Think of Macdonald. Do you think of series? Starters, Surviving Peoples, just look at Debates, People Then and Now, etc. etc.? Reliable, innovative, non-fiction for all ages. If that’s your image you’ll need to revise it, for this summer Macdonald tidied up its somewhat uncoordinated publishing of picture books and launched Macdonald Fiction in a big way. The first ten titles appeared in June and more are scheduled for this month, October and November. The list falls into two parts – picture books and fiction for the junior age range – and is an interesting mix of new names (good to see Macdonald taking a chance with first novels and picture books), American imports and British reissues. Best of all there is simultaneous publication of same-size hardbacks and paperbacks.
The Picture Books come in two sizes and with 28 pages each. The launch list featured two books by new artist, Rob Lewis. Graduating from the illustration course at Bristol Polytechnic, Rob took his portfolio to Macdonald who snapped him up. If you ask him who is his favourite illustrator, he’ll admit with a smile that it’s John Burningham. And it’s not hard to see why; their styles are remarkably similar. Influence? Homage? Rip-off? Well, Rob says when he first encountered Burningham it was a case of ‘Wow – here’s somebody who works like me!’ Whatever, Rob Lewis is marvellous with colour and Hello Mr Scarecrow, a simple text which tells the month by month, year-round story of a scarecrow, exactly catches the tones and shades of the different seasons.
Using similar techniques Tracey Lewis (Rob’s wife) has a book that is exactly right for infant classrooms now. Where Do All the Birds Go? glows with autumn colours and the simple question and answer text tells of squirrels, tortoises, horses, etc in language that nicely balances fact and feeling.
Rob Lewis’s other book, The Great Granny Robbery, is in the larger format and with a longer text-just right for the infant/junior bridge. It’s an anti-ageist tale of how an army of granny guerillas rescue their fellow grans who have been kidnapped by evil Len the Laugher and are being forced to knit woolly socks and jumpers.
Also worth looking out for are Eileen Browne’s Up the Tree which features young tracksuit and trainer clad Tracey (who loves to climb) and her spectacle-wearing, jean and teeshirted (I ran the world) mum who is busy with a hammer in their towerblock flat. And two longer texts which play off conventional expectations: The Garden Dragon and the Lovely Lily, by Nigel Gray and Yann le Goaec, takes the Chinese Whispers joke and puts it into a story that subverts the fairy tale in a way that is threatening to become traditional. This time the woodcutter’s son passes up the princess because he’s got a girlfriend of his own; the princess takes up Kung-fu so she can fight her own battles. Gordon the Ghost and Sarah Jane, by Linda Dearsley and Margaret Chamberlain, has Sarah Jane who is obsessive about being clean and tidy (Mum is a messy artist, Dad is a messy car mender) efficiently cleaning up a ghost and a haunted house. Margaret Chamberlain’s pictures have lots of zest.
The Junior Fiction gets three cheers for paperback design and production. Good sized with solid spines that don’t fall apart and a generous typeface that looks clear and inviting on paper that is much nearer white than the yellowy-brown which seems to be becoming the norm for paperbacks. Of the first titles the two American imports are real finds. Charlotte Cheetham, Master of Disaster is very much in the Beverly Cleary mould: family, school and friendship provide a background for the tribulations of imaginative Charlotte who has a tendency to enliven the everyday with tall tales which just slip out.
Andrea, the central character of Mail Order Wings, is another welcome new acquaintance. Yes, she finds she can fly, but – half fascinated, half frightened – she discovers she is changing into a bird. For slightly older junior readers or listeners this is an absorbing (and with a nod to Kafka) unusual story. Beatrice Gormley, whose first book this is, found that she had grown fond of her characters, so Andrea, mother, father, big brother Jim and Aunt Bets are back in Focus Pocus in which short-sighted Andrea gets some rather extraordinary glasses.
On the reprint front is the four-book (so far) ballet saga of dreary Drina. First published in the late fifties these are paperbacked from the John Goodchild reissue and, in spite of the wooden writing which tells you everything and shows you nothing, these will probably be devoured by young would-be Drinas. Much more exciting is the prospect of having the whole sequence of Barbara Willard’s `Mantlemass’ novels in this attractive format and at only £2.50 each.
Now there’s someone who can write and tell an absorbing story. This saga of a family across two centuries brings social history vividly alive and as a bonus offers some strong female characters. The first two titles, The Lark and the Laurel and The Sprig of Broom, are available this autumn.
(Macdonald prefix 0 356)
Hello Mr Scarecrow, 11798 7, £3.50 hbk; 11799 5, £1.95 pbk
Where Do All the Birds Go?, 11977 7, £3.50 hbk; 11978 5, £1.95 pbk
The Great Granny Robbery, 11847 9, £4.95 hbk; 11848 7, £2.50 pbk
Up the Tree, 11789 8, £3.50 hbk; 117901, £1.95 pbk
The Garden Dragon and the Lovely Lily, 117871, £4.95 hbk; 11788 X, £2.50
Gordon the Ghost and Sarah Jane, 11785 5, £4.95 hbk; 11786 3, £2.50 pbk
Charlotte Cheetham, 11981 5, £5.95 hbk; 11982 3, £1.95 pbk
Mall Order Wings, 11979 3, £5.95 hbk; 11980 7, £1.95 pbk
Focus Pocus, 13186 6,:£5.95 hbk; 13187 4, £1.95 .pbk,
The Lark and the Laurel, 13168 8, £6.95 hbk; 13169 6, £2.50 pbk
The Sprig of Broom, 13170 X, £6.95 hbk; 131718, £2.50 pbk