Monday, 19 September 2016

Seven Brilliant Books about BIBLIOPHILES

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

Prince Ribbit, my latest picture book with the wonderfully talented Argentinian illustrator Poly Bernatene, has just been published in UK hardback and paperback.

Prince Ribbit’s heroine, Princess Martha finds inspiration in the Royal Library.

Although Prince Ribbit is the fourth book that Poly and I have done together, it’s really a follow up to our second, The Princess and the Pig, in that both stories are set in a fairytale world populated by characters who love books.

The characters in The Princess and the Pig use the books they’re reading to interpret (usually mistakenly) what's happening to them in the the story.

As a book-lover myself, I’ve aways enjoyed reading stories about other bibliophiles. There’s something satisfyingly meta about reading a book about a character who is reading a book. So here are seven brilliant picture books about bibliophiles.

One of my favourite novels of recent years is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas which is effectively six books nested inside each other like a set of Russian dolls. Each book jumps forward in time and one of the ingenious connections between the stories is that characters featured in the inner books are reading the outer books. Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book does something similar in picture book format. Each spread introduces a new character who is reading their favourite book, the inside of which is shown on the next spread. So the book starts with eponymous Charlie, who is reading a book about a pirate, who is reading a book of fairy tales, and so on. While Scheffler's spread layouts shift around as the reader jumps from genre to genre, Donaldson ties the whole bookshelf together with her perfectly-scanning rhyme.

The spread from Joust Joking, Sir Percy the knight’s favourite book.

Jane Blatt and Sarah Massini’s Books Always Everywhere features a diverse group of toddlers enjoying an equally diverse selection of books. Blatt’s simple but charming rhyming text combines beautifully with Massini’s cheerful, perfectly-composed illustrations to make this book an ideal gift for budding bibliophiles, especially in the board book edition. Published in 2013, this book deserves to become a pre-school classic.

The board book edition of Books Always Everywhere makes an ideal gift for budding bibliophiles

Timothy Knapman and Adam Stower’s Mungo and the Picture Book Pirates is one of three books in which young Mungo literally enters into the book he is reading to join in with the adventure. In this first outing Captain Fleet, hero of Mungo’s favourite pirate picture book, is so worn out after six back-to-back readings of his story, that he abandons his book leaving Mungo to take his place and rescue Admiral Mainbrace and cabin girl Nora from a crew of dastardly pirates. The second book in the series, Mungo and the Spiders from Space, was featured in one of my earlier PBD posts.

With the hero holidaying in another book, Mungo is obliged to take his place in the story.

In Lauren Child’s Beware of Storybook Wolves the traffic is going the other way, with characters leaving little Herb’s favourite bedtime book to join him in the real world. Published in 2000 (before many publishers developed their current anorexic obsession with diminished word counts) Child’s quirky, characterful 1,300 word text is accompanied by equally quirky and characterful illustrations in which a trio of villains (two hungry wolves and a wicked fairy) emerge to threaten poor Herb before being seen off by a fairy godmother.

When Herb’s mother leaves a book behind one night, he finds himself at the mercy of two hungry wolves.

Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates sees Dog pursuing the dream of many a bibliophile – opening their own bookshop! Sadly, the bookshop's "grand opening" is a disappointing anti-climax. However Dog is able to find solace in his stock until trade picks up. You can watch Alison Steadman reading the book here.

Dog shows his love of books by opening his own bookshop.

Ralfy Rabbit loves books so much, he ends up stealing them to feed his insatiable reading habit in WANTED! Ralfy Rabbit Book Burgular by Emily MacKenzie. But Ralfy’s book-burglaring days come to an end when young Arthur spots Ralfy making off with a favourite book.
Ralfy Rabbit’s love of books puts him on the wrong side of the law.

Henry, the title character of Oliver Jeffers’s The Incredible Book Eating Boy also has an insatiable appetite for books – only he likes to eat rather than read them. The more he eats, the smarter he gets. Eventually the strain on his digestive system proves too much and Henry finds a more conventional way to feed his love of literature.

Henry’s bibliophilia manifests itself in a rather unusual way.

I hope this post has whetted your own appetite for some bibliophilic picture books! If you have a favourite picture book about a book-lover that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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Saturday, 3 September 2016


I thought I’d write a short post to mark the fact that today is the 15th Anniversary of the publication of Bringing Down the Moonthe first Mole and Friends book I created with the late Vanessa Cabban

The book tells the story of a Mole who, enchanted by his first sight of the moon, attempts to bring it down from the sky so that he can possess it. His friends keep explaining that, “It’s not as near as it looks,” but Mole will not give up. 

