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Articles tagged with: children and reading

Do you have an idea for a way to encourage disadvantaged children to read? The Siobhan Dowd Trust might provide funding

Posted by Kate on Feb 19, 2012

I knew about Siobhan Dowd (pictured above), the London-born author of children’s books with a strong sense of her Irish heritage, who died far too young at 47, in 2007.

I never met her, and certainly never published her, but I admired her work: tough, original, clever and beautifully written.

She was identified by Waterstones as one of the top “25 authors for the future”, she wrote four award-winning novels for children and teenagers, most published posthumously:

A Swift Pure Cry

The London Eye Mystery

Bog Child

Solace of the Road

And hers was the idea that formed the basis of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness which yesterday won the Red House Book Awards Book of the Year award.

Siobhan Dowd wasn’t only a children’s book author. She was also very active in PEN and worked as Deputy Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Oxfordshire, working with local government to ensure that statutory services affecting children’s lives conform with UN protocols.

So I knew a bit about her, But I didn’t know about the Siobhan Dowd Trust. I found out via @playbythebook on Twitter.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust exists to fund any person or groups that:

*Take stories to children and young people without stories;
*Bring the joy of reading and books to children and young people deprived of access to books and of the opportunity to read;
*Fund and support disadvantaged young readers where there is no funding or support.

This is what they say they’re looking for:

*The trustees wish to fund start up innovative schemes, where a small grant will act as “start-up” or seed money to grow into something bigger and ideally self-sustaining.
*The trustees want to encourage scattered groups to work together and co-ordinate the voluntary sector to learn from each other, not act in isolation or in competition with each other.

They say, “Trustees do not need long detailed notes outlining the need for a grant – we appreciate there is a great deal of need, we want grant submissions to give us all the details of what you plan to do to address this need, and what impact a grant would have.”

There are some examples of scheme’s they’ve funded here

So if you have an idea that could start small and grow big that fits their criteria, why not apply for funding?

The trustees next meet on 29 March, and they need to receive applications a month beforehand, so you have until 29 February to get your submission to them (they’ll meet again 28 June).

NYT piece on the primacy of print for children, even for Kindle-reading parents

Posted by Kate on Nov 24, 2011

I had a bit of a dust-up in Brazil with a well-known Argentinian writer, Alberto Manguel, who is the strongest possible advocate of print over digital reading.

My views have also been contrasted with those of Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo another strong defender of the primacy of print.

These are just two of many, many instances when I, or others of us at Nosy Crow, have defended digital, as opposed to print, reading for children.

So we were interested to see this article in the New York Times last weekend which suggests that adults who have discarded print in favour of their Kindles or Nooks still prefer traditional print books for their children.

We don’t see the choice between digital and print reading as an either/or scenario. Instead, we think that some reading experiences suit the page, while others are right for digital devices.

We aren’t very interested in creating digital reading experiences that are simply squashing an existing illustrated book onto a phone or a tablet.

Like some of the parents in the article, we agree that there is something special about paper – the touch and feel of it, the heft and three-dimensionality of it, and the size of the page – that means that reading a picture book, or a pop-up book, a lift-the-flap or a touch-and-feel book is a great experience. And there are many print picture books, pop-up books, lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books in our existing and forthcoming book publishing plans

But we are also very aware that children spend increasing amounts of time using screens. We would like some of the time that they spend using those screens to be reading time. But that means, I think, that the reading experience we offer on screen needs to be as multimedia and interactive as the gaming experiences they will encounter in the same space.

What we want to avoid is creating disappointing screen-based reading experiences for children whose expectations of the interactivity of a screen-based device are formed very early, as the maker of this video showing a French baby who seems to think that a magazine is a broken iPad suggests. (The guy who posted the video was a Skype guest at Dust or Magic and he said that his child does not mistake children’s books for broken iPads.)

I take our responsibility as people with decades – in my case 25 years – of experience of telling stories on paper very seriously. I think that we should be bringing that experience – and adapting it and building on it too, of course, as we learn new skills and bring new skills, such as games devising and programming skills into publishing – to screen-based story-telling. If we don’t create really engaging reading experiences for children who will spend increasing amounts of their leisure time on screen, I think we are failing them.

And it’s that wish to create really engaging, multimedia, interactive iPad experiences that are also, crucially, reading experiences, that is behind apps such as The Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.

But what do you think?

The Child That Books Built

Posted by Kate on Aug 08, 2011

HOLIDAY PACKING

I am a working parent and not, let’s face facts here, a stylish one. I read with a kind of incredulous horror that many British women not that much older than me spend more on their holiday wardrobes than they do on the trip itself.

Packing clothes for a holiday is for me, secondary to packing non-clothes or not-really-clothes: suncream in a range of factors (all high); a bulging first-aid kit (so many of the accidents that have happened to my children, including the fractured skull that I can still only bear to think about sort of side-on, have happened on holiday); cagoules; walking boots; Smartwool socks; Earl Grey teabags; laptop cables; adapters; and, requiring most thought of all, books.

I feel quite panicked at the thought of being without a book, or of running out of things to read.

The photograph above is of the library of 33 print books that four of us in my family took between us on the two-week holiday (our first more-or-less real one in two years) from which we’ve just returned. There are a couple of guidebooks, walking books and wildlife books. But mainly they’re fiction. We didn’t read all of them, but we read a lot of them. I even read one of them aloud to the children, who are, other than on holiday, pretty sniffy about being read to these days.

In addition to the print titles, the sharp-eyed among you will spot an iPad (with iBooks) and two Kindles at the front of the frame. All of us used both the iPad as a reading device and the Kindles in the course of the fortnight.

I try to catch up on “grown-up” reading when I am on holiday or travelling on business, and so I keep a pile of books that I haven’t got round to reading to sweep into a suitcase. The collection here, then, wasn’t the result of a crazy pre-holiday splurge-buy. Yes, we did succumb to a book purchase each before we went on holiday, but mainly these are books that we’ve lined up for our holiday reading for months before we were due to depart. The copies of Gillespie and I and of The Tiger’s Wife were, for example, both given to me for my birthday three months ago.

Or they’re books that we want to reread.

THE CHILD THAT BOOKS BUILT

One of the books I brought to reread on this holiday is in the foreground to the left of the hardware. It’s The Child That Books Built by Frances Spufford, who records an experience of childhood reading that is, at least until he becomes a teenager, remarkably similar to my own. Born in the same year as me, and the elder sibling of an ailing child (his seriously and, ultimately, terminally; mine, happily, neither), he came of reading age in the children’s-fiction-rich seventies, and describes an immersion in reading – as a route to escape, intensity and discovery; as a way to fill spaces in his mind and heart that his own life didn’t fill; and, later, as a part of an identity – that led to a fiction addiction in a way that speaks to me:

“I need fiction. I am an addict. This is not a figure of speech. I don’t quite read a novel a day, but I certainly read some of a novel every day, and usually some of several. There is always a heap of opened paperbacks face down near the bed, always something current on the kitchen table to reach for over coffee when I wake up. Colonies of prose have formed in the bathroom and in the dimness of the upstairs landing, so that I don’t go without text even in the leftover spaces of the house where I spend least time… I can be happy with an essay or a history if it interlaces like a narrative, if its author uses fact or impression to make a story[like sense, but fiction is kind, fiction is the true stuff…

… I don’t give it up. It is entwined too deeply within my history, it has been forming the way I see for too long.”

