Celebrating forgotten favourites
Published on: 20 October 2013 Author: Katherine Woodfine
When BookTrust's children's book experts were putting together our list of the 100 Best Books, we had many conversations about the books we had loved when we were young. We relaised there's a whole bunch of children's classics which aren't so popular with children now, and some that have been almost forgotten entirely.
Although we all agreed that these were wonderful books that deserved to be better known by today's young readers, we had to ask ourselves tough questions about whether they should make it onto our list when they hadn't managed to stand the test of time.
We sometimes found ourselves asking why some of these books didn't seem to have the 'staying power' which other children's favourites had demonstrated. Sadly in many cases it's simply because they have fallen out of print, and so missed the opportunity to be read and enjoyed by new generations of readers. Step in Hot Key Books, who have recently embarked on a new project to reissue some of these very titles.
Cait Davies from Hot Key Books writes...
Do you remember your favourite childhood book? Perhaps it was an adventure story that inspired you to travel the world, or a hilarious page-turner that still makes you smile today. It's these books that we share with friends, family and strangers (whether they like it or not), and recommend to people throughout our lives – because, classic or not, they are our favourites.
Now imagine going to buy that book for a friend and discovering that the book has gone out of print – and you can't get a copy. You can't share your experience, and a new generation won't stumble upon the story as you once did.
With that in mind, we at Hot Key Books have a new project – to reissue our favourite books from childhood that are now out of print. We want to share these stories with children today, and we hope that they will find new readers that are as fanatic about the books as we were. Our first three reissued classics, Grinny, Fireweed and Mary-Mary have two particularly passionate champions here in the office: here's what they had to say about their respective favourites
Grinny by Nicholas Fisk was first published in 1973. It has been republished to celebrate its 40th anniversary and Nicholas's 90th birthday. 'I must have been about 9 when I first read Grinny. It scared me witless and I couldn't sleep for days. Over the years my copy has been lost, been rediscovered, been sellotaped, and finally abandoned when it lost the entire middle section. More importantly, it's been shared. When I was a bookseller I used to love recommending books, matching the right book to the customer, but I got an even bigger sense of pride (or ego) when it was one of 'my' books – something I had read and loved and could pass on. Now I'm in publishing it's lovely to think that something I have worked on will help turn someone into a reader, but it's a really lovely feeling being able to introduce a whole new generation to a book I loved, and I seem to be channelling all those feelings I had at 9. And on rereading, it still scares me, only this time I can't admit to it as freely...' Kate Manning, Sales & Marketing Director at Hot Key Books.
Fireweed by Jill Paton-Walsh was first published in 1969 and won the Book World Festival Award in 1970. 'I have never experienced war first-hand, although I have read and loved plenty of great novels for children set during the first and second world wars. Still, I have never read a book like Fireweed, a book that unsentimentally but powerfully describes the ordeal of two teenagers adrift in London during the 1940s Blitz; a book that told me how to prevent my ear-drums bursting when a bomb goes off nearby; a book that made me very grateful that I have never had to test that out. One of the great and powerful messages that comes from this unflinching novel is that our powers of resilience are greater than we could ever imagine, even when we're very young. It comes down to survival and what's important in life. Fireweed is a wonderful and still very important book – in so many ways.' Emily Thomas, Publisher at Hot Key Books.
Mary-Mary by Joan G Robinson was first published in 1957 and will be re-published in November. 'There are a few words that stick with you from your childhood, things you mispronounced and still choose to mispronounce into your early adulthood. Or late 30s in my case. But this is purely because baby swans SHOULD be called snigets. Not only does it suit them, but it also is a word used by one of my literary heroes, Mary-Mary. She wants to do what her older siblings do but is always told she's too young. So she does it anyway, usually with a tea cosy on her head, and always does it better. Including being a bridesmaid, just like a sniget in a dress of palest white. I wanted to be just like her when I was her age, and I still want to be like her now I'm grown up, as long as being grown up includes using the word sniget.' Kate Manning, Sales & Marketing Director at Hot Key Books.