I hope you are well and finding plenty of things to do to keep you happy and distracted during these strange times. If, like me, you're looking for content to help keep your kids busy, my RESOURCES PAGE has 50 printable activity sheets as well as several play-along audio games to keep kids active in a small home. My YouTube channel is full of fun video challenges to help your kids develop their literacy skills. Please share, subscribe and have fun!
Lots of love,
What a couple of weeks! I've been all over the place having an absolutely wonderful time with booksellers, librarians, teachers and KIDS GALORE. Five thousand, is my best estimate, and I loved meeting each and every one of you! I hope you had fun hearing about THE DAY THE BANANA WENT BAD, and that you're still buzzing with ideas for playing, telling and writing stories of your own.
Our society treats children as lesser beings, but kids are the BEST - and they deserve the best. Whatever you got up to on World Book Day - whether you had an author visit, or you all dressed up, or you decorated your classroom, or painted a spud - I hope you had loads of fun celebrating the joy of reading.
!Below are a few pictures from my recent travels to Stockport, Andover and Hull. Thanks to: Louisa Danquah at Scholastic for keeping me organised; Sue and Andrew at Simply Books for the warmest of welcomes; Authors Aloud for super admin support and Hull Schools Library Service - Joyce, the JOY bit of your name is spot on! You were the best company and you made my visits loads more fun.
And a HUGE THANKS to all of the schools who welcomed a big, bonkers banana: Stockport Grammar, Cale Green Primary, Anton Infants, Pearson Primary, Sidmouth Primary, Ganton School, Cleeve Primary, Northcott Community Special School, St Mary Queen of Martyrs, Wheeler Primary, Eastfield Primary and Newington Academy.
As well intentioned as it is, World Book Day has begun to wear thin with parents who are strapped for cash. Even teachers have come to loathe this time of year thanks to the backlash they get when the kids go home begging for a costume to be made or bought.
What's meant to be a celebration of books has become an excuse for supermarkets to leech money from strapped families as they flood the aisles with a horribly limited and generally non-reading-related range of plastic-laden costumes.
Playing make believe can absolutely enhance a child's experience of a story. But, to the best of my knowledge, unlike READING or BEING READ TO, it's not going to improve your chances in life. It's just going to hurt your back pocket and the planet. Disgraceful really, from a cause that is supposed to exist to get books into every kids' hands.
I stress that I'm not blaming World Book Day. I love World Book Day! But I'm really fed up with books and reading for pleasure becoming demonised. I know lots of schools and families still want to celebrate, and teachers and busy parents and guardians don't always have time to dream up alternative methods. So I thought it was worth compiling some cool alternatives I've seen at schools when I've visited over the years. Thanks to the reading community online for being so generous in sharing ideas. It's a goldmine! You can find so much more just with a bit of a dig around.
VISIT THE LOCAL LIBRARY
Sadly not all regions are lucky enough to have a School Library Service. Many aren't even lucky enough to still have a local library, or even a school library. If you do have a local library, why not organise a trip there on World Book Day? Get sorted far enough in advance (and make sure you give them fair warning!) and you can send home consent forms to make sure each kid has a library card. What better gift on World Book Day than the gift of lifelong access to free books? Librarians are often happy to visit schools and talk to children about how the library works.
BOOK AN AUTHOR AND/OR ILLUSTRATOR VISIT
Meeting someone who's truly passionate about reading has a lasting impact on young minds. Consider clubbing together with other local schools and arrange multiple visits if it's hard to drum up the funds. Popular presenters can get booked up a year in advance, so try to plan ahead. And remember, books and their creators are for life, not just for World Book Day.
Hold a quiz in class. You can find plenty online, or make up your own if you can find the time. Can kids guess the author or illustrator based on a book title or cover? Can they guess the character's name based on a description lifted from the text? Can they guess what happens next after you read the first page?
The World Book Day website is a brilliant place to go for more ideas and fabulous free resources. The possibilities really are endless when you centre the fun around the act of READING. Check out the videos you can use in school, as well as live broadcasts with famous authors on the day. It's always super inspiring for children to feel like they're part of something that's happening in other schools across the country - and it's why World Book Day deserves to be loved and observed every year, whatever you end up wearing.
