Thursday, 26 January 2017

HERE BE MONSTERS sails to the top of my "Most Borrowed Books" chart.

Yesterday I received last year's UK library loans figures for my books, courtesy of the Public Lending Right (PLR) organisation.

Here Be Monsters, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, has swapped places with The Princess and the Pig (also illustrated by Poly Bernatene) to become my most borrowed book. The tale of dastardly pirates and ravenous monsters was taken out of UK libraries over twenty-two thousand times last year.

There are three new entries in the remaining top five spots. The Silver Serpent Cup, illustrated by Ed Eaves, races in at number three, while The Clockwork Dragon, illustrated by Elys Dolan, and A Spot of Bother, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban take slots four and five.

The PLR figures show that my books were borrowed from UK libraries a total of 166,280 times last year.

Here are my top 5 most borrowed books.

PositionTitleNÂș of loansRelative Position
1Here Be Monsters
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
2The Princess and the Pig
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
3The Silver Serpent Cup
illustrated by Ed Eaves
4The Clockwork Dragon
illustrated by Elys Dolan
5A Spot of Bother
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban

A big THANK YOU to everyone that borrowed my books, the wonderful librarians that made them available and the PLR organisation for helping authors like me to earn a living.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Why I hope the 10th Children’s Laureate will champion non-fiction

This post was originally published on Picture Book Den.

If past years are anything to go by, BookTrust will soon be encouraging people to suggest candidates for the next Children’s Laureate.

The current laureate Chris Riddell has worked wonders in the role, energetically waving the banner for children’s literature with one hand while deftly drawing an endless stream of characterful illustrations with the other. When Riddell first took on the Laureateship he announced that his focus would be to “use the immediacy and universality of illustration to bring people together and lead them all into the wonderful world of books and reading, whilst championing creativity in schools and beyond”.

Illustration was also the focus of Quentin Blake and Anthony Browne’s laureateships, while other laureates chose to focus on other areas that play a key role in engaging young readers including poetry, storytelling, performance, the importance of libraries, daily reading and parents reading aloud. However one key area of children's literature that has yet to be championed by a laureate is children’s non-fiction. So I’d like to suggest that the tenth Children’s Laureate should be a non-fiction author or illustrator.

Some of the non-fiction books that helped turn me into a lifelong reader.

I’m principally a fiction author but, like many children of my generation, non-fiction played a critical role in establishing my reading habit and turning me into a lifelong reader. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s the children’s sections of bookshops and libraries were as well stocked with non-fiction titles as they were with storybooks. Mainstream publishers like Ladybird excelled at publishing books that reflected the most obscure childhood interests and enthusiasms, from crochet to car mechanics. By responding to the breadth and diversity of children’s interests in this way, non-fiction books were often able to engage the reluctant readers that fiction could not reach.

From crochet to car mechanics, publishers like Ladybird excelled at reflecting the breadth and diversity of childhood interests.

The children’s book market has changed a lot since then. It’s now far bigger, and far less balanced in terms of fiction and non-fiction. While children’s books about crochet and car mechanics are still being published, a child interested in either – or any other non-mainstream non-fiction topic – is far less likely to discover them in a landscape dominated by children's fiction. Non-fiction has become the Cinderella of children’s publishing and many children who might otherwise have become readers are turning their backs on books because of this.

There is a growing acceptance of the need to redress the balance and promote children’s non-fiction more effectively. Campaigns like FCBG’s Non-Fiction November are already helping to do this, but there is still a long, long way to go. Appointing a non-fiction author or illustrator as the next Children’s Laureate would provide an invaluable boost to the profile of children's non-fiction and represent a huge step in the right direction. And many children that are initially hooked into reading by non-fiction go on to become avid fiction readers, so appointing a non-fiction Laureate could benefit children's fiction too.

I’ve been asking around for the names of non-fiction authors and illustrators who might make a good Laureate and some of the suggestions I received are shown below. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list and I don't know if any of these people would be willing to take on the role, but I'm hoping it will help to set the ball rolling on a debate about who might fit the bill.

Catherine Chambers enjoys writing about history, cultures and religions, and reckons that sport can satisfy all three. Her books include Stickmen's Guide To The Sky - Uncovered and Goal! How Football Conquered the World

Nicola Davies is a zoologist and one of the original presenters of the BBC children's wildlife programme The Really Wild Show. Her books include A First Book of Nature, illustrated by Mark Herald and Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable, illustrated by Neal Layton.

Anita Ganeri is the author of the award-winning Horrible Geography series including Planet in Peril which won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts 2009. Her other books include The Explorer’s Handbook: How to Be the Best Around the World.

Richard Platt is the author of Pirate Diary, illustrated by Chris Riddell, which won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts 2003. Incredible Cross Sections, illustrated by Stephen Biesty, was selected by the Guardian as one of the three greatest children's books of the 90s.

Tony Robinson came to fame playing the role of Baldrick in Blackadder. He has won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts award twice, for The Worst Children's Jobs in History, illustrated by Mike Phillips in 2007 and for Weird World of Wonders: World War II, illustrated by Del Thorpe in 2014.

Andy Seed is the author of The Silly Book of Side-Splitting Stuff, illustrated by Scott Garret, which won the Blue Peter Book Award - Best Book with Facts 2015. His other non-fiction books include The Anti_Boredom Book of Brilliant things To Do, also illustrated by Scott Garret.

You can see some additional suggestions in the update below. If you have any more, I’d love to hear them in the comments box below the original post on the Picture Book Den site (click here to go there). If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, you could also tweet your suggestion for a possible non-fiction laureate using the #NonFictLaureate hashtag. With a bit of luck, we just might persuade the Laureate selection panel to appoint a much-needed Fairy Godmother to this Cinderella of children’s books.

UPDATE : The suggestion that the next Children's Laureate be a non-fiction author or illustrator has had a good reception on social media. You can read some of the responses in the Twitter collection here. And here are some more non-fiction authors and illustrators that have been suggested in response to this post: