Online is an exciting place to be if you’re into books for Children and Young Adults. Twitter is awash with YA chatter, there are loads of brilliant books bloggers and vloggers, and there are some more established newspapers and media sites leading the way in talking about books online. One such site is Guardian Children’s Books, which covers everything from pre-school to YA books. We talk to the co-editor, Emily Drabble, about her job, why YA is ahead of the culture curve and how you can get involved.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a co-editor of the Guardian Children’s Books site?
I actually started working at The Guardian back in 1993, just after I finished studying archaeology at university! I had no real intention of becoming a journalist – I just got a job here doing admin. I come from a working class background and even though I had a degree, I wouldn’t have imagined becoming a journalist. But one day someone on the desk I was working on didn’t have time to write his article. He basically wanted to go to the pub (journalists did things like this in those days), and said “Emily could write that article, easily”. So I did. And that’s where it all began!
I did leave for a while to set up a children’s news site at ITN. But then The Guardian drew me back and I just couldn’t resist its many charms. I didn’t become Guardian Children’s Books site co-editor until February 2014 though, when Michelle Pauli went on maternity leave to have a baby. Before that, I wrote for The Guardian Teacher Network and spent a lot of my time interviewing teachers. But this is the most fabulous job I’ve ever done as I’ve always been obsessed by books and children’s books in particular. I have two children aged 10 and 14, and our main thing to do is read, read, read. So at the age of 45 I’m deliriously happy and satisfied.
Who do you see as being the target audience for the Children’s Books site – children, adults or both, and to what extent?
Our site is written for children and teens. Adults may read it, and we’re happy for them to do so. But it’s written for young people themselves. The site covers such a broad range of children’s fiction, covering everything from preschool to YA.
Do you have different writers who specialise in different things?
Well, we are a tiny team: just myself, my co-editor Michelle Pauli and our colleague Charlotte Jones, who works one day a week, mainly on membership and sorting reviews. She also runs the teen book club. Rather than by journalists or adult book experts, most of our writing is done by our site members, who write all the reviews and teen opinion pieces for us, and do all the interviews (some at The Guardian in podcast/video, some on email or at festivals).
The rest of the writing is done by authors and illustrators themselves – and also we often have someone in doing work experience, who is usually at university or has just graduated and wants to find out more about The Guardian and journalism. They are the only ‘interested adults’ who write for us (because they are in their teens or just out of them). So our job as editors is more about curating the site and editing rather than writing and telling everyone what we think about the books. We like the young people who the books are written FOR to tell the world what they think instead!
Guardian Children’s Books published an article recently called ‘’Trendy’ books – should we really be following the crowd?’ Do you think it’s ever a good idea to only read the books EVERYONE else is reading?
Most definitely and unequivocally NO, because there are SO many amazing books being published all the time. It’s a shame to limit yourself. Of course the books that everyone reads are often brilliant and usually worth reading. But there are so many more. I can’t read all the books that come out because there are too many. But I wish I could. My “To Be Read” pile haunts and tempts me in equal measure.
What exciting trends have there been while you have been in the post? The popularity of YA seems to have gone through the roof recently!
I’m most excited about the revolution in LGBT books and books with a lot of illustrations for middle grade readers (9-12 year olds). When I was growing up in the 1970s, there were NO gay characters in books. In fact there weren’t really many teen books at all. Thank goodness for Judy Blume, but that was about it. Now teenagers who are gay, or think they might be, have got loads of books they can read to explore the idea and stop feeling like a total freak. One of my favourites is actually a non-fiction book This Book is Gay by James Dawson (who is now called Juno Dawson as she is a trans woman).
I like the way YA/teen books are always ahead of the curve in culture. I’m very excited about teen books! Now I want to see more class representation and more authors of colour (the two are very connected in my view).
Oh and books with pictures in for older readers: I love illustrations and never understood why they had to stop when you could read, or so it seemed. Now you have authors like Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve making books for 8 and 9 year olds with loads of pictures. And amazing graphic novels for middle graders like El Deafo by Cece Bell, one of my favourite books from last year.
You offer young people and their families the opportunity to ‘join’ The Guardian Bookswebsite and share their reviews. What does this entail and why do you offer it?
It’s so easy. Check out this page – all you have to do to join is email us, telling us your site nickname and some of your favourite books. If you’re under 16 your parents have to email us to say that’s okay. Then you can start emailing us your reviews and get involved! Families can also join our site and write reviews with younger children (6 and under), but they submit their reviews via Guardian Witness.
What sort of feedback do you receive from parents and grown-up readers in relation to how children’s books are covered on the site?
It’s really positive – everyone loves it. If they don’t see what they want on the site it’s up to them to write it! We very much feel we are making the site for our members so we really listen to what they want.
What has been the highlight of your time in the role?
Oooh, so many. I made this when I first started which I really love. We’ve also done some fabulous work on teen mental health, including a live Twitter chat, which nearly broke the Internet.
What are you personally looking forward to most in the world of children and teen publishing in the near future?
All those new books rolling in, changing the world. It seemed trans is the last bit of LGBT that needed sorting. And even that is on the way now. And a children’s book just won the Costa book of the year (beating all the adult books!) – The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (also shortlisted for our Guardian children’s fiction prize 2015). So I’m looking forward to our Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016. We’re just about to ask publishers to enter the books they want to win it. I’ve already read some amazing and ground-breaking books this year. I’m literally jumping up and down with excitement at all those books!
I really hope keen readers under 18 reading this will join the site. I’m sure you’ll love it!