Thursday, 21 February 2013

BRINGING DOWN THE MOON tops my library loans chart!

Bringing Down the Moon
is my most borrowed book
I've just received last year's UK library loans figures for my books, courtesy of the Public Lending Right (PLR) organisation.

I'm always interested to see which of my books are most popular in libraries and the loans figures are often surprisingly different from my sales figures.

For the last seven years my kite-flying picture book Someone Bigger has topped my loans chart by a considerable margin, but it's finally been knocked off the top spot by the first Mole and Friends picture book, Bringing Down the Moon

Farmyard frolic, The Pig's Knickers makes its first appearance in the top 5 at number 3, but a surprising new entry at number 5 is Monsters: An Owners Guide. This book came out in 2010 but went out of print less than two years later due to low sales.  However it's obviously been far more popular in libraries.

Out of print picture book
Monsters: An Owner's Guide is a
surprise entry in the top 5
Here are my top 5 most borrowed books.

Book Title
NÂș of Loans

The PLR organisation also publishes a list of the UK's Most Borrowed Authors and I've crept up another 12 places in this to 180th place. The most borrowed author was once again US crime writer James Patterson, with children's "author" Daisy Meadows in second place again. "Daisy Meadows" is the pseudonym used by a collection of authors who write the Rainbow Magic series, so the highest ranking individual children's author was picture book maestro Julia Donaldson in third place.

4th US award nomination for The Princess and the Pig!

I've known since last year that The Princess and the Pig, one of the picture books I've done with illustrator Poly Bernatene, is shortlisted for three different book awards in the US states of North Carolina, Washington and Maryland. The winners for these will be announced in the next couple of months. And now I've just been told that the book has also been shortlisted for the Georgia Children's Book Awards 2013-2014, the winners of which will be announced next year.

UPDATE 4/1/14:
I'm delighted to announce that Monsters: An Owners Guide is now BACK IN PRINT in a Let's Read mini-paperback edition.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Mole and Ruby on the Road!

I’ve been fortunate to have had two of my picture books adapted for the stage in the last couple of years and both productions are about to go on tour.

Ruby Flew Too!, has been adapted by Topsy Turvy Theatre. Topsy Turvy is a Yorkshire-based children’s theatre company founded in 2010 and Ruby Flew Too! was their first ever show. They’ve done another show, The Lost Present, since but are bringing Ruby back for another tour starting at Burnley Youth Theatre on Tuesday 19th February. I didn’t catch the show when it first came out, but I’m planning to see it this time around and am really looking forward to it.

The company have made this video which shows them fooling around hard at work rehearsing for the show.

CLICK HERE to find out more about the production or CLICK HERE for current tour dates and links to the venues sites where you can book tickets.

After a successful Christmas run at The Pleasance in London, Peaceful Lion Productions are taking their adaptation of Bringing Down the Moon on tour. You can see some photos of the show in my earlier blog post here and read what I thought of the show (I loved it) here. Here’s another of Pamela Raith's photo's of the show.

The Bringing Down the Moon tour starts on Saturday 16th February at Salisbury Playhouse.

CLICK HERE to find out more about the production and see a list of current tour dates with links for booking tickets.

I’ve never had any of my books adapted for the stage before, so it’s lovely to have two shows touring at once.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Callum’s Incredible Book Award (Updated)

I was at Bishop Stortford College in Hertfordshire for their annual picture book award ceremony this week. This year’s award was voted for by 1,324 children from the College and other local schools and there were nine books on the shortlist including Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit by myself and Ben Mantle

Here’s Ben and myself
And this is Ben with Amy Fletcher and Jo Hardacre
from Callum’s publisher, Egmont

There was an impressive turnout of shortlisted authors and illustrators; Will Buckingham, Rebecca Cobb, Atinuke, Jo Hodgkinson, Charlotte Middleton, Jackie Morris and Emily Gravett all attended along with Ben and myself. It was the first time Ben and I had met, so it was good to get to know him a little as well as all the other authors and illustrators. The current Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson, was also there to present the award and one of the highlights of my day was spending a some time chatting to her.

Here we are with all the other authors and illustrators

All the other authors and illustrators had been asked to give a short speech about our books. Authors and illustrators are not necessarily natural public speakers and many of us, including myself, were a little nervous about doing so. Julia Donaldson set the bar high with an introductory speech about her love of picture books, which seemed very natural and spontaneous. However the rest of us acquitted ourselves well and it was lovely hearing everyone talking about their books.

