A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
It’s tatty; in fact the back cover is detached from the rest of it. I’ve replaced it with a lovely, mint-condition hardback. Well, not exactly replaced… When I had a recent clear-out, my paperback of A Vicarage Family survived the cull when many a book was moved on to the Oxfam Bookshop.
Why? Because it was the copy I had as a child, the one I reread every year, the one whose pages absorbed my tears when cousin John was killed in the war. Every time. It’s my copy in a way that the lovely new one will never be. Yes, the Shirley Hughes cover illustration has a charm the hardback lacks, but that was never the point.
I’m not a serious book collector – any aspirations for a complete set of first edition Chalet School hardbacks in dust wrappers were set aside the day I left my sensible job to be a fulltime writer; but I do have hundreds of old children’s books, many with beautiful covers, and sturdy and fresh despite their age, because they were built for endurance.
Still, I often find myself drawn to a dog-eared 1970s Malory Towers ‘Dragon’ paperback for exactly the same reason I couldn’t get rid of A Vicarage Family. Nostalgia. I have to restrain myself sometimes from buying up all the 1970s paperback pony books in charity shops. The covers are often dreadful, but they call to me like old friends.
Much of my childhood reading was courtesy of the local library, so the books I owned were very special to me – though the specialness didn’t prevent my reading them in the bath and up trees, hence the sorry state they ended up in. I had hardly any hardbacks, and those I’ve collected as an adult are often ex-library copies, which have the merit of being identical to the editions I borrowed but could never have owned as a child. More old friends, but the posher kind.
I don’t think the seventies was a golden age of book design, and the books certainly weren’t built to last — especially not when you read them in the bath — but I’ll always have a soft spot for the book covers of my youth.