My story starts in March 2010 when the sort of project that makes an agent’s life a joy arrived on my desk. Carefully wrapped in tissue paper, three full colour pictures lay before me which featured in glorious realism a triceratops driving a loader, a tyrannosaurus operating an excavator and a stegosaurus crouched over the wheel of a dumper truck. This was the birth of the bestselling Dinosaur Dig series, created by writer and artist Penny Dale. For me, as for the many children who have since become enraptured by Dinosaur Dig and its successors, it was love at first sight.
I’d represented author and artist Penny Dale, as her agent, for over fifteen years when this new parcel arrived and had previously gloried in the two million copy bestselling success of her gentle classic Ten in the Bed. Dinosaur Dig was a complete departure: a full-on celebration of the macho world of dinosaur brawn and a fantastical flight of fantasy about the way such creatures would interact with heavy machinery, all served up with Penny’s delicious wit. This fresh new world seemed to need a fresh new publishing approach and Nosy Crow, the vibrant new kid on the children’s publishing block, seemed the perfect home. Kate Wilson and Camilla Reid shared all my enthusiasm and within three days of my showing them the material the dinosaurs and their trucks had a home.
Dinosaur Dig was published in May 2011; Dinosaur Zoom in August 2012 and Dinosaur Rescue) now in January 2014. Each book has its favourite moments for me – the insouciance of the megalosaurus as he drives his convertible though the Arizona desert with all the cool of Hunter S. Thompson; the care with which the tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops organise the backing of lorries in the forest glade; the dormitory scene of dinosaurs sleeping in their bunks at the end of Dinosaur Rescue. Nothing in either text or illustration talks down to the child. The dinosaurs are gloriously realistic and questions such as how to fit five dinosaurs in the front of a rescue truck are tackled by the artist with exactly the same seriousness as that with which a child would address such a problem. The books represent a rare conjunction of fantastical flamboyance and minute attention to detail which precisely reflects a child’s mind.
I knew the books would be a success: had the hairs not stood up on the back of my neck when I first saw Dinosaur Dig? But it was still thrilling to check in every bit of good news as it arrived from the Crow’s Nest. First co-edition sales of over 70,000 copies for Dinosaur Dig to Candlewick in the USA, Carlsen in Germany, Gallimard in France, Makela in Finland and Heibei in China. Strong retail support for each new book on the high street with particular enthusiasm from Waterstones and WH Smith. Promotional attention from wholesalers such as Gardners and Peters. The emergence of chunky board book editions for each title. Stellar sales in Australia where the publisher made its own promotional video. Success in America, often rare for a UK-originated picture book. Fabulous reviews including ‘a roaring delight’ from The Guardian and a description as a winner in ‘the nighttime battle over bedtime stories’ by the Sunday Telegraph. And watch this SPACE because in the not too distant future those dinosaurs will be cramming their heavy bodies into rockets. One small step for a dinosaur, one giant leap for dinosaurkind!
Caroline Sheldon runs the eponymous Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency and represents a bestselling roster of writers and illustrators for children. Dinosaur Rescue is out this month – you can take a look inside below, and order the book onlinehere.
I thought this observation was absolutely spot on, but I was a little surprised that it had never occurred to me before. I love Penny Dale’s brilliant series of Dinosaur books, and Calvin and Hobbes is my favourite comic strip OF ALLTIME. In fact I’ll go further than that: it’s one of my favourite things of all time. I can’t think of many books (or films, television shows, songs, or anything else, for that matter) that had a greater impact on me as I was growing up, and I suspect it’s part of the reason that I decided that I wanted to work in children’s publishing.
For those of you aren’t familiar with the strip, it tells the story of six-year-old Calvin and his toy stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who is an entirely real, living animal for Calvin alone. The strip ran from 10 years, from 1985 – 1995, and covered a dizzying span of themes over its run – life, death, love, Christmas, babysitters… and dinosaurs.
