Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Picture Book Quiz

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

Christmas in the Emmett household is a time of treasure hunts, puzzles and quizzes.  So I thought I'd bring a little picture-book-based "quizzy-fun-fun" (to use a phrase coined by my son) to this blog.

Here are ten classic picture book covers that, by the magic of Photoshop, have been turned into stained glass windows. Can you guess the title of each book? Click on each image to reveal the answer.

Here's a really easy one to get you started.










And here's a particularly festive one to finish up with!


How did you do?

10/10 Picture book perfect! Congratulations. You're obviously a picture book devotee.
7-9/10 Pretty good. You know your Sendak from your Scheffler.
4-6/10 Not bad, but perhaps you should add a few picture book classics to your Christmas list.
1-3/10 That's an appallingly Gruffa-low score. You need to brush up on your picture book knowledge.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

What I thought of THE SANTA TRAP show and Poly's 2016 Calendar.

I went to the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth on Sunday to see Mayflower Productions' new Santa Trap stage show, created by Robin Belfield and Simon Slater – and I'm delighted to say that I loved it!

I knew that the show was in safe hands, having seen Robin and Simon's stage adaptation of Here Be Monsters  earlier in the year and The Santa Trap show features the same very talented cast of actor-musicians.

Toby Vaughan does a great job of bringing villainous young Bradley Bartleby to life and is admirably supported by the rest of the cast playing Bradley's put-upon parents and unfortunate assistants,

Although I know the story well and had seen a little of the show in rehearsals, the finished show still held a few delightfully funny surprises. The way in which Mrs Bartleby (played by Elouise Secker) narrowly escapes being sliced by a guillotine had me and the young audience shrieking with laughter! 

Toby Vaughan (centre) as beastly Bradley announcing his plans to trap Santa Claus

Both The Santa Trap and Here Be Monsters, feature puppets made by puppet-maker Marc Parrett, so – as if showing off their acting, singing and playing musical instruments were not enough – the cast get to show off their puppetry skills as well. Here are Ben Tolley and Elouise Secker performing with Marc's tiger puppets.

The costumes and sets for both shows were designed by Rachel Fox, who came up with an ingenious double-sided "Swiss Army Knife" set that flips around and converts to form the deck of both Captain's Cut-Throat's pirate ship for Here Be Monsters and the interior of Bartleby Hall for The Santa Trap.

Rachel Fox's Santa Trap set ingeniously converts into the Here Be Monsters pirate ship

The Santa Trap book is dedicated to my father "for helping me to hone my trapping skills". By coincidence, it was my father's 89th birthday on Sunday, so as a birthday treat he and my mother also came along to see the show. I'm pleased to report that we all enjoyed it tremendously!


A couple of days before going to see the stage show I was on Notts TV's 6:30 Show, talking about the origins of the story.

You can watch the whole 6:30 show here, but the bit about the The Santa Trap starts at 8:04 mins.


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Lastly, you might be interested to know that Poly Bernatene who illustrated both books has just produced a 2016 calendar featuring a selection of his wonderful artwork including two images (March and December) taken from our next picture book Prince Ribbit.

You can download a copy of the calendar for free by clicking on the image below.  The calendar is designed to be printed out on A3 paper.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

THE SANTA TRAP • Stage Show Production Photos

As promised in my last post, here are some more photos from Mayflower Productions' new Santa Trap stage show, created by Robin Belfield and Simon Slater. The show is adapted from the picture book of the same name, written by me and illustrated by Poly Bernatene.

I greatly enjoyed seeing the first half of the show in rehearsals back in September and can't wait to see the finished production in Portsmouth later this month.

Brattish Bradley (Toby Vaughan) and his put-upon parents (Eloise Secker & Ben Tolley)

The three secretaries (Eloise Secker, Lauren Storer and Josh Sneesby) only appear on one page of
the picture book, but play a much bigger role in the stage show.

The show's music is performed live by the talented cast. 

The cast with some of Marc Parrett's tiger puppets.

The Santa Trap will play for three days (13-15 December 2015) at the Plough Arts Centre in Torrington, before its main Christmas run at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth (Sat 19 December to Sun 3 January 2016).

