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Picture-book top 10 leaves illustrators on the shelf

Public library loans of children's books have been increasing over the past decade, even though opening hours for children's libraries and the supply of new books have been squeezed.

Picture books have a high profile alongside teenage series fiction in the chart of 1997's most borrowed authors, issued by the Registrar of Public Lending Rights. But the system for compiling the chart means that illustrators who work with authors (rather than writing their own text) will have to marry the authors to get credit for their work.

The PLR's top 10 shows Janet and Allan Ahlberg at number two but only the words half of the Asterix team (Goscinny) at number seven. Uderzo, who created the valiant Gaul attached to the huge moustache, has gone the way of Quentin Blake, who illustrated the four Roald Dahl novels in the top 10 most borrowed titles, but does not appear alongside Dahl in the authors' list.

The problem is the PLR's system of registering books using acronyms based on the first surname on the title page.

In the case of picture books, this is almost always the author. If the author and illustrator have the same surname they are registered together. The illustrator will get a share of the rate per loan (2.07p for loans in 1997) but is invisible in the libraries' equivalent of the bestseller lists, which are produced annually.

"Each individual named on the title page agrees a share of the rate that reflects their contribution to the book, " said a spokesman for the PLR. "In the case of the illustrator of a picture book, that contribution would be considerable.

"At the moment our system can only deal with the principal name on the title page. But the position of joint authors and illustrators is something worth bearing in mind for the future."

Loans of children's books were 28.3 per cent of total loans last year, up from 21.7 in 1988-89. The PLR table of most-borrowed classic authors (adult and children's) was headed by Beatrix Potter, with A A Milne at number 4.

The non-fiction top 10 included The Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guide to Ancient Rome at number 4 and The Dorling Kindersley Children's Step by Step Cook Book at number 8, three places behind Delia Smith's Summer Collection.

R L Stine, of the Goosebumps series, is the most borrowed children's author, with Ann M Martin (Babysitters' Club) at number 4 and Enid Blyton at number 5.

As the PLR points out: "The figures represents the loans for all the books by particular authors. Thus an author of 40 books will be better placed than a writer of 10 books to achieve a high loans figure." The 10 Most-borrowed children's authors

1 R L Stine

2 Janet and Allan Ahlberg

3 Roald Dahl

4 Ann M Martin

5 Enid Blyton

6 Dick King-Smith

7 Goscinny

8 Eric Hill

9 John Cunliffe

10 Shirley Hughes

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