Writers who made a difference ...

10th March 1995 at 00:00
The Best of Books for Keeps. Edited by Chris Powling The Bodley Head #163;12.99. 0 37031905 2. Subscription details: 6 Brightfield Road, Lee, London SE12 8QF.#163;15 per annum.

A bright-eyed university technology expert told me recently that, within five years, new books would become a rarity. For a foolish moment, I thought she was talking governmental cuts, not computers. Then I remembered Anna Crago's remark in "Little Anna and Big Anna" (published in Signal 75) how she loved books, their weight and feel and smell as well as reading them.

Somehow, curling up in bed with a machine, however user-friendly, seemed less enticing (to me, at any rate). There might also be a few problems on the Northern Line. Meantime, be of good cheer, for the vitality of Signal, after 25 years, implies that books are not yet dead, even if we cannnot assume they will always be the same.

Published three times annually since 1970, Signal remains true to its original aims: "To provide a voice for writers whose ideas about, and interests in, children's books cannot be contained in brief reviews and articles." There are occasional illustrations, some letters, but no advertisements or other fripperies. Reading is all, with no apologies. As one contributor puts it, "The level of discussion about books is by nature erudite." True, substantial also, but never forbiddingly so, or narrow. Margaret Meek on "The Constructedness of Children" (issue 76) will doubtless test the general reader. In that same edition, however, Geoff Fox examines Horace Vachell's The Hill, a public school story written in 1905, concluding that the origins of so much of society's present sickness are all too clear in it. Sharp and politically aware, it has the broader appeal of a comparable piece by Anthony Greaves on Biggles in September 1993: "We still have much cultural baggage to be jettisoned; ethnocentricity is dangerous."

Two other recent articles show how the journal is energised by its range: Elaine Moss's "Album of an Exhibition", about Hampstead and Highgate's extraordinary contribution to the history of children's books and Virginia Lowe as the parent-observer of children's reading at home. Both might inspire like activity. They also remind us that the world of children's books is not confined within the classroom, to hierarchies of displeasure or socially constructed canons.

While certain contributors are as ubiquitous as chat-show guests, knowledge about children's books is not regarded as the preserve of a limited cabal, weakened by inbreeding. For the general good, they are evaluated as part of a cultural heritage and as part of childhood.

Books for Keeps, the bi-monthly magazine for book-loving magaholics, recently marked its 15th anniversary with the publication of The Best of Books for Keeps. Editor Chris Powling's selection of 38 articles is arranged thematically (picture books, poetry etc) and interspersed with related extracts, also from the original magazines. Thus, the scope of Jan Needle's trumpet blasts against the ghetto walls of children's fiction is enlarged by Robert Leeson on a writer's freedom. Understandably, many of the magazine's attractions, such as colour spreads, cannot be reproduced, yet the outcome remains richly satisfying.

At one level it provides insights into a period in the history of children's reading, in which the "pressures and circumstances", the "shifts and sticking points" were unparalleled. Those who believe each decade makes the same claim should read Michael Rosen's fusillade against the government and its "English studies junta". Thirteen years earlier, Jill Bennett was similarly forthright that children should learn to read with "real books". The debates continue to rumble.

Creative and original editing has brought an "interweaving of convictions", notably the blitz on lists: "great fun to compile," writes Ad le Geras, but "also hell." Damaging and inane, perhaps, yet they enter the text surreptitiously, like Pinter's weasel under the cocktail cabinet. The major convictions are all here, such as Trevor Dickinson on the need for story, "rooted in the deepest fabric of our human being," or Liz Waterland's heartfelt blast against the farce of SATS.

The enterprise is not without fun. Bill Boyle and Pat Triggs laud the mesmeric combination of rhythm, rhyme and story in nursery rhymes. It also occurs endearingly in Ron Heapy's moving tribute to Charles Keeping, whose illustration of The Lady of Shalott testifies to his genius. The idiosyncratic sees a defence of Judy Blume (Nicholas Tucker) and unease about Wind in the Willows (Margaret Meek).

Practicalities are not forgotten, for example organising an author's visit (Richard Hill and Bernard Ashley). Teaching ideas are implicit throughout and sometimes overt (Gillian Clarke on tricking children into making images).

Aidan Chambers has written that if literature for children is to continue through the next millennium, it will depend on "writers who make a difference and on adults who make that difference available to children." These journals are an important part of that process.

The Best of Books for Keeps. Edited by Chris Powling The Bodley Head #163;12.99. 0 37031905 2. Subscription details: 6 Brightfield Road, Lee, London SE12 8QF. #163;15 per annum.

Books for Keeps, the bi-monthly magazine for book-loving magaholics, recently marked its 15th anniversary with the publication of The Best of Books for Keeps. Editor Chris Powling's selection of 38 articles is arranged thematically (picture books, poetry etc) and interspersed with related extracts, also from the original magazines. Thus, the scope of Jan Needle's trumpet blasts against the ghetto walls of children's fiction is enlarged by Robert Leeson on a writer's freedom. Understandably, many of the magazine's attractions, such as colour spreads, cannot be reproduced, yet the outcome remains richly satisfying.

At one level it provides insights into a period in the history of children's reading, in which the "pressures and circumstances", the "shifts and sticking points" were unparalleled. Those who believe each decade makes the same claim should read Michael Rosen's fusillade against the government and its "English studies junta". Thirteen years earlier, Jill Bennett was similarly forthright that children should learn to read with "real books". The debates continue to rumble.

Creative and original editing has brought an "interweaving of convictions", notably the blitz on lists: "great fun to compile," writes Ad le Geras, but "also hell." Damaging and inane, perhaps, yet they enter the text surreptitiously, like Pinter's weasel under the cocktail cabinet. The major convictions are all here, such as Trevor Dickinson on the need for story, "rooted in the deepest fabric of our human being," or Liz Waterland's heartfelt blast against the farce of SATS.

The enterprise is not without fun. Bill Boyle and Pat Triggs laud the mesmeric combination of rhythm, rhyme and story in nursery rhymes. It also occurs endearingly in Ron Heapy's moving tribute to Charles Keeping, whose illustration of The Lady of Shalott testifies to his genius. The idiosyncratic sees a defence of Judy Blume (Nicholas Tucker) and unease about Wind in the Willows (Margaret Meek).

Practicalities are not forgotten, for example organising an author's visit (Richard Hill and Bernard Ashley). Teaching ideas are implicit throughout and sometimes overt (Gillian Clarke on tricking children into making images).

Aidan Chambers has written that if literature for children is to continue through the next millenium, it will depend on "writers who make a difference and on adults who make that difference available to children." These journals are an important part of that process.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now