The dinosaur stories were some of my favourites: like a lot of Calvin and Hobbes, they took place entirely within the imaginations of the two main characters, which was denoted by the dramatically different art style in which creator Bill Watterson drew them. The juxtapositions between the strip’s signature cartoon style and the much more ‘realistically’ drawn dinosaurs, and between Calvin’s unbridled dinosaur enthususiasm and the indifference of everyone else (including Hobbes) around him, produced some hilarious moments – here are some of the best ones (you can click each of the images to enlarge):
I mentioned John’s comment to Penny, and sent her some examples of Watterson’s dinosaurs, and she was very impressed by the practicalities that he’d overcome to fit dinosaurs into today’s world (a challenge she faces with each of her Dinosaur books) – here’s what she said to me in an email:
“These are so amazing! It’s fascinating to see how someone else has squeezed a T rex into a vehicle … and I think a fighter jet cockpit has probably – apart from an F1 car perhaps – the tightest fit for the pilot or driver!”
Here’s a look inside the first two books in the fantastic Dinosaur series (the third book, Dinosaur Rescue!, will publish in January next year).
You can buy The Complete Calvin and Hobbes here (no home is complete without it). I could talk about Calvin and Hobbes (and dinosaur books) ALLDAY, so if you have a favourite of either, tell us in a tweet to @NosyCrowBooks or leave a comment below!
Last month we published the board book edition of Penny Dale’s wonderful Dinosaur Zoom, the follow-up to Dinosaur Dig. These smaller, robust board editions are absolutely great for young toddlers, and the stories and illustrations themselves – filled with dinosaurs, vehicles, lots of fantastic visual detail, and even some counting – have a particularly boy-ish sort of appeal.
The only things that are missing from the board books are the endpapers published in the original editions, which have the names for all of the dinosaurs and vehicles in each book. We recently heard from a parent who told us how much their son enjoyed naming each dinosaur, and so we thought we’d make the endpapers available for free to everyone. Click on each image to enlarge, and click the links below to download large, printable PDFs.
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
Art in Action
is a four day event held at Waterperry House and Gardens in Oxfordshire. Every year around 25,000 visitors come to observe hundreds of artists demonstrating how they work.
This was my second year demonstrating in the illustration and calligraphy marquee. Along with four other illustrators and five calligraphers we drew and talked and painted as well as selling some prints and originals and lots of books.
I was showing how I am working on sketch layouts for my next book, Dinosaur Zoom, using an iPad, alongside examples of the layouts for Dinosaur Dig! (which were done on paper).
I showed how rather than sticking lots of layers of paper one on top of the other when working up plans for illustrations, and ending up with a very bumpy paper sandwich, I could work the layers separately and smoothly on the iPad. People were amazed at the degree of subtlety that can be achieved drawing directly on the screen with a capacitive stylus. Some children had a go at drawing a dinosaur on the iPad themselves, and loved the way the brushes app we use would replay their drawing step by step. Pure ‘Art in Action’! (You can see a video of how the process works here.
I did reassure people that I would still produce the actual artwork for DINOSAURZOOM using watercolour and pencil crayons on real paper, but the iPad is certainly great for roughs.
While this was going on some very hardworking friends were also talking to people and selling books – lots of books! Ten in the Bed and Once There Were Giants were favorites and Dinosaur Dig went so fast we started to run out on the first day with Friday and the weekend still to come! Imogen was brilliant at Nosy Crow HQ, and managed to send another load which arrived the next day. All of those went too! Here’s the last copy being sold!
It was lovely to see the range of ages who liked Dinosaur Dig. A rather hot and tired 6 month old baby in a facing out sling carrier stopped crying and laughed when he saw the cover – excitedly shouting and flapping his arms and legs! Bigger children liked reading it and asked lots of questions about making the book – some even said “Cool!” when they got to the end. Many nursery and infant teachers said how it was just the thing for reading AND number work with their children. We were really delighted with all the reactions.
I want to say a huge thank you to the organisers of Art in Action and all the volunteers for making it such a unique and wonderful event! Now it’s time to unpack everything back into the studio and start on the actual artwork for Dinosaur Zoom… so which box did I put the drawing board in?
Hello, everyone. Pip and Posy here, posting from the Hay-on-Wye festival. It’s fantastic here – there are millions of books, quite a few clever grown-up people talking about books, and loads of wet other people wearing wellies. We even saw a royal Duchess (Camilla – no crown, but no wellies either).
It was brilliant fun. We didn’t have to sit still, or behave ourselves properly or anything. Penny showed us how she drew the pictures which was really interesting – how do you get a T-rex’s tail in a dumper truck cab? But the best bit was when she got us all to stamp and stomp, and to roar a lot, just like in the book!
We had such a good time that Pip very nearly had a little accident, but we got to the (really nice) toilets just in time, so it was ok.
