According to the old adage ‘three times makes it true’. Since this is my third stint fronting Books for Keeps, who knows’? Maybe, like Pinocchio, I’ll turn into a real boy/Editor with this one … literate, decisive, a wizard at design and layout, etcetera. Pause for hollow laughter from the BfK back-up team. Ah, well … we can all dream. At least it’s been a lot of fun once again.
And at least Liz Weir. who contributes our leading article on page 4, will agree with the ‘three-times-makes-it-true’ formula. Her endorsement of storytelling- no, not reading, telling-is as crucial as a Lenny Henry suit, it seems to me. Behind all literature, however highly developed, lie the jokes, gossip and anecdotes we improvise for each other in our everyday lives, so the work of the Belfast librarians in promoting this aspect of talk is also preparing for, or reinforcing, a love of books. And you wouldn’t be reading one now if you didn’t agree with that. I was much struck, too, by a remark from the storyteller Linda Williamson which we also quote: ‘Social unity it generated by the very act of traditional storytelling, with the teller’s art gaining strength of transmission by the feedback of the listener.’ Maybe Liz Weir’s Northern Ireland storytellers are spreading the word on other issues, too.
Not that words are the only medium for telling stories – as our front cover testifies. This issue’s Authorgraph features an illustrator with an eloquence all her own that’s as much to do with the line she draws as the line she spins: Babette Cole. Few of our subjects in the past have made such an impact on our investigators. Stephanie Nettell returned from the interview thoroughly mind-blown. ‘Now I’ve got to sort out the stories I can use from the stories I can’t,’ she gasped. Babette, apparently, is a wonderful gossip as well as a superb producer of picture books. Our photographer, Richard Mewton, was similarly enchanted. He could have gone on photographing all day, it seems. And very nearly did. Turn to our centre pages to catch the full flavour of Babette-for whom the words ‘zany’, ‘wacky’ and ‘off-the-wall’ might have been invented. They’re qualities she injects into her books with a flair relished by her young fans (not to mention plenty of older ones).
Projects and Topics
To sober you up, or at any rate bring a change of pace, you might turn next to pages 19-21 where Pat Thomson continues her ‘Lifeline’ series. We’ve been receiving much approving comment about Pat’s annotated, not to say animated, bibliography for Project and Topic work. This article takes on ‘Clothing’. Before you read it, jot down the books on the subject that occur to you. Then turn to Pat’s list. If you’re like me, the most revealing, perhaps depressing, difference between her suggestions and the ones I came up with is not the books she knows that I didn’t … it’s the books I did know but bad completely forgotten. Oh, well. That’s what experts are for.
No More of the Other
Some people, let it be said, have expertise thrust upon them. To some extent this was the case with Rosemary Stones who writes on page 22. It’s hard to think of anyone who’s done more over the last decade or so to make books fit for today’s children not the children adults feel safest with, i.e. those of yesterday (who always turn out to be uncannily like themselves). Rosemary’s pioneering work alongside, amongst others, her husband Andrew Mann, has done much to combat the dreaded ‘isms’ of race, sex and class which we now take for granted are vicious. But ten years ago this was by no means self-evident. Through her books, articles, the magazine Children’s Book Bulletin, and regular appearances on radio and television. Rosemary strove to get her message across … also by way of The Other Award now defunct for reasons she explains. Children everywhere have a lot to thank her for.
Would we have had Anthony Browne’s Piggybook, for instance, without the efforts of people like Rosemary? Of course, it also took a little effort from Anthony Browne who has just won this year’s Emil Award for his version of Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland. See page 23 for our report on a sensationally good book. What will he do next, we wonder? Through the Looking-Glass? The Wizard of Oz? Pinocchio? Animal Farm? All these have been mentioned as possibilities by his publisher Julia MacRae. What’s certain is that his next project, whatever it is, will now have to be more sensational still to top Alice. But I wouldn’t bet against him succeeding.
So far as I know, Anthony Browne hasn’t tackled poetry yet-for some, the ultimate test of an illustrator. Poetry, did I say’? Funny I should mention that … because available now is Poetry: 0-16, our latest BfK Guide. Were I a proper Editor I’d pass over this modestly, of course, with a mere passing reference to the work of Morag Styles, Pat Triggs and the BfK team. But since I’m not, and since I bad nothing whatever to do with the project, I’ll be frank: it’s wonderfulIf there’s a better introduction to the verse currently available, its writers, its promotion and its importance, then I’m . . . well, a poet:
The latest Guide from BfK
Now glitters in the light of day.
For theory, facts, ideas and smiles
Put all your trust in Triggs and Styles.
And just in case you must be thrifty
Its price is only five pounds fifty.
. and, as you can see, a poet I’m not. I do know A Good Thing when I see one, though, and so will you when you clap eyes on Poetry: 0-16. No-one serious about bringing kids and verse together should miss it.
Oh, yes … Christmas. I thought the Goose had been putting on a little weight lately Sound and Vision, pages 24-25, includes Julia Eccleshare’s report on this year’s seasonal Beeb Biggie – Paul Stone’s TV version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And on pages 27-30 you’ll find BfK’s Christmas present to the children of Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, Manchester, chosen with a little help from John Agard, Bernard Ashley, Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Shirley Hughes, Dick King-Smith, Robert Leeson, Philippa Pearce and Michael Rosen. It’s a game you might like to play on 26th December which, as a child, I used to call Books-In Day because I was so eager to start on my Christmas-gift reading. You know the feeling. I’m sure. And, like me, I don’t suppose you’ve changed all that much, at least in this respect.
Have a wonderful holiday and the happiest, and most book-ish, of New Years!