Wednesday, 7 March 2018

THE EMIRATES FESTIVAL OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: How do writers and publishers square their commitment to freedom of expression with sponsorship by a brutally repressive regime?

Some of the eminent writers currently appearing at this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
Top: Carol Ann Duffy DBE, Anthony Horrowitz OBE, Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Wilson DBE.
Bottom: Jenni Murray OBE, Lemn Sissay MBE, David Walliams OBE, Kate Adie OBE

Cognitive dissonance – the mental discomfort that results from a person performing an action that contradicts their ideals – seems to be reaching epidemic proportions at the moment. Whether it’s pro-EU politicians voting through Brexit bills or eco-conscious holidaymakers taking climate-wrecking long haul flights, many of us seem to be behaving in ways that conflict with our deeply-held principles.

"While the festival presents itself as promoting freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas, its sponsors have gone to great lengths to ensure that this freedom does not extend beyond the festival’s glitzy bubble"
Among the sufferers in this epidemic are the many eminent UK authors currently appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. The festival's main sponsors are Emirates Airline and the Dubai Government (who are the airline’s sole owners) and the festival’s patron, Sheik Mohammed, is both the ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the festival presents itself as promoting freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas, its sponsors have gone to great lengths to ensure that this freedom does not extend beyond the festival’s glitzy bubble and UAE residents wishing to remain at liberty must be extremely careful about which ideas they attempt to exchange. According to Amnesty International, more than a hundred peaceful critics of the Sheik’s government have been imprisoned since the festival was launched in 2009, most of whom remain in prison today.

The already dire state of freedom of expression in the UAE took a further nosedive nine days after the close of last year’s festival when Ahmed Mansoor, a courageous critic of Sheik Mohammed’s government described by Amnesty as "the last remaining Emirati human rights defender speaking out about human rights violations in the country,” was arrested during a midnight raid on his family home. Mansoor has since been held in an unknown location. Amnesty have said that they are “appalled and dismayed” by Mansoor's arrest and expressed concerns that he may be at risk of torture.

Human rights organisations explain the vital role played by UAE human rights defender
Ahmed Mansoor in this 2015 video made before his arrest.

Mansoor’s arrest was part of a further crackdown of freedom of expression in the three weeks following last year’s festival which also included the sentencing of Dr Nasser bin Ghaith to ten years in prison for the "crime" of criticising Sheik Mohammed’s government on Twitter. In a statement on Dr Nasser bin Ghaith’s sentencing, Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf observed that “the authorities have left no room for doubt: those who dare to speak their minds freely in the UAE today risk grave punishment.”

"The authorities have left no room for doubt: those who dare to speak their minds freely in the UAE today risk grave punishment."
Amnesty International
Sheik Mohammed’s continuing sociopathic obsession with suppressing freedom of speech among his subjects does not seem to have deterred many authors from accepting invitations to the lavish festival he sponsors. This year’s programme boasts an impressive roll call of writing talent, with current UK Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, former UK Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline Wilson and former Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer all making return appearances. UK journalists and broadcasters are also well represented by the Observer’s Associate Editor Robert McCrum and the BBC’s Jenni Murray OBE and Kate Adie OBE among others.

Penguin's pledge to champion freedom of expression.
I don’t know exactly how many of the writers appearing at this year’s festival are members or supporters of organisations like English PEN, who campaign to defend writers around the world “whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk”, but this group must be among those enduring the most severe degree of cognitive dissonance. There must also be staggeringly high levels of cognitive dissonance among the publishers listed among the festival’s secondary sponsors whose codes of conduct commit them to defending freedom of expression. These include Penguin, a “Silver Pen Partner” of English PEN, who claim to have “a long and proud history of championing free speech”.

Penguin’s website includes a corporate pledge to “champion freedom of expression” which it describes as “fundamental to our organisation” and several Penguin authors testify to how much “free speech matters” to them in the 2011 video below.