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 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.
Yesterday, the Nosy Crows had a bit of a lunch-time knees-up to celebrate (nearly) 15 months of existence and (nearly) 5 months of publishing. It was a non-birthday party, because we hadn’t been able to get ourselves organised enough to celebrate earlier. We’d love to have a photograph to show you what it was like, but our usual Nosy Crow photographic incompetence precludes this.
I wrote about our real birthday in our blog post of 22 February.
Adrian cooked, mainly Ottolenghi stuff as we have some vegetarians/borderline vegetarians in our group, and, besides, the recipes are great. I wheeled out the old pavlova trick. We ate like hogs, and staggered off into the early evening.
Because of how we work – three of us work from home, and some of us work part-time – and because we have as few formal meetings as possible, we don’t spend much time round a table, so it was great to have us all (well, nearly all: Deb’s in Rome but we couldn’t bear to postpone any further) in one room just to talk.
And it was a welcome moment to stop (because we hardly ever have time to stop) and think about what we’d achieved so far.
The first few are also published in Australia /New Zealand via Allen and Unwin, and many will be published in the second half of the year in the USA/Canada by Candlewick Press under the Nosy Crow imprint. So far, we’ve sold rights to translate these books to publishers in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Germany, France, Israel, Korea and China.
We have one app, The Three Little Pigs, available in the App Stores throughout the world, which has been named as one of the top 10 children’s book apps by the New York Times, and been extensively reviewed and praised by people who’ve bought it, bloggers specialising in apps and some of the increasing number of children’s book reviewers who are turning their attention to children’s reading experiences on the iPad (you can see most of the reviews on our The Three Little Pigs page of the Media Kit section of our website. The app will be published in German by Carlsen and in French by Gallimard Jeunesse.
We feel lucky to have pulled together the team we have – people with the best possible experience in fields as diverse as computer games coding, picture book design and children’s fiction commissioning (you can find out more about each of us in the Who Are We? section in the About As part of our website.
It’s not all cakes and ale: these are exceptionally tough times to be a print publisher, and the apps market is in its infancy, but, 15 months on, we reckon that we’ve made the best possible start and are toddling along nicely.
Well, things got very real – and exciting – this week for Nosy Crow in North America.
Those of you who follow the blog will know that on March 10 (gosh: just under a month ago – things have moved fast since then!) we announced in our blog post that day that Boston-based Candlewick Press will co-publish the majority of Nosy Crow’s full-colour and illustrated titles in the US and Canada and Nosy Crow will become a new imprint of Candlewick Press.
Since then, as I say, things have moved quickly, and we’ve finalised the first Nosy Crow list for the US and Canada which will be published between August and December 2011. The books that will be published on the first Fall list are:
I’ve spent the last few days with friends at Candlewick.
First, I went to Boston to present the SPRING 2012 list (because publishing never stops, folks, and we are now working on the titles that Candlewick will be publishing under the Nosy Crow imprint from January to July 2012).
Then I went to New York (and I do love New York), to present the Fall list to Random House Special Markets team (because Candlewick is distributed by Random House in the US and Canada and they do some of their specialist selling through Random House’s sales force) to present to the people who do deals with things as diverse as museum shops and Pampers. Then on to Scholastic (for whom I used to work and an organisation I hugely admire) to talk about the Nosy Crow/Candlewick list to David Allender of US clubs before a lunch with Lisa Dugan, Barnes and Noble’s baby, toddler and picture book buyer.
While I was in New York, I managed to meet up with Andi Meyer, who is clever, dedicated and nice, and who works on publicising our apps in the US and does a lot or our @nosycrowapps tweeting. It was, as it happens, the eve of the mention of The Three Little Pigs on CBS (you can see the clip here, but we didn’t know it was happening until it was happening, if you see what I mean. We had a lot to talk about over our pasta.
And now I’m writing this in a hotel near Niagara (the Canadian side – the photo is of the Canadian side of the falls and it was – really – glorious to see it yesterday evening), having presented the Fall list to the very nice people at Random House Canada (who do Candlewick’s selling in Canada).
It’s been a busy three days, but there’s nothing like being able to present great books – in person – to the people who will then be the advocates of those books as they make their way to readers more than five thousand miles away from the place that those books were created.
One of the great joys of working in children’s books is the degree to which the publisher has – and I have often used this metaphor before – a seat at the creative table.
