This Bath Children’s Literature Festival talk was all about how brilliant children’s writing is. For those of you who didn’t know that, it’s a fact. Editor Danny Hahn hosted and was joined by authors David Almond (the man who has won pretty much everything), Sally Gardner and Pushkin Press publisher Adam Freudenheim.
There were lots of great points made, but again I’m going to streamline them so as not to waffle… yes, yes we all know I’m going to do that anyway.
Listening to how Adam decided to launch the Pushkin Press children’s list was one of the most interesting things discussed. He was originally working with Penguin Classics and a lot of the work involved translating books for the range. Looking at the range of children’s books there are these days very few are translated from other languages compared to adult fiction, which in itself has very few translated books. So many fantastic stories are being overlooked because of this point, and when he joined Pushkin this was one of the things he wanted to change. Many people came to him and recommended titles that could be included and in particular The Letter for the King came to his attention. Translated into several languages already and well received in all, it had never be published in English, and so began the wonderful Pushkin Children’s Books list that we see today.
It was also lovely to hear that even authors are curious readers. The conversation moved on at this point, but Sally Gardner was still quick to engage in some whispering and managed to procure the copy of The Letter for the King that Adam had brought out of his bag. I have to say that I don’t blame her – I got into work this morning and ordered a copy myself!
She is yet another author with a wonderful origin story. Sally Gardner told us about how she used to dream up stories from shopping catalogues as well as little plays using a theatre set. By her own admission, they sounded like they all ended with a lot of death. And, as if to prove my point from my first post about the festival, Sally was wearing some fantastic red shoes that put me in mind of the ruby slippers; now I’m almost certain now that to be a successful author, you need absolutely need to wear fabulous shoes… or be a little bit nuts (in the best sense of the word)!
Someone in the audience pointed out that books used to be a community experience and reading together was a much bigger thing. Everyone can enjoy a good children’s book – they’re exciting for children and usually have something to subtly appeal to adult tastes as well. That’s never been more true than it is at the moment; often in the books I read I find myself laughing at something and wondering if kids would actually understand it. It’s a great way to have books stay with you as you grow older.
Many adult readers are turning to what is considered young adult writing, possibly because the books are punchier and fast-paced, and lead to quicker gratification when reading. I’m definitely not saying it’s a bad thing because I love YA books. Children’s books in general are much more imaginative equivalent genres for adults. As the age ranges change so do the length of chapters, shorter chapters help with that pace in the story. I like the way you can be pulled into a book when they’re set out like this. I’ve always said that I love James Patterson books for this exact reason; I know I can get in to his books quickly because they have these quick changing scenes.