Thursday 5 December 2013

420+ writers and lovers of children's books protest to The Times

Lucy Coats, children’s author and friend of mine, recently wrote a letter to The Times (of London). They didn’t print it. So what, you might ask? Except that this letter was signed by c425 (I lost count!) people from the world of children’s literature, including 16 Carnegie or Greenaway Medal winners, the current Children’s Laureate of the UK, Malorie Blackman, the Children's Laureate of Eire, Niamh Sharkey, and recent Children's Laureate, Julia Donaldson, along with an extraordinary list of names.

We were complaining about the sacking of uber-expert children’s book reviewer, Amanda Craig, as you’ll see in a minute. We knew this protest wouldn’t get her reinstated but we wanted to make some important points. This is not about a reviewer; nor is it even about the number or quality of reviews that The Times might decide to commission from in-house staff or elsewhere. It’s about the frequent careless undermining of the importance of children’s literature; it’s about the need for champions of children’s books who don’t just review the books with the biggest marketing budgets but the books they believe children will love. It’s about the fact that we’ve lost a standard-bearer. Not the only one – and I hope not the last one – but importantly ours, one whose opinion parents and teachers valued and whom we trusted to support children’s literature as a whole.

We need to stand up and complain, in a world where children’s literature is often unthinkingly sneered at. Sometimes, it works, as this week when The University of Kent had to back down after a barrage of protest at the disparaging wording of its creative writing MA blurb. Sometimes, there isn’t a likely benefit other than the knowledge that one said what needed to be said, as with the indignation at Martin Amis’s statement, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book…' 

This may be one of the latter situations. Anyway, The Times didn’t print the letter, but I have, with the names who signed it.

27th November 2013


We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned to hear of the recent sacking of your children's book reviewer, Amanda Craig.

During her years on your paper, Amanda has gained an international reputation as an outstanding reviewer, and as a unique advocate for children's books in general. She is as Neil Gaiman so rightly says, "a perceptive champion of good children's books", respected by all who care about readers and reading.   

By sacking a reviewer of Amanda Craig's stature, The Times is sending a very unfortunate message to readers at home and abroad.  The coverage of children's books in the UK print media is already worryingly thin - and to make this decision is incomprehensible. We export more books than any other country in the world, and, as the Olympics last year showed, the UK's children's literature is a national treasure. 

Amanda Craig spotted and championed J.K. Rowling, Anthony Horowitz, Philip Pullman, Francesca Simon, Cressida Cowell and many more of the UK’s now-prominent authors early on in their careers, inspiring uncountable numbers of children to become passionate readers.  She has never paid attention to hype, only to what is genuinely good. We need reviewers of her skill to be given the space to carry on doing the same for the authors and the readers of the future.

The Times should also realise that their own fate is linked to the fate of the children's book world. Readers of children's books become readers of newspapers.

We are all connected.

Yours faithfully,
Lucy Coats
David Almond, Carnegie Medal winner
Malorie Blackman, Children's Laureate
Tim Bowler, Carnegie Medal winner
Theresa Breslin, Carnegie Medal winner
Melvin Burgess, Carnegie Medal winner
Lauren Child, Kate Greenaway Medal winner
Frank Cottrell Boyce, Carnegie Medal winner
Cressida Cowell, Smarties Prize winner
Gillian Cross, Carnegie Medal winner
Julia Donaldson, former Children's Laureate
Neil Gaiman, Carnegie Medal winner
Sally Gardner, Carnegie Medal winner
Joanne Harris, MBE, Whitbread Prize winner
Anthony Horowitz, Bookseller Association/Nielsen Author of the Year 
P.J. Lynch, Kate Greenaway Medal winner
Patrick Ness, Carnegie Medal winner
Garth Nix, Aurealis Award winner
Mal Peet, Carnegie Medal winner
Susan Price, Carnegie Medal winner
Philip Pullman, Carnegie Medal winner
Philip Reeve, Carnegie Medal winner
Meg Rosoff, Carnegie Medal winner
Niamh Sharkey, Children's Laureate, Ireland
Francesca Simon, British Book Award winner
together with the following authors, publishers, literary agents, booksellers, librarians, teachers, bloggers, parents and readers:

