The first of a new series of special features about non-fiction books.
In this issue we focus on books about People at work and at home.
Rosemary Last discusses choosing books about people at work in this country and abroad.
It is important to accept that a book is a flexible learning medium. If it is written and produced with flair the young reader will enjoy it and gain from the contact. The author will leave his mark, possibly indelibly. The skilful teacher can quite easily pick up a mediocre book and transform it into a useful tool but books that may be used by children without teacher guidance should be chosen with the utmost care. In some topic areas there are so many books available that making a selection is often difficult and daunting. A list of guideline questions (some of which apply to all non-fiction books) can be a useful starting point.
- What do you know or what can you find out about the background and qualifications of the author and illustrator? (Remember their credentials may not always be immediately obvious.)
- What are the objectives of the author?
- Are they fulfilled?
- Has the subject been treated appropriately for the children you have in mind – is it too detailed or too superficial?
- Are the contents accurate and up-to-date?
- Are facts clearly distinguishable from opinions? Bias and propaganda in a multi-cultural situation are hazards to recognise.
- If the contents pass muster, does the book tempt the child to open it?
- How effective is the cover in signalling what is inside?
- Does the shape and format succeed?
- Does the design and lay-out encourage or dishearten an enquiring mind?
- Is the information readily accessible?
- Is there a contents table, appropriate index, illustrations and diagrams which aid understanding, and a suitable annotated bibliography? (Since covers rarely make clear the author’s objectives, and it is a hit or miss exercise as to whether the child picks a book best suited to his need, it’s vital to encourage the use of contents tables and indices at the earliest possible age.)
- How much information is to be found in the pictures or are they included just for impact or because they are superficially attractive? Is the medium used the most appropriate for conveying information?
- Does the text read easily and fluently?
- Is there a proper strategy for introducing new vocabulary and concepts, or is the book overloaded with strange new words which will put off your readers?
- Is the author projecting his enthusiasm so that it can be shared by the reader?
- Are children encouraged to ask questions?
- Are the author’s attitudes to the subject acceptable? The avid child reader is highly impressionable.
- What is the level of presentation? Over-simplification often distorts meaning.
When choosing books remember one book alone will not suffice to satisfy a child’s curiosity in one subject. It is therefore important to offer as wide a range as possible.
Browsing is a source of enjoyment and learning in itself and can be used as a tool to fashion experience in the art of choice. Publications are available that can assist in the choice of material, for instance Angela Davey’s Ballet Shoes or Building Sites? which highlights the role of books, reading and libraries in the encouragement of girls to take up careers in engineering (Birmingham Library School Cooperative, 1981, 0 906945 02 X).
The best books, so much more than communicating facts, encourage children to speculate and enquire further. Selecting these from the mountains that are published is not an exact science; rather is it a skill that improves with practice. Finally, do not underestimate a child’s tenacity to read, understand and get value from any book if his interest is engaged!
To illustrate the range of materials on People at Work Rosemary Last looks at a dozen titles published in 1982.
I am a Vet
Dick Swayne and Peter Savage. Dent. I am… series. 0 460 06088 0. £3.50
An extension of play, as in each book in the series a child acts out the job in a series of colour photographs. First-person narrative in large bold type.
Infant and Lower Junior
Alistair Ross, Macdonald Educational. My First Encyclopedia series, 0 356 07821 3, £3.25
Each double page spread tackles a new facet within four main subject areas. The text asks questions as a way of involving the reader, and there is both a cross reference system and an index, the use of which is explained on the back of the title page. Photographs and drawings, often with a humorous touch, complete part five of this encyclopedia. The tenth volume in the series contains an index to all the titles.
I Really Want to Dance
Richard Glasstone and David Hodgson, Thames/Methuen, 0 423 00370 4, £4.95
A beautiful version of the TV documentary telling the story of four pupils, two boys and two girls, at the Royal Ballet Lower School in Richmond Park. It shows their ordinary lessons as well as their dance training and conveys their feelings about their yearning to become dancers.
We Live in Denmark
Ulla Andersen, Wayland, Living Here series, 0 85078 339 9. £4.95
Danish people from various walks of life describe their work. Each double page spread feature is illustrated by colour photographs showing the worker and his work place. Detailed contents page and index.
