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Author: Dom

Open Very Carefully on the silver screen

You may or may not know that the fantastic Open Very Carefully by Nicola O’Byrne and Nick Bromley, has been chosen as this year’s Booktrust ‘Booktime’ book. It’s fair to say we were pretty thrilled in-house. And Nicky said…

“The books I read as a child have stayed with me my whole life and I’m so very excited that Open Very Carefully has been selected for Booktime. The thought that a book I had a part in creating will kickstart a generation of new readers makes me immeasurably proud. I’d like to thank Book Trust for this incredible opportunity; it is my hope that the children receiving this book will love reading and stories as much as I do.”

Well, today I attended a filming session for ITV news at Wix Primary School in Clapham – and, Nicky, I can report back that THEY DO!

Filming for news pieces often takes quite a lot of footage, for what might not be a very long feature on the news. And it’s fair to say that, however brilliantly efficient Lauren at ITV was – and she really was – the children did have to hear the story a few times. But, to gladden my heart, whenever it was announced that the story was to be read out again, there was a cheer! And a few ‘We LOVE this one!’s, too!

It was one of those days where everyone shone. Everyone did what they did brilliant. Emily ‘The Book Fairy’ read the story brilliantly. The teachers controlled the children brilliantly. Diana Gerald of Booktrust gave an brilliant interview. Harriet from Booktrust ran everything brilliantly. And the children’s enthusiasm? BRILLIANT. Of course.

My thanks to Booktrust and Wix Primary School for having me along for such a fun morning – and I hope EVERYONE loves their Booktime copy of Open Very Carefully. Open it – I DARE YOU!

In praise of School Libraries

Last week I zipped up my boots and went back to my roots – to Suffolk! The county I grew up in and where I went to school- and school is an important theme in this post. I was very kindly invited to visit the Suffolk Schools Library Service by the resource centre manger, Maxine, who I’d met at an Askews & Holt Library Conference at CILIP, in London.

Now, my school was lucky enough to have an excellent library – it figured to a large degree in our school day (especially mine as it was where you went for ‘off-games’ … and I LOVED ‘off-games’!! Soooo much better than games – you could read instead of getting out of breath and cold.) and was well-stocked, well-run and was a very pleasant place to be.

And, of course, I took it for granted.

As a grown up working in children’s publishing, my attitude has shifted somewhat. Actually, quite a bit. In my years organising and attending author events in schools, I’ve seen my fair share of school libraries- and schools without proper libraries – and I how realise how incredibly lucky I was. Now I remember my school library in a perpetual Summer, where bluebirds flew about my head, deer brought me books to read, bunnies gambolled at my feet and an owl gently hooted and ‘shhhhed’ noisy pupils from the top of the Soil Erosion shelf.

I can imagine all that, but I can’t imagine not having had really good access to books- especially when at school- as a child.

And reading has given me so much pleasure my whole life, I can’t imagine ever NOT having that pleasure.

I loved reading and I could indulge that love of books without a second thought in our school library. Fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspaper…everything. I can’t help thinking now that, in some way, that library was ‘priming the pump’. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t working in publishing but I KNOW I’d still be the type of person who has four books on the go at any one time.

And, there I was, lucky to spend a day with a team dedicated to doing whatever they could to ensure as many children has possible had the pleasure of reading. Ensuring school libraries all over the county were as appealing to children- and as well-run by teachers and librarians – as they possibly could be.

Operating out of a building packed with books, Maxine’s team (they’d very kindly arranged a Nosy Crow display and put on a delicious lunch spread for my visit!) did everything and more to make sure that the schools of Suffolk (those who signed up to the School Library Service) had the best access to the best the books they could. Training courses, pop-up cafes, school visits, author events, book quizzes, cocktail parties (fruit juice cocktails…) – YOU NAME IT.

And they were doing all this in pretty adverse conditions, too, owing to funding issues.

It did my soul good to see people so committed to putting good books in the hands of teachers and children- so that, hopefully, those children would love reading and again, hopefully, that love would last a lifetime.

On a less spiritual level, I had an absolute BALL with them. We laughed like drains, generally put the world to rights and I’d really like to thank Maxine and Jacky for taking such excellent care of me.

Nicola O’Byrne’s Open Very Carefully wins the Picture Book Prize at the Stockport Children’s Book Awards

Last night Nicola O’Byrne and I were lucky enough to be invited to Stockport for the Stockport Children’s Book Awards. I assured Nicky we were in for a good night because I’d been to the award ceremony with Chris Edge the previous year when he was a winner with Twelve Minutes to Midnight. And we weren’t disappointed – Kay and her team at Stockport libraries organised a cracking event.

