This is the latest instalment in an occasional series of blogposts, in which some of our authors and illustrators share their favourite writing spots. Today Olivia Tuffin, whose debut series will launch in June with The Palomino Pony Comes Home, shows us around her family farm…
Living in a small, but perfectly formed house on my husband’s family farm, I’ve learnt to be fairly creative when it comes to where I write. I have turned a small corner of our bedroom into my writing space, where I keep an old family desk. I have a pin board next to it where I thought I could put up notes and ideas, but it seems to be just full of pictures of my ponies, and some of my favorite rosettes, as good as inspiration as anything I suppose. If I slide my chair back, and look out of the window, I can see our four horses in the paddock at the end of the garden. They like to doze under the tree that borders their field.
I love writing at my desk in the winter, with a mug of earl grey, and I equally love writing in the summer, when the sun has finally gone down, and my husband is out harvesting, late into the evening. I like the way the tractor lights whirl round the room as he passes the house at regular intervals, hauling grain. Last summer most of my writing was done at this time, when the house was quiet, and the air was still warm, only broken up by the odd trip into the farm yard with a flask of coffee. Farmers, like writers, have no set hours!
I write in other places as well. In the height of summer, I have a picnic table in the ponies’ tack/feed room which I can take my tablet out to. The tack room sounds a funny place to write but when it is full of new baled hay, it’s the best place on the farm! It’s cool and shady, and I am often joined by our Shetland who wanders in and out. I mostly write straight onto my tablet, but I carry a notepad in my bag, just in case. However I tend to keep most ideas just in my head, and think them over and over, rather than writing them down. Once I have thought a story through, I just start, and see where it takes me. So my favorite place to work is not even at a desk, it is out hacking on my Exmoor pony, Mossy. Sometimes I ride out with my husband on his big chestnut horse, but he likes to go much faster than me. So when I ride alone, wandering around Dorset, at Mossy’s preferred speed of ‘steady’ I am able to imagine stories, characters and ponies, over and over and over. Most of my ideas have come from my ‘mobile desk!’ There is no better place to be for a writer who never outgrew the pony mad stage!
Today we give with one hand and take with the other. We launch an exciting new series and we also publish the final book in one of our long-running favourites. It’s the best of times, the worst of times…
So we’re celebrating the launch of a fabulous new series for 5+ readers, Zoe’s Rescue Zoo, with the publication of the first two titles, The Lonely Lion Cub and The Puzzled Penguin. They’re lovely stories, with Sophy Williams’ fantastic illustrations, about a girl who lives in her great-uncle’s rescue zoo and helps settle the new arrivals in using her special gift – she can understand what they say! There’s a lot of wish fulfilment for the young reader, plus dramatic plots and a great cast of characters, both human and animal. We think they’re great! But don’t take our word for it – here’s what Fiona Noble said in her Autumn Highlights round up for last week’s Children’s Bookseller:
“In a sea of pink, this new animal series really stands out. The eponymous heroine can talk to animals and has oodles of appeal for the target age group. Beautiful illustrations from Sophy Williams, too.”
We’re also celebrating the publication of the final Vulgar the Viking title, The Battle of Burp. I think it’s my favourite one – the hilarious text by Odin Redbeard (and he knows who he is) perfectly matched as ever by Sarah Horne’s brilliant pictures – in a tale of invasion (or school trip), battles (pretend) and peril (getting locked in a room because you threw the key out of the window). Vulgar is looking forward to visiting Burp in Angle Land, where the famous Battle of Burp took place (which the Vikings totally lost). He plans to turn a peaceful visit into a proper invasion and show those snooty Burpers a thing or two! Inevitably, it doesn’t go to plan but a good time is had by all and there are some great comic set pieces.
Like this one:
All eyes turned to the ship. Harrumf lay on the deck in a tangled heap. “I meant to do that,” he insisted, but the way his legs were wrapped around his neck made Vulgar suspect he hadn’t.
“Oh dear, has your monkey been injured?” asked Lady Edith.
King Olaf blinked. “Monkey? That’s not a monkey, that’s my steward.”
Lady Edith peered long and hard at Harrumf. “I say,” she muttered at last.
If you’re looking for something a little younger than Vulgar the Viking and Zoe’s Rescue Zoo, today we’re also publishing two new board books in the fantastic Tiny Tabs series, illustrated by Jannie Ho – Pookie Pop plays hide-and-seek! and Little Bubba looks for his elephant! Designed for the smallest of hands, these robust, colourful books will delight baby readers again and again. With simple stories, repeated refrains and a host of faces to spot and name, they are the perfect books to engage and entertain the very young.
Happy publication day to all our authors and illustrators!
Olivia and her friends are auditioning for a production of Romeo and Juliet in the West End. It makes Olivia realise just how much she wants to be an actress, like her mum was. But her father asks her to perform with him in a high-wire stunt instead. How can she choose between her parents? And love is in the air at the Swan School of Theatre and Dance. But when the curtain falls, will everyone get their fairytale happy ending?
You’ll have to read the book to find out how the series ends… but if you’d like to read the beginning of the end, then the first chapter of Olivia’s Curtain Call is available below:
She’s been made skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, so that she “matches” the other princesses. Brenda Chapman, Merida’s creator described the move as sexist, irresponsible, mercenary, and appalling.
Caitlin Moran (whose brilliant piece on library closures is reproduced here with her permission) wrote about the Merida makeover in The Times on 25 May 2013, with all the wit and incisiveness that anyone who knows her writing would expect. It’s behind The Times’ paywall, so I can’t usefully link to it.
But meanwhile, here are a few quotes. Here’s Caitlin Moran on the original film:
“Watching the film in the cinema, in the dark, with my daughters – 12 and 10 – I was able to loll back in my chair and say, “Fill your boots, girls! Spoon this film up like good pie. This is the first Disney heroine ever not to have massive knockers, a 12in waist and the kind of mouth that could suck a potato up a straw. Well done, Disney! Well done for finally entering the 21st Century.”
Here she is on the revised Merida:
“… she had… changed. A new picture of her showed her with a jacked-in waist, bigger tits, a lower-cut top and a load of eyeliner. On top of this, Merida was no longer holding her bow and arrow and was, instead, standing with her hands on her hips, in the internationally recognised pose of, ‘I am a bit of a vapid pain in the arse now.’”
She concludes, before directing readers to the petition:
“This non-sexy, non-married, galloping, bow-shooting Merida coined Disney £354 million at the box office in the first year. She proved that little girls want these kinds of heroes on their screen. But, despite her success, some ass-hat insisted that she had to get sexy. No reason. They just… like to do the sexy. It’s just what happens next, to girls.
“Listen: Merida wasn’t for you, you bloodless, cash-counting idiots. She was for every ten-year-old girl who hates itchy dresses and kissing, and just wanted to carry on being herself for a bit longer. You can’t put a price on a girl being able to watch a big Disney movie that says that’s an OK thing.”
I’ve written from a personal perspective about creating and marketing characters and girls in the context of books here. There’s a link to a more general piece in the first line of that blog post and here.
My 12 year-old says, “I used to watch Disney films when I was younger, and I really loved my Snow White doll, but she was pretty Barbie-like in proportions (though my mum wouldn’t let us have Barbies…). It really struck me, when we were shown the film at school, that Merida was a different kind of character. Merida was very feisty but not in a diva-ish way. She could think for herself and she wasn’t a typical Disney princess with a waist like a wand. Seeing the makeover really emphasised how different she was from the stereotypical princesses. I think it’s bad for the younger girls who are seeing the revised Merida, but in a way I suppose it’s good because it gives a lot of publicity to the things that Disney does, and the images it promotes.”
