Storytelling, in one form or another, crops up over and over again in this issue. On pages 4-5, Helen Cresswell celebrates the career of Eileen Colwell – librarian, anthologist and an outstanding purveyor of what a friend of mine calls ‘out-loud’ fiction. Margaret Clark’s piece `Writing for Children’ (pages 6-7) addresses some of the fundamentals of the written-down version . . . while Julia Eccleshare (pages 26-27) looks at the rise of the Paperback Original as a marketing device. Pete Johnson, the subject of our Authorgraph (centre-spread), actually co-opts some of his readers into the creative process – an acknowledgement of consumer-rights to which, in a different way, Robert Hull also draws attention on pages 22-24 where he discusses current approaches to information texts for children. His specific focus is history – which re-appears, in fiction-mode, on our back page with David Bennett’s enthusiastic account of the novels of Theresa Tomlinson.
`What?’ do I hear you cry. `Nothing in this issue about those lists, Chris?’ Thanks for reminding me. Since it’s always been BfK policy to give the Secretary of State for Education every opportunity to improve himself, he should turn at once to Peter Hunt’s `Blindspot’ on page 25 and Alison Leonard’s `Writer Reply’ on page 29 for a hint-or-two about the personalnature of reading response. Or, of course, he need look no further than the foot of this page where, with The Guardian’s permission, we re-print a letter it published on May 19th. Since then, I gather, both Rumer Godden and Pat Hutchins have added their names.
Mind you, it’s surprising who we’ve got on our side these days. Here’s an extract from a piece in The Times, on 10th May by John Marenbom explaining why he felt obliged to resign from SEAC:
`Traditionalists like myself might be tempted to feel regret at giving up the chance to ensure that all children are introduced to some of the great literacy classics. We should not be. Once the principle of prescription is accepted, another government might use it to impose a very different and less edifying set of books. And, in any case, the love literature is not something which can be instilled to order.’
To which BfK can only reply `Welcome aboard, John. What kept you?’
Who knows, maybe we’re getting our message across after all.
Enjoy the issue.
BUT NO… AUTHOR?
In Sally Grindley’s report on the 1993 Mother Goose Award in our May issue, we mentioned that Kate Simpson is the illustrator of But No Cheese! (Hodder and Stoughton) but, inexplicably, omitted the name of the author. It’s Saviour Pirotta. Many apologies.
Letters to the Editor
Authors spurn school list
We are writers whose names or works have been put on the new English National Curriculum lists.
We would like to dissociate ourselves from these lists for the following reasons:
1) In a democratic society, the distribution of literature is in’ formed by open debate. This enables readers to engage with the arguments recommending or disapproving of any given work. However, this list comes without any critical commentary and yet it is armed with commands that our books should be read. We reject this authoritarian approach to reading.
2) The compilers, though acting as literary arbiters, are largely anonymous and inaccessible, so distancing themselves from open debate.
3) These lists will not contribute to teachers’ understanding and enthusiasm for literature as their choice of books in schools would largely be a consequence of obeying orders from on high.
4) No matter how flexible these lists may seem to be, they dictate a view of what a national literary heritage ought to be. They are unrepresentative of many cultural traditions that have prevailed in the past or are important today. In any case, we reject the attempt to use literature to express notions of a national heritage when writing has always consisted of a mosaic of international traditions and forms.
5) If we are “approved” authors, then by implication, other writers are “not approved”. We do not wish to be part of such a blanket rejection of fellow-writers.
6a) These lists are part of the new education policy which involves: i) a crude enforcement of spoken and written standard English, which incidentally, was tried before the last war and failed then.
ii) testing at 7,11, and 14 in order to stream children and select them for the new grammar schools. This approach has also been tried in the past and was seen to reject and fail the majority of children.
iii) testing, streaming and selection as a means by which large numbers of children receive less attention and fewer resources.
6b) We resent the fact that our work has been co-opted for these policies.
7) If authors and works are to be recommended to teachers – or for that matter rejected – then there are other ways of doing so, more in spirit with literature itself. There is, at present, a public and open discussion about books for children being conducted in universities, conferences, seminars, critical works, journals, associations and parent organisations. If money is to be spent on aiding the reading of books in schools, then it would be much better directed at encouraging what is already in place, assisting the circulation of information and raising the profile of all literature written expressly for, or simply suitable for, young people of all ages.
Joan Aiken, Antonia Barber, Jill Bennett, Ruth Brown, Helen Cresswell, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Michael Foreman, Leon Garfield, Grace Hallworth, Gene Kemp, Clive King, Michelle Magorian, Beverly Naidoo, Brian Patten, Henry Pluckrose, Michael Rosen, Ian Serrailler, Catherine Storr.