The theme of the evening was ‘Glamorous!’ so, suitably attired (Nicky in a GORGEOUS hand-painted silk dress. Mine was at the cleaners…), we were whisked to the Cheshire Conference Centre. Performance poet Ian Bland was our MC for the evening and, to warm things up, he was soon leading the audience in a lively rendition of The Dinner Lady Dance. And at this point I think it’s only fair to say, Nicky and I can MOVE. Those dinner lady hand gestures were OURS: graceful, fluid, impeccably timed…

ANYWAY, then the Mayor of Stockport, Councillor Kevin Hogg took to the stage and was funny and affable, while displaying a real enthusiasm for reading, and especially reading for pleasure. He was eager to enthuse the children present to do the same: read widely and read what you love was his message. If you love a book, and it fires your imagination and takes you into another world, never mind what anyone else says about your choice, just read it. Wise words…

Nicky’s Open Very Carefully won the Picture Book prize, and she was the first author to collect her prize – some beautiful artwork from one of the children involved in the prize. And Nicky, who we can safely say has an eye for these things, complimented its excellent colours and composition.

Nicky and I would like to thank Kay, Wendy and Maria for taking such excellent care of us and organising such a fun night. And we HOPE to see them all again next year.

Jurassic-ally fantastic storytelling

This year we thought Nosy Crow’s Edinburgh International Book Festival jaunt was so epic, we just couldn’t do it justice in a single blog post. So, this one will be the first of a few – and where better to start than the Triassic Era? Penny Dale’s digging, zooming and rescuing dinosaurs made their appearance in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh last week … and they were not alone. After lots of Jurassic-ally fantastic storytelling and quite a lot of shouting like various emergency vehicle sirens, Penny led the audience in the assembly of a dinosaur made out of stickers, so each child would have his or her own dinosaur to take away. On a flipchart at the front Penny stuck parts of the dinosaur, one by one, in the correct place and the audience was encouraged to follow suit on their own sheets of paper. Which, by and large, they did. SOME dinosaurs did have ice-creams, plasters – and even eyes – in some odd places, but that all added to the joy of the event. And who’s to say in a few years we won’t ALL be making dinosaurs that way? There was just time to sing the Dinosaur Song, complete with ROARING and plenty of teeth/claw/digger mimes before the time was up. My 5 year old self would have instantly dropped to the floor and had a tantrum. My 38 year old self ALMOST did. Everyone was having such a good time singing and dinosaur-decorating I don’t think I was ready for it to be over…

But, ever the professional, I forewent the histrionics and helped Penny’s husband, Bryan, take down the dinosaur bunting we’d previously- and artfully- draped the venue with. We’d all had an absolute ball and I would like to thank Penny and her husband Bryan for all the preparation they put into a truly cracking event! Below are some audience dinosaurs for your delight…

You can take a look inside Penny Dale’s most recent dinosaur book, Dinosaur Rescue, below, or buy the book online here.

Have you heard about our upcoming children’s publishing conference? Early Bird tickets are available now.

Open Very Carefully is a Highly Commended UKLA book!

Lynda Graham opening the awards ‘do’

Last Friday afternoon I was lucky enough to attend the UKLA Awards with our lovely author Nicola O’Byrne, whose equally lovely Open Very Carefully had won a ‘Highly Commended’ placing in the 3-6yrs category (Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat won). This was the first time EVER such a placing had been awarded, so it was a bit of a double-thrill. Judge Polly Atkinson said of the book:

“A fantastic, exciting interactive picture book, which has the potential to delight and scare you at the same time. If you dare to turn the pages you will come across an anarchic crocodile who invades a cosy traditional tale with the intention of causing trouble. Where will it all end? Read on if you’re brave enough.”

What makes these awards special is that they’re chosen entirely by teachers – the lot … longlisting … shortlisting … everything! And what was equally special was seeing the care and attention the teachers on the panel gave to each and every book – you really got the impression these books had EARNED their place. They’d been examined from every angle and found worthy. The judging panel members try all the books out on their classes (we were treated to some excellent videos of the children interacting with the books – good for the soul! No artifice, no agenda – just what they liked best about the stories/illustrations) so they have firsthand experience of what works when reading to or with children, and what doesn’t.

What was also excellent to see and hear was the enthusiasm that teachers had for great new children’s books and, given the demands on their time with other areas of the curriculum, marking, planning, etc their KNOWLEDGE of children’s literature. Both classic and modern. They were passionate about it – its quality, the children’s access to it, how it was taught … these things mattered to each and every one of them. A great deal. So, it wasn’t only uplifting to see Nicky’s wonderful book be highly commended – it was uplifting to see it being highly commended by wonderful people who care, and know, so much about wonderful books.

