The English Book Scene
The E nglish Book Scene
as K . Hinckley
Follow this and additional works at; https; //scholarsarchive; byu; edu/cbmr
The E nglish l300k Scene
by Thomas K. Hinckley
England has only a quarter of Ihe populalion of U,e USA and yel publishes aboul
the same number of children's and young adull tilles each year as docs Ihe USA . How
is Ihis possible? Whal arc Ihe books like? How arc Ihe books sold?
The y slart early. The Puddle Lane Read ing Programme, for inslance, is designcd
"for children b.:twe.:n Ihe ages of aboul Ihree ·and -a half und six-a nd a -half." As u
fUlher who hid Green Eggs and Ham ralher than have 10 read il onc more lime (I do
Dot like ii, Sam I Am'), I was reassured 10 find interesling "rcal" stories th a t have
Dot been sanitized beyond recognition. Then Ihere is Ihe Puffin School Book Club
which has tilles by Terry Jones, Dick King -Smith, Jan Pienkowski, Leon Garfield,
Roald Dahl and many olhers. In Ihe USA, Ihese sorls of endeavors would only be
available in Ihe schools, but Ihese series, and many more, arc available in E ngl ish
And what bookshops! My eslimale is Ihal Ihere is a bookshop for every 18,000
people . That docs nOI include all Ihe shops Ihal sell books along wilh slalionery,
newspapers and magazines or other ilems. Mosl of Ihese "general" bookshops carry
a good selection of children's books, but Ihere arc also a nu mber or shops Ihal carry
children's and young adu ll lilies , exclusively.
One or the biggesl difrerences between England and Ihe USA is Ihe grealer
div.:rsily found Ihere. Almo st all child ren's publishers have fine lilies and some
tilles Ihat arc al mosl embarrassingly mediocre . I do not know of any USA
publishers who have such a range of qualily, Theirs is a forthrighl "somethi ng for
everyone." Another difference is the diversily of Ihe indi vidual aUlhors. When in
England, I was aSlounded 10 discovCf, Ihal some of my favo urile children's authors
also wrile very sophislicaled and very adull ficlion.
But most surprising or all was 10 find English children's lil~ralure on the CUlling
edge. The Nalional Book League receives more Ih an eighly Ihousand po unds
annually from the Arts Council of Greal Britain, and adminislers fifleen majo r prize s.
We went to Book House al Wandsworth and saw Iheir exhibil of 275 children's
books selected by Ju lia Ecclesh3re (aulhor of Children's Books of the Year). Whal
really impressed me was that Ihe exhi bi t was swarming with kids on a summer's day
-far outnumbering Ihe adullS presenl. Nalional Book League is also a clearinKhouse
for more Ihan a dozen major children's bibliographies.
The CUlling edge is funher demonsLIaled by E. J. C raddoc k writing in Til" '/'iml'.\' "n
April 7, 1986:
2 BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY
At the rece nt Booksellers Association, Irish branch conference in
( '\lr k, Ian Chapman, chairman of Collins and a past president of the
'I, hers Associa tio n, delivered a tal k on 'Th e Book Trade In the
,'\ eX 20 Years" and , as the Book seller reported, "he stressed that the
key battle whkh must be wo n, and which would settle the future of the
boo k trade, was the bailie for the children's market."
It is good that such a fundamental statement should come from one
of the industry's leaders, and from one no t particularly associated with
chi ldren's books, indeed, " literature." I f c hildren cease to be
encouraged to visit libraries and bookshops, if the allocations of
p ublic libraries for th e purchasing of new books (which, inevitably,
beco me more expensiv e to manufacture and therefore to re tail) arc not
increased and, if school lib ra ries arc stra ngled of funds, chi ld ren 's
publi,he rs will c ease to be ah le to take the essential artisti c ris ks they
rl' cc ntl y have dJlne and will increasin g ly "pl ay safe" with what thcy
puhli , h .
A s it is, at Jeast one of the doyennes of c hildren's books, Elaine
/'.1 J)'s , has expressed he r anxi e ty that publi shers arc seriously
underesti mating the crav in/( among children ror poetry and mystery in
language; that , although televisi o n ha s brought about an o rientation
tJlwards the vi sua l and (olour, " the age -Old magi c or lan g uage is
JlIHlimini'hed in its rower to kindle the name of the imagin a tion." It
1\, III ~hnrl. Tl" ;ukrs of the most i nv enlive, creative children's authors
(the Garners, Garfields and Dahls) who arc likely to be readers
tomorrow and of tommo rrow' s Goldings, Bainbrid ges and H ug hes.
