If you were asked to name 20 current authors and illustrators whose work would `focus’ a promotion of children’s reading – taking account of such variables as quality, variety, accessibility, age-range and so on – who would you choose?
Well, here’s one list: Joan Aiken, Lynn Reid Banks, James Berry, Raymond Briggs, Eric Carle, Ann and Reg Cartwright, Charles Causley, Helen Cresswell, Anita Desai, Leon Garfield, Jamila Gavin, Sheila Lavelle, Margaret Mahy, William Mayne, Colin McNaughton, Jan Ormerod, Ann Pilling, Maurice Sendak, Bob Wilson and Paul Zindel.
What’s that? You see some glaring omissions? Okay, I’ll try again: Vivien Alcock, Val Biro, Ruth Brown, Beverly Cleary, Babette Cole, Berlie Doherty, Nicholas Fisk, Adele Geras, Susanna Gretz, Russell Hoban, Janni Howker, Robert Leeson, Roger McGough, Michael Morpurgo, Grace Nichols, Graham Oakley, Philippa Pearce, Hazel Townson, Brian Wildsmith and Kit Wright.
Still not satisfied? In that case, maybe you’d plump for the following: Victor Ambrus, Nina Bawden, John Burningham, Betsy Byars, Robert Cormier, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Philippe Dupasquier, Alan Garner, Grace Hallworth, Pat Hutchins, Penelope Lively, Errol Lloyd, Michelle Magorian, Jan Mark, David McKee, Helen Oxenbury, Brian Patten, Robert Swindells, Jean Ure, Robert Westall.
Sorry? You’re not happy with these, either? Fair enough. How about settling for… no. Let’s stop right now. The sheer arbitrariness of this kind of selection must be obvious already. Yet, under pressure from booksellers anxious to use Children’s Book Week (3-10 October) to point purchasers in particular directions, that’s what Wendy Cooling, Director of the Children’s Book Foundation, has had to provide. Being a sensible lady, her first thought was to consult actual kids – who, being just as sensible, produced a list about as long as all the above put together. This Wendy whittled down to the score of names you’ll find on our News Page (31)… yes, another set altogether!
It’s easy, of course, to condemn the sheer daftness of such an exercise. Also, let it be said, its riskiness. In this age of attainment-targets, assessment tasks and prescribed texts, any concession to those only too eager to dictate children’s reading seems ill-advised. Faced with the current profusion of children’s books, though, how is the attention of the uninformed to be focused? Wendy Cooling was under pressure, she points out, to nominate 20 titles for Children’s Book Week. By opting for names, at least she keeps several hundred books on offer so perhaps we’d better be grateful.
The Problems of Profusion
Quite how we best cope with the recent upsurge in publications for young people isn’t a simple matter to resolve. Yes, it is harder than ever to `notice’, and thereby keep in print, titles that deserve a longer shelf-life than the average. Many good books do disappear all too quickly. Some critics, though, seem to regard the increased volume of their reading as some kind of affront to their craft rather than confirmation of its relevance. Probably we should just keep our nerve and enjoy the glut. Heaven knows, with the recession continuing and the Net Book Agreement vulnerable, it’s all too likely to be temporary.
Sounding Out Series
One way to increase enjoyment, not to mention discernment, is to provide the best possible information. That’s why we’re more than happy to pass on an offer from Nancy Chambers to send our readers a free photocopy of the recent Signal piece on series she wrote with Elizabeth Hamill. To this, you may recall, Steve Rosson took great exception in our last issue. For Nancy’s and Elizabeth’s follow-up, along with Steve’s characteristically robust rejoinder, see Writer Reply on page 23. My own doubts about the original Signal article concern its treatment of the terms `format’ and `formula’ as though they were interchangeable. This, it seems to me, greatly confuses the argument. You’ll certainly need both texts if you want to make up your own mind.
Back to School
No doubt the summer holidays are already a distant memory for most BfK readers. This issue also returns to school – at any rate as reflected in books. Robert Leeson celebrates the twists and turns of the school story, Maurice Sendak describes his own horrific schooldays, Chris Lutrario assesses recent publications on bullying, Pat Clark asks some pertinent questions about school bookselling, a team from Oxford offers advice on handling information books in the classroom and our Authorgraph is Berlie Doherty… interviewed by three of her own young readers. This piece was in fact an entry to the BfK/BFC Competition for Schools, which we described in our March issue (No. 73) – and came very close to winning. For details of this year’s competition, organised in conjunction with our sponsors, Books For Children, turn to page 30. There are major prizes to be won.
Every school has at least one outsider, however. In keeping with this, we include one article that has absolutely nothing to do with school. Mind you, Raymond Briggs’s new creation, THE MAN, encountered on our front and back cover, does have strong feelings about learning:
`There’s nothing worse than being uneducated. You miss so much in life.
It’s like being only half alive.’
Few of us will disagree with that. Enjoy the issue.