Prominent among them is Anthony Horowitz OBE, another of the big name UK authors making a return appearance at this year’s festival. Horowitz explains in the video that “freedom of speech is a fundamental human right,” and emphatically states that “censorship is sterile, it’s empty, it’s repressive!”. Given Horowitz’s vehement abhorrence of censorship, the knowledge that a “loony” (Horowitz’s word for a censorious leader like Sheik Mohammed) will be picking up the tab for his business class travel and lavish hospitality must be inducing an almost crippling degree of cognitive dissonance.

"If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
George Orwell
A festering hotspot of cognitive dissonance within the festival programme is the annual George Orwell Lecture, where invited luminaries give a talk inspired by the great writer’s politics, philosophy and beliefs. Last year's Orwell Lecture was given by distinguished BBC broadcaster James Naughtie. Yes – this IS the same George Orwell who wrote “If freedom means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” I don’t know if Sheik Mohammed is an Orwell fan, but if he is, he seems to have misinterpreted Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell’s nightmarish vision of an oppressive surveillance state, as a guidebook on how to govern Dubai and the wider UAE. Human Rights Watch described the Sheik's government's introduction of censorious "cybercrime" laws in 2012 as having "effectively closed off the country’s only remaining forum for free speech". The UAE authorities have been widely criticized by human rights groups for deploying expensive surveillance software to spy on human rights activists. In 2016 the Sheik's government invested an unprecedented amount of money in an attempt to hack the iPhone of now-imprisoned human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor, forcing Apple to issue a security update and earning Mansoor the soubriquet of the Million Dollar Dissident. Prior to his arrest, Mansoor had been communicating with human rights groups outside the UAE using Skype, but in January this year UAE authorities blocked the use of the video-calling app (having already blocked Facetime and the call features in WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber and Snapchat). When thousands of UAE residents signed an online petition on calling for Skype to be reinstated, the authorities blocked the use of as well. The UAE’s Thought Police are nothing if not thorough.

The politics of festival patron and sponsor Sheik Mohammed make Donald Trump's look liberal.

Most UK writers tend to be on the left of the political spectrum and a current bête noire of many is US president Donald Trump. Since Trump was elected in 2016, UK writers have been falling over each other to condemn his bullying, bigoted brand of politics. I suspect few of these writers would be willing to lend their names to a Trump Industries Festival of Literature sponsored by the US leader, no matter how great the opportunity for dialogue and cultural exchange with US citizens. It’s a testament to the cognitive-dissonance-inducing effects of the Emirates Airline Festival and Sheik Mohammed’s adeptness for PR that so many left-wing authors, poets, journalists and broadcasters are unable or unwilling to apply the same ethical judgment to a festival sponsored by the Sheik, a politician so right wing, he makes Donald Trump look like a liberal. While Trump can at least claim to be a democratically elected leader who represents the people he governs, the Sheik is an autocratic dictator who brutally suppresses all calls for democratic reform. While Trump’s government bars critical journalists from their press conferences, the Sheik’s has them abducted, imprisoned and tortured. And while Trump is curbing the rights of LGBT citizens, the Sheik criminalises them and bans trans visitors from entering Dubai and the wider UAE.

One area where Trump is openly modelling his policies on those of Sheik Mohammed is workers’ rights. When Trump sang the praises of Dubai Airport in 2016’s presidential debates, he neglected to mention the inhumane labour practices that enabled Sheik Mohammed’s government to build such grandiose structures so quickly and for so little money. Trump has a first-hand knowledge of these practices, having exploited them himself to build the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, and his administration’s current attack on worker’s rights is intended to bring US workers' rights closer to that of Dubai’s.

“If the UAE’s labour exploitation was white-on-black instead of Arab-on-Asian, few UK writers would be comfortable enjoying the festival’s lavish hospitality.”
Dubai’s building and services industries are dependant on the existence of an underclass of Asian migrant workers, many of whom work in conditions that have been described as “very close to slavery”. A recent Guardian article by Nick Cohen likened the relationship between the UAE’s Arab elite and its migrant underclass to apartheid. If the UAE’s labour exploitation was white-on-black instead of Arab-on-Asian, few UK writers would be comfortable enjoying the festival’s lavish hospitality. Exploitation is exploitation, no matter which race is on top. It seems that once a writer has allowed cognitive dissonance to infect one area of their ethical judgment, it spreads to others as well.

