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British Children's Books*

Nicholas Lack

If I was asked to name the one area of publishing which is the liveliest, the most progressive and which has achieved most in the last twenty years, then I would unhesitatingly say that in Britain, it was the realm of children's books. The subject—British Children's Books - is dauntingly wide and therefore, requires clarification. It is usual, in British libraries, to split children's reading into three categories, two of which are fairly easily defined; these are the pre-school and early reading period, upto say, age 7; and the teenager group, from 13 to adult­hood. A wealth of material exists for both these age-groups: good, even great writers have specialized in books for teen­agers from the time of Robert Louis Stevenson onwards and a large proportion of children's classics such as Treasure Island, Tom Brown's Schooldays, The Prince and the Pauper were intended for this age group. They serve as an essential bridge between childhood reading and the works of adult writers. Equally, though of more recent origin, children's picture books in fiction and. non-fiction for the pre-school and early school years are of a very high standard. This is not to mention the many excellent reading schemes which exist to help development. It is in this pre-school area, in fact, where British publishing has been out­standing in the last twenty years, by demanding high quality of printing and colour, by attracting many first-rate illustrators and by devoting care, time and study to the words used in the stories or descriptions. However, there still exists the third age-group, that from 7-12 years; and these, in many respects, are the interest­ing years of a child's reading develop­ment, because they raise problems which in Britain have not yet been answered. The years 7·12 are a long span in a child's life. In Britain, a child may grow from near babyhood to the first glimmerings of adulthood; there are changes in routine and social emphasis—the growing im­portance of school as opposed to home, the making of friends at the child's initiative unsupported by parents, atten­dance of clubs, participation in sports and other activities, and in general, the creation of an embryonic independent social life. The reading of books may not, and perhaps should not, be the child's main concern, for in many ways, it is his or her first contact with the world outside the home and ...

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