Thursday, 4 October 2018

ALPHABET STREET • New UK Novelty Book


Alphabet Street, my new novelty book with illustrator Ingela P Arrhenius, is published in the UK today by Nosy Crow!

The book features a street of shops with alphabetised names (Alfie’s Bakery, Coffee & Doughnuts, etc.). 


Flaps on each shop open to reveal rhyming couplets of alphabetised animals engaged in alphabetised activities.


It can be read as a conventional book or opened out to show all 13 shops as a wallchart or free-standing play scene.


The book had a long journey to publication – I came up with the idea almost two decades ago and my agent Caroline Walsh and I had been pitching it to UK publishers since 1999. The reason most publishers gave for turning the book down was that, “alphabet books can’t be translated” – so they’d be unable to split the book’s high production costs with foreign co-publishers.

A concept drawing sent to publishers, showing how the book could be opened out into a wall-chart or play scene.

Nevertheless, I felt that the book was sufficiently appealing and original to justify dusting it off and re-submitting it to publishers every few years. And this perseverance paid off when the book was finally accepted by Nosy Crow.

Ironically – after years of being rejected as untranslatable – the book is also being published in eight different foreign language editions.

The first edition has been published in nine different languages.

A key part of the book’s appeal to the overseas market is the beautiful artwork of Swedish illustrator Ingela P Arrhenius whose bright, cheerful style is very popular with European readers. And Nosy Crow cleverly avoided the “alphabet books can’t be translated” issue by pitching the book to foreign co-publishers in a non-alphabetic, non-rhyming version with the alternative title “Busy Busy Street”.

A section of Ingela's park panorama from the reverse side of the book.

Which just goes to show that, “if at first you don’t succeed” in finding a publisher, it can be worth persevering, and that, if an alphabet book has sufficient appeal beyond the alphabet element, it CAN be translated!


Tuesday, 2 October 2018

🎢 ALL TOGETHER NOW! 🎢 Picture books adapted from songs

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.



Although some people will only know We’re Going on a Bear Hunt as a picture book by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, the text is adapted from an American folk song and many children of my generation will have known it as a scout and guide campfire song long before the picture book was published.


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is one of the most celebrated examples of a picture book adapted from a song. Song lyrics often need some authorial tinkering to make them work well as a picture book text and the onomatopoeic sounds in the book (Swishy swashy! Splash splosh! etc.) and the verses about the forest and the snowstorm are both Rosen's invention.

My picture book She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain, illustrated by Deborah Allwright, was also adapted from an American folk song.


When an editor asked me to adapt the song a few years ago, I decided that the first thing I needed to do was reduce the repetition. While a degree of repetition is often encouraged in picture book writing, I felt that having the same phrase repeated five times on every spread would become a little tedious, so I replaced two of the repeated phrases in each verse with a rhyming couplet.

So this first verse of the original folk song:
She'll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes,
TOOT-TOOT!
She'll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes,
TOOT-TOOT!
She'll be coming ‘round the mountain,
She'll be coming ‘round the mountain,
She'll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes,
TOOT-TOOT!
Became this in my picture book version:
She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes,
TOOT-TOOT!
She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes,
TOOT-TOOT!
Yes, she'll whistle like a train,
As she speeds across the plain,

She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes,
TOOT-TOOT!
I also replaced most of the folk song's later verses – including the ones about sleeping with grandma and killing the old red rooster – with new verses. The new verse where the cowgirl paints the whole town purple was a cowboy-hat-tip to the Clint Eastwood western High Plains Drifter, in which an enigmatic cowboy literally paints a whole town red.

One of Deborah Allright's spreads from She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain (now out of print).

Song often make it onto the page without any authorial tinkering. There are plenty of picture book adaptations of Over in the Meadow and Old MacDonald had a Farm that feature the original lyrics …


… but there are also quite a few adaptations that have been re-written to include a more exotic, mechanical or flatulent cast of characters.


While all of the above examples are adapted from folk songs, picture book adaptations of contemporary songs have become increasingly common in recent years. One of the first examples I remember seeing is this 2007 adaptation of the Peter Paul and Mary song Puff the Magic Dragon illustrated by Eric Puybaret.


Since then, contemporary songs by Bob Marley, Dolly Parton, John Lennon, Kenny Loggins and many others have been adapted into picture books.


Illustrator Tim Hopgood has produced a series of picture book adaptations of classic 20th Century songs.


As picture books adapted from songs have become increasingly popular, the interval between the song coming out and the picture book being published seems to be reducing. Last year’s picture book adaptation of When I Grow Up, illustrated by Steve Anthony, was published just seven years after the song first appeared, in Tim Minchin’s Matilda the Musical.