The UAE has set itself up as the gatekeeper of literature for the Gulf region. The Dubai-based Emirates Airline Festival is the biggest literature festival in the Arab world and the annual book fair in the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah is also the largest in the region. Both the festival and the book fair are heavily reliant on high-profile UK authors to fill out their programmes.

This reliance on UK talent presents the UK literary community with a real opportunity to promote freedom of expression and respect for human rights within the Gulf. The UK literary community has far more leverage in the UAE than it does in most countries where freedom of expression is currently under attack, such as Turkey or Egypt.

"By acting as window dressing for the UAE’s showcase literary events, respectable UK writers are helping to give the impression that their UAE government sponsors are also respectable."
The unfortunate outcome of the epidemic of cognitive dissonance among the eminent UK writers appearing at the festival is that, instead of helping to curb censorship and other human rights abuses in the country, they are helping to whitewash over them. By acting as window dressing for the UAE’s showcase literary events, respectable UK writers are helping to give the impression that their UAE government sponsors are also respectable.

Sheik Mohammed’s gang of autocratic leaders is not the only government that would prefer the festival's writers to keep quiet about their sponsors’ poor human rights record. The UK government is currently prioritising trade over human rights in the UAE and has announced plans to double bilateral trade between the two countries to £25bn in the next two years. Arms sales are especially lucrative; despite its size, the UAE was the 10th biggest buyer of UK arms between 2012 and 2016. The participation of eminent UK writers in UAE state-sponsored events like the festival help to cement relations between the UK and the UAE. And, of course, the chief reason that UK publishers with “a long and proud history of championing free speech” are prepared to endure such high levels of cognitive dissonance at events like the Emirates Airline Festival and Sharjah Book Fair is that there is a great deal of money to be made from book sales in the region as well.

The road ahead looks rocky. As the UK leaves the European Union, Great Britain PLC will be obliged to look further afield for lucrative trading partners and that inevitably means more cosying up with repressive states like the UAE. I fear we are going to have to endure a lot more Emirates-Festival-style cognitive dissonance as a consequence.

Further Information

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

World Book Day Treasure Hunt

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

Last year's post on how to organise a "Picture Book World Cup" in schools got such a good response that I thought I'd follow up with a similar post on how to run a Picture Book Treasure Hunt.

Like the Picture Book World Cup, this is an activity that I originally ran with my former Patron of Reading school, Asfordby Captain's Close Primary in Leicestershire. We did our treasure hunts in June, which meant we were able to run them outside, in the school grounds, but a hunt would work just as well inside. And it would make an ideal book-themed activity for nest week's World Book Day, which is why I'm blogging about it now!

A Captain's Close student discovers one of the question sheets.

We ran two separate treasure hunts: a picture book themed hunt for Key Stage 1 and a novel themed hunt for Key Stage 2. I'm going to describe how to run the KS1 picture book version, but the KS2 version works in a similar way and you can find information on it and links to download packs for both versions at the bottom of this post.

How the hunt works

The hunt is a race against time. The first student to complete it correctly wins. A winner's certificate is included in the download pack, but schools may want to offer a book as a prize as well.

Once they have completed the hunt, students will need to hand in their answer slip to a Hunt Collector (a nominated member of staff), so make sure all the students know who the Hunt Collector is and where they can be found before the hunt starts. 

If the hunts we ran are anything to go by, the winner is more likely to be a tortoise than a hare. Make it clear that the winner is the first student to hand in a CORRECTLY COMPLETED answer slip. The twentieth student to hand in their slip could still be the winner if the previous nineteen have not completed the hunt correctly!

