I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be introducing this post. The children’s book magazine Books for Keeps has been a constant friend since I took my first teaching job many years ago, and I have always valued its engaging and well-informed content.
The first issue was published in March 1980, and ever since, Books for Keeps has been reviewing hundreds of new books each year and publishing articles on every aspect of writing for children. It has interviewed all the leading children’s authors and illustrators, and every issue spotlights new talent and rising stars.
Books for Keeps moved online in 2010, and its entire archive of reviews, interviews and articles is now available to read on the website, free and at the click (or two) of a button.
There aren’t as many reliable sources of information about children’s books as you might think, given a casual search of the internet, so finding independent advice that you trust can be invaluable. For me, Books for Keeps remains a go-to resource in that regard, and I know that many of you reading this will feel the same.
But if Books for Keeps - or its archive - is new to you, and you’d like to go exploring, I thought it might be helpful to ask the experts for a guided tour.
Here are some personal highlights, selected for Cast of Thousands by Andrea Reece, Ferelith Hordon, Nicholas Tucker and Jill Bennett. Between them, they know almost all there is to know about the magazine, and I can’t thank them enough for sharing their insights.
Here's Andrea Reece with some recommendations to get us started.
'I joined the team in 2010 and took over as managing editor in 2013. It’s an honour to be in charge of such an important and unique resource, and to be publishing articles and features by such talented and knowledgeable
contributors. Even after ten years of active involvement, which followed at least another twenty as an avid reader, I still find articles in the archive that I haven’t read and they are always stimulating and informative, full of wit as well as scholarship.
Amongst my own favourite reads is Jan Mark’s acute examination of the art of writing and editing, published in issue 132 (January 2002 - click HERE to read). I am a huge admirer of Diana Wynne Jones, and love the Authorgraph interview with her in issue 46 (click HERE to read). The Authorgraph is our lead interview. Number one was with Quentin Blake (click HERE to read), the most recent, number 245, was with Jennifer Donnelly (click HERE to read).
I always enjoy the Windows into Illustration features, which give illustrators space to talk about their approach and technique, and am proud that Books for Keeps gives proper space to the consideration of illustration – Shaun Tan's is fascinating (click HERE to read). I recommend Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor’s Beyond the Secret Garden series to everyone involved in children’s literature, these articles have become required reading (click HERE for a round-up of the articles).
Other contributors have picked out their favourite pieces, too. Nicholas Tucker has been writing for Books for Keeps since 1981 and reflects on the magazine:
‘One of the great things about this magazine is the space it offers its writers accompanied by their complete freedom to say what they like. Its Authographs, for example, are consistently revealing and well-informed. Stephanie Nettell’s piece on that peerless writer Hilary McKay is a case in point (issue 141, July 2003, click HERE to read). Personal, readable, acute and appreciative all at the same time.
Ferelith Hordon, Books for Keeps editor since 2013, says, ‘Judging, thinking about illustrations and how they work, gaining an understanding of visual literacy is not easy and only recently become acknowledged as important. A Books for Keeps article that introduced the subject to me and has become my staple guide in approaching any picture book is Joanna Carey’s Words About Pictures: Judging Illustration (issue 146, May 2004, click HERE to read).
More recently Piet Grobler provides a brilliant accessible starting point in his series starting with Reading Pictures: An Introduction to Visual Literacy (issue 214, Sept 2015, click HERE to read) followed by Visual Literacy: Flying to Another Place (issue 216 January 2016, click HERE to read) and Visual Literacy: Reading the Signs (issue 220 Sept 2016, click HERE to read). All of these articles have given me confidence to express my opinions when looking at illustrated texts. However, it all started for me with Jane Doonan’s Analysing a Picture Book in which she explores The Bear Under the Stairs by Helen Cooper (issue 86, 1994, click HERE to read) – a real eye opener, literally, as she goes through the book in some detail to understand not just the interaction of text and illustration, but the effects of the choices made by the artist in terms of palette, perspective, expression and texture; an article to revisit and enjoy.
Jill Bennett’s excellent picture book reviews have featured in every single issue of Books for Keeps. She says, ‘I’ve known both people featured in the two items I would like to flag up for many, many years since I was a stroppy, divergently thinking young teacher in an infant school, and they have become and remain very close friends. One is a writer, a ground-breaking author who has written (among other things) a sequence of six brilliant novels for young people. I quote briefly from the article I recommend, two key things he said to the interviewer, Geoff Fox: ‘I will not play lightly with any literary action. In the reality of our life within our culture, the exchange of writing is the closest you can get to another person. It is more intimate than the sex act. It’s a religious matter – it is the experience which transcends the individual.’ and ‘You have to risk dealing with the material inside yourself you’d rather not face or, certainly, not have other people face. Only in the act of writing do I declare myself to myself.’
I wonder if any readers know by whom these words were said: he’s the subject of Authorgraph 130 (click HERE to read) in September 2001 which I strongly advocate people read.
The second is Geoff Fox’s review of a book edited by the wife of the author who was for many years the editor of Signal, an independent journal devoted to literature for children. It can be found in issue 182; to read it, click HERE
Books for Keeps is published bi-monthly and there are new reviews and articles on the website at booksforkeeps.co.uk every week
To celebrate its 40th birthday, Books for Keeps launched an appeal to secure the future of this valuable archiveLast year, Books for Keeps launched an appeal to create a new website for the magazine and make its important archive more easily accessible. To find out more or make a contribution, you'll find a downloadable information sheet HERE
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