Wednesday, 16 December 2009

From Cowboys & Pirates to Princesses!

Whilst the snow falls here in Leatherhead I am trying to keep warm and what better way of doing that than curling up in front of a lovely warm fire and dreaming of hot places - well perhaps less of the dreaming and more of the reading about in my case. I have just had the pleasure of reading three fabulous picture books, two of which are due for publication in the new year and which I am quite certain will find legions of adoring fans very quickly!

The first book I delved into and which really did take me away from the snow was 'Desert Rose' by Alison Jackson with illustrations by Keith Graves, a wonderfully bright, new and funny picture book. This is the story of a pig farmer and her very lazy hog. Rose, for that is the farmer's name believes that she has found, with the help of a little bit of gold, a prize winning hog to take to the state fair but the hog is stubborn and lazy, refusing to cross a creek. Rose tries in vain to enlist the help of a host of animals all of whom have their own excuses. When she rather nicely approaches her final animal and asks politely for some help a hilarious chain of events begins. This book not only introduces children to a dialect, in rhyme, a new country and some new animals but also to the importance of politeness and manners. Children will love listening to this story read out loud in a Texan drawl if you can manage it and the bright pictures are certain to keep them entertained too.

From this I turned to 'Captain Finn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass' by Giles Andrae and illustrated by Russell Ayto. As usual Captain Finn and his pirates find themselves in a brilliant adventure featuring their favourite enemies the Dinosaur Pirates. In this title they find themselves teaching the Dinosaurs an important lesson about not bullying and playing fairly. Any young readers already fans of this series will love this latest adventure, and adore the chaotic, fabulous illustrations that deserve having plenty of time spent pouring over them for they are detailed and completely crazy as well as being great fun!

Finally after so much adventure and excitement I turned to Kate Lum and Sue Hellard's 'Princesses are Not Perfect' - a surprising title because of course we all believe that they are! In this story there are three princesses each of whom excels in their own area - gardening, woodwork and baking. When they declare themselves to be bored of this excellence and determined to switch roles the results are quite hilarious, yet also touching and the end result is well...surprising. With beautifully intricate and detailed illustration this is a book for the girls. It is a fun story to read and share whilst at the same time imparting to children an important message about using your talents and skills wisely. Are Princesses Perfect? Read on to find out for yourself.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

All Shapes and Sizes

Books come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some have only pictures others only words and others still a combination. Yet it is not only the formats which differ but also the style in which they are written, sometimes depending on the audience at other times dependent on the type of story they want to tell.

So it is that I have been reading two very different books, Eoin Colfer's 'And Another Thing' and Toon Tellegen's 'Letters to Anyone and Everyone' with illustration by Jessica Ahlberg.

Eoin Colfer's book is necessarily madcap, action packed and quite honestly full of such a variety of eclecticism that it is quite difficult to describe! Following on in the footsteps of Douglas Adams was never going to be easy but Colfer has done it with a passion and reverence. His style is to narrate the story with interjections from the Hitchhikers Guide, hence the relevance to different styles of writing. Anyone unfamiliar with this series would do well to start with book 1 if only to meet all the characters, from then on, in many ways it does not matter which book you read. Colfer has helped me finally gain a clearer understanding of the whole story, our favourite characters are all here - Ford, Trillian, Arthur, Zaphod and others, there is, of course a very large slab of cheese and also a pantheon of unemployed gods. I loved this book for its madness, sense of fun and adventure and variety of story as well as styles of writing.

Tellegen's book of letters is another rather extraordinary book. This one is aimed quite firmly at young readers and features a series of interlinked letters between animal friends and from creatures of the earth to the sun! A series of short stories in a letter format this is a charming little book to be dipped into at leisure and it is in fact all the more charming for this reason, it can be picked up and read at the fancy of its reader. The stories are quite whimsical and utterly charming, I love the idea of writing a letter to a letter, of birds communica

ting by letter and of the squirrel and the bear exchanging birthday cake ideas. With exquisite and delicate illustration from the highly skilled Jessica Ahlberg this is a book to be treasured by chidlren and adored by adults. Yes, it may have been written with children in mind but I very much doubt any adult could resist its charm!

Two books with very different styles of writing yet both engaging and exciting in their own way, without this variet

y we would perhaps be much less inclined to read so I for one am very glad of it and urge you all to try something new and surprise yourselves!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

From Monsters come Fairies

I am not usually a fan of horror books - certainly not those written for adults but horror and gothic lit for children whilst it is chilling remains refreshingly appealing and innocent - to a degree. So this week having read three books of horror and terror I redress the balance with three books of fairies and magic! Perhaps there is something here for the boys as well as the girls and I am not going to say which is which!