It will take a little time to check the answer slips, so let the students know when the winner will be announced. If you're running the hunt in the morning, you might tell the students that the winner will be announced in an afternoon assembly.

The hunt uses a set of ten multiple choice question sheets like this one:

The question sheets are stuck up in different locations around the whole of the school. Before the hunt starts, make sure students know where they can and where they cannot look.

Students all start the hunt at the same time, but in any place, with any sheet. It makes sense to split students up as much as possible at the start so they begin in lots of different locations. That way, they will not all be looking for the same question sheet at the same time.

Each student is given an answer slip like this:

When a student finds their first sheet, they write down the big letter at the top in the first square of their answer slip. Then they read the question and decide which of the four book covers at the bottom of the sheet is the correct answer. Then the student has to find another sheet that has that book cover at the top and repeat the same process.

Students should be able to answer the questions in the KS1 hunt in the download pack by looking at the books' covers. Remind students that if they have a problem reading or understanding a question, they can ask a teacher for help.

As students search for the question sheet with the correct cover, they will probably spot other question sheets that they will need to find later on in the hunt, so students should try to remember where each sheet is, even if it's not the one they're currently looking for.

When a question leads a student back to the question sheet they began with, they should have a letter in each of the 10 boxes. They have now finished the hunt and should hand in their answer slip to the Hunt Collector straight away!

The first student to hand in a correctly completed answer slip to the Hunt Collector wins.

Tips for the organisers

Example question sheet: Before starting the hunt, use the example question sheet in the download pack to explain how the hunt works and what students have to do.

Synchronise the start: Agree an exact start time for the hunt, then split the students into small groups and ask a member of staff to accompany each group to a different part of the school to start the students at that time.

Leave time to find the winner: If the hunt we ran is anything to go by, the first students to hand in their slips will have got their letters in the wrong order and you will have to check through several incorrectly completed slips before finding a correctly completed winner.

When you announce the winner (preferably in an assembly), you might want to spread the credit and heighten the tension by revealing the top three hunters in reverse order.  If the school is feeling generous, they could give a prize to the runners-up too.

Tips for the Hunt Collector

Don't worry about marking the answer slips as they come in! The important thing is to keep a record of the order you receive them. So write a number in the top box in the top right corner of each slip as it is given to you.

The first few students to give you their answer slips will probably have filled them in incorrectly, so keep collecting the slips and recording the order you receive them in until you've collected them all or until the time programmed for the hunt is over.

Once you've collected all the answer slips, you can use the long marking strip in the download pack to check the sequence on each slip quickly. Starting with the first answer slip to be handed in, line up the first letter on the slip with the first occurrence of the same letter on the marking strip. If the student has completed the hunt in the right order all of the following letters will match those on the marking strip.

Use the long marking strip to check the sequence quickly, by lining up the first letter on the student's sheet with the same letter's first appearance on the strip.

If the sequence of letters on the first slips you check don't match the sequence on the marking strip exactly, put a cross where the sequence is broken. It's worth keeping rejected slips in the order they were collected in as, in the event that no student gets the whole sequence right, you will need to go back through the slips and pick out a winner with the longest correct sequence.  

Once you've found the winner you can fill out the certificate in the download pack and present it to them.

Foundation and Reception Simplified Option

Foundation and reception students can do an easier version of the hunt by simply finding all the question sheets and writing down all the letters. The winner is the first student to hand in a slip with all the correct letters in any order.

Hunt the Teacher Option

The download pack contains an off the peg version of the hunt that will work in any school. However, the original hunts we ran included extra questions about teachers' favourite books, as shown in the example below.

Additional Hunt the Teacher question sheets like this get
students talking to teachers about their favourite books.

To answer this question, students had to find the teacher and ask them which book was their favourite. This was a good way to show children that grown-ups enjoy reading and to get the students talking to staff about their choices. If you want to create your own version of the hunt using this option, you will need to ask staff to name their favourite books in advance so they can be written into the hunt. And if a staff member is unexpectedly away on the day (as was the case with one of our hunts), make sure another staff member knows the correct answer and that the students know who this is before they start the hunt.

