Ted Percy looks at the paperbacks received for review in 1991.
As more and more children’s non-fiction comes out in paperback and book prices continue to rise, schools and school library services have to consider whether the ‘hardback only’ policy will still serve them effectively. It’s time to look at paperbacks within the context of the whole non-fiction scene and consider what advantages they offer anyone who thinks they provide a chance to get more for their money.
Among the traditional and influential virtues of the hardback information book are the ways in which it:
1. Comes out first
2. May never appear in paperback
3. Lasts longer and looks nicer while doing it
4. Has a broad spine that displays its title well and holds a classification number nicely.
But with simultaneous paperback editions becoming more common and physical production standards improving, the advantages of a half-price paperback may be more influential. So I’ve been looking at the output of some major non-fiction publishers with a view to reaching some sort of conclusion.
A & C Black have an enviable record in the information field and their decision to rescue, by paperback, twelve of their best titles from the threat of out-of-print oblivion is most laudable. Among their ‘Threads’ series, Paper (0 7136 3502 9), Plastics (0 7136 3503 7 and Wood (0 7136 3505 3) are especially welcome. They go right through primary school as do Black’s equally excellent ‘Stopwatch’ series – Barrie Watts’ Broad Bean (0 7136 3495 2) is the infant ‘growth’ book and his Bird’s Nest O 7136 3494 4) and Spider’s Web 0 7136 3499 5) have long been essential fare. Too good to die, if paperbacks can keep them alive let’s hope that Black’s list lengthens. At £2.99 each they’re a bargain.
Franklin Watts have stuck mainly to reprinting out-of-print hardbacks. Exceptions are their ‘Rainy Days’ at £2.99 each. Most useful are Shadow Theatre (0 7496 0667 3) and Puppets (0 7496 0668 1) whose templates will be much easier to copy without an expensive spine to crack on the primary school table. The revised edition of their valuable middle/secondary Channel Tunnel (0 7496 0675 4) exemplifies the preferability of paperback for rapidly changing facts. Cheaper production should allow frequent updating and at £3.99 we could afford a whole set of revisions. Thirteen years ago, Sheila Sancha’s wonderful Castle Story nearly won the Carnegie Medal; now Collins have provided a handsome paperback revival (0 00 184177 7). Sancha’s drawings get the good paper they need in a solid production which, properly jacketed, should do as well on a middle or secondary shelf as the original. It costs £6.99. I liked Rosemary Stones’ Under Manners (0 00 673413 8). Subtitled `a teenage guide to etiquette’, it is honest, helpful, lively and funny. You would buy it for your teenage self, so it needs only paperback production at £2.99.
Well done Puffin for taking up David Day’s Noah’s Choice (0 14 031906 9). A splendidly written collection of stories of extinction and survival, this is an enduring contribution to green understanding, appealing to middle schools upwards. At £3.50 let’s hope it spreads further and wider.
Ian Redmond’s Elephant Book engages all generations and has a long future, so hardback is still best value for library stock. But if Walker’s full size paperback (0 7445 1773 7) puts it into more homes, this must be a good thing at £5.99. Hardback `Olympics’ books invariably outwear the Olympiad they celebrate, so Wayland’s decision to put their `Olympic Sports’ series (£3.95 each) and The Olympics (0 7502 0242 2, £4.95) almost straight into paperback seems just right; they’re colourful, attractive and accurate but shouldn’t last much longer than Barcelona.
Of Two-Can’s bright new ‘Jumps’ I particularly liked their History titles. Ancient China (185434 014 X), Ancient Egypt (185434 057 3), Aztecs (185434 052 2) and Vikings (185434 024 7) present engaging miscellanea in a friendly way and will be worthy additions to library shelves in junior or middle schools where temporary demand may be heavy. Nice for nurseries are their `Jump Starts’ (it had to come!) Play with Paint (185434 160 X) and Play with Paper (185434 165 0). Full of achievable effective creations, to generate confidence among grown-ups as well as children, they’re cheap enough to risk glue and paint splashes. Each `Jump’ costs £2.99.
From a school or library point of view it seems that paperback non-fiction offers its best value in subject fields undergoing rapid change and temporary heavy demand, so in tooling-up for the Olympics and Euro-Tunnel, for instance, its advantages are great. Someone else must agree, as the publishers who are relatively new to paperback non-fiction are planning to do more of it in 1992. If this means more affordable quality in the bookshops I’ll drink to it, but for the widest range of durable titles, easily handled and promoted, hardbacks must still be the choice.
Ted Percy is a Divisional Children’s Librarian with Buckinghamshire County Library.
Non-fiction Reviews Editor: Eleanor von Schweinitz