Bits of The Child That Books Built are a bit dense and over-argued for my taste, and it is a book that reflects the age and class of its author, but Francis Spufford does capture the joys of particular books – Where the Wild Things Are, The Hobbit the Narnia books, The Wizard of Earthsea, The Story of the Amulet, The Little House on the Prarie books – in a way that reminds me clearly of my own reading evolution.

Francis Spufford seems also to have a particularly clear recollection of the process of childhood reading.

BEING READ TO

Here he is on the a child’s first exposure to story through the experience of being read to aloud and of hearing fairy stories:

“What first teaches us the nature of story is not the fixed form of writing on a page. It isn’t the page that teaches us that story is language miraculously fixed into an unvarying shape which makes absent things present… That comes after. The medium of the first encounter is an adult voice speaking, and saying the same words in the same order each time the story comes around. Once a small child grasps the principle, no one is more eager for the repetition is to be exact. The words have to be right, or they aren’t the story. ‘Don’t say, “The fox met a family of ducks.” Say, “The fox met Mr and Mrs Duck and all their duckling children” The invariability of a story is what gives it a secure existence. It adds it to the expanding sphere of what is known for sure… such as the fact that morning always comes. Or that the third little pig’s house will never blow down in any telling of the story, no matter how hard the wolf huffs and puffs. Stories are so.”

LEARNING TO DECODE

Honestly, I don’t remember being read to, and I don’t remember the process of learning to read, however clear and important my later memories of being a fluent child reader were. I wish I did remember the process of becoming a reader with the vividness that Francis Spufford describes here:

“When I caught the mumps, I couldn’t read; when I went back to school again, I could. The first page of The Hobbit was a thicket of symbols, to be decoded one at a time and joined hesitantly together… By the time I reached The Hobbit’s last page, though, writing had softened, and lost the outlines of the printed alphabet, and become a transparent liquid, first viscous and sluggish, like a jelly of meaning, then ever thinner and more mobile, flowing faster and faster, until it reached me at the speed of thinking and I could not entirely distinguish the suggestions it was making from my own thoughts… In fact, writing had ceased to be a thing – an object in the world – and become a medium, a substance you look through… So the reading flowed, when I was six with the yellow hardback copy of The Hobbit in my hands; and the pictures came.”

FILLING IN THE GAPS

Francis Spufford describes brilliantly the way that children can read – and this is something that I certainly remember – without being able to understand every single word on the page:

“At the same time, I couldn’t read quite a lot of the words in The Hobbit. I had accelerated into reading faster than my understanding had grown. If I press my memory for the sensation of reading the second half of the book, when I was flying through the story, I remember, simultaneous with the new liquid smoothness, a constant flicker of incomprehensibility. There were holes in the text corresponding to the parts I couldn’t understand. Words like prophesying, rekindled and adornment… I could say these words over, and shape my mouth around their big sounds. I could enjoy their heft in the sentences. They were obviously the special vocabulary that was apt for the slaying of dragons… But for all the meaning I obtained from them, they might as well not have been printed. When I speeded up, and up, and my reading became fluent, it was partly because I had learned how to ignore such words efficiently…

I found that the gaps in the text where I did not know words began to fill themselves in from the edges, as if by magic. It was not magic. I was beginning to acquire the refined and specialised sense of probability that a reader gets from frequent encounters with the texture of prose…

I remember there was an intermediate stage when strange words did not yet quite have a definite meaning of their own, but possessed a kind of atmosphere of meaning, which was a compromise between the meanings of all the other words which seemed to come up in conjunction with the unknown one, and which I had decided had a bearing on it. The holes in the text grew over… The empty spaces thickened, took on qualities which at first were not their own, then became known in their own right.”

WORDS WE NEVER SAY

Francis Spufford talks about those words that readers have in their internal vocabularies that, even as adults, we have no knowledge of how to pronounce, though we know what they mean:

“Such words demonstrated the autonomy of stories. In stories, words you never heard spoken nonetheless existed. They had another kind of existence.”

I have experience of this more often than I would like. I had a conversation with Adrian, just days before re-reading this book, and we were talking about whale-and-dolphin-like things (as you do). And I used the word “cetaceans” (as you do), which I pronounced, “seh-TAY-shuns”. Adrian looked momentarily puzzled. “Oh, you mean ‘set-ah-CEE-uns’,” he said. For anyone who cares, I was right in this instance, but I am often wrong.

READING AND VALUES

Francis Spufford not only writes about the mechanics of childhood reading, but about how we ingest values from our reading of children’s books. He writes about learning about social obligations, about the way people ought to behave to one another, through books and, in particular, through American literature, focussing on the moral assumptions behind The Long Winter and To Kill a Mocking Bird:

“I even began to understand what was not said on the page. This was the kind of reading that can magnify your curiosity about real people, and send you back to the world better equipped to observe and comprehend… Ought ran very close below the surface of is… For me, pattern-minded child that I was, ought was the key that opened the folds and tucks of human behavior and spread it out and made it knowable.”

THE HORROR

For me, who is, like Francis Spufford, someone unable to read (or watch) horror, he is funny and accurate on the power of the word to get stuck in your mind, so you can’t rid yourself of the images it conjures, as he describes his reaction to a story about cannibalism in The Fifteenth Pan Book of Horror Stories:

“Sometimes, when something is going to prey on your mind, you know it there and then. Some things your mind swallows, with a helpless alacrity, just so that they can be regurgitated when you least want to pay attention to them…

Maybe none of this is comprehensible to you, and my adrenalised panic in the dormitory corresponds to nothing in your experience. If so, you’re lucky. You’re part of the horror genre’s intended audience. You’re one of those people whose minds contain little or no fear they can’t bear to look at; none or little, therefore, that you can’t bring to a film or to a novel, and have it roused, coaxed expertly to a crisis, and then discharged, leaving nothing behind except the pleasant afterglow of successful catharsis. You leave the cinema and think, Hmm, time for a Chicken Korma. You lay down the Stephen King, give a comfortable shrug, and never think about it again unless you want to, you lucky bastard”.

In fact, I find that sometimes I don’t know that the words that get stuck, uninvited and unwanted, in my brain are lurking in a book until I have read them inadvertently. Sometimes I stumble upon them in a book that isn’t a genre book that clearly announces its unsettling contents.I found myself unable to finish The Slap, for example, because there was one sentence in it that ambushed me, and disturbed me to the point that I just didn’t want to pick the book up ever again.

CUTTING YOURSELF OFF FROM THE WORLD

Francis Spufford speaks about his mother noticing “a special silence, a reading silence” when the young Francis is reading in the house. He talks powerfully about the way that the silence went both ways:

“As my concentration on the story in my hands took hold, all sounds faded away. My ears closed… There was an airlock in there. It sealed to the outside so that it could open to the inside… There was a brief stage of transition in between, when I’d hear the text’s soundtrack poking through the fabric of the house’s real murmur… Then, flat on my front, with my chin on my hands, or curled in a chair like a prawn, I’d be gone.”

