Category Archives: Picture book

Welcome to the Family

There are more than one kind of family, as most of us who are not politicians know. And knowing isn’t always enough. You want books about your own family type. In Welcome to the Family you get so much variation that surely just about every type of family has been covered?

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, Welcome to the Family

Families can have one or more adults. Any number, really. Any combination of the sexes. There can be one child, or lots of them. As for colour, any combination is possible.

Welcome to the Family shows the child how they might have arrived with their parents. It can be anything from ordinary homemade babies, to fostering and test tube babies. There are gay parents and single parents. Mixed colour families and same colour families.

This is not a story book, but more a way of telling a child that they are normal, whatever their own reality. It shouldn’t be necessary to have books like this, but unfortunately we still have a long way to go before some kinds of family are seen as so natural that there is no need to mention them.

The usual wonderful illustrations you expect from Ros Asquith accompany Mary Hoffman’s text.

I’d happily belong to any of these families, but of course, I have my own. Both the one I was born into and the one I helped make. Both different, and both good.

Migs and Pig

So. Going to school is upon us again.

Jo Hodgkinson, A Big Day for Migs

Migs is starting, for the first time (yes, I know that’s what starting means), and Jo Hodgkinson shows the reader what a typical first day at school might be like.

You worry at first, but then, like so many children, Migs discovers that this school thing isn’t bad at all. He might even want to return tomorrow.

Charlie Higson and Mark Chambers, Freddy and the Pig

Whereas Freddy in Charlie Higson’s and Mark Chambers’s Freddy and the Pig, isn’t too keen on school. He wants to stay at home and play computer games. (He’s rather lazy, truth be told.) So one day he sends his pet pig to school instead.

The thing is, in this dyslexia friendly book, that the pig actually likes school. He gets better and better at it, and by the end he’s got himself a university degree and everything.

Freddy? Er, his mother sold him.

Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist 2015

The latest shortlist for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards has been announced today, and from now until next year young Scottish readers can vote for their favourite books.

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten by Alison Murray (Nosy Crow)

Robot Rumpus by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Ross Collins (Andersen Press)

Lost for Words by Natalie Russell (Macmillan)

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

Precious and the Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith (Birlinn)

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens by Alex McCall (Kelpies)

Pyrate’s Boy by B. Collin (Kelpies)

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Dark Spell by Gill Arbuthnott (Kelpies)

The Wall by William Sutcliffe (Bloomsbury)

Mosi’s War by Cathy MacPhail (Bloomsbury)

What’s nice about this – among many other things – is that small publisher Kelpies have got three books on a list of nine. Another nice thing is that this is for Scottish authors and illustrators. And then there is the handing out of free books to readers; ‘Scottish Book Trust will give a free copy of the three Bookbug category books to every Primary 1 child during Book Week Scotland.’

FREE TO USE - SCOTTISH CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARDS SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED

As Jasmine Fassl at Scottish Book Trust says, ‘The Scottish Children’s Book Awards are much more than a celebration of Scottish literature – they are about expanding children’s horizons far beyond their physical boundaries and barriers. By simply reading just one of the shortlisted novels in their category, a 5 year old can imagine what it’s like to have rampaging robots as babysitters, a 10 year old can hop aboard a pirate ship, and a 15 year old can be transported into the mind of a teenager in a war zone.’

I’ll read to that! I can’t vote, but we will find out who wins on 4th March next year, after Scottish children have had their say. And the rampaging robots.

A family affair

I was going to go with Mothers and Daughters, but then I didn’t have mine with me and Wendy Meddour was rather more than mother and daughter with Mina May. The whole clan was there, and where would we have been without the running commentary from youngest son? He was lovely. So was the older one telling his brother to be quiet. And the one in between who liked Steve Cole.

Wendy Meddour

As were all of them. Admittedly, Wendy’s mother didn’t let her have pierced ears (she does now, though, and she wears beautifully dangly ear rings) or pointy shoes when she was young(er). Nor does it seem that the parents were in on Wendy’s invisible dog. She had it for a year and a half when she was a little girl. (I didn’t take proper notes, but I think it was a golden retriever.)

