obviously cherishes. ‘He said he’d always thought of doing a wordless picture book; but after seeing Changes, Changes he didn’t want to any more.’
Dear Father Christmas…
Thomas Mead is certainly on my Christmas list – along with The Signal Approach to Children’s Books (see p. 12), and two titles from regular contributors to Books for Keeps.
Roger was a Razor Fish (Bodley Head, 0 370 30352 0, £3.50) is Jill Bennett’s anthology of poems for infants, illustrated by Maureen Roffey, and Mog and the Rectifier (Abelard, 0 200 72697 8, £3.95) is Chris Powling’s first full-length novel. The idea of a folk hero Rectifier who steals from tax dodgers and hands the loot over to the Inland Revenue is certainly intriguing. They are all hardbacks. Expensive? Well, compare the prices of these and the books in our selection (p. 18) with one ticket for the pantomime or the cinema, a bottle of sherry, most toys, and then consider how much longer lasting is the pleasure of a book. Owning hardbacks is an important experience for children. Nick Tucker tells a lovely story of his small daughter’s passion for a library book. Eventually she was given her own copy; but on the next library visit she insisted on borrowing her favourite book again. That night she was found in bed with both copies, comparing them page by page to make quite sure they were the same. Here at the SBA, Robin, Angie and Richard’s baby son, is delighting us all. From the moment he could focus his eyes he’s been hooked on C for Clown in John Burningham’s ABC (Cape).
We’re sorry to have to announce a price increase for Books for Keeps.
Recently Rosemary Sandberg (editor of Fontana Lions) reported that teachers she’d been talking to reckoned it took six years to find out about a new book, try it, get a response and finally order it – by which time it is probably out of print. If Books for Keeps can help cut down that time, we hope you think we’re worth the subscription.
Anyway, don’t you know how to make a pound note worth more? If you fold it, it doubles, and when you open it again you find it in creases.
Groan, groan. That really is The End (Puffin, 0 14 03 1383 4, 80p).