My 14 year-old, who hasn’t seen the film, says, “I think that with Merida, Disney created an attainable ideal. . The revisions suggest that the things that made Merida great were things that have to be edited out. Nearly very little girl wants to be a Disney princess and this just narrows the choices of what little girls can aspire to. Of course, maybe the new Merida won’t work because she’s just not appealing to girls who liked the old Merida: I read online that one babysitter showed the girl she was looking after the revised Merida and the girl said, ‘Is that the evil Merida?’”
As I have said in a previous post, we take our responsibilities as publishers for children very seriously. I know that there are those who find my acknowledgement that I create and package some books with girl readers in mind and some with boy readers in mind egregious and incompatible with the stand I’ve taken on the Merida makeover, but I don’t see it that way.
When we publish books, whether they’re aimed at boys or girls, we consider carefully the image of girls that the books project. Girls who are central characters in our books and apps for pre-teens aren’t portrayed in ways that sexualise them. They’re independent and strong-minded and, generally (despite obstacles) achieve what they set out to achieve. Other characters’ preoccupation with appearance, or precocious interest in boys, is generally presented as something that’s a bit silly.
One of the reasons I am proud of our Rescue Princesses series is that the girls show courage, loyalty and sympathy. They act, they are not acted upon. They’re girls, not women: they’re drawn with children’s, not adult bodies.
Similarly, I am proud of our Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood apps. I’ve already written about the choices we made about Cinderella’s appearance and language in one of the blog posts mentioned above, and the same thinking made us decide to have Little Red Riding Hood defeat the wolf in our Little Red Riding Hood app: she doesn’t need a huntsman or her father to outsmart the wolf and rescue her grandma. Instead, she’s calm and self-sufficient.
A desire to create strong, admirable, appropriately child-like girl characters influences our selection, editorial and design processes, whether the girls feature in books aimed primarily at girls or those aimed primarily at boys (or, of course, those aimed at both). We believe that it’s important that boys have images of and stories about empowered girls too.
What would you do if you could talk to animals? And didn’t you want to be able to more than anything when you were younger? This August we’re launching a new young fiction series for 5-7 year olds which explores that very premise – perfect for budding veterinarians everywhere. And here’s an early look: today we’re introducing Zoe’s Rescue Zoo.
When Zoe’s Great Uncle Horace brings back lost and homeless animals from his travels around the globe, it falls to Zoe, and her mum, the zoo vet, to settle them into their new home. Zoe’s good at this, because she can understand what they say and talk to them, too. But that’s a secret!
You can pre-order The Lonely Lion Cub online here and The Puzzled Penguin here – and if you’d like to be reminded when the book is published, you can sign up to our monthly Books Newsletter here – we’ll write to you with all of our news, competitions, author interviews and more.
Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam are two hapless robber dogs who decide on a career-change after one bungled burglary too many – there’s plenty of laughs, lots of fantastic detail, and PILES of cake in this wonderful picture book. Here’s a look inside:
Three new fiction titles are released out into the world today, their faces all scrubbed and with clean hankies in their pockets.
The next Vulgar the Viking adventure, Vulgar the Viking and a Midsummer Night’s Scream, by the always-hirsute Mr Redbeard (and he knows who he is) is another hilarious tale of mayhem and mischief, as Vulgar is forced to partner Princess Freya in Blubber’s traditional midsummer maypole dance. No way is that going to go smoothly. In fact, it turns into a night the village will never forget. After all, it’s not often you see a small Viking dancing around a maypole in furry pants… Here’s a look inside:
And the first in Paula’s new series, Faerie Tribes, comes out today. Faerie Tribes: The Crystal Mirror is an exciting, absorbing story for 9+ readers who love their faeries dark and mysterious. When Laney discovers that she has faerie powers and – best of all – she can fly, she little realises the dangerous forces that are at work around her, and how crucial a role she has to play in saving the faerie realm from evil… Faerie Tribes is a brilliant new series – we’re delighted and proud to Paula’s publisher. Here’s the first chapter:
One of the great joys of 21st century publishing is that readers, even young readers, can make connections with publishers and with authors so easily.
We received a fantastically enthusiastic piece of fanmail for Lyn Gardner about her Olivia series from Omala (pictured here with her collection of Olivia books) and we asked her to do a blog post for us. This is what she wrote:
“I really enjoyed the Olivia series because they were so exciting, gripping and interesting. My favourite character in the series is Eel because she is so bubbly, happy and full of life. She is also very cute and funny! Eel reminds me of my little sister called Ela! They are so alike! My current favourite book in the series (it always changes!) is Olivia’s Enchanted Summer because it is very different from the others as it is not set at the Swan Academy, it is set in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival which is a lovely change. I found out about the first Olivia book, Olivia’s First Term, one day last May (almost a year after it had been published!). I was browsing in Waterstones on Hampstead High Street when I came across a book my friend Issy had read and really enjoyed. I bought the book and as soon as I got home I began reading it in my room. I could not put it down! I was totally mesmerised! I loved it! It was fantastic! I think my parents got tired of me begging because the very next day they bought Olivia Flies High for me. I think the Olivia series are good for girls who have big dreams and love performing! They are so addictive and inspiring! Lyn Gardner is a wonderful author! She uses superb descriptive words! I would recommend the Olivia series to girls aged around 10-12. I’m sure that every girl in my class who has read them has decided they want to become an actress or a daring circus artist! I’ve even started a circus skills course because I was so inspired by the books. You would not know how much I love the books! I have read and re-read the series loads and loads of times! I cannot go on holiday without knowing that they are in my bag! They’re my favourite books!”
Thank you for your kind words, Omala! The final book in the Olivia series, Olivia’s Curtain Call, will be out in July – and if you haven’t discovered the series yet, you can read it from the start with chapter one of Olivia’s First Term, below:
The year is 1900, and in Shadows of the Silver Screen, a mysterious filmmaker approaches The Penny Dreadful with a proposal to turn Montgomery Flinch’s sinister stories into motion pictures. With Monty installed as the star of his production, filming begins but is plagued by a series of strange and frightening events. As Monty pleads with Penny to help him, she is drawn into the mystery, but soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare penned by her own hand. Can Penny uncover the filmmaker’s dark secret before it’s too late?
An absolute must for fans of Philip Reeve, Marcus Sedgwick and Anthony Horowitz, The Telegraph called Shadows of the Silver Screen “a serious (and playful) intelligent historical thriller for children.” You can read the first chapter for free below, or explore the series from the start with Twelve Minutes to Midnight, here.
The Crystal Mirror introduces Laney – a faerie and a member of the Mist Tribe. Laney and her faerie friends must stop an evil Shadow Faerie finding the magical objects he needs to become all-powerful – and things are about to get very exciting, and mysterious, and dangerous…
And you can also read an interview with Paula about the series in this blogpost.
We’ll be blogging more about The Crystal Mirror as publication day approaches, so keep an eye on this site – and if you’d like to be informed as soon as the book’s available (and have the chance to win a copy), you can sign up to our books newsletter here.
And this volume (Magical Mix-Ups: Pets and Parties) is publishing in an extra-large volume! You can see the increased dimensions of the new book compared to the first two in the picture above. Now Magical Mix-Ups are EVEN better for doodling – with more space for all of your contributions.
It’s Sapphire’s birthday and she longs for a pet of her own. Emerald’s present is the next best thing – tickets for an amazing animal magic show! But the star – a performing cat! – has mysteriously disappeared. What a mix-up! Can the girls find her one their own? No, they can’t! They need you to finish the illustrations and make sure Sapphire’s birthday is perfect…
You can pre-order the book online here or take a look inside below.
