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BfK OBITUARIES


Hazel Townson 1928–2010 Anne Marley writes…


Hazel Townson – contrary to her Wikipedia entry – was born, not in 1950, but 1928. She would have found that highly amusing! She was an amazing woman – enthusiastic, highly intelligent, passionate about children’s reading and writing and equally passionate about libraries and their accessibility for everyone. She asked Klaus Flugge, her publisher, to put a note on the verso of the title pages in her books: ‘Your library is precious – use it or lose it.’


Hazel was a contributor to Punch, where she received a lot of support from Peter Dickinson who was an assistant editor at that time, followed by a career in libraries that culminated in becoming Chief Assistant Librarian for Bury in Lancashire. Throughout this time, she brought up her two children, telling them stories which she committed then to paper, finally arriving at a fledgling Andersen Press, where she stayed and where her books were illustrated by the likes of David McKee, Tony Ross and Philip Dupasquier.


She was a seasoned visiting author in schools, tirelessly travelling up and down the country (on public transport), usually four days a week, talking to children about writing, enthusing them about reading and encouraging them to feel that this was something that they could actually do themselves.


Hazel was the Chair of the Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year Award for many years, until she felt that it was time to hand over the reins to her friend, Adèle Geras. Alzheimer’s Disease was the cruellest illness for someone of Hazel’s intellect, sparkling wit and tireless enthusiasm, but she was wonderfully cared for by her family and died peacefully on 11 October.


She will be sadly missed but very fondly remembered by many people in the children’s book world.


Lesley Agnew 1944–2010 Andrea Reece writes…


Perched on the top of Muswell Hill in north London is the tiny Children’s Bookshop. Less than 600 square feet, it must be one of the country’s smallest. It is also, thanks to the extraordinary women who have run it during its 35 years, one of the very best bookshops anywhere in the world.


After a career teaching in Adult Education specialising in English as a Second Language and literacy, Lesley Agnew took over the Children’s Bookshop from Helen Paiba in 1994, running it until her death this summer.


A visit to the shop as customer, author or publisher was always a pleasure. Fiercely intelligent and enormously well-read, Lesley was as generous with her knowledge as she was with her time, always ready to help her customers find the right book, always ready to sit on prize panels or contribute to industry debates, always ready to organise author signings and events. What’s more she did all these things with a touch of humour, kindness and a certain gentle irony.


If Lesley was appreciated by her customers then she was loved by the many authors she worked with and helped. Certain always that, with Lesley at the helm, a book signing in the Children’s Bookshop would be a pleasure, authors queued up to visit. Michael Morpurgo has visited the shop for a signing session almost every single year for the past 15 years. Other names in the visitors’ book include Shirley Hughes, Allan Ahlberg, Anne Fine, Helen Oxenbury and Philip Pullman. As Jane Ray says, ‘Lesley was endlessly supportive of authors and illustrators and passionate about getting the right book into the hands of the right child’; in Jacqueline Wilson’s words, ‘Lesley always made you feel special’.


Lesley’s daughter Kate Agnew is now in charge of the Children’s Bookshop and the shop will continue as a centre of excellence in children’s literature. For everyone who knew Lesley a visit will always bring back memories of her, her warmth, humour, knowledge and endless enthusiasm.


16 Books for Keeps No.185 November 2010


briefing


Eva Ibbotson 21 January 1925 – 20 October 2010 Elizabeth Hammill writes…


Eva Ibbotson, born Maria Charlotte Michelle Wiesner in Vienna, has died at her home in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, aged 85. Born in Austria, Eva grew up in a ‘Bohemian, left wing family... at the centre of the Viennese intelligentsia’. Her parents – the scientist Bernard Wiesner who was a pioneer of human artificial insemination and the novelist and playwright Anna Gmeyner – separated early and Eva’s childhood in Vienna and from 1933 on, as an émigré from the Nazis in England, was spent being shuttled between their homes and those of her older relatives on the continent and later between Edinburgh and London.


Eva’s career as a novelist began late with the publication of The Great Ghost Rescue (1975) by Macmillan as she approached 50, but, as her agents Curtis Brown wrote: ‘Once she got going, she never stopped.’ Recognition of her singular gift for antic invention, satire, comic pacing and making mayhem with magic, fairy tales and folklore came early with the shortlisting of Which Witch? (1979) for the Carnegie Medal. Just this year, her latest novel The Ogre of Oglefort was shortlisted for both the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Eva’s skill as storyteller in the mode of her beloved Frances Hodgson Burnett saw her win the Smarties Book Prize Gold Award for Journey to the River Sea (2001) which was also runner-up for the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year and the Guardian Fiction Award, and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal (2002) as was her later novel The Star of Kazan (2005). Magic Flutes (1983), reissued for young adults as The Reluctant Heiress (2009), received the Best Romantic Novel of the Year Award from the Romantic Novelists Association.


Eva was modest, sometimes self-deprecating, about her craft. She once told me: ‘If there was an epitaph on my tombstone, it would say: She took trouble. Not: She was a great writer but: She took trouble’ with her writing. She loved the ‘sheer beauty’ of the English language – first discovered in the Hampstead Library as a child where books became her way into England and Englishness.


AWARDS Booktrust Teenage Prize 2010


The winner is Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes (Quercus), a stunning first novel about two orphaned siblings who set out on a poignant and gripping road-trip adventure. (This title is also featured in the New Talent slot in this issue of Books for Keeps.)


The other shortlisted books are The Enemy by Charlie Higson (Puffin); Halo by Zizou Corder (Puffin); Nobody’s Girl by Sarra Manning (Hodder); Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace (Andersen) and Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick (Orion). The Booktrust Teenage Prize was launched in 2003 to recognise and celebrate the best contemporary writing for teenagers.


Further information from www.booktrust.org.uk


2010 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize Michelle Paver has won with Ghost Hunter, the final book in her best- selling ‘Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ series. Julia Eccleshare, chair of the judges, said, ‘Whatever the individual judges thought about fantasy before they began Ghost Hunter – and some admitted to hating it! – they were immediately captivated by Michelle’s brilliantly created world, her wonderfully dramatic story and her powerful storytelling.’


The CLPE Poetry Award for 2010


The winner is Carol Ann Duffy’s New and Collected Poems for Children (Faber and Faber), illustrated by Alice Stevenson. The judges of the award this year were John Agard, Andrew Lambirth and Lindsay MacRae, chaired by Margaret Meek Spencer.


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