Patrice Aggs
Judy Allen, Whitbread Children's Award winner
Laurence Anholt, Smarties Prize winner
Gill Arbuthnott
Arcadia Books, Sunday Times Small Publisher of the Year
Philip Ardagh, Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner
Michael Arditti, BBC arts critic, reviewer
Mary Arrigan
Trisha Ashley
Ruth Austin
Carina Axelsson
Jane Badger
Christine Bain
Susan Bain
Alison Baker, Primary PGCE lecturer, University of East London 
Sarah Baker
Christine Banach
Barbara Band, Vice-President CILIP, children's librarian
Gili Bar-Hillel, Editor in Chief Utz Books, translator, Israel
Steve Barlow
Emma Barnes
Margaret Bateson-Hill
Ian Beck
Juliet Clare Bell
Kit Berry
Julie Bertagna
Beverley Birch
Paul Black, publicist, Walker Books
Terence Blacker, Radio 4 writer & presenter
Carole Blake, literary Agent, Blake Friedmann
Anne Booth
A. T. Boyle
Helen Boyle, editor tBk Magazine
Susie Boyt
Tony Bradman
Robin Brooks
Rebecca E Brown
Elizabeth Buchan
Stephanie Burgis
Nicole Burstein
Jenna Burtenshaw
Catherine Butler
Moira Butterfield
Elen Caldecott
Edward Carey
Jane Casey
Ann Cassidy
Cathy Cassidy, Queen of Teen Award winner
Pauline Chandler
Leah Chin, Tales on Moon Lane Bookshop
Sue Chambers, Waterstones O2
Kate Charlton Jones
Emma Chichester-Clarke
Kirkland Ciccone
Alex Clark
Ann Clark, Literary Agent
Cat Clarke
Catherine Clarke, Children's Literary Agent, Felicity Bryan
Jane Clarke
Louise Cliffe-Minns
Elaine Cline
Brigid Coady
Catherine Coe, Editor
Marika Cobbold
Rebecca Colby
Steve Cole
Anne Colledge
Tim Collins
Victoria Connelly
Tamsin Cooke
Catherine Cooper
Imogen Cooper, Senior Editor, Chicken House & Director, Golden Egg Academy
Zizou Corder
Jo Cotterill
Joy Court, Chair, CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway Medals
Dave Cousins
Joe Craig
Alison Croggon, Australia
Nick Cross
Sarah Crossan
Kim Curran
Catherine Czerkawska
Annie Dalton
Jill Dancaster
Keren David
Veronique David-Martin
Jill Dawson
Susie Day
Liz de Jager
Emily Diamand
Lindsay Dickinson
Helen Dineen
Discover Story Centre
Mar Dixon, founder, Teens in Museums
Giles Diggle
Penny Dolan
Lari Don
John Dougherty
Jonathan Douglas, Director, Literacy Trust
Malachy Doyle, Smarties Prize winner
Gill Duane, school librarian
Sarah Dunant
Fiona Dunbar
A.M. Edge
Christopher Edge
Sabine Edwards
Madge Eekal
Laura B Main Ellen, Under the Greenwood Tree Bookshop
Laura Elliott
Odette Elliott
Patricia Elliott
Louise Ellis-Barrett, editor, Armadillo Magazine
Jonathan Emmett
Laure Eve
Annie Everall, children's librarian
Franzeska Ewart
Polly Faber, book blogger
Melissa Fair, Publishing Director, Egmont Books
Maria Farrer, ambassador, Dyslexia Action
Emma Ferrier
