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!

 

Readers find their wings

I know that this is a really odd title for a blog post but I think it reflects the sensation when children first discover that they can read longer books with pleasure and a certain degree of fluency.  It is like learning to walk, ride a bike or even to swim; there is a feeling of freedom and having some control over the environment in which you find yourself.  In other words it is a truly liberating experience which will stay with you for your whole life.

“The New Teacher” by Dominique Demers and Tony Ross is the first in a series of books by this French Canadian author and which was first published in 1994.  It is a short and very witty story about what happens when Miss Charlotte arrives to teach a class of young children who do not enjoy school.  Her somewhat eccentric methods eventually make her very popular, but the children find that they have to fight to keep the teacher they have come to love and admire.  As a follow on, you might like to read “The Mysterious Librarian” which sees Miss Charlotte take on the challenge of encouraging children to enjoy reading.

“The Spooky School” by Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton is another set of short stories about the cake-baking, crime-fighting duo of Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam.  They originally started their adventures in picture book format but have now branched out for the next age group.  In this book they save jewels, fight ghosts and meet a fiendish new villain; a Red Panda called ‘Red Rocket’.  It is great fun.

Tamsyn Murray  has written “The Troublesome Tiger” as the second story in the “Tanglewood Animal Park” series which follows the adventures of young Zoe, whose parents have bought Tanglewood Manor and turned it into an Animal Park.  This story revolves around Tindu the male Tiger and the attempts to help him settle down in the park, before the arrival of his new mate.  It is a charming story with a lot of information and a cast of characters that you can’t help but like.  This is a super series, especially if you are an animal lover.

“Captain Pug” by Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans follows the adventures of  young Lady Miranda and her dog called Pug as they visit the local boating lake.  However when things get out of control and Pug finds himself in the sea and being rescued by another young girl life becomes quite adventurous.  This is the first in a series of adventures for the pampered pooch and joins the list of books written about the breed.

“Pugly bakes a cake” by Pamela Butchart and Gemma Correll is another Pug related story only this time the hero is called Pugly and he is trying to bake a cake for his owner.  Unfortunately his efforts seem to be being sabotaged by Clementine (Clem) the family cat.  Most families with a mix of pets will understand the frictions between the main characters and the very funny scrapes that they get themselves in to.

“Marge and the Pirate baby” by Isla Fisher is the second book featuring Marge, a truly unique babysitter. This time she is looking after Jemima and Jake as usual, but finds herself having to look after their demon of a baby cousin called Zara.  There are three short stories in this offering and I think that the author is really starting to be comfortable with her characters, which means that we become more involved with the stories.  This is a funny and quirky book for both boys and girls.

“HILO, the boy who crashed to earth” by Judd Winnick.  What do you do when you discover a boy that says he fell from the sky and does not know where he is from.  That is the situation that D.J and Gina find themselves in and they then have to try and find a way of sending him back home.  This book is the first in a series of comic style books being published by Puffin.  It is bright , well illustrated and full of humour; in other words it is great for boys in particular, although the strong female character makes it fun for everyone.

“Jinks & O’Hare Funfair Repair” by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre is another one of their fantastically funny collaborations.  Set in Funfair Moon it is full of zany aliens, dastardly villains and a clever heroine called Emily.  As you would expect this will take you on a ‘roller coaster ride’ of excitement.  The illustrations are full of the energy and humour that we have come to expect.  It is a great book to read alone or to a class.

“The Bolds on Holiday” by Julian Clary and David Roberts.  Once again we enjoy the company of the Bolds, a family of hyenas who are living in Teddington, disguised as humans.  This book sees them and their friends going to Cornwall on their summer holidays.  As usual there are lots of ‘groan worthy’ jokes as well as puns, both written and visual.  I love the way that the author’s voice comes across so easily and the illustrator’s ability to translate all of this visually.  A really great read for all ages.

“Rabbit and Bear” by Julian Gough and Jim Field is about the developing friendship of Bear and Rabbit.  Bear wakes up during winter as a thief stands on his nose as they are leaving his cave; that is when he finds that all his food is missing.  He goes outside and discovers the wonder of the snow.  Rabbit offers him a moldy old carrot to eat, which he is very grateful for.  However he does not know that it is Rabbit who has stolen his food. When a wolf comes looking for some food the two friends have to work together and Rabbit in particular learns a few things about friendship.  What a funny story with some gross elements such as Rabbit eating his own poo (yuck!)

