The Conversation of Children’s Books

On looking at the beautiful array of children’s books on the shelves in my school library, one visitor recently asked “Yes, but how do the children choose what to read? There’s such a huge and attractive variety.” Although the picture books face outwards, the early readers, general fiction and older fiction sit with spines out only. There are displays of new books of course, a themed topic display, and on the walls displays by the children about their favourite reads, but generally, as my visitor was swift to point out, just shelves and shelves of books. My answer of course, was that the topic of ‘children’s books’ is about more than the solitary act of reading. ‘Children’s books’ is a conversation.

As part of my ongoing conversation about children’s books, on the weekend of 7th April I attended the FCBG Conference – this year as a person who sits on their Executive.

It was a chance to discuss how to get more children reading, how to get more books into the right hands, how to publicise children’s books, and to meet authors and illustrators, translators and publishers, and to engage with forthcoming titles…

There were so many points of discussion – from the act of writing, and the seven basic plotlines as illuminated by Jon Walter, (borrowing from Christopher Booker), the process of producing a debut novel, as well as cultural appropriation in writing, producing books for children with visual disabilities, the attempts to get national press to recognise and review quality children’s books, especially nonfiction, exploring history and general knowledge through the act of reading fiction, and much much more.

But overall, conference was about putting the right book into the right child’s hand. Growing a new generation of readers, and developing the reading habit, and as a by-product, the writing habit.

We all talked a lot.

And so I come back to my library visitor. There’s an intense pleasure in seeing the face of a child engrossed in a book, but there’s also the intense pleasure I gain from opening up a conversation with the reader, and seeing those readers talk among themselves. Peer-to-peer recommendations is a key component of getting children reading.

When my children scan their books back into the library, it’s a topic of conversation. We don’t just re-shelve the books. Did they finish the book? Did they enjoy it? And why? Or why not? What was the funniest bit? Why did it make them sad? And so where next from there – the next in the series, or something completely different?

It’s an excellent way to draw a child’s reading experience into the real world and vice versa. We’ve discussed changing the demands of the chickens in Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory to demands we would make in school. We’ve discussed how to include new children in our play after reading The Lonely Beast, and whether we’d prefer fairy or vampire school after reading Isadora Moon. Each new text opens up a broad discussion, a conversation, giggles. We love telling each other jokes, and making up names for each other after reading Horrid Henry. I try not to deviate too far from Francesca Simon’s original ‘Clever Clare’ though, (thanks Francesca Simon).

Talking about the books they love reading brings the books to life for the children, and so it’s never hard to choose their next read. The children in my library are young, but I hope that they never stop their book conversation. We don’t ‘sh’ in our library.

Conference was a great way to see like-minded people; librarians, teachers and those in the publishing industry discuss what works and what doesn’t, what’s new and what’s hot. It’s why book launches work, why book groups survive. We love to share the books we love. That’s why I’m here. Ask me what to read…I’m longing to tell you.