Dawn Finch, children's librarian
Daniel Finn
Pauline Fisk
Ruth Fitzgerald
Teresa Flavin
Leonie Flynn,  Ultimate Book Guide
Cathy Forde
Kate Forsyth, Australia
Janet Foxley, Times/Chicken House winner
Jo Franklin
Lindsey Fraser, children's literary agent, Fraser Ross
Hilary Freeman
Vivian French
Joe Friedman
Catherine Friess
Hannah Fuller, Book Happy Ltd
Clare Furniss
Nicky Gamble, Just Imagine Story Centre
Lucy Gannon
Lynne Garner
Kate Garnett, school librarian, Guernsey
Adele Geras
Alan Gibbons
Griselda Gifford
Ann Giles, Bookwitch blog
Helen Giles
David Gilman
Debi Gliori
Julia Golding, Smarties Prize winner
Cassandra Golds, Australia
Alysia W Gontier
Pippa Goodhart
Alexander Gordon Smith
Candy Gourlay
Annalie Grainger, Senior Editor, Walker Books
Gwen Grant
Linda Grant
Keith Gray
Caroline Green
Julia Green
Amy Butler Greenfield
Emma Greenwood
Lorraine Gregory
Sally Grindley, Smarties Prize winner
Kate Griffin
Ellen Grogan
Adam Guillain
Charlotte Guillain
Catriona Gunn, Australia
Alex Gutteridge
Jenny Haddon
Matt Haig, Smarties Prize winner 
Miriam Halahmy
Geroge Hanratty, Tales on Moon Lane Bookshop
Rachel Hamilton, Book Walrus blog
Sarah Hammond
Jane Hardstaff
Vashti Hardy
C J Harper
MG Harris
Michelle Harrison
Darren Hartwell, BookZone blog
Damian Harvey
Vicky Harvey
Carmen Haselup, school governor, book blogger
Rosemary Hayes
Rachel Heath
Kathryn Henderson
Judith Heneghan, Director, Winchester Writers Festival
Lou Heneghan
Diana Hendry
Diana Henry
Griselda Heppel
Catie Herring
Kathryn Heyman
Sophie Hicks, Managing Director, Ed Victor Ltd
Mary Hoffman
Dianne Hofmeyr
Antonia Honeywell
Mary Hooper
Caroline Horn, Director, Reading Zone
Sandra Horn
Justin Horton, Bookseller, Spain
Mandy Huggins
Lynn Huggins-Cooper
Barry Hutchison
Inbali Iserles
Rhian Ivory
Jessica Jackson
Ann James, School Librarian
Jamie Jauncey
Cindy Jefferies
Marie-Louise Jensen
Curtis Jobling
Catherine Johnson
Jane Johnson
L.H. Johnson
Colleen Cailin Jones
Jan Jones
Julia Jones
Ann Jungman
Savita Kalhan
Danuta Kean, Books Editor, Mslexia
Louise Kelly
Kate Kemp
Fiona Kennedy
Ally Kennen
Fiona Kenshole, children's literary agent
Liz Kessler
Tracy Kewley, freelance editor
Simon Key, Big Green Bookshop
Kate Keys
Matt Killeen
Diana Kimpton
Jane Kirwan
Elizabeth Laird
Dawn Laker
Victoria Lamb
Shaun Lambert
Margo Lanagan, Australia
Tanya Landman
Katherine Langrish
Helen Larder
Rhiannon Lassiter
Anthony Lawton
Julia Lee
Joan Lennon
Joan Lingard MBE (for services to children's literature)
Linda Owen Lloyd, Children's Book Illustration
KM Lockwood
Abie Longstaff
Anita Loughrey
Michelle Lovric
Mathew Lyons
Tamara MacFarlane, Tales on Moon Lane Bookshop
Susie Maguire
Manifesto Books
Rachel Mann