And the picture book version of Pharrell Williams’ Happy! (illustrated with photographs) came out only one year after the song was released!


So if you’re a picture book author or illustrator looking for ideas, you might try flicking through an old songbook or switching on the radio. If you’re lucky, you might discover the inspiration for the next We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!




My latest book Alphabet Street, is a spectacular lift-the-flap alphabet book illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius and published by Nosy Crow. Although it's NOT adapted from the Prince song of the same name, it is written in rhyme and has all the makings of a toe-tapping global smash hit if anyone is interested in buying the song rights.

Find out more about Alphabet Street on my website

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

GOOD VIEWERS ALSO MAKE GOOD WRITERS: Finding inspiration in films, TV and video games.

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den, a blog about picture books by picture book authors and illustrators.



The question I’m asked most often in school Q and A sessions is “where do you get your ideas from?” The answer I usually give is “anywhere and everywhere” before elaborating with some specific examples. I tell the children that I get many of my ideas from reading books by other authors – the oft quoted maxim that good readers make good writers is a sound one. But I also tell them that some of my best ideas come from watching TV and films and playing video games, because good viewers can also make good writers!

I always feel like I’m breaking some unwritten rule for authors visiting schools by telling children this. The main reason children’s authors are invited into schools is to help foster an enthusiasm for books and reading – not wax lyrical about screen media, the pervasive appeal of which is often blamed for the decline in children’s reading. However, while it’s clear that many young children prefer to look at a screen than a page, I think this preference has more to do with content than medium. And, if we want children to recognise that a picture book can be every bit as appealing as their favourite film, TV show or video game, it makes sense for picture book writers to recognise the appeal screen media has for many children and to try to channel that appeal onto the page.

One of the picture books I’ve written that was inspired by screen media is The Silver Serpent Cup which was devised in collaboration with illustrator Ed Eaves. The book’s main screen media inspirations are Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races animated TV series, which Ed and I had both enjoyed as children, and Nintendo’s Mario Kart series of video games, which were hugely popular with my own children and their friends. Ed’s action-packed illustrations do a terrific job of capturing the excitement of playing Mario Kart and when we were creating the book we’d considered including a Mario Kart style course map at the side of each spread, showing the positions of each racer, but eventually decided against it.

A spread from The Silver Serpent Cup, illustrated by Ed Eaves and Nintendo's Mario Kart.

When I read The Silver Serpent Cup in schools I preface the reading by talking about the inspirations behind the book. When I mention that Ed and I were trying to capture the thrill of playing Mario Kart and show an image from the video game, a noisy ripple of excitement ALWAYS goes around the room. Children who had been staring out of the window or fidgeting with their shoes are now giving me their undivided attention. You can sense what these previously unengaged children are thinking – I love Mario Kart! This book is worth paying attention to!

For our newly-published follow up, Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee, Ed and I drew our inspiration from video games like Tomb Raider and Temple Run and the Indiana Jones films. 

Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee draws inspiration from treasure-hunting games and films.

Creators of TV, film and video games have become extremely adept at recognising appealing content in children’s literature and channeling that appeal onto the screen. If we want to stop children abandoning pages for screens at an early age, picture book authors, illustrators and publishers need to ensure that this channelling works both ways by creating more picture books that reflect the appeal of popular films, TV shows and video games. We have to stop regarding screen media as a bogeyman who's luring children away from books and recognise it as a valuable source of inspiration that can make books more appealing to young readers.




Jonathan Emmett's latest screen media inspired picture book
is illustrated by Ed Eaves and published by Oxford University Press

Thursday, 5 July 2018

CLEOPATRA BONES AND THE GOLDEN CHIMPANZEE • New UK and US picture book

πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ UK Edition - Oxford University Press

 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ US Edition - Kane Miller

"In the ruins of a temple, down a dark and winding stair,
explorer Cleopatra Bones is creeping with great care.
Springing nimbly sideways to avoid a deadly trap,
she squeezes through a secret door and finds a TREASURE MAP!"

Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee, my new picture book with illustrator Ed Eaves, is published today by Oxford University Press in the UK and Kane Miller in the US!

The book is a sequel to the 2015 race-themed picture book The Silver Serpent Cup. I think the preference many young children have for TV, film and video games over picture books has more to do with content than medium; a lot of the content that young children find extremely appealing in electronic media is relatively difficult to find in picture books. In The Silver Serpent Cup, Ed and I had drawn on the content of race-themed video games like Mario Kart and TV shows like Wacky Races for inspiration. For Cleopatra Bones and the Golden Chimpanzee, we drew on treasure-seeking video games like Tomb Raider and Temple Run and films like Indiana Jones.