Olivia Bennett, Save the Children Fund/ Macmillan Educational/Commonwealth Institute, Patterns of Living series, 0 333 31196 5, £3.95
The theme of work is explained through various examples from several countries with prominence being given to developing countries such as Malaysia and Kenya, but the tendency to generalise has been mainly avoided. The text is illustrated by both drawings and colour photographs, and questions have been included to help the child relate the information to his own experience. There is a brief index.
Mr Kofi is a Doctor
Richard Devenish, Young Library, People Who Help Us series, 0 946 00301 7, £3.50
A title which offers information at two levels with each double page spread split into two, the right hand side offering a life story in large print and the left hand contributing background information. It has the appearance of two books in one and a feeling of unity is lost. However, it does reflect our multi-racial society and, used as a focal point for discussion, could prove interesting.
A Day with a Shopkeeper
Dorothy Turner and Tim Humphrey, Wayland, A Day with… series, 0 85340 967 6, £3.25
A companion to the award-winning A Day with a Miner, using the same format of black and white photographs accompanied by a simple caption and a block of slightly more difficult text per page. In this title insight is gained into the life of Mr Khan, a Brighton shopkeeper originally from Pakistan, and the text and the photographs reflect our multi-cultural community.
Marks and Spencer
Graeme Kent, Wayland, In the High Street series, 0 85340 932 3, £4.25
A look at the day to day running of this well-known store. The scope is then widened with each double page spread introducing new aspects. It investigates the reasons why `Marks and Sparks’ has become such a successful business both here and abroad. This series looks at well-known High Street establishments and their contribution to the country’s economy. The distorted photographs on the cover catch the eye!
Working in a Hospital
S. D. Storr, Wayland, People at Work series, 0 8534 926 9, £4.95
A book which highlights 12 people talking about their jobs at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. This approach is able to show the wide range of occupations within one work place. Numerous black and white photographs illustrate aspects of day to day life in a busy modern district hospital. The text is well spaced and the information can be retrieved easily by means of an index. This series now extends to more than 10 titles and has proved of use to older non-academic children.
Vickie Crabtree, Muller, 0 584 10412 X, £6.95
Whether for project work or for those considering a career in farming this book will prove a useful source. The mixture of maps and diagrams extend the informative and readable text. A realistic and unsensational look at agriculture today.
Working on a Farm
Alan A. Mister, Batsford, Careers series, 0 7134 3962 9. £5.95
A typical careers book! It is packed with information concerning working in the many and varied jobs in the farming world here and abroad, but only a serious enquirer would persevere as the presentation is dull with dense text and a collection of eight pages of black and white photographs with their captions printed more than 60 pages away!
Work and Leisure
Vincent O’Mara, Batsford, Living Today series, 0 7134 3576 3, £5.95
One important function of schools is to prepare students for future work and leisure, and the purpose of this book is to raise some of the important issues concerned. The whole concept of work and freedom from work in Britain today is examined. It is put into historical perspective and questions such as why people work are discussed. Both the sections on women and ethnic minorities at work are relevant and thought provoking. The black and white photographs, prints, line drawings and table ably support the text. There is a short, rather unnecessary glossary together with a very useful bibliography of books and audio-visual material. A fuller index would have been useful. This series aims to provide background material for Social Studies at CSE and 0 level.
Rosemary Last is a librarian and works with the schools’ service in Hertfordshire.
Other People’s Jobs
Chris Fairclough, who took the photographs for the award-winning Day with a Miner, records some thoughts on making books about
A few months ago I received a letter. It was from a boy in North Wales. ‘Dear Chris’ it began. ‘I am writing to tell you that I have read a book that you have written. It is called “A Day with a Lorrydriver“. I am very interested in lorries. Have you written any other books like it? If you have got any more books on lorries, please let me know. Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year. Best wishes from Graham.’
I replied immediately and told him that although I hadn’t written any other books about lorries – had he seen the one about the soldier in Germany or the vicar in London or the fisherman in Cornwall? All in the same series by Wayland.
Back came his reply a few days later. ‘Thank you for your letter. I don’t like anything as much as lorries, but I do like Madness – they’re a pop group. I never told you how old I was. I am fourteen and go to a residential school for children who need special help with their schoolwork. I will draw you another lorry so you can put it on your wall. Best wishes, Graham.’
Graham’s lorry is stapled above my desk, along with another cherished and oft gazed upon drawing of me, complete with camera, lying in a box that looks remarkably like a coffin. It was drawn by a five year old girl from Brentford after a visit to her class last year while working on ideas for a text book for Macmillan. The picture I’m sure is much more exciting than the book will be!
