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Industry Insight: Q&A With Joy Court

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 15th July 2020

In our latest Industry Insight I take great delight in introducing you to Joy Court, who has a wealth of knowledge in all things books, particularly with regards to children and libraries. She has years of experience in the book world, is one of our Editorial Experts for LoveReading4Schools, sits on the National Committee for the Youth Libraries Group and has been involved in the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. She is obviously and wonderfully passionate about excellent books and making them accessible to children. Her answers are fascinating, and I love her thoughts on reading in the advice question. Joy - it may be cheating (just a little) but as a fellow Terry Pratchett fan I would allow you all of the Discworld novels!

Joy Court is Reviews Editor for The School Librarian journal and Past Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals.

Previously she managed the Schools Library Service in Coventry where she established the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards and the Literally Coventry Book Festival, but now just concentrates on books and libraries as a freelance consultant.  She has chaired and spoken on panels at festivals and conferences around the UK. She is also a Trustee and member of the National Council of the United Kingdom Literacy Association where she sits on the selection panel for the UKLA Book Awards and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and of The English Association.

Author of Read to Succeed: strategies to engage children and young people in reading for pleasure (2011) and Reading By Right: successful strategies to ensure every child can read to succeed (2017) FACET and author of several Riveting Reads annotated booklists for the School Library Association, most recently, with Daniel Hahn, Riveting Reads- a world of books in translation (2017)

Twitter: @Joyisreading

All Around Reading can be found here: webmicrosites.hays.co.uk/web/all-around-reading

Twitter @AroundReading

Tell us about your background in the book world:

Once a librarian- always a librarian! I ended up running Coventry Schools Library Service where I am very proud of having created the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards and the Literally Coventry Book Festival which ran for three years. Always very involved with my professional group the CILIP Youth Libraries Group where I still sit on the National Committee as their Conference Manager. I consider the highlight of my professional career to have been the Chair of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals Working Party for two terms of office from 2013 – 2019, having been a judge and Chair of Judges and National Coordinator prior to that. So, I was involved in the medal process every year from 2008 and this is the first year when I will be avidly watching the live announcement of the winners not knowing who they are! I am also very proud to have judged the Branford Boase Award and the Macmillan Prize for Illustration and to be involved with UKLA Book Awards – the only national award judged by teachers and, of course, sponsored by LoveReading. A lot younger than the Carnegie but growing in prestige all the time and more importantly having a huge impact on getting teachers reading for pleasure.  Submissions for the 2021 awards are currently arriving thick and fast- last year we had over 400 to read before the longlisting panel meets in September. When I gave up the day job to save my SLS money (it’s still going strong) I was most afraid of losing touch with the books and so my dream job as Reviews Editor for the School Librarian journal came at just the right moment. With around 6,000 books a year for the SLA and the UKLA submissions I am certainly not in danger of losing touch! 

Tell us about your role in LoveReading4Schools:

As an Editorial Expert (What a lovely title to be given- makes me feel very empowered!) I am there to review new books as needed by the LR4S site with a particular perspective on how they could be used in school classrooms and libraries. Along with my esteemed colleague Tricia Adams, we select our Books of the Month and Staff picks. I really enjoy the opportunity to express my personal appreciation of great books. As Reviews Editor for the SLA, I  feel that I have to remain neutral to ensure that there can be confidence in equitable treatment across the publishing industry. When the LR4S site was being revamped and relaunched into the fantastic resource that it is, Tricia and I curated the booklists for each year group as well as specialist lists. We are currently working on the updates for the new school year. We are of course also there to answer any queries that come in from users of the website. I enjoy being part of a very creative and active team!

When it comes to the book world and your various roles, what brings you the greatest pleasure?

The mantra of the children’s librarian has always been ‘The right book for the right child at the right time’ and for me there is nothing like the thrill of making that connection with a reader and being the one that can make a difference to a child’s life chances by getting them hooked on reading for pleasure. We all know that research data has proved RfP is more effective in improving attainment than parent’s wealth and social class. Although my career moved me away from that 1-1 contact with young people as library users, I have seen my role as inspiring those adults, be they teachers or librarians or parents, who do have that opportunity. To find the ‘right book’ it is important to read as widely as possible and the next best thing to having read it yourself is to read a review and to make the mental connection- “ I know just the kid who would like that book”. These days I get great pleasure from matching books with the reviewers who will enjoy them and of course from introducing books to the grandchildren. The other way I have tried to reach as many young people as possible over the years, has been to organise author events. It can literally be transformational for children to meet an author or illustrator and can definitely light that spark to get them reading, which is why Tricia and I set up All Around Reading to, among other things, try to bring authors and illustrators to the neglected area of the East Midlands where we both live. And having the honour of our logo being designed by no less than Chris Riddell has to be up there as one of the greatest pleasures I have experienced! 