AND we got to sit next to Carnegie medal winner Kevin Brooks. AND I have to admit, we squealed a bit with excitement. Well, not so much ‘squealed’ as we did one of those open-mouthed-gesture-frantically-with-the-eyes-at-who-is-sitting-next-to-us-gasp-things. Okay, we squealed. AND he was very nice. AND patient about both the squealing and the selfie.

I’d like to thank Lynda Graham and Joy Court for taking such excellent care of us – and for every teacher at the awards ceremony for clearly caring so much about their pupils and what (and how!) they were reading. And congratulations, Nicky – it was such a fun evening!!

You can find more information on UKLA and the UKLA Awards here. Open Very Carefully is available in paperback now – you can order it online here or take a look inside below. And if you’d like to stay up to date with all of our book news, you can sign up to our books newsletter here.

Have you heard about our upcoming children’s publishing conference? Early Bird tickets are available now.

Twelve Minutes to Midnight is a Stockport School’s Book Award winner!

I’m writing this, content and full of cooked breakfast, in my hotel room – just adjacent to the tea and coffee making facilities.

Christopher Edge has had a cooked breakfast, too – but he has an extra reason to feel content today… last night he won the Stockport School’s Book Award Key Stage 2 category with Twelve Minutes to Midnight!

The dress code was ‘Glamour’ – a bit of a push for me after 4 days without any post-storm power, but effortlessly carried off by Chris, who looked exceedingly dapper. And the venue was the Plaza Theatre, Stockport. And WHAT a venue. Recently completely restored – and staffed by – volunteers, it was every bit as glamorous as the beautifully dressed audience and organisers.

Winning authors were presented with artwork inspired by their books and all the shortlisted titles were presented perfectly and considerately by children.

Chris was obviously delighted with his award – and fantastic artwork – and in his speech told everyone about the first award he ever won – not 10 miles away from where we were sitting… and almost 30years ago. It was a prize for the most library books read – very fitting!

The key notes of Chris’s award acceptance speech, though, was the importance of reading for children and what it could do for them…where it would take them… the endless possibilities every book – and every reader – held. AND how pleased he was that the children themselves had voted for this award. A prize from children shows an author more clearly than anything that they’re doing something right – that all those children who pick up that book, wanting to be entertained/ scared/ excited/ made to laugh ARE. As indicated by Chris’s HUGE signing queue after the ceremony, where Shadows of The Silver Screen sold out.

It was such a fun evening – a brilliant blend of occasion and HEART – and many, many thanks and profound admiration go to Rachel Hodgson, Kay Olgivie and Wendy Griffths – and everyone at Stockport Schools Library Service.

Congratulations, Chris! If you’re new to the Twelve Minutes to Midnight trilogy, you can read chapter one of the first book below – the final book in the series, The Black Crow Conspiracy, will be published in January and is available to pre-order now.


Buy Twelve Minutes to Midnight online.

Philip Ardagh at the Luton Hoo Walled Garden Festival

Last Sunday I had the HONOUR and PRIVILEGE to escort Mr Philip Ardagh, fresh from his sickbed, to the Luton Hoo Walled Garden Festival.

Our contact there was the lovely Charmian Allwright and books were provided by Sheryl and Morag from The Chorleywood Bookshop (and I HAVE to mention their two cocker spaniels – aaaaah-dorable!). And on the train up we met Guy Parker-Rees – ROAD TRIIIIIIIP!

The walled garden as a venue was absolutely beautiful and the atmosphere matched it – enough people to give a great buzz, but not so many that pushchairs became unwieldy. Pretty perfect for a children’s book festival. Throw in the brilliant Jane Simmons, Alex T Smith and Jackie Morris – with Mr Ardagh – and you have a pretty atmospheric signing tent, too.

On arrival we were escorted to the author’s green room and presented with a HOMEMADE banquet – quiches, cakes, brownies, flapjacks and I don’t know who made those meringues BUT GET THEE TO THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. You’ll win it.

Owing to Philip’s hearing still being on the mend (but improving every day, I’m delighted to say), I made my debut as a ‘Human Microphone’ – Philip would single out a member of the audience with a question, send me to them, they would speak their question/comment in my ear … AND I WOULD SHOUT IT AT PHILIP.

I have to say, I loved it … even when Philip decided I needed more exercise and purposefully chose children at opposite ends of the audience. Quite often.

