Bristol celebrating Children’s Books

Usually when I attend any book events it means a long journey by car or train, however yesterday I went to a really great little day in Bristol.  It was hosted by Horfield Primary School who have been gaining a reputation for their emphasis on reading;  in fact, last year they were the winners of the UKLA Literacy School of the Year award.  It was lovely to walk around the school and see the examples of ‘good practice’ that they were taking on board, so that pupils are constantly reminded of the joys of reading.

There was a very full programme of events during the day and I managed to fit in five of the authors and illustrators.  Firstly I saw the truly inspirational Andy Seed, who is well known for his series of very funny but informative books about a wide range of topics.  Yesterday he used the event to launch a new wildlife  book  entitled “Wild Facts about nature” which he has written in conjunction with the RSPB.  Andy is a really funny speaker who had the audience of both children and adults in fits of laughter.  The session was very interactive with helpers being  persuaded up on to the stage to help with the explanations and quizzes found in the book.  If anyone is looking for a really superb author to connect with their primary pupils then Andy Seed comes highly recommended.

My next session was with the lovely Amy Wilson who has made quite a stir with her book “A girl called Owl” and her latest “A Far away Magic“.  She also introduced us to her next book “Snow globe”, which will be published in October, ready for the Christmas market.  This was a very interactive workshop, with Amy working with the children to think around the concept of Magic.  It was really lovely to hear from the children about what they had been inspired to write.  Given the emphasis that there is on writing within the curriculum this was a brilliant way to enthuse children, without making it feel like ‘work’.

Ross Montgomery is a very talented young author and has produced books for a wide range of ages; these range from picture books such as “Space Tortoise” to his new book “Max and the Millions“.  This workshop was for what is often called ‘middle grade’ readers and was centred around ‘Max’ and how Ross created the world at the centre of the story.  The children had to imagine they were only the size of a grain of rice and then think about how they would describe objects they see when entering a new space/room within a house.  It was fascinating to hear their thoughts and to try and visualize the process for yourself.  Even though these workshops are intended for a children’s audience, they are so useful for adult who want to write, or who work with children in an educational setting.

The largest event of the afternoon was that with S F Said who is well known in most primary schools for his books about a cat called “Varjak Paw” and many of the children in the packed audience would have read the book in school.  The author spoke about his journey into writing and it was fascinating to hear that he had also suffered book rejections in his time.  He also admitted that his understanding of the writing and publishing process had to develop over time, especially the fact that writing ‘The End’ means it is the End of the beginning process.  Thing such as agents, editors, drafts and re-writes were something that he had to learn about and take on board in order to achieve success.  His latest book “Phoenix”, which has been out for several years now, took seven years to write and is on a much larger scale than his first works.  It is a fantastic space odyssey, which I really loved.  The children had lots of questions at the end of the session and we heard that there will be a third Varjak Paw at some time in the future, but only when S F is older!

My final session of the day was with the delightful Chris D’Lacey who is so well know for his wonderful “Last Dragon” series, of which I am a great fan.  He spoke about how he started writing and the book that first brought him attention as an author “Fly Cherokee, Fly” which was listed for the Carnegie medal.  When his publisher asked for another book on a similar theme, with squirrels , he was also asked what was the occupation of the landlady where the central character was living.  By a very circuitous route he came up with her being a ceramicist who makes models of dragons; the series was born.  Chris also spoke about his two later series “The Unicorne Files” and “Erth Dragons”, both of which are possibly for slightly older audiences.

 

Mini Grey

Leigh Hodgkinson

Kjartan Poskitt

There were six other authors and illustrators that I was unable to sit in on, but I was lucky enough to speak to several of them when they were signing or just enjoying the atmosphere.  Mini Grey (“The Last Wolf”), Leigh Hodgkinson (“Are you sitting comfortably”), Emma Randall (“The twelve days of Christmas”) and David Lucas (“Grendel”) are all superb picture book creators and it was a shame that I did not get time to hear them speak.  However based on their charming way with their audience, I will try and get to listen to them in the future.  I also want to know why Mini was wearing little furry ears!  John Hegley (“I am a Poetato”) is very well known as a poet and I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a conference a couple of years ago.  He is full of energy and his use of language is amazing, I would highly recommend him for schools.  This recommendation also applies to the final speaker that I did not see, however I have also seen him in the past.  This is Kjartan Poskitt, a man who can make mathematics really interesting, amusing and even understandable.  His books about “Murderous Maths” are a staple of most libraries and schools and like “Horrible Histories” they are very popular with the intended audience.  To listen to him is a real experience and I would have loved to catch some of his event.

Overall this was a really lovely day and I would like to give a big thanks to the organizers and staff at Horfield Primary School for putting it all together, as I know how much effort must have gone into the day.  I particularly loved the small bouquets of flowers, crafted from old books by the children, that were given to each author.   It was advertised heavily on Twitter and in Bristol so I am sure that it must have been a disappointment that the audience was not as broad as it could have been.  However I did see several friends and had the great pleasure of meeting a Twitter friend, Brindy Wilcox, who is a self published children’s author and lives a few miles from me.  It really was a wonderful celebration of children’s books and the fantastic wealth of authors and illustrators that we have in this country.  Those of you in the area who did not attend missed a real treat.

