Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Full of Stuff - Karen Ball

A child once wrote to me: ‘I picked your book because I felt sorry for it. It was sat on the shelf, being ignored by everyone else.’ Once we get past the friends, agents, editors, publishers, reps, booksellers and reviewers there is a very appreciative – and honest – audience waiting for us. This is one of the things I love best about the world of children’s books. Children don’t know how to massage an ego, they can’t lie (Well, not very well. Well, not all the time.) and if you’re boring them, they’ll let you know. If they like you, however, you’ll be adored. They’ll be as faithful as they can, for as long as they can, and then they’ll grow up and move on to something else. Fiction repays this loyalty. We give readers characters to believe in and love, we tell stories that enchant or frighten. Then the book is put to one side and … the relationship ends? Well, no. New audiences arrive to sit at our feet whilst adults fondly remember the novels that brightened their younger years. Faceless readers continue to borrow the book from libraries and the author will occasionally pick up a copy, flick through, and think, ‘Yes. Not so bad.’ Pages become stained, dropped in baths or scattered with biscuit crumbs. Some books get signed. From the first idea that pops into a writer’s head, through the system of emails with an editor, via the printing press and the stickers that are made to peel off without ruining the cover, all of these parts make up the whole. The child who wrote to me was sincere, but possibly mistaken. No book can ever be ignored. It’s too full of stuff. It’s crammed with life. Perhaps we should ask our publishers for new stickers on our books: ‘Full of stuff’*. It’s the best description I can think of.
* If publishers refuse, you’d be amazed by what you can achieve with a Post-it note and a roller ball pen. What do you mean, it doesn’t look professional…?


Linda Strachan said...

'Pages become stained, dropped in baths or scattered with biscuit crumbs.'
I love this. I like to see a book that is well loved - like an old teddy bear, a bit curled up at the edges and well used!
I sometimes hear parents tell their little ones things like, 'this book is special and we want to keep it nice.' (usually because it's a signed copy)
It makes me want to jump up and down and say 'Yes it is special, but only if you READ IT LOTS OF TIMES!!!
I do like to keep books clean and pristine but I would rather a child feels comfortable with a book rather than stiff and restricted!
I sometimes feel a bit guilty spreading my name like graffiti across a book - despite the fact I love to get my own books signed by the author...
okay so I'm a bit mixed up!

Nick Green said...

That's pretty much the single biggest reason I write for children. Children feel things so much more strongly. It's like putting your feelings and imagination through a massive amplifier. They can end up loving a book so much more, and remembering it all their lives. Now that's value for money.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

A 'full of stuff' sticker is a great idea. Do you think it works better than shelf shuffling?

max said...

Kids books can also wind up in places like Sri Lanka.

I was amazed to read an email from a young reader when I realized where it had come from. So I asked how he happened to have a copy of one of my adventure-mysteries. Turns out the book was sent to his parents who are missionaries there. I've had similar responses from England, Japan, and other countries.

There's no telling how far a book might travel with its stains and biscuit crumbs.

Max Elliot Anderson
Books For Boys Blog