And if you’d like to take a look at the INCREDIBLE results from one aspiring young artist’s completed Magical Mix-Ups book (in this case, the first book in the series, Birthdays and Bridesmaids), there’s a lovely post on Leigh’s blog about one seven-year-old’s finished efforts here.
Perfect for fans of I Capture the Castle and The Swish of the Curtain, The Secret Hen House Theatre tells the story of Hannah, an instantly likeable heroine stuck in a world of chaos: her mother has died, her dad is lost in grief and struggling to look after everyone, her siblings are unruly, and the whole family faces the threat of losing their home – a dilapidated, rundown farm. Looking for some way of connecting to her creative, theatre-loving mum, Hannah decides to write and perform a play in the overgrown hen house that she’s found – will this be what saves the farm from demolition…?
Here’s what Helen has to say about the nomination:
“I am absolutely thrilled to be shortlisted for this prize. Waterstones have been incredibly supportive of the book and it is such an honour to be selected for a shortlist which is chosen by booksellers.”
And Kirsty, the book’s editor, says:
“The Secret Hen House Theatre shone out of the “slush pile” as a book that just had to be published, and it’s great to see it on the Waterstone’s prize shortlist, a prize that celebrates writers at the start of their careers. We’re sure Helen’s is going to be long and illustrious, and we couldn’t be more delighted to be her publisher.”
If you’ve not read the book, you can read the first chapter for free below.
You can also order the book online from Waterstones here.
The full shortlist for the prize in the 5-12 category is as follows:
The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House)
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray (Faber and Faber)
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Random House Children’s Books)
The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters (Nosy Crow)
The Chronicles of Egg: Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey (Puffin)
Barry Loser: I Am Not A Loser by Jim Smith (Egmont)
You can read more on Waterstones’ website – the winner will be announced later this year. Good luck, Helen!
The Magic Rings features four brand new princesses – and they’re set for their first adventure. A beautiful foal has mysteriously disappeared from the palace stables. The girls have a plan of action, but Princess Lottie is worried. What if they’re not brave enough? Or can’t keep a secret? After all, it takes more than a few ninja moves to make a proper Rescue Princess…
For your first introduction to Lottie and her friends, here’s chapter one:
The Rescue Princesses: The Magic Rings will publish in March and you can pre-order it here – and you can find out more about the whole series here.
We’ve just received finished copies for a very exciting 2013 title – Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock, a fantastic novel for 9 – 12 year olds, especially good for girls, but very likely to appeal to boys too: it’s an irresistible story told in the first person, combining adventure, mystery, lots of funny bits and a truly brilliant hero in Scarlett: she’s wise, gutsy and kind.
When Scarlett receives a box left to her by her dead father she sets off on a sometimes hilarious, sometimes scary, journey of discovery with her friend Ellie, following the clues that have been left behind and trying to solve a set of mysteries. Was her dad a thief? Was he a spy? And what does he want for Scarlett?
You can read the first chapter for free here:
And you can pre-order the book online here. We can’t wait for you to meet Scarlett!
Michael Cummings is in Year 11 and is doing his GCSEs. He’s also quite possibly the BEST big brother in the world. For his sister Poppy’s sixth birthday, he decided to read aloud – perform comes closer to doing it justice – the first book in Paula Harrison’sRescue Princesses series, The Rescue Princesses: The Secret Promise, in its entirety. It’s such an undertaking that he hasn’t finished yet – he’s up to Chapter 9 – and we think that it’s brilliant. You can watch part one above, and the following chapters by clicking through to Michael’s channel on YouTube.
So, belatedly, happy birthday from us, Poppy – and well done, Michael, for such a kind and thoughful present!
You can buy The Rescue Princesses: The Secret Promise online here and read the first chapter for free below.
My Best Friend and Other Enemies author Catherine Wilkins received a fantastic piece of fanmail from 10 year old Annie Lewis (photographed above) that we loved so much that we asked to reproduce it here. It’s absolutely wonderful to read letters like this: it means so much to us, and to our authors and illustrators, to hear how much someone has enjoyed one of our books – thank you, Annie! You can enlarge each page of the letter by clicking on it, or read a transcript below.
And here’s a transcript:
‘My best friend and other enemies’ was an amazing book, I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would. It was hilarious. I could not believe it, this was my life in words.
I was asked to review this book by Mrs DeWetStyn as a typical ten year-old girl. I am dyslexic myself and reading a whole book can be a challenge, as you can get bored struggling during it, but this is one of the few books I have read all the way through.
The way the book was printed was brilliant as it was not too close together or too small a print which made it clear to read. The cover was really fun and appealing and once you read the whole way through you really understood the cover and found it quite funny.
The story was amazing. You can picture the characters in your mind so easily and really feel for the characters and begin to see Jessica’s point of view. You almost feel for her in a way.
I only have one small point I found a little difficult in only a couple of places, which is probably only me. It was a little hard to see who was talking at times as there was so much dialogue. But, I really enjoyed the fact that Jessica talked to herself and it was like being in her mind.
Some of the words were a bit tricky to read but then again, I am dyslexic. It helps to come across new words and I did get them in the end.
The plot of the story was so creative. I think the book is pure genius. The family set up I loved, the mum was so dramatic I loved that and I can relate too. I also have two older sisters which are the same age difference between Jessica and Tammy. The poor father, it really is my Dad trying to dodge every argument with a cup of tea. I think my Dad would know how that poor chap feels.
Jessica’s little brother Ryan, well you can’t just not love Ryan. If I had a little brother I would probably want him.
The book is up to date with the economy and how grown ups are so dramatic about it and us kids pick up on it and get quite annoyed when we are trying to deal with our own personal issues – day to day friendships and negotiating school, whose allowed in what game. There is so much more to explore – entrance tests, clubs they want to get into, and sport – trying to get into the A team, running and netball. If you are not a sporty girl you are left awkwardly in the middle.
To sum up the book – every school library should have a copy, this is the best book I have ever read. I did not want it to end. I will die if you don’t write another book as I have to know how Jessica’s Magazine with Joshua goes on and how Jessica and Harriet Van Dirk are going to get on – my guess, its going to get ugly.
If this is ever made into a film – as acting is my forte – I beg you to consider me for the role of Jessica – I WILL DO THISFORFREE – or my weight in chocolate orange.
Aged 10 loving drama, thinks sport should be outlawed as well as mashed potato, and loves drawing cartoons as well as being a chocolate orange lover.
P.S. is this based on your life?
Thank you again, Annie, for your fantastic letter! If a film ever is made for My Best Friend and Other Enemies, I promise I’ll put in a good word to the casting agent for you!
You can buy My Best Friend and Other Enemies online here and read the first chapter for free below.
My role as a publisher is largely separate from my role as a parent (I’ve written about the connection, or lack of it, here).
I was a child in the late 60s and 70s. I played with dolls, a dolls’ house, soft toys, a toy sewing machine, Plasticene, Playdoh and I had Lego that I built houses with. My brother played with cars, his toy garage and a football.
My teenage years and early twenties co-incided with the popularisation of feminist ideas in the UK. I wore army surplus greatcoats and DMs, marched for women’s causes, and read Virago and Women’s Press books. I became what I am now: a feminist.
