The latest league tables of children's library book loans are out, reports Geraldine Brennan
THAT nerdy bespectacled little chap whose every move is scrutinised by his many fans has crept unassumingly into first place in the children's library loans league while the competition was still trying to spot him.
And it's not Harry Potter, but Martin Handford's Wally who has beaten Roald Dahl and Goosebumps creator R L Stine to the top of the "Most borrowed children's fiction titles" chart released today by the Registrar of Public Lending Right as part of the annual survey of library lending.
Where's Wally? The Wonder Book, published by Walker, asks children to search for Wally in a series of fantasy scenes. And the books have been praised for developing visual literacy and spatial awareness. There are few words in Handford's stories and lots of action to follow through the complex illustrations with their countless tiny figures.
A TES review of The Wonder Book in 1997 pointed out: "Children poring over Wally display infinite fascination and persistence... Like the language of maths, the pictorial language of Wally is accessible to all. Alone or in a group, even a child who is unable to decipher print can enjoy 'reading' Wally."
Harry Potter has not appeared in either the PLR's top 10 of most borrowed authors between July 1998 and June 1999 or the fiction titles top 10 for the same period. The PLR figures do not include waiting lists for popular books and it can take several years for a new bestselling author to make a serious impact on library loans, says registrar Jim Parker.
He said Wally's success was "a pleasant surprise... Those books attract a wide age range and have an immediate appeal."
Mr Parker is also delighted that children's authors have increased their share of library boo loans by more than 30 per cent over the past 10 years (28 per cent today and 21 per cent in the 1988-89 figures).
Ten of the top 20 most popular authors in libraries write for children. "Librarians are clearly successful in attracting children into libraries in the face of competition from other interests," Mr Parker said.
Public Lending Right fees are paid to authors, illustrators and editors resident in the UK. The total fee per book per loan has just gone up from 2.07p to 2.18p, but nobody is laughing all the way to the bank: the maximum an individual can earn in a year is pound;6,000.
While illustrators get a share of the money, popularity league tables continue to be compiled using authors' names - a disadvantage to those who do most of their work illustrating other authors' texts. Mr Parker has hinted that he might in future make an exception for Quentin Blake, the Children's Laureate (he shares three entries in Most Borrowed Titles with Roald Dahl) but has not registered in the Top 10 Most Borrowed Authors.
Most borrowed Children's fiction titles July 98-June 99
1 Martin Handford Where's Wally: The Wonder Book
2 Roald Dahl (illus Quentin Blake) The BFG
3 Jill Murphy A Quiet Night In
4 Roald Dahl (illus Quentin Blake)The Witches
5 Roald Dahl (illus Quentin Blake) George's Marvellous Medicine
6 Roald Dahl (illus Quentin Blake) The Twits
7 RL Stine Scarecrow Walks at Midnight
8 RL Stine Say Cheese and Die Again
9 RL Stine Ghost Beach
10 RL Stine Egg Monsters from Mars
Most borrowed Children's authors, July 98-June 99 Author Title
1 RL Stine
2 Janet and Allan Ahlberg
3 Roald Dahl
4 Enid Blyton
5 Ann M Martin
6 Dick King-Smith
7 Lucy Daniels
8 John Cunliffe
9 Mick Inkpen
10 Eric Hill