To begin with then the horror - well one could find themselves planning to dip into Grisly Tales from Tumblewater by Bruno Vincent - a series of interlinked short stories
clevery woven together to make the reader feel they have achieved the level of reading a whole whilst quietly luring them into the next and then before they know it the whole book! Brilliantly macabre, compelling and yet strangely amusing! Then there is the second Raven Mysteries title Ghosts and Gadgets from Marcus Sedgwick, an easy read and very funny, perfect for Junior readers who are not quite ready for

Debi Gliori's Pure Dead books, have perhaps tired of Lemony Snicket but want something along the same lines. Brilliant writing, wonderful description and a keen sense of fun horror. Finally for the horror at least there come Tales of Terror From The Tunnels Mouth by the fabulous Chris Priestly. A collection of short stories that do not quite interlink in the same way as Vincent's book yet are equally compelling and easy to become lost in. With lots of terrible twists and turns these are not bedtime reading but they are clearly quality stories of dark deeds wonderfully illustrated David Roberts, in pen and ink to convey the feeling of darkness.

If a little light relief is needed after all this darkness then what better way to find it than by turning to the charming Merlina and the Magic Spell by Daniela Drescher. Merlina the little sorceress and her dragon Igor are busily gathering fruit when Igor hurts his foot. Can Merlina find a spell to make him better? A charmingly sweet story with so much detail in the exquisite drawing that readers will be coming back for more. Eva Montanari is another talented author and illustrator whose work it is possible to see on display at the Illustration Cupboard in London until 20th January 2010. If you are in London this is well worth popping in for, her work is charming and exquisite, painstakingly detailed yet simple enough for the youngest eyes whilst her writing is full of sparkling magic and humour befitting of the titles. Princess Matilda has a wonderful imagination and can be many things but what she really is provides a wonderful surprise for the reader every time! Her Witches and Fairies on the other hand is a story with a strong moral about identity, yet at the same time a wonderfully funny tale of one dark night in the woods when the witches and fairies meet...

Have fun with some or all of these books and remember they are just stories and in stories monsters can become fairies so have sweet dreams!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Animal Shinanigans!

Animals are the theme for the Blog this week. As the winter nights draw in and the weather gets worse I have been thinking about my chickens and rabbit, making sure
that they are warm enough and of course well fed! I know that in their won way they would quickly let me know if anything was not quite right! For we all know that animals have their own unique way of communicating with us even if itnot always an immediate success! This state of affairs is accurately depicted with great humour and clarity in Lauren Child's 'Who Wants to be a Poodle'. For years I have been thinking that poodles loved their pampered lifestyle bu
t this opinion was dramatically and comically altered after I read this wonderful story. With Lauren Child's traditional and trademark collage illustration this is a fun filled and hilarious story with vintage style and a modern
story. Trixie Twinkle Toes doesn't want to be the pampered poodle she is, she just wants to be a dog. Can she get her message across and help others understand the importance of just being yourself?

This leads me nicely to Thomas Docherty's 'Big Scary Monster' featuring a rather big and scary monster who loves nothing more than frightening all the little animals with a game of Boo. When the tables are turned and he is on the recieveing end of his own games he quickly realises how unpleasent it can be to pick on those smaller than yourslef. This lovely story gently encourges the reader to realise that being yourslef is as important as not bullying those who just smaller than you are. A bold and exciting story with wonderful illustration this is a very energetic book with an important message.

Picture books are not just about finding yourself and learning to get along with others they are also about learning some interesting facts in an exciting and unusual way. They are about the importance of words and pictures working in harmony with one another. 'Say Hello to the Dinosaurs' from Ian Whybrow is a tactile intorduction to these giant animals that have an enduring fascination to all young children. Through the pages of the book with its gentle rhymes children can learn some rather tounge-twisiting dinosaur names, feel their scaly skin and then take the fun test to see how much they have learnt. Great fun for asults and children alike!

These books will all, in their own way, no doubt find their way onto the booksheleves of many chidlren's bedrooms, make sure they don't just stay there but that they are enjoyed for themselves as much as for the messages they contain and have a week of happy reading!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It is with news galore that I write my blog post today and trying to decide where to start is not easy!

