Wednesday 30 April 2008

Good Titles are It - and Some Shameless Advertising

Putin's Labyrinth by Steve LeVineI've just found out that the new book of my good friend Steve LeVine is now listed on Amazon (out this fall!!!) and it's got a beautiful cover and this humdinger of a title:

As it happens, the book of my other good friend, Elizabeth Pisani, is coming out next week and she's got a terrific title too which is amazing given her subject which is AIDS and the bureaucracy surrounding it.

Here's a screenshot from the outro I made for her video (that's the opposite of intro - and I'll talk about the video in another blog post):
The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani

I know, I know, this is a blog about children's book writing but there's no harm in a bit of shameless publicity between friends? That's what the internet is for.

Anyway, the main point I wanted to make was TITLES MATTER.

This became crystal clear to me at the recent SCBWI before-Bologna conference when a panel of agents read the first pages of blind submissions from the audience. They were asked to react the way they would to any submission.

The Agents Panel, SCBWI Bologna 2008

Agents shredding submissions at SCBWI's Bologna conference

And react they did. It was at times a painful experience. It was like American Idol or any other show from TV's humiliation genre. It made me think of all the rejections I ever received and it made me imagine how agents must have opened my submissions and snickered over my leaden words, my unprofessional presentation, my ... but let's not tread that path again.

The main thing is: the agents always, always, ALWAYS wanted to read more when there was a good title.

So work on that title, folks. It opens doors.

Meanwhile, do feel free to buy Steve's and Elizabeth's books. I mean, it's sooo important that we children's authors inform ourselves about affairs in Putin's Russia and the state of the AIDs industry.

Another reason why we should all engage with technology

I am constantly bashing on about how children's authors have to engage with the internet, technology - with the default world that their readers are growing up with. A few days ago, I received this birthday greeting from my nephew in the Philippines - which absolutely made my day. Although it's made by his parents of course, this is a kid who doesn't see anything unusual in video-taping a message or chatting to me on webcam. He's cute, too.

Monday 28 April 2008

Brighton Children's Book Festival: the Bookseller's-eye-view

Providing Brighton festival goers with books to buy were the kind people from Bags of Books, the Lewes based children's bookstore (one of a decreasing number of specialist booksellers in the country, I might add). Their stall was located in the corner of a room exhibiting some rather startling photographs.

This was the view from behind the book counter:

Sunday 27 April 2008

The Brighton Children's Book Festival

It was my birthday last Saturday and to celebrate I took a group of little girls to the Brighton Children's Book Festival. I was on a panel (about promoting yourself online) the following day.

Snowy Globe, their school's cuddly toy mascot, came along. Our task was to bring back photographs Snowy Globe enjoying Brighton and the festival. Here is Snowy Globe and my festival companions getting ready to board the train to Brighton:

Snowy Globe was suitably impressed by the sights at Brighton:

Brighton was relentlessly cool.

At Brighton University we slavered over the book display.

The theme of this year's festival is 'Leaping from the Page' - books finding other incarnations in comics, film, stage, you get the idea.

The kids went straight into a musical performance workshop using material from Feather Boy by Nicky Singer. The workshop was run by Nicholas Beeby and Kate Bray. While they were in the workshop, I attended a comics workshop run by Marcia Williams:

The kids then performed a scene from Feather Boy - incredibly well given that they only had two hours to learn the songs and workshop the scene! It was mind-boggling. I won't be surprised if Grace (the girl in the foreground) who sang the lead ends up on the West End someday!

After the performance, Laura Atkins who organised the festival, very charmingly interviewed Dakota Blue Richards, the young star of the film of The Golden Compass and a Brighton local. My girls were gripped by this personable (not to mention exceedingly beautiful) and well-spoken young person.

Of course, Snowy Globe paid close attention to all that was said.

And Dakota Blue kindly had her picture taken with girls and dog.

As did David Almond when it came time for him to speak about the turning of his books into films.

David A gave an inspirational talk about writing and adapting work for other media. Then the BBC adaptation of Clay was screened (the girls were a bit scared).

We then rushed off to Zizzi in the Lanes for a birthday supper and then to the beach and the Brighton Pier to milk the most out of the rest of the evening before we left. Unfortunately the funfair was already closed. But that did not stop my intrepid gang.

Sadly, because I was speaking the next day (and because the events were geared for an older audience), I didn't take the kids with me. As a result, I took no pictures. Sorry.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Choice Lookybook : Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta and David Biedrzycki

I really liked this one - my boys would have loved it when they were still toddlers. In fact, they probably will still love it now.

Do click through to see the larger version on Lookbook

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Polly Toynbee on Girlification

Polly Toynbee recently gnashed her teeth over Girlification's triumph over Feminism. The Toynbee rant ranged from glass ceiling stuff to "the pink disease is far worse than it was 20 years ago".