To the annoyance of many around me, I still do this, still become oblivious to my surroundings when I am reading. It’s something that one of my children has inherited completely, and that my other child experiences in relation to those books that she particularly enjoys.

But as a child – and and an adult – built by books myself, I think there are worse things to pass on.

Mega Mash-up: Aliens v Mad Scientists under the Ocean - some feedback

Posted by Kate on Jul 05, 2011

Two weeks ago, we published the third of Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson’s funny, clever and innovative new Mega Mash-up series of Draw-Your-Own-Adventure books, Mega Mash-up: Aliens v Mad Scientists under the Ocean.


An alien and a mad scientist eye one another suspiciously.

We always want to know what people think about our books and apps, whoever they are.

This time, we have had some terrific feedback from a friendly bookseller. Matt Black (pictured doodling above) is Children’s Bookseller at Waterstone’s High Street Birmingham. We know him from Twitter (where he rejoices in the name @marquiscarabas). Here’s what he says:

Mega Mash-Up: Aliens v Mad Scientists Under The Ocean is by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson and well, you when you add to the pictures! If you haven’t seen any of the previous books in this fab series, then you are in for a treat. The whole point of these great stories is to bring the reader in on the action: you get to make up parts of the narrative as the story progresses, creating and illustrating elements of the story yourself. Using pencils, pens and felt tips (with hints on how you might want to do so from the authors) you can fill in the gaps in the story and pictures and make it your own little adventure.

This makes a great alternative to the usual doodle books available, which don’t have stories. Here, the narrative adds so much more to the book, making interacting with it much more fun. Also the illustration is very loose and simple – very child-friendly – which, I think, helps to encourage children to draw and to use their own imagination.

I love the idea of aliens and mad scientists being put together in one book set under the ocean: just such a good idea! Why just doodle, when you can create?”

We really like to hear from booksellers, whose role in getting our books into the hands of readers is so important… but it’s also great to hear from readers – or their parents – themselves. Yesterday, we got an email from a mum who had taken the trouble to contact Nosy Crow via our website after Nikalas and Tim did an event at her child’s school. This is what she says:

“Hi I just wanted to send you guys a quick email to say thank you for doing a talk at my son’s school, Bellenden Primary School, last Friday. He was shy about talking to you after school when we bought a couple of your books, but then was full of excitement and enthusiasm telling me all about your talk to the children and about your drawings, and all weekend he has been drawing aliens, asteroids, smelly socks and sound effects like “ZAP!”: he is totally inspired and loves your website and your books. The kitchen table is covered with his drawings and I will keep them all.

It does make a difference when you talk in a school. It gets kids excited about reading and drawing as well as making for a bit of fun!”

The first books in the Mega Mash-up series have reprinted, and rights have been sold to the US, France, Germany, Korea and Israel so far. We publish the fourth book, Pirates v Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum, in September, and three more next year.

J K Rowling reveals Pottermore today

Posted by Kate on Jun 23, 2011

J K Rowling reveals the new Pottermore site today.

There’s been a fair bit of speculation as to what the site will be, with at the time of writing, many thinking it’s there to announce new book, judging by the mashable.com vote. There’s been excitement too, over some images, supposedly leaked from the website, which suggest it’s an online game or a fansite.

A key question might be who has what rights… and what rights are left to exploit? This is a J K Rowling announcement and property, not one from her publishers or from Warner Bros.

Sadly, at the time of writing (an hour or so before the announcement), I don’t know what Pottermore is, so I can’t tell you, but as we (well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll be going) anticipate the release of the final film in the Harry Potter sequence, it’s good to have this reminder of the author behind this extraordinary brand. I rather liked this timeline of the rise of Potter.

The picture above is of young women who’d grown up with the Harry Potter books with their copies at the Scholastic street party in NY in 2007 for the launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic publishes the books in the US, and Bloomsbury does so in the UK). It was taken within hours after the of the release of the book, but these readers had only just got to the front of the queue to get their copies. I was Group MD of Scholastic UK at the time, and lucky enough to be there. It was a very happy experience to be at a book event that drew so many people and created such palpable excitement.

Since Harry Potter, widely described as the exception that proved the rule that children were not excited about reading and that the book industry was in dire straits, we have, of course, seen another – very different – phenomenon emerge from the world of children’s and YA writing: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight sequence.

Whether these are just two black swans remarkably close together or indicative of the ability of creators – and, I would hope, publishers – to make, shape and present children’s and YA reading experiences that surprise and delight children and teenagers (and adults too) and to do so more than twice remains to be seen.

I look forward to the next phenomenon.

QUICK UPDATE:

Well, we know what Pottermore is now. It is, essentially, a shop for digital content.

The site will be the only source of digital book versions of the seven Harry Potter titles and this is interesting in relation to her publishers and eBookselling, as it appears to establish some unusual precedents, as The Bookseller outlines here)

There’ll be audio downloads too.

There’s 18,000 new words by J K Rowling (not a huge amount, really, given that Philosopher’s stone is 77,000 words long) but perhaps there’s more to come.

There’ll be talking head video of J K Rowling.

There will be, it seems, opportunities for fans to post their own content.

This Wired article and this Guardian article give some more information, and this “Futurebook article” is more reflective: http://futurebook.net/content/pottermore-worlds-biggest-enhanced-e-book. The Bookseller reports on this UK retailer response too.

On the question of the relationship with publishers, The Bookseller spoke Pottermore c.e.o Rod Henwood. Henwood who said: “[The physical publishers] are partners in this. You will see their presence prominent in the shop when it is launched, and they are involved in marketing the site. It is a very collaborative project, all contributing to the marketing and the activity. Their interests are aligned with ours.” He added: “We won’t sell physical books directly, certainly not on the site, but we will be providing links to publishers websites and if they sell the [physical] books there, people can obviously buy them.”

As Father's Day approaches, a look at dads in books for children

Posted by Tom on Jun 14, 2011

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!

Good dads:

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…

Absent dads:.

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.

Bad dads:

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

Surrogate dads:

Adrian thought up the “surrogate dads” category:

Ben from Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy.

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.

Over to you…

Julia Donaldson: Waterstone's Children's Laureate

Posted by Kate on Jun 10, 2011

On Tuesday it was announced that Julia Donaldson is the UK’s new Children’s Laureate.

Julia writes fiction for older children (The Princess Mirror-belle books, The Giants and the Joneses and Dinosaur Diary) and has written a dark and challenging novel for teenagers (Running on the Cracks), but she is best known for her rhyming (though not always rhyming: The Smartest Giant doesn’t rhyme except at the end) picture book texts, of which the best known is The Gruffalo, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, who has been the illustrator of her most successful picture books.

I felt, vicariously, very proud: I’ve been responsible for publishing over twenty of Julia’s books over the years. I first got to know Julia’s work in the early 1990s. She sent the lyrics of a song to Methuen (which has been absorbed into Egmont) where I was working as a rights director. An editor there, Elke Lacey, liked it. I suggested that a friend, who I’d met when he was illustrating a couple of fiction titles for Faber and Faber when I was selling rights there, might be the man to do the pictures. He was Axel Scheffler. The book was A Squash and a Squeeze. Elke was a fiction editor, and hadn’t worked on picture books and she and I worked on A Squash and a Squeeze together. But then she got ill and died, ridiculously young, just before the book was published.