First I must tell you about the launch of Perform-a-Poem, the first e-safe
website for children's poetry performances. The launch took place at the National Theatre in London on 3rd November. This was the brainchild of Michael Rosen whilst Children's Laureate and he has now been able to see his ideas become a reality. At the launch Michael said “I’m hoping that Perform-A-Poem will give an opportunity for children and teachers to experiment and play with poetry in an exciting way. All poems have a voice; sometimes this voice is best heard silently, but most poems enjoy being spoken and performed, because this is how we get to feel a poem.”

Secondly there was the launch of P for Poland photographed by Prodeepta Das and written by Agnieszka Mrowczynska. This wonderful book is a great addition to a series that Prodeepta is building up and introduces children in a very accessible way to countries of the world that they may be less than familiar with. Thanks to the Polish Institute in London for an interesting insight into Polish Culture and a lovely, intimate evening.

Next is the announcement of the winners of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize.

Morag Charlwood attended this event on behalf of Armadillo and her report, along with many others, will feature in the December edition of the magazine. In the meantime however congratulations go to Sam Lloyd whose Mr Pusskins Best in Show won the under six prize and Philip Ardagh whose Grubtown Tales:
Stinking Rich and Just Plain Stinky won him the prize in the 7-14 category. These and all the books on the shortlist were wonderful and I hope the prize continues to go from strength to strength.

This week I will be in the audience as Geraldine McCaughrean and Philip Reeve talk about their new novels; finding time to prepare the December edition of Armadillo Magazine and getting together all the wonderful Christmas books that I have been sent ready to provide all my Blog readers with some ideas for some fantastic Christmas gift ideas! So as they say, Watch This Space...!

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Spooky Books for Halloween

It is Halloween and all things spooky will be happening, children will be trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins and having great parties. To help with the entertainment adults could read their young children Liz Martinez and Mark Beech’s story of The Everyday Witch published by Bloomsbury.

With Mark Beech’s illustration in the style of Quentin Blake adding colour and atmosphere to this story of a little boy who strongly suspects that his mother is a witch and accompanying the humorous rhyming text of Liz Martinez there is plenty to enjoy listening to and detail galore to pore over.

When Jimmy peeps though his curtains one night and sees his mother flying on a broomstick with the pet cat Tiddles he is determined to prove that she does not lead a life of potion brewing and spell casting! When he thinks that he has finally proved himself right he finds stripy stockings on the washing line – help!

If further entertainment in the form of story telling is required Winnie the Witch finds herself in possession of an Amazing Pumpkin. Children will delight in the story of Winnie and Wilbur enjoying their vegetables, particularly pumpkin – they may even learn to like them too! The fun comes when Winnie, laden with her greens, finds it difficult to get home from the market so decides it is time to grow some instead! All does not quite go according to plan and Winnie’s magical spells once again create a riot of colour and fun. With captivating and detailed illustration as well as hilarious text Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin, published by oxford University Press, should keep its young audience entertained for hours and may even provide some inspiration to budding gardeners.

Another picture book, this time with magic flaps to lift comes from the talented Nick Sharratt. What’s in the Witches Kitchen? Encourages children to actively engage with the story and make it their own as they decide whether the witch is storing ‘tasty cheese or bats with fleas’ in her fridge. Will it be ‘pooh lizards fart or yum cherry tart’ in the oven and so the horrible by hilarious rhymes continue. With one on every double page spread and a simple repetitive story this book will delight the little ones, have them reciting some truly awful ideas, searching the kitchen for all things horrible and generally having a great time!

Finally to entertain toddlers during the day –shouldn’t they be in bed by the time of the party? – there is Scary Doodles written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and illustrated by Anja Boretzki – before the children get their hands on it! This is a wonderful take on the traditional colouring book. A spiral bound hardback this invited children to accessorize the many illustrations and add their own splash of colour as well as their own goulish creations! Add spiders to webs, draw creatures in a cave and decide what the witch has in her cauldron. Not for the faint-hearted and perhaps best to play with during daylight hours this is a wonderful celebration of ghouls, ghosts and witches. Just grab a pencil and let your imagination run wild!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Enter a Pastworld if you dare!

Ian Beck’s fist venture into teenage literature has resulted in a darkly gothic tale of a future London that is a Victorian dystopia.

More widely known for his picture books and illustration as well as his recent Tom Trueheart stories for junior readers Ian is a much loved and favourite author. As he opens up his skill to a new audience he reveals another side to his character and a new set of skills as an author. There are not many who can travel from gentle picture books to dystopian gothic horror!

