Today is Nosy Crow’s third birthday. That is, it’s three years since we announced that Nosy Crow existed, though we’ve only been publishing for two years, so we are sort of two years old as well. There were just four people working at the company on February 22, 2010… and today, as it happens, partly because it’s half-term and lots of us are parents, and partly because we have flexible working arrangements (which is also pretty parent-friendly), there are only four of us in the London office today as well. None of today’s four is one of the founding members, which is perhaps why today’s cake (pictured above, with Ola, Mary and Kristina) is only shop-bought.
We got a birthday card from Benji Davies via Twitter:
We’re pretty proud of what the company has accomplished in such a short time. We’ve just been shortlisted for four IPG awards, for instance, and you can read more about our achievements in 2012, our second year of publishing, here.
But we couldn’t have done without all of the people who support Nosy Crow. So today we’d like to say a very heartfelt thank you not just to our authors and illustrators, but to the agents, retailers, sales organisations, members of the press, librarians, teachers, parents and children who’ve helped to make, sell and share our books, bought our apps, visited our website, talked to us on Twitter, and spread the word.
To really say thank you, we played a small Twitter game. We asked people to complete the sentence “My favourite @NosyCrow book/app is…” in a Tweet with the hashtag #Crowis3, and we gave three people, chosen at random, who Tweeted before the end of the UK working day a Nosy Crow mug.
Even though the competition has finished, we’d love to hear what your favourite Nosy Crow book/app is. Do please use the #Crowis3 hashtag.
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.
In these wonderful new additions to the series, Noodle visits the zoo with his dad, and the park with his mum. These are lovely books for sharing with very young toddlers – there’s lots to touch and look at on every spread, gentle, reassuring texts, and the opportunity to make lots of animal noises!
It’s also publication day for the board book edition of Penny Dale’sDinosaur Zoom!, the follow-up to the enormously successful Dinosaur Dig! Bursting with dinosaurs and vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and with a delicious, surprise ending, this is guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of small boys everywhere. Here’s a look inside:
Open Very Carefully, the incredible picture book debut for illustrator Nicola O’Byrne with words by Nick Bromley, is also out today – and the response to the book on Twitter, Facebook and this blog has been incredible! This beautifully illustrated hardback – with clever die cuts at the end – is a wonderful celebration of books and words that’s great for discussing how stories and pictures “work”. Here’s a look inside:
There are lots of special Open Very Carefully activity sheet which are available to download and print – have a look at yesterday’s blogpost.
There’s also a fresh crop of fantastic fiction ready to take its place in the world. We have a fifth tale of Nordic nonsense in Vulgar the Viking and the Terrible Talent Show. Has Vulgar got talent? Not really (unless you count his ‘armpit music’) but he’s certainly not going to let that stop him. If you like The Killling, you’ll … find this completely different.
It’s a good day and a sad day because Mega Mash-Up: Cowboys v Trolls in the Arctic is the last in the marvellously daft Mega Mash-Up series by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson. What would happen if some Cowboys found some gold in the Arctic? Well, the Trolls would not be very happy, obviously. It’s brilliantly bonkers and the series is definitely going out with a bang. And a boom. And even a ker-pow.
And Dear Scarlett is heading off, too. Fleur Hitchcock has written a wonderfully original novel for 9+ readers that is as funny as it is moving, and that’s always brilliantly entertaining. Scarlett is trying to discover more about her dead father by following the clues she finds in a box he leaves her. As she and her friend, Ellie, leaf through the tattered copy of Gone With the Wind and try to find the locker that the small golden key fits, they are pursued by a pair of villains who are also after whatever lies at the end of the trail. There’s a touch of the Ealing Comedy about Dear Scarlett, but I bet you finish the book pretending you’ve got a bit of grit in your eye…
You can watch videos of Fleur talking about the book and reading an extract on Monday’s blogpost, or read the first chapter below:
It’s not long until publication day for our February titles, and to celebrate, we have some books to give away! If you’re a resident of the UK or Ireland you can win any of our upcoming releases simply by subscribing to our books newsletter and either tweeting to @NosyCrowBooks or leaving a comment underneath this blogpost, telling us the name you subscribed with and the book you’d like to win.