When I had my first daughter, I started off by buying her gender-neutral clothes (interestingly more possible 13 years ago then than it seems to be now) books, and toys. Despite (or some might say, because of) all my efforts, my child went through a Disney-Princess-pink-fairy-tiara-glitter phase. The tail-end of this phase coincided with the time that she became an independent reader. And Rainbow Magic was the series that supported her through that transition. I read a chapter to her at bedtime, and she started picking up the book I’d put down and reading the next chapter herself. For all sorts of reasons, The Rainbow Magic books weren’t my favourite read-aloud books, but they absolutely met my daughter’s needs and matched her interests at the time. She and her younger sister (and they wanted me to be involved too) spent ages sorting the 49 books (!) in the series that we owned at the time in descending order of name preference, of outfit preference, of hair preference, of shoe preference. I always chose the fairy with shorter hair, wearing the least-revealing dress or, when they rarely appeared, trousers, and with the most sensible shoes. My kids would look at me as if I were crazy.
But it didn’t last. The girl who coveted a Barbie doll (she never had one), wore fairy wings continually, and became a reader with a little magic dust from the Rainbow Magic fairies now wouldn’t ever voluntarily wear pink, is completely uninterested in hair and make-up, wouldn’t know Princess Eugenie from the other one, and can’t easily be extracted from a hoodie and jeans. She doesn’t believe in fairies either. She wants to represent her school in debating, go to university, travel to China and write novels. She’s currently reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang, Just William by Richmal Crompton, Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory and Madeleine’s World by Brian Hall. And when I asked her if she were a feminist just now, she said, emphatically, “Yes!”.
My daughter’s interest in pink, fairies and princesses was just a phase. Like any parent, I determined our own boundaries: Barbie was out, classic Disney Princess films were in, for example. But I don’t think there would have been much to be gained, and, there was independent reading motivation to be lost, if she hadn’t had access to Rainbow Magic and the other pink-fairy-princess books she had on her shelves or borrowed from the library. They weren’t all she read, any more than pink princess books are all Nosy Crow publishes, but they played a part in developing her reading confidence and her pleasure in books.
As an afterthought, I wondered whether those people on Twitter and in our comments section who felt uncomfortable about the fact that our feisty, funny, brave princess books are available for girls, would feel uncomfortable that we offer the same books to CJ, the five-year old-boy in this blog. When I publish a princess book for five-year olds, my memories of my own daughters feed my my Platonic ideal of the child who might love that book, but so do children like CJ.
I commented on the post, but here’s a fuller version of my thoughts on the subject. Because Annabel’s piece is about writing for girls, that’s the focus of this blog post too, though when I was talking about the importance of understanding who a book is for, I was talking about age and interests at least as much as about gender, and was talking about engaging boys with reading as well as engaging girls.
At a recent meeting with a book shop buyer, I was complimented on the cover for The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton, which is out in hardback now, but which I was speaking about because it’s coming out in paperback in February 2013. The cover looks like this:
The buyer said that, while “pink books” were doing really well in the activity category, there weren’t that many “pink picture books”, and that ours looked like just the sort of thing the buyer’s customers might be looking for. Of course, in choosing a pink background, we’d known that we would be signalling that the book would be likely to appeal to a girl audience. It’s also the case that pink/violet is the strongest possible contrast (just look at a colour wheel) to the pea-green that we wanted to point up on the cover.
Publishers (and authors/illustrators) exist in a fairly gender-divided commercial environment, one in which, for example, Bic produced Pens for Her (though they were rightly the subject of scorn).
In that gender-divided commercial environment, I want to maximise sales – for Nosy Crow and for the author/illustrator. As a publisher, I really believe that having a sort of Platonic ideal of the child that the book or app you are publishing is for is important. Commercial success is, I think, more likely if you can combine a clear understanding of your potential audience and a clear understanding of how the content of the book or app meets the needs or interests of that audience. We then spend a lot of time making sure that the cover image and the title (and the icon in the case of an app) are effective shorthand “signposts”, communicating that information about audience and content, to buyers who are selecting books or apps in the visually busy context of a bookshop, online store or library.
So I recognise that The Princess and The Peas is not a book that many people would buy for a boy. The packaging clearly targets girls and the story and central character are, I think, likely to appeal to girls more than boys too. By contrast, the packaging on Dinosaur Dig! by Penny Dale targets boys. I think that the content is likely to appeal to boys too.
Of course, not all of our books have such a clear gender-skew: I chose those two books as extremes on our own list. By contrast, books like those in our Pip and Posy series by Axel Scheffler show Pip and Posy, who are essentially pre-school children in the guise of a rabbit and a mouse, playing with train sets and pushing dolls in prams together. At one point, Pip even ends up wearing a dress belonging to Posy, because he’s wet his trousers.
But, of course, the risk is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no-one. We are very proud of the cover of Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge illustrated by Eric Orchard. Some buyers, though, said that the image of the person on the front looked a little too androgynous.
That’s not to say that the book hasn’t been successful, but it’s interesting to note that at this stage it has been particularly successful through school and library channels and independent bookshops, rather than through supermarkets or chains. And we have (well, Eric has, at our suggestion) made it rather clearer that the central character is a girl on the cover of the second book in Christopher Edge’s trilogy, Shadows of the Silver Screen.
And just to be clear, as this cover indicates, signposting effectively who a book might particularly appeal to does not mean, if you think its readership is mainly girls, that it has to be pink. Indeed, there’s an argument that, beyond a certain age, some girls think pink appears “babyish”.
Packaging is not content – though of course it should reflect content. I think that, whether because of nature or nurture, most girls are more likely to be attracted to, and probably to enjoy, a book about princesses than one about dinosaurs driving diggers, and that boys are more likely to choose a book about dinosaurs driving diggers than a book about princesses. But accepting that many boys and girls have preferences in terms of packaging, central character gender and subject matter doesn’t mean that you have to serve up unreconstructed stereotypes. Penelope, the central character in both Twelve Minutes to Midnight and Shadows of the Silver Screen, is feisty, brave and clever. The little girl in The Princess and The Peas discovers that being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and, once again making her own decision (as she did when she chose to move into the palace), stops being a princess and moves back home to live with her dad, who is responsible for cooking and childcare. In our series, The Rescue Princesses by Paula Harrison, which are very clearly targeted at newly-independent girl readers, the princesses rescue animals with the help of magic jewels… and Ninja skills. They’re brave and self-sufficient, facing down danger to remedy injustices and cruelty.
In our app, Cinderella, the central character isn’t a Disney Princess-style princess with blond hair and breasts. She looks younger, and less glamorous, and the prince isn’t attracted to Cinderella by her looks or her clothes but by the fact that he feels less shy in her company, that they have lots to talk about, that she’s a good dancer, and that she has a nice smile. The vanity of Cinderella’s step-sisters (described as “mean”, incidentally, not “ugly”) is a source of humour.
I have written about my sense of responsibility as a publisher of children’s books here and I can’t imagine publishing anything that I felt projected (in my view) damaging stereotypes of either girls or boys. In an ideal world, maybe we would be publishing only gender-neutral titles with gender-neutral covers, but I don’t live in an ideal world. I am motivated by two things: I need to make books commercially successful for Nosy Crow and for authors and illustrators; and I am keenly interested in providing children with books they want, particularly at a time when there is so much competition for their leisure time, and when data, like the data gathered in the recent survey behind Pearson’s Enjoy Reading Campaign, suggests that children are not reading for pleasure enough to build their literacy skills.
And of course, having that Platonic ideal of the child that your book or app is most likely to be enjoyed by does not mean that you are publishing ONLY for that child. I spoke in Guildford of the real pleasure of discovering that your book (or app) is being enjoyed by a different, additional audience from the one we imagined as its core audience. This happened, for example, when we discovered that our app, Bizzy Bear Builds a House for which our Platonic ideal reader was a pre-school boy, was a particular favourite of a slightly older girl with Down’s syndrome whose mum writes about her app choices here).