 

 

London Book Fair

This visit to the London Book fair seems to be turning into an annual pilgrimage for me.  For those who have never been to it, this is the biggest event for publishers in the UK.; it is also a showcase for publishers from around the world and one of the most prestigious events of its kind. It takes place over 3 days in April and there are a huge range of workshops, launches, showcases and parties (if you are lucky enough to be invited).  The main reason for the fair is to promote publishers, sell rights to other countries and buy rights from overseas concerns.  Teachers and Librarians are not the central audience but there is still plenty for them to enjoy and learn from.

This year the focus was on the Baltic states, so there were sessions about publishing in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as well as the broader issue about translation.  There was also a wonderful exhibition of illustration from these states, which showed the sophistication and skill that is being used in their picture books and even books for an older audience.

There were so many sessions that I wanted to attend, so I stayed in London and visited the fair on two days.  On the Tuesday, the day started off with a discussion panel comprised of

Speaker Sarah CrossanAuthor Peter KaluAuthor Emily DavidsonYoung AmbassadorInclusive Minds Heather LaceyAmbassador for InclusionInclusive Minds Alexandra StrickCo-FounderInclusive Minds Nikki MarshCommittee MemberIBBY UK”  who were talking about “MInd the Gap: celebrating authentic inclusion”  There was an additional member of the panel, but I did not catch her name unfortunately. This was a fascinating discussion about the way disability in particular is represented in children’s and YA fiction and it really made the audience think about what is acceptable as both a writer and as an audience.  In the afternoon I sat in on the first part of a long session about Illustration in which art directors and designers shared their insights into becoming a published illustrator.  As someone who is not good at art this was of great interest and helped with understanding the broader picture (sorry about the pun).

On Wednesday I had arranged to meet up with a couple of friends during the day, but I started off by having a wander around the Children’s hub and also the larger stands on the ground floor which had children’s elements; these included Bloomsbury, with some amazing pictures from Chris Riddell, Hachette, Penguin/Random House and Scholastic.

At lunchtime I went to the launch of a new book at the Firefly stand; this is a really great Welsh publisher which has produced some fantastic books.  The one we were celebrating at the Fair was called “Dog Town” by Luize Pastore, a young writer from Latvia.  I was also able to meet up with the lovely Tricia Adams and the author Saviour Pirotta for a good chat.  Also there were Megan Farr from Firefly and authors Miriam Halamny and Eloise Williams.

The highlight of the afternoon was the publishers presentations, where about 13 publicists tried to woo us with their up and coming big   titles.  I must admit that I came away with several pages of titles that I want to read.  There were several titles from Michael Morpurgo, a new book from Jacqueline Wilson and follow ups from Cressida Cowell Kieran Larwood, P G Bell and Philip Reeve among many.  I am particularly looking forward to a new book from Emma Carroll, Patrick Ness  and the team of Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve.  It looks  as if we are in for a bumper crop of great titles with a wide range of themes ranging from WWI (to commemorate the end of the conflict), Christmas, fantasy, witches and science fiction.  Definitely something for everyone.

 

 

 

By the time I got home at about midnight I was feeling exhausted and yet very happy with the events I had attended, the friends I had met and the book suggestions I had received.  All being well I will be going back next year.

Time for my annual Bath (Festival of Children’s Literature)

For the 11th year in a row my September has been highlighted by the BathKidsLitFest.  Every year I get this in the diary and know that I will be stewarding for some fantastic authors and illustrators over the 10 days of the Festival.  this time was no different and I managed to pack my diary with events over both weekends.

Rachel Ward, Fox Benwell and Marie-Louise Jensen

The festival started on the evening of 29th September when I found myself stewarding for a Cressida Cowell event at the Forum in Bath.  There must have been about 6-800 in the audience and as usual Cressida gave an amazing session, talking about both her “How to train your Dragon” series but also about her new book “The Wizards of Once”  The session was highlighted by photos drawings and clips from the latest dragon film.  All in all it was a great event and the audience were delighted.  The signing queue was long and must have lasted nearly 2 hours, which meant that I missed most of the launch party; luckily several of my friends were still there, so we were able to have a catch up chat.

Saturday started with the David Baddiel session, talking about his new book “Birthday Boy” but also about some of his earlier works, like “The Person Controller” and “The Parent Agency”As he is a polished comedian and entertainer I was expecting a funny and well put together performance and I was not disappointed.  He spoke about his inspiration for the stories and really promoted the need for children to read for pleasure.  Once again he had a large and very attentive audience and it was good to see the mix of boys and girls, although especially good to see so many boys.

The next session was one for my grandson, or rather it will be at Christmas!  This event “Star Wars with JAKe” was aimed at a slightly younger age group, but really it was for anyone who loves Star Wars.  Of course with the new film coming out soon this was just the thing to whet people’s appetites.  JAKe is the illustrator of two small books called “How to speak Wookiee” and “How to speak Droid with R2-D2.  They are simple stories explaining about Wookies and Droids and giving insights into their respective languages.  Each page has a number and the book has a keypad, so that you can hear the sounds associated with that page by pressing the correct key.  Very interactive and great fun (but not necessarily for parents or grandparents!).  The children got the chance to draw a variety of characters from the films and some very lucky people got to take one of JAKe’s illustrations home.  It was a lovely family event that the audience really enjoyed.

