Puffins rescued by Lottery nest-egg;National Lottery

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
National Lottery Heritage cash has ensured that a collection of books and memorabilia from the post-war golden age of children's literature will stay in the country.

The Kaye Webb archive - the private collection of the respected Puffin editor who almost single-handedly made good quality, affordable modern classics widely accessible to generations of children - was due to be sold at Sotheby's this week and would almost certainly have gone to a United States buyer.

Instead it has been secured in a private sale by the new Centre for the Children's Book, due to open in Newcastle-upon-Tyne shortly after the millennium. Nearly 2,000 Puffin titles familiar to all keen young readers of the Sixties and Seventies will form part of the centre's collection of post-war books, manuscripts and original artwork, designed to halt the drain of children's literary heritage overseas.

The archive includes Kaye Webb's personal correspondence with writers including Roald Dahl (whom she encouraged as a newcomer). There is also material connected with the Puffin Club which Ms Webb set up in 1967 to encourage children to read and to contribute to the club magazine, Puffin Post. By commissioning books straight into paperback, she ensured that writers such as Richard Adams, Geoffrey Trease and Nina Bawden reached children who did not have wide access to books.

Her collection has changed hands for pound;29,000 supplied by the lottery heritage fund. The Friends of the National Library have contributed pound;3,500 to cover valuation, administration and transport charges.

Elizabeth Hammill, co-founder and project manager of the Centre for the Children's Book, believes that Ms Webb, who died last year, would have approved of its new home. As well as a centre for research, it is intended to be a child-friendly venue with regular exhibitions, interactive displays, readings and performances, plus a cafe and bookshop.

"The centre is being set up in the spirit of everything that Kaye Webb stood for - the desire to connect directly with the child reader and to celebrate their creativity, and the belief that their books should contain the best of everything," she said.

"With her as editor the Puffin list became accessible to a much wider range of children. The idea of accessibility is something that we would like to carry on."

National Lottery arts money is paying for a feasibility study for the centre, which has also attracted business sponsorship from Waterstone's and support from Newcastle City Council. It is likely to be based in the west end of the city, near the Discovery Museum. "The potential for working with theatre and dance companies and with Newcastle College is exciting," Mrs Hammill said.

Around 60 contemporary authors and illustrators including Shirley Hughes, Tony Ross and Philip Pullman have already offered to donate artwork and manuscripts to the centre. But Mrs Hammill warns that some has already been lost overseas.

"Some writers who are committed to us, such as Ted Hughes and Penelope Lively, have already given work to collections in the US because at the time there was nowhere to put it in this country," she said.

Work by illustrator Arthur Rackham and the bulk of manuscripts by authors JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis are housed in the United States.

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