The book draws on video games like Tomb Raider and Temple Run and films like the Indiana Jones series for inspiration.

While the race-winning hero of The Silver Serpent Cup is not mentioned in the book’s title (so as not to spoil the surprise for first time readers), it’s obvious from the start of this second book that Cleopatra Bones is the heroine and OUP felt that her name should be in the sequel’s title. Cleopatra’s character was originally called Oklahoma Bones but OUP Sales Manager Matt Ager suggested the name Cleopatra, which felt like a perfect for an adventurous archaeologist.

Heroic hound Cleopatra has a sure nose for ancient treasure.

Although this sequel has a new heroine, alligator Al McNasty returns as the dastardly villain …

Awful Al McNasty is determined to take the treasure for himself.

… and eagle-eyed readers should be able to spot six more characters from The Silver Serpent Cup among the eighteen animals racing to find the lost treasure of the Golden Chimpanzee.

Five of the racers from The Silver Serpent Cup return in new vehicles for this book.

One of the most appealing things about The Silver Serpent Cup were the extraordinary vehicle designs Ed created for each of the characters and Ed has come up with a similarly impressive array of aircraft, boats and land vehicles for this follow-up. As with the first book, Ed designed each vehicle to mimic its owner. So orang-utan Diego Del Grippo’s OranguTank is fitted with two giant gripping hands that can be fired into the treetops, allowing him to swing his way through the jungle, while chameleon Pablo Prisma’s nippy little jungle buggy can change colour as quickly as he can.

Diego De Grippo and Pablo Prisma's vehicle designs mimic the creatures driving them.

To add an element of interactivity, Ed's illustrations are peppered with coded messages for readers to decipher. At the beginning of the book Cleopatra Bones discovers the location of the Golden Chimpanzee using a treasure map covered in hieroglyphic symbols. The same symbols can also be seen carved into other stone objects throughout the book. A key for decoding the symbols can be found on the book’s title page, but readers may find it easier to print out the activity sheet at the bottom of this post and use the symbol key on that instead.

The hieroglyphic symbols on the illustrations can be decoded using the symbol key on the book's title page
or the separate activity sheet.

This book was just as much fun to work on as the first one, so I’m hoping that Ed and I will be able to bring some of our intrepid animal adventurers back for a third outing before long!


Here's a trailer I made for the book.



You can download and print Cleopatra's Code Cracker activity sheet and colouring sheets of all 18 of the book's characters with their vehicles by clicking on the images below.

Cleopatra's Code Cracker

Colouring sheets


Thursday, 31 May 2018

PIGS MIGHT FLY! New Edition Paperback


Around this time last year illustrator Rebecca Harry and I published a set of print-on-demand editions of our Ruby the Duckling books after the original editions went out of print. I'm pleased to announce that Pigs Might Fly!, one of my picture books with illustrator Steve Cox which recently went out of print, has just been re-published in the same format.

The new square-format, print-on-demand edition.

I was particularly keen to get Pigs Might Fly! in print again as it's one of my most popular books to read on school visits and its production is the focus of the How a Picture Book is Made presentation I do with Year 5 and 6 classes.

This slide from my How a Picture Book is Made schools presentation shows some of the character
designs Steve came up with before arriving at the final characters of Waldo, Woody and Wilbur.

The book's popularity with young readers was also demonstrated when it won the Books for Younger Children” category at the 2006 Red House Children’s Book Awards, a national children's vote awards organised by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

Steve and I with my son and daughter and a very shiny trophy
at the 2006 Red House Children’s Book Awards.

The new edition has different page proportions to the original and has been re-typset using open source fonts. One of the advantages of having to re-work the layouts was that it gave us the opportunity to produce a 'directors cut' version of the book which incorporates a few improvements. For example: the original version had no imprints page, so the imprints details were printed on the opening spread. This gave the story a rather awkward start, so we created a new imprints/title spread for the new edition and reworked the opening text to cover both sides of the opening spread.

While the original edition (top) had the imprint details printed on the opening spread,
the new edition (bottom) has the imprints details on a new imprints/title spread.

Most of the other changes were done in response to my experience of reading the book aloud in schools and are less easy to spot. So fans of the book can rest assured that the Big Bad Wolf is just as conniving as he was in the original edition …


… and Wilbur just as indomitable!


Here's what reviewers said about the book when it was originally published.

"A super book with a good storyline, amusingly told and wonderfully illustrated … a book children will want to look at again and again."
BOOKS FOR KEEPS

"Bright, breezy and fun with action on every page."
CAROUSEL

You can find out more about the book on this page of my website and download and print the new Spot the Difference activity sheet by clicking on the image below.


Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

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