“A Race for Toad Hall” by Tom Moorhouse and Holly Swain is a wonderful update on  “The Wind in the Willows”.  When Teejay, Mo and Ratty find an old Toad frozen solid in the ice house, little did they guess that it was the (in)famous Toad that they had heard stories of from their grandparents. Toad of course is just as excitable as in the past and when he finds that the weasels have taken over Toad Hall and want to knock it down for a housing estate, he is determined to get it back.  With the help of his new young friends he finds a way to challenge the weasels.  This is a great story full of charm and humour that really retains the spirit of the original and this is captured by the super illustrations by Holly Swain.

I hope that you find some books here that you will enjoy reading, either to yourself or to some others.  All of the stories have the ability to make reading FUN, which is the best way to help children develop a love of reading for the rest of their lives

 

A quiet time before Christmas?

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Claire Barker

Whispers in the walls

HarperCollins, 978-0007589203

As I had been through a fairly hectic period in September and October, I thought that the lead up to Christmas would be a lot quieter; how wrong could I be.  During October and November I worked with publishers to organize school visits for two really great new authors.  In October I took the lovely Claire Barker to four schools where she enthralled the year 3 and 4 children with tales of her new book “Knitbone Pepper, ghost dog”.  Then in December I arranged for Sophie Cleverly to go into another four schools to talk about the second in her series about Scarlet and Ivy, this book is called “The Whispers in the Walls”.  This series is aimed for the 8-12 age group and is full of mystery.  The children thoroughly enjoyed both authors and I am sure that the fan base has increased considerably.

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Sharon Tregenza

Early in November I was able to attend the award ceremony for the  ‘North2015-11-07 16.30.18 Somerset Teachers Book Award’ and it was an opportunity to meet friends such as Huw Powell and Sharon Tregenza (a Facebook friend)and also meet  Sam Gayton and Tom Moorhouse, Thank you to all those involved in this award and in particular Sue Wilsher the energetic organizer.

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Sam Hepburn and Barry Cunningham

At the end of November I spent a lovely day over in Cardiff, where Chicken House publishers were holding a Little Breakfast at which we were invited to hear from five of their authors about upcoming books.  There was Sam Hepburn, Emma Shevah, Linda Davies, M G Leonard and Helen Maslin; a positive cornucopia of talent to look forward to.  It was also great to see several old friends and to catch up with what is going on.

The lead up to Christmas was announced in December by the annual Andersen Press Christmas Party.  This is an event that is not to be missed if at all possible.  There were some amazing people there, all of whom are at the top of their professions as writers and illustrators; which only goes to prove that Andersen knows how to chose which books to publish.

Shifty McGifty

Nosy Crow, 978-0857631466

My final book related event was a week before Christmas, when Tracey Corderoy and Steve Lenton were signing books at Waterstones in Weston-super-mare.  Their adventures of “Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam” are becoming very popular and are really good to read to young audiences.  this was also an opportunity for the two of them to receive the award for the ‘North Somerset Teachers Book Award’ which they won this year.

So much for  a quiet month or so to prepare for the festivities.  However I think I prefer the excitement of meeting all of these amazing people and hearing about the wonderful books that have just come out, or will be arriving in the next few months.  I really am looking forward to what the new year will bring.

Nosy Crow conference

 

Saturday 13th September turned out to be a very long and tiring day for a variety of reasons, including the long delay at Westbury in Wiltshire while the police were called to escort several drunken men off the train, thankfully not in my carriage. However it was all worth it – I had a really great day at the second “Nosy Crow Conference”, so thank you Kate Wilson and Dom Kingston in particular for such an informative and inspiring day.

 

It was an event mainly aimed at those outside the field 2014-09-13 10.18.56of publishing  and a high percentage of the audience appeared to be aspiring authors and illustrators. The programme consisted of sessions about picture books, the process of getting your first book to publication, the bookseller perspective, social media and the work of the Agent.  We were also treated to sessions by Helen Peters, Tracey Corderoy and Jeff Norton; they are all relative newcomers as authors but gave tremendous insight into their work.

 

 

I still have to work my way through all the notes I took yesterday but there was such a great deal of information and I hope that it will be of use.  I particularly liked the session by Tracey about how an author should think about the sessions they do in schools, libraries etc.  I have always worked from the other viewpoint, which is how a school should treat their authors.

If you get the opportunity to go to the next conference (and I hope there will be one in 2015)  it is of interest not just to budding authors and illustrators but also to those of us who work with publishers and the artists.  It really does give an insight in to the issues they face, and how we as librarians can help and support our colleagues in publishing.

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Kate Wilson