Friday, 30 October 2020

SHE'LL BE COMING ROUND THE MOUNTAIN • New Print-On-Demand UK & US Paperbacks

I'm delighted to announce that Deborah Allwright and I have just published new UK and US print-on-demand paperback editions of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain, our picture book adaptation of the classic US folk song that was originally published in 2006.

There are several versions of the song in existence; the book is adapted from a campfire version that features accumulative sound effects. Each verse introduces a new sound effect which is repeated at the end of subsequent verses resulting in a long string of sound effects at the end of the final verse. To break down the repetition of the original, the picture book version substitutes a rhyming couplet into each verse.

The picture book includes several verses that will be familiar to readers who know the campfire version, such as "She'll be driving six white horses" …

… and several new verses of my own invention, all of which are accompanied by Deborah's wonderful illustrations of boisterous cowgirl Bonnie Bandit.

Although the original UK and US editions have been out of print for about a decade, the book has remained popular with schools and when lockdown began earlier this year I noticed that several teachers and librarians were sharing readings and singings of the book with their stay-at-home students via YouTube and other video-sharing platforms.

Here's a smashing sing-along rendition from a US elementary teacher.

These videos prompted me to create my own sing-along YouTube videos of the book for stay-at-home families which were shared online by Booktrust among others. When I got in touch with Deborah to discuss making the videos we decided that now would be a good time to bring the book back in a print-on-demand edition. 

The book is as popular in the US as the UK, so we created a separate edition for US readers. In addition to revisions to spelling and grammar (ie: pyjamas/pajamas or flavour/flavor) there are some changes in vocabulary. So Bonnie juggles with jello rather than jelly and drinks from a trash can rather than a dustbin in the new US edition. For some reason, neither of these changes were made to the original US edition.

To mark the publication of the new editions, I've remixed the videos of the book to match the new cover and page layouts. You can watch both the sing-along version and the extended version of the video (which teaches you the actions that accompany each sound) below.

Sing-along Video

Extended Sing-along Video with Actions

Readers of the new editions can also download a FREE MP4 audio version of the book from the Hatchling Books website.

You can order the new print-on-demand editions using the links below.

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

RUBY FLEW TOO! New Ingram Spark Print-on-Demand Paperback Edition

The new Ingram Spark print-on-demand edition of Ruby Flew Too!

A few years ago, illustrator Rebecca Harry and I published a print-on-demand edition of our picture book Ruby Flew Too! (titled Ruby in Her Own Time in the US). As I wrote on this blog at the time, I've received more emails about this book than any of my other books, with many readers telling me how Ruby's story had touched their lives. You can read excerpts from some of these emails in this blog post. So when the book went out of print with its UK publisher, Rebecca and I decided to re-publish it ourselves. We originally published the book using Amazon's Createspace print-on-demand service as — at that time — it offered better print quality than its main competitor Ingram Spark. However in the last three years this gap has closed and we've now published the book on Ingram Spark as well.

The main reason for publishing the book on both print-on-demand services is that the Createspace (now KDP) edition is only available through Amazon, whereas the new Ingram Spark edition can be ordered through local bookshops as well as non-Amazon online stores like Hive and Wordery.

Here are couple of spreads from the new edition.

"Then one bright morning, the eggs began to hatch."

"And sure enough, she did."

And here is a read-along video of the book.

If this edition proves popular, Rebecca and I hope to make the sequels, This Way, Ruby! and Go For It, Ruby! available through Ingram Spark as well.

Order the Ingram Spark Edition with FREE DELIVERY from Hive

(Note: Because the book is print-on-demand it may be listed as "Out of Stock" at Hive,
but you can still order a copy which should be dispatched within a week).

Download the activity sheets for this book by clicking on the images below

Board Game

Draw Ruby

Colouring Sheet

Click here to find out more about this book on my web site

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Lego Blockbuster Movie Poster Quiz

The Classic Novel Word Cloud Quiz I posted here last month proved popular, so here's another picture quiz I originally created as a round for a lockdown Zoom quiz.

This one combines two of my favourite things: Lego and cinema! I've taken ten of Empire Magazine's 50 Best Movie Posters Ever and used a little Photoshop magic to render them in Lego blocks. How many of them can you identify? Tip: If you're struggling to recognise any of them, try sitting back and squinting at the screen.

Click on each image to reveal the answer











How did you do?