In both these cases it is the response to my work by others that produces the magic for me. Not the photographs or the text, not the printed page, but the response to them. In the one instance, the warmth of realising that the result of long hours spent trundling across Europe with a truck load of beef, brought delight to the eyes of a remedial fourteen year old; in the other that my simply turning up one morning in the midst of a class full of five year olds, and giving them all a turn with the camera, should make at least one of them respond with a picture of me in a coffin’ Another crayoned me with twelve foot long arms embracing the whole class, but Melissa drew a sad picture of herself and wrote underneath it, ‘I wasn’t in any of the photos because I went to the loo’.
How can a teacher ever be bored with such delight’
In 1970 when my headmaster said. ‘Well, Fairclough. what are you going to do with your life if you fail your A levels”’ (I think he must have known I’d fail the lot!), I replied that I’d have a go at as many jobs as possible before I was thirty and probably thumb my way around the world. By my twenty-fifth birthday I had managed forty-nine, most of them in New Zealand or Australia. Who needs a university education when you can gut fish, sort timber, fry potato sticks or sell lawn aerators’
My self education however only began to pay the rent after I had spent three years at West Surrey College of Art and Design. There I met two great men. One was Thurston Hopkins, photographer on Picture Post in the fifties. The other was Ivor Ashmore, a photographer who seems to have had a go at most things during his career. Together they helped to direct my determination to ‘get into photojournalism’. To be fair, they both said I hadn’t a chance, in the sure knowledge that I would prove them wrong!
I went freelance in the second year at college and undercut everybody to get the work. From that time in 1976 until just recently I took photographs for Mary Glasgow Publications on their E.F.L. magazine list. It is because of that work and its association with teaching that I have chosen to work exclusively on children’s books.
But in one way, although I hold a camera and carry a tape recorder I’m still adding to my list of jobs (and perhaps continuing to get at my old headmaster).
When I go down a coalmine, to the ‘Bible black’ and the dust and the danger, it is not as a photographer I go. but as a miner. A miner, who, for a few days, is allowed the luxury of shorter shifts and companions at all times. But a miner all the same. And when I went to the Northern Territory last year for A & C Black, illustrating a book in the Beans series about the life of an Aborigine girl, for a few weeks I lived their life of bush tucker, of Corroberee and goanna hunts. (Goanna lizard tastes a bit like old chicken – only more chewy.)
And now I am planning to spend three days hanging out of a helicopter over the North sea, with the occasional brief stop on an oil rig for a few shots and a five course breakfast. The book is to be about the career opportunities in the oil industry and the important part it could play in the future of many schoolleavers. My job will be to take eight photographs each of twelve employees of that company. In so doing we build up an overall picture of what life is like as a driller, a rig worker, a helicopter pilot, a geologist and a manager.
Some assignments are much easier to set up than others. Shooting a vet in Derbyshire is somewhat simpler than a mountaineer half way up Mt. Cook in New Zealand, but I’ve done both in the last year. The date for the oil job is set in mid May, when the weather will be at its kindest and I have a few clean pages in my diary. I’ll drive up over night, arriving in Aberdeen about 8.30 am – just in time for a cup of coffee and a handshake. Off to the heliport and on with the orange exposure suit and life jackets. A quick last minute camera check: enough film for 2000 shots, three cameras, spare motorwind, spare flash unit, lenses, filters, tripod, batteries, cables – I fee! like an overloaded Christmas tree with all the gear on some of these jobs! Then it’s on board the helicopter out into the blue. (Last year I worked on A & C Black’s Oil Rig Worker, so this is not new!)
On some commissions I write the text as well, for others I collaborate with an author. Some have a very clear idea of what they want in the way of photographs to illustrate their text. Others seem to care little and know less. I like to meet somewhere in the middle. There is nothing worse for me than the writer who shouts, ‘Come on then, we need a shot of her over there’, when I’m casually chatting to our poor subject in an attempt to make her feel at ease. On the other hand I worked with a writer once who an hour before I’d finished his list of ‘required shots was on his third pint in the local pub. At least with that character I could put my own interpretation on the subject.
It can take thirty seconds to get someone’s portrait, or it can take the whole morning. Both methods have their advantages and their drawbacks. It’s possible to learn a great deal about somebody in thirty seconds and absolutely nothing about another in a morning. It’s this gleaning of information that goes to make a passable or a successful shot. And it’s this free exchange between two people that makes my job ever more interesting. For a day I’m a busdriver or a fireman or a company executive – for a day they are a star.