At Nosy Crow, we think that we bring decades of experience combined with good ideas to help authors and illustrators, whether they are established or new, shape their books at every level, from overall storylines, to the shape of a nose, the choice of a word or the point in the story that a page is turned.
Penny Dale entirely knows her onions when it comes to writing and illustrating children’s picture books, but she too welcomes publisher input. This is Penny and Camilla discussing the storyline for the sequel to Dinosaur Dig!, which is open in front of them, in Nosy Crow’s offices this week. Sorry re Penny blinking: my photography failure again.
We even asked @nosycrow’s twitter followers what their pre-schoolers’ favourite vehicles were to inspire us along the way. Do let us know what your pre-schooler’s favourite vehicles are if you haven’t already by posting a comment.
“I was off to Waterstones today, to show them material on our books from May to August. May is the first month in which we have more than one book or pair of books from the same series, so that felt like a bit of a breakthrough.
Lyn Gardner is a terrific children’s writer and a Guardian theatre critic, who has brought her skill, her passion and her knowledge together to create the Olivia books, which are classy-but-commercial Ballet Shoes meets Malory Towers for today’s 8+ girl reader. The first book in the series, Olivia’s First Term publishes in June.
Dinosaur Dig! is Penny Dale’s innovative combination of two things little boys (in particular) love: dinosaurs and diggers. These dinosaurs are (spoiler alert!) digging a swimming pool and making a lot of noise about it. The book was inspired by Penny’s construction vehicle-obsessed grandson, Zachary, to whom the book is dedicated. The book publishes in May.
The Noodle books by French illustrator Marion Billet are touch and feel books with a very attractive panda character whose life reflects the daily activities and excitements of most babies under the age of 18 months. Two books publish in May and two in August.
Where possible, we try to make sure that books with a summery themes, featuring holidays, or swimming, or beaches, which are, therefore, possible summer reading promotion contenders, are published in these months, so the ocean setting of the third Mega Mash-up, the beach holiday theme of Bizzy Bear: Off We Go! and of Noodle Loves the Beach, as well as the swimming pool finale of Dinosaur Dig! all make them books we think babies and children would be in the right frame of mind for as the weather gets warmer. Trudging through the rain, weaving round discarded and dessicated Christmas trees this morning, it was hard to believe we’d ever see summer again, but publishing is always about thinking ahead: full-colour books take months to get from the printer to the warehouse, and we are selling rights and doing highlights presentations up nine months, and even more, ahead of the books being available to readers.
The first presentation – to Waterstones – went very well. Lots more presentations to come…”
Thursday saw Camilla continuing her tour of the summer festivals – this time she was off to Art in Action, a hugely popular arts and crafts festival held annually in the Oxfordshire countryside and which continues till Sunday (18 July).
She was there to cheer on Penny Dale who was installed in the Calligraphy and Illustration tent, in theory to demonstrate her brilliant illustration skills on a spread of Dinosaur Dig, but there were so many people who wanted signed copies of Penny’s books, and who wanted to chat to her, that there was probably not much actual work being done.
But not to worry, it was a great chance for Penny to talk to fans, young and old, and to get in a few pre-orders of Dinosaur Dig too!
When she was at Hay, Kate had the opportunity to meet up with Penny Dale to talk through the progress of Dinosaur Dig (Penny, pictured, in a tent in Hay with a print-out of the second spread from the book). It’s such a pleasure to see the book developing.
Penny was inspired to write and illustrate Dinosaur Dig by her vehicle-obsessed toddler grandson. But, as she explains, her decision to do a book featuring construction vehicles happily coincided with something not every householder welcomes:
“By happy coincidence, there have been major road works going on in our street lately. Lots of diggers and dumpers have been trundling up and down providing the perfect soundtrack to the production of artwork for Dinosaur Dig!
I’ve been covertly sneaking the odd close-up photo of hydraulics and digger details, but was a bit cautious about telling the drivers and engineers – quite a large crew at times – what I was up to. But yesterday day they were right outside our house so I had to confess. I went outside, armed with a print-out of a T-rex in a loader and showed it to the Ganger. The engines suddenly stopped, and they all had a look, and immediately identified their digger driving colleague as the T-rex. They were very appreciative of the detailed observation of their vehicles… but nodded in understanding when I explained that I’d had to redesign some of them to accommodate the dinosaurs’ massive tails.
