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.

A few books to whet the appetite.

The last few months have been an absolute treasure trove of new middle grade fiction; it has ranged from favourite series reaching their conclusion, to the start of some fantastic and truly imaginative adventures.   Recurring themes seem to include elements of ‘Steam Punk’ , Time slip adventures, magic and crime.  In other words there is something for everyone if they can search out the books.  As always I hope that these little tasters will help people find something that suits them.

Chicken House, 9781911077657

“Tin” by Padraig Kenny is the first book by a very talented writer and it is set in a world where mechanical persons and animals are commonplace.  Christopher is a ‘real’ boy who was orphaned as a small child and is now apprenticed to an inventor who creates mechanicals.  It is a great story that is full of adventure and a few secrets that will tug at your emotions when they are revealed

Bloomsbury, 9781408854877

“The Explorer” by Katherine Rundell is a wonderful story of a group of children who find themselves stranded in the Amazon Jungle after their aeroplane crashes and the pilot dies.   When they find evidence that someone has been in the area before them, they start to see if they can find the person or ways out of the jungle.

Nosy Crow, 978-0857638427

“Evie’s Ghost” by Helen Peters is a lovely time slip story for middle grade.  When Evie is sent to stay with an elderly and rather eccentric godmother she does not expect to find herself transported back to 1814.  She finds that the daughter of the house is being forced to marry a friend of her father; however back in the modern world there is a story that this same person has been imprisoned by her father and then mysteriously disappeared, presumed dead .  How Evie copes with life in the 19th century and searches for a way to help the daughter makes for a thrilling story which I really enjoyed.

Scholastic, 9781407181707

“Brightstorm” by Vashti Hardy is a wonderful mix of  steampunk, exploration and  the importance of family.  It has two strong and determined siblings who set out to find what has happened to their explorer father, after he is pronounced dead and accused of having sabotaged another airship crew.  I think we are going to have great fun with Arthur and Maudie as they take on further adventures.  We also have a wonderfully evil villainess in the shape of the aptly named Eudora Vane.

Sky Pony Press, 978-1510739420

“Me and Mr P” by Maria Farrer is a truly delightful story of Arthur and his younger brother Liam.  Arthur often feels left out because of the problems that Liam has to cope with (he is on the autistic spectrum), so when the mysterious Mr P, who just happens to be a Polar bear, turns  up on the doorstep he wonders what is going to happen.  This is a gorgeous story that leaves you feeling warm and cuddly inside, even though Liam has to cope with some serious issues.  I am looking forward to Mr P’s next adventure as he continues to help those in need.

Egmont, 978-1405282901

“The Midnight Peacock” by Katherine Woodfine is the final book in the ‘Sinclair’s mysteries’ series and the author provides a really exciting and satisfying finale.  When Sophie and Lil are invited to a Christmas/New Year  party at Winter Hall,they did not expect to find yet another mystery for them to solve.  Thy are pitted against old enemies and are in a race against time to prevent a disaster.  It has recently be announced that the intrepid duo will be starring in a new series of books over the next few years, so all of their fans will be jumping up and down with joy.

Bloomsbury, 978-1408872758

“The Prisoner of Ice and Snow” by Ruth Lauren is set in a country not dissimilar to old Russia with snow, wolves and warring nations.  Valor has created a situation where she has been sent to a terrible prison called Tyur’ma, made of ice and stone; however this is part of her plan to free her twin sister from this same place.  Why they are there and how they can escape and save their country forms the basis of this exciting story.  I loved the relationship between the girls but there were also lots of twists and turns in the plot which kept me guessing for a while.

Puffin, 978-0141373782

“Spoonful of Murder”  by Robin Stevens is the latest in the “Wells and Wong” series featuring the two schoolgirl detectives Daisy and Hazel.  This time they are staying in Hong Kong, after the death of Hazel’s grandfather, so that she is the one who is comfortable and in control, unlike daisy who is quite out of her depth.  This is an extremely personal investigation for the two girls and is a worthy addition to the series.  I find myself recommending this all the time and the followers are growing, book by book.

“The Eye of the North” by Sinead O’Hart  sees another intrepid young girl, this time called Emmeline, setting off to discover the whereabouts of her missing explorer parents.  It is a steampunk novel with two opposing and still very nasty villains both of whom want to stop Emmeline and her companions from solving the puzzle and finding the missing parents.  (Stripes, 978-1847159410)

“The Empty Grave” (Lockwood and Co.) by Jonathan Stroud brings the Lockwood and Co. series to an end and it does so with a really fantastic story which brings all of the story strands together.  A really great series for those who love the supernatural, magic and a fair bit of investigation.  The unlikely team of investigators face not only the supernatural but also real adversaries and finally discover secrets from the past. (Disney-Hyperion,  978-1484778722)

“Carnival of Monsters” (S.C.R.E.A.M) by Andrew Beasley is the second story in a new series by this author and featuring a Victorian crime-fighting duo called Charley (a girl) and Billy.  The twist is that they are part of an organization that specializes in dealing with the supernatural.  It is also great to see that Charley is a strong and leading character in the books, with no ground being given because she is in a wheelchair; an excellent role model.  (Usborne,  978-1474906937)

Usborne, 978-1474940665

“The House with Chicken Legs” by Sophie Anderson gives the game away with its name; that is if you know the Russian folk tale “Baba Yaga”. this is an updated version of the story, where the heroine live with her grandmother, the eponymous Baba Yaga but does not want to follow in her footsteps and help the dead to cross into the next world.  All Marinka wants is to be a normal girl, live in the same place and have some real friends.  Her attempts lead to some unfortunate events and she gradually learns that she needs to compromise in order to get the best for herself and those she loves.

Hodder, 978-1444936704

“The Wizards of Once” by Cressida Cowell is the first in the new series by the wonderful Cressida Cowell.  She has moved away from Dragons but this time she has  Wizards and Warriors who are hereditary enemies.  However things are about to change when it is accidentally discovered that Witches are not extinct and that the queen of witches is on the move and wanting to get rid of the two groups who banished her in the past.  A very funny story with two great characters in the centre of things.  I can’t wait to see how this continues.

Orion,978-1510104112

“Nevermoor” by Jessica Townshend is yet another story set in a magical world.  Since early childhood Morrigan has been blamed for every bad thing that has befallen the people of her village: from her mother dying in childbirth to people tripping over or even wishing someone a good day.  Because she was born on Eventide night she is doomed to die at the same time on the night she turns 11; unfortunately that date is fast approaching.  However before this date there is the annual ‘bid’ ceremony where children are chosen to attend different types of education. Morrigan is allowed to attend as an observer and is shocked when someone bids for her. When the eccentric Jupiter North offers her the chance to train for the Wundrous Society in the secret city of Nevermoor, Morrigan jumps at the opportunity to escape her fate, but is it ‘out of the frying pan’?  This is the first part of a wonderful new series that is gaining lots of fans and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.

I do hope that people find stories that they will enjoy among this selection.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of them  and had a roller-coaster ride as I looked forward to the next stories in new series and said goodbye to old friends as other tales came to an end.  With Easter about to arrive I hope that you find time to enjoy several of these magic and imaginative stories.

 

 

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!