Key Stage 2 Version

A download pack for an off the peg Key Stage 2 version featuring children's novels is also available below. This runs in exactly the same way as the KS1 version, but has the following tweaks to make it a little more difficult:

  • There are 15 questions instead of 10.
  • While the answers to some questions can be found by looking at the covers, others require a little knowledge of the books.
  • On some question sheets, more than one of the covers at the bottom of the sheet can be found at the top of other sheets, so students can't just go looking for any of the four options like they can in the KS1 hunt - they need to find the sheet with the correct cover to get the correct sequence of letters. If students get back to the sheet they started with and haven’t got a letter in all 15 of the boxes, they will probably have skipped a few letters by answering a question incorrectly.

And of course, you can create your own KS2 hunt with some hunt the teacher question sheets just like the ones described for the KS1 version above.

Click on an image below to download a Treasure Hunt pack as a zip file.

Key Stage 1

Key Stage 2

For some more ideas for activities your school can do to celebrate World Book Day,

For an exciting picture book race against time, check out my rhyming romp
illustrated by Ed Eaves, and published by Oxford University Press.

Buy this book from HiveBuy this book at amazon UKBuy at amazon US 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

HERE BE MONSTERS remains my most borrowed book

I've just 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, is my most borrowed book for the second year running. The tale of dastardly pirates and ravenous monsters was taken out of UK libraries over seventeen thousand times last year.

A Spot of Bother, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, has jumped from fifth to second place, while Prince Ribbit, also illustrated by Poly Bernatene, has entered the top 5 for the first time at number 4.

The PLR figures show that my books were borrowed from UK libraries a total of 149,917 times last year.

Here are my top 5 most borrowed books.

PositionTitleNº of loansRelative Position
1Here Be Monsters
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
2A Spot of Bother
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban
3The Princess and the Pig
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
4Prince Ribbit
illustrated by Poly Bernatene
5The Silver Serpent Cup
illustrated by Ed Eaves

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

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Missing Vowels Christmas Picture Book Puzzler

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

Following on from previous Christmas Quizzes in 2015 and 2016, here's another set of picture book puzzles for you to solve. This year I've taken my inspiration from the "Missing Vowels" round of BBC quiz show Only Connect. For those unfamiliar with the show, I've taken the titles of ten classic picture books, removed all of the vowels and punctuation marks and changed the spaces between the words. For example, THE GRUFFALO might be changed into THG RF FL.

How many ‘disemvowelled’ book titles can you recognise? Click on each image to reveal the answer. To make things more Christmassy – there's a festive theme to the even-numbered titles.











How did you do?

10 O for outstanding: Your knowledge of picture book titles is exemplary!
7–9 A for advanced: A good effort. You know your Child from your Chichester Clark.
4–6 I for intermediate: Not bad, but perhaps you should add a few picture book classics to your Christmas list.
1–3 U for ungraded: A disappointingly Gruffa-low score. You need to brush up on your picture book knowledge.

My sparkling seasonal story Diamond in the Snow, illustrated by Vanessa Cabban, has just been re-published in a new edition from Walker Books.

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

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

A book sale shouldn't earn less than a library loan: The case for a PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty on special sales

The royalty payment per book on a special sales deal is often lower than the PLR payment on a single UK library loan.

Motivated by the Society of Authors Special Sales Campaign, I’ve just turned down a special sales deal for one of my picture books. A special sales deal is a deal where a very low price per copy is paid for a large quantity of books. If you see a catalogue offering "10 books for £11.99", the seller will probably have done a special sales deal with the publisher for a few thousand copies of each book.

One of the concerns highlighted by the Society of Authors campaign is that the growing number of special sales deals are cannibalising standard book sales while the royalty payment an author receives for a special sales book may be as little as a tenth of a standard royalty payment.  It recently occurred to me that special sales deals will be cannibalising authors' PLR income as well, since people don’t borrow books that they already own. Publishers do not receive PLR payments, so they suffer no loss of income if special sales result in a reduction of library loans.