A little later, I moved to Macmillan as a publisher, and Alison Green came with me as editorial director of picture books. One day soon after we’d started, Julia sent Axel the text of The Gruffalo, and, we decided to publish it. It was the resumption of what became a truly astonishingly successful partnership, though Julia’s texts were also wonderfully illustrated by other illustrators including Nick Sharratt, Julia Monks and David Roberts. After ten years, Alison and I moved to Scholastic, and Axel and Julia’s new books were published under the Alison Green Books imprint there, though Julia continued to publish other picture books with Macmillan and has had some books published by other publishers too. The first of several Scholastic Julia-and-Axel books was Tiddler, and the most recent one, The Highway Rat, comes out this autumn.

Julia is many things. She has a command of the combination of rhyme and story that is unparalleled, and that she produces excellent book after excellent book is breathtaking. She’s passionate about her work and a true perfectionist. She’s an absolutely brilliant and indefatigable performer with as much of an affinity with music (she introduced me to this, which is one of the many reasons I am eternally grateful to her) and drama as she has with words. She’s honest, outspoken (even if it’s sometimes about subjects on which we don’t entirely agree!) and approachable. She is, quite properly, famous.

I think Julia will be a highly-visible and committed advocate for reading, for printed books and – at this time of real need – for libraries, and, I am sure, for other things too, as her Laureateship evolves. She’ll be great.

Nikalas and Tim's Mega Mash-up event at the Hay Festival

Posted by Kate on Jun 01, 2011

Nikalas and Tim’s Mega Mash-up event at the Hay Festival yesterday was fast, furious and funny.

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:

Nosy Crow's May Publications: Dinosaur Dig, Noodle Loves To Cuddle and Noodle Loves the Beach

Posted by Kate on May 19, 2011

Really, I think, because I was in Australia on publication date, we haven’t taken time this month to celebrate the distillations of children’s book goodness that are our May publications.

And May was a big month for us: for the first time, we were publishing more than one print “thing”.

Just to remind those of you who are interested in a kind of “previously on Nosy Crow” kind of way:

In January, we published Small Blue Thing, so the list launched with a single romantic fantasy novel.

In February, we published Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars and Mega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert. Two titles, yes, but both launching the same innovative “doodle books meet chapter books” series series. In February, we also published our first app, The Three Little Pigs, so that was a big month too.

In March, we published Bizzy Bear: Fun on the Farm and Bizzy Bear: Let’s Go and Play, our first board books. Again, two titles, and, again, one series.

In April, we published Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter, and Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle.

And, now, in May, we published Penny Dale’s Dinosaur Dig and Marion Billet’s Noodle Loves to Cuddle and (in time for summer) Noodle Loves the Beach. So three titles and two very different things.

Dinosaur Dig was inspired by Penny’s pre-school grandson Zachary’s love of all things mechanical. It’s a counting book with (very benign) dinosaurs, mechanical earth-moving equipment, a bit of suspense and a swimming pool finale. It caters quite shamelessly for the obsessions of many, many children, particularly, it seems, small boys. One of the things we thought that they would respond to is the carefully-realised detail of the dinosaurs and the diggers: you can see every claw and every piston. This was a book that came in to Nosy Crow from Penny’s agent just weeks after we’d started up. It was a book that we’d made an offer for within an hour of opening the envelope with Penny’s beautifully detailed sketches in it. Here’s a little flavour of what the book looks like inside:

And, to give you a sense of how Penny works, here’s a movie of Penny (re)drawing the cover artwork on an iPad:

She’s written about the process of creating the book for a boy audience in a guest post for the Book Trust blog.

Noodle Loves to Cuddle and Noodle loves the Beach are rhyming touch-and-feel board books illustrated in a fresh, graphic style by popular French illustrator, Marion Billet.

Here’s a little home movie of toddlers enjoying Noodle Loves to Cuddle:

And here’s one of the same children reading Noodle Loves the Beach:

Let us know, by commenting below, if you’d like to know any more about any of our three May books.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event at the Lincoln Book Festival

Posted by Kate on May 16, 2011

I went up to Lincoln on Saturday to talk to a group of children’s authors and illustrators (and agent Elizabeth Roy, many of them aspiring to be published. The event was organised by writer and blogger Addy Farmer (pictured here with me) for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

It was hard to know what to cover (and Kate had a scary 90 minutes to fill), other than pointing people in the direction of our “submissions guidelines” and to telling them we prefer to receive submissions digitally, which is the work of a minute. But I talked about how Nosy Crow got started, and what’s important to us: identifying the core audience for each book or app that we do and trying to ensure that every aspect of that book or app is right for that audience; bringing our own creative energies and skill to projects as we work with authors and illustrators to shape and make books and apps; embracing digital technology both as a means of creating new reading experiences and communicating with people about them; and thinking internationally, and accessing international markets through our partners in key countries.

Of course, most of the people there really wanted to know what Nosy Crow was “looking for” and that’s a hugely difficult thing to define.

But here’s a shot at it:

Print books:

Fiction for 0 – 12, bearing in mind that a lot of the texts for board and novelty books are are produced in-house.
“Mum-friendly” books – no drugs, sex or gritty or gratuitous violence.
Strong commercial concept-driven or character-led series novels and picture books.
Brilliantly-written stand-alone novels and picture books, but nothing too intensely high-brow.
Great illustration with child and parental appeal – nothing too dark and arty.

Apps:

While some of our future apps may be based on our books, Nosy Crow is currently focused on commissioning apps that start as apps, not as books. We are interested in working with authors and illustrators who are excited by, and really understand how, touch-screen devices can enhance and extend the story experience. As we have engineers on staff, we don’t need people who can code apps, and we don’t need to see a ready-made app. Instead, we want to see really great ideas and really great art (and need art that is created digitally in layers for this medium).

I got to visit glorious Lincoln Cathedral:

And I even saw a little of the top part of the city (here are Addy and Elizabeth Roy in front of something lovely and half timbered) before leaving.

I got a couple of nice comments on Twitter, and Addy blogged about it.

Axel Scheffler talking about Pip and Posy on the radio

Posted by Kate on Apr 15, 2011

Today Axel was interviewed by 12 local radio stations about the first two books in his new Pip and Posy series, Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter and Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle , which have just been published.

Lots of interviewers wanted to talk to him about his best-known books, The Gruffalo, which he illustrated and Julia Donaldson wrote and which I published at Macmillan perhaps almost 12 years ago. The book is regularly described as a modern classic and is the basis of an Oscar-nominated short film, not to mention a merchandising phenomenon, so this isn’t terribly surprising.

The Pip and Posy books are about a boy rabbit called Pip and a girl mouse called Posy. They all explore a bad thing that happens, that makes either Pip and Posy very sad, or angry or scared, and then the books show how they resolve those problems. So in Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter, Posy takes Pip’s scooter without asking and then she falls off it. Even though Pip was furious with Posy, he gives her a hug, and, though Posy’s hurt her knee, she cheers up and they both go and play in the sand pit. Though the stories are short, Axel wanted to communicate in the illustrations how angry Pip is and how sad and sorry Posy is. In Pip and Posy: The Little Puddle, Pip has an accident and does a wee on the floor. He’s really embarrassed, but Posy makes it all OK. He borrows some clothes, and the next time he has to do a wee, he does one in the potty. So every story has an low point – and “oh, dear” moment – and then, at the end, a high point – a “hooray” moment.