We’re also releasing the board book edition of Dinosaur Zoom! by Penny Dale – bursting with dinosaurs and vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and with a delicious, surprise ending. Here’s a look inside:
We’re publishing Open Very Carefully, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne and with words by Nick Bromley – a very clever picture book with a crocodile who’s fallen out of his own story and into this one, and a lovely book for sharing and discussing how words and pictures work. Here’s a sneak preview:
And last but not least, we’re releasing Dear Scarlett by Fleur Hitchcock – an irresistible story told in the first person, combining adventure, mystery, lots of funny bits and a truly brilliant hero in Scarlett, fantastic for 9 – 12 year olds, and especially good for girls (but very likely to appeal to boys too).
You can subscribe to the books newsletter here (if you’ve already subscribed you’re still eligible for this competition) – and every month we’ll write to you with details of our upcoming titles, author events, exclusive interviews, and all of our news. So have a good think about which book you’d like to win (we can only accept one entry per person), and good luck – we’ll pick the winners at random on publication day next week!
At the end of last year, I wrote a blog post about our first year of publishing (2011). It’s here. I thought that I’d do the same thing for 2012, our second year of publishing.
It has, once again, been a busy and full year and it’s hard, even after spending the days between Christmas and New Year like a slothful grub wrapped up in a duvet on a sofa reading books for grown ups with a cold as my only excuse, to pick out the key things from 2012 from the whirl of memories and impressions. Nevertheless, here we go…
What we published, and what we signed up:
In 2011, we published 23 books for children aged 0 to 14. In 2012 we published 35 – a 50% increase. The biggest increase was in our fiction output, and we published 19 fiction titles simultaneously as print and ebook titles. Once again, the books ranged from board books for babies to fiction titles for young teenagers (though this year we added a few ambitious novelty books like Playbook Farm).
2012’s books came from talented debut writers that we plucked from the “slush-pile”, like Helen Peters and Paula Harrison, and from established names like Axel Scheffler, Penny Dale, Jo Lodge and Philip Ardagh, and from creative talents inbetween. In 2012, we published new books by ten of the 12 authors and illustrators we’d published in 2011 (the exceptions were Benji Davies, but then we did publish two apps based on his Bizzy Bear character and we’ll publish more of Benji’s books in 2013, and Ros Beardshaw, whose paperback Just Right For Christmas was new in 2012 and from whom we also have a new book in 2013). But – and I hadn’t realised this before I totted things up – in 2012 we published 16 authors and illustrators that we hadn’t published in 2011.
We did our first bit of own-brand publishing and our first “instant” book when we published, at the very end of the year, The Snowman’s Journey, based on the John Lewis Christmas 2012 TV ad, for The John Lewis Partnership. Here’s the story behind it.
But all the time we were publishing in 2012, we were also acquiring for 2013 publication and beyond. We’ll be increasing our output of books in 2013 to 50 titles. We’ve written about some of them here.
We are going to focus on a few, very ambitious apps this coming year, of which Little Red Riding Hood is the first. However, we have other digital plans, including, this month, the launch of our innovative audio book picture book programme, Stories Aloud.
Across our books and apps, we will add around the same number of new authors and illustrators in 2013 as we added in 2012.
Selling our books and apps:
We more than doubled our revenue compared to 2011, with sales well in excess of two million pounds.
Once again, working with Bounce, we had books sold and promoted in a huge range of UK sales outlets from independent booksellers through bookshop chains and online book retailers to supermarkets and toy shops. Many were selected for promotions by bigger retailers and supermarkets – we have, I think, a particularly good strike-rate in this area.
To sell our books and apps, we’ve travelled to the US (where we work closely with Candlewick Press on illustrated books), Australia (where we work exclusively with Allen & Unwin), Germany, France, Holland and Italy. We visited Apple HQ in Cupertino for the first time to talk about our apps.
Having sold our apps exclusively through Apple in 2011, we experimented with Android for the first time this year, selling a couple of our apps for use on Nook tablets. You can read about it here.
This year, we added Japanese and Turkish to the list of languages in which we’ve sold rights to our books, bringing the total number of languages in which we’ve sold rights to 18. Brazil (as a direct result of my visit in late 2011) has been the biggest new source of rights sales. We ran our first two auctions, both of which were in the US, and both of which ended in six-figure dollar deals.
We added Gottmer in Holland to Carlsen in Germany and Gallimard in France as translation partners in our apps programme.