10Oscar-winnerPerfect, with no piece out of place!
7–9Blockbuster: A solidly-constructed performance.
4–6Straight to DVD: Not bad, but you left some bits in the box. 
1–3Outright Flop: You really went to pieces.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Classic Novel Word Cloud Quiz

Since the first week of lockdown, my family have been getting together with a group of college friends for a weekly Zoom quiz. Each quiz is usually made up of several themed rounds and after thirteen weeks of quizzing, themes are getting increasingly inventive. This week I prepared a round of word clouds created from classic novels, which I thought I'd share here too.

Each of the word clouds below was generated from the complete text of a classic novel. The more often the word appears in the novel, the bigger the word appears in the cloud. Common words (such as "the", "a" "and") are excluded. The shape of each cloud is also a clue to the novel. The shapes make guessing the novel relatively easy, so to claim a point, you must be able to name the novel's author as well – and no half points for getting one but not the other!

The novels were all taken from Project Gutenberg's top 20 most downloaded ebooks for the last 30 days (at the time of compiling) and the word clouds were generated using the word cloud creator at

Click on each image to reveal the answer











How did you do?

10On cloud nineYour knowledge of classic literature is exemplary.
7–9Cloud-burster: You know your Stevenson from your Shelley.
4–6Cloudy with sunny spells: Could do better, but not too shabby.
1–3Under a cloud: You need to brush up on your classics.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A PRESENT FOR ROSY • New UK Picture Book

I have a new picture book coming out in hardcover in the UK today! A Present for Rosy is illustrated by Polly Noakes and published by Walker Books. The story follows the ups and downs in an unlikely friendship between a dainty bird and a burly bear and is the eighth picture book I’ve done with Walker books. The previous seven, starting with Bringing Down the Moon, were all created with the wonderful illustrator Vanessa Cabban. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in 2014; you can read a short tribute I wrote about Vanessa here.

A Present for Rosy was written in
memory of illustrator Vanessa Cabban.

When Walker Books encouraged me to write a new picture book for someone else to illustrate, I decided I would try to write a story that was in memory of Vanessa. Vanessa had suffered from depression, which I’ve also had some experience of, and I started writing a story called Rabbit’s Bright Spark that explored this theme. However after a year of working on various unfinished drafts I put it aside as the story felt too sombre and melancholy – which were not qualities I readily associated with the Vanessa I’d known.

When I started afresh a while later, I took a different approach and tried to write something that captured the nature of my friendship with Vanessa. The two of us came from very different backgrounds and, although we agreed on a lot, we had very different perspectives on some issues. One of the reasons I valued our friendship was that we were able to exchange our views frankly and accept each other’s differing opinions – a quality that’s become rare in recent years. So I wrote a story, initially titled Rosy and Rory, about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a bird who explore their forest home together.

The story is not autobiographical in any literal sense; neither I or Vanessa are meant to be either Rosy or Rory, but it draws on conversations I had with Vanessa and reflects the ups and downs our friendship had over the years.

When I finally had a draft I was happy with, I sent it to Nic Knight, who had edited the last couple of books I’d done with Vanessa at Walker Books. Much to my relief, Nic loved the story, but it was a while before Walker accepted it and even longer before we found an illustrator who was right for the characters and setting.

Polly Noakes has done a wonderful job of bringing Rosy and Rory and their woodland world to life. The beautiful spread below, with Rory discovering the waterfall and the fireflies is a favourite of mine and Nic’s.

Polly has shared some of her development work for the firefly illustration on her instagram account (click the arrows on the side of the image below to view the other images).

Polly tells me this was not intentional, but the way that Rory and the moon are both shown among the branches of a tree echoes a detail from one of Vanessa’s illustrations for our first book, Bringing Down the Moon.

A detail from one of Vanessa Cabban's illustrations for Bringing Down the Moon.

Polly created this gorgeous illustration of a rainbow for the end of the story.

When I wrote the story, four years ago, I could not have foreseen that the image of a rainbow would have the resonance it has now, as the book is published in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. As I write this, the windows of many of the houses in my neighbourhood and across the UK are decorated with children’s paintings of rainbows, created as signs of hope during the current lockdown when families are having to stay at home. A Present for Rosy is a story about companionship and finding beauty in the world around us, gifts that many of us have learnt not to take for granted in the last few months. 

Here's a trailer I made for the book.

And you can download Rosy's Forest Maze sheet and Rory's Rainbow colouring sheet
by clicking on the images below.

Rosy's Forest Maze

Rory's Rainbow Colouring Sheet

Buy this book at amazon UK

Friday, 24 April 2020


Following on from last month's post about authors recording and broadcasting from their computers, I've recorded some new videos of my own.