Philip, as he will tell you himself, was marvellous. As were the audience. Although I personally think they could’ve been sat closer together…

As we headed home, Philip quite tired but rightly pleased with his first back-to-health event, it definitely had the feel of a rather lovely day out. So, if you’re in the Luton area next year, treat yourself to one and go.

The Solihull Children’s Book Award

The Crows in The Nest received some rather good news – we were CAWING with pleasure! – last week regarding Helen Peters and her much-loved debut novel The Secret Hen House Theatre…. Helen has been shortlisted for the Solihull Children’s Book Award! A cracking achievement and we all wish Helen – and the Hen House – all the very best.

The other two books on the shortlist are Black Ops by Tom Palmer and Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans. Funding for the book award enables the award organisers to buy a copy of the three shortlisted books for every primary and secondary school in the borough as well as for every library. Children in Years 5 to 8 will read, review and vote for the books between November and July, and the award culminates in a ceremony at Solihull Library Theatre on Thursday 11th July 2013 at 2pm.

The award is being publicised across Solihull and through Facebook and council website pages. There is also a book award blog where children will be encouraged to post reviews.

Good luck, Helen!

You can buy The Secret Hen House Theatre online here and read the first chapter below.

The Edinburgh Book Festival

Philip Ardagh with the first ever copies of The Grunts in Trouble

I feel I should explain myself before you start reading this blog. When enthused, I gush. And I’m enthusiastic about festivals – for a publicist they’re something between a long-awaited reunion and an assault course. LOTS of catching up, laughing, hugging and storytelling (both professional and not-so-professional…). Lots of great food and drink. And exhaustion. And elation. And regret.

And seeing as I missed Edinburgh last year – Kate and Tom went up – I was doubly ready to be enthusiastic. I didn’t just miss the Edinburgh Festival – I MISSED it.

I missed the authors, I missed the organisers, I missed the Yurt, I missed the bods from Scottish Book Trust, I missed the gossiping – I missed it ALL.

So, the events. Without exception our brilliant authors excelled themselves. For some – Catherine Wilkins and Lyn Gardner – it was their first time at the festival. Catherine’s comedy masterclass event was HILARIOUS. For the 9+yrs age group, most comedy, it’s safe to say, is found in poo and pants. Well, for me too. I ROARED through the whole thing. And I think I can safely say we shall be seeing some of the masterclass’s attendees at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in the future. My Best Friend and Other Enemies is off to a great start…


A long queue of eager Olivia fans waiting to have their books signed

Lyn’s latest book – Olivia’s Enchanted Summer – is set at the festival, so as well as being a cracking read, it was contextually perfect. And Lyn knows her Edinburgh. She’s up every year for the whole shebang as the Guardian’s theatre critic – and she performed her event with all the elan, style and poise of one of her classically-trained stage school characters, taking us from the flying trapeze to the dizzying high-wire with her atmospheric readings. Encore!

Next up we had the World Premiere of The Grunts – drum-roll, please… Naturally, if you combine Philip Ardagh and Axel Scheffler – both Edinburgh Festival stalwarts – in any event you’re onto a winner. And we were. The audience loved it and even though it was a first for both Axel and Philip, event-wise, it went swimmingly and the newness of the material and format gave the event a very special feel. It felt a bit of a privilege to be the very first of what is sure to be a brilliant series of events this Autumn.

But that wasn’t all, Grunt-wise. That very evening we launched The Grunts at The Honours – Martin Wishart’s celebrated new restaurant… and I can only apologise to the other diners. The laughter coming from our two tables was TERRIFIC. If I hadn’t been sat at our table, I would’ve WANTED to be sat at our table. Such a good time was clearly – and audibly – being had by all. But we can’t have been too badly behaved as I had a very sweet e-mail from The Honours saying what a pleasure it was to have us and what a thrill it was to have hosted such a creative bunch of diners!

Then Axel and Kate took to the stage for a Pip and Posy event – Kate doing a brilliant job as storyteller and Axel’s live-drawing, as always, entrancing the youngsters in the audience… and then the guests of honour, Pip & Posy THEMSELVES appeared as a finale. Cue LOTS of waving, stroking and round-eyed wonder from the toddlers in the audience as they filed past on their way to the signing tent. I noticed ‘high-fives’ were also big this year. They grow up so fast these days…

The grand finale was the Mega Mash-Up boys, Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson – again, experienced Edinburgh festival goers – and as always absolute crowd-pleasers. Robots, giant slugs, dinosaurs, aliens, secret agents, ancient Egyptians – talk about something for everyone. Our Scottish Bounce rep, Sarah, was especially looking forward to the Mega Mash Up event – her son is a BIG fan.

