The poems in the book include some old favourites – those Mike Rosen has found particularly successful with young children on his visits to schools – and some new ones. I talked to Quentin Blake about the book at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference where he was the delighted recipient of the new Children’s Book Award (see page 26). He said he felt he’d got something a little different, a little extra, into his pictures for this book. I think he’s right. Two of the new poems in particular, I am Jojo, and the title poem, You Can’t Catch Me, a dialogue between a small child and his father, have sparked off pictures with more than the free flowing line and racy comic exuberance which characterises Quentin Blake. There’s a sense of the marvellous mystery and the delightful terrors of a childhood within a secure home. You’ll have to wait a little to see them, though. You Can’t Catch Me! won’t be in the shops until the autumn. Put it on your list now.
Bring Back Elmer
This issue is bursting with picture book people. (Had you noticed we’ve gone up to 32 pages. What value for money!) Proving, we think, that picture books are for all ages. We chose David McKee for the Authorgraph (page 16) not only because he’s multi-talented, interesting, controversial and very nice; but because children love the humorous fantasy of Mr. Benn. Melric the Magician and Elmer, the Patchwork Elephant. Amazingly, only one of these, The Magician who lost his Magic, is currently available in paperback. Elmer, who has captured the imaginations of countless children and filled Infant classrooms with wall-sized Elmers, Puppet Elmers, friezes full of Elmers, is out of print! Come on Piccolo, BRING BACK ELMER. And while you’re about it what about some more Melric? Puffin used to have two Mr Benn titles. Where are they now? And I can’t understand why someone doesn’t re-issue Two can Toucan (especially with Guinness making the bird so well-known again) – it’s a gem of a story about the search for identity.
One bright spot. Dobson will have two Elmer titles available again in hardback this autumn, and one new one Elmer and Wilbur.
Pop-ups, moveables, call them what you will, they are certainly moving into the best seller lists and more and more publishers are lumping onto the bandwagon in the hope of an enormous success like Jan Pienkowski’s The Haunted House or Robert Crowther’s The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Alphabet Book. We looked behind the pop-up scene and found Wally Hunt and Intervisual Communications Incorporated (see page 14). Is it all just a gimmick? Are they toys, not books? Well, they are certainly one way to get children interested; but, as always there has to be some adult on hand with the right book to take advantage of the enthusiasm. And not many have the sort of quality that keeps you going back for fresh delights. It’s a greedy medium – the search for more amazing and amusing ideas and techniques to keep people buying could become relentless. When novelty is what you offer the bored yawn of ‘I’ve seen it before’ is death. As ICI become practised in certain techniques it seems inevitable that books will begin to look more and more the same. But if they can work with artists like Pienkowski and Crowther who, although very different in temperament and in their attitude to the pop-up industry, are bursting with ideas and imagination, it’s likely that at least some books will continue to surprise and delight us.
Bodley Head don’t publish any pop-ups, although Judy Taylor, children’s editor, thinks they are a great attempt to sell books’ and wishes more were linked to real books. But they have broken new ground with Paperback Originals in their New Adult series. It’s not possible now, they say, to publish a hardback novel under £5, and anyway adolescents feel more at home with paperbacks. The books are large format, with sewn bindings and cost between £3 and £4. One of the first titles is Your Friend, Rebecca (0 370 30418 7, £3.25) a first novel by Linda Hoy. Margaret Clark, children’s book director at Bodley Head, says, ‘New authors are in danger of never being published. Everyone tells me they spend hardly any money on authors who are not well-established.’ This one is certainly worth a try: a readable first person narrative, which manages for the most part to sound right (not easy) and funny, by Rebecca (15) whose mother is dead and who is painfully working out an existence at school and at home with Dad.
Books of the Year?
‘Brilliant’. That’s what Jill Bennett and one of her seven-year-olds think about Truck, a picture book by Donald Crews (Bodley Head, 0 570 30396 2, £3.50) Jill brought it back from the States last year and says it caused more than one fight in her classroom. It’s textless, but not wordless: letters, street signs, advertisements abound as a red truck makes its way to the docks. Says Jill, ‘The pages are crammed with interesting items and shapes; guaranteed to keep small boys absorbed for hours. Undoubtedly one of the best picture books so far this year.’
I’d add to that, Sunshine, a wordless picture book from a new artist Jan Ormerod (Kestrel, 0 7226 576 6, £3.95, published May 28th), about the waking up and before-school doings of a small girl. It’s full of warmth and humour and the pictures make Jan Ormerod my nomination, so far, for next year’s Mother Goose award. Coming soon, a follow up, Moonlight, about bedtime.
Man in Motion
That’s the title of a new series devised and created by Alec Davis, who designs Books for Keeps. He lives in the Forest of Dean with his wife and five children and (when he has time) makes the most amazing and beautiful models out of card, paper and bits. Each book is about the development of a different form of transport and is full of information and illustrations as well as detailed instructions and plans for making six or seven models. (In the Air, 0 263 06439 5, On the Road, 0 263 06437 9. Both from Mills and Boon, £1.75.)
In July we are looking at science, fact and fiction. Some of that 21st Century magic was what we needed with the March issue. Sorry we were late; but pleased you noticed we were missing. With luck we should be back on schedule. Keep your fingers crossed.