Pastworld is the creative genius of a corporation in love with the ideals of a Victorian society. They have created a world populated by people who know very little of the real time in which they live, they are in an alternative reality, they are a theme park but they do not all live by the rules.

The gawkers or visitors from outside undergo a thorough process before being admitted to Pastworld, but those inside are under no such obligations, watched over by the police and special intelligence services they are still very much free to behave as they would and the authentic Victorian fogs merely aide and abet their crimes.

There is one inparticular – the fantom who haunts both those inside and out of the Pastworld he has a sinister murderous criminal with dark secret and he is after just one person.

Eve is an innocent but curious young girl, it is through her journal and the narration of Inspector Catchpole that we are drawn into this dark world.

Dark, gruesome and yet compelling this is a wonderful story from a highly creative mind and it has some wonderfully authentic touches. Watch the special trailer by following this link and then seek out Pastworld for yourself.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Great Hamster Massacre

If you are a hamster lover then look away now for this is not a story for the faint hearted or squeamish!

There has been a Great Hamster Massacre and an investigation into this most awful of crimes was carried out under the watchful eyes of Simon & Schuster publishers, Katie Davies (author) and
Hannah Shaw (illustrator).

(Picture shows (L-R): Kate Hancock, Waterstone’s; Hannah Shaw, illustrator; Katie Davies, author; Alan Davies; Sophie Overment, Waterstone’s)

In Katie's debut novel the writer, columnist and comedienne tells the story of Anna, her brother Tom and their assorted family, pets and neighbours who are all implicated in the massacre. Anna is relentless in her investigations and the ensuing mystery, whodunit investigation is a brilliant read for hamster lovers everywhere. Wonderfully illustrated with the quirky drawings of Hannah Shaw this is a brilliant new book from a new talent.

The evening celebrations marking the launch of this book were a great success and many of those who gathered for the investigations on the Strand were no doubt nursing sore heads the following morning!

Whilst Katie's book was launched in great style and with great enthusiasm we can hope that children will love the story as much as all we adults and can only wait with bated breath for the next installment of Anna's ill-fated and hilarious pet relationships!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Interactive Picture Book Pleasure

Apologies for my absence from the blog, this has been the result of a sudden and unexpected family bereavement. However I have still been reading and here, for your enjoyment, are my latest musings....

Interactive picture books are becoming more popular for children and I for one am envious, I would have loved to have some of this selection when I was a child, but then I think we made our own entertainment and learnt to have fun reading with the classic ladybird books, many of which I still have. My nephews and god-children are often the lucky recipients of some of the wonderful books that come into my possession, those that my husband claims we have no room for, but these might just have to stay!

When I Dream of Ten Little Fairies and Ten Little Racing Cars: A Speedy Counting Book, illustrated by Sania Rescek and Charles E Reasoner respectively are two of the latest interactive story books from Tide Mill Press. The front cover of each book presents the reader with a cut-out image of the ten characters to be found in the book. Ten Little Fairies are presented with glittery tutu’s whilst the ten racing cars are each numbered. Turn the pages of each title, follow the simple and charming, rhyming story and discover what will happen to each of them as the story progresses. There is a special surprise for the reader at the end of each book and the charming stories will help readers develop a love of reading as well as important sequencing and counting skills.

Let’s Take a Trip on Animal Airways is the third wonderful title, this interactive story takes readers on a flight of fantasy and adventure around the world on an aeroplane full of animals. Children can take part in the story by pulling the novelty plastic ribbon through the pages to ensure the plane pops up and its new passengers are visible. With colourful imagery and fun characters this book encourages children to take an active role in their reader, learn to count, recognise animals and learn where they have come from. It is a great story, a fun book and a great learning experience.

Reading and counting are crucial skills for young children to develop, these books offer a fabulous opportunity for parents to help their children learn to count, learn to enjoy stories and rhyme and celebrate the joy of innovative book publishing. With beautiful, bright and delightful illustration these books will mesmerise and charm young boys and girls alike.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Time for School!

Getting ready to go back to school after a long summer holiday is hard for children, teachers, parents and even librarians!  After all we have all just been enjoying a few long luxurious weeks of not having to do very much, jetting off on holidays if we are lucky and generally having a very nice time.  Many children will be very keen to tell their friends and teachers all about their summer holiday experiences but there is one who really doesn’t want to go back to the first day of term.  This child’s name is Michael and in a hilarious collection of letters to his teacher ‘Dear Miss’ written by Any Husband and published by Meadowside, Michael tries to use his imagination to save him from school.  Will it work or will he be lured in by Misses responses – I will leave the reader will have to discover.  In the meantime here is a taster of Michael’s summer excuses!