The Society of Authors campaign asks publishers to give authors the right of approval on special sales deals. My agent already makes such approvals a contract requirement and last week she passed on a request from a publisher for a special sales deal on one of my picture books.

Under the terms of the deal I would receive a royalty of 3p per book sold. The terms were not unusual and I have received as little as 1.8p per book on previous special sales deals.

As is often the case with such deals, the author payment per book was lower than the PLR payment I currently receive on a single UK library loan of the same book. The 2017 UK PLR rate is 7.82p per loan*. PLR on picture books is split equally between the author and the illustrator, so I receive a payment of 3.91p per library loan.

The special sales deal would provide a one-off payment, while PLR provides me with regular annual payments. If the deal was going to cannibalise some of my future PLR income, the 3p per sale payment the publisher was offering seemed too small in comparison with the 3.91p I currently received for each library loan.

Following this reasoning, I told my agent that I would only accept the deal if the payment I received per book sale was at least equivalent to the payment I'd receive for a single UK library loan. In this instance, that would mean my royalty increasing by at least 1.5%. The publisher declined to increase the royalty, so I turned down the deal.

The publisher will no doubt offer the same 3p per book deal to another picture book author or illustrator, who may well accept. But what if they didn’t accept? What if all PLR-registered authors and illustrators started using the PLR per loan rate as a minimum benchmark based on the reasoning above? If enough PLR-registered authors and illustrators commit to a PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty, special sales royalty payments would have to go up. A PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty is still a tiny amount per sale compared with a standard royalty, but it would be a small step in the right direction and would help to halt the current race to the bottom in special sales payments to authors.

So, if you are a PLR-registered author or illustrator and you don't think it's reasonable to receive less for a book sale than for a library loan, ask for a PLR-benchmarked minimum royalty on any future special sales deals.

*A UK PLR rate of 8.2p per loan is currently proposed for 2018.

How do I work out if the payment I'd receive for a special sales deal is above or below the PLR benchmark?

The 2017 UK PLR rate is 7.82p per loan. The PLR rates for subsequent years will be shown at the top of that year's PLR statement.

If the PLR on the book is shared with another contributor (e.g. an illustrator or translator) you will need to multiply the per loan rate by the appropriate percentage to reflect your share (the percentage you receive for each book is listed on your PLR statement). The resulting figure is your PLR benchmark for that book.

Special sales terms are usually supplied by publishers as three figures:

  • the percentage royalty to be paid to you
  • the unit price that the publisher receives
  • the quantity of books covered by the deal. 

Multiply the percentage royalty by the unit price (you don't need the quantity) to get the payment per book.

If the book is part of a set or pack, the publisher may give you the unit price of the whole set instead of an individual book. In which case you will need to divide this figure by the number of books in the set to get the unit price for an individual book.

Example 1

You receive 50% of a picture book's PLR (with the other 50% going to the illustrator).
A publisher offers a 5% royalty on special sales copies they are supplying at a unit price of 50p per copy. 
2017 PLR rate = 7.82p per loan 
PLR benchmark = 50% of 7.82p = 0.5 x 7.82p = 3.91p 
Special sales payment per book =  5% of 50p = 0.05 x 50p = 2.5p 
2.5p is less than 3.91p, so this deal is below the PLR benchmark. 

Example 2

You receive 100% of a novel's PLR.
A publisher offers a 6% royalty on special sales copies that are supplied as part of a 7 book set at a unit price of £9.50 per set. 
2017 PLR rate = 7.82p per loan 
PLR benchmark = 100% of 7.82p = 7.82p 
Special sales payment per book =  6% of (950p ÷ 7)   = 0.06 x 135.71p = 8.14p 
8.14p is more than 7.82p, so this deal is above the PLR benchmark. 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

DIAMOND IN THE SNOW • New UK Paperback Edition

I'm delighted to announce that Walker Books have just published a new edition of Diamond in the Snow illustrated by Vanessa Cabban. This publication completes the set of new editions of all five of the Mole and Friends books, the other four having been published back in February and June of this year.