Speaking of Nosy Crow…:
We have had another great year of reviews and mentions in traditional national press from The Wall Street Journal to The Daily Mirror, in specialist press from Kirkus and The School Library Journal to The Bookseller and in many terrific children’s book, parenting, technology and app blogs. You can see some of our most recent high-profile reviews and mentions here.
In 2012, we had 120,000 unique visitors (up 58% on 2011) to the Nosy Crow website (I wrote more about our web stats here and here). From the autumn of 2012, we decided we’d try to blog every week day (though we have had a bit of a rest over the Christmas/New Year break). Judging purely by the number of comments (though some of the comments are our responses to people who’ve commented), these were particularly popular blog posts this year:
As I write, @nosycrow has 9,740 followers on Twitter, @nosycrowapps has 3,164 followers and @nosycrowbooks, more recently introduced, has 654 followers. There’s a bit of overlap between these, but overall, that’s 13,558 followers – up 80% on last year. We’ve 2,438 likes on Facebook and we’re now active on Pinterest and Tumblr too.
Back in the real world, Nosy Crow authors were at numerous literary festivals, including Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham, and staged countless events in schools, libraries and bookshops.
We were hugely proud to win a hat-trick of awards at the Independent Publisher’s Guild Awards in March 2012, based on our first year of publishing. We won the 2012 Children’s Publisher of the Year award; the Newcomer of the Year award and the Innovation of the Year award.
Our apps continued to win and be shortlisted for multiple awards and made many “best apps” listings. Our books, authors and illustrators were shortlisted for awards too: S C Ransom was shortlisted for the Queen of Teen prize; The Baby that Roared was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize; The Secret Hen House Theatre was shortlisted for the Solihull Children’s Book Award.
I ended my 2011 retrospective with a look at what had gone wrong and here are some of the things I mentioned:
The much-investigated drainy smell in the office bathrooms. I am sorry to say that this is not completely resolved, despite plumber intervention, but either it’s less pronounced or I am just getting used to it.
The one or two important UK retailers who hadn’t stocked our books. We did manage to expand our customer base in 2012: we hadn’t sold anything to John Lewis before The Snowman’s Journey, for example.
The key countries we hadn’t managed to sell rights to, like Japan. We did, this year, sell rights in several picture book and novelty titles to Japan.
So most of the old things got better and some stayed about the same. Of course there were new problems and challenges in 2012 – we were particularly sorry to see Kate Burns leave us this summer, for example, but, on the other hand, we were delighted that Louise Bolongaro replaced her at the beginning of November as Head of Picture Books.
2012 was another very good year for Nosy Crow.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us or worked with us in 2012, or who, in 2012, agreed to work with us in 2013 and beyond. One of the pleasures of being a small publishing company is that many of us will be able to show our appreciation for you in person if you’re an author, illustrator or some other kind of creator, if you’re an agent, or a bookseller or a foreign publisher. But we can’t thank, other than in this blog post, the ever-increasing number of people who choose to buy our apps and our books and share them with children, without whom we don’t have a business.
I commented on the post, but here’s a fuller version of my thoughts on the subject. Because Annabel’s piece is about writing for girls, that’s the focus of this blog post too, though when I was talking about the importance of understanding who a book is for, I was talking about age and interests at least as much as about gender, and was talking about engaging boys with reading as well as engaging girls.
At a recent meeting with a book shop buyer, I was complimented on the cover for The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton, which is out in hardback now, but which I was speaking about because it’s coming out in paperback in February 2013. The cover looks like this:
The buyer said that, while “pink books” were doing really well in the activity category, there weren’t that many “pink picture books”, and that ours looked like just the sort of thing the buyer’s customers might be looking for. Of course, in choosing a pink background, we’d known that we would be signalling that the book would be likely to appeal to a girl audience. It’s also the case that pink/violet is the strongest possible contrast (just look at a colour wheel) to the pea-green that we wanted to point up on the cover.
Publishers (and authors/illustrators) exist in a fairly gender-divided commercial environment, one in which, for example, Bic produced Pens for Her (though they were rightly the subject of scorn).