Open up the envelope styled book to see a letter from Michael’s headmaster informing him who his new teacher is and how hard he is going to have to work, move on then to Michael’s own letters and telegrams explaining how he has been on a secret mission taking him to the Himalayas, into the Amazon jungle and even onto the ocean.  Unfortunately pirates, alligators and other problems befall Michael making him potentially late for the start of term, can his teacher’s letter of welcome lure him back sooner?

For pre-school children not yet having to experience the first day of term there is pleasure in ‘Dig the Dog’.  Dig’s problems come in the form of Doug the Dog who steals his lovely juicy bone!  Maddy McClellan’s hilarious illustrations and Alison Maloney’s intelligent story writing combine to provide pre-school children with a delightful medley of madness and mayhem in the garden.  The story is a simple one, but very funny and it is the wonderful illustration, as riotous as the story, really bringing the book to life.  The scruffy Doug, smart Dig, scared cats, flying mud and general madcap mayhem jump off the page into the imagination and provide a wonderfully entertaining story to share and enjoy whilst older children head back to school. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Beware - The Thornthwaite Inheritance

Under threat as I was from exploding tennis balls I still had the opportunity to enjoy a great evening in the Bloomsbury Boardroom in the company of Gareth P Jones, his family, friends and an assortment of other guests all of whom had gathered to celebrate Gareth's latest title The Thornthwaite Inheritance.  Packed full of plots, innovative ways in which to potentially kill your sibling (don't try them at home!) and some very dark humour the book is a great addition to Gareth's growing output.  When he is not writing he is producing television programmes and children be thankful that his imagination has now taken him on another journey to yet another story!
A great evening full of laughs, not only at the name badges and unfortunate accidents due to befall each of us this was a great opportuinity to celebrate true talent and toast Gareth's success, long may it continue!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Clarice Bean is 10!

On Tuesday evening we celebrated the 10th birthday of the utterly fabulous Clarice Bean.  Author Lauren Child joined friends, family, booksellers, librarians and others in a small and hidden gem in the heart of London - The House of Barnabas once a women’s refuge now conference and meeting venue.  We were lucky enough that the rain held off allowing us to enjoy a relaxed evening in the garden.  Everyone there was given a personalised Clarice Bean badge and the excitement buzzing in the air was palpable.

A number of well-loved children’s books and their characters are celebrating birthday’s and other anniversaries this year and in order to help this one stand out a limited edition linen-bound copy of Clarice Bean is being published.  Lauren will find herself busy personally signing each copy and she was thrilled to be able to talk to some of her young fans during the evening.

Lauren explained how she was thrilled to have made it to 10 years old with Clarice, a character very close to her heart, because she tried for a long time to find anyone to accept the story, constantly being told the picture books in the first person would not work.  Luckily she has proved the publishers wrong and gone from strength to strength.

It was a very special birthday and party and a real pleasure to be able to celebrate with Lauren, Orchard Books, her publishers, and the assembled guests.

Animals are not Rubbish

The Animals are not Rubbish’ competition on Monday 13th kicking off a busy week last week.

Run by the Orion publishing group in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation and Waterstone’s children under the age of 12 were challenged to design and make a model of an endangered animal entirely from recycled material.  With over 250 entries from groups and individuals around the country the entries were outstanding and Lauren St John, whose idea the competition was explained how impressed she had been with the standard and variety of entries.

The judging she explained had been great fun but a big challenge!  She had been blown away by the response and enthusiasm shown.

During the evening Bill Travers of the Born Free Foundation explained their work and Lauren took the opportunity to explain her passion for their work, her own background and the influence it has had on her work and mention her ‘Last Leopard Fund’  that will raise money for some very special rescue work around the world.

The winners of the competition were the Phil and Jim Art Club at SS Philip and SS James Primary School in Oxford for their Dodo made of individual bees – an extinct animal made up of endangered animals.

Visit for pictures of all the entries and more information.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

CLPE Poetry Award 2009

Thunder and lightning could not keep us away from the announcement of the winner of the CLPE award for poetry and in the event it was probably very appropriate weather for the winner this year was John Agard with his updated version of Dante's Inferno.