Chris Riddell

My next day at the festival was Sunday the 1st October and unusually I did the afternoon session rather than the morning.  this was because I wanted to listen to two exciting and fascinating authors in conversation.  They are Emma Carroll, author of “Letters from the Lighthouse” and Eloise Williams who has just published her first book “Gaslight“.  The Session was described as “The History girls” and both authors have placed their books in the past, although in widely different places and times.  Emma has written about World War II although previously she has set her books in the Victorian period and this has enabled her to bring in a range of dangers and differing characters.  Eloise has set her book in Victorian Cardiff and has centred the story around a theatre and the docks, o there is again plenty of opportunity for mystery and villainy.  A really great time for all of those, especially young girls who love a great historical novel.  I was also lucky enough to meet Chris Riddell in the Green Room as he was preparing for his talk later in the day.  I know that the audience would have had a truly amazing time as he is such a brilliant speaker and artist.  We were so lucky to have him as a Children’s laureate and he is now an ambassador for Booktrust.  The day was further improved by seeing the lovely talented Martin Brown in the Green Room as he had just finished his event on illustrating the “Horrible Histories” series; his covers and ink sketches really are the icing on the cake as far as these books are concerned.  He has also just produced a book about unusual animals that I talked about in my post from the Federation of Children’s Book groups this year, absolutely brilliant.

Having had a few days off, Friday 6th saw me back in action stewarding for the Nadiya Hussain event.  She was promoting a book which mixed food and stories all linked in to the theme of Christmas, called “Bake me a Festive Story”.  She got several children to come on stage to help decorate gingerbread Christmas trees with green coconut and this was put on to large screens behind her.  There were also readings of at least one of the stories and it was a shame that they appeared to have been pre-recorded.  However the audience, both adults and children appeared to enjoy the event and were eager to get their hands on copies of her books.

I stayed on at the Guildhall for the following event, which was the brilliant illustrator/artist Jim Kay, whose illustrated ‘HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ has just been released.  It is truly amazing how he has taken the world created by J K Rowling and has added depth and reality to an already beautifully realized world.  The insight that we were given into the whole process was enlightening and the fact that the illustrations for the first book took him over two years to produce had the audience  gasping.  When he went on to say that he had been given a deadline of eight months for the second book, it made most of us cringe at the concentration and focus that was required.  We were then treated to some amazing drafts for pages  from the current book and Jim talked through the process of how the final images evolved.  It really was a must see event for those who love Harry Potter as well as those who just love high quality illustration and imagination.

My Saturday morning was a mix of very different books, but I enjoyed both events because the speakers were so enthusiastic about their subject. The first event was about the book “Kid Normal“, written by Radio 1 DJs Greg James and Chris Smith.  The book is about a young boy who accidentally finds himself at a school for superheroes, despite having no superpowers.  I must admit that I enjoyed reading the book and am looking forward to the follow up which is coming out in March 2018.  The presenters were fun and very positive about children and reading; it was obvious that the audience really enjoyed the whole session  and that included the suspiciously large number of lone adults who attended.

The following session was very different and was aimed at those young people who are fascinated by space and the skies above our heads.  Maggie Aderin-Pocock, the well known and very charismatic astronomer, was talking about the new Doring Kindersley  book “Star Finder for beginners”.  She gave a fully illustrated talk, with some amazing images taken from various telescopes and satellites.  Her knowledge and enthusiasm is boundless and it was obvious that her young audience were just as keen on the subject.  I was surprised by the depth of questioning that they provided.  It was a real treat to see how engaged everyone was.  Those were my only sessions of the day but I was lucky enough to meet up with the lovely Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton in the Green Room after they had finished their event about the new “Shifty McGifty” stories.  These are great reads for those who are just gaining confidence in their reading,

On Sunday morning it was difficult to believe that this was the end of the festival.  We spend months looking forward to it and then it just goes in a flash.  My final day was spent at a different venue, the Widcombe Social Club, which although smaller than the Guildhall had a very friendly feel, as well as very good coffee from the bar. I was scheduled to steward on two events and they were ones that I was really looking forward to.  The first session was a discussion between Gill Lewis, author of “Sky Dancer” and Kieran Larwood who has written two books about the eponymous hero rabbit “Podkin One-Ear”  It was  a fascinating look at the difference in their styles of writing.  Gill very much keeps her books grounded in the real world and the creatures are not humanized in any way, yet we are able to make a connection with the animals and their worlds.  Kieran, on the other hand, has created a world that is inhabited by speaking, clothes wearing and almost human rabbits.  There is a mix of magic and fantasy but still they retain their link to the natural world they live in.  It was fascinating to hear both authors explain how they went about creating their stories and I would recommend that readers give both of them a try; they are well worth reading.

My final session was with one of my favourite authors for the MG (Middle Grade) reader.  Robin Stevens has made a name for herself as the author of the “Murder Most Unladylike” series and all her fans are eagerly awaiting the sixth in the series, which will be published in the early spring.  I understand that she has already started writing number seven, so everyone is happy.  However at this event she was talking about something very different.She has been chosen to write the follow up to the “London Eye Mystery”by the late Siobhan Dowd.  Her book “The Guggenheim Mystery” has just been published and it was fascinating for the young readers to find out about the challenges of taking over the characters and plot conceived by such a loved author.  Whilst the main characters are the same as before, the story is set in the United States and this gives problems to the young hero and his friends as they do not understand the culture.  The fans were eager to ask questions and most stayed to have their book collections signed by the author.