In that gender-divided commercial environment, I want to maximise sales – for Nosy Crow and for the author/illustrator. As a publisher, I really believe that having a sort of Platonic ideal of the child that the book or app you are publishing is for is important. Commercial success is, I think, more likely if you can combine a clear understanding of your potential audience and a clear understanding of how the content of the book or app meets the needs or interests of that audience. We then spend a lot of time making sure that the cover image and the title (and the icon in the case of an app) are effective shorthand “signposts”, communicating that information about audience and content, to buyers who are selecting books or apps in the visually busy context of a bookshop, online store or library.
So I recognise that The Princess and The Peas is not a book that many people would buy for a boy. The packaging clearly targets girls and the story and central character are, I think, likely to appeal to girls more than boys too. By contrast, the packaging on Dinosaur Dig! by Penny Dale targets boys. I think that the content is likely to appeal to boys too.
Of course, not all of our books have such a clear gender-skew: I chose those two books as extremes on our own list. By contrast, books like those in our Pip and Posy series by Axel Scheffler show Pip and Posy, who are essentially pre-school children in the guise of a rabbit and a mouse, playing with train sets and pushing dolls in prams together. At one point, Pip even ends up wearing a dress belonging to Posy, because he’s wet his trousers.
But, of course, the risk is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no-one. We are very proud of the cover of Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge illustrated by Eric Orchard. Some buyers, though, said that the image of the person on the front looked a little too androgynous.
That’s not to say that the book hasn’t been successful, but it’s interesting to note that at this stage it has been particularly successful through school and library channels and independent bookshops, rather than through supermarkets or chains. And we have (well, Eric has, at our suggestion) made it rather clearer that the central character is a girl on the cover of the second book in Christopher Edge’s trilogy, Shadows of the Silver Screen.
And just to be clear, as this cover indicates, signposting effectively who a book might particularly appeal to does not mean, if you think its readership is mainly girls, that it has to be pink. Indeed, there’s an argument that, beyond a certain age, some girls think pink appears “babyish”.
Packaging is not content – though of course it should reflect content. I think that, whether because of nature or nurture, most girls are more likely to be attracted to, and probably to enjoy, a book about princesses than one about dinosaurs driving diggers, and that boys are more likely to choose a book about dinosaurs driving diggers than a book about princesses. But accepting that many boys and girls have preferences in terms of packaging, central character gender and subject matter doesn’t mean that you have to serve up unreconstructed stereotypes. Penelope, the central character in both Twelve Minutes to Midnight and Shadows of the Silver Screen, is feisty, brave and clever. The little girl in The Princess and The Peas discovers that being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and, once again making her own decision (as she did when she chose to move into the palace), stops being a princess and moves back home to live with her dad, who is responsible for cooking and childcare. In our series, The Rescue Princesses by Paula Harrison, which are very clearly targeted at newly-independent girl readers, the princesses rescue animals with the help of magic jewels… and Ninja skills. They’re brave and self-sufficient, facing down danger to remedy injustices and cruelty.
In our app, Cinderella, the central character isn’t a Disney Princess-style princess with blond hair and breasts. She looks younger, and less glamorous, and the prince isn’t attracted to Cinderella by her looks or her clothes but by the fact that he feels less shy in her company, that they have lots to talk about, that she’s a good dancer, and that she has a nice smile. The vanity of Cinderella’s step-sisters (described as “mean”, incidentally, not “ugly”) is a source of humour.
I have written about my sense of responsibility as a publisher of children’s books here and I can’t imagine publishing anything that I felt projected (in my view) damaging stereotypes of either girls or boys. In an ideal world, maybe we would be publishing only gender-neutral titles with gender-neutral covers, but I don’t live in an ideal world. I am motivated by two things: I need to make books commercially successful for Nosy Crow and for authors and illustrators; and I am keenly interested in providing children with books they want, particularly at a time when there is so much competition for their leisure time, and when data, like the data gathered in the recent survey behind Pearson’s Enjoy Reading Campaign, suggests that children are not reading for pleasure enough to build their literacy skills.
And of course, having that Platonic ideal of the child that your book or app is most likely to be enjoyed by does not mean that you are publishing ONLY for that child. I spoke in Guildford of the real pleasure of discovering that your book (or app) is being enjoyed by a different, additional audience from the one we imagined as its core audience. This happened, for example, when we discovered that our app, Bizzy Bear Builds a House for which our Platonic ideal reader was a pre-school boy, was a particular favourite of a slightly older girl with Down’s syndrome whose mum writes about her app choices here).
