They all told me children’s non-fiction would be difficult. Everybody finds it difficult – publishers, teachers, librarians, and, in particular, children’s books review magazines! Difficult, that is, to get it right whether you’re making it, choosing it, or reviewing it. The cop-out, of course, is not to worry too much, just to work with what’s there. But that ain’t the BfK way, nor, I suspect, will it be for the vast majority of our readers. More of us are beginning to grapple with questions that attempt to enlarge our understanding of what exactly makes for good Information Books. In our ignorance of so much of the subject matter, how can we tell if its communication, particularly to children, is achieved as effectively as possible? These questions are being asked most frequently at the infant end of the age range. Teachers and librarians have, for a long time now, been searching, mostly in vain, for reliable material. From the publishing houses too I detect a gathering momentum of non-fiction publishing for the 4-6s. Judging by their record, A & C Black are going to be at the forefront of this development with standard-setting, state-of-the-art series like ‘Stopwatch’ (see an example on our cover), ‘Friends’ and their new offering, ‘Simple Science’, published in May this year. In our first article (page 4) Eleanor von Schweinitz tackles the tricky question of Information Books for Four to Six Year Olds and has tried to isolate the best of what’s available. In the event it turned out to be disappointingly thin on the ground. For the moment, we hope. And on page 16 we welcome to the BfK team Ted Percy and Geoff Brown who have given us our first-ever reviews of non-fiction titles which we intend will become a regular feature of this magazine. That in part depends upon our ability to find more of those rarest of beings, good non-fiction reviewers (which we reckon Ted and Geoff to be) and, it has to be said, an appropriate level of support from publishers with non-fiction lists who persistently bemoan the lack of good non-fiction reviewing, and rightly so. Not an easy task on both counts.
Readathon to break a million?
Ever since it started I have wanted to carry in BfK something on a remarkable and increasingly successful annual event, Readathon, except that purist voices restrained me with dark hints that fund-raising activities riding on the back of children’s reading was in some way suspect. But you can’t ignore the fact that in this coming Readathon season the campaign is hoping to break the one million pound barrier and this extraordinary progress could only have been achieved with the support of an awful lot of teachers and their children. We asked the campaign director, Brough Girling (also Head of the Children’s Book Foundation), to give us a condensed account of whence and whither Readathon (see page 26). But that’s only half the story. What we’re looking for next is a piece from a Readathon participating school or schools, telling it from their side – why they decided to have a go and, more importantly, what, if any, were the beneficial effects (or otherwise) for the children and their reading? Any volunteers out there? Phone us if you’re interested in helping us to pen part two.
A Visit to Pakistan
When we heard John Dunne, the Assistant County Librarian for Hampshire, one evening around the supper table, talking about his recent trip to Pakistan on behalf of the Government of Sind and organised by the British Council, it made for fascinating listening. Many of us know so little of children’s book activities overseas that when you hear about them, it puts our own home concerns into perspective (sometimes with a vengeance) but also reaffirms the instinct that we have more in common with our children’s book colleagues and friends in other parts of the world than we realise. One page (page 23) does not do John’s account justice. The supper table encounter was full of anecdotes about the people – librarians, teachers and students – who strive to bring children and books together with a fraction of the resources we enjoy in the West.
Who Wrote This?
with a limp
they keep to trees.
and scraped knees
The authentic touch of … Roger McGough, of course. He’s the subject of this issue’s Authorgraph, our answer to the centre-fold. As a hugely popular poet for children, Roger is especially interesting in that he’s also published ten volumes of poetry for adults and sees no crucial distinction between his two audiences. Indeed he often performs for both at the same time. See page 14 for our tribute to a genuine ‘poet of the people’ whatever their age.
Finally, a change at Books for Keeps…
After almost fifty issues -just about ten years’ worth of BfK – Pat Triggs is standing down as our regular Editor. Better than anyone we know how much the magazine owes her for its success. Her knowledge, enthusiasm and tirelesswork to promote books and the reading habit is hard to match anywhere in the field of children’s literature. In many ways her voice became our voice. It is such an eloquent, informed and intelligent voice that we hope it will not be too long before we hear it again under the BfK aegis. All of us send Pat our warmest thanks for her remarkable contribution.
After Pat, then who? Well I’m delighted to announce the appointment of Chris Powling as the new Editor of Books for Keeps. Chris’s credentials are potent ones to take this magazine into its second decade and to bring a change of tempo, pace and range whilst still retaining the best of Pat’s legacy. Besides being a teacher all his working life – in secondary schools (including a magical few years under the legendary Michael Marland), in primary schools (ten years as Head of one the largest primary schools in London), and now as lecturer at King Alfred’s College in Winchester – he has also presented editions of Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope for many years but is probably best known to us as an extremely successful children’s author. This combination of education, the media and writer puts BfK into sure hands. When asked whether being an Editor wouldn’t inhibit his first love of writing, he said, ‘It didn’t hold Dickens back!,’ and roared with laughter. He picks up the reins in September. You can’t possibly miss him…