Even though the hurried changing of lenses and setting of flash units may be complete, the job is never over. When I’m in the UK film is processed at home or at a nearby lab, When I’m away it’s not such a simple task. Last year in Australia I nearly came unstuck. I had completed the shots for Aboriginal Family and had to get the film developed by Kodak in Melbourne, a mere 2000 miles south. Christmas was approaching and we were running out of time (and money!) so I posted the films from a remote outback post office. ‘She’ll be right mate- there by t morra, this is Australia ya know, not pommieland!’ The following morning’s radio broadcast brought news of a countrywide postal strike. I got my pictures eventually but the film I later discovered had sat for three weeks at Alice Springs in 130 F. It says a lot for Kodak who recommend that the film I was using be refrigerated at all times before and after use! I’ll never post film in Aussie again.
When I first started working for publishers I let the editor have all the photographs. Inevitably they would choose the very shot I hated or worse still one that was out of focus or badly exposed. Now I go through all the shots and toss out all the rubbish before I send them off; or I simply send prints without the contacts. All the photographs not immediately used are filed for future retrieval. I’ve collected over 70,000 black and white negs. and 10,000 colour transparencies in the last four years. They’re expensive to store and cataloguing them is a continual chore. Maybe I should put them all on computer before they snow me under with paper!
I strongly believe there is a place for the photographer in the layout and design of the book. Recently I have taken a much more active role in this and I find it increasingly more interesting. I’m about to be set free with a complete series for one publisher, and I’m pleased to say that most publishers at least ask my opinion as to design before going to press.
Every bit as important as layout is reproductive quality. Imagine spending hours crawling along 2ft 6in coal face, coping with the delights of choking dust, foul water and faulty NCB flash units to emerge clutching three rolls of film and a dripping Nikon. Expectations are high – there wasn’t a rock fall and you are once more in the fresh air. The film is lovingly processed – an image is nurtured from the emulsion. Yes the facial expressions are just right, the detail has held in the shadows and the glint in the miner’s eyes will bring the whole story to life. Bright prints are made at length – the contrast contained to pick out the very dust and sweat. They are packaged and sealed and sent to the editor.
Six months later a book drops through the letter box. The pictures look as if they have been dragged through the same coalmine as their creator and the paper that they are ‘printed’ on is not worthy of the gents toilet at Waterloo station. It seems a crime to me that in 1983, with our modern processes and equipment, that corners are cut to save a few pence. It’s a shame too that teachers and readers alike do not write to complain about the poor reproduction. Books are usually the result of many months of hard work, of research, editing and late nights. They should not be spoilt by indiscriminate printers. Unlike newspapers and magazines. books are not thrown away after they have been read. They remain on our shelves as a token of the hard graft that has gone to make them. Books are for keeps.
Chris Fairclough‘s photographs appear in non-fiction series by several publishers. For Wayland he has contributed to the Day with… series (notably A Day with a Miner, 0 85340 900 5, £3.50, with a text by Phillippa Aston, which won the TES Junior Information Book Award) for some titles doing pictures and text. For A and C Black he has worked on the Beans series, and with Ann Stewart on the first four titles in Hamish Hamilton’s new Cherrystones series: The Milkman (0 241 10934 5), The Policewoman (0 241 10935 3), The Fireman (0 241 10936 1), The Farmer (0 241 10937 X), £3.25 each.
The BEANS series
EDITOR, JILL COLEMAN, WRITES ABOUT THE THINKING BEHIND THE BOOKS
BEANS is a series of information books for 8-13 years olds, which look at ordinary people and the way they live. The books are about real people and are illustrated mainly with photographs.
The idea of the series grew from our dissatisfaction with the kind of information book which tries to summarize all the known facts about a country in a limited number of words and a few maps. We felt that there was an important place for books which looked at a small area, or group of people, in greater depth. The kind of individual case study apparently provided in some information books by other publishers was often not a real case study, but a compilation of photographs from different sources and geographical areas, linked together by a text which was intended to describe a `typical’ family or place. We wanted to show real life – which is never typical.
From our experience with the STRANDS series, we knew that it was possible to make books about real families, and we wanted to do the same kind of studies about families living overseas. We also wanted to do something similar with studies of places and people in history as well as contemporary studies of people at work.