Axel’s ability to capture, for example, the expression on the face of a male rabbit asked to choose between two alternative dresses to wear after a puddle-on-the-floor accident is one of the reasons we think he’s utterly brilliant!

Here’s Axel talking to BBC radio Humberside:

The interview, together with interviews on BBC Humberside, BBC Ulster, BBC Bristol, BBC Wiltshire and BBC Cumbria, will be broadcast today, with others following over the next few days.

Martin Amis: "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book"

Posted by Kate on Feb 12, 2011

“People ask me if I ever thought of writing a children’s book. I say, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book’, but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.”

These are the words of Martin Amis (pictured above), interviewed on Radio 4 by Sebastian Faulks.

Amis went on to say, “I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.”

Martin Amis is, perhaps, nowadays more remarkable for his controversial comments – about women and about Islam as well as about writing for children – than for his novels. Maybe comments like this are as much about keeping him in the public eye as making a serious point, but there are, I think, four separate but connected thoughts in this particular sound bite.

The first, and the simplest, is the crassness of the “brain injury” reference. Inevitably, the implication that writing for children is for those with diminished intellectual capacity has angered children’s authors, including Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz.

Katherine Langrish pointed out, “People who make shoes or clothes, or who prepare food for children, aren’t generally considered less skilful than those who do the same things for adults – why is the opposite so often assumed to be true of books?”

Jane Stemp, whose book The Secret Songs was shortlisted for the 1998 Guardian children’s fiction award, and who has cerebral palsy, said: “I have brain damage … So Amis couldn’t have insulted me harder if he’d sat down and thought about it for a year.”

The “brain injury” reference caught the headlines – I used it myself – but, I think, the other points are much more interesting, and I find that I agree with the essence of what Amis is talking about.

Amis claims that “the idea of being conscious of who you’re directing the story to is anathema to me”. Let’s leave aside whether Amis is being disingenuous in saying that he does not write with a sense of what will appeal to his readers. I think that most good children’s authors do write with a clear sense of their audience. This doesn’t mean that all children’s authors do: in her angry response to Amis’s comments, Lucy Coats says she doesn’t, as a writer for children, write in a way that is prescribed by a sense of her audience: “When I write fiction, I research and plan just as (I assume) Amis does. Then I sit down and let what comes, come. The story generally tells itself without any inner voice saying, ‘Oh, but you’re writing for children – you mustn’t say this, or – goodness, certainly not that!’”

Certainly, as a publisher, with a commercial imperative, I judge children’s writing by whether I think it will appeal to a child reader. Are there characters with whom the child reader will empathise? Is the subject matter likely to interest the child? At Nosy Crow we’re publishing books for “children” from babies to teenagers, and, I hope, making carefully calibrated decisions for every book we choose. We aim to have a sense of the core readership for every book we publish: we always ask ourselves, “who is this book for?”. Of course, if the appeal of a book goes beyond that target readership, so much the better. And, in children’s book publishing, there’s an additional complication: the person who will ultimately read your book is not the person who will buy your book. The person who will buy your book will be, in the vast majority of cases, an adult. So you also, as a publisher, have to find ways of signposting to an adult the ways in which a book might appeal to the child for whom they are buying.

Amis goes on to say, “Fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.” I think that authors and publishers of children’s books do impose restraints on themselves. Earlier today, I decided against zombies, albeit unthreatening comedy zombies, appearing in a book that I judged would have a core audience of 6 to 9 year-old boys. Some of the younger readers were too young for zombies, I decided: the undead were just too scary. I don’t think that I’m alone as a children’s book publisher in confessing to having a kind of moral (or, maybe, better, an “appropriateness”) compass – an individual one, a fallible one – that operates in my head when I am choosing children’s books for publication. I think that many writers have it in their heads when they are writing children’s books. As a publisher, I do think hard about the “messages” in the books we publish. I would find it hard to publish a children’s book in which violence or cruelty triumphed over gentleness and kindness. I wouldn’t publish a novel that celebrated or justified racism, sexism or homophobia. I spent a few months working in adult publishing and it was interesting to be free from this compunction – and I did, really, feel the difference. I know, of course, that many children face violence, cruelty, injustice and chaos every day in their lives. I am aware that children’s books need to reflect a world that contemporary children recognise. But I think that children’s books have a role in shaping children’s world views, and I, for one, think that it is important to offer them narratives and characters that are exemplars of hope, justice, tolerance, generosity and redemption.

Finally, Amis said that he “would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.” The Ernie Wise-like syntactic inelegance is amusing in the context, though it was just a spoken aside in a radio interview. But the question he raises (at least, I think this is what he’s talking about) is a real one: does writing for children require an author to limit their vocabulary? As a publisher, I’d say that, honestly, the answer is “yes”. I am the first to acknowledge that children often discover new language through books, and I think it’s great that they do. But I would strongly advise an author to edit swearing out of a novel with a core audience of 8 year-olds even though I know that most children are familiar with those words in the playground and, often, at home. Nor can I imagine publishing a picture book with the words “recondite” and “meretricious” in it. In fact, unless the point was that a character spoke in an unusually orotund way, I’d advise the avoidance of those words in a novel aimed at children younger than 12. And books for babies, I’d say, should have simple texts that reflect babies’ evolving language skills.

So, on the whole, I think we should leave “recondite” and “meretricious” to Amis, but acknowledge that, while the “brain injury” comment is both glib and offensive, there is some truth in the other things that Amis said: children’s publishers and, I think, many successful and loved children’s authors are aware of their audience, and, free from solipsism and with a sense of responsibility, they pitch their stories, their characters and their language to that audience. I think we should be proud to do so.

Nosy Crow publishes its first book!

Posted by Kate on Jan 13, 2011

Today, we publish our very first book!

For regular readers of this blog it’s no surprise that our first book is Small Blue Thing by S C Ransom. It’s a paranormal romance set, unusually, in the UK, about the love between seventeen year-old schoolgirl Alex and the ghostly but gorgeous Callum, who drowned in the Fleet river, and is condemned to a half-life of stealing memories.

We have a very, very respectable 21,000 copies of the book in print, with promotions in Sainsbury’s, WHS, WHS Travel and Foyles as well as strong support from other bookshops and from Scholastic, Travelling Book Fairs and Red House. Allen and Unwin will release our edition of the book book in Australia in May, and we’ve sold rights to Fischer in Germany and Amber in Poland.

Looking back through the email trail, I see that I made the offer to publish the book a year ago yesterday, and we’re publishing the book just ten months after announcing that we were launching Nosy Crow.

This is a really exciting moment, for Nosy Crow, and I’m happy that Small Blue Thing is our first book. It’s the kind of reader-focused publishing that’s at the heart of Nosy Crow: as soon as I read the manuscript, I immediately felt I knew readers who’d love it. I read the manuscript at a point when I was thinking I might leave publishing altogether, but reading it made me realise that I know and love this business too much. Essentially, I decided to set up a publishing company to publish this book, so it’s particularly appropriate that this is Nosy Crow’s first title.