Mention of the "pink disease" pricked up my ever-vigilant ears as I'd only recently contributed to a discussion about pink book covers (it was about the highly pink cover of my friend Fiona Dunbar's book Pink Chameleon) at The Bookwitch blog where Ann Giles (who is no witch)wrote:
I’d like to know if they sell more books with pink or lilac covers (glitter optional) because they are pink or lilac, or if the pink and lilac puts more prospective buyers off? Not all girls love pink and lilac. Lots of parents are allergic to pink and lilac, after years of nothing but. (from Think Pink)
I commented that a clever book like Pink Chameleon - which re-imagines a high tech fashion future - should have a sticker on the cover, warning: "Smart Inside".

Toynbee had some pretty shocking back-up research for the girlification rant:
A report from the American Psychological Association shows how sexualisation harms girls - and it's getting worse, more of it and more extreme. One study showed how anxiety about appearance harms brain function: girls were asked to try on a swimsuit or a sweater in a private dressing room, supposedly to give their opinion. While waiting they were asked to do a maths test. The girls given swimsuits did much worse than those in sweaters, as thinking about their bodies, mostly negatively, undermined their intellectual self-confidence.

At the end of the day, ridiculing girliness is negative in its own right, isn't it?

As the mother of a girl who is just emerging from a strong anti-pink phase and entering a more fashion conscious age, I say: let's not suck the fun out of being a girl. What will really empower a girl is permission to be whoever they want to be.

P.S. The second book in Fiona's Pink Chameleon series is Blue Gene Baby - with a BLUE cover.

Sunday 20 April 2008

What if Alex Rider Were Black?

Anthony Horowitz, in a blog for The Bookseller titled Whitewash, writes:
A publisher asked me an interesting question a short while ago. What would it have done to my sales if I had made Alex Rider black?
The only popular black kid's character that immediately comes to mind is George of the genius Captain Underpants series. Or was it Harold?

Horowitz of course never declares that Alex Rider is white. But it's obvious. Would sales have been as good with a black character? It makes one think.

As Horowitz says in the blog post:
Literacy and the love of reading is a bigger answer than we might think. We just need to be more ambitious with the questions.
Do read the whole of Horowitz's piece. It's important. Here's the link again

Yikes! I've been tagged!

The rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people and post a comment to Angela's blog once you've posted your three sentences.

I am sitting at the kitchen table in the holiday cottage that I let as part of my non-writing work. The nearest book is GIVE ME SHELTER - stories about children who seek asylum, edited by Tony Bradman. It's either that or the Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening.

It's an auspicious choice because I have just heard that my short story has been accepted for a Tony Bradman anthology! Funny that I feel so relieved.

Also, in further shameless advertising, the short story Samir Hakkim's Healthy Eating Diary by my good friend Miriam Halahmy is featured in Give Me Shelter, which has just been shortlisted for the UK Literacy Association Award.

These are sentences 6 - 9 from Cherry Strudel by Leslie Wilson on page 123 of Give Me Shelter:
Old Her Next Door said, "Mrs Asllani, I should have got the whole greenhouse reglazed years ago. With safety glass."

Vjoleta said, "You're only getting the new glass because of Jusuf."

"That's not true," said Old Her Next Door.
Now off to tag five people. Hmm. Angela's already tagged Paolo, so here's my list of taggees:

Tuesday 15 April 2008

SCBWI Bologna 2008: Comic Books are not just for Klingon-Speakers

When characters on the Simpsons expressed surprise that Spiderman creator Stan Lee was still alive, the graphic-novel obsessed Comic Book Guy said:
Stan Lee never left. I'm beginning to think that his mind is no longer in mint condition.
Now I personally am glad that Stan Lee never went away - Spiderman was (IS) my all time favourite superhero. But the whole mint condition thing, the fact that Comic Book Guy (who once translated Lord of the Rings into Klingon) even exists, demonstrates the problem with comic books.

Comic books never had a good reputation with teachers, parents and librarians. And now, the readership has been totally taken over by adults - many of whom are of a type similar to Comic Book Guy.

But things are changing.

In 2007, the Michael L. Printze Book of the Year (the Oscar for YA book writers) went to the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

Recently, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by David Selznick - a graphic novel published in the form of a hardback - won the 2008 Caldecott Medal.

In May, Philip Pullman publisher David Fickling will be launching a weekly comic anthology. Here's a link to the DFC's about page. Hmm. There is something familiar about the art on that DFC page.

