#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books. Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag. Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks!
Monday, 9 May 2016
#CoverKidsBooks – Parents
Parents have the most personal and powerful reasons to care about children's books: their own children. So #CoverKidsBooks talked to some parents about the question of media coverage.
We talked to Andy Miller, a father of one who is also author of The Year Of Reading Dangerously and co-host of Backlisted Podcast; Emma Perry, a mother of two who has edited Time Out's London Guide For Children and Mumsnet Local, and founded Everywhere Tales; Tamsin Rosewell, a mother of one who is also a radio presenter, historian, and bookseller at Kenilworth Books; Laura Jackson Warburton, a mother of four whose Twitter account shares her eldest daughter Faith's headline-making reading (1151 books last year); and Gemma Malley, a mother of three who is also an award-winning author and director of BookTrust, the children's reading charity.
Our research shows that children's books typically get 3% of newspaper review space, despite accounting for over 30% of the market. How do you feel about this under-representation?
Andy Miller: Outraged. Surprised. I'm surprised it's as little as that. That obviously isn't fair – but I'm not sure that fairness is the governing principle.
Emma Perry: That seems like not the right percentage. If newspapers can review adult books every week, why can't they review children's books every week? As a parent and a godparent and an auntie, I am just as interested in the children's releases as I am in the adult releases.
Tamsin Rosewell: It doesn't seem to make much sense, given that an extremely high percentage of their readers will be parents or grandparents. Are we supposed to temporarily suspend being interested in our children / grandchildren the moment we are enveloped in the grown up world of newspapers?
Laura Jackson Warburton: I think there is still a massive amount of snobbery about children's books. Not about one children's book over another, but people tending to dismiss anything from YA down as 'only silly stories'.
Gemma Malley: The problem isn't just with newspapers – it's a general consensus amongst the literati that children's books are 'less than' adult books. Having said that, baking used to be something associated with pinnies and children (rather than the serious business of cordon bleu cooking), and it's come into the mainstream, so maybe there's hope yet…
"Why can't they review children's books every week?"
Why is children's books media coverage important to parents?
GM: Parents still respect and trust a print review. Reviews help us make the right choices. So that when I do find that crucial ten minutes to share a story with one of my children, I know that those ten minutes are going to count; that the book is going to really capture their imagination (or feed their thirst for information about dinosaurs).
LJW: The best way to encourage children to read is to find books that spark their interest. But without access to media coverage, parents tend to resort to books they themselves read as children, or the few authors who dominate the bestseller lists. The huge range out there remains largely hidden. Reviews in the media, and specifically in media that parents and children regularly use, is undoubtedly the best way to spread the word.
EP: It's particularly important now, with libraries and bookshops closing. Without the opportunity to browse, how can you decide what's any good? You need some guidance. I always cut out the kids' roundups, so I've got ideas for my children and my godchildren. At the moment, there's usually one in the summer, and one before Christmas. But they read all year round! There are adult roundups every week and I read those. Why wouldn't I do the same for my children?
TR: I've heard it said that as children don't generally read newspapers, it is not worthwhile reviewing children's books. Working in a bookshop (and as a parent!) I know perfectly well that it is the adults who actually do the buying. Book reviews in printed media often end up as little cuttings fished out of a purse or pocket and handed over as a request in the bookshop.
AM: It must be a constant source of frustration to children's authors that their work is rarely discussed in a grown-up way. There is insufficient discussion of the craft, I think. People talk about children's books almost from a position of utility: what is its usefulness to potential child readers? That's an understandable discussion, but it's not a discussion you would have about adult authors, or books for adults. It wouldn't hurt books editors to break out from time to time, and run a review of the new Andy Stanton, say, next to the new Don DeLillo.
Why are children's books themselves important?