Fighting fa n t a,ies, pop up \:looks and novelizat io ns of televi si on
I'rogr ilmmes may have kept Ihe wolf fro m the children ' s puhli sh er's
door, hut Ihey 1l1l1,1 1101 he allowed 10 he come Ihe Ilorm .
II llw I hd ve loved Ihose "n , enli al, arlisti c risks." Some, like David Kewley,
editor of the Pan Horiwn series, choose to Illeet Ihe challenge with " American-s tyle
Anything Ih ;lt mak e s people read books when 44 per cent of the
populalion never b uy o lle can only be for the good. That's Ihe lin e
I'uhli,hers of a new seri es o r young teenage ficti o n books arc laking.
It is a sli c kly packaged collection or romance , adventure and myslery
no vels aimed specifica lly at 12- to 16-ycar olds . . ."It's a market
nobody in thi s oc untry has aimed at before," says Kewley. "Kids in
the ir early to mid tecn s Me very often sluck for something to read.
They' re 100 old ror c hil d re n" books, they gel en o ug h of the classics a t
" ' hoo l and Ih ey lin ,t it harel to pi ck their way throu gh adult liclilln."
Thl' ;11l ,we r, ;!l'\'Jlrding to Kewley, is to offe r Ihem ,u hjcC I mailer li nd a
CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEW
Hinckley: The English Book Scene
viewpoint which mirror their own obsessions. So first person
narrators descri be the ~goni es ~nd ecstasies of first love in steamy
sexual detail in titks like Forever by American writer Judy Blume,
Beginner's Love by Norma Klein and If I Love You Am I Trapped
Forever? by M.E. Kerr. Th~t's not to say, says Kewley, that
12-yearaIds are being encour~ged to h~vc under- ~ge sex. . "We've tried to
show the problems w ith relationships . .." There will, he admits ,
probably be troubk from r~rents and slll,dkr bo okse llers who insist
on having a s~y on what keds the impression~ble adolescent mind .
"The old-fashioned moral majority type will probably disapprove.
(Helen Chappel, The Guardian, 6 May 1986).
Notwilhslanding the reponed enthusiasm of teenagers contacted in the Pan lIoriwn
marketing surveys, there is still , ullimately, the llritish public to be dealt with . Dr.
Douglas Larche of Gr~ndview Colkge , Iowa, wh o publi shed the no n-sexist , non
violent, Father Gandcr--Nu rscry Rhymes, got shel lacked by Libby Purves in The
Times. Her article, title d, 'The Man Who M~de The Gand e r Glander," concludes : " I
fear Father Gander may have a long struggk to bri ng out unreconstructed British
goslings into line with Utopia" (7 April 1986).
Coming from a country where I'm "that nut who dabbles in children 's lit," I wa, a
lillie unnerved to be taken seriously in England, and even mo re so to be caught in
these cross-c urrents of dive rsi ty. I got st and in C13R because I was looking for
fiction and non -fictio n to use in the intrOd uctory geography classes I tcach, in order
to teach teachers- to -be the non-textbook app roach to teaching gcog r aphy. I have
stayed w ith children's Iitcrature--particularly English--bccause it is the last vesti~c of
moral literature in the West. English authors subtly cont inue to explore choices and
consequences. The real world still runs with choice-resu lts that cannot be mag ically
and romantically suspcnded . The best authors reOcct tha t reality. Sometimes I have
the urge to wander down to t h~ new sstand and loo k for a lively copy of Books f o r
K eeps, Books for your Childr.:n, Childre n's Books, or even fi oo kllClV.I', but th~n I
remember I'm homc ,\lid that hcre, su c h Ill"ga'l.incs are only III bc h"d al the libr"ry
·acadcmic and arcanc .
I don't know how the English publish so many titles in propllrtio n to their
population, nor wh ether they can continue, but it was gloriuus tll be p~rt of the
English children's book scene for a few months.
BRIGHAM YOUNCGhildren's Book and Media Review , Vol. 7 , Iss. 1, Art . 2 UNIVERS ITY
I3 ibl iography Book News , National Book League, Book House, 45 East Hill, London SW 18 2 QZ , Eng land .
Books for Keeps, S chool I3ookshop Association, Effingham Road , Lee London SE 12 8 NZ , England.
[)(Job for You r Childre" , Rag.,ol1 Productions, P .O. I30x 507, Edgbas to n, Birmingham D 15 3 A L , England .
[)rirish Book News Childre,,'s Books, Basil I31ackwell, 108 Cowley Road , Oxford OX 4 1 JF , England .