The day was rounded off by saying hello to the lovely and brilliant writers Kevin Crossley- Holland and Francesca Simon who were preparing for their discussion about “Norse Myths”; a topic about which they are both very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about.  It is great to see how myths and legends seem to be coming back in to favour and there are so many great versions and variations that you can look out for.

Well that brings me to the end of my Bath for this year.  As always it was stimulating, educational and above all a very friendly festival.  I love the range of events and look forward to volunteering for my twelfth year in 2018.

A Harry Potter themed Chair!

 

YALC 2017

This definitely seems to be my year for having new book related experiences and yesterday I finally attended the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) which is now in its 5th year. It is part of the London Film and Comic Con, so there were a lot of people walking around wearing the most amazing and often weird costumes.  We had Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who, Steam Punk, as well as others that I cannot guess at.  However, it was brilliant to see so many enthusiastic and committed fans, all of whom seemed keen to let the world share in their passion.  YALC had its own area on the 2nd floor, so that it was a self contained unit.  Lots of out favourite YA publishers were there and there were plenty of freebies (in the guise of bookmarks, postcards and even book chapters), some proofs (all gone by the time I arrived) and books at generously reduced prices.

The whole set up was very well organized with a ‘room’ for workshops, a large ‘room’ for talks/panels and masses of space for author signing sessions.  It is difficult to describe the ‘buzz’ that was going on all day, but it was fantastic to see so many young (and not so young) people who obviously love reading these books.  Having said all of this I did not feel that the hall was crowded; after seeing tweets from the following two days I am convinced that they were the busiest days. On the plus side it meant that the queues were not too long and people were able to talk to their favourite authors as they enjoyed the activities.

I had marked up two panel events that I really wanted to attend and they did not disappoint in any way.  The first was a discussion about Historical Fiction, something that has been seen as “rather boring” by many in the YA world and yet the panel were totally convinced of the opposite.  The chair of the panel was Katherine Woodfine and the members were Juno Dawson, Catherine Johnson and Elizabeth Wein, all of them at the forefront of YA writing today.  Their motivation for writing about the past differed, with Elizabeth being inspired to write about young women pilots after she gained her own Private Pilot’s Licence, Catherine wanted to read about people like herself (people of colour) and Juno wanted to look at the lives of LGBT young people in the past. The panel spoke about how they went about the process of writing and specifically about the type of research they undertook.  I was particularly impressed by Elizabeth Wein who went “Wing Walking” as part of her research!  the panel also discussed what we learn from history and how we need to be skeptical about what we read as history is often ‘whitewashed’.  they all have  their favourite suggestions for getting the ‘feel’ of the book correct; this includes reading period books to get the language right, Pathe newsreels to hear the voices and see the clothes and early films.  Just as with Sci-Fi and Fantasy it is vital that the world building is accurate and feels right to the reader.

I found that I had time before my final session so I treated myself to a panel talking about writing “Thrillers”.  the panel was a large and well respected one including Sophie McKenzie, Teri Terry, Matthew Crow, Karen M McManus and Emily Barr.  there was a long discussion about what people used as their main focus; for some it was about the place and going somewhere very different, whilst others tended to use locations that they were very familiar with and which the readers learn to relate to.  Everyone agreed about the vital importance of characterization with “People in conflict with others and themselves”. The readers  are often in the 12-14 age group and they are also going through great changes in their lives.  Overall this was a very stimulating session which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My final session was one that I thought might teach me something about a TV series that I only seemed to watch the trailers for, it was called “We love Buffy” and was for real aficionados of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I was totally amazed by the knowledge that these people had about the show.  They knew the names of the episodes, the characters, the songs; it was incredible.  The panel consisted of Katherine Woodfine, Laure Eve, Alison Goodman, Non Pratt, Harriet Reuter Hapgood and Stefan Mohammed and their experience of the series was quite wide ranging, in line with the variations in their ages.  Some had watched as children and teens, whilst others had been adults.  This meant that their understanding and fear levels were very variable, but they had all been totally sucked into the series and till had that enthusiasm that denotes a true fan.  Everyone had their favourite characters, although whenever someone else was mentioned you could hear the mental re-assessment ; however they did agree that “Giles is the world’s coolest librarian” and who am I to disagree with that.

This had proved to be a fantastic experience meeting friends, listening to fantastic authors and generally wallowing in the world of YA books.  I definitely feel that I will be back next year and maybe I will include the Saturday as it seemed fabulous on Twitter.

 

Meanwhile I have a lot of reading to catch up on ready for the next set of blog posts on a wide range of books.

 

Make Hay (on Wye) while the sun shines

Well I have finally achieved an ambition that I have had for many years –  my first visit to the Hay festival; however it will not be my last visit I am sure.  For those who have never attended, I hope I can give you just a small flavour of this quite extraordinary and very unique event.

It takes place over two weekends (from 25th May to 1st June in 2017) and is a melting pot of events covering adult and children’s, non-fiction and fiction.  there are politicians, artists, reporters, authors and illustrators all expressing a wide range of views, so that almost everyone will find something to their liking.  Everything that I know about the Festival has been learnt from friends who have appeared or attended in past years.  Hay itself is a small town with the reputation of being the second-hand bookshop capital of the country (if not the world).  During the festival period it becomes overwhelmed by the number of visitors and accommodation is extremely difficult to find.  For those who are young enough and have the energy there is always the option of camping or glamping; however hotels and B&B s need to be booked a long time ahead if you want to be anywhere near the town.