TR: I remember when the first of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy came out. To me, as a 20-something, Northern Lights was astonishing. It was enormous and it questioned everything. The best seller of the adults' lists at the time was a book entitled Does My Bum Look Big in This? I remember thinking, "Well, if the children are reading books that explore the greatest questions of philosophy, and the adults are worried that their bums look big, I think I'll stick with kids' books."
AM: Children's books are manifestly vitally important. The reading you do in childhood informs how you read for the rest of your life. And the books we read in childhood are the books we all have in common. When a generation of children grows up in 20 years' time, they'll all have read The Gruffalo or had The Gruffalo read to them. They won't all have read Moby-Dick, or had Moby-Dick read to them.
GM: Children's books are not secondary to adult books. Until children's books are given a higher profile, parents will see children's books purely as a means to an end (the 'end' being reading adult books), ignoring the incredible quality of children's books, and missing the huge importance of children really enjoying the books they read. Children who enjoy reading will carry on reading. Children's fiction and non-fiction should be celebrated, and taken much more seriously.
EP: I think especially in the world today, where we're bombarded by information and interruption, your relationship with a book is so important. I'd like to encourage my children to have that long-form thought and long-form imagination. So neither of my children have any devices, because I feel those devices are designed to interrupt us. I think we are a society that has not caught up with technology yet. I think we're in an experimental phase, where we know it makes us feel interrupted and makes us judge our lives, so we're not in the moment any more. The great thing about a book is that you're so totally in the moment, for hours a time. And what a glorious thing that is!
"Children's books are not secondary to adult books"
How do you feel about children's books being reviewed by child readers?
EP: I would rather read a review by somebody who was an expert in that subject, and could analyse it in a slightly more interesting way. Obviously some children are very eloquent, and they may be able to write a review which takes in some of the things which are in that book. But I think you need an expert who's read really widely, who can look beyond the plot and their emotional response, and pull out the things that matter.
GM: I think child reviews are great, but we need both. We need the expert telling us what's in the book, what themes are covered, whether the writing is engaging, whether the story is gripping. My own children can tell me that it was exciting or boring and/or whether it had enough toilet humour in it, but they don't have the reference points to tell me whether a book was great, or why they found it so moving/funny/thrilling.
LJW: I think a case can be made for both adult and child reviews, but I suppose – rightly or wrongly – adults are more likely to trust the opinions of other adults, and as it's largely adults who would be reading a newspaper, then perhaps that has more value. Kids would far rather have the opinions of other kids though I'm sure!
What would you like to see the media do in order to #CoverKidsBooks?
LJW: Daily book reviews in newspapers, not only of new releases from bestselling authors, but of debut authors and archive titles. A children's book channel like MTV but with books, grabbing kids' attention and helping books get into the right hands. Top 10's, book bloggers' reviews, celebrities talking about books, book trailers etc would get kids thinking about books, talking about books in the playground and using pester power to get parents to buy the books!
TR: Let's have some book reviews in themes, maybe tied in to current news stories. A feature on books about people arriving as newcomers or refugees could include anything from Beowulf to Journey To The River Sea. A feature on poetry for children could include William Blake, TS Eliot, Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson. These can be intelligent, interesting features and still review children's books.
EP: I don't see an awful lot of interviews with children's authors. My children would read that in the newspaper if they published it, no question. And children's illustrators as well, because they're just as interested in the illustrator. And on the radio, you could have a roundup of kids' films, kids' books, art exhibitions that appeal to children, theatre that appeals to children. A kind of Late Review for children, because then a much wider range will hear about the books.
AM: I can remember when the BBC had a programme called Jackanory. I can tell you now the books I discovered through it. The Eagle Of The Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. Ludo And The Star Horse by Mary Stewart. Black Jack by Leon Garfield. Most of my Roald Dahl reading came through Jackanory. And that was nothing more than putting an actor who was good at reading and a good book in front of you. That was it! I don't understand why, given that it has all the benefits of literacy, it's cheap to do, it's prestigious to do, it would fulfil the public service remit – why not do it?