Sunday, 6 October 2019

Quietness is Best by Paul May

At the end of one of my favourite stories from Alan Garner’s collection A Bag of Moonshine, Cocky-keeko, the foolish cockerel is crying out for help: 

            But the old man was working too far distant for the cat to hear.
            So the fox stopped behind the woodshed. “Quietness is best,” he said, as he bit the head off Cocky-keeko; and he granched him up, bones and all, leaving the tail feathers for the wind to blow.
            “Eh, dear,” said the old man. “There’s some as just won’t be told.”

I like quietness. An editor once told me I wrote quiet books, before saying, sympathetically, that quietness was bound to come back into fashion eventually. I like reading quiet books too, and I have a special fondness for the work of Charlotte Zolotow (1915-2013).

For many years, during the 1960s and 1970s, Zolotow’s books were mainly published in this country by World’s Work Children’s Books. This small company had evolved into a specialist publisher of highly illustrated, high quality children’s books marketed mainly to libraries and schools and usually American in origin.  

I say that the company had evolved because The World’s Work was originally an innovative magazine, first published in the USA in 1903, and then produced in an English edition by William Heinemann from 1913 to 1930. The company The World’s Work Ltd was set up to publish the magazine, but it went through many changes in its lifetime, including publishing pulp magazines and cheap western and thriller novels, before achieving renewed success in the 1930s as a result of publishing Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

In the 1960s the company developed its line of children's books, but this came to an end in the late 1970s with rising production costs and a decline in library purchasing budgets. In the 1980s many of those books found their way into charity shops and school jumble sales, and from there to me. Among them were many quiet books by Charlotte Zolotow. Here are a few spreads that will give you good idea of what the books are like. (you'll need to open the images to read them). A range of illustrators was used, but they were usually quiet and usually only had one or two colours.

From Someday illustrated by Arnold Lobel

From River Winding illustrated by Kazue Mizumura

From When the Wind Stops illustrated by Howard Knotts

World’s Work also published the I Can Read series which included the wonderful Little Bear books of Else Holmelund Minarik with Maurice Sendak illustrations and Arnold Lobel’s equally wonderful Frog and Toad. The series also included a lot of very good narrative non-fiction for early readers, of a style and quality not then being produced by British writers. I’m happy to admit they influenced the style of my own books, Elephants and Dinosaurs. (both OUP).

For slightly older readers they published equally good narrative non-fiction, notably books by Herbert S Zim who ‘was one of the first writers to recognise that many children enjoy reading narrative nonfiction as much as and sometimes more than fiction.’ (Children’s Books and Their Creators, Anna Silvey ed). I’m especially fond of Blood with its fine red cover.

There were books by Peter Spier, too, most of these in full colour and some of them noisy (eg Gobble, Growl, Grunt). Spier did illustrated songs, too, like The Fox, which is just as bloodthirsty and bad for the victim as Alan Garner's fox story. 

My favourite book from the publisher, (and one of the first World’s Work books I came across) is The Little River by Ann Rand with illustrations by Feodor Rojankovsky.

From The Little River

The World’s Work Ltd was based at the Windmill Press in Kingswood, but the books were generally printed by William Clowes at Beccles in Suffolk, which by a coincidence is where I used to live, and which is another reason why so many of these books turned up in Beccles charity chops. 

The Windmill Press has a very interesting history. The American publisher, F N Doubleday, took over William Heinemann’s publishing company on Heinemann's death in 1920 and he decided to build a press in the salubrious countryside on the southern edge of London. He arranged a picnic on the chosen site. He took with him Rudyard Kipling and T E Lawrence, together with the two architects, Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wills. Apparently they sat on a hillside carpeted with bluebells and dined on smoked salmon and champagne while contemplating the plans of a workers paradise.

T E Lawrence suggested that the ground-floor windows of the print shop should reach down to the ground so that the workers could see out into the garden and enjoy the maximum sunlight. Kipling suggested a small ornamental pool and fountain which he supplied with fish from his own pond at Batemans. The press was opened by John Galsworthy in 1928, and it was apparently a lovely place to work. I'm now planning a trip across London and see if Kipling's pond is still there. 

Workers at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, during the
making of an ITV documentary in March 1958

Paul May's website is here.

Readers interested in The Windmill Press and World's Work Ltd can find more information in these books:
St John, John. William Heinemann: A Century of Publishing 1890-1990. London. Heinemann 1990 Whyte, Frederic. William Heinemann: A Memoir. Cape 1928

Thanks to Catherine Flynn, Senior Archivist at Penguin Random House for pointing me in the right direction.


Penny Dolan said...

Paul. what a delightful post to find ona Sunday morning. I loved those books and titles too. The layout, the stories and the spirit appeared so direct and gently child-friendly at the time. And noticeably good production quality.
Glad that some copies are still around - and Frog and Toad is still in print or back in print, I think?

Paul May said...

Thanks, Penny. Frog and Toad are indeed still in print. There is a nice complete edition with a foreword by Julia Donaldson. I love the fact that philosophers take Frog and Toad and their dilemmas so seriously!

Moira Butterfield said...

Thank you for alerting me to these! I will start keeping ab eye out on my charity shop and flea market wanderings!

Anne Booth said...

This was a lovely post. I am going to look for these books. And the publishing history is fascinating. Thank you.