Deb has been working on the digital marketing for the book. She says, “For several weeks, Sue and Nosy Crow have been talking about the book on Twitter so our followers know all about it, and we’ve just launched a dedicated microsite. We’ll be focusing our efforts in places where teen readers spend their screen time, particularly Facebook, where the book’s fans are discussing friendship and pop culture, chatting with S C Ransom, participating in contests and swapping insights about the series.”

Sue says, “I’m thrilled that my debut novel is being published this week. It’s such a privilege to be able to share the story I wrote as a present for my daughter with so many other girls. I hope they enjoy it as much as she did! Nosy Crow has acted as the best of midwives, helping me shape and edit the story and putting in place a fantastic marketing plan with press pieces in publications as diverse as Bliss and Good Housekeeping! I really look forward to our continuing collaboration as we publish the rest of the trilogy.”

We’re publishing Perfectly Reflected, the second book in the trilogy, in June 2011 and Scattering Like Light, the third book in the trilogy, is published in January 2012.

Nosy Crow staff are having a fizzy wine brunch today in the office to celebrate a milestone in Nosy Crow’s journey (here we are in the picture), and we’re having dinner with Sue at my house in the evening.

Hope tree for 2011

Posted by Kate on Dec 31, 2010

Kate says:

“Today I’m going to share a bit of family tradition – quite a new one that we’ve been doing for maybe five or so years. We put some winter twigs into a jug, and put fairy lights on them and decorate the branches with stars and moon decorations – just stars and moons. By the jug, we have a bowl with a pen, and small squares of coloured paper and ribbon cut into short lengths. Over the course of the run up to Christmas, Christmas Day and the days after Christmas, we write our hopes for the coming year – for ourselves, or family and friends and for bigger things – on the squares of coloured paper. We roll them up and tie them to the branches. They’re secret: you don’t tell anyone else what you hope for. It’s our hope tree.

“As the days go by, there are more and more hopes on the tree: this is what it looked like this morning, and we have friends coming to dinner today so I expect there will be more before the hopes-on-the-tree deadline of midnight tonight.

“On 6 January – sometimes earlier, but never before 1 January – we’ll burn the “hopes” on a small bonfire outside – if it doesn’t rain, and in the stove if it does.

“I thought that this idea was entirely original. But of course, it’s not. My elder child pointed out that I had pinched it from references to the Japanese (summer) festival of Tanabata, that I had read as a child in Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. In the book,Nona, unhappy and lonely in England, makes a wish tree as she is inspired to learn about Japanese culture by the arrival of two Japanese dolls. She ends up making a house for them while she herself finds herself increasingly at home. It’s all there in the book: the stars, the tree, the wishes (or hopes) and even the burning of the wishes (or hopes). I loved that book as a child, but I’d completely forgotten that part of it until my daughter read it and reminded me. It’s interesting to think that something from a children’s book lay forgotten and dormant in my head for almost three decades: just one reminder, for me, of the unexpected power of reading for pleasure as a child.”

And happy 2011 from all the Crows: we hope that your hopes are fulfilled.

Appy days

Posted by Kate on Dec 06, 2010

From the moment I saw a touch-screen device – an iPod Touch – I was excited about the potential for apps to become reading experiences for children.

The first thing that struck me was the immediacy of the experience relative to other screen experiences: when you touch the screen, something happens. As adults, we have learned that we can make something happen on a screen by fiddling around with a mouse or a keyboard or a remote control. But if you showed a computer to someone from Shakespeare’s time, she wouldn’t touch the keyboard, but (when she’d got over her fear) would, I think, try to make something happen by touching the screen. If you type “toddler using an iPad” into google, you’ll see two year-olds using that device for the first time instinctively.

The second thing that struck me was how portable the devices were. I am a mother, and, when my children were little, I carried a huge bag that contained, as well as snacks and wet-wipes and a change of clothes, toys and at least five board or picture books. I realised that you could store hundreds of books in this tiny thing: an iPhone is approximately12 centimetres by 6 centimetres by 1 centimetre.

The third thing that struck me was how lovely the screen looked, and how beautiful colours looked on it. The backlighting that many people find annoying when they read texts on screen meant that colour images were lit up like little stained-glass windows.

And the fourth thing that struck me was that, now these things were in the world, they are unlikely to go away.

At The Bookseller’s Children’s Conference in September 2010, Justine Abbott, from Aardvark Research shared some of her research about young children’s engagement with digital media.

She talked about the fact that 28% of children under six have a television in their own rooms.

She said that pre-schoolers in her survey were watching television for over two hours per day.

She said that the youngest iPad user she’d met was four months old.

She quoted the mother of her 20 month-old son, “he’ll probably learn to read from the computer”.

She said that parents welcomed iPhones as “electronic Mary Poppinses”, providing interactive and engaging entertainment for their children without their intervention.

She concluded by saying that families were increasingly embracing screen-based technology as entertainment for their child, saying it was “portable, personal and (importantly) permissible”.

I know that many people involved in the world of children’s books shake their heads in sorrow or horror at Justine Abbott’s statements, and would, I know, recoil from the other statistical evidence that children are spending less time with print and more with screens and that their parents and teachers are letting them or encouraging them to do so.

But what are we to do? We could turn our back on the evidence, and say it is nothing to do with us, and keep our focus exclusively on print. Or we could try to ensure that some of that screen-time is reading time.

At Nosy Crow, we love books. We love the smell of them. We love the feel of them. We love the way that everything changes when you turn a page. Some of the books we will publish really have to happen on the printed page: they are very physical things. There are touch-and-feel elements throughout the Noodle books illustrated by Marion Billet that we will publish in May 2011. There are illustrations for the reader to complete with their own pens and pencils in the Mega Mash-up books by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson that we publish in February 2001. And there are good, “old-fashioned” (in format, not content) paperbacks like S C Ransom’s romantic fantasy Small Blue Thing, published in January 2011, and beautifully produced picture books like Axel Scheffler’s Pip and Posy titles that are published in April 2011.

But, while we love books, we love reading more. And we profoundly believe in the potential for literacy and, specifically, reading for pleasure, to transform lives. We know that reading for pleasure correlates with increased attainment in reading and writing; that reading for pleasure fosters creativity and imagination; that reading for pleasure develops good social attitudes; that reading for pleasure contributes to knowledge and understanding of the world and that reading for pleasure contributes to self-esteem. We don’t just make this stuff up. These are the conclusions of decades of research: PIRLS 2007; Cox and Guthrie 2001; Meek, 1987; Allen et al 2005; Bus et al, 1995; Stanovich and Cunningham, 1993; Hatton and Marsh, 2005; Pressley 2000.

I’ve just come back from speaking at a children’s publishing conference in Munich: Wie digital wird das Kinderbuch?(How digital will children’s books become?). There the statistics presented about German children’s embrace of technology were just as overwhelming, but several publishers there were advocating a softly-softly approach: let’s make apps, but let’s not make them too different from books. Let’s keep the book, but have it appear on the screen. Let’s not get into competition with computer games and animated films.

That’s not what I think we, as publishers, should do.