Ben used some of his illustrations in his talk (Photo: Ian Taylor)
 I appear to be using an invisible pneumatic drill in mine. (Photo: Ian Taylor)

After the speeches, Julia opened the envelope to announce the three runners up and the winner, which, to my and Ben’s delight, turned out to be Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit!

Julia presenting Ben and I with the award. (Photo: Ian Taylor)

It’s always nice to receive a book award, especially one that’s voted for by children, but when Ben and I accepted the trophy I explained that I was especially pleased that this particular book had proved so popular as I’d been sending it to publishers for three years before it was finally accepted by Egmont. Winning a children's vote like this made me feel it had been worth all the effort!

Here we are with teacher Simon Bailey who did a Callum-inspired
illustration to mark the event. (Photo: Ian Taylor)
And here’s the trophy itself!

It was a great day, so I'd like to say a BIG THANK YOU to the organisers for short-listing our book and organising such a lovely event. And an EVEN BIGGER THANK YOU to all the children that voted for Callum!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Why it’s a bad idea to try to champion books by discrediting other media

Evangelists for children's books are not doing themselves or books any favours by attacking children's TV or films 

(I wrote this post for my boys' literacy blog, COOL not CUTE!, but since most of it applies to books generally, I thought I'd post it here too.)

I’ve attended several children’s book events where speakers have tried to champion books to a young audience by discrediting other media and my heart always sinks when I hear them doing it. More often than not, films and television are the targets.

The oft repeated line that “the pictures are better in books than in films or television because you have to create them in your imagination,” is fine when presented as a subjective opinion.  However it's often presented as an objective statement, in which case it won’t ring true with many children brought up in an age when TV and film-makers compete to outdo each other with increasingly imaginative visuals. If a film is adapted from a book a child has read, sometimes the images on the screen will be disappointing in comparison to what that child has imagined, but on other occasions the screen versions will be more vivid, characterful and spectacular. I re-read all the Lord of the Rings books to my son around the time that Peter Jackson’s films were released in the cinema. Much as I admire the scope of Tolkien’s imagination, his prose is often pedestrian and his dialogue perfunctory and I much prefer watching the film adaptations, with Alan Lee’s masterful production designs, to reading the original books.

And the claim that “the pictures in your imagination are better” feels even more inappropriate and misjudged if there are picture book authors, illustrators and readers attending the event. I don’t think any of my picture books would have been improved by removing the pictures and leaving the readers to imagine them for themselves; the illustrations are a crucial part of a picture book’s appeal.

Worse still are the ambassadors for books who go one step further by claiming that watching TV will rot your brains. On two occasions I’ve heard such statements accompanied by readings of the song the Oompa-Loompas sing on Mike Teavee’s exit from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Here’s what the Oompa-Loompas have to sing on the subject of television (the capitalisation is Dahl’s):
Having denigrated television in this way, the Oompa-Loompas go on to sing the praises (literally) of books. Much as I adore Roald Dahl's work generally, I feel that this song crosses the line from amusing satire into prejudiced propaganda in a way that the other Oompah-Loompas songs don’t. Mike Teavee’s vice is one of overindulgence; he overindulges in television in the same way that Augustus Gloop overindulges in chocolate.  Both things are bad in excess, but Dahl does not have the Oompa-Loompas denigrate chocolate in Gloop's exit song.

I don’t think that ambassadors for books are doing themselves or books any favours by attacking TV, films or video games in this way. Most children listening will know from first hand experience how appealing and satisfying these other media can be.  So, by attempting to discredit them, an ambassador undermines their own credibility. If an ambassador says they hate something that a child knows and loves, why should a child trust that ambassador’s judgment when he or she proclaims that books are something that ought to be loved?

I think it’s nearly always better to work with the grain of a child’s enthusiasm rather than against it when promoting books. If a child tells you they don’t like books, ask them what they do like. If it’s TV, ask them about their favourite programmes and why they like them.  Try to engage with and understand their enthusiasm — this is easy if you like the same programmes yourself. Then, when you understand what it is the child likes about the programme and, perhaps more importantly, when the child has understood that you understand this, tell them about a book they might like that contains the same sort of content.

This approach can be made to work for most children of most ages – but not all. If a child of picture book age says they like a film like Star Wars or a TV show like Ben 10, there’s little an ambassador for books can do because, as I’ve argued in COOL not CUTE, there are no picture books that match the content of Star Wars or Ben 10.  Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of picture book age children that like this sort of content  — and most of them are boys.