One of Vanessa's beautiful illustrations for the book.

Bringing Down the Moon is my most popular picture book and has been translated into 20 different languages including Frisian and Gaelic. The Dutch edition, translated by Annelies Jorna, was awarded the prestigious Kiekeboekprijs award for the best pre-school book published in the Netherlands in 2003.

llustrator Vanessa Cabban and I met for the first time when
 we went to the Netherlands to pick up the Kiekeboekprijs in 2003

The book has been adapted into a Dutch puppet show, an animated DVD, an iPhone app and a terrific stage show by the Peaceful Lion theatre company in 2012

Henry Wyrley-Birch as Mole, John Boylan as Hedgehog and Fleur Jeffery as Squirrel in Peaceful Lion's stage adaptation.
Photo: Pamela Raith

Mole proved to be such a popular character that Vanessa and I created four more Mole and Friends books before she passed away in 2014.

In the final book in the series, Mole finds a new friend, Mouse. My favourite spread in this last book is the one below, the final panel of which shows Mole showing Mouse the moon in the night sky, echoing his first sighting in Bringing Down the Moon.

Although some of the books are currently unavaialable, I’m delighted to announce that Walker Books will be publishing new editions of the whole series in 2017. The publication dates are shown below.

Bringing Down the Moon • 2 February 2017

No Place Like Home • 2 February 2017

A Secret Worth Sharing • 1 June 2017

The Best Gift of All • 1 June 2017

Diamond in the Snow • 2 November 2017

Find out more about Bringing Down the Moon on my website

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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Prince Ribbit • New Paperback & Hardback Picture Book

I have a new picture book coming out today in both hardback and paperback!

Prince Ribbit is illustrated by Poly Bernatene and published by Macmillan Children's Books. It's a comical twist on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Frog Prince.

When a cunning frog claims to be a bewitched prince, fairy-tale-loving princesses
Arabella and Lucinda take him into their home and treat him like royalty.
But fact-loving Princess Martha isn’t so sure;
her non-fiction books tell a different story.

Although Prince Ribbit is the fourth book that illustrator Poly Bernatene and I have created together, it’s effectively a follow-up to the second, The Princess and the Pig. While it’s not a sequel, both books are set in a fairytale world of princes and princesses and both books feature characters who are reading books of fairy tales.

In this new story a cunning frog inveigles his way into a royal household by pretending to be an enchanted prince. Romantically obsessed Princesses Lucinda and Arabella are only too happy to believe Prince Ribbit's story, but their younger sister Princess Martha is more sceptical.

Martha begins the story as an avid non-fiction reader but,
by the end, she's a fan of fiction as well.
Although fiction versus non-fiction is now a prominent theme of the story, there were no non-fiction books in the first few drafts. The only book that was referenced was Lucinda and Arabella's favourite fairy tale The Frog Prince, which provides Prince Ribbit with the inspiration for his cunning plan. In these earlier drafts, Martha succeeded in foiling Ribbit using nothing but her own reasoning and the story ended at an earlier point.

While I was fairly happy with this early version, Emily Ford, my editor at Macmillan, felt that the ending could be stronger and that the whole story was not as satisfying as the other ones I’d written for Poly to illustrate – and she was right! However it took me a while to find a way to achieve this and come up with a new draft that fitted the bill.

In the story, reading fiction helps Martha to find a solution to her problem; reading non-fiction helped me to find a solution to mine. At that time I was reading a lot of "popular science" books. It may surprise you to learn that libel laws do not apply to science and authors can misrepresent a scientist’s work with impunity. There are good reasons for this exemption, but it means that the label of “non-fiction” should not always be taken literally when it comes to scientific literature, particularly popular science books which can sometimes misrepresent evidence in order to appeal to a wider market. After digging a little deeper into the evidence, I discovered that some of the books I was reading at that time were doing exactly that and I often had to remind myself that, “Just because it’s in a book, it doesn’t mean it’s true!”. This phrase inspired the fiction versus non-fiction theme in the later drafts of Prince Ribbit and became a refrain within the story.

It was felt that this first version of the diagram of a frog's life cycle
 provided a little ‘too much information’ for younger readers so
the copulation stage was omitted from the final illustration.
While I loved the idea of playing off fiction against non-fiction, I didn’t want to show one type of book winning over the other – they’re both of equal value — so in the end Martha learns to appreciate both before foiling Prince Ribbit’s plan.