This year I only attended for one day so my main concern was in finding parking.  Luckily this is extremely well organized with a large off site car park several miles away at Clyro Court. the cost was £6.00 for the day but this also covered the bus to and from the venue.  The buses are every 10 minutes and run until after all of the events have finished, so quite late in the evening.  However I also found that there are several large “Charity” car parks just outside the entrance to the site, so this is something that I need to investigate for the future.

The day that  I chose to attend was Monday 29th, mainly because Neil Gaiman was going to be ‘in conversation’ with Stephen Fry.  As my friends know I was lucky enough to be chair of judges in 2010 when Neil won the Carnegie Medal for “The Graveyard Book” (illustrated by Chris Riddell).  I also discovered that Sarah McIntyre was talking about her new picture book “Prince of Pants” (author Alan MacDonald) and Philip Reeve was discussing “Black Light Express” the follow up to “Railhead”.  I booked all of my tickets, including the parking many weeks before the date and was ready for the two hour journey when the big day arrived.

I knew that it was going to be good when I saw three people that I know within five minutes of arrival at the site; there is nothing like the feeling of belonging this can give you and the children’s book community is so open and friendly that it feels like seeing members of your family .  The Festival site is like a miniature city under canvas with a variety of tents connected by wide covered walkways.  This means that even in the rain it is a very usable space.  The first thing that really hit me was just how crowded the venue was.  With other Festivals such as Bath and Cheltenham they are widely spread out, but this is something totally different.  However it gives Hay a really sense of energy and excitement and you gradually get used to the crowds.

The tent city is well signposted and there are plenty of places to chill out, get something to eat and drink and generally enjoy the ambiance.  My first stop was the Festival Bookshop where all the signings were taking place.  there were several queues and it took a while to understand what was going on; however there is a board which tells you that each doorway is allocated to a specific signing queue, but some of them were very long and things became confusing.

My first event was Sarah McIntyre who was sporting another one of her fabulous outfits, both dress and hats; however it was the beautiful handmade bead necklace that had me drooling, the maker is obviously extremely talented.  As always Sarah got her audience to draw some of the characters from the book and also explained the whole process of creating the illustrations.  I think many were in awe of the skill that goes into interpreting the words that are given to an illustrator and it reminds us that the illustrators are of equal importance (Hence Sarah’s work on http://www.jabberworks.co.uk/pictures-mean-business/.   I then wandered over to the tent where Philip Reeve was talking about his new book.  He had some great digital book trailers which had been manipulated to give the feel of being in space.   Philip is an amazing speaker and he had his audience totally enthralled.  Just before the talk started I discovered that the lovely M G Leonard was sitting directly in front of me, so we were able to renew our acquaintance.  You really must read her two books “Beetle Boy” and “Beetle Queen” if you have not done so already.  After the event had finished I was able to spend some time talking to Sarah and M G before going in for the Neil Gaiman event.

Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman were discussing his new work “Norse Mythology” and making links to Greek Mythology, as Stephen Fry is currently working on this theme. This was a highly motivated audience of hard-core fans and they were even more ecstatic when Chris Riddell joined the others on stage and spent the entire session creating wonderful and very humorous sketches based on the conversation.  The event was a masterclass in illustration, interviewing and also the depth of knowledge that both speakers had about their subjects.  Although I had taken several books to get them signed the queue was far too long and I still had a two hour drive.  Still I hope that I will be able to hear Neil Gaiman speak at another event in the future.

Hay Festival turned out to be a real delight and I am hoping that in future years I will be able to go for several days and totally wallow in the experience.  It also shows that reading is still alive and well in this country and the range of material is absolutely huge.  I really do encourage people to go to this if they can, however it does require a fair amount of planning to maximize the benefits and see as many people as you want to.  I am sure that many of the events were sold out, so it is important to book tickets as soon as you can; trying to get tickets on the day will probably not work.  Thank you to everyone involved with the Festival, you are fantastic.

 

The Chickens are hatching

Barry Cunningham

“What on earth is she going on about?  What Chickens?”  Well in the publishing world this can only mean the fantastic Chicken House Books, founded and run by the amazing Barry Cunningham (yes, he did sign up J K Rowling).  Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending one of their ‘Big Breakfast’ events, where they present authors and books for the coming year.  It was held in central London, in the rather elegant surroundings of Home House (pronounced Hume like the prime minister?) and we were fed with a range of pastries and loads of tea and coffee.

The event started with an introduction to all of the authors and their books, luckily we were given packs with details of these to take home.  Although the emphasis was on the first six months of the year, there were several titles that will be coming out in the autumn.  We were delighted that so many of the authors were able to attend (I think I counted 10 or 11), however several of the American writers were understandably not there.  The highlight of the day was when several of the authors read excerpts from their new works.  They were all consummate performers and a far cry from the old days, when writers often found it difficult to communicate in person.

 

“Alice Jones: the Ghost Light” by Sarah Rubin.  This is the second in the series about a young amateur sleuth called Alice Jones and I must admit to being a fan.  It fits into that group of writers who would be perfectly at home in the “Golden Age” of crime fiction, although these books are set in the current period.  A great series for those who love Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine.