Wendy’s own little girl towers over her mother, as daughters do. Not only has Mina May done the illustrations for all three Wendy Quill books, but she showed us how to draw. I have never drawn such a great rat or spooky ghost as I did yesterday afternoon. In fact, I’d say we were all pretty artistically enabled. We did so well. Although the adults never got any sweeties.

Possibly for the best. Our teeth would fall out.

Mina May

As I was saying, Mina teaches like an adult. (And I know it’s irrelevant, but that was one fantastic pale green lace dress she wore!) She is just about an adult at 13, seeing how she sent her first portfolio of pictures to a publisher at the age of eight. By the time Wendy Quill came to be, the publisher felt Mina’s illustrations were better than her mum’s.

The audience was asked what parts they had played in the school play, and we had two angels, a Mary, a scorpion and a cow. And then there was Wendy’s crocodile’s bottom.

Wendy read from the crocodile book, and we had the scene where Kevin, the school rat, jumps out of the teacher’s handbag, and later on we jumped on our bed to make our big sister’s diary fall off the out-of-reach shelf.

Wendy Meddour and Mina May signing

All in all, a fun afternoon. And I do like a woman who not only comes out about her invisible dog, but takes her children to work.

Breaking down barriers to books and reading

You can’t help but feel dreadfully inspired by talks on how to help more people to read! In this case it was dyslexia and – primarily – Barrington Stoke who told a packed theatre on Tuesday about what goes wrong and what can be done to make reading better. I know it’s stupid, but you sort of come away from an event like that wishing you were dyslexic.

I’m not and I’m very grateful that I’m not, but it’s the sheer inspiration you get and the feeling of hope that you can make reading easier.

Mairi Kidd from Barrington Stoke talked about how you read. There are two ways; recognising the whole word, and working your way through a word letter by letter. It’s important the letters don’t look too similar, so they go out of their way to make b and p and q look different from each other in as many ways as they can.

She teased us with English words and names that just don’t do what you expect, like victual, epitome and Milngavie. Serifs are good and so is line spacing of 1.5, tinted background, and thicker than normal paper.

Many boys have not seen men read. That’s a dreadful statement, but probably more true than we can imagine. Good role models are important. Many books are too long (how I agree!). And then there are the must reads, like Harry Potter. Also too long.

Lucy Juckes founded Barrington Stoke 16 years ago with her mother-in-law. Lucy’s husband is dyslexic, as well as one of their four children. Now that their son is 16, his father is no longer allowed to cheat at Scrabble. She told us how they tried to help with reading, and how they have resorted to bribes when necessary.

Removing the pressure to read and using common sense are other obvious tips. And picture books! They end far too soon. There should be no reason why every age can’t have picture books. It’s like you are punished for learning to read books with only words in them. Barrington Stoke will have an app out in October, which should be another useful aid to reading.

Among the suggestions during the Q&A session were to invite authors to school libraries, to make potential readers more interested. Asking an author to become patron of reading at your school is another way. Vivian French who chaired the event said she had successfully introduced scribes who write down stories that young people come up with, in effect making them authors’ peers, which gives them new status.

Someone complained that there aren’t enough girls’ books in the Barrington Stoke range. Mairi agreed that more effort had been used on getting boys to read, but that they are now looking to publish more books for girls.

After the event they offered a workshop in the adjacent theatre for those who wanted to discuss this some more. For the rest of us there was a guided talk in the bookshop, showing us all the latest books. (It was a little crowded – which is good – and I returned later that evening for a second look. Lots of excellent books. You don’t need to find reading hard to want to try them.)

Dragon Loves Penguin – live

In the end there was no 90-year-old fiddle-maker in the audience. But Debi Gliori had me, and that was embarrassment enough for one day.

Dragon Loves Penguin is one of my most favourite of Debi’s books. Not so much because I love dragons (certainly not with the passion Debi reserves for them), but because I love mummies who love their babies. It might sound boringly traditional – not to mention obvious – but it needs to be said. ‘Love and time, the greatest gifts of all.’

Debi Gliori

After explaining how she came to write – and draw – Dragon Loves Penguin, Debi read the whole book to us. Not just a bit, but the lot. It can still make me cry.