BLIMEY. I consider myself a very lucky person - I always dreamed of becoming a children's author, and my dream came true. I get to do what I love, every day. I get to work with the most incredibly lovely, talented people. It's ridiculous. I genuinely wake up most days and wonder if the last twelve years have all been an actual dream. And then yesterday, ANOTHER dream came true.
It feels greedy to even have other dreams when my big wish has already been granted, but I do still have a few goals and ambitions. One of them has always been to be shortlisted for a funny prize. Just shortlisted, mind you, to win was another dream entirely. But it happened!
TEN FAT SAUSAGES by me and Tor Freeman won Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book in the 2020 LOLLIES Awards! I know!!! Honestly!!! Tor is in America at the minute, pursuing a dream of her own, so me and Sausage Number 2 attended the super fun awards ceremony in London.
I caught up with lots of friends in the publishing world and met loads of very excited children. It was a wonderful day, and a bit of a dream in itself. I was handed the award by JULIA DONALDSON, for crying out loud! Surreal or what?! I'm only sorry I had to shoot off early to catch a train. (Another dream of mine is an underground high speed travelator between Somerset and EVERYWHERE. Still working on that one.)
BRAVO to all the other authors and illustrators whose hilarious books made the shortlist. Reading your books at home with my kids is a delight, sharing them with my Patron of Reading school is an easy win and your excellent creations always inspire me in my own.
Thank you to Tor for being a brilliant and incredibly funny co-creator. Thank you to Andersen Press for backing such a daft book. Thank you to James Catchpole for (eventually) seeing the joy in slaying pork products. Thank you to Scholastic for a truly fantastic day. And THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to vote for our book. I'm truly staggered - and still waiting to wake up...
The team at Sheffield Libraries really go the extra mile to create a buzz around reading. They've declared 2020 Sheffield's Year of Reading, with twelve months of events lined up and ready to go. 'The Day the Banana Went Bad' was one of the first, and I feel extremely lucky to have been part of the launch celebrations.
Children from Springfield School and Ballifield School joined me at the Central Library, along with library staff and members of Sheffield Council, as we turned into a bunch of misfit bananas. Who cares what we look like on the outside? As Bad Banana proves, it's what we're really made of that counts.
It was the first time I'd shared my 'The Day 'The Banana Went Bad' event - turns out it's a doozy! I'm looking forward to donning my banana costume again across the coming months for more events across the country. Huge thanks to all at Sheffield Libraries for inviting me to be a tiny part of what's sure to be a wonderful year. Thanks also to Louisa Danquah at Scholastic for her help organising.
1. Plan ahead.
2. Be a pleasure to meet.
3. Be memorable on and off stage.
When working with someone is a good experience from start to finish (and that includes emailing, phone calls and invoicing!), we're far more likely to recommend them to someone else, or even to ask for a repeat. Make sure you're remembered for all the right reasons.
4. Borrow the big screen.
You don't have to be too tech-savvy to use a big screen, and most classrooms, halls and other venues have them. It's much easier for kids to see the pages of your book on a large screen. Crowding around an opened book in an author's lap doesn't work unless you have a very small audience - kids wriggle, shove one another and get bored when they can't see. It's much easier to ask your publisher for PDFs of your book spreads. You don't have to build any additional slides if that's not your thing, but a simple slideshow can help you navigate your way through an hour and provide you with visual prompts that stop you losing your thread. You can email your slides to your host ahead of time and/or take it along with you on a memory stick. Always be sure to convert your show into a few different formats in case one fails you: try PDF, PPT. (or PPTX.) and Keynote. Again, arriving a little ahead of time gives you some buffer time to check it's all working.
5. Invest in a clicker.
Did you know you can buy a wireless presentation clicker that works on any computer? They come with a little removal USB stick that slots into the computer running your slideshow. You just click your handset to navigate back and forth through your slides. It means you can stand anywhere in the room to present - you don't have to be tied to the computer keypad. Some venues will have a clicker you can borrow, but as someone who presents frequently, I'd recommend buying one of your own.
6. Don't bankrupt yourself.
A clicker pays for itself if you do enough events, but it might prove expensive if you're not planning on doing many. Bear in mind that many picture books never even earn out their advance. If you're struggling to make ends meet, don't feel obliged to fork out on expensive props, craft materials or other bits and bobs every time you present. When doing crafts for small children, think about cheap supplies you can buy in bulk, keep in a cupboard and use for future presentations too. Sometimes your publisher or the event organisers can help - but don't expect a budget.