I think that this route risks making reading less exciting to children. If games and books exist in the same screen space, the comparison between the two will be made. If something happens – a noise, a movement – when you touch the iPad screen when you are playing a game, won’t you feel disappointed if nothing much happens when you are reading a book?

I think that, as publishers, we shouldn’t be trying to squash the books that already exist onto a phone. We should, I think, be creating reading experiences for touch-screen devices. The devices have the capacity for sound, animation and interactivity built into them, and we should use those capacities to tell stories in a new and engaging way.

We’re trying to do just that. If you go onto YouTube and search Nosy Crow, you will find a video of the first of our 3-D Fairy Tales: The Three Little Pigs. It has text and it has illustrations, but it also has an audio track, and animation. When you touch the characters, they move, and you get additional comments. You can make the wolf blow down the house. You can explore the picture, and, when you tip the device backwards and forwards, the images look as if they are in 3-D. Here’s the link.

Making this app, and working on the others that we are developing has used many of the skills we already had: shaping text, determining pacing and choosing illustrations. We have had to learn new skills too, some of them purely technical, but many of them about how to tell a story in this new medium.

We think that, for us and for the people we have worked with, the process has been exciting. But what is important is that we’ve ended up with a reading experience that is engaging, fun, scary, funny, worthy of repeating – in the same way that a good book is all those things.

We shouldn’t turn our back. We shouldn’t go a little way down the digital path or do it half-heartedly and with reluctance. We should, I think, go to where our readers are going, and make sure that they read along the way.

(This is an edited version of an article that Kate has written for Books For Keeps, published in 2011)

And now... best books for ten (10) year-old boys

Posted by Kate on Oct 17, 2010

Having written a post on best books for ten year-old girls, Kate felt that she couldn’t not write the companion post on best books for ten year-old boys, not least because it’s another rich seam of terrific writing. Of course, there are many overlaps between books ‘for’ boys and books ‘for’ girls (and the gender divide was really driven by the twitter enquiry that prompted the list of best books for girls), but there are differences too. However much of an old-style Doc-Marten-wearing feminist Kate was (is…), and however much she swore that she would not encourage her own children into gender stereotypes, she’s come to accept differences, whether innate or cultural. in boys’ and girls’ reading and playing preferences. It is better, she thinks, for children to read things that appeal to them, than to try to push them into “appreciating” things that they don’t really respond to.

Once again, the reading levels vary and these are not all literary books. Kate thinks children should be encouraged to read widely.

Classics:

The Narnia stories by C S Lewis
The Just William books by Richmal Crompton
The Tintin books
The Asterix books
The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Funny books:

The Eddie Dickens books by Philip Ardagh
The Larklight books by Philip Reeve
The Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton
The Rover books by Roddy Doyle (especially The Meanwhile Adventures)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The Jiggy McCue books by Michael Lawrence
Our forthcoming Mega Mash-up books
(And, since this blog post was first published, The Grunts series Philip Ardagh and our Danny Danger books by Adam Frost.)

Time-slip/historical books:

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian
The Wolves of Willougby Chase by Joan Aitken
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
The Legendeer Trilogy by Alan Gibbons
Gladiator by Simon Scarrow and Richard Jones is likely to appeal, and publishes in February 2011
The Eagle of the Ninth and other historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliffe
Cue for Treason and other historical fiction by Geoffrey Treese
The Machine Gunners and other historical fiction by Robert Westall
Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

“Ordinary boy”/school stories:

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cloud Busting by Malorie Blackman
Three Weeks with the Queen by Maurice Gleitzman
Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout
Goal by Michael Morpurgo
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
The Jamie Johnson football books by Dan Freedman

Fantasy/adventure stories:

The Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz
The Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer
The Cherub books by Robert Muchamore
The Young Bond books by Charlie Higson
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper
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
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
Our forthcoming Danny Danger books
Varjak Paw by S F Said
Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo
Arthur, High King of Britain by Michael Morpurgo

“Real-life” stories:

The My Story books (actually fictionalised, but still based on real historical events)
The Horrible Histories books
The Horrible Science books
The Horrible Geography books
Boy by Roald Dahl

Best books for ten (10) year-old girls

Posted by Kate on Oct 17, 2010

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?

Classics:

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

Funny books:

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.)

Time-slip/historical books:

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)

Fantasy stories:

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

“Real-life” stories:

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

Books for babies (and pre-schoolers)

Posted by Kate on Sep 02, 2010

This evening, Kate went to the Book Trust Early Years Awards ceremony.

It’s far too early for Nosy Crow (which, let’s remember, hasn’t published a book yet) to be submitting books to awards, but Kate loves books for babies and pre-schoolers.

Once, many years before she had babies herself (and so many, many years ago), Kate went to Wigan.

She went to Wigan because Wigan Council (forgive her: she thinks this is right, but her memory is a bit hazy as to the exact body), was excited by the results coming out of the early Bookstart research. They wanted to give books to every baby in Wigan, because they believed that early exposure to books made children:

  • more successful at school
  • more ready to start school
  • more likely to read and talk about books
  • more likely to visit libraries and borrow books from libraries
  • more likely to have books bought for them and read to them

Kate had just acquired independent publisher Campbell Books from its founder Rod Campbell (whose Goodnight Buster was shortlisted for the Baby Book Award this evening) for Macmillan, the company she then worked for. She’d always been interested in baby books, but Campbell Books was really all about babies and toddlers. She said to Wigan Council that she’d give them some books to give to Wigan babies, and they invited her to come to a Sainsbury’s in Wigan to recruit babies and their parents for the Wigan Bookstart scheme. She’ll never forget approaching parents of a toddler to ask if they’d be interested in joining the scheme, and being looked at as if she were mad: “He can’t read! He’s only two years-old!”. Or being photographed with a baby who stiffened in astonishment when she opened a book – a child who’d perhaps never seen pages turned before, and whose mother acknowledged that there were no books in the house.

At one point, when the National Bookstart Programme ran out of money, just before the government committed to supporting it, Campbell Books donated over 600,000 books to the programme to help keep it going.

So Nosy Crow will publish books for babies because if you don’t start at the very beginning, how can you expect to engage readers later.

This evening, three awards were made by children’s book expert Wendy Cooling on behalf of Booktrust.

The first was for the Best Book For Babies, and went to I Love My Mummy by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Emma Dodd. The book was, as it happens, designed by Steph Amster, who’s joining the Nosy Crow team on 13 September.

The second was for the Best Picture Book (for children under five), and went to evolution tale, One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell. Kate was especially pleased to see two books from the Alison Green Books list on the shortlist, one of them written by Alison herself: Alison was a colleague of Kate’s for 17 years.

The third was for the Best Emerging Illustrator and went to Levi Pinfold for The Django, for his detailed, painterly and highly sophisticated picture book artwork. The book’s published by Templar, who share with Nosy Crow Bounce as their UK and export trade sales agency.

Worthwhile awards. Nice people. Fun evening.

Oh, and Kate tweeted the awards (so apologies if this is all old news). In the course of the event someone asked her to recommend books for a one year-old. Off the cuff, these were her suggestions:

  • Each Peach Pear Plum
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
  • Goodnight Moon
  • Dear Zoo
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • The Big Book of Beautiful Babies

What books would you suggest? Let us know by commenting on the post.

