CHILDREN'S book publishers have been urged to concentrate on quality fiction as their contribution to the National Year of Reading and rely less on gimmicks, celebrity tie-ins and books which talk down to their readers.
Gina Pollinger, formerly the top UK specialist children's literary agent, who has just received the Eleanor Farjeon Award for her services to children's literature, this week championed "the stream of quality story-telling" and insisted that "only the creme de la creme will irresistibly captivate young readers.
"Literacy may mean mastery of specific skills but being effortlessly literate means so much more - an active intelligence, a well-stocked mind, a discriminating palate, a measure of emotional maturity and a feeling for life of being at home with the written word," she told an audience of writers and publishers.
Effortless literacy and a passion for books can only be cultivated if children who have mastered reading have a supply of material that engages their interest, Mrs Pollinger said.
This, she added, is in stark contrast to the output of "those who go helter-skelter for pop star or footballer involvement in the launch of each and every story, regardless of its content and style or those who plead for brevity and simplification for purely commercial reasons".
Mrs Pollinger retired two years ago after 28 years as a literary agent and now runs conferences on children's books. Her clients have included the late Roald Dahl and Rosemary Sutcliff as well as many of today's top children's writers such as Penelope Lively, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo and Jan Mark.