In 2006 David Saylor - who published Hugo Cabret and is known for his art direction of the Harry Potter US editions - launched Scholastic Graphix, a comic book imprint for the world's largest children's publisher. The New Big Idea of Scholastic Graphics is actually an Old Big Idea. That kids love comics. Here he is interviewed by the All Age Reads blog
The first thing I'd love to change is the perception that “comics aren’t for kids anymore”. Perhaps it would be wiser to say: "Comics ARE for kids (and for everyone else, too)". In the push to make comics respectable and noteworthy, comics for kids have been somewhat ignored in the last 20 years. I believe strongly that now is the time for publishers to create wonderful comics for kids: we’re poised for an explosion of graphic novels, and perhaps even a new golden age.
David told the Bologna SCBWI conference that it was at the massive comic convention Comicon that he had a Pauline moment about kids and comic books. Here was a "major pop culture event in the US", an "incredibly vibrant world". He "remembered how strongly connected to comic books I had been as an eight and nine year old" - not with superheroes but with character-based comics like Little Lotta (pictured right) and Richie Rich.
Scholastic is the largest distributor of children's books in the world. Why were we not publishing comic books? Why were there no comics being produced for kids?
The result of this epiphany was Graphix, Scholastic's imprint devoted to comic books - which launched in 2005.

David set out to find comic books that, because of the graphic novel's skew towards adults, had not reached the kid's market. Graphix's big success is the Bone comic books by Jeff Smith, that pretty much already had achieved cult status as a black and white, self-published comic book. Jeff's website explains:
Apparently, BONE was one of the most requested graphic novels in libraries across the country. By kids! Now, if you’ve followed my career in comics, you know I’ve fought against BONE being labeled a children’s book. Mostly for marketing reasons - -today’s comic book readers are mostly adults, and a kid’s comic wouldn’t survive long - but also because I wasn’t writing for kids ... (but) the kids found BONE and claimed it. They got enough librarians looking for it, that Ingram [the library distributors] called us. When trade magazines like Booklist, Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly began reporting on the high circulations of graphic novels and teachers’ discovery that kids actually were reading them, big publishers like Scholastic took notice.
Graphix adapted existing bestsellers like The Babysitters' Club and Goosebumps to the comic book format.

David had some negotiating to do to get booksellers to put comic books into their children's sections, drawing a lot of knowing merriment from the audience when he said:
Comic book stores are not friendly to women and kids
Librarians were the first to take the new comic books on board. Children were easy. Teachers less so. But David predicts the dawning of a "golden age of comics for kids" as the gatekeepers of our children's reading life realise that "visual literacy" has a role to play in keeping kids reading.

As a child, I was the proud owner of a towering comic book collection - and read classics like Lorna Doone after being introduced to them in Classic Comics. Little Lotta and Spiderman didn't do me any harm either.

Words can't express how wonderful it is to witness the return of comics for kids! As Comic Book Guy would say:
There is no emoticon for what I am feeling!

Friday 11 April 2008

Dr Seuss Cartwheeling in His Grave

Fiona Dunbar, author of Lulu Baker and the Silk Sisters books, sent me this hilarious mock-take of picture book cinematization (allegedly written by Dr Seuss himself):
Stop Making Movies About My Books

The Onion

Stop Making Movies About My Books

On the fourteenth of March, in towns nationwide, In every cinema, multiplex, on every barnside, Gleamed another adapting of...

Of course if any of us were offered some Hollywood cash for the film rights to anything we've written, the answer is pre-ordained!

Thursday 10 April 2008

Punish Angela Whether We Like It Or Not

So I have this mad friend, Angela, who really ought to be writing her novels but instead has launched an insane blog called Reviewed Here First.

The idea is she MUST BE THE FIRST TO REVIEW a children's book. Or else.

And now this raving if talented YA writer wants me to set up some punishments if she fails in the task.

I mean, good grief.

As a compulsively helpful person, I must do her bidding.

If Angela fails (as in, if someone else has already reviewed a book), she must be PUNISHED. So, Angela, SHOULD YOU FAIL TO REVIEW A BOOK FIRST:
1. You must post a picture of yourself doing an animal face - preferably an ape face, my favourite.

2. OR you must rewrite a chapter from any of your novels in picture book style.

3. OR you must rewrite a picture book text in YA style.

4. OR you must take a famous picture book text and add werewolf / zombie / vampires or a horror element to it - to fulfil agent Sarah Davies' statement in Bologna: "horror is the new fantasy".

Any other insane suggestions - stick to children's writing themes please - heartily accepted!

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Bologna 2008: News

When I was a journalist covering rather exciting events such as the fall of the Marcos dictatorship or communist guerrillas in the Philippines I used to despair at my lack of insight.

"But what does it mean?" I'd ask myself as I flailed around with my reporter's notebook and my battered camera. "What does it all mean?"