Sarah Manson, literary agent
Jackie Marchant
Zoe Marriott
Trevor Marsh
Cate Matthews, Book Happy Ltd
Emma Matthewson
Phil May, ReadItDaddy blog
David Maybury, Inis Magazine
Margie McAllister
Lesley McDowell, literary critic The Herald, The Scotsman
Sarah McIntyre
Melanie McGilloway, Library Mice blog
Anthony McGowan, Teenage Booktrust Prize winner
Stephanie McGregor 
Jane Benson McLoughlin
Cliff McNish
Catherine McPhail
Wendy Meddour
Jonathan Meres
Alison Messum, librarian
Liz Miller
Sam Mills
Jennifer Moore
Nicola Morgan
Jackie Morris
Cheryl Moskowitz
Fletcher Moss
Clare Mulley
Moira Munro
Tamsyn Murray
Sarah Mussi, Chair, on behalf of  CWISL
Natasha Narayan
Linda Newbery
James E Nichol
Sally Nicholls
Chris Nickson
Mo O'Hara
Sarah O'Leary
Samira Osman
Karen Owen
Kate Paice, children's fiction editor, Barrington Stoke
Emma Pass
Ellis Pendens
Barbara Pendrigh, Bookseller
Anna Perera
Sarah Perry
Rachel Petty, Senior Commissioning Editor, Macmillan Children's Books
Gillian Philip
Catherine Phipps
Helena Pielichaty
Saviour Pirotta
Annabel Pitcher, Waterstones Children's Book Award winer
Caroline Pitcher
Fiona Pitt-Kethley
Sally Poyton
Sally Prue, Smarties Prize winner
Diane Purkiss
Sue Purkiss
Lisa Redmond, children's bookseller
Celia Rees
Paul Rees, Lincoln Christ's Hospital School
Ellen Renner
Susan Reuben, Ultimate Book Guide
Enid Richemont
Judith Ridge, Australia
Hilary Robinson
Michelle Robinson
Mark Robson
Frank Rodgers
Anne Rooney
Elizabeth Roy, Children's Literary Agent
James Runcie, Head of Literature, Southbank Centre
Katherine Rundell
Rosie Rushton
Margaret Ryan
S.F.Said, Blue Peter Book Award winner
Miles Salter
Cate Sampson
Etta Saunders
Nicky Schmidt
Kate Scott
Marcus Sedgwick, Blue Peter Book Award winner
Sara Sheridan
Debbie Sims, Book Walrus blog
Steve Skidmore
Jane Smith, How Publishing Really Works
Julia Smith
Maudie Smith
Dr Shannon Smith
Boris Starling
Zoe Stead
Jane Stemp
Sarah Stewart, Editor, Usborne Books
Linda Strachan
Chae Strathie
Dave Sutton
Tabitha Suzuma, Young Minds Book Award winner
Gabriella Swerling
Michael Taggart
Melanie Taylor, Little Star Writing
Thomas Taylor
Frances Thomas
Zoe Toft, Playing By the Book blog
Piers Torday
Joanna Troughton
Ann Turnbull
Eleanor Updale, Blue Peter Book Award winner
Clara Vulliamy
Carmel Waldron
Pat Walsh
Ruth Warburton
John Ward
Peter Ward
Rachel Ward
Miranda Ruth Waterton, children's librarian
Laura Watkinson
Lee Weatherly
Holly Webb
Elizabeth Wein
Sarah Wells
Imogen Russell Will, children's reviewer Guardian Online, The Metro
vv Wilson
Leslie Wilson
Matthew Wilson
Yona Wiseman
Dawn Woods
Elli Woolard
Alex Woolf
Philip Womack
Damon Young
Louisa Young
Moira Young

