Picture book pioneer dies

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Frances Lincoln, the publisher best known for pioneering multicultural picture books for children, died suddenly of pneumonia last Tuesday.

The most successful of her books was Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch, which was one of the most striking picture books of the Nineties. There were many others, including Jessica Souhami's Rama and the Demon King, Ifeoma Onyefulu's A is for Africa and Fiona French's Anancy and Mr Drybone.

Michael Rosen, the children's author, first met Frances Lincoln at Oxford University in the 1960s. He says he would certainly not have guessed that she was destined to become an editor, publisher, entrepreneur and mother.

"At the time she seemed to be someone with a serious delight in soul music," said Mr Rosen. "It was when she met her husband John Nicholl that I first got a whiff that something bookish might be on the cards. Sure enough, it wasn't long before she emerged as a challenging editor for Studio Vista, producing thoughtful, beautifully-designed paperbacks on art and music."

For Mr Rosen, her major project and achievement was Frances Lincoln Books, a small, independent publisher that thrived while the industry went for mass agglomeration.He said she succeeded through a combination of niche-spotting, brilliant design and tireless searching for co-production deals.

Frances Lincoln's children's list was launched in 1983 under the guidance of, among others, author Kathy Henderson who first met Lincoln at Oxford. Lincoln's commiment to children's books was absolute.

From the beginning, long before such a practice had been widely accepted by the larger publishing companies, the Frances Lincoln picture books were multicultural - not in any artificial sense but so that they represented society as it really was, and giving all children a chance to identify with the books they read.

The firm has specialised in books with a green agenda whether in areas of food, the environment, childbirth or childhood. Her children's list is distinctive for its commitment to picture books with an emotional core.

Michael Rosen said: "The books of mine she published were ushered through the process from manuscript to final copy with immense care and attention and I always had the impression that a Lincoln method worked its way through to her editors and designers."

At a time when so much of children's publishing is designed to feed the maw of the national curriculum, Lincoln ensured that her children's list, under the direction of Janetta Otter Barry, remained steadfastly committed to producing books that would entertain and stimulate in equal measure. Lincoln's personal enthusiasm was a key to that ideal.

"Publishing has lost a brave and innovative person who has left behind, much, much too soon, a thriving legacy. She was greatly admired and loved wherever she worked," said Michael Rosen.

Julia Eccleshare Frances Lincoln: born 1945, died 27 February 2001. Married to John Nicholl. She had three children

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