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Letter from London
Julia Eccleshare -- 4/13/98
The protracted sale of Reed Children's Books continues as the expected deal with Penguin failed to come off in January. Egmont Books is now the front-running buyer of an operation that will be without Thomas the Tank Engine merchandising rights, which will soon be sold off to the Britt Allcroft Group, which already handles them under license. Business at Reed Children's Books continues to flourish despite the uncertainty, with both profits and turnover up over last year.
Levinson Books, launched in 1994 by Joanna Levinson to publish books for children under the age of seven, has been acquired by the David and Charles group. Sales totaled L1.8 million in 1996 but made a small loss in 1996, and the company had run into problems of cash flow. Levinson Books will remain in London under publisher Neil Burden and will continue to publish for the original target audience. Levinson has left the company.
ABC, founded as Aurum Books for Children by Michael Haggiag and Tim Chadwick in the late 1970s, and most recently run by Chadwick and Sue Tarsky, has been bought by Hit Entertainment after being put in the hands of receivers. ABC published a wide range of picture books, including Angelina Ballerina by Katherine Holabird, illustrated by Helen Craig, which has been a major bestseller. Hit Entertainment's interest in ABC is thought to lie mainly in the Angelina Ballerina properties.
Walker Books has taken full control of the company by buying the 49% of the company held by the Cevil family, relatives of founder Sebastian Walker. The Walker Books Employee Trust was set up by Sebastian Walker in 1991 and owns 51% of the company. Its beneficiaries are authors, illustrators and employees. The buy-out cost Walker Books L10 million and has been described by Walker chairman David Lloyd as "an expression of confidence in the future of Walker Books and a determination that it should remain independent." In its last reported results, ending December 1997, Walker, aided in particular by U.S. subsidiary Candlewick Press, showed that sales were up 30% to L29.3 million, and group operating profit was up 33% to L3 million.
Element Children's Books is launching a new list of "mind, body and spirit books" under the guidance of managing director Barry Cunningham, with Elinor Bagenal as editorial director. The list will include books on reflexology, aromatherapy, ESP and star signs. According to Cunningham, parents and teachers have welcomed the new list because there is very little material available on these subjects.
People in the News
Milnes-Smith: New Penguin managing director
Philippa Milnes-Smith, publisher of Penguin Children's Books since 1995, has been appointed managing director of the division. The change reflects a new divisional structure at Penguin. "The last two years have shown us where there are real opportunities for Puffin's growth and development in the children's market," said Milnes-Smith. "My role is to take this forward." Jane Nissen, associate publisher for Penguin Children's Books, will retire at the end of June. She first joined Penguin in 1973 working for Kaye Webb on Puffin Books. In 1980 she moved to Methuen Children's Books, where she became editorial director before moving back to Penguin as editorial director of Hamish Hamilton Children's Books. Notable authors Nissen has published include Anne Fine, Robert Swindells and Berlie Doherty.
Ingrid Selberg has resigned from Dorling Kindersley, where she was developing author-based licensing. During her time there, Selberg negotiated deals for forthcoming books based on Star Wars and Lego licenses. Selberg is now acting as a consultant for Levinson Books and for toy and film companies.
Recent Award Winners
The L10,000 Whitbread Children's Book of the Year went to Aquila by Andrew Norriss (Hamish Hamilton). The winner of the Guardian Children's Fiction Award is Fire, Bed and Bone by Henrietta Branford (Walker Books). The Kurt Maschler Award went to Lady Muck by William Mayne and Jonathan Heale (Heinemann).
The 1997 Whitbread winner
Elsewhere Around Town
The prestigious Carnegie and Greenaway Medals, awarded annually by the Library Association, have attracted a new sponsorship package from Royal Mail. The deal links the awards with the July issue of Magical World stamps, which honor the work of five of Britain's greatest children's writers, including C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll. Giles Finnemore, Royal Mail stamps marketing manager, said, "The Medals are a platform for the crucial contribution that children's librarians make to our cultural life."
Bookstart -- Book Trust's ambitious program to get books to mothers and babies from birth onwards by targeting pre-natal clinics -- has been so successful that it is spreading from its original Birmingham pilot to locations all over Britain. And in the U.S., First Lady Hillary Clinton has expressed her interest in the program.
The proposed Centre for the Children's Book, which will house a national reference collection relating to all aspects of children's books, has been allocated a site by the city of Newcastle. The L1.2 million site has been reserved pending the outcome of an application for funding from the National Lottery. The Centre needs to raise L12 million for project development, most of which will come from outside sources but L3 million of which must be raised by the Centre itself.
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