According to the Reader Survey we conducted in the Spring, a number of BfK readers would like a Correspondence Page. Well, here it is …
James Watson writes:
As another author with the softest of spots for Norman Lindsay’s comic masterpiece, The Magic Pudding, might I advise Philip Pullman (BfK No.93, July 1995) that the book’s out-of-printness seems to be confined to British oversight? For Father’s Day this year I received from my daughter, Francesca, currently living in Sydney, a fine Angus & Robertson hardback edition printed in Australia in 1990.
Of the many books I used to read to my children, The Magic Pudding – a treat to read aloud – was one which certainly entertained me the most. Alas, I overheard two of my grown daughters in an almost out of earshot exchange the other day complain about ‘Dad reading that dratted magic pudding story … again’.
However, all is not lost for Bunyip Bluegum and his friends Bill Barnacle and Sam Sawnoff: the note which came with my Father’s Day gift confessed, ‘If I’d known The Magic Pudding was all about Australia, I’d have paid more attention.’ Perhaps I should have paid a little more attention to explaining the difference between a possum and a wombat, a bandicoot and a kookaburra.
Philip Pullman commends Lindsay’s characters for frequently breaking into song and verse, usually in unrestrained praise of Albert the puddin’s capacity to defeat the greatest appetite. As solace for readers still denied the four delicious slices of puddin’ chasin’ adventure offered by Lindsay so long ago, here’s Sam Sawnoff in eloquent stride:
‘That Puddin’, sir, and me, has, back to back,
Withstood the fearful Rumty Tums’ attack,
And swum the Indian Ocean for our lives,
Pursued by Oysters, armed with oyster knifes.
Let me but say, e’r these adventures cloy,
I’ve known that Puddin’ since he were a boy.’
At which Albert retorts:
‘“All lies,” sang out the Puddin’, looking over the rim of his basin. “For well you know that you and old Bill Barnacle collared me off Curry and Rice after rollin him off the iceberg.’
Come to think of it, my daughters may have had a point. The Magic Pudding is probably savoured to the full by grown-up kids; the kind who will prove too impatient to wait till the ‘right time’. They will reach down the volume, dust it off, and by way of apology to their own children, begin, ‘Now at first you may not love this as much as I do, but …’
Jean Ure writes:
Having read Nicholas Tucker’s excellent article in the July edition, I have to say that I feel extremely depressed about children and their reading habits – or non-reading habits. Teenagers in particular seem to have become non-readers by definition.
A while ago, at a conference on just this subject, I heard the very experienced Julia Eccleshare speaking. She said (I have to quote from my rather shaky memory) that as far as she was concerned the fears that teenagers were no longer reading were without foundation. She visited a great many schools and in her opinion teenage reading was alive and well. They were all reading something.
I only wish my experience marched with hers! I too visit a great many schools and as far as I can make out large numbers of teenagers aren’t reading anything at all – certainly not on a voluntary basis – and of those who are, almost all are stuck on Point Horrors and/or Stephen King and Virginia Andrews.
Now, I don’t see anything in the least bit wrong with Point Horror as such (nor, I daresay, with Stephen King or Virginia Andrews) but so strong is their grip that virtually no other fiction for older readers is any longer economically viable, with the result that virtually all publishers have severely curtailed their teenage lists or even cut them altogether – except for the ubiquitous horror series. Variety is no longer an option. All we are getting is more and more, and ever more, of exactly the same: clone-upon-clone of sure-fire, written-to-a-formula, walk-off-the-shelf, megabuck-makers.
Of course there are honourable exceptions, but this does appear to be the trend; and should we wonder at it? We live in a society devoted to profit. Books that aren’t likely to make any might as well be strangled at birth. Publishers, after all, are not answerable to their authors but to their shareholders. Quick returns are what it’s all about – and I don’t mean the sort of returns that are starting to figure with such depressing prominence on our royalty statements!
And, in a similar vein …
Pat Thomson writes:
Adèle Geras raises a matter for concern (‘What’s the Rush?’, BfK No.93, July 1995).
In a democracy, we need people to be thoughtful and reflective, able to concentrate, and able to read everything. The needs of children, aware parents and good teachers coincide at this point but they do not match the needs of commerce. Booksellers want titles which walk off their shelves. They haven’t time to wait for a book and a reader to grow together. Teachers blame the publishers and it does seem that longer novels are out of favour, but the quality of the Book Fairs some schools are using suggests that fast, effortless sales are a priority for them, too. Are the days of the excellent, substantial novel numbered?
In darker moments, I am ready to write myself off as hopelessly old-fashioned, but then I see yet again what happens when children are led into a book that makes demands of them, and I decide to stay and fight after all. We need our children to be literate for more than passing SATs.
… will there be a Correspondence Page in the next issue of BfK? That’s up to our readers. In this case, by chance, all three letters came from professional writers but we’d also welcome contributions from teachers, librarians, illustrators, publishers, booksellers, parents, children – from anyone, in fact, with an axe to grind, an itch to scratch or just an opinion about children’s books to air.
Please send your letters to Books for Keeps, The Old Chapel, Easton, Nr Winchester, Hampshire SO21 1EG or fax them to 01962 779600, preferably six weeks ahead of the magazine’s next issue.