“The White Tower” by Cathryn Constable  is a new title by the author of “Wolf Princess”.  It is describes as “Magic realism” by the publicity and is definitely one that is on my TBR list.

“Mafiosa” by Catherine Doyle is aimed at the older teen and is the climax of the “Blood for Blood” trilogy.  Those who enjoyed the preceding  novels “Vendetta” and “Inferno” will no doubt devour this latest offering and also those who like a gritty and powerful take on their thrillers.

“The Secret Keepers” by Trenton Lee Stewart.  this is the start of a new series by the author of “The Mysterious Benedict Society” and it will be loved by those who like their fantasy/mystery to include a little bit of ‘playing with time’.  A watch that can make you invisible for 15 minutes could be very useful, but villains chasing after you are less welcome.  I am really looking forward to reading this in the next few weeks.

Maz Evans and Gemma Fowler

“Who Let the Gods out” by Maz Evans  is a debut novel and features the Gods of Olympus, but not perhaps at their best.  I have been looking forward to this for several months now and have started reading it, so no doubt a fuller comment will be added later.  Since ‘Percy Jackson’ we have seen many authors writing about the various pantheons of gods and I think this may well be up there with the other really good ones.

“The Elephant Thief” by Jane Kerr is due out in March and is a historical novel set in the Victorian period.  When you mix a lonely young urchin with a circus elephant and then send them on a journey it is likely that all kinds of adventures will happen.  This sounds like a book with a warm glow to it.

“Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee” by Mary G Thompson.  This sounds as if it is  not for the faint-hearted but it is sure to find a strong following with those who want a strong story-line and a plot that will take them on a roller-coaster ride.  The age advisory is 14+  for this one

“Moondust” by Gemma Fowler is one of the sci-fi thrillers that seem to be making a splash at the moment.  It is all about mining for a new energy source on the Moon and has strong themes about the environment as well as about the joys and perils of being a teenager.

M G Leonard

“Beetle Queen” by M G Leonard.  this is the second in her “Beetle Boy” series and is due out in April.  I was very  lucky last year and tool the author out to several schools. She was  tremendous  and the original “Beetle Boy” has seen huge success with lots of award nominations.  I can’t wait to read more about the female villain that makes Cruella de Ville look like a cuddly kitten.

“Bigfoot, Tobin and Me” by Melissa Savage.  We are having to wait until May for this story, but from what I have seen, it will be well worth the wait.  Aimed at the 9+ age group it is about dealing with grief, and since the author is a paediatric grief therapist it is safe to assume that she knows her subject. This is one I am really looking forward to.

“The Island at the end of Everything” by Kiran Millwood  Hargrave is a story of a young girl living with her mother on the leper colony of Culion Island.  When all healthy people are evicted from the island, Ami decides to try and return so that she can see her mother before she dies.  I get the feeling that you should not be reading this on public transport due to the “Heartbreaking” parts of the story.

A P Winter and Lisa Drakeford

“The Boy who went Magic” by A P Winter is described in the publicity as “being perfect for fans of Eoin Colfer”.  It is a fantasy, with just a hint of Steam punk (judging by the picture), so I think I am really going to enjoy this one.  It is aimed at what is now called ‘Middle Grade’, so the 10+ age range and will make a great summer read.

Three others that will be coming out later in the year are:

“The Crash” by Lisa Drakeford, which is aimed at the teen market and involves the aftermath of a car smashing in to the sitting room of a house.

“Witch Alone” by James Nicol is the follow up to the very successful “Apprentice Witch”, so this is bound to be another huge hit.

“Secret Cooking Club: Confetti and cake”  by Laurel Remington is the second in this series and I am very hopeful that it will live up to the high standards of the first book.

As you can see, we were spoilt with all the amazing authors and books that were presented at the big breakfast and I am going to have a lot of reading in the coming year.  I hope that you will find some titles that will suit you, or the young people you work with.

A new collaborative work

I have always said that the proudest event of my career was chairing the Carnegie/Kate Greenaway 2013-10-31-13-46-51judging panel.  In 2010 we chose Neil Gaiman as the winner of the Carnegie for his book “The Graveyard Book”; the illustrator being Chris Riddell.  Since then this duo have collaborated on several other works including  “Fortunately the Milk”, a new edition of “Coraline” and “The Sleeper and the Spindle”, which has also been shortlisted for the Carnegie and was the winner of the Kate Greenaway medal for 2016.

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Bloomsbury, 9781408870600

Last week I was lucky enough to attend an evening listening to Chris Riddell, at Bloomsbury Books.  He was discussing his collaboration with Neil Gaiman and specifically about their new offering “Odd and the Frost Giants”.  Chris was in discussion with Rebecca McNally, the publishing director at Bloomsbury and gave us a wonderful insight into how the creative relationship has developed over the years.  Originally Chris was asked to illustrate  “The Graveyard Book” for the English edition as the American version had been illustrated by David McKean and it was so successful that they have worked on a wide range of titles since then.

The new book is a stunning piece of art and a wonderful story based on the Norse myths.  Visually this is a book to treasure with a cut-out front cover and a positive wealth of stunning line drawings.  The underlying themes of the book seem to be about overcoming great adversity and about valuing the beauty that surrounds us.2016-09-11-11-50-59 2016-09-11-11-51-10

Chris Riddell also spoke about the role of librarians, both in libraries and in school libraries and how important they were in promoting books to children and teachers.  This message was very well received by the audience, most of whom were librarians from public and school venues.

