Thursday, 20 August 2015

Yay for reprints - bringing classic picture books back for a whole new audience is all good - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

"The Giant Jam Sandwich" by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway
The idea for this week's ReadItDaddy editorial sprang from rediscovering a book from my childhood that I'd long since forgotten. I'm sure many of you lovely book folk will identify with that warm glowy-tummy feeling that you get when you see a book that takes you right back to a moment in time from your childhood where you read that book, loved that book, bought (or were bought) that book and cherished it until - for one reason or another - life got in the way.

So it was with "Apple Pigs" by Ruth Gary Orbach - a book that was originally printed way back in the late '70s by a publishing house long since passed into the mists of time. Lion Methuen Picture Books were often the staple of many a school library or school book newsletter and once I'd started digging into the nostalgia banks it made me realise how important it's becoming that we preserve books that - for some of us - were part of our growing up and development, and not just the well-loved classics that stay in print perpetually.

"Penelope" by Norman Thelwell. 
Though I started off the article with "The Giant Jam Sandwich" by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway (which has been in print as recently as 2010, at least), the more you start digging the more you can come up with countless titles that have sadly slipped out of print and may never be seen again.

Obviously sometimes it's due to the complexity of licensing and reprinting classic books. Bodleian Publishing is soon to start digging into the rich treasure trove of classic children's books with timely reprints of fabulous titles like "The Adventures of Babar" by Jean De Brunhoff and "Whale's Way" by Johanna Johnston and Leonard Weisgard. If you started to compile a wish list, can you imagine how long it'd end up?

Something else struck me too. It seems the revival extends to picture books (hooray!) but stops short at chapter books and early readers, which is a great shame when you start to realise the sort of thing we're missing out on (though of course in some cases it's pretty easy to track down old children's chapter books in charity shops or secondhand book stores, or rifling through those glorious 2nd hand book stores at National Trust properties).

I think that Norman Thelwell's awesome "Penelope" tales are ripe for revival for the current generation of girls and boys who love horses and horse riding, and would cackle with glee at Thelwell's hilarious pint sized equestrian characters and their plucky round-rumped steeds.

Some books will probably never see the light of day again
The Methuen Book of Sinister Stories (Edited by Jean Russell)
and in the case of titles like Methuen's "Sinister Stories" you can probably guess why.

Even the cover of this one used to give me the heebie jeebies but in a world where kids are drawn to dark stories, tales of animated dolls coming to life and menacing folk would probably seem a little twee in comparison to stories that kids find genuinely scary today.

It's almost impossible for me to choose the perfect list of books I'd revive if given the chance (I would certainly love to see all of the Margaret Bloy Graham / Gene Zion "Harry" books back in print, not just the four that have survived) but nostalgia is big business, and it's finely demonstrated by the endearing popularity of childhood obsessions that have stood the test of time, mostly because they're hugely lucrative properties that cross the generation gap with far more ease.

Walter De La Mare's classic "The Old Lion"  
If the current trend for reprints continues, and the likes of Bodleian, Frances Lincoln, Pavilion and others continue to revive (and thus preserve) these lovely old books, then all the better.

It's always amazing to revisit them as an adult and bring an understanding of just how much these books shaped the children's picture book as we know it today. I've lost count of the number of times one of these brilliant old books arrives in a review mailout, and we discover just how long ago it was released when it still feels as fresh and as vibrant as it must have when it was first published.

Long may we all continue to get that warm glowy-tummy feeling and also perhaps one day when our own little ones are all grown up, they'll reminisce about the time they read "In the Night Garden - All Aboard the Ninky Nonk" from cover to cover and couldn't wait to share it with their own kids one day.

(Look out for our upcoming reviews of "Apple Pigs", "Whale's Way", Penguin's Way" and other fab reprinted titles very soon on the blog)