Diamond in the Snow was originally the third in the series, but the new edition was published last to suit its seasonal setting.

In this wintery tale, Mole finds something smooth and sparkly sticking out of the snow. "It must be a diamond!" he thinks. But as he rushes to show his new treasure to his friends, it keeps escaping his paws.

The theme of this story is similar to that of Bringing Down the Moon, in that Mole becomes enamoured with a beautiful object. However in this instance, Mole attains the object of his desire – only to lose it again!

The story celebrates the wonder of the natural world and recognises that something can be both ephemeral and precious.

Here's what two reviewers said about the original edition:
"Something of the awe and wonder - that silence, stillness and sheer beauty of a pristine landscape - is captured in this enchanting winter's tale for young listeners and readers."
Jill Bennett, WORDPOOL
"Recoding magical moments that occur in nature can lead to sappy text and overly idealized illustrations – this is NOT the case with Cabban’s illustrations or Emmett’s prose. Readers/listeners will experience the awe and joy of Mole’s first experience with snow just as if they had shared it with him."

And here's actor Tom Ward reading the book for the CBeebies Bedtime Stories in an appropriately icy location.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Night at the Museum • Dinosaurs of China sleepovers and previews of HOW THE BORKS BECAME at Wollaton Hall

I enjoyed playing a small part in two Dino Doze schools sleepovers at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham last week.

Wollaton Hall South Elevation

The Hall is a magnificent Elizabethan country house that is home to Nottingham City Council's Natural History Museum. The Museum is currently hosting a Dinosaurs of China exhibition featuring an impressive collection of Chinese fossils and dinosaur specimens. You can read The Guardian's review of the exhibition here.

The Museum invited two lucky local schools to spend the night sleeping in one of the exhibition's galleries. It was the first time the museum had organised a sleepover and I was as excited as the children to share in this experience. I'd enjoyed visiting the exhibition in the daytime, but it was a huge thrill to see the spot-lit dinosaurs looming out of the darkness in this historic setting. 

The towering Mamenchisaurus in the Great Hall is the tallest dinosaur
skeleton ever exhibited in the UK.

A Sinraptor standing guard by a doorway.

Many of the dinosaurs' skeletons, like this Protoceratops, cast some very dramatic shadows!

Each sleepover started with a torchlit tour of the exhibition by the museum's curator and resident dinosaur expert Dr Adam Smith. One of the themes of the exhibition is how some two-legged dinosaurs have evolved into modern-day birds and, after the tour, I gave the children a preview of How the Borks Became, a rhyming picture book I've created with Elys Dolan to explain natural selection, the process by which evolution takes place.

Before reading the book we played spot the difference with a couple of Elys's before and after Bork illustrations and the children tried to guess the environmental factors that had caused the Borks to evolve.

I'd sent an early proof of How the Borks Became to the museum in the hope that they'd be interested in hosting a launch event and they'd liked the book so much they asked me to preview it at the sleepovers. The book does not come out until next May, so I'm very grateful to publishers Otter-Barry Books for allowing me to preview it so far ahead of publication.

How the Borks Became explains how natural variation within a species enables plants and animals to evolve.

I'm pleased to report that the book was very well received by both the schools that took part in the sleepovers.

After this bedtime story the children eventually settled down to sleep under the watchful gaze of a Gigantoraptor.

I really enjoyed my nights with the dinosaurs. If you haven't seen the exhibition and can get to Nottingham (in the daytime!) before it closes at the end of October, I thoroughly recommend it!

runs at Wollaton Hall until 29 October 2017.
You can book tickets HERE.

How the Borks Became
by me and Elys Dolan will be published by
Otter-Barry Books in May 2018

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