2016-09-04-11-51-35 2016-09-04-11-52-02It was a great evening with an opportunity to hear our current Children’s Laureate speak and also to catch up with friends and colleagues.

“Book Island” launch

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Book Island launch

Whilst I am lucky enough to be invited to book launches on a regular basis, it is rare to receive an invite to the launch of an entire publishing enterprise.  However this was the case recently when “Book Island” books held an event to celebrate their arrival in the UK.  Not only that, they are actually based in Bristol.  The company itself is not new, it has been based in New Zealand and this year won an award at the Bologna Book Fair for the ‘Best Children’s Publisher in Oceania’.

The publisher is Greet Pauwelijn who is Belgian by birth but publishes in both English and Dutch.  She specializes in translation of picture books and and give us the opportunity to engage with different styles and attitudes to the genre.  At the moment Greet is showcasing her list and from next year hopes to publish up to eight titles in English and a further group of up to four titles in Dutch.  There has been a lot of interest from the professional press and some really good reviews and I think all of it is very well deserved.

I was lucky enough to get copies of some of her books  and thought that I would share them with you all.

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Book Island, 978994109873

“The Lion and the Bird”  by Marianne Dubuc is a totally enchanting story of two very unlikely friends.  The story itself is one that has been used before, namely a young bird being left behind when the others all begin the long migration in autumn but this interpretation is one of the most sympathetic and moving that I have read.  There are very few words but they are superbly placed to create the necessary impact.  The illustrations themselves are truly magical and the illustrator is not afraid to use the white page in order to create the right atmosphere.  A really amazing book.

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Book Island, 978099412801

“Here comes Mr Postmouse” by Marianne Dubuc is yet another book by this author and stylistically it is very different. In this story we follow the postmouse as he delivers parcels to a large range of animals.  It is very much a case of following the trail, but the illustrations are full of tiny details that we keep discovering and i think children will keep finding new wonders as they re-read the story.  I am looking forward to reading this with my grandson.

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Book Island, 9780994128218

“Fox and Goldfish” by Nils Pieters  is a sombre and yet very lovely story of two friends, one of whom is coming to the end of his life.  When Fox realizes that his friend is coming to the end, he embarks on the trip of a lifetime with Goldfish and they enjoy life and companionship for the final time.  The author has filled the book with bright colour (with some dark pages) and with a tremendous  exuberance for life.  This would be an exceptional read to help young children cope with bereavement.

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Book Island, 9780994109859

“The Umbrella” by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert. In this book the authors have produced a wonderfully visual story with no words.  The pictures are full of action and movement and they blow us along as we follow the adventures of the little dog hero as he clings on to a bright red umbrella.  The story takes us around the world, narrowly escaping disaster on several occasions, until finally we are all brought safely home again.  The expressions found on the dog’s face are a joy to behold.

Good luck to Greet and Book Island and I hope that the United Kingdom does indeed prove to be their own ‘book island’.

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Building Bridges: Forging Connections and Growing Readers.

This was the Federation of Children’s Book groups Conference which was held over the first weekend in April. It was a very appropriate title not only because the conference was held in Telford, but also because it was about ways that we can connect with young readers and help them develop as reading enthusiasts.

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Exhibition heaven

I finally managed to arrive at the campus (part of the University of Wolverhampton) in time to get to my room and then hit the launch of the publishers’ exhibition at 5.00 pm on the Friday.  As always this is somewhat the height of any conference for me.  It was great to meet up with so many friends and to get a look at some fantastic new titles that are coming in the next few months, but of course this was only the first of many visits over the weekend.

Dinner was then followed by a talk by Katherine Rundell and she had us all mesmerized by her speech, but it was the last section that had many of us near to tears as she paid tribute to her sister and remembered  what it had been like to lose her.  I think we were all honoured that she was able to share her thoughts with us.  The evening finished on a much cheerier note as we took part in the Andersen Press Quiz- and Yaay!!  we eventually won after a tie breaker set of questions.  So thank you to my co-quizzers Zoe Toft, Amy McKay, Tricia Adams and Jo Humphreys-Davis.

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Curtis Jobling and Phil Earle

Saturday started early with the first session being at 9.00 am, thankfully it was a double act with the amazing Phil Earle and Curtis Jobling being chaired by Zoe Toft.  Both of the authors gave us a taste of what they do with groups of children and the room was soon filled with lots of laughter.  At coffee break I was able to start catching up with people and it was great to see Andrew Beasley, the author of the “Ben Kingdom” series, who lives in the south west.

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Harriet and Sara with Julia Bell

The rest of the morning was spent listening to three sessions with some new authors, Sara Bernard and Harriet Reuter Hapgood,  speaking about their teen books, Andy Griffiths talking about his hilarious tree-storey series and Horatio Clare and Mike Revell speaking about their new offerings.  Thankfully we then had a very good buffet lunch,  which was a much higher standard than you often get at conferences.

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Shane Hegarty

The afternoon continued the theme of excellence.  There were three seminars running in parallel, so you had to chose to hear either Joseph Coelho, Pamela Butchart or Shane Hegarty.  Having had the pleasure of meeting Shane last year I decided that it was time I listened to him speak in public and I am happy to say that he more than lived up to expectations.  He spoke about how he came to write children’ s books and his childhood in rural Ireland as well as talking about his amazing series ‘Darkmouth‘, the third part of which is just being published.  The series really is a great read.

