In the six stories of this book, a father and his two sons (the elder one around 12 and the younger one around 6 years old) collect the labels from clothes because they have discovered that a secret treasure trove of colourful pictures is hidden on the back of them. This gives them the opportunity to tell each other short stories about the things the backwards labels make them think of, as well as the adventures this activity has led them on.
In an unconventional and humorous way, in the form of a dialogue, we see: how they would arrange an exhibition of these works of art supposedly painted by a deceased grandfather, the father’s lecture about their collection to pupils at a school, their email communications with worldwide members of the International Union of the Backwards Label that they have established, and their forays into the wardrobes of friends and relatives to add to their collection, as well as some of their other related activities.
Over time, they have discovered that the sort of label that interests them can be found not only in clothes, but also in hats, scarves, camera cases, mattresses, blankets and more. And this makes them dream up unbelievable stories, both about how they acquire the labels and about the tales they tell, inspired by these multicoloured examples of hidden beauty.
Anton Powell – :
Thank you for giving me the chance to read your book `Labels’. I have studied it with admiration.
You kindly asked me for any comments. I have a few!
Most importantly, the main idea is magnificent, and should greatly appeal to children (I remember how the *ignored* aspect of label-backs appealed to me as a child: `Mum, this is lovely, why doesn’t anyone talk about it?’). It *may* be something the talent-scouts of the publishing biz will notice, tho’ I’ve told you of my fear that the hyper-structured world of children’s publishing will filter out almost anything of original insight, as your work is. Perhaps you cd. search for reviewers or trade editors with a record of appreciating books on art for children, send them copies, ask their advice about how to promote it? In any case, you will know by now – and not just from the early reception of `Watership Down’ and `Harry Potter’ – that working speculatively for this industry involves the writer in a cruel gamble.
The labels you have chosen are beautiful, and make a wonderfully warm and colourful ensemble, entirely appropriate for children.
I don’t know enough about art to predict how critics who do know something mt. react to your implied method: using children’s free imagination in reconstructing the `meaning’ of label-backs to validate the reconstruction of the meaning (this time the artist’s intention, or am I committing the fallacy of intentionalism?) of apparently-abstract painting. You’ll know far better how far the 2 kinds of reconstruction are similar, how far the children’s version applied to label-backs mt. help – in practice if not (yet) in theory – the appreciation of adult art. Your pedagogic mission shd. be *spelled out* (`the author encourages children’s talent for `seeing’ images on the back, the negative, of labels to encourage and guide their appreciation of…ktl’) when you promote the work to the trade.
The vocabulary varies in difficulty. `Shakespearean’, `gallery’, `Bavarian’ (pp.7-8) wd. pose problems in N.America. At pp.42-3 there’s an awkward shift to technical, artistic vocab. Likewise `diptych’ at p. 46. The Industry uses `level’, of word difficulty and of sentence-length, as a key to what age, if any, a book mt. suit. Books are sorted by age, to be promoted separately to different age groups. A book that doesn’t slot neatly into a single category poses a special challenge. Much of your dialogue, on the other hand, manages to appeal very well to two levels, to the knowing adult understanding the children’s psychology, and to the children who’d recognise the patterns of thought on a very different level. (Do you know `The Rugrats’? Plenty in there for parents to savour, while their young have less reflective fun. Dickens is similar.) Your promotion of the work mt. emphasise this two-levels approach, make a positive virtue of it.
Political correctness (`p.c.’): this is a huge issue in the kids’ books biz, where if a book is expected to pose political problems in one foreign market it may fail to sell at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where sales of foreign rights are crucial to a book’s survival. `Bum’ is o.k, I suspect, but probably not `crap’ (p.44). `dreadful’ Barcelona football club (p.67): no. Your irony will be expected to be misunderstood, and anyway Barcelona are at present very popular internationally, with their UNICEF-links. (Think, too, of the very long term. B. may be obscure in 20 years.) `like an Indian’ (p.61): meaning Red Indian (non p.c.; p.c. is `Native American’) or person from India? American p.c. editors wd. pounce on this.
A very few simple mistakes: `ay’ for `any’ (p.19); `is escaped’ shd. be `has escaped’ (p.48). `like life’ (p.45) is ambig.
The hostile refs to Hitler, and friendly attitude to refugees, will help.
Don’t use children’s real names, esp. as your children’s real names are made clear in the authorial bio. Censors get terribly nervous about such things. `Children’s rights’, you know, `exploitation’, `invading privacy’. Nobody knows what children’s welfare really is, but everyone in the biz knows we have to be terribly careful, read `cowardly’.
No one cd. refuse Od. anything (p.33) sounds indulgently biographic, having no obvious internal logic in the text.
A last thing. There are very many negative refs to `mum’, who is regularly appealed to as a threat, whether as someone who will disapprove (passim), throw out (p.38), or even conceivably trade in her partner (p.59)! Political correctness demands that women be presented positively; not even ignored let alone made negative – unless you make very clear that mum ultimately is right. This element, small but recurrent, cd. sink the book – even if no one notices (as they may) what may seem a significant absence of mum in the author’s bio.
In short, a lovely piece of work, to be protected by removing the few non-p.c. things.
I wish you the luck you deserve, which is very great.