Debi started off by drawing us an egg. Come to think of it, she ended by drawing us an egg. Too.

Her life long ambition has been to put penguins and dragons in one book, and she showed us her older books The Trouble With Dragons, and Penguin Post, about a daddy penguin who attempts to hatch a parcel. (You can’t.)

This was a great event. Sometimes a young audience can be too young, but here they were just right, and what amazing questions they asked!

How do dragons fly? Well, it helps if Debi has remembered to draw wings (she has been known to forget). But it’s probably by magic.

How did the egg end up on the ice? Yes, how? The baby penguin (in the egg) will freeze to death if left unattended for more than two minutes, so we decided that dragon had been very fast, because ‘a page is a long time.’

What does a dragon’s egg look like? Lovely, is the answer. And orangey, but with some magenta in it. And did you know that charcoal is merely a burnt stick?

Debi mentioned my old favourite Ffup, who makes toast by breathing on bread. It strikes me as most efficient. I’d like to do that, too.

Debi Gliori

(As you can see, Debi spent a lot of time actually talking to fans. I think this was about school.)

Friday the 15th

‘As usual’ I had a quick rest on Willie Johnston on my way to Charlotte Square. I can see that he – or more accurately his bench – and I will be seeing more of each other.

Zeraffa Giraffa

I had a carefully compiled list for Friday, in order to fit as much as I could in. Finding a mutually convenient time to have a spot of lunch with wonderful publicist Nicky proved just about possible. Her charges were busy all day, and first I went to find Jane Ray – who is very good with giraffes – at her signing. She had been making giraffe masks at her event, and the shop was full of tiny human giraffes. Very nice to meet publisher Janetta Otter-Barry (hers was a regal sort of presence…) who was there to oversee the proceedings.

Jane Ray

Nicky gave me lunch in the authors’ yurt, and we had a little chat about families as well as about books. I came away with two new books, and having surprised her with my weird interests, there might be more. (I now have a flag sticker book!) In return I tipped her off that Craig Pomranz (of Raffi knitting fame) was due a photocall session after lunch.

Debi Gliori, who was next on my list, popped in for a cuppa before her event, and was slightly disturbed to find I’d be there to heckle from the back. But as long as I vote the right way in the referendum we are fine…

Speaking of politics, by the time I’d decided I could tug on Peter Guttridge’s sleeve (as instructed by himself), Paddy Ashdown ‘got in the way’ and there was Ming Campbell and many others whose names could be dropped. So, no sleeve-tugging. Yet.

Ever the involved publicist, Nicky has taken up knitting to join in with Craig’s and Raffi’s scarf making. But the biggest help had been a very, very young girl in the audience who spontaneously organised Craig’s event for him.

Debi Gliori

I went off to get to Debi’s event on time (more of which in separate post), and after it I trailed her to the bookshop where she doodled for her fans for about an hour and a half. One of her talented picture book colleagues, Jackie Morris, was busy painting in the grown-ups’ bookshop all afternoon.

Jackie Morris

Then it was time for Craig Pomranz to sign after his second knitting event, and he unravelled (no, I don’t mean that… he got out) Raffi’s actual scarf and proceeded to wind it round a couple of small fans.

Craig Pomranz and Raffi's scarf

Me, I went back to the yurt and waited for Gordon Brown. There was some discussion between two people as to whether we were about to get the former PM or the Scottish crime writer. I knew it was the politician, and they rather hoped it would be.

We were lined up at the front of the yurt long before the ’round-the-square’ queue for Gordon Brown’s event with Alistair Moffat had even begun to move into the main theatre. Authors and others who actually had to pass us looked disconcerted, apart from the ice cream man and Tom Conti. And that other Scottish Italian, Debi Gliori.

Debi Gliori

This time it wasn’t the police so much as Men In Black who milled about. James Naughtie was there. So was insect repellant. There were also midges. Even after the spraying.

Alistair Moffat and Gordon Brown

And at last he came. Mr Brown, as they addressed him. He went on to his event, and I waved to Willie Johnston on my way home. It’s nice this. I’ve never gone home from the book festival before.