Month 3: Scholar’s view

Reviewing: children’s books editor for The Times

"The Times has appointed Brian Alderson as Children’s Books Editor. At 36 a lecturer in Librarianship at the North-Western Polytechnic in London and editor of “Three Centuries of Children’s Books in Europe”, he has just won the Eleanor Farjeon Award for 1967, given by the Children’s Book Circle for outstanding work in children’s books during a particular year. He will plan and edit a fortnightly guide to children’s reading in The Times Saturday Review which we believe will be the most comprehensive offered outside the specialist publications."

From: The Times Saturday Review 17 February 1968

When this project started I already knew Brian Alderson’s formidable reputation as a forthright critic of children’s literature. He has reviewed books for many publications during his career and still regularly writes for (amongst others) the Children’s Books History Society and Books for Keeps.

His column in Books for Keeps is ‘Classics in Short’ and revisits classic children’s books. 

One of the reasons why hearing about Brian Alderson’s career first-hand is so interesting is that his early involvement in the world of children’s books took place at a particularly exciting time. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are often referred to as the ‘Second Golden Age’ of children’s literature. Wonderful books were being written, there was an increase in serious critical discussion about the books and a surge in publication. Critics and reviewers played an important part in this resurgence and I was particularly interested to hear about his work at TheTimes where, in 1968, he was appointed the first children’s book editor for the newspaper.


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Tara Bergin: So do you remember writing your first review?

Brian Alderson: Yes, funnily enough, the first review I did wasn’t of a children’s book at all. No, I tell you what: I did do a review for them before this appointment took place. [Michael Ratcliffe, literary editor of the Times] had just had in a new edition of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan – and Peake was still alive at that time – and he said ‘do you know this book?’ so I said ‘yes’. I didn’t have, but I’d seen, a first edition of it, but it was a wartime book and it was a very tacky sort of production and this was much superior. So I did this review of Titus Groan for him and that’s when he said about the appointment and the first book I did for them after that wasn’t a children’s book it was a book about Edmund Evans, the colour printer, whose journal had been transcribed and they were publishing the Edmund Evans journal with a lot of notes and bibliographic stuff [8’03”] by a man called Ruari McLean and I reviewed that for them. And they put a piece at the bottom saying something like Brian Alderson will in future be working as our children’s books editor. And then I was pretty well left to do what I liked. I think we started off doing a review a fortnight or something. I can’t remember how it came about. And I wasn’t just reviewing for them, I was also getting other people to review because every so often we’d do a full page or even two pages of children’s book reviews with commissioned reviews from various people of importance.

Dr. Kate Wright