Readers interested in this subject might find Peggy Orenstein’s personal and well-researched book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter useful and engaging.
And here’s a list of some of my own favourite children’s books that more explicity subvert gender stereotypes (it’s not incidental to the plot, it is the plot). Do please suggest others.
This happy little chap has just taken delivery of his very own copy of Penny Dale’s glorious new book, DINOSAURZOOM!, the much-awaited follow-up to DINOSAURDIG!, whose sales have now topped 80,000 copies internationally.
DINOSAURZOOM! joins our pre-historic friends as they race cross-country in their vehicles (a splendid array, from pick-up trucks to tractors) to a leafy glade in the woods. The gang hurriedly unpack picnic tables, hang bunting and blow up balloons, then hide themselves in a hedge to await the arrival of the littlest dinosaur in his yellow convertible. Of course, a wonderful surprise party ensues and the littlest dinosaur is treated to food, presents and the biggest dinosaur cake you’ve ever seen.
The great thing about all Penny’s books is that they are born out of her careful observation of children, and in particular children at play. When Penny’s daughter was small, she created titles like Rosie’s Babies, Bet You Can’t and Ten in a Bed, which beautifully capture little moments of childhood, and resonate with both parents and children. Twenty or so years on, and Penny is now watching and listening to her small grandson play with his toys – a very different experience indeed, she says. The result has been DINOSAURDIG! and now, DINOSAURZOOM!: two books that absolutely know who their audience is, and give them what they want to read about.
Dinah Hall, writing in last Sunday’s Telegraph recognised this, saying: ‘Little boys love dinosaurs. Little boys love trucks. Put the two together in the worryingly appealing Dinosaur Zoom! and you have the recipe for a night-time battle over bedtime stories. Resign yourself to reading the same book over and over again for the next two years – and make sure it’s a girl next time.’
Nicholas Tucker chose it as one of the Independent’s best new books for under-12s, writing: ‘Penny Dale has a new slant on ever-popular prehistoric animals in her picture book Dinosaur Zoom! Whether driving a blue convertible through the desert or reversing a lorry into the woods, these dinosaurs practically leap from the page.’
Finally, Kate Kellaway selected it as one of her top summer reads in The Guardian, saying, ‘This book is strictly for the dinosaur-besotted… but Penny Dale has taken the ingenious decision to go the whole hog – or brontosaurus – here by combining outrageous dinosaurs with assorted heavy goods vehicles, sports cars, tractors and the like. For the prehistoric speed freak, this is a roaring delight in which dino drivers head full throttle towards a little dinosaur’s birthday party.’
It’s great review coverage – a testimony to Penny’s beady eye, sharp ear and creative imagination. Penny is now working on a third title in the series, DINOSAURRESCUE! The rough illustrations are finished already, and I am happy to report that it is going to be as fast, furious and fun as its predecessors.
Art in Action is an annual event which takes place over four days in July at Waterperry House and Gardens in Oxfordshire.
Artists from Painters to Ceramicists, Sculptors to printmakers – a handful from each area of visual art – are invited to set up small versions of their studios to demonstrate how they work to thousands of visitors. This was my third year in the calligraphy and illustration marquee.
As we set up, the very first copies of my new book, Dinosaur Zoom!, arrived, and on the opening day were soon being snapped up, along with others, by readers of all ages!
I was demonstrating how a book comes together – from first sketches and a text, to layouts – and finally to full colour artwork.
An enlarged story board on the wall behind me showed the layouts for my next book, Dinosaur Rescue! I explained how I work up layouts drawing with a stylus on an iPad, which is really useful for working in layers when there’s resizing and repositioning to do, and there always is in the early stages!
Lots of children had a go too! This little girl drew a dinosaur called ‘Toothy’!
Many wanted to know if I did the actual artwork for the book on the iPad but I said I still much prefer the feel of real paint, ink and crayon on proper watercolour paper for the finished work.
As in previous years there was lots to learn too and not nearly enough time to see all the fantastic work on show as it was incredibly busy.
In the closing hours on Sunday a little girl showed me how to add typography to my layouts using another drawing app I have alongside ‘Brushes’ (the one I use most of the time). Absolutely brilliant and so useful. She was so quick and deft on the iPad she had to show me twice!