Readers interested in this subject might find Peggy Orenstein’s personal and well-researched book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter useful and engaging.
And here’s a list of some of my own favourite children’s books that more explicity subvert gender stereotypes (it’s not incidental to the plot, it is the plot). Do please suggest others.
Last month, I received the above image. It’s the final cover for Dear Scarlett, which will come out in February next year, and I think you’ll agree, it’s a pretty lovely cover. What you can’t tell from the picture, is that the tree has sparkly stars, the lock is silver, and the key a silver gilt effect. You also can’t actually feel the texture – it’s smooth and warm and velvety.
But this isn’t the first cover.
We started with a black cover. I liked it – it was moody and mysterious, and it had two elements of the story that were important to the plot – a parcel and a penguin. But perhaps it didn’t actually sum up Scarlett – you see, she’s not really moody and dark, she’s punchy and bright. On this cover, she was also called Scarlet, not Scarlett, because I was half way through revisions, and the spelling wasn’t settled. That cover came in May.
In July, another version whizzed through the broadband and arrived on my desk. Scarlett had turned pink. With the pink came the lock, the sparkles and the cheeky little face. The cat and the tree and the inkblots were fixtures and I was promised a hand written blurb. It sounded nice, but I didn’t really appreciate what it would mean. I liked the pink, but worried that somehow Scarlett, and her readers, were not pink children – not just because of her name. But I was happy enough – if this was the final cover, I certainly wasn’t going to complain.
When in September, the final version came, it felt as if it had all come together. The girl’s face, the key, the cat, the glowing red, and the lively hand written blurb on the back. It was all much better than I’d hoped.
Suddenly it felt as if the book and its cover had made friends, that they knew each other.
All this without Sarah Coleman (the cover illustrator) and me actually meeting each other, or exchanging a word.
I’m sure it’s old news to lots of authors, but the feeling that an artist can get where you’re coming from, and that an editorial team can spend ages trying to get this across to them, is pretty flattering. Personally, I’m thrilled to bits.
Thank you Nosy Crow.
Dear Scarlett is out in February and you can pre-order it online here. Today – for the first time – you can read Chapter One, for free, below.
As the evenings start drawing in and the first Christmas catalogues begin plopping on to doormats, it’s time to celebrate the publication of the fifth in Lyn Gardner’s excellent stage-school series, Olivia’s Winter Wonderland.
Deliciously seasonal, this is a snowy, twinkly read, with a festive dose of pantomime thrown in for good measure. While Olivia’s peers are auditioning like crazy for a major West End role (and stabbing each other in the back at the bat of a false eyelash), Olivia is content to steal the show as the less glamorous end of a pantomime horse. She also discovers an amazing old vaudeville theatre near the school and soon she’s caught up in a wonderful world of singing, and laughter, and ghosts…
Congratulations, Lyn, on another drama-filled page-turner, perfect for
those long, dark evenings!
It’s also publication day for another action-packed book, this time for
slightly younger readers. The Stolen Crystals is the fourth in Paula Harrison’s series, The Rescue Princesses, and it’s fast and furious and perfect for girls who love animals (just look at that panda!), love princesses, and also love the perfect ninja move. When a baby panda is captured and held hostage, the Rescue Princesses spring into action. With the help of their magic rings and extreme bravery, they rescue the tiny cub and also find the lost Onica Heart crystals at the same time. Then they celebrate in true royal style!
Thanks for another great book, Paula, and happy publication day!
Now that Summer is most certainly upon us (evidenced at Nosy Crow by the fact that almost everyone is on holiday), the ritual of reading round-ups has been getting its yearly airing in the press. Without wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth – we’ve been very pleased with the inclusion of our books in so many round-ups – there seems to me to be something a little… unsatisfactory about the criteria for these lists. Surely, in order to qualify as a great Summer read, a book ought to have more going for it than a recent publication date.
There is, of course, all kinds of ways one could choose to define a good Summer book. Some – like our Mega Mash-Up series – are brilliant for keeping children occupied on long journeys or during days at home. Others, like Noodle Loves the Beach and Bizzy Bear: Off We Go!, evoke Summer quite literally. And stories like Dinosaur Dig! somehow encapsulate the outdoorsy, spirit-of-adventure feeling that Summer represents when you’re young – or, as Camilla put it to me in an email from the road, “Summer is about liberation isn’t it – from school, parents and routine, and in theory, the weather.”
When I asked for everyone’s suggestions here (before they all left), we decided to restrict ourselves to books that actually take place over the Summer. Needless to say, as with every previous discussion on the subject of favourite books of one sort or another, the debate swiftly dissolved into endless one-upmanship, but out of this, I’m pleased to say, came some truly excellent suggestions.
As ever, we’d love to hear your favourites, so please leave your comments at the bottom of the page or on Twitter.
Dom, pipped to the post for The Wind in the Willows, chose Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, saying that, “Some of the scenes from that book were so vivid, they’ve become practically my own memories. It’s the book equivalent of Inception!”
Camilla’s first suggestion is The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton – and she has exactly the measure of a lot of Blyton’s books:
“Ginger beer, doorstep sandwiches and smugglers coves – in fact the very holiday I am just embarking on, though of course it never seemed to rain and I bet they didn’t spend hours sitting in a traffic jam on the A30.”
My choices are, for much the same reason as Camilla, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books, as well as A Spoonful of Jam by Michelle Magorian and Raspberries on the Yangtze by Karen Wallace, both of which have sort-of magical qualities about them. And finally, I believe I would be remiss not to mention the summer strips of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes cartoons (pictured above), which, like all of our choices, cannot capture everything that’s wonderful about Summer, but certainly go a long way towards trying.
Now – over to you!
We’ve had some Twitter recommendations with the hashtag #summerreads:
@rogue_eight suggested The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner
Dom Kingston recently joined us as our “attached freelance” one-stop PR man, and he’s getting to know our authors. This week, he met Helen Peters, pictured above at a cafe in Muswell Hill, author of debut novel for 8 – 12 year olds (particularly 8 – 12 year old girls) The Secret Hen House Theatre, which Nosy Crow is publishing in April 2012.
This is what he said:
“Meeting new authors is always an exciting part of a publicist’s job.
Often, especially if the book in question is their first book, meeting their publicist is an author’s first insight into life after the editorial process. And publicity is often a relative mystery to many new authors. Most aspiring writers know that they will have their book edited, but not so many think, when they’re writing, about what they’ll say about themselves, their book, and the process of writing it to a class of school children, a librarian, a bookseller, a journalist or a conference audience.
For some, the word and the idea of a ‘publicist’ has scary connotations – think Entourage. Or Ab Fab. Or the bit in Phonebooth before Colin Farrell actually gets into the phonebooth…
Luckily, publicists in the children’s publishing industry are always a four-day-drive-and-a-boat-trip away from this stereotype. Authors often seem to be relieved when you don’t arrive Gucci-ed up to the eyeballs, in a cloud of Kouros, and barking into the four mobile ‘phones permanently clamped to your ears.
As publicists, we just want to get to know and understand… The Author. It’s important that an author is totally comfortable with any promotional activity they’ll be doing.
So… how was Helen?
Well, she’s an English and drama teacher, so she’s totally at home when she’s talking to a room full of children and engaging them creatively with a subject.
Music to my ears!
She also kicks off our meeting with some excellent event ideas that will work beautifully for the age-group that she writes for.
