Picture Books on Video
Pat Triggs meets two people involved in an exciting new venture.
Reva Lee has twenty years of teaching experience behind her and her husband David has worked for twenty-two years as a cameraman and editor with BBC Television. For a long time they have dreamed and planned of combining their experience and talents in a joint venture, and last year they took the plunge and set up their own company, Reva Lee Studios, specialising in the production of television adaptations of children’s picture story books. They realise that to a certain extent they are in competition with the long established and prestigious Weston Woods products but believe that their use of videotape rather than film is more in line with the way things are developing in classrooms: video recorders will eventually be commonplace in schools and the flexibility, adaptability and ease of use of video-cassettes will make them much more popular and widely used than film. In addition Reva and David feel they are better equipped to produce material closely matched to the needs and feeling of the British classroom or library.
In choosing which books to adapt they consult librarians and teachers about the quality of the book and the way children respond to it. They are determined to aim for and maintain high standards.
The techniques by which the book is translated to the screen are deceptively simple. David uses a rostrum camera and the illustrations in the book. The eye is led, in a mix of longshots, close-ups, panning moves and dissolves, to explore the pictures while the ear takes in the unabridged and unaltered text. There is no animation. Told like that it may seem unsophisticated set beside computer graphics, split screen effects and other visual experiences currently on offer. I wondered whether visually sophisticated children would find it small beer – so we tried one out.
The Sparrow’s Story at the King’s Command is a long story on the theme of how stories are written and books are made. The sparrow at the centre of the story struggles bravely against impossible odds to deliver a story to the King. The book by Judith Crabtree is beautifully designed and nicely decorated in the style of old manuscripts; the pictures are packed with details and in places strongly dramatic.
We showed it to a group of first-year juniors, a class of fourth-year juniors and a group of primary and secondary teacher librarians. The response was uniformly enthusiastic. Chris Jonas, the teacher of the top juniors, reported. ‘They were very quiet and attentive – you could have heard a pin drop! I think video extends the age range for books like this – my children wouldn’t have chosen to read this book but they were captivated by the video and wanted to see it again and again. No one actually cried but they were definitely move by it.’
I took it to two classes of seven year olds. They were totally involved, anticipating outcomes, making little noises of delight and concern. After the showing there was free and thoughtful talk about what had happened to the sparrow (he disappears) and groups of children were queuing up to look at the book to relive the story and compare it with the video. For a week the book was pored over and the story explored; images, details, colour, design were located and commented on; a quality of response which I am sure was precipitated by seeing the video.
The teacher librarians enjoyed it too. They liked the pace of the telling, the music (there were some reservations about the narrative voice). From primary, secondary and special schools, they could all see a place in their resource collections for this kind of material – finance permitting!!
So far Reva Lee Studios have four titles available on videocassette (VHS and Betamax):
The Sparrow’s Story at the King’s Command, Judith Crabtree
(book from OUP, 0 19 554359 9,£4.50)
Future Story, Fiona French
(book from OUP, 0 19 279778 6, £4.95)
Gorilla, Anthony Browne
(book from Julia MacRae, 0 86203 104 4, £4.95)
Greedy Zebra, Mwenye Hadithi and Adrienne Kennaway
(book from Hodder & Stoughton, 0 340 32892 4, £5.50)
Each cassette costs £9.95 (plus VAT and p&p).
All four stories on a single cassette, £29.95 (plus VAT and p&p).
Details from Reva Lee Studios, 96 Tolcarne Drive, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 2DP. Tel: 01-866 4948.
Also available on video
The Snowman, Raymond Briggs’ classic picture book. (Palace Video, £19.95, or hire from video shops)
The Secret Garden, Dorothea Brooking’s serial dramatisation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic, edited into continuous narrative of feature film length. Made in the mid 70s, it is currently being reshown – a quality production. (BBC Video, £24.95)
The Baker Street Boys series will be repeated on BBC 1, starting in the first week in May. Tie-in by Brian Ball from BBC/Knight, £1.25.
A Proper Little Nooryeff. Jean Ure’s funny and observant story of a boy who, at first reluctantly, takes up ballet has been dramatised as a half-hour play for the ITV series Dramarama. Transmission likely late April/early May.
Golden Pennies. An exciting adventure story by Graeme Farmer of the struggles, joys, friendships and battles of the Greenwood family, settling in Australia in 1851. Already shown on Australian TV, it is due for transmission by ITV on Sunday afternoons from late May. Puffin tie-in will be published in April.
A Film for all the Family?
Well that’s what Penguin are claiming for the latest special effects packed fantasy, The Neverending Story, made from the story by German author, Michael Ende.
A lonely boy turning to a book for companionship is drawn into the adventure and the struggle to save the land, Fantastica, from destruction by an all-consuming void, The Nothing. The King Penguin tie-in has been available since last Autumn. To coincide with the release of the film this Easter, there will be a Puffin edition for children.
Middle English scores a century
Congratulations on 100 transmissions to the television programme that has done more than any other for books and reading in schools. Talking, reading and writing are provoked, stimulated and encouraged by these programmes broadcast weekly during the three school terms. The Middle Pages programmes focus specifically on authors and artists. (Elaine Moss is the programme consultant in this area.) Jan Mark, Jan Needle, Nina Bawden, Betsy Byars and Michael Foreman have all appeared to prove beyond doubt that people who create books are flesh and blood and interesting.
This term Middle Pages drew attention to a very promising new writer, Janni Howker, whose first book Badger on the Barge has already made its way to the shortlist of the Children’s Book Award. There has also been a repeat of Jan Needle’s challenging and moving TV drama, A Game of Soldiers, which concerns a group of island children caught up in the Falklands conflict. The play was nominated for a BAFTA award last year. The script is now available (Collins Educational, £1.75) and Jan Needle has written the story as a novel (Deutsch, 0 233 97744 9, £4.95; Fontana Lions, 0 00 672460 4, £1.25).
Middle English issues teacher’s notes termly (£1.05) and an annual Pupil’s Anthology (£1.00). All well worth having.
Schools Publications Assistant
The Schools Information Office
Thames TV Ltd
Thames Television House
306-316 Euston Road
London NW1 3YE.
Cockleshell Bay (Thames). Currently running and continuing for 24 episodes into the summer. New tie-in titles due from Thames/Magnet in May: The Pirate Seagull, Dressing Up.
Button Moon (Thames). The Playboard Puppet Theatre series currently showing and continuing into April. Four tie-in titles by Ian Allen from Thames/Magnet: Roddy Teapot, Shoebox Station, Looking for Button Moon, Painting the Pipes (£1.25 each).
The Wind in the Willows (Thames). The famous Cosgrove Hall puppets in a six-part series of new stories featuring Kenneth Grahame’s characters. Nicholas Jones has produced book versions of four of the stories (by Brian Trueman and Rosemary Anne Sisson): The Weasels’ Trap, The Grand Annual Show, Alfred and the Caravan, Mole’s Cousin (Thames/ Magnet, £1.50 each).