Many thanks are due to my excellent helpers – Bryan, Rick, Gill and Ruth – to Imogen and Victoria and to all the organisers and volunteers from Art in Action for creating another exceptional event.
Dinosaur Zoom is published tomorrow. You can order it online here and take a look inside below:
We’d also love to hear your feedback on the content of the newsletter – is there anything you’d like to see included that wasn’t last time around? What would you like us to add? Did you have any problems viewing it?
August’s edition will be hitting inboxes next week, and we’ll announce the winners of both books here and on Twitter.
Well, the weather may have changed (for the better – the picture above is of the colour of the sky from my window), but the good news continues! Yesterday we learnt that The Secret Hen House Theatre has been selected by Booktrust as one of their Great Summer Reads.
“Helen Peters has drawn on her own childhood on a farm, and her memories of writing and acting out her own plays, to create this lively story with a very convincing rural setting. Peters depicts a cast of strong and believable characters, from Hannah’s overworked and under pressure father, to her stroppy 10-year-old sister Martha, who soon proves herself to be a true ‘drama queen’. With a hint of Pamela Brown’s ‘The Swish of the Curtain’, there is much for aspiring young actors to enjoy here, but this hugely enjoyable story of family, friendship and country life will also have a broad appeal for children at upper primary level.”
“Little boys love dinosaurs. Little boys love trucks. Put the two together in the worryingly appealing Dinosaur Zoom! and you have the recipe for a night-time battle over bedtime stories. Resign yourself to reading the same book over and over again for the next two years – and make sure it’s a girl next time.”
On Goldilocks and Just the One Bear, Hall writes:
“With Hodgkinson’s fetchingly retro midcentury modern illustrations matched by her brilliantly animated text, this is a triumph.”
“Penny Dale has a new slant on ever-popular prehistoric animals in her picture book Dinosaur Zoom! Whether driving a blue convertible through the desert or reversing a lorry into the woods, these dinosaurs practically leap from the page.”
Last Saturday was the first London Children’s Book Swap, the brainchild of Sally Goldsworthy of the Discover Children’s Story Centre. The clue’s in the name, really, but the idea was that children would bring books they no longer read or wanted to swap them for something they liked the look of.
We’re the only publisher in Southwark, and we decided to support our local book swap venue, the Centre for Literacy for Primary Education, which I cycle past daily on my way to work, by providing some of our books so that the tables weren’t bare when the first children arrived at 10.00 am.
Nosy Crow’s Pip and Posy in pride of place on the tables, waiting for the first children to arrive
It was a great pleasure to see the second third child to arrive, four year-old Rowan, pictured above, (entirely spontaneously!) swap his copy of Helen Oxenbury’s Tickle Tickle for Nosy Crow’s very own Dinosaur Dig! by Penny Dale. But it was also great to see Adiam swapping her outgrown books for Confessions of a Drama Queen, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Chronicles of Narnia and Ingo.
Tom and I are just back from the Edinburgh International Book Festival, having carried the quite-light-but-hugely-bulky Pip and Posy costumes (as seen in previous blog posts ) there.
Our visit to the Book Festival over this weekend was fleeting, but Nikalas and Tim were there earlier this week for what was, by all accounts, a stonking Mega Mash-up event while the Nosy Crow staffers were cleaning the loos and unpacking crates in the new office.
On Sunday, though, we had three great events, thanks at least in part to the redoubtable Book Festival staff, Janet, Sian and Hannah. The first sell-out event was a Pip and Posy event with Axel Scheffler (pictured above, signing the flip-chart drawings he created at the event) attended by Sarah Brown, last seen and written about by Kate at Cybermummy 11, and her sons.
We then had a Dinosaur Dig event with Penny Dale – also a sell-out – which included a draw-your-own stegosaurus (on roller skates) session.
Here’s Penny’s stegosaurus:
And here is a stegosaurus from a talented member of the audience:
Lastly, I did a session on apps as reading experiences, impeccably chaired by Nosy Crow author, Simon Puttock.
And then we went out to dinner. Scotland is another country: they do things differently there (I should know: I am a Scot, though I have lived in London for a long, long time), and it is really interesting to see the connections between individuals in different parts of the vibrant and committed Scottish children’s book community.