I'll be seeing the show at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth. The theatre has has just been re-opened after a 3 year rebuild and refurbishment. Doesn't it look gorgeous!

The newly refurbished New Theatre Royal will play host to the show this Christmas.

As I said, I can't wait to see the show, but for a less than enthusiastic (downright rude) response, check out Bradley Bartleby's Twitter page.



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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

THE SANTA TRAP - New sheets and tweets!

December is here which means that Christmas is just around the corner. For many people this is a cause for celebration, not so for ├╝berbrat Bradley Bartleby, the anti-hero of The Santa Trap, the picture book by me and Poly Bernatene. I mentioned back in September that the book was being adapted into a stage show by Robin Belfield and Simon Slater (who also adapted Here Be Monsters).

The Santa Trap show will play for three days (13-15 December 2015) at the Plough Arts Centre in Torrington, before its main Christmas run at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth (Sat 19 December to Sun 3 January 2016).

Like Here be Monsters, The Santa Trap show has been produced by Mayflower Productions, an offshoot of the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, and the show premiered at the Mayflower a couple of weeks ago.

Although I saw the first half of the show in the early stages of rehearsals, I haven't seen the finished show yet, but am very much looking forward to seeing it in Portsmouth. If the rehearsal is anything to go by, it will be a real Christmas treat.

Here's a photo from the premiere - I'll be featuring several more in my next post.

Brattish Bradley (Toby Vaughan) and his put-upon parents (Eloise Secker & Ben Tolley)

I've produced two new activity sheets for the show, which can also be downloaded from The Santa Trap page of my website, or by clicking on the preview images below.

As anyone that follows him on Twitter might guess, Bradley Bartleby is far from happy about the show. Furious at what he sees as the exploitation of his private life for tawdry entertainment, Bradley spent last December using Twitter to discourage people from buying the picture book. This year he's turned his sights to the stage show. He's only posted a couple of tweets (see below) as I write this, but if I know Bradley, there'll be plenty more and they won't be polite. Watch this space for updates or subscribe to Bradley's Twitter feed to see the rest.

  Scroll inside the box to read them all  



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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A sneak peek at PRINCE RIBBIT, my next picture book with Poly Bernatene

It's not out until next summer, but here's a sneak peek at the next picture book I've created with Argentinian illustrator extraordinaire Poly Bernatene and Macmillan Children's Books.

Poly and I have done three books together so far: The Santa Trap, The Princess and the Pig and Here Be Monsters

Our fourth book is called … (drum roll please) …

Although it's not a sequel, it's sure to appeal to fans of The Princess and the Pig as it's another fractured fairy-tale with lots of bookish characters.

The main characters are:- independently-minded, non-fiction-loving Princess Martha

… her romance-obsessed, fiction-loving older sisters Arabella and Lucinda

… and a cunning little frog who calls himself Prince Ribbit.

Poly has created another set of stunning illustrations for the book. Here's one of my favourite spreads.

That's all I'll tell you for now, but the word cloud below (created using the text of the book) might give you some more clues as to what the story is about.

Prince Ribbit will be published
in the UK by Macmillan Children's Books on 28 July 2016
and in the US by Peachtree Publishers (date to be announced)

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Doncaster Reads HERE BE MONSTERS Free Event

If you live near Doncaster, you might like to come along to my free Here Be Monsters event at the Doncaster Reads Pop-up Literacy Shop in the Waterdale Shopping Centre on Tuesday 27th October at 2.00 pm.

The event is being organised by Re-Read, a brilliant Doncaster-based organisation that provides books to communities where they can make a difference to literacy, educational achievement and quality of life. The Doncaster Reads Pop-up Shop will be in the Waterdale Centre for a whole week, from Saturday 24th to Saturday 31st OctoberPop in to pick up a free book, get information about reading and literacy or to take part in some fun events and activities for children and grown-ups!

If you come along to my Here be Monsters event on Tuesday, you can hear a swashbuckling tale of dastardly pirates and mysterious monsters and draw your own monster-infested treasure map. And – if X marks the right spot – you could win a signed copy of the book!

