It is a real pleasure to welcome Andrea Reece, editor of Books for Keeps, the brilliant journal that offers news, features and reviews of children's books. Books for Keeps is the 'go-to' publication about children's books in the UK and is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary and is currently undergoing a fundraising campaign to enable a new more flexible and user-friendly site.
Please can you introduce yourself
I took on the role of Managing Editor of Books for Keeps in 2012, having been directly involved in the magazine since 2010, and a fan since I first came across it in the late 1980s. At that point, and for the next twenty years, I worked in publishing and specifically within children’s marketing departments. I began my career at Transworld before moving to Reed as it was then, Egmont as it is now, then HarperCollins and Hodder Children’s Books, and then later for Piccadilly Press. To be honest I fell into children’s publishing completely by accident but have never regretted it and indeed feel extraordinarily lucky to have met or worked with so many talented authors, illustrators, editors and designers over the years.
What does your role as editor of Books for Keeps entail and how long have you been doing it for?
Books for Keeps is published six times a year, and each issue will include a mix of articles, reviews and comment. The lead article is always the Authorgraph, an in-depth interview with a notable children’s author or illustrator. This year’s Authorgraph subjects have included Catherine Johnson, Joshua Seigal and Elizabeth Acevedo and our next is Kevin Crossley-Holland. Other long-running articles include the Windows into Illustration feature in which an illustrator explains their technique and approach to a particular illustration; Ten of the Best which highlights ten of the best books on a particular theme; and our Classic in Short – 800 words on a children’s classic written by the inimitable Brian Alderson. It’s my job to commission these plus other articles for the magazine, make sure they are in on time and edited before being sent to our designer, the wonderful Louise Millar, who creates our digital version. I’ll also sort through the new books we’ve received from publishers and send them out to our team of reviewers. With the help of editorial assistants Eloise Delamere and Alexia Counsell all the reviews and articles are then added to the website ready for the publication of our new issue. At the moment there’s no charge to read Books for Keeps, instead we rely on marketing support from publishers. I’m also responsible for that liaison with publishers and indeed, the invoicing.
Books for Keeps is celebrating its 40th year. Can you tell us a little about its background and origins.
Books for Keeps owes its existence to the vision of Richard Hill who set it up in 1980 as part of the School Bookshop Organisation. Its aim, as laid out in the very first editorial, was “to reach out to people involved with children and books, whether in professional or private capacities, and try our best to provide lively, imaginative and helpful ideas and information about the enormous range of books available to today's children.” That’s a great summary I think and still applies today. Richard remained in charge until stepping down in 2010 but, I’m pleased to say, is still very much involved. In its 40 year history, the magazine has had four editors: Pat Triggs, Chris Powling, Rosemary Stones and Ferelith Hordon. They’ve each shaped the magazine, making it the intelligent, entertaining, scholarly but accessible read it is today.
There are very few reviews and coverage for children's books in the media, what impact does this have and how important is it for the industry to have a dedicated publication?
There are lots of great, great children’s books being published at the moment and they all deserve to be read and to be discussed and appraised. There are lots of people looking to buy children’s books too and they deserve to be informed about what’s new, what’s unmissable, and what will best suit the young readers they know. So reviewing matters. I know that people are gloomy about the amount of coverage at the moment, but in fact there are lots of great places to find reviews of children’s books – Books for Keeps of course, but also Lovereading4kids, ReadingZone and Toppsta too, as well as some wonderful blogs. Plus there are informed, passionate independent booksellers who can point adults and children in the right direction, not to mention librarians.
And in the September issue of Books for Keeps, there will be over 50 reviews of new books, and we’re proud of our reviewers, all of whom have a wealth of experience and specialist knowledge of children’s literature.
A few years back Books for Keeps went digital, what changes has this led to both in terms of the creation of the magazine and with regard to its readership?
It’s actually over ten years since the last print edition, though we still get the occasional email or Tweet mourning its disappearance. I think there are real advantages to being digital only. Unlimited space for one thing; the ability to publish news articles as the news happens, plus new book reviews and interviews on publication. I think being digital makes it much easier for people to share our content, something which makes us very happy. We have readers across the world, all able to access the magazine quickly, easily and for free.
One of the very exciting aspects about the publication is the wealth of material that is available from the past, it's a real treasure trove, can you tell us about some of your favourite content from the past 40 years?
It is absolutely a treasure trove! I love delving into the archive and am always finding something new. Particular favourites though are this article on the art of writing by Jan Mark, which I think every editor should read. I am a huge admirer of Diana Wynne Jones, and love the Authorgraph interview with her (issue 46); ditto Geraldine McCaughrean, whose Authorgraph was conducted by Stephanie Nettell – actually it’s worth reading all Stephanie’s articles for BfK. I love the Windows into Illustration features, and am proud that BfK gives proper space to the consideration of illustration – Shaun Tan’s is fascinating. We scooped an interview with Philip Pullman in July 2017, rereading that is always very satisfying, and I recommend Darren Chetty and Karen Sands-O’Connor’s Beyond the Secret Garden series to everyone interested in contemporary children’s literature.
At the moment Books for Keeps is undergoing a big fundraising campaign, how can librarians and libraries help out.
Well, to paraphrase Bob Geldof, “Give us your money”! We are looking to raise £10,000 via Givey and area already nearly half way there. Huge thanks to everyone who has supported us and any contribution, no matter how small, will help. We’d also appreciate help in spreading the word about what a great resource Books for Keeps is – libraries and librarians are key to this.
Can you tell us anything about future plans for Books for Keeps?
We are currently developing the new website. Our current site has come to the end of its life, and the new site will be more flexible, simpler to navigate and more easily searchable. The content of course will remain as it always has been – articles, reviews, interviews and features written by experts and aimed squarely at all those who value and appreciate literature for children.
Thank you so much to Andrea Reece for giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Books for Keeps and for the work that goes into this insightful and unmissable publication.