My current incarnation as a wannabe children's writer doesn't demand an immediate interpretation of events around me. Which is a relief. If you would like to know what actually happened at the Bologna book fair you'll have to turn to Publishing News where Graham Marks (a YA author himself) has filed a report. Interesting to see that a book featured during the SCBWI pre-Bologna conference found a UK publisher
... in an exception that proves the rule, Frances Lincoln's Janetta Otter-Barry saw a project at a gathering on Sunday - Jana Novotny Hunter's When Daddy's Truck Picks Me Up - and agreed a deal with its creator there and then, on a napkin…
Jana gave a talk to the SCBWI conference on picture books through the ages. She told us about her own book, When Daddy's Truck Picks Me Up, about a boy looking forward to the arrival of his father, who is coming to collect him. It was an ingenuous idea and beautifully illustrated. Well done, Frances Lincoln for spotting it!

I also enjoyed LookyBook's report on Bologna, which dropped into my inbox along with its latest titles:
Leather-clad Punks page through books next to publishing executives in suits and ties—the contrast of people is as fascinating as the books themselves. Massive crowds circulating between stalls of books, with an boundless flow of publishers, authors, illustrators, and literary agents making deals—complemented by eager portfolio-toting artists looking to get published. Ironically, because the show is closed to the public, the only type of person you won’t see is an actual child!

Lookybook is pleased to report that the picture book is alive, well, and still speaking the universal language of a child's imagination.
The Bookseller suggests that Bologna activity in the area of young fiction tended away from fantasy:
Fiction, especially series fiction, remained strong. Maeve Banhan, RH rights director, said: "It feels as though there is a definite move away from fantasy."
This, even as the high profile Sarah Davies, Harper Collins editor-turned-agent for the newly emergent Greenhouse Literary Agency, declares that:
Horror is the new fantasy.
So much to see, so much to tell.

But what does it all mean?

If I knew that, I would still be a journalist.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Bologna 2008: a selection from the Artists' Wall

One of the unmissable features of the Bologna Children's Book Fair is the Artist's Wall, a series of hoardings near the entrance where artists pin up their work and their business cards in the hope of making contact with clients. Here is a sampling from this year's batch.

Even late in the afternoon of the second day there were still artists pinning up their work.

Illustrators had so many creative ways of leaving contact details.

You could look and look for hours and still keep finding something wonderful to look at.

Friday 4 April 2008

Now I've got my own Sarah McIntyre

My Bologna roommate Sarah sent this cartoon of me in Bologna.
Candy in Bologna by Sarah McIntyre

I've never been described as foxy before but Sarah totally captures my spikey-headed, bleary-eyed late night writing habit.

Thrilled to have my own Sarah McIntyre! Thank you!

Thursday 3 April 2008

Bologna 2008: and then there was the loot

Bring a small suitcase. On wheels. That’s the standard advice to writers and illustrators attending the Bologna book fair. There’s so much loot to be had. Not only are there catalogues and posters and postcards but if you are very, very nice, people give you things. Especially if you attend the last day of the fair when everyone’s taking down their stall and have no desire to ship their books home.

I didn’t manage to attend the last day of the fair but I tried to be very, very nice to people.

And they gave me things.

Here’s a list of what I got:

1. A Babette Cole How to DVD
Babette Cole in Bologna

I am probably the only person in the world who can say I rescued uber picture book person Babette Cole (Mummy Laid an Egg, Doctor Dog) TWICE.

Well, I didn’t exactly snatch her from the jaws of death but it came close.

Well, I sort of fixed her computer problems.

Which makes me practically a super hero.

Here’s what I look like in a cape:
Super Candy
That's why Babette kindly gave me her much coveted DVD on how to make a picture book.

2.The Ariol DVD
Ariol is France's much loved blue donkey character created by artist Marc Boutavant and writer Emmanuel Guibert, much loved in France. He is the star of a series of books, with comics instead of chapters,

Boutavant screened a trailer for the pilot of an Ariol TV series. I approached him afterwards to ask if the video was already up on YouTube.

To my surprise, he handed the DVD to me!

Unfortunately, i can't seem to upload the thing to YouTube so you'll have to settle for this version without the English subtitles

3.A bunny picture book from Taiwan

One of my favourite events of the conference was when editors from all over the world (England, the United States, Venezuela, America, France and Taiwan) each discussed their favourite books. I loved the Taiwanese book – a PB about a rabbit born with short ears who goes to great lengths (get it?) to change his ears.

Guess who grabbed the book after the talk?

4. The Slant Book republished as Il Libro Sbilenco

Now this was actually for sale and I did not physically buy it as my feet by this time were totally wrecked by the marathon walking required at book fairs. Peter Newell was a cartoonist from the 1900s famous for his innovative picture books The Slant Book and The Hole Book. Il Libro Sbilenco is Marco Graziosi's translation, beautifully re-published by an Italian publisher.

The baby character though has a rather scary face.

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