Friday, November 30, 2007


Coming to the rescue of children's books
Jane Nissen Books' reissues are an invaluable service to a forgetful publishing world

From Julia Eccleshare writing in The Guardian

Awards for "unsung heroes" are probably a very British thing, and none the worse for that. According to the citation, the Eleanor Farjeon award is presented annually "for distinguished service to the world of children's books and is given to someone whose commitment and contribution is deemed to be outstanding".

Set up in the 1960s, a purple period for children's books, it went initially, though unofficially, to those who were, in modern parlance, "advocates" of children's books. They were rewarded for contributing to their promotion and the serious discussion about them. And they went to people who were not actually earning a living from them - in a way, the award was an "instead of ... "
But things have changed in the intervening decades, and this year the award has been given to Jane Nissen Books, a niche publishing company which brings back into print some of the undeservedly lost titles of the 20th century.

Jane Nissen, a former associate publisher at Penguin Children's Books, set up her list in 1998 immediately after her retirement and launched with her first titles in 2000. Guided in part by her own childhood favourites, including BB's Brendon Chase (her edition of which has a foreword by Philip Pullman, another fan) Nissen also selected titles that others had recommended.

Asking around, she found that time and again, the same titles came up - a point borne out by the fact that TH White's Mistress Masham's Repose, one of her launch titles, is a favourite book of Anne Fine (who has written the preface) and also of Terry Pratchett. Her titles are an eclectic bunch: Eric Linklater's The Wind on the Moon and The Pirates in the Deep Green Sea; Arthur Ransome's Old Peter's Russian Tales, Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon's Kings and Queens; and, most recently and to my own particular delight, Catherine's Storr's Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf, to name but a few. Her reissue of two lesser-known novels by Milly-Molly-Mandy author Joyce Lankester Brisley, Bunchy and Marigold in Grandmother's House caused an Amazon reviewer to write, "I think Jane Nissen Books should be designated a real, live Fairy Godmother, because, after treasuring from childhood my original copy of this book, I lost it and had thought that I'd never be able to lay my hands on another. Thank goodness it's been brought back!"

Nissen's success lies in her absolute familiarity with the field: she has an unerring sense of what was successful because of its time, and what has enduring appeal. Champions of out-of-print books are invaluable and will become even more so as books go out of print with increasing, almost indecent haste.
Footnote:
Congratulations from Bookman Beattie to Jane Nissen, a former coilleague from Penguin Books days.

1 comment:

Crispo said...

THanks for featuring NZ CHildren's Books in Print. Anyone wishing to order a copy can email me at nzbooks@orcon.net.nz and I'll send the order out with an invoice.
Crissi