And so the sun set on another Edinburgh – and it’s always a curious feeling. Elation, certainly. But also regret that it’s over. The city has a unique atmosphere when the festival’s running – pretty much its entire population, however temporarily, is up for a good time. And you can feel it. Couple that with a Yurt-full of excited authors, charming, capable and welcoming organisers and event chairs who absolutely bubble with kindness, knowledge and enthusiasm and you have a festival that’s very easy to miss. So my advice to anyone is – DON’T miss it. Next year, go.

The Secret Hen House Theatre: a competition to meet the author on a working farm

They say they luckiest man alive is he who gets paid for his hobby.

Well, this man, whoever he is, may indeed be getting paid for his hobby – but he wasn’t lucky enough to spend a day on Helen Peters’ family farm. I was. So I consider myself luckier.

This farm not only raises Middle White pigs and South Down sheep – among other beautiful, rare breeds, I hasten to add – it also raised Helen and her truly delightful family. And, in no small part, because Helen grew up there, it’s responsible for Helen’s wonderful debut novel, The Secret Hen House Theatre, with its honest and beautifully realised deeply rural setting.

It’s a farm with SOUL.There’s no other word to describe it.

But I should set the scene. We’re running a competition with a well-known children’s magazine (I can’t say which until the piece appears) to meet the author and spend time on the farm that inspired the book.

From the moment we arrived to find Helen’s mother baking the bread rolls (from scratch!) in an AGA (of course!) that would hold our lunch-time, farm-produced sausages and burgers, to the moment we all bade each other farewell, the day simply couldn’t have been any more perfect.

The competition winner and her family were a delight – and, praise be, naturals in front of the camera (because we had photographers there to record the event for the magazine piece).

The sun shone in the heavens (remember what that was like?…).

The lambs were cute. Good grief, SOOOO CUTE (check out the pic).

Maisie the sheep dog was endlessly enthusiastic. About everything.

Our lunchtime burgers and sausages – and the homemade rolls, cakes, Easter chocolate nests … everything, really – was absolutely delicious.

But what was most special was the effort Helen and her family had made to ensure the lucky competition winner felt special.

I know this sounds crazy-enthusiastic, and I am sorry, but you sort of had to be there. From an Easter Egg Hunt around the farmyard to bottle-feeding lambs, it was a perfect day: simple as that. And if the truth be told, I don’t know who had more fun, me or the lucky competition winner…

So I just want to thank Helen – and her brilliant folks, brother and sister- for making us all so welcome. And I’d like the thank the farm for having so much soul – because it HAS. Read The Secret Hen House Theatre and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Competition Winners spend a day in London with “Olivia” author Lyn Gardner

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend a rather exciting photo shoot for the next book in the Olivia seriesOlivia Flies High – at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

We’d run a competition with DreamWorks Theatricals and a popular girls’ magazine – I don’t want to spoil it by saying which one! – for two of their readers to come to London to see Shrek: The Musical and to interview Lyn Gardner, the author of the Olivia series. Lyn, of course, is entirely at home in the theatre, being the Guardian’s theatre critic, and the theatre setting suited the dramatic aspect of the Olivia books perfectly.

It was a great day! The winners, Manon and Holly (pictured above, with Lyn), came to London from Wales, accompanied by Manon’s mum, Sally. They were absolutely charming… and very photogenic.

The girls’ questions for Lyn were first rate – they’d won the magazine competition on the strength of them – and they’d even rehearsed a dance routine to entertain Lyn with. Not only that, they made up a routine to teach to Lyn, too!

Cue some CRACKING photo opportunities…

I can confirm that Lyn not only gave excellent responses to the excellent questions, she also demonstrated herself to be pretty nifty on her feet! The step-shuffle-glide-together proved absolutely no problem…

The venue for the interview and impromptu dance lesson was the theatre’s Royal Retiring Room. It was breathtakingly grand. The theatre team took care of us all (BIG thanks to our magnificent red coat, Anthony, who was assigned to look after us) and our treatment throughout the day was every bit as royal as our retiring room. I want to give a massive thanks to Lyn for being so brilliant and game, to Dominic for taking such great photos, to Manon and Holly for being so utterly wonderful and professional, and to Sally for being such terrific company while the others were interviewing/tap-dancing/getting ready for their close-ups.

I didn’t get to see the play, but I know from Lyn’s tweets and a very thoughtful ‘thank you’ e-mail from Sally, that Shrek: The Musical was a hit with everyone. So, the day was over – a fat lady hadn’t sung, but a fat monster had – and now we just need to see what the final magazine feature looks like! Watch this space…