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


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