Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Why #CoverKidsBooks?

Today, I want to welcome Imogen Russell Williams onto the blog. Imogen is an editorial consultant and is an art journalist, writing reviews for children and YA books. Imogen has very kindly written a guest blog post about #CoverKidsBooks (a hashtag, created by SF Said, that you might have seen circling on Twitter) and why it is important that children and YA books should be covered in mainstream media.

For more information on this, check Middle Grade Strikes Back for more info! And if you want to chat to Imogen about this, check out her twitter at @ImogenRW and she will be very kind and helpful. I must say thank you to Imogen for writing this - I know she has been very busy so to find time to write this is awesome!

And now, over to Imogen!

Why #CoverKidsBooks?

As a journalist who specialises in children’s and YA literature, every day is Christmas for me. I’m on first-name terms with the postman, the DHL driver and the good-natured neighbours two doors down who sign for parcels – and I still never get tired of opening a Jiffy bag with a publisher’s name on it.

So far this year, I’ve read picture books about knitting cats, toothless alligators, odd socks and gender dysphoria; 5-7 titles about pint-sized pirates, teacup pigs, and ghost tigers;  middle grade tales of coleoptera, lepidoptera, and aliens in bobble-hats; and YAs about friendship, feminism, rape, mental illness, teen fatherhood – and Alaska. Books teeter on every flat (or flattish) surface, and I read whenever the opportunity arises between deadlines, supervising small children (bless you, CBeebies), and eating things (though I maintain that simultaneous reading and eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.) But I’m barely scratching the surface – and still the beauties keep coming.

I’m not talking about mediocre, middle-of-the-road titles, either – or the TV/gaming tie-ins that often excite kids, but tend to leave me cold – although, with the children’s book market growing as it is, there’s inevitably a fair amount of that. I’m talking about the sort of quality that prompts three- and four-book binges when I should be sound asleep, feeling the fabric of my brain being warped and yanked and challenged; the sort of books that change the reader, freshening the way they see the world.

But this breadth of wonders just can’t be adequately covered in seasonal round-ups, or a 2cm once-a-week review that will all too often go to a famous first-timer or big name, rather than an exciting debut or even a ‘quiet’, but compelling, slow-working story. The downside to the sheer number of brilliant kids’ books being published is that it’s all too easy for an author’s work to sink undeservedly, never finding the readers with whom it was written to resonate and chime. And nothing gives me the same satisfaction as putting the right book into the hands of the right reader at the right time – and I think that goes double for every reviewer, blogger, critic, kidlit aficionado and, of course, librarian out there.

#CoverKidsBooks is all about maximising the chances of that happening.  Many book-buying parents, godparents, aunts, grandparents and teachers are still dependent on the memories of their own childhood greats; or on lists and polls which, time and again, favour the classic over the contemporary. (Honourable mention here to Time Out for consulting children’s authors and experts in compiling its recent list, and producing a Top 100 nicely balanced between different genres and ages, as well as between old and new.) Otherwise, it’s the big names and lead titles which get the lion’s share of publicity and sales – but these don’t suit every young reader, just as The Wind in the Willows, for all its brilliance, would challenge many new-ish readers now, beautiful as it looks in a gift edition on a child’s bookshelf.


In calling for print reviews to keep pace with the buoyant, brilliant state of the kids’ book market, we hope to make it more likely that heartfelt work will meet tingling fingertips, just at the right time for both.

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