Here's my reading of Ruby Flew Too! illustrated by Rebecca Harry. You can find out more about this book and download activity sheets on this page of my web site:

You can order the print-on-demand edition of Ruby Flew Too!
from Amazon using the links below.

Buy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US

My picture book adaptation of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain illustrated by Deborah Allwright seemed like an entertaining sing-along for stay-at-home families, so I decided to record a version of the song using the new lyrics I wrote for the book. If you listen to it, you will understand why I write rather than sing for a living.

I've created two versions of the video; this one with just the song …

… and this longer version which teaches you the actions that accompany the words.

You can order the print-on-demand editions of She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain from Amazon using the links below.

Buy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US

And find out more about the book on this page of my website:

And I wrote about this book in this post about adapting picture books from songs:

And finally, here's my reading of How the Borks Became: An Adventure in Evolution illustrated by Elys Dolan. You can find out more about this book and download activity sheets on this page of my web site:

You can order the paperback edition of How the Borks Became
from Hive and Amazon using the links below.

Buy this book at Hive UK Buy this book at amazon UK Buy at amazon US

I hope you enjoy watching the above videos and perhaps joining in with the last two! If any of you fancy videoing your rendition, send me a link and I may even add it to this page.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Seven Top Tips for Recording and Broadcasting from a Computer

Picture Book Authors Events Online. Logo by Chris Haughton

Like many others all over the planet, my family are having to get used to staying at home at the moment. My children are both grown up and capable of keeping themselves occupied, but I know that many parents may be struggling to keep younger children engaged and entertained. In an effort to help with this, many children’s authors and illustrators are producing videos, activity sheets and other online resources for families to view and download.

Children’s author Caryl Hart has set up an Authors Events Online page on her web site which links to resources that children’s authors and illustrators have created for stay at home families and I have set up an associated Facebook page Picture Book Authors Events Online to share new videos that picture book authors and illustrators have created for stay at home families.

If you are a picture book author or illustrator and have made a video that you would like to be shared on the page, you can contact the page via the link below the page header, but please accept that the videos we share are selected at our discretion and check that your video is likely to be eligible under the page’s Sharing Policy first. The page only shares new videos created by traditionally published picture book authors and illustrators (see the Sharing Policy for further details). Traditionally published picture book creators can also live-stream directly from the page using Facebook Live. If you would like to live-stream from the page, email me and I can send you a walkthrough for live-streaming from a desktop or laptop computer.

I have been using a webcam to engage with online audiences for several years through my virtual school visits, but I know that many authors and illustrators are getting to grips with recording and broadcasting from a desktop or laptop computer for the first time, so I thought I would share some of the things I have learnt over the years. Several of these tips can also be found in my 10 Top Tips for Great Virtual Author Visits and most of them apply to recording video on a phone or tablet.

My Seven Top Tips for Recording and Broadcasting from a Computer

1: Dress the room

Treat the room that you are recording in as a set. Do you want a blank wall behind you or something that relates to your work. I have posters of my books on the wall opposite my webcam and have stuck cutout characters from one of my picture books on the edge of the bookcase that fills the left hand side of the screen.

If you have props or banners that relate to a particular book you are featuring in the recording, you could place them in the background.

You might also consider dressing yourself!

2: Be seen in the right light

Unless you actually want your audience to see you as a sinister silhouette, make sure your face is adequately lit when you’re on camera. 

If you’re using a computer with a large screen to record, bear in mind that the screen itself is a light source. If the desktop on your computer is bright green and there’s not much light coming from your surroundings, your face may be bathed in a sickly green light. This might be perfect if you’re reading a horror story, but if you're not, then a neutral-coloured desktop (or a blank white document) will illuminate your features without a colour cast.

If you're recording during daylight, facing a window and using natural lighting while you record can be ideal. However if your window faces south, you may have a problem with glare.

My desk faces the wall in my office. The room is well lit by a window, but the window is to my left and slightly behind me so that half of my face is in shadow when I look at the camera. To light my face evenly, I have a daylight bulb mounted slightly above head height on my right hand side. The light from the daylight bulb matches that coming from the window giving the impression that my whole face is naturally lit.

3: Get your camera angle right

One of the most common shortcomings of footage recorded on a laptop computer is a poor camera angle as a result of the laptop being below the eye-line of the user. The image on the left below was taken from a laptop sitting on the desk in front of me and gives a great view of the underside of my chin and the loft-hatch in my office ceiling. The image on the right was taken with the same laptop camera but raised to my eye-line by placing the laptop on top of a couple of boxes. The eye level version gives a far more natural view of both me and my office.

Once you have your camera at the right height, check that it is angled so that your audience can see the whole of your face and not just the top or bottom of your head.