As always Poly has done a terrific job of illustrating the book, creating a cast of engaging characters in beautifully rendered settings. I particularly like the way that the illustrations in the books the characters are reading are drawn in a different style to the rest of the illustrations. Poly’s precisely detailed diagram of the life cycle of a frog would not look out of place in a real reference book, although Macmillan felt that his first version provided a little ‘too much information’ for younger readers (see image opposite).

When I first saw Poly’s roughs for the book I wasn’t keen on the car spread (shown below) and suggested that it would be better if the illustration show the royal tailors and jewellers attending Ribbit inside the palace. However Poly was reluctant to change it and — having now seen the finished illustration — I’m glad that he got his way, as it’s now my favourite spread in the book. I love the blue-yellow colour palette that Poly has used for this illustration, with the golden glow of the tailor’s shop spilling out into the half-light of the crowded street.

Here's a trailer I made for the book.

You can download and print out activity sheets for the book by clicking on their images below.

Word Search

Board Game

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Thursday, 21 July 2016

Prince Ribbit • Asfordby Captain's Close Edition

Prince Ribbit illustrated by Captain’s Close School and Poly Bernatene Illustrated edition.

Regular readers of this blog may remember the post I wrote last year about a special edition of The Silver Serpent Cup illustrated by the children of Round Hill Primary School in Nottingham. Last month I ran a similar week-long project with my Patron of Reading school, Asfordby Captain’s Close Primary in Leicestershire.

At the beginning of the week, the children were given the text of Prince Ribbit, a picture book that will be published my Macmillan at the end of next week. The Macmillan edition is illustrated by Poly Bernatene, but the purpose of the project was to encourage the children to interpret the text for themselves and come up with their own illustration ideas, so the children were not shown any of Poly’s artwork until they had finished their own.

After introducing the story to the whole school and giving them a few top tips for illustration and page design, I spent a little time with each class to get them started. One of the main characters in the story is a frog, so I did some “How to draw a frog” sessions with Years 1, 2 and 3.

Then I spent some time thinking about characters and settings with Years 4, 5, & 6. I explained that there is no right way to illustrate a scene, but some ways might be better than others, so it’s always a good idea to consider alternative approaches before you start. As an example, we took one of Poly Bernatene’s illustrations for The Princess and the Pig and the children came up with lots of alternative "thumbnail" ideas to present the same scene to the reader.

Some of the children's alternative ideas for one of Poly's spreads from The Princess and the Pig

Each class then set about creating their own edition of the book, with each spread being illustrated by a different pupil. When they had finished, each teacher selected a complete set of illustrations from their class to make up six separate class editions of the book.

The covers designs for the six class editions.

There was some wonderful artwork in every edition. I could see that a lot of thought and imagination had gone into the character and spread designs and there was some imaginative use of typesetting from the older classes.

The Robins Class edition

I chose two or three pages from each of the class editions which I bound together to make an overall school edition of the book. I had a very hard time choosing just seventeen spreads for this and there were lots of excellent illustrations that I had to leave out.

Here are some of the spreads that I chose.

This front cover by Alex is very eye-catching and Ribbit has a slightly cunning look to him which is perfect for the story.
The back cover by Grace has some very engaging blurb and the Royal Library card is a great idea.

Prince Ribbit is a story about books and I really liked the way that George gives the reader a good look at the book Martha is reading on this spread.

This spread by Ona-Mae is very professional-looking, with some great character designs and expressive faces.

We finished off the week with a special assembly on Friday afternoon. After revealing the illustrations I’d chosen for the school edition, I showed the children the published edition so that they could see how Poly Bernatene had tackled each of the spreads they'd been working on.

Me showing the children Poly's illustrations for the book

I’d explained at the beginning of the week that we would choose one favourite spread from the school edition, the illustrator of which would receive a signed copy of the Poly Bernatene illustrated edition. As the illustrator, Poly was much better qualified to make this decision than I was, so I emailed him a pdf version of the school edition and he sent back a video in which he announced the winning illustrator …

Illustrator Poly Bernatene sent us a video to announce his favourite illustration from the school edition.

… which was Scarlett from Robins Class who produced this wonderful illustration showing Princess Martha in the Royal Library.

Poly chose this spread by Scarlett as his favourite 

The project was a very effective way for the children to learn a little about the ins and outs of book design and illustration and gave them a new appreciation of all the thought and hard work that goes into turning a text into a finished book.

I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all the young illustrators, their teachers and TAs and Literacy Co-ordinator Miss G, who did such a brilliant job of co-ordinating the project in the school.

Me with the 17 illustrators of the school edition

Prince Ribbit is published on Thursday 28 July 2016 by Macmillan Children's Books.

Click here to find out more about the book

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