Rounding off Hay

Posted by Kate on Jun 07, 2010

Kate had a real day off on Thursday and went to a West Wales beach, but came back in time for the Puffin of Puffins debate chaired by Lucy Mangan, top children’s books afficionado and Guardian columnist. Children’s book authors, adult author Jasper Fforde and Marcus Brigstocke each championed a book from one of Puffin’s seven decades.

Jackie Wilson championed the The Family at One End Street – the first book with people who weren’t posh that she’d encountered. She said that every character was imbued with their own personality, even baby William. She identified with kind Lily-Rose and bookish Kate and said that they were surprisingly modern in their aspirations: Lily-Rose wants her own steam laundry (their mother takes in laundry) and Kate wants to be a sort of eco-farmer (though she doesn’t express it in those words).

Jenny Valentine defended Charlotte’s Web, saying it had a brilliantly dramatic and ominous opening line, “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”, and was a celebration of the transformative power of friendship and loyalty.

Jasper Fforde spoke up for Stig of the Dump, speaking of the appeal he felt as a child of Stig’s complete freedom from the dullness and strictures of adulthood.

Marcus Brigstocke recalled the way that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory expressly addressed him in the first pages, and said that this made the book more approachable for someone who was dyslexic. He said that Willie Wonka was a brilliant fictional forerunner of Alan Sugar, and the whole set-up was like The Apprentice.

Cathy Cassidy championed Goodnight Mr Tom, a book, she said, about “learning to be loved” that she’d read non-stop in the course of a single night when she was in her 20s.

Andy Stanton defended The Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Dog: “A small comic masterpiece” that is “a kids’ book… It’s exactly what kids want.”

Jason Bradbury spoke up for Artemis Fowl celebrating the fairy gadgetry and its moral ambivalence: Artemis is really “a baddie, which is all to the good”.

Of these, Kate would have voted for Charlotte’s Web (had she had a voting slip, which, annoyingly, she didn’t), but the audience vote was for Goodnight Mr Tom, a very worthy winner.

You can add your vote to the national vote

On Friday morning, Kate momentarily owned a Viviane Schwarz original (pictured) after Viv and Grahame Baker Smith’s Kate Greenaway Medal event with Anthony Browne… but a little girl asked if she could have it, and it seemed churlish not to hand it over. Viv’s There Are Cats in This Book is a whimsical joy.

Later, in her event, Francesca Simon read from Horrid Henry Rocks, demonstrating once again that no-one writes about sibling rivalry more amusingly. She said she draws on the emotions of her own childhood and on her observations of her nephew and niece (who provided the line, “He’s looking out of my window!” in the course of a car journey), though she emphasised that Horrid Henry and Perfect Peter represent the “Two halves of everyone”.

Andy Stanton demonstrated the quirky energy and humour at the heart of his Mr Gum books in his event, bounding around the audience to take questions, drinking water “in French” and speaking about his writing process: “Sometimes ideas are like wasps. Probably. They get in your head and buzz around. Actually, they’re not like wasps.”

In his event, Morris Gleitzman spoke movingly of the challenge and process of writing his Holocaust trilogy, Once, Then and Now… prompting a bit of a debate (continued on Twitter) as to whether you have to be Jewish to write fiction about the Jewish experience of the Holocaust or whether any writing about the Holocaust is likely to act as a commemoration and a reminder. What do you think?

Oh, and there was more, but you’ve probably had enough. Once again, the Hay Festival of Literature and Art was fun and stimulating. It was a chance to meet old friends and meet new people. It was great to be there.

What comes first, the book or the reader?

Posted by Kate on May 09, 2010

On Friday, Kate had a meeting with an Italian publisher at Nosy Crow’s Lambeth offices. This woman is clever, energetic and has good market knowledge as she is married to, and works alongside, a successful Bolognese children’s book seller. She has an international business background.

She wanted to show Nosy Crow books that she is publishing, because she wanted to know if Nosy Crow would be interested in buying UK rights in them.

Now, it’s always interesting to see other people’s books, and always interesting to see books from other cultures, but this meeting was never going to end in a deal.

The first reason is that Nosy Crow is interested in acquiring world rights in all languages to all the books it publishes, and buying a limited portfolio of rights – say English language rights for the traditional British market – will be the exception rather than the rule for Nosy Crow.

But the second reason is perhaps more interesting. This woman (as we’ve said, clever, with market knowledge) approached publishing children’s books completely differently from Kate.

The Italian publisher’s starting point was the product. She was interested in looking at where there were gaps in product available for the market and in filling those gaps. Now, in Kate’s view, sometimes there are product gaps for very good reasons: there aren’t enough people interested in what might fill those gaps for them to be economically viable, or, at least for it to be economically viable to reach them through our traditional bookselling channels.

Kate’s starting point – and Nosy Crow’s starting point – is the reader, and we will not publish anything whose reader we don’t think we can identify. While of course we recognise that children and readers don’t fit into neat and discrete groups, we do try to identify a core market – a sense of who the book (or app) is for. If it appeals to others beyond this group, so much the better. But we have to believe that there are children for whom what we are publishing will be perfect: will make them laugh, will make them excited, will surprise or shock or move them, will make them think or ask questions, or talk about it to their friends… and will encourage them to read more.

Of course, Kate’s exaggerating a bit: there are sometimes books we just fall in love with and hope will find their audience, but we hope that that idea of the child reader remains at the heart of all we do.

And, while Kate and the Italian woman had a great chat, Kate ended up staring in bemusement at a beautiful touch-and-feel book about the history of costume and fashion, while the Italian woman was baffled by Nosy Crow’s Dinosaur Dig.

Vote for Literacy

Posted by Kate on Mar 02, 2010

Yesterday, Camilla and Kate were off to Random House for a drink and a chat at the launch of the National Literacy Trust’s Vote for Literacy Campaign, which aims to push all political parties to make literacy a priority. The NLT-ers have been busy bunnies, rebranding and relaunching their website, which is a treasure-trove, really, and if you don’t know it, have a look.

A recent YouGov survey, quoted on the NLT website, found that 92 % of the British public say literacy is vital to the economy and 87 % believe that good literacy skills are essential for children to cope in today’s multimedia society. However, the last PIRLS survey (due for an update soon) found that English children’s standard of reading was dropping in absolute terms and in comparison to reading standards in other countries, and that English children reported enjoying reading less than they had in the previous survey and less than kids in many other countries. The NLT’s own survey found that children think that readers are clever and successful, but also geeky/nerdy and boring … and children think that their friends think more negatively about readers than they do.

At Nosy Crow we know – because we feel it and have lived it in our own and other children’s lives; and because we’ve read the research – that:

  • Reading for pleasure correlates with increased attainment in reading and writing.
  • Reading for pleasure fosters creativity and imagination.
  • Reading for pleasure develops good social attitudes.
  • Reading for pleasure contributes to knowledge and understanding of the world.
  • Reading for pleasure contributes to self-esteem.

We think that the best ways of encouraging children to read for pleasures are to supply them with things they want to read in print and digitally, and to get children to talk about reading with other children and with adults face-to-face and on-line.

So there you go.