Ali Sparkes

Ali Sparkes

We were then treated to the delightful and very talented Ali Sparkes, who had us in stitches with some of the cat images that she had found on the web.  If you ever have the opportunity to have her into your school or library then grab it with both hands as she is such a brilliant speaker.  the day was rounded off by cocktails from Walker Books, although Jill Murphy was ill and unable to attend the celebration for 30 years of “Five Minutes Peace”.  We then had Jenny Downham as the guest speaker at dinner.

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Prue Goodwin and S F Said

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S F Said and Jane Ray

Sunday is often a bit of an anti-climax at some conferences, but that was not the case with this one.  We started off with Daniel Hahn(translator extraordinaire), Jane Ray and S F said in conversation with Prue Goodwin.  This was a remarkably easy going session with all the speakers sharing the subjects and the comments, so there was a real sense of enjoyment for those of us listening.

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Piers Torday

The next event showed Daniel Hahn with one of the other hats that he wears, that of interviewer and he was in discussion with John Boyne who spoke about his new book ” The Boy at the Top of the Mountain” as well as “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”.  After coffee and cakes we then had a talk by Piers Torday about his books “The Last Wild” trilogy which takes place in a world where all animals are supposedly killed by a deadly virus.  The final event was a little bit different in that it was given by Anna Conomos who has just won the Jean Russell Storyteller award for 2016.  Not only did Anna enthrall us with her storytelling but she also spoke about the place of story in our history and how it can help people with other parts of their lives.  This was yet another speaker that you know will be great in schools, so I hope we hear a lot more of her in the future.

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John Boyne and Daniel Hahn

I think we all owe a really big thanks to the organizers of this conference which was truly excellent.  The site was more than acceptable, although last year I would have struggled to move between the buildings because of the flights of steps.  However the rooms were fine, the food was good and the company was really lovely.  The publishers were, as always, so friendly and helpful and there were loads of new titles to keep an eye open for.  I am already looking forward to next year.

Glasgow and YLG

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A very nice room

For the first time in quite a few years YLG has returned to Scotland for its conference.  It was held in Glasgow and the venue was the rather incredible Beardmore Hotel; fantastic rooms for all of us and our own major hospital next door.  Even the bills were made out to the Scottish NHS!  There is a long and fascinating story behind all of this, but I had no worries about what to do if I was taken ill. I was only able to go to the event for the Friday and the first half of Saturday and treated myself to a plane flight from Bristol, much better than 6 hours of trains.  It was great to arrive on the Thursday evening and to meet up with lots of friends, especially Bev Humphries, and to just sit and talk about books.2015-10-23 15.42.28

As usual there was a fantastic exhibition and a big thanks goes to all the publishers who travelled to put on such a good show.  So many good friends and some lovely new friends in the making.

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Amazing Grace, 25 years old

The Friday started out with a fascinating plenary session  by Karen McCluskey, the Director of the Scottish Violence reduction Unit, which reminded all of us of the major issue that we face in areas of deprivation.  This was followed by the first of the workshop sessions.  I attended the one run by Paul Register, who founded and runs the Stan Lee Excelsior Award, which is for comics (of the American variety such as X-Men, Superman, not the Dandy and Beano).  It was a great insight into a very popular and yet poorly understood area of young people’s reading and I am sure that many more schools will want to become involved with this award.  After the coffee break and celebration for the 25th anniversary of “Amazing Grace” I attended a workshop lead by Siobhan Parkinson, a past Irish Children’s Laureate and the publisher at Little Island Books, as she spoke about translating children’s books.

The afternoon provided the publishers with a 3 minute slot to promote their future books.  Some were very slick and others more homespun, but they all whetted our appetites for some really amazing books to come.  The third workshop period of the  day was after lunch and I spent an hour learning many things about my iPad that were new to me, despite having had the machine for several years.  I really must try and use it more effectively than I have done.

Author highlights of the weekend included Sarah Crossan talking about “One”  A lovely panel session with illustrators Catherine Rayner, Emily McKenzie, Holly Sterling and Ross Colin, celebrating the launch of a new book 2015-10-23 15.42.19by Andersen Press, “The Prince and the Porker” by David Robert and based on the story “The Prince and the Pauper”  by Mark Twain.

The Saturday morning was taken up by a Graphics novel panel consisting of the stars that are Mel Gibson and Paul Register, together with Liz Payton from the Phoenix magazine, as well as a talk by the very popular Sita Brahmachari.  This was closely followed by discussions with Barbara Band about boys reading and the gender gap and then Barry Cunningham talking to some of his  Chicken House authors, Sam Hepburn and Emma Shevah.  It was a shame that I had to leave at lunchtime and I missed several sessions that I know will have been great as they involved Gill Lewis, Jenny valentine Janetta Otter-Barry and Anna McQuinn.

One of the real joys of going to any conference is the opportunity to meet and talk to like minded people.  Over the years these become friends and you are constantly reminded what a truly friendly and dedicated bunch of people are involved in children’s literature.  I really want to say thank you to all the people involved in organizing the conference, I have that t-shirt and know how much hard work they put in, even though it is so worth while. A big thank you to the publishers for the exhibition, the authors and of course THE CAKE!

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