(And, by the way, very many more of those names are award-winners than is indicated but it would have been impossible to identify them all. I know, because I was sitting at Lucy's kitchen table as the names came pouring in. A great deal of coffee was required as it was! And then I escaped, leaving Lucy to it.)

So there you have it. And in the spirit of carrying on regardless, Lucy Coats is in the Bookseller today with a new book deal. Congratulations, Lucy!

Onwards and upwards.


Gill James said...

I add my voice to this protest. As an active academic who teaches and researches in the area of children's literature as well as writing for children and young adults I find this event perplexing.

Lucy Coats said...

Thank you, Nicola. Unfortunately, as you say, the 'frequent, careless undermining of children's literature' is something we, (as people who would like children to be exposed to a great range of good books), have to fight against all too often. The sacking of Amanda Craig as Times reviewer and the University of Kent cases were joined yesterday by a disgraceful article in yesterday's Guardian by one Jonathan Myerson had the headline 'Children's Fiction is not Great Literature'. He went on to say this:

"Great adult literature aims to confront the full range of genuine human experience, a world where individuals do not wear the same black or white hat every day. Life is messy, life is surprising and, most of all, life is full of compromises. One of the great themes of literature – which therefore often makes for great literature – springs from the protagonist who rejects compromise and usually pays the price."

And great children's books don't do this? I simply point him to Philip Pullman, to Malorie Blackman, to Patrick Ness, to Meg Rosoff (some of the signatories of my letter). Their work addresses all these things. I am so TIRED of this fight, but I will carry on fighting it. When our literacy rates are some of the lowest in Europe, getting the right books to the right child matters more than ever. The newspapers give children's books less and less coverage, children's and school librarians are being cut at an alarming rate - if we don't stand up and shout for someone like Amanda, who is a true standard bearer for children's books, who will? Not The Times, certainly.

Amanda said...

Nicola, I would like to thank you and Lucy and all who signed, wrote letters to John Witherow and even cancelled their subscriptions (not that I like to see any newspaper lose circulation especially now) in protest. It has been more cheering and moving than I can say to see so many people who care about children's literature add their voice. Obviously, I am not going to get reinstated. But I hope that some other newspaper or possibly the BBC may pick me up so that at least what I can add to this unique and fascinating form of literature, with its involvement in children's literacy and imaginations, isn't lost.

Nicola Morgan said...

That quote from J Myerson's piece contains the most important ingredients of children's/YA literature! He shows himself very ignorant of what we do - which would be fine, if he didn't make a pronouncement about it. I'm ignorant about lots of things, so I stay quiet and listen to those who know. Then I go and investigate.

Unknown said...

I signed on Twitter, and I lend my voice here, too. Children's books inspire the next generation of readers and authors. They change lives and expand minds. I saw it with my own brother. He never cared for books and was failing English until I had him read Harry Potter. Now he reads just as much as I do, and loves it. The upswing in his grades was incredible, too.

Children's literature isn't something to be swept under the rug. It should be held up as an example of how we can all actively help shape the minds of a new generation and push them towards bigger and better things.

Don't let future generations stagnate.

Savita Kalhan said...

The media coverage of children's books, particularly in the national press, is meagre at best, and now it has shrunk a little more with the loss of Amanada's excellent and insightful reviews, and prescient picks that showed how far ahead of the game she was in reviewing children's literature.
Children's literature needs more support, more coverage, and more forward-thinking people to help bring children back to books, and then to lead them to the right books for them.

M Louise Kelly said...

Yes, it's an especially important time for people like Amanda to have their voices heard. Crazy to undervalue her contribution in this way.

Mark Burgess said...

Also adding my voice to this. I find it extraordinarily worrying that a newspaper like The Times should add to the perception that children's literature is not worth serious attention by getting rid of such an important and perceptive reviewer. Mr Myerson, frankly, should know better.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Have you tried sending an amended version (including the fact the Times failed to publish it) of this letter to other newspapers? This issue needs to be much more widely shared and debated.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, everyone. Glad you agree.

Melinda, yes, that was done. News moves on, though, I'm afraid. All I can do is make sure this stays up here and anyone can link to it at any time. I agree, it deserves to be widely shared, but there's a limit to what I can do. Happy for anyone to help share it!