Draw your own treasure map for a chance to win a copy of the book

Here Be Monsters Event
2.00 pm Tuesday 27th October
Doncaster Reads Pop-up Literacy Shop
30 Kingsgate
Waterdale Centre

Admission FREE

Why we seriously need a new funny prize

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

The demise of the Roald Dahl Prize is nothing to laugh about 

Like many involved with children’s literature and children’s literacy, I was dismayed to learn that the Roald Dahl Funny Prize was coming to an end.

The prize was launched in 2008 by the Roald Dahl estate, Booktrust and author Michael Rosen, as part of Rosen’s work as children’s laureate. The Dahl estate have said that they were withdrawing their support for the prize because it did not fit in with the estate’s plans for next year’s Roald Dahl centenary.

I was dismayed for a couple of reasons. The first reason is extremely selfish. I was an avid Roald Dahl fan as a child, Dahl has been a big influence on my writing and the books that I’m proudest of are the ones that - like most of Dahl’s – make children laugh. Although I don’t write books to win awards, if I could choose one adult-judged award that I’d liked to have won it would be the Dahl Funny Prize. When I met the 2011 Funny Prize winning author Peter Bently at an awards lunch a few years ago I contemplated holding my butter knife to his throat and forcing him to take me to his house so that I could steal his trophy confessed how much I coveted the prize. Now I’ve had to give up any hope of that dream coming true. *sobs uncontrollably into keyboard*

The second reason is less selfish. Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading report published last month demonstrated that, “above all, children want books that make them laugh.” When children were asked what they looked for when choosing a book to read for fun, humour was the most commonly cited factor by a considerable margin.

"Above all, children want books that make them laugh"
(Graph from the UK Kids and Family Reading report 2015)

Research shows that children that read for pleasure do better in maths, vocabulary and spelling than those who rarely read and they gain advantages that last their whole lives. The Kids and Family Reading report shows that if we want kids to read for pleasure, then we need to recognise and highlight the huge value of funny books. The Roald Dahl Funny Prize was the only high-profile book award that did this.

Funny books play a vital role in establishing reading habits at an early age and are particularly good at engaging reluctant readers. My son and daughter both adored Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum series and I’m always recommending them to parents who are struggling to engage their children with books. I don’t think many people appreciate how difficult it is to write something as absurdly funny as Mr Gum unless they’ve actually attempted it. As John Cleese once said, “it’s much easier to be clever than it is to be funny”.

Fortunately, I’m not the only person to feel this way. Once news of the Dahl prize’s demise got around, many people started calling for a replacement funny prize. Author Andy Seed suggested on Facebook that any new award should include separate categories for picture books, fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I love the idea of a funny book awards with multiple categories like the Oscars. You could have great fun with the awards ceremony by poking fun at some of the conventions of more serious awards. Instead of sitting there with a fixed grin, clapping politely when the winner is announced, runners-up could be encouraged to shriek “NOOOOOO!”, tear at their hair, wail inconsolably or shout insults at the winner. I’m sure that the kids attending would find it far more entertaining than a regular awards ceremony where the nominees are expected to behave themselves and I suspect that the authors and illustrators might enjoy it more too.

It would be hilarious to have an award ceremony where the runners-up were encouraged to voice their disappointment.

The recently created This Book is Funny website does a great job of waving the banner for funny books. When the Roald Dahl news broke last week, the team behind the site announced that they were already gearing up to step into the breach which is heartening news.

If there is a new funny books award, I hope that it will have a children’s vote to pick the winners rather than a panel of adult judges. Humour is largely subjective and there are no better judges of what children find funny than children themselves – as this second graph from the Kids and Family Reading report illustrates.

The best judges of what kids find appealing are kids themselves.
(Graph from the UK Kids and Family Reading report 2015)

We seriously need a funny prize, so – whoever organises it and whatever it's called – I have all my appendages crossed that we'll have a new one soon!

UPDATE: Great news! The week after this post oringally went online on the Picture Book Den blog, Scholastic UK announced a new funny book prize – The Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (AKA The Lollies)! 

The prize will be awarded in three categories:
  • Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book
  • Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 6-8s
  • Best Laugh Out Loud Book for 9-13s
A panel headed by Michael Rosen will select four books to make up the shortlist in each category but the winners will be decided entirely by children’s votes. You can find out more on this page of the Scholastic website.