Tom and I were back on the London-bound train as the early morning sun shone on the coast of East Lothian… and I’m writing this in a bit of a rush as I prepare to leave for Brazil tomorrow.
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.
I’m dating the start of the company from our announcement of our existence, which we sent to the trade press and others on 22 February 2010. In some ways, we didn’t feel quite ready to announce, but our hand was forced by two things. The first was that I had been asked to judge the British Book Awards and had given my job title as “MD of Nosy Crow” for an announcement of the make-up of the judging panels that came out in the week of 22 February 2010. The second was that I’d been messing around with Facebook on the evening of 21 February, working out how to set up a fan page and invite people to it, when I inadvertently sent out a message to my entire address book for a profile that referred to Nosy Crow.
We had, from memory, just three projects signed at the time we announced, and a stated intention to acquire from established talent and from newcomers. We also clearly stated that we intended to create apps from scratch. There were four of us – me, co-founders Camilla Reid and Adrian Soar, and Imogen Blundell – in a single room in an office complex in a Victorian school building.
One year on…
We have three print titles published. In mid-January, we published Small Blue Thing, a debut romantic fantasy that was written by the colleague of the headhunter I consulted when I was thinking I’d get the hell out of the industry. In mid-February, we published Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on MarsMega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert, innovative two-colour combinations of fiction and doodle-book drawing on popular boy themes by a team who came to us because I’d worked with one of them at Scholastic when he was a designer there.
This year, we will publish 23 print titles for children from 0 to 14, most acquired since February 22 2010. True to our original vision, these are books that children will really enjoy reading: when we acquire a book, we do so with a strong sense of who it’s for. Our books are by established names like Axel Scheffler and Penny Dale and from newer exciting talents. The list – and we’ll be announcing the first six months of 2012 before Bologna – will grow in 2012.
We have one e-book published. Small Blue Thing is our only black-and-white book so far and was the first ebook we created with the support of Faber Factory. I decided that we’d focus our digital aspirations on illustrated publishing and apps.
This year, we will publish 5 straight ebooks.
We have one app published. Last week, we published a cutting-edge story book app, The Three Little Pigs, to quite remarkable reviews (including one from FutureBook, The Bookseller’s digital publishing blog).
This year, we will publish at least 5 highly-interactive, cutting-edge, multimedia apps.
From the beginning, we were interested in using websites and social media to communicate with potential consumers – mainly parents in our case – as well as with potential suppliers in the form of authors and illustrators and customers. We launched with a lively website that has evolved over time but remains true to our original plan. We wanted to create something with real personality, that was professional but also warm, honest and informal… and that was updated constantly: we blog several times a week to provide a window into what we do. In our first year, we’ve had a over a quarter of a million page-views from over 20,000 visitors in 129 countries, and, since we’ve had books and apps on the market, visitor numbers have risen sharply. Thank you very much for visiting us.
We’ve sold in our first list via Bounce and have promotions with Sainsbury’s, Tesco, ELC/Mothercare, WH Smith, WH Smith Travel, Waterstones and Foyles. Our books are in shops from museum giftshops to Toys ‘R’ Us.
We’ve been active internationally too. In May, Allen and Unwin begins distributing our books in Australia and New Zealand. So far, we’ve sold rights in our books to Germany, France, Holland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, China, Korea and Israel with more good news lined up for announcement over the next few weeks.
There are 11 of us now. We’ve been able to attract the most extraordinary talent to work with us, from games coding genius, Will Bryan, to picture book supremo, Kate Burns. Most of us are parents; several of us work part-time; and several of us work from home and only come into our (slightly bigger) open-plan office occasionally.
There have been challenges and disappointments, and there will undoubtedly be more ahead! There has been constant, grinding, sometimes dull hard work.
We worry – of course we do – about the book market and our place in the print and digital future that is unfolding. But it’s been fun.
It’s been a good year!
Things we haven’t loved so much about this year:
Queuing at the post-office.
Being responsible for all the boring stuff like printer maintenance.
Cold-calling people without a big name behind us.
Things we’ve loved:
Being able to buy great books from authors and illustrators we want to work with as they develop.
Being able to act quickly and decisively.
Selling our books!
The conversations that have opened up online between us and readers, parents, creators and sellers.
Working with great colleagues in a relaxed and fun environment fuelled by cake.
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 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.