Introduced by Julia Eccleshare, director of CLPE (Centre for Literacy in primary Education) who also took the opportunity to mention the new library in which we were all sitting, the award was presented by last year's winner Jackie Kay.

Chosen from a shortlist of some great work - Allan Ahlberg Collected Poems, Sharon Creech Hate That Cat, Sophie Hannah & John Hegley (eds) The Ropes and JonArno Lawson Inside Out - John was clearly thrilled to have been selected for this year.  He explained a little about his background and inspiration for the work in answer to Jackie's questions, had us all laughing at his references to school life and teenagers and wowed us with a fabulous reading from the poem.  He read a canto of his own choosing and one selected by Jackie before mingling with the crowd answering interesting questions about Dante, his own work and having a good chat!

It was a lovely, very relaxed and low key evening that deserves mention for the important role that it plays in bringing excellent poetry for children to the forefront of the hearts and minds of publishers, teachers and of course librarians!

(Pictures to follow)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Rising Stars

Last night Random House Children's Books hosted a sparkling evening showcasing their brightest and newest picture book illustrators, their very own rising stars.

Joel Stewart, Katie Cleminson, Hannah Shaw, Lizzie Finlay and Louise Yates displayed examples of their published picture books, work in progress, sketchbooks and portfolios for us to pour over. Whilst we all happily chatted they were able to fill us in with stories of how they came to be such talented author/illustrators, where they get their inspiration from and the directions they would like to take their work in. From Louise who lives in an old school to Joel who has included a bagpipe player in his latest work as a dedication to his father, Katie who has a love of lemurs, Lizzie with her bright colours and Hannah with gorgeous flamingos each of them has a wonderful story to tell.

That there are so many Rising Stars being published at a time when picture books are fighting for their share of the market is a testament to the skill of these illustrators. Their work engages the child as a reader, with drawings that leap off the page and shows a true understanding of art. The work is understated and subtle and this even applies to the brightness of some of the palettes! These five illustrators are creating books that will last and be valued by children for many years to come.
(Four of the five illustrators - Lizzie was stuck on a train)

It was a great pleasure to spend time talking to them and a lovely opportunity to understand more about the way in which they work, how they came to be children's book illustrators and have a sneak preview of their latest projects. It was a charming and exciting evening.

Campaign for the Book Conference: A report from Linda Newbery

Libraries are priceless. Books change lives. We all know this – we being people who are engaged with books and readers, whether professionally or privately. But the wider world of politicians and educationists seems – alarmingly – to regard books as dispensable, replaceable by internet technology; to see literacy as a matter of standards to be met and boxes to be ticked. Enjoyment of reading comes a long way down the list of priorities, if it’s mentioned at all.

Alan Gibbons has launched his campaign with passion and commitment, and has achieved a wonderful and important feat in bringing together people from the hitherto fragmented children’s book world to protest against the closure of libraries and the dismissal of school librarians, to fight for the continuation (or in some cases restoration) of schools’ library services, and to make it a statutory requirement that every school must have a well-stocked library. This day conference, held at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, hosted by librarian Jean Allen, brought together speakers from various backgrounds and interest groups. After the conference had been opened by author Celia Rees and year 10 student Charlie Alcock, the first item was a Question Time session, with Ed Vaizey, Shadow Minister for Culture, Lib-Dem MP Richard Younger Ross, Roy Clare of the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), Jonathan Douglas, direction of the National Literacy Trust, Miranda McKearney of the Reading Agency, and Alan Gibbons himself, chaired by author Steve Skidmore. Questions were raised about school libraries, public libraries and schools’ library services – how to safeguard them and how to prevent cuts from threatening their existence. Various speakers said that library provision should come under the aegis of central government rather than devolve to local authorities, while Ed Vaizey spoke in favour of a central cultural services agency which would include responsibility for libraries.

In the second session, Facing the Challenges, we heard from librarians Clare Broadbelt, whose school librarian post had recently been made obsolete, and Cath McNally from the Wirral. Clare told us of the promises made by senior management that although the library would no longer exist, there would be a Reading Centre – which, strangely, has failed to materialize. Cath McNally was moved almost to tears as she told us of some of the people who would be most affected by the loss of the branch library; libraries should form user groups now, she suggested, in advance of any threatened cuts. Joy Court, chair of YLG (Youth Libraries’ Group) spoke of the different status schools’ library services have in various authorities, and of the importance of raising their prestige in order to secure adequate funding.

