At a party recently I was asked, `what exactly are your aims and objectives for Books for Keeps?‘ Yes, it was that kind of party. Naturally, I mustered as polite a reply as I could and headed smartly for the drinks table.
Not that Books for Keeps lacks aims and objectives, I hasten to add. It’s simply that these days I feel beset with the MacGregory things – laid low, or at any rate level, by all the attainment-targeted, assessment-tested kerfuffle, that now passes for curriculum development. What a missed opportunity, though! For the reply I should have made – in fact, the reply I would have made if I hadn’t been so offput by the snappishly Samsonite phrasing of the question – came to me long ago as a free gift from a couple of kids I used to teach. `We can always tell when you’ve got a new book to share with us,’ they told me, `because you get all starry-eyed and over-excited.’
I knew what they meant. For me books do indeed have a fatal glamour. I like everything about them – size, weight, smell, look and probably the taste too if I ever cared to check it out. Even before I open the first page I’m hooked. And once I’m reading, the odds are I’ll be trapped till I reach the end. BfK’s prime aim, objective, attainment-target and assessment-test, it seems to me, is its ability to help grown-ups pass on to kids the sheer thrill of literacy. Certainly at some stage we must mobilise the full apparatus of Lit. Crit. to further our cause … but that comes way back in the ring-binder. Celebration is the most crucial aspect of what we’re about. If we can communicate even a whiff of the fun reading provides, we’re in business. Otherwise, however impressive the rest of the balance-sheet, effectively we’re bookrupt.
The Townson Technique
One person who doesn’t need reminding of this is Hazel Townson. After one of her famous sessions at a Bookfair, the most unlikely kids clamour for her stories. To find out how she does it, read her article `The Manageable Book’ on page 16. When this first arrived in the BfK office it was half its current length – the main ideas minus the examples. `Why don’t you show readers how you put your principles into practice by referring to actual passages in your books?’ I asked. Hazel was horrified. `They’ll think I’m such a bighead,’ she protested. This made me smile because Hazel is easily the most unassuming author I’ve ever encountered. I took quite a while to persuade her that quoting herself wasn’t rampant megalomania!
Rose Impey was also cajoled (eventually) into commenting on her own work – in this case the series she wrote for the new and exciting publishing house, Ragged Bears. All four of the Creepies carry a built-in goosepimple guarantee, thanks to the inspired matching of the Impey prose with the panache of illustrator Moira Kemp. Mind you, they’re the kind of books no adult should tackle unless accompanied by a child. Reviewing them in the TES when they first appeared, Andrew Davies was reduced to near hysterics. In `Too Scary for Children?’ (page 4), Rose Impey explains what she was about. Personally, I think Andrew Davies would have coped perfectly well with the Creepies if he’d remembered to hold hands with Marmalade Atkins.
Information ’89 and After …
Bookshops and libraries are congested these days with teachers seeking out appropriate information books to meet the demands of You Know What. On page 20 Eleanor von Schweinitz, our non-fiction editor, surveys last year’s crop and touches on the likely future relationship between publisher and pedagogue, now that so much of a teacher’s thinking is to be done for her … a worry that’s also raised by Jill Bennett on page 23 in her critique of recent contributions to the Real Books debate. BfK readers, of course, with their quaint commitment to thinking for themselves, can be relied upon to make up their own minds as they savour these and our regular assessments of the latest fiction (page 6), tapes (page 15) and non-fiction page 18).
The subject of this issue’s Authorgraph is also someone unashamedly sceptical of received opinion. Kit Wright even lifts an eyebrow at the pretensions of verse itself …
When they say
That every day
Men die miserably without it:
I doubt it.
The extract comes from his poem `Poetry’ in his latest collection for adults, Short Afternoons (Hutchinson 1989, 0 09 1713607 2, £6.95). See Morag Styles’ interview with Kit on our centre-pages – an account of a poet whose work for youngsters is just as wise, funny, clever and unorthodox as his work for grown-ups. Here, I’ll bet, is someone who’s never lost the ability to get starry-eyed and over-excited about books. `Poetry’ goes on
I like what vamped me
In my youth
Not a bad recipe, I’d say, for writers and readers of any age.