Since you first arrived in the industry, what is the one thing that has remained constant, and what has been the biggest change or challenge?

The ongoing production of excellent books to read and share has been a constant source of wonder. I am always thinking “Wow, what a brilliant year that was!” (I tend to think in terms of eligibility years for the various awards) only for more amazing titles to keep dropping through my letterbox. There is always talk of a ‘golden age’ but wherever you stand on that we are certainly extremely privileged to have a children’s book publishing industry that leads the world.

The biggest challenge has no doubt been austerity and the appalling level of cuts that has led to the shocking numbers of public library closures. With cuts to school budgets and school libraries closing we are in a ‘perfect storm’ of deprivation for children who are excluded from access to free books and information. This is incredibly short-sighted when we should be investing in future generations and absolute cultural barbarism.

Who are your book world inspirations?

This is really difficult when I have been privileged to meet and work with so many wonderful authors, publishers, illustrators, editors, marketing gurus, agents, librarians, teachers and academics that it seems cruel to make me pick any out! But as I have said in numerous speeches, the children’s book world is populated by people for whom it is not a job, it’s a passion and also that they are on the whole genuinely kinder, more empathetic, compassionate people (its all the reading they do!) 

But who could fail to mention Klaus Flugge and the impact he has had? Creating Andersen Press and launching the careers of David McKee and Tony Ross and publishing too many classic picturebooks to mention. He was the publisher brave enough to publish Junk by Melvin Burgess, the advocate for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and for books in translation, the generous sponsor of the Klaus Flugge Prize and the YLG Conference bursary and at 86 years young his energy puts us all to shame!

Describe your favourite place to read:

As a child I would have said in the bath (one way of keeping warm in pre-central heating rural Norfolk) and indeed as an adult pre my own children and accompanied by a glass of wine and maybe something delicious. Children put paid to that luxury! Nowadays in the garden on a sunny day or preferably by a pool/ the sea. I also look forward to long journeys by car or public transport. Visiting grandchildren in Aberdeen is a 3-book journey when you have a husband who refuses to share the driving! 

What is your favourite book from childhood, how did it make you feel?

More terrible choices you are forcing me into! It's genuinely not fair. I could have a different favourite for every age. One very special favourite was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I felt a real connection to that because Anna Sewell lived in an adjoining village to where I grew up. My edition had the most beautiful black and white line drawings and I loved horses of course. The book made me feel outrage at injustice and cruelty for the first time, I think. Not just cruelty to animals but about the treatment of the poor and the arrogance of the rich and the inhumanities of war. A book that makes you think is a powerful thing.

What is the piece of advice you are most often asked about reading?

“How do I get my child reading?” Or “My child used to read but has stopped and how can I get them started again”. Often the query relates to boys, but reluctance is certainly not gender-specific! So, the conversation would then follow these lines. Find out a bit more about the child and the family and what they liked/ like. Try to get parents to relax about it, you cannot force someone to read for pleasure and reading does not just = reading stories. If they are reading their phone and screens and comics and magazines that is still reading! Sometimes with teens life takes over and that is perfectly natural and if they were keen once they will return. Don’t stop reading to them so they are getting all the benefits of sharing great stories. Then sharing recommendations about how to find out about brilliant books; like the LoveReading websites of course! 

What is the most important thing for parents to know about children and reading?

They need to be aware of the huge importance of reading aloud to your children and that they need to keep doing it even when a child can read for themselves. A YouGov/ Scholastic Kids and Family Reading survey of nearly 2000 parents and children found that 83% of kids aged 3-17 enjoyed being read to at home and wished it had continued. To quote Jim Trelease author of The Reading Aloud Handbook “in reading aloud, we also: condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure; create background knowledge; build vocabulary; [and] provide a reading role model” That last point is something else I emphasise to parents- children must see that you value reading by seeing you doing it! 

What would be your desert island book and why is that?

It would have to be something enormous because I read so quickly. War and Peace was my first thought but too depressing. Would I be allowed His Dark Materials and the Book of Dust prequels? Or all Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels? But, maybe the Lord of the Rings Trilogy as a single volume will be allowed– which I had at university till it fell apart (first single-volume edition published in 1968). I had a boyfriend there who used to re-read LOTR every year, which is going too far, but it must be at least 30 years since I have read it and maybe this time I would actually read the songs as well. I would enjoy spotting the inspiration for all the fantasy stories which it has spawned!

Fun or strange book fact:

The M6 Toll road is built on pulped fiction!

For every mile of motorway approximately 45,000 books were needed. The books which are usually end of line or damaged are collected from across the UK and pulped at Excel Industries in Ebbw Vale, South Wales. According to Tarmac the pulp which helps hold the Tarmac and asphalt in place also acts as a sound absorber and is vital in the construction of roads.

If you enjoyed this blog post, read our other Industry Insight blog posts.

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