Author Gillian Cross introduced her session, Seizing the Opportunities, by stressing that we must not be a negative campaign. Marilyn Mottram of UKLA and Miranda McKearney of the Reading Agency spoke of their work with teachers and readers, and Southwark head teacher Martyn Coles told us how the library is seen as central to the life of his school. The collapse of the national literacy strategy for primary school was announced last week, giving opportunities for flexibility in teaching and learning and reduced dependency on objectives and outcomes.

After small-group sessions which included workshops led by author Bali Rai, Christine Lewis of Unison and Tricia Adams of the School Library Association, the final address, on Literature and Freedom, was given by authors Beverley Naidoo and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Quoting Susan Sontag, Beverley Naidoo summed up: “Our libraries should be regarded as our country’s precious treasure chest.”

Of course, no one present needed much convincing, but our task now is to continue to unite and to make our presence felt. Alan Gibbons, in his closing remarks, said that this conference was a launchpad; campaigning will continue no matter which party is in power; whenever a library is threatened or a librarian made redundant, the Campaign for the Book will be there, and, quoting Sting, “We’ll be watching you.”

Congratulations to Alan and to host Jean Allen for organising such an inspirational day, and for making everyone present feel that together we can bring about change. If you’re not involved in the campaign yet and would like to be, visit

Linda Newbery

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Carnegie & Greenaway Medal Winners Announced

What a fabulously sunny day for taking a trip up to London, heading to BAFTA on Piccadilly and enjoying the reception and announcement for the CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway Children's Book Awards 2009.

With a strong shortlist this year for both awards it was always going to be difficult to choose the winners. This award however is unique, there are no commercial aspects to it, books are selected entirely by librarians and judged by them too. Children shadow the award, reading the books and posting their comments on the specially designed website and with over 3,800 reading groups shadowing this year there are plenty of reviews to read!

Kirsty Wark introduced proceedings reminding the assembled audience of the importance not only of libraries, as a haven and inspiration for children but also of some of the classic books that had given her, and many of us pleasure. The phrases 'You are never alone with a book' and 'Read to Live as quoted by Joy Court chair of the 2009 judging panel summed up the feelings of all those gathered. We were there to celebrate the very best books that have been published in the last year and whilst there can only ever be one winner all those on the shortlist are in fact winners.
However without further preamble I should tell you that the winners were - for the Kate Greenaway medal Catherine Rayner with the beautiful, funny and heartwarming 'Harris Finds His Feet'. For the Carnegie Medal the first ever posthumous award was presented to Siobhan Dowd for the wonderful and evocative Bog Child.

Catherine Rayner was stunned by her win, honoured and flattered. She explained how hard it had been to complete this book and had lots of thanks for all those who had supported her.

The sisters of Siobhan Dowd accepted her prize and were followed by a moved David Fickling who made a passionate speech on her behalf.

On behalf of Armadillo and the team, congratulations to the two winners and to all those authors and illustrators who made it onto the long and shortlists. Let us all continue to inspire children and create more generations of readers.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Five Fabulous Years!

Five years of Fabulous Fiction were celebrated in style at the Foundling Museum in London last night by Peter Usborne and Usborne books. It was a balmy summer evening and as the invited guests mingled and wandered around the amazing Foundling Museum with glasses of champagne there was a lively hum.

Short speeches from Peter Usborne, Megan Larkin, the commissioning editor who set up the list and Emily Maitlis the news reader thanked everyone for their support over the last five years, celebrated the joy of reading that brought us all together. Peter and Megan commented that they may not yet have discovered a Rowling or a Pullman but it is early days and Emily recounted how she had been kidnapped the night before by a four year old demanding more stories! They went on to announce the Usborne Young Writers Award 2009. This award will encourage children to have a go at writing for themselves, we encourage them to read, now is the time to encourage them to write too! They have been given a starting point by five of Usborne's fabulous fiction authors and will have to submit a story of no more than 1,00 words letting their imagination's run wild with a choice from murder mystery to fairytale adventure.

With around 125 books published over the last five years and translated into many languages Usborne are now taking time to encourage new storytellers to find their own voice. Thsi is a wonderful opportunity for young people, young readers and the potential authors of the future. For more information see

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A Summer Celebration!

Having been so busy with events last week I took a few days break from the blog but now, having been to the Orion Summer party last night I feel it is time to report back to you all!
Celebrating the summer and another year of great books Orion invited their authors - among them Marcus Sedgwick, Francesca Simon, Michelle Paver and Caroline Lawrence - to mix with booksellers, agents, librarians and other invited guests in the lovely October Gallery, London. Whilst the current exhibition did not quite fit with the event we were able to mingle and chat, sip sparkling wine and enjoy strawberries to our heart's content.