The people in BEANS books are real. They have ideas and opinions of their own. In ‘Sakina in India‘, for instance, Sakina says: ‘Asharap looks after the chicken. That’s an easy job. The goat is always giving me trouble’.
We often choose a child as the central character so that children can identify with him, or her, and compare their own experiences with those of the child in the book. Children seem to find this approach more interesting than general facts and figures. Some of the BEANS books are read over and over again for pleasure, as a story might be. Portraying real people with attitudes and opinions, we hope will also help the children to respect ways of life which may be very different from their own.
Occasionally, someone comes to A & C Black with a project which is exactly right for the BEANS series, such as `Pakistani Village‘ by Ailsa and Alan Scarsbrook. The Scarsbrooks had visited Pakistan to find out more about the background of the Pakistani children in the school where Ailsa taught. They stayed with many of the children’s relations, took photographs and collected information to show the children back at school. Their material was just right for the BEANS series.
But generally, we need to commission an author or photographer specially for each book, or at least brief them before they start. The ideal author is someone who already has a close relationship with the family he, or she, wants to write about. Rollo Browne, the author of `Aboriginal family‘, was the children’s teacher and lived in their community for several years. Sometimes, an author finds a family which he, or she, has never met before, through friends and contacts. Then they need to spend some time getting to know the family before they start work.
Discussing the book with the author beforehand has other advantages. The text and pictures in BEANS books are closely linked to each other. It is important for the author and photographer to work together so that nothing is missed out. The author won’t be able to describe what a child’s school is like, for instance, if the photographer has only taken pictures of fishing boats in the sunset.
The kind of family is important, too. We don’t try to portray `typical’ families because they don’t exist. But we often try to show families which children can compare with people who are familiar to them. For example, the father in ‘French Family‘, is a postman and the book shows him in the post office and making his rounds.
As the series has developed, we have tried to choose titles which reflect the case study approach – `Village in Egypt‘, `Oil Rig Worker‘ and so on. When we first started the series, many of the books were called by the name of the country in which they were set – `Sri Lanka’, or `Mexico’ – and we received some angry letters from people who thought they were buying broadly based information books.
But although the books are not designed to summarize every fact about a particular country, a great deal of information and food for thought or discussion is given in the narrative. This is an example from `Aboriginal Family‘.
`Once, my Auntie Rosie was very ill during the Wet Season. The roads were flooded and no-one could fetch the doctor from the airstrip. Auntie Rosie had to swim two streams and walk a long way through the mud to meet the plane. The doctor took her to the hospital in Katherine.’
I feel this will say more to children than a bald statement about isolated communities, rainfall and so on.
Background information is also included where it fits into the narrative and all the books include maps, diagrams and illustrations where they can help to give relevant information.
The photographs themselves are also an important source of information. We feel that using photographs, rather than illustrations, helps to make the books more like `real life’ and less like story books.
If the books are used together, topics such as `food’, `games’ or `lessons’ can be explored by comparing different families. It’s interesting that the same children’s games for instance, crop up over and over again in slightly different forms and with different names.
The most important thing which we hope that children will gain from the BEANS books is respect for and interest in people who live in different ways from themselves and, of course, a desire to find out more. None of the books would be possible without the cooperation of the families portrayed and we are very grateful for their help.•
A list of titles in the `Beans’ series, all at £2.95
PEOPLE AT WORK
Bakery, 0 7136 1972 4
Carpenter, 0 7136 2038 2
Fishing Boat, 0 7136 2077 3
Garage, 0 7136 2037 4
Oil Rig Worker, 0 7136 2242 3
Pottery, 0 7136 1977 5
The Blacksmith’s House, 0 7136 1973 2
Jubilee Terrace, 0 7136 1975 9
Vikings, 0 7136 2039 0
Aboriginal Family, 0 7136 2293 8
Arab Village, 0 7136 2036 6
Boy in Bangladesh, 0 7136 2119 2
Chun Ling in China, 0 7136 2215 6
Eskimo Boy, 0 7136 1974 0
French Family, 0 7136 2216 4
Jamaican Village, 0 7136 2214 8
Mexico, 0 7136 1978 3
New York Family, 0 7136 2120 6
Pakistani Village, 0 7136 1976 7
Sakina in India, 0 7136 2243 1
Sri Lanka, 0 7136 2076 5
Village in Egypt, 0 7136 2292 X
Zambia, 0 7136 1979 1