4: Look at the camera - not the screen!

One of the things that can make computer recorded presentations feel less real than face to face presentations is a lack of eye contact. This is because computer users often look down at the screen when recording. When I’m reading a book, I try to look straight into the camera for most of the time so that the audience will feel I am reading directly to them. If you are live-streaming you may still need to look at the screen to read viewer comments and questions, so try to remember to look back at the camera before responding to them. I’m new to live-streaming with comments and am still trying to master this skill.

Note for tablet users: If you are recording using a tablet in landscape orientation, the camera will be on one side of the screen. So if you're looking at the screen rather than camera while recording, the video will show you looking to one side.  The solution is the same: identify the exact spot where your camera is located on the front of your tablet (if you can't spot it easily, try waving your fingers close to the screen while the screen shows your image) and make sure you look at this point rather than the screen when recording.

5. Prevent “noises off” and other distractions

You don’t want to be distracted while you are recording, so take your landline off the hook and switch your mobile to silent. You might also consider quitting or turning off any notification sounds for software such as email and Twitter. If there are other people in the house, let them know that you are recording so that they don’t walk in on you unexpectedly, start playing loud music or run around the house banging saucepans together and yodelling (this last one may only apply to my family).

If you are live-streaming and share a broadband connection with other people in your household, you may also want to ask them to avoid using the internet for high bandwidth activities (video calls, watching video-on-demand services such as iPlayer or Netflix or transferring large files) while you are streaming to ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth to broadcast effectively.

6: Play with perspective

Objects close to the camera lens will appear abnormally large relative to more distant objects and you can exploit this to add a bit of visual fun to your readings. I often take advantage of this ‘perspective distortion’ effect in my Skype sessions with schools. Here are some examples of how I use perspective distortion when reading some of my picture books:
  1. The Princess and the Pig: When the queen and the farmer are holding out the princess and the pig to inspect them, I hold out my hands towards the camera to make the audience feel like they are being held.
  2. Pigs Might Fly!: When Wilbur pushes the big red button that fires the rocket booster and sends the wolf blasting out the back of his jet, I pretend that the camera is the button.
  3. The Santa Trap: When Bradley is throwing a tantrum, I move my face close to the camera so that his angry rant fills the screen.
  4. Prince Ribbit: When Arabella and Lucinda kiss the tiny Prince Ribbit, I give my audience a taste of what he’s experiencing by treating them to a giant smooch. This last trick always gets a big reaction, eliciting a chorus of shrieks from a young audience.
CLICK TO ENLARGE IMAGE. Illustrations 1, 3 &4 : Poly Bernatene. Illustration 2 : Steve Cox

Perspective distortion can also be useful for displaying small objects to your audience. When I began reading my picture book The Clockwork Dragon to schools I soon realised that very few of today’s children know what clockwork is. So I now preface my readings of that book by showing my audience some simple clockwork toys. When I’m sharing the book online I use the camera to give my audience a close-up view of a clockwork toy with an exposed mechanism to give them a better understanding of how clockwork works.

7: Have things to hand

If you have material relating to the book you’re reading that might interest your audience it’s a good idea to have it close to hand. For instance, when I’m sharing The Clockwork Dragon online I often show the audience printouts of the Machine Maze activity sheet and the Kingdom of Rodney Visitors Guide which they can download from my website.

If you think you might want to show your audience other books that you’ve written or any other material relating to your work, it’s a good idea to have these to hand as well. Having done hundreds of Q&As in virtual school visits over the last few years, I know which questions are likely to come up and I now keep the books I can show to illustrate the answers in a magazine file beside my computer. The contents of this file include:
  1. The first book I had published, in both UK and US editions (since I Skype regularly with schools on both sides of the Atlantic).
  2. My most recent book. I show this when asked, “How many books have you had published?” so that I can give an answer along the lines of, “64 and this is my 64th book.”
  3. My favourite book that I’ve written myself.
  4. A non-fiction book that I’ve written. (Most of my books are fiction)
  5. A favourite book from my childhood. This particular book is also a book written by one of my favourite authors and a book that inspired me to become a writer.

I hope that the above tips will be of use to writers and illustrators getting to grips with online video. If you have any questions, comments or tips of your own, please post them in the comments box below.

My regular weekly virtual school visits are on hold for the foreseeable future, but if you work in a school that’s remained open for the children of key workers and would like me to virtually visit your students (for free), you can fill out the request form on this page of my website.

And don’t forget to check out the many videos and livestreams recorded by picture book creators on the Picture Book Authors Events Online Facebook page.