Monday, November 23, 2009

Alison Uttley shows how to deal with child readers

Yesterday, at a specialist children's bookshop on Edinburgh's Royal Mile, I picked up a book of pieces by Alison Uttley. They dealt with her childhood home of Cromford in Derbyshire.

It put me in mind of an item I read in the Guardian in the summer, having performed the not inconsiderable feat of finding a twee, hippyish coffee shop in Desborough.

That item dealt with Alison Uttley's behaviour at a children's bookfair. Gwyn Headley, then a literary publicist, wrote:

I'd arranged for everyone attending the fair to be invited to come and meet Alison Uttley. At half-hourly intervals the PA system hollered out "ALISON UTTLEY! LITTLE GREY RABBIT AUTHOR! HERE AT 12!"

Teachers were whipping their charges into a state of frenzy. I just wanted to sell some books. We'd placed Uttley on a curtained dais, and on the dot of 12 the curtain rose. A howling crowd of excited children stormed the stage.

As Uttley hadn't bothered to listen to a word I'd told her, she was completely unprepared for this. Dimly, she perceived an overwhelming mob running at her and with British pluck she unhesitatingly grabbed her duck-handled umbrella and waded into the attack,

Alison Uttley died in 1976. They don't make 'em like that any more.

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