The icing on the cake is that Helen’s obviously going to be a dream interviewee. She’s eloquent, focused, funny and charming. And she has a story to tell. Couple these qualities with the autobiographical, made-with-love aspects of her novel (the farm setting, the characters drawn from her own family), and we’re soon bandying around possible feature ideas for both adult and children’s media.
She’s also connected to, or connecting with, with lots of our world’s brilliant – and deliciously vocal – bloggers and tweeters. (Kate says, “speaking of this, you can read about Helen’s experiences as a first time author in this terrific blog post.”)
By this time I’m practically pinching myself.
So… Helen Peters – a lovely person, author of a lovely book and a publicist’s lovely dream . I CANNOTWAIT for curtain-up at The Secret Hen House Theatre…
It may well be true that Father’s Day is without a jot of authentic tradition to its name, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to celebrate. At Nosy Crow we’ve been listing our favourite dads in children’s literature all week, and what started out as a harmless pub game between Kate, Camilla and me has spiralled rather dramatically into a mammoth collection of categories, sub-categories and clauses.
Being a bit of a purist about these things, I initially protested to Kate that our list should be comprised only of nice dads, and that bad dads would go against the spirit of the exercise somewhat – this is for father’s day after all! – but we all realised pretty quickly that a lot of the best characters are really awful fathers.
This initial concession led to a proliferation of different categories.
Here are our best categories and our strongest nominations, with, where I felt it necessary, some context or justification. Please add your own categories or nominations in the comments below or on Twitter with the hashtag #kidsbookdads or Facebook!
William from Danny, the Champion of the World (written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake, see the picture above). This is a pretty uncomplicated one – I think we can all agree that William is an amazing and exciting dad (even if he does lead his son into a life of crime). The opening chapter is a really lovely and quite moving tribute to the relationship between father and son.
The dad in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming is another good example of an exciting dad.
The dad in Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a favourite of Kate’s.
Big Nutbrown Hare from Guess How Much I Love You (written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram). Big Nutbrown Hare is never specifically referred to as Little Nutbrown Hare’s father, but I think we’re invited to assume as much.
Gorilla from Gorilla and the dad in My Dad by Anthony Browne are pretty good entries from the outgoing Children’s Laureate…
… And we have two from the incoming one: Stick Man from Stick Man whose quest is to get back to his family tree, and the gruffalo, from The Gruffalo’s Child, who tries to warn his adventurous child against the mouse. Both are written by Julie Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
John Arable from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.
And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole, is an inspired choice by Camilla – the true story of the two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin together.
Two excellent suggestions by Kate B were Mr. Brown from Paddington (by Michael Bond) and Pongo from 101 Dalmations (by Dodie Smith).
Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird (by Harper Lee). I have had to lobby quite hard for inclusion of Atticus Finch: on the one hand, he is, of course, the greatest father in any book, but is To Kill A Mockingbird really children’s literature? Well, it was treated as such on its release in 1960, and it’s taught all over the world in schools, so I think that makes it not not children’s literature.
Kate made the very interesting suggestion of Anne Frank’s father, “especially in contrast to how she portrayed her mother”.
My contribution to the sub-category of real-life good dads is Michael Rosen in his poems about his son Eddie, which reach their heartbreaking conclusion in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.
Kate B also suggested James Potter from the Harry Potter books, which to begin with seemed like a silly suggestion to me; certainly not worthy of the Pongo/ Mr. Brown company in which it stood – James isn’t even alive in the books! – but it is, of course, actually an excellent choice. James dies protecting his family from Voldemort – a powerful symbol of fatherly love, and he’s there in Harry’s mind throughout the books.
James Potter segues seamlessly into our next category…
There are quite a lot of these in children’s books, ranging from dads who’ve abandoned their children to dads who are absent through no fault of their own.
The father in The Railway Children. I can’t remember his name, but it doesn’t matter – he’ll always be “Daddy, my daddy!” to me, in the manner of Dead Poets Society and “Captain, my captain”.
The fathers in Jacqueline Wilson’s The Illustrated Mum and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women were both examples of Kate’s category of “Absent Dads who are the Deus Ex Machina, resolving things at the end or making the ending happy”, as is the dad in The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr.
Interestingly, a lot of bad fathers are defined in terms of their absence (in another blog post I’m sure there’d be a lot to say about that…) Some literary dads, however, would leave their offspring a lot better off if they did disappear.
Surely the absolute worst dad ever is Huck Finn’s; the violent town drunk who locks his son in a cabin and leaves him to starve. If we can have To Kill A Mockingbird then we can probably sneak in Huck Finn.
An excellent contender for the same title must be Matilda’s dad (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda)
Kate B points out that many fairy tale dads, such as the fathers in Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Cinderella, behave shockingly badly towards their offsping, though they’re often under the influence of wicked stepmothers.
Bad dads who become good:
This is a more heartwarming category and it seems to be an popular archetype in children’s books:
The father in our very own Olivia’s First Term, by Lyn Gardner is viewed by some of us as a bit of a bad dad, but others of us felt this was harsh, and that he really was doing his best in difficult circumstances.
Other complicated and difficult dads who are more or less redeemed at the end of the book or books include Lord Asriel, from the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman; Mortmain, from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Mr. Darling from Peter Pan; and Colin’s dad in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden
Tom Oakley from Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian.
Joe Gargery in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
The magnificent Akela from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Finally (!), here are a few that didn’t quite fit anywhere:
Kirsty called the dad in Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging “the best comedy dad”, and nominated the dads in Big Red Bath and Peepo“ for the title of “Best at giving baths dad”. And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory demonstrates the “Dad upstaged by grandfather” genre rather well…
As you can see, once you’ve started, it is hard to stop.
Last week (ahem – apologies, but life has got in the way of this post) we published two great new novels in print and ebook formats.
The first is Olivia’s First Term by Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian newspaper. This is Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers meets Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes with a bit of Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain thrown in for deliciously good measure. It’s about friendship, family and performing, and its target audience is girls of 9+.
Parents in Touch says it’s “the first in a very promising new series from Nosy Crow – a relatively new publisher. I can see the series being an instant hit with girls, who will love the thought of the glamour of stage school – or is it glamorous?”
The School Run says “Girls will love this book, it is a great story, with many messages within the story about friendship… I am sure this series could become as popular as Enid Blytons Malory towers and St Clare’s series! I for one am looking forward to the next in the series to be released.”
The second is Perfectly Reflected by S C Ransom, and is the sequel to Small Blue Thing. A paranormal romance for young teens and pre-teens with an iconic London setting – the focus of the action is the River Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s about teenage schoolgirl Alex, and her battle with the evil Catherine, who has managed to cross over to our world from the world of the ghostly Dirges, who are doomed to steal the happiness of others in order to survive. Catherine has a grudge, and is determined to make Alex’s life misterable, and what better way to do that than to keep Alex apart from Callum, who is trapped in the world of the Dirges? You can find out more about the books on the series website.
Networked Blogs says, “If Small Blue Thing was a paranormal romance, Perfectly Reflected is a paranormal thriller … There’s always a worry that the second of a series may not live up to the expectations created by the first – happily this is not the case here and the twists and turns will keep you hooked to the last page.”
Congratulations to Lyn Gardner and S C Ransom on publication!
These books bring our total number of print/ebook publications to (drumroll) 12.
Honestly, I’d have gone even if he hadn’t been a Nosy Crow author (we’re publishing the first in his new series, The Grunts, next year, with illustrations by Axel Scheffler). His events are masterclasses in high-energy, interactive, stand-up comedy and for a child-and-parent audience, that weave together the story of how Philip became an author with lots of great scatalogical and tongue-in-cheek self-aggrandising material that had the child one along from me actually falling off her chair she was laughing so much.
