Christine Baker is French and married to an Englishman. She is also an enthusiastic champion of the best in children’s books, particularly picture books. For some years she has been bringing the work of the best of continental illustrators to this country for Moonlight, her own publishing house, and taking the best of British and American illustrators to French children as editor of a paperback series for Gallimard. `Artists like Rosemary Wells, Janet Ahlberg and Michael Foreman were instant bestsellers.’ It is titles from the Gallimard series that form the basis of the new Pocket Bears – a joint Methuen Moonlight venture.
Pocket Bears are a different kind of picture paperback. Christine Baker explains. `They are a new creation not just reduced or reproduced hardbacks. The books are a uniform size so we have had to design new layouts and in some cases even commission new art work from the illustrator. All the artists whose work we use are closely involved with the project and many have said how pleased and impressed they are with the result. I think the tighter format and the reduction intensifies the line and colour, sharpens the image, makes it more jewel-like.’
The choice of uniform size was a deliberate one. `It’s a nice size for small hands and as each title has a spine and stitched pages it looks and feels like a real book. I think the earlier children can have the experience of real books the better. We also hope at that size that they will be very collectable!’
Many titles on the Gallimard list are already in paperback in this country and so, to Christine’s regret. will not be crossing the channel. But with Colin McNaughton, Helen Oxenbury, Reg Cartwright and Tony Ross, to name but a few, Pocket Bears are looking exciting. (And at £1.50 very good value.)
The series has been launched with well known names but Christine is keen to introduce us to new artists. She is particularly enthusiastic about Yvan Pommaux’s books about Lola the Vole. `They are really information books but done with great charm. I think they are enchanting. I’m looking forward to finding out what people think of them.’
I asked Christine about the pages at the end of some books which contain a short biography of the artist and often factual information related to the subject of the story. ‘It may be my French background that makes me so interested in combining stories and information. Because we haven’t made the books a fixed number of pages we are sometimes left with some blank pages! I thought this was a good way to use them up.
Children like to know that writers and artists are real people, and I added the information to help the grown-up who is sharing the book with the child. I shall wait to see how people here react.’
Jill Bennett reviews the books
Bill and Stanley
by Helen Oxenbury, 0 907144 32 2
There’s a Nightmare in My Cupboard
by Mercer Mayer, 0 907144 33 0. £1.35 each
King Nonn the Wiser
by Colin McNaughton. 0 907144 34 9
Mr Potter’s Pigeon
ill. by Reg Cartwright, text by Patrick Kinmonth, 0 907144 37 3
Peter and the Wolf
Sergei Prokofiev, ill. by Erna Voigt, 0 907144 31 4
This Little Pig-a-Wig
Lenore and Eric Blegvad, 0 907144 30 6, £1.50 each
Pocket Bears are an entirely new concept: they are not merely paperback editions of hardcover picturebooks but, in most cases have been carefully redesigned to fit the small (175 x 110mm) format. The paper used is excellent quality and the books are stitched and have a spine thus giving the appearance of ‘real’ books. This could well mean that the readership will be wider than that of the original picturebooks: I can see these appealing to less confident 8s to 10s who wouldn’t perhaps want to be seen reading picturebooks (despite Elaine Moss’s crusade).
The choice of titles for the first six is interesting: a little known Helen Oxenbury story being the only one not considerably smaller than the original: a very witty tale from Colin McNaughton: the award-winning Mr Potter’s Pigeon: an American favourite by Mercer Mayer: the Prokofiev classic: and to my mind the one that works least well in this format. Lenore and Eric Blegvad’s book of ‘pig’ rhymes. I am slightly prejudiced here because I am particularly fond of the original and its companion volumes with their satisfying shape. ample margins beyond the frames and charming vignettes: but perhaps it is unfair to make comparisons. Rather. these should be viewed as new books in their own right.
A promising and innovative venture: I wish it success.