Sharp-eyed readers of this issue will spot a certain home-grown quality to BfK 63 since four of its six feature articles are written by members of our regular reviewing team. Not only that but a fifth team-member, Jill Bennett, receives an accolade on page 27 as the richly deserved winner of this year’s Eleanor Farjeon Award.
Oh dear … is this shameless self-approval?
Well, we hope not. It’s simply that these pages bring together both a general orientation to literacy and particular interests we know our contributors share. Liz Waterland’s `Statutory Reading’ on page 4, for example, written from the viewpoint of someone whose first-hand experience and acknowledged expertise cannot be gainsaid, asks some key questions about impending pedagogical practices. That we present her piece in a familiar ringbinder-friendly format is not entirely a joke.
Similarly, George Hunt’s `Kwik? Kwak!’ on page 22 draws attention to oral material so robust it’s likely to be neglected in classrooms allover the world the stories that lie deep in particular communities. According to Robert Hull on page 21, moreover, no one should neglect a newly-published classic of non-fiction by Philip Isaacson called Round Buildings, Square Buildings & Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish. We’ve done our best to make it unmissable by featuring it on our front cover.
Finally in `Read to Death!’, page 24, David Bennett explores a phenomenon we can none of us afford to ignore: the discrepancy that can arise between the reading adults recommend and the reading youngsters prefer. Crucial data here is given on page 26 where we detail the 100 most-borrowed children’s books from the nation’s libraries as listed by Public Lending Rights.
Writers and Replies
July’s BfK also offers a couple of pieces quite unlike anything we’ve tackled before. In the case of our Authorgraph we didn’t have much choice – William Mayne, arguably the most distinguished of all twentieth-century children’s writers, is legendary for his refusal to play the publicity game. Only by way of personal contact through Helen Cresswell, followed up by a carefully worded editorial letter, did we pin down our quarry. Or do we mean `stir up’ since his reply was as characteristic as we’d been led to believe? It’s printed on pages 14-15 along with the only photograph we could acquire. Still, at least he hadn’t actually said `no’. We duly despatched intrepid reporter Stephanie Nettell to beard the literary lion in his very own den. Predictably, she found him utterly charming and totally inscrutable on the subject of his own work. Stephanie’s piece, cunningly mimicking the Master himself, is as close as book-ishness can come to what film people call `rare footage’. We only hope he gets to see it (we think).
On page 7, Adele Geras launches what, with some tentativeness, we hope will become an occasional series: `Writer Reply’. Literary etiquette normally prevents any public response to criticism so reviewers – whether inspired or negligent – lead something of a charmed life. How, though, would a writer respond when reflecting in tranquility on a particularly mortifying notice? In Adele’s case, what rankled most was simple ignorance on a reviewer’s part, but other authors may have different injustices to air or may relish the chance to agree with adverse criticism. Well, now they have that chance. Who’d like to follow suit? Form an orderly queue, please…
Writing About Writing
What a rich year 1990 is turning out to be for books about children’s literature. Following Mary Cadogan on Richmal Crompton, mentioned in our last issue, A N Wilson’s C S Lewis: A Biography (Collins, 0 00 215137 5, £15.00) deserves every bit of its acclaim and now comes Ann Thwaite’s A A Milne: His Life (Faber, 0 571 138888, £27.50). I’m only a quarter of the way through it but it’s so good already I’m wondering what on earth I can read next that won’t be an anti-climax. Perhaps Alison Lurie’s celebration of literary subversiveness Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups (Bloomsbury, 0 7475 0603 5, £12.99) will live up to its reviews…
Please note we’ve given full details about the books referred to above – as BfK does for all new publications. Occasionally we’re asked to do the same for every book we mention, however venerable. Alas to make this standard practice would involve not just a heavy increase in tracking-down time (as any librarian will confirm), but also a sharp reduction in available space as we tried to cope with different editions, printing history, whether hardback or paperback, if in-or-out of print and so on. The danger of turning BfK into a mere annotated booklist is a very real one, I’m afraid. So we hope you’ll understand if we still ask you to do some of the legwork. Anyway, who wants to put your friendly neighbourhood library or bookshop out of business? Do exploit these local experts!
One adjustment we’ve made regarding bibliographic data is to note the month of publication for paperbacks on our regular review pages. Many thanks to everyone who’s written to us suggesting this.
Jill’s Eleanor Farjeon
Finally, back to Jill Bennett. Is there anyone anywhere who’s done more to further the cause of real reading and real books while remaining, as she still is, a practising classroom teacher? BfK readers everywhere, we’re sure, will join us in offering herthe warmest congratulations.