They took the print-out for the wall of their portacabin: a different kind of pin-up!”
We are sorry. We haven’t posted since last Sunday, and we apologise to those of you – and we know you exist and we love you! – who’ve been coming to the site every day for our daily Nosy News. We’ve been at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair since Monday and have had no time at all to post, though Kate’s tweeted a bit.
The picture of Kate and Camilla on the stand with an author was taken by lovely Liz Thomson from Book Brunch.
Kate has her schedule to hand and sees that she had over 50 appointments in three-and-a-half days just counting the ones which she spent showing non-UK publishers and a couple of UK retailers the material on Nosy Crow’s books for 2011. Camilla had a full schedule too. Given that, as some of you know, we initially planned to come to Bologna just to have a few chats with old friends, this wasn’t bad going.
Of course, because we’d been launched for exactly four weeks when the fair began, we didn’t have a huge amount of material – though Imogen did manage to pull together bound proofs of Small Blue Thing which went like hot cakes. We couldn’t be more pleased with the response to all that we had to show, though. Several key people came back to the stand, some with colleagues, to look again at things that particularly interested them. Kate got five requests to come to visit publishers/groups of publishers to talk through the programme over the next few months. There wasn’t a single project on which we don’t have a lot of interest to folllow up, and we’re really grateful to the authors, illustrators and other creative people we’ve been working with over the past weeks for all their hard work as it meant we could make a really strong debut.
People were really compelled by the concept and storyline of Small Blue Thing, for which Kate’s shorthand pitch was, “Twilight in London but with memories instead of blood”.
They responded really well to the “mash up” element of Mega Mash-Up, and doodle books were doing well in many markets so the idea of doodle novels was really popular. As has happened to Kate before, Alan Boyko of Scholastic Book Fairs USA made a brilliant observation that will improve the books as we develop them: thank you, Alan! This is one of the excellent by-products of selling to really good people: their comments really help you to refine the books. Here’s how Book Brunch reported on the books.
Benji Davies’s Bizzy Bear character was tremendously popular – accessible and cute but still distinctive and classy – and people responded well to the very simple and well-thought-through mechanisms.
The idea of being able to tell the story of life on earth from blobs to us in 32 pages in Evolution went down very well, and there was real interest in narrative non-fiction for young readers. This is the book that’s furthest off in terms of scheduling for us (we plan to publish in September 2011, while the rest of the books we were talking about are for the first half of next year), and we’ve yet to confirm an illustrator for it, so it will have it’s first real outing at Frankfurt.
Like us, others recognised Penny Dale’s spectacular brilliance in combining dinosaurs and diggers in Dinosaur Dig. As one interested publisher said, “It’s got dinosaurs, it’s got diggers, it’s got counting, it’s got a story. It’s even got suspense!” Here’s how Book Brunch reported the acquisition
We could sell Pip and Posy many times over in every major market. Axel’s work is known and loved in so many countries, but people also really liked the idea of reflecting the realities of toddler life, including the bits that make toddlers cry. And here’s how The Bookseller reported the acquisition.
We were on the Publisher’s Association stand with other independent publishers who were exceptionally friendly, though we’re not sure we were the best of neighbours as we were both noisy and messy. Gloria and Helen from the PA looked after us brilliantly.
Both off the stand and on the stand, we met authors, illustrators, agents and journalists as well as non-Uk publishers, and there’s a handful of really interesting ideas for us to follow up as possible additions to the list.
Book Brunch gave Nosy Crow a mention in its Bologna Book Fair round up, and did a great write up of this year’s Bologna party of parties: Scholastic’s 90th birthday.
As we were flat-out, we can’t really say that we spent much time taking the temperature of the fair, but we think that the general view was that it was pretty lively and buzzy. UK and German children’s books markets at least did well last year, and people seemed open to buy. A lot of people were talking about US fantasy The Emerald Atlas, which Nosy Crow saw, but decided not to bid on, and which Writer’s House had done a very good job of hyping up before the fair. It went to Random House in the US and Germany and HarperCollins in the UK.
Here are a few photos that we took – we’ll remember to take more next time.
We have bought a new book: Dinosaur Dig!, by Penny Dale, a fabulous picture book for toddlers. It’s also our speediest acquisition yet: 2 hours after it was posted through the door, we made our offer to Caroline Sheldon, Penny’s agent! Read all about it in Books, and find out about Penny in Authors etc.