However professional and brilliantly prepared Philip is, he can’t predict everything, and a high-point of the event was him putting his foot (clad, as everyone in the audience knows, in size 16) through the set of one of Hay’s two swankiest event spaces:
Philip worked the incident into the event so brilliantly that even the technicians in charge of the venue were laughing in the aisles. Here he is with a triangle of broken stage after the event:
I, for one, can’t wait for the Philip–Axel The Grunts double-act.
They took the – big and lively – audience through the creation of the series, a unique and silly blend of doodle book and young novel that they describe as “draw your own adventure” which they both write and illustrate.
They said that some of their ideas come to them on the Thinking Couch in their studio. Here’s Nikalas on the Thinking Couch:
And here’s Tim on the Thinking Couch:
However, they also confessed that they traded ideas for cookies with the elves at the bottom of their garden.
Conveniently, Nikalas is right-handed and Tim’s left handed, which means that they can illustrate the same picture at the same time without either getting in the other’s way… and they demonstrated this on a flip-chart at the event:
They pulled in audience suggestions and questions brilliantly. Here’s Tim getting a suggestion from half-way up the theatre:
They asked, for example, what the roundish object might be that they’d drawn being spotted through a telescope hurtling toward the Romans’ and Dinosaurs’ Martian city, Romasauria. “A grape!”, suggested one child (it was an asteroid). In turn, they were asked whether they liked brussels sprouts. So we covered a lot of ground, not all of it fruit-and-vegetable-related, as well as drawing mashed-up characters together.
There was a long queue of enthusiastic children waiting for them to sign books, and I was surprised and pleased to see how many girls were in the audience, as I’ve always thought that these books skewed towards boys, and reluctant boy readers in particular:
Described by Library Mice as “… exactly the kind of books us parents need to be able to hand to our offspring in school holidays or on long car journey!” you can find out more about the Mega Mash-up books on the Mega Mash-up website, where you can also post your own pictures, like this one by Alex Kosowicz:
This week’s Stylist magazine (free outside the tube station, thank you very much) has a very good cover story on the children’s books we never outgrow, complete with rather marvellous illustrations by Quentin Blake. The article fudges a little towards the end, giving a list only of ‘Top 10 Children’s Books’, which is, of course, practically meaningless, but the core idea of un-outgrow-able books is a lovely one.
Stylist includes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web and Matilda in its list (all favourites of mine), and the second Kate saw it lying open on my desk she pounced, conducting the fastest straw poll I believe I have ever seen. Well, I am pleased to say that ours is a suitably eclectic list, spanning most of the twentieth century, picture books and fiction, autobiography and fantasy, blockbuster names and forgotten gems. Helpfully, we’ve had quite a number of visitors this morning, so this is also a more comprehensive collection than it might otherwise have been. And without further ado, here it is – Nosy Crow’s list of the books we never outgrow:
Kirsty chose Autumn Term by Antonia Forest, the first in the Marlow family series of novels, originally published in 1948.
Dom named Going Solo, the second installment of autobiography by Roald Dahl and the sequel to Boy.
Deb initially wanted Charlotte’s Web but, at the time of writing, had settled on The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.
Adrian picked, without a second’s hesitation, The Land of Green Ginger, a choice that caused a lot of blank stares amongst the rest of us. A little Wikipedia-ing later and I now know that it was written in 1936 by Noel Langley, who went on to be one of the (many) responsible for the screenplay of The Wizard of Oz.
Steph, insisting that she didn’t want to go for a picture book, and after much deliberation, has gone for Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women.
Kate Shaw fought off stiff competition from Camilla to be the one who gets to name another Roald Dahl, Danny Champion of the World, as their own (personally I always found the novel’s gritty social realism a little disturbing).
Imogen, remarkably unfazed by my ambushing of her the moment she crossed the threshold, selected Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s absolutely wonderful Jolly Christmas Postman.
Despite this being her idea, Kate W simply could not make a final decision, and seemed visibly pained by my insistence that she only be allowed one choice. However, after much cajoling from me and soul-searching from her, she’s plumped for Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House.
Kate B, after considerable thought, has picked Snoopy, by Charles M. Schulz.
Camilla, once her first instinct had been nixed by my increasingly dictatorial approach to rules, chose A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.
And, because I’m the one writing this blog, I’m going to allow myself two choices. The first is Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts, a criminally overlooked picture book and one of the most moving treatments of grief I have ever read. And the second is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, from 1876, about which nothing new can be said, but which still seems fresh and exciting and funny to me on every re-reading.
So, there they are! Between Nosy Crow and Stylist, Roald Dahl gets an excellent showing, as does American literature. But what have we missed? What books have you never outgrown?
Here’s what some of @nosycrow’s Twitter followers have said:
@rachelisking: Mine would be Matilda, although I also love Ursula Bear by Sheila Lavelle (sadly no longer in print)
@LizzyCampbell: Mine would have to be Anne of Green Gables
@Girl___Friday: I third Danny! :) Also Narnia.
@Rebecca Berry: I’ll never outgrow Cobwebs and Creepers. It isn’t in print anymore but I loved it!
This is a series of four books by award-winning author Philip Ardagh. The books, which feature the eponymous and disgusting Grunt family, will be illustrated in black and white by Axel Scheffler and the first book, The Grunts in Trouble, will be published in May 2012.
Philip makes me laugh – as a person and as an author. Always has done, always will. His combination of professionalism and irreverence make him the perfect Nosy Crow author, and we are pleased and flattered that he’s chosen to publish with us. Pairing him with Axel Scheffler is going to make this an utterly irresistible series for children of 9 and up.
“I’m delighted that The Grunts, my latest series of (very silly) novels, is to be published by Nosy Crow with the crow so fresh from the egg, and still slightly yolky. For Axel Scheffler to have agreed to illustrate it — without my having to resort to threats of any kind — is the real icing on the metaphorical cake. I very much look forward to working with him, Kate Wilson, and the rest of the Nosy Crow team on what I hope will be some of my most outrageous books to date. These are exciting times! FUN just doesn’t express it.
And Axel says:
“It’s been several years since I’ve illustrated fiction, but there was an anarchy and humour in the outrageous Grunt characters that really appealed to me, and I look forward to working with Philip on his series with Nosy Crow.”
This is the most high-profile of several recent great fiction acquisitions, including a series of four titles by best-seller Holly Webb, that make it clear how serious Nosy Crow is about fiction publishing as well as full-colour publishing. We’ve got world rights in all languages for all of them, so there’ll be lots to talk about at the Bologna Book Fair next week.
Today, as well as announcing this acquisition, we have added our 2012 titles to the Books section of our website. We will publish 25 new titles this year, and at least 35 next year. This year we’ll launch 5 apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch and we’re planning to make at least 8 new apps in 2012.
Over the last week or so, the question of girls’ drawing has come up both in an interesting submission from an author and in a conversation about future publishing ideas.
Of course, there’s an entirely separate conversation to have about whether and why girls’ drawing subjects and styles are different from boys’ drawing subjects and styles. As a publisher, I am not aiming to publish in a way that excludes any reader, and I personally can’t imagine publishing a book called something like “Drawing For Girls” or “Stories For Girls”, though such books often sell well. However, but I am realistic and recognise that books – and drawing, for that matter – exist in the context of other factors, whether genetic or social, that predispose many children towards subjects that conform strongly to stereotypes of what the different sexes are interested in. Most girls really do seem to like fairies and princesses, and most boys really do seem to like dinosaurs and diggers. We can’t change the world, as publishers. We exist in a commercial environment. When we choose to publish a book, we do so with a strong sense of the ultimate likely reader in mind, and, generally, but not always, the attributes of that notional reader include the reader’s sex.