7. Bring your stories to life.
8. Get the audience involved.
Ask your audience questions, It's hugely entertaining and takes the heat off you. Put your book down at a pivotal moment. Pause and ask the children what they think happens next - use the page turns to create suspense in the room. Try not to force them to sit still and silent for a whole hour. Very young children find this hard, and if the children are unhappy you won't really enjoy yourself, either.
9. Leave them fired up.
What do your audience think the character's next adventure should be? Do they think they might have a go at writing it? Get you audience dreaming up ideas of their own while you're together. You know it takes courage to share an idea out loud and to commit it to paper. Encourage them, praise their ideas and help inspire the next generation of story makers.
10. Keep something extra up your sleeve.
Technology can fail. Weird emergencies can happen. You might talk super fast and end up with twenty extra minutes to fill. Duff days are very definitely a thing. Always be sure to have enough ideas and alternatives in mind just in case, for some reason, your original presentation doesn't go to plan. It might be as simple as having paper and pencils on hand for everyone and getting them to draw the front cover of an imagined sequel. If you know you have a Plan B, you'll be unflappable.
Have fun, always - and GOOD LUCK!
Voting is open for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards 2020, and the Ten Fat Sausages are hoping to scoop the prize for Best Picture Book - cast your vote today!
Voting is open to all - children, teachers and anyone who loves funny books. Do check out the LOLLIES shortlists for some great Christmas present ideas.
HUGE THANKS to MammaFilz for hosting me and the sausages on her brilliant blog as part of the ongoing Lollies2020 Blog Tour. Check out her site for great parenting tips, smart book tip offs - and now, even an interview with silly old me.
Thanks for reading - and for voting!
One of the many quirks and perks of publishing is having your work on bookshelves overseas. It's pretty much all thanks to the rights team at your publishing house. As well as representing your stories at the big international book fairs, they work year round to try and get your books printed and distributed by other publishers all over the world.
Of course, writing a story with universal appeal also plays a part, as does having a smart editorial team with insight, foresight and eyesight - it helps to be paired with an illustrator whose work has appeal in more than one market. Tastes and trends differ across the world; if you're lucky enough to travel overseas, check out the kids sections in book shops and you'll see.
I was recently lucky enough to visit the stunning ZiNiN Bibliotheek library in Nijverdal, Nederlands where my books are stocked and borrowed. The photo below shows my lovely little friend Sofia with a copy of 'Hoe Je Een Wollige Mammoet Moet Wassen in Tien Lessen' ('How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth in Ten Lessons'). It's a popular book by me and illustrator Kate Hindley. This particular version was translated by Dutch children's writer Imme Dros and published by Querido.
How to increase your chances of co-editions?
Try rewriting one of your texts in prose.
'How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth' was originally a rhyming story when Simon & Schuster first took an interest in it. My would-be-editor suggested I rewrite it in prose. I wasn't convinced I was capable, but I put on my poker face and said of course I could. The resulting story has now been printed (and reprinted several times), in ten languages at the last count - all thanks to Simon & Schuster's brilliant business brains, Kate Hindley's gorgeous art and a seemingly timeless interest in prehistoric mammals.
It really is a wonderful feeling to know kids and families are enjoying your stories all over the world. Huge thanks to the Vloon-Taliani family and ZiNiN Bibliotheek for the warmest of welcomes.
The Bath Children's Literature Festival is one of my all time favourites. The programme is always packed with brilliant events for kidlit enthusiasts and - lucky me - it's only twenty minutes down the road.
The Robinsons went to see one of our favourite author/illustrators, Chris Mould on Saturday. His The Iron Man event was wonderful - warm, funny, generous and inspiring, just like the man himself. Get your mitts on a copy of the book, it's an absolute treasure.
I hope everyone who came along found it helpful. There's always room on the shelves for more wonderful children's books. And there's always time to book to see more events! Me and my kids are still looking forward to Andy Stanton, Frann Preston-Gannon and Laura Ellen Andersen on the weekend. Whoop!
Thanks to Bath Children's Literature Festival and to the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook for having me. Can't wait for next year when it will be even bigger and better than ever before!
Michelle Robinson is a