And the Winners Are…

The winners of the Red House Children’s Book Awards for 2013 were announced last night at an awards ceremony at London’s Southbank Centre. And the winners are:

Overall Winner: Spooky, Spooky House by Andrew Weale (Younger Children category)

Spooky Spooky House by Andrew Weale

Younger Readers category: Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

Older Readers: The Medusa Project: Hit Squad by Sophie McKenzie

The Medusa Project: Hit Squad by Sophie McKenzie

Keepsake children’s classics from Puffin… if you can find them

Whilst passing through the corridors of Penguin’s children’s division the other day, I came across these gorgeous clothbound versions of some children’s classics on display, including Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows and Black Beauty.

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Puffin’s clothbound classics

I’m sure that, by now, most people will have seen Penguin’s range of clothbound classics (e.g. Charles Dickens’ titles) lining the shelves of high street book stores, with a surge of other publishers producing equally fancy editions of old favourites. It seems a profitable way of re-releasing the classics in a format that readers will want to collect and put on display, as opposed to downloading them on an e-reader. But, despite these clothbound Puffin’s classics being released as far back as 2010, this is the first I’ve seen of them…

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Penguin clothbound classics

I’m not sure why they’re so hard to come by – I have yet to see them in a UK shop. Have I missed them? Not looked hard enough? Or have they just not been marketed very well here? I showed a photo of the attractive spines to some publishing friends of mine the other day, and they too remarked at how pretty they were and wondered why they’d never laid eyes on them.

Apparently Waterstones do stock them, but with limited availability – so perhaps the chances of spotting them on a shelf depends on which branch you visit. I hate to direct people to shopping for books online, but it seems that it’s the only place I’ve managed to find them (and even then you have to word it correctly, specifying ‘Puffin Classic’ or the exact title you want in any search box, as opposed to any generic ‘clothbound children’s classic’ phrase). This is surprising, given that these are exactly the type of books you imagine would sell in higher numbers on the high street than online. It’s all about the texture and how they feel in your hands – which you just don’t see on a computer screen. Surely those looking for keepsake books are more likely to buy them from a store?

I suppose that, once purchased, the books would make great gifts for children – either those you want to introduce to the classics or those who have already enjoyed them and would appreciate a copy to keep. But if given as a first copy of one of the novels, I do wonder if they’d be built to last… In various places online, some readers have commented on clothbound designs degrading and rubbing off with their fingers – which goes for other clothbound titles as well as these Puffin ones – so it’s questionable whether they’d last being carried around in a backpack or fingered through over time. That’s what makes me think that they’re more likely to be picked up by readers just like myself – those who love children’s books and want any excuse to re-read them, and equally love nothing better than an aesthetically pleasing cover…  Either way, they’re certainly a pretty addition to any bookshelf. If you can get your hands on them, that is!

If you do want to buy them online, you can get them on the Penguin website or order them into a Waterstones store (type in ‘Puffin Classics’ in the search box and select items between £10 and £15 to get them in your search results).

It’s the little things…

I came across a collection of Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books in Waterstones the other day, which brought a smile to my face – as they manage to do every time I see them. Seeing the classics there on the shelf next to The Wind and the Willows and beautifully bound copies of Peter Pan made me wonder about what made these books so successful.

Alfie by © Shirley HughesI remember being so captivated by Alfie Gets in First as a child, and to this day have held on to my copy of Alfie’s Feet and another of Shirley Hughes’ titles – Lucy and Tom’s Christmas – which still sit proudly on my bookshelf. But the success of a book wasn’t something I was aware of at that age. I didn’t read and re-read them over and over again because they were so popular – neither was I likely to know whether or not my friends a few doors down from me were enjoying having the same books read to them at night. All I knew is that there was something magical about opening those books and following the words and illustrations through to the end, until I was able to do so all on my own.

Of course, my parents might have known about the success of the books and picked up the copies after hearing good things about them; they might have been urged to buy them through some clever marketing strategy, or they might simply have liked the look of them on the shop shelf – there are many reasons for choosing a title for your child. But it’s what made me so attached to them after they first landed on my lap that mesmerises me. What is it about these books…?

I hardly know the answer – if a straightforward formula existed for ensuring the success of a picture book then the publishing industry would be a very different place. But I thought this article on the Guardian website, from as far back as 2005, got quite close.

In the article, Jane Richards considers not only why her children might enjoy the books so much, but also why she herself still enjoys reading them. As she puts it, Shirley Hughes seems to have ‘an instinctive understanding of the mind of the pre-schooler’:

‘It’s all about the “little things” that dominate their lives. It’s about realising your new wellies are the wrong way round when you’re out splashing in puddles; it’s about getting locked out of the house with your mum when you’ve been shopping and are tired and hungry; it’s about hearing a dripping from the attic that turns out to be a burst pipe when Mrs MacNally’s Maureen from over the road is babysitting for you; and it’s about going to a birthday party for the first time without your mum.’

IMG_20160614_160026I couldn’t have worded it better. Books are there to not only inspire, teach and nurture a child’s imagination, but also to help them understand the world immediately around them. And I think the latter is what Hughes does best. As I grew older, I held on to those books, and they were always there to remind me of the ‘little things’, even when I thought I understood everything so well.

Thinking about it got me wondering about the pressure put on publishers to compete with the distraction of new technology nowadays. At a time where the industry is adapting and experimenting, it might be more important than ever not to lose sight of the fact that the simplest stories are sometimes the most memorable.