Monday 10 June 2013

#ReadItMD13 Theme Week - "Licensed Characters in Children's Books"

Mike the Knight - Coming to an authorless paperback near you soon!
This week we thought we'd tackle the knotty subject of licensed characters in Children's Books for our #ReadItMD13 Theme Week.

When I was young, annuals were the thing. You could almost guarantee that come christmas, at least one well-meaning relative would second-guess whatever you were into at that particular moment in time, and buy you an annual (usually from Fleetway) about it.

Annuals were almost always crushingly disappointing. You'd get the usual mix of puzzles (a crossword, a dot to dot, probably a spot the difference thing) and some comic strips, a few text stories (usually poorly illustrated in all but a few cases) and some tantalising snapshots of whatever TV series or pop group the annual was about.

Christmas present 1978. At least this one spared us the artsy 70s covers!
Aside from annuals, some TV series spawned book series too. Much as they do today but it seems the main difference is that whereas you'd get a decent novelisation of, say, a Grange Hill story...

Surprisingly harrowing stuff from Robert Leeson
This is another book we've got stashed away in the loft somewhere and it stuck in the memory because A) it contained Gripper Stebson and B) had a really quite disturbing sub-plot involving Gripper and Nazis (if anyone's ever read Apt Pupil by Stephen King, either King borrowed from Leeson or vice versa!)

I think the point I'm trying to get to in a roundabout way was that we had the rough and the smooth as kids, and we still do in children's licensed character books and annuals. The Grange Hill book was interesting, here was a fairly high profile writer (who penned quite a few Doctor Who novelisations as well as Grange Hill) who got his name on the cover, and wrote something fairly tight but true to the series. Nowadays, if we look at a "Mike the Knight" book, it's often impossible to figure out whether an author was even involved in some way. The series has writers, there's a design team tasked with putting the artwork together but it almost feels like the human element has been lost along the way. Subsequently these books are often one shot deals for us. Charlotte reads them once, perhaps twice if we're lucky, and then they're discarded in favour of the wealth of other children's books she has access too.

It's not really an issue until you start to look at how important licensed characters are when it comes to reluctant readers, or indeed engaging kids as they're starting out on their learning journey and want books that have the immediacy and familiarity of TV shows or films they might've already seen.

Are licensed characters in books just a means to making a fairly easy and fast buck from children's books? Let us know your thoughts below. We'll be looking at some of the good and the bad this week on the blog.