Anyway, several people have already been really helpful, via Twitter, on the question of what girls of 10 and 11 draw and in what style. Here are some of the – very helpful – answers we got:
“She loves drawing people, animals, still life, landscapes. Works in all mediums but her favourite would be soft pastels.”
“My 9 year-old draws her WebKinz plush toys. Right now her WebKinz are also cast as characters from Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver. So drawings are of Husky WebKinz as Wolf.”
“My 12 year-old daughter (turned 12 two weeks ago) draws everything. A main theme is girls her age in various settings. She experiments with all sorts of styles, playing with them. She has her own style arrived from a synthesis of many. She also adds little poems to the drawings. She draws endlessly and writes endlessly.”
“[My 10 year-old says she draws] ‘Other girls, I draw eyes a lot, random animals, stars, lips, faces – friends draw beauty products’. She also draws cartoon-style large-headed characters with small bodies or captioned cartoon pictures. It was really interesting talking to her about it. Some of them are ace! A cow stuck in a bog entitled Silly Cow!!”
“[Drawing] is by far her favourite thing. Girls, dreams, cats, birds, freaky people, fantasy houses, people turning into animals… Fairly stylised but [she has] a distaste for cartoon/Manga style as it’s not unique to her. It helps that her dad draws a lot. I see most other kids by her age decline in drawing appetite & confidence, in comparison.”
“[My] nieces say they copy cartoons, especially club penguin, and animals.”
“[My daughter] draws everything: scenes, cartoon characters (SpongeBob, Moshi, Facebook game characters), animals, designs (floor plans/fashion/shapes) us (the family) … she just loves to draw!”
“[My daughter is] a bit older now, but she did draw lots: people she knew including the family, animals, and lots of anime-style pictures of people & ferrets.”
“It’s manga all the way.”
“Mine  draws houses & gardens mostly.”
“[Of 11 year-old} Jedward. Herself and Jedward.”
“My 9 year-old draws mainly figures and fashion.”
“At the moment she designs t-shirts/clothes for her friends/family. Flowers, hearts etc. popular too. She draws/doodles a lot. She’s 10.”
If you’ve additional comments about girls in this older age-group, please tweet or comment below, telling me the age of the child you’re talking about.
But this post is also about younger girls aged 6 to a maximum of 8. What do they like to draw and what does their drawing look like?
A number of twitter response really show why we’re right to be spitting up the age-groups:
“My daughter drew rainbows and princesses 6/7, fashionable girls and puppies 8, rock stars age 9 (now).”
“My kids draw a lot and they often draw their family when they’re really little and friends when a little older.”
“I have girls in both age groups. They both LOVE to draw. 7 draws profiles & characters. 10 draws reptiles & maps.”
“[Girls aged] 10/11: clothing styles, horses, portraits of others; 6/7: themselves, their families & friends (stick figures), generic ‘landscapes’.”
We’d be really grateful if you could tell us what your younger girls draw, and, even better, send us some samples, or links to samples of your girl’s drawing. You can send samples to email@example.com. The images won’t actually appear in a book, and we won’t post the image or name the child without your permission, but the images you send will help to shape a particular book or books that we plan to make.
The image above, Rainbow Bunny by Ella Chia, came via Twitter, and we are very grateful for it.
Exactly a year ago today, on the 18th November 2009, I sat at my computer, took a deep breath, and pressed “send”.
The email was addressed to Kate Wilson, a contact of a colleague, who I had been told would be happy to give me a view on whether the book I had written for my daughter’s 12th birthday was anywhere near publishable. I had already submitted to one agent but not yet heard anything. By return, I got a nice response from Kate approving the Suzanne Vega reference in the title. That was was encouraging. Then on the 20th (I keep a note of these things!) I got an email back asking for the full manuscript and suggesting that we meet up.
Hugely excited, I sent off the vast file and sat back to wait. And wait. And then wait some more. I didn’t want to approach any more agents as I was hoping that Kate (who hadn’t even started up Nosy Crow at this point) would give me an ‘in’ which might short-circuit the slushpile. But Kate was busy (very busy, I discovered later), and I heard nothing more for a while. I got a rejection from the first agent. It seemed that my novel was destined to be a family affair, not an international bestseller.
In the New Year, I gave Kate a gentle prompt, and – hurrah! – we finally arranged to have that coffee. We met in Café Valerie near Sloane Square on the 12th January. Sizing each other up, we decided we liked what we saw, and by the end of the meeting I had an offer for the book which was to be Nosy Crow’s launch publication. On the 27th January, I met with Kate and Camilla at the Nosy Crow “North London Office” – the Wellcome Trust Cafe on Euston Road – and signed a contract for not just Small Blue Thing, but for a trilogy of books. (The photograph is of Kate and me, with Kate signing the contract.)
One of Kate’s children recently turned ten, and, as it happens, someone @nosycrow follows on Twitter has just asked for reading recommendations for ten year-old girls (in this case, a ten year-old girl who likes to read).
To be a girl of ten reading in English is to be spoiled for choice. Not only are some of the great classics of children’s literature yours for the taking, but the last twenty years has seen a fantastic flowering of great writing for pre-adolescent children particularly in the UK, but also, it seems to Kate, in the US and in Germany. Here are the books that instantly sprang to Kate’s mind, some from her own childhood, some from 20+ years publishing children’s books (and she did publish some of the books below), and some from her experience of her own children’s preferences. No ten year-old reader is like any other ten year-old reader. Some of the books below are easier reads than others, and some more literary than others, but Kate’s a great believer in a varied reading diet. The categorisation was the first one that came to mind and is just a way of breaking up the list, and there are many others. Many books could be in more than one category, of course: Millions is very funny as well as being about an ordinary boy, and Eddie Dickens is historical as well as hilarious.
What are your suggestions? What has she missed?
Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery
Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield
The Narnia stories by C S Lewis
The Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Just William books by Richmal Crompton
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier
The Eddie Dickens books by Philip Ardagh
Molly Moon books by Georgia Byng
Larklight books by Philip Reeve
Ally’s World series by Karen McCombie
The Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton
The Ramona books by Beverley Cleary
The Rover books by Roddy Doyle (especially The Meanwhile Adventures)
The Humphrey books by Betty G Birney
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson
(And, since this blog post was written, My Best Friend and Other Enemies by Catherine Wilkins.)
Charlotte Sometimes by Philippa Pearce
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phippa Pearce
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
The Wolves of Willougby Chase by Joan Aitken
Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
The Rose books by Holly Webb
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
(And, since this blog post was written, Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge.)
“Ordinary girl (boy)”/school stories:
Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton
St Clare’s series by Enid Blyton
Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman
Most of Jacqueline Wilson’s work (though things like Love Lessons are a bit old for 10 year-olds), but Tracy Beaker is Kate’s personal favourite
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Ida B by Katherine Hannigan
Three Weeks with the Queen by Maurice Gleitzman
(And, since this blog post was written, the Olivia series by Lyn Gardner and the brilliantly-reviewed The Secret Hen house Theatre by Helen Peters)
Ink Heart by Cornelia Funke
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Charlie Bone books by Jenny Nimmo
Harry Potter books by J K Rowling
Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan
Into the Woods by Lyn Gardner
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (a bit top-end of the age-group, this)
No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve (a bit top-end of the age-group, this)
Stig of the Dump by Clive King
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah (a bit top-end of the age-group, this)
The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig
The My Story books, especially Titanic (actually fictionalised, but still based on real historical events)
The Horrible Histories books
The Horrible Science books