The evening was a vibrant buzz of relaxed chat, a lovely chance for Orion to say thank you to all those who work for them and all those who support them.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Anthony Browne - Children's Laureate 2009-2011

"Completely chuffed" was Anthony Browne’s first reaction on being offered the position of Children’s Laureate for 2009-2011. The questions of whether his head had grown too large for the medal or if size seven feet were going to be big enough to fill the gap left by Michael Rosen and his converse trainers typify the modest and self-effacing nature of Anthony Browne.

Having begun the morning by forgetting his speech Anthony did not have the best start to the day however he was entertaining and insightful. The pleasure he clearly feels at being appointed laureate was clear. The assembled press, librarians, booksellers among others were thrilled with the news and toasted Anthony’s success as well as the continuing importance and relevance of the role.

Over the last ten years we have had writers, an illustrator and a poet, the circle now returns to the illustrator and one who is determined to ensure that picture books and the ‘shape game’ become an integral part of the psyche of the nation. I for one will be supporting Anthony’s efforts 110%. I hope that everyone with any interest in children’s reading, development and future will do the same.

Congratulations to Anthony, thank you to all the sponsors of the Children’s Laureate for a wonderful celebration and let us hope that this ever-important role continues for a very long time.

Thanks to Mary Hoffman for donating the pictures after my camera died on me!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pongwiffy is 21!

Pongwiffy is 21! The Witch of dirty habits has made it sucessfully through to such a grand age that a party in her honour, and of course for her creator Kaye Umansky was the least that could be done to celebrate. What a party it was to. In a charmingly quiet street tucked away behind Notting Hill Station Kaye's long time agent and friend gathered together a small group of friends, family, editors and publishers to wish Pongwiffy a very happy 21st birthday. There was a stunning cake, pictured here (with thanks to Mary Hoffman for suplying the photos) with Kaye, which momentarily rendered her speechless on its presentation. Along with the flowing pink champagne and homemade canapes who could ask for more?
An evening of laughter, chat and fun was had by all who attended, thanks were offered to all those who had supported Kaye over the years and had managed to make it to the party. Pongwiffy is now Back on Track in her latest story, trying very hard to get the witches fit and taking part in a special 'Olumpick Games'. The backlist is being published with new covers providing adults and children alike with the opportunity to rediscover and discover the joys of this wonderful witch!

Thank you for creating a wonderful character Kaye, and thank you Caroline for a wonderful evening.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Joy of Languge

Yet another night out brings more thoughts to share!
The offices of Walker Books were last night transformed into the inside of an oak tree, complete with leaves galore, a selection of books, a sprinkling of guest and not forgetting some yummy canapes and wine! The reason? The author Timothee de Fombelle and translator Sarah Ardizzone were in conversation with Nick Tucker about their collaboration on the wonderful Toby Alone and the forthcoming Toby and the Secrets of the Tree. Revealing the secrets behind their successful partnership and sharing their thoughts and feelings about working with books in translation they provided fascinating insight into a fabulous story. With anecdotes from their whirlwind tour of workshops, Timothee's own childhood and writing journey they were a delight to listen to. Some fascinating insights were gained into the way they work, the story so far and the treats yet to come.

Thank you Timothee, Sarah, Nick, Walker Books and the team at Outside In for a thought provoking and enjoyable evening.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Publication Celebration

Back again because I just have to tell you about the wonderful evening I had on Tuesday 2nd June. At the Illustration Cupboard in London Bloomsbury publishing celebrated the launch of Sarah Dyer's picture book The Girl with the Birds-Nest Hair. The charming and very self-effacing Sarah was an inspiration and somewhat overwhelmed by the attention, she gave a suitable short thank you speech, to say just that, after her editor welcomed the invited guests. Examples of Sarah's amazing art work graced the walls of the gallery, copies of her books were happily signed and a wonderful buzz permeated the air.

Sarah's work is amazing, her book very funny and hugely appealing, thanks to Sarah and to Bloomsbury for a wonderful evening. Have a look at Sarah's book, pick up a copy to read, admire the artwork - a combination of collage and sketch with pieces individually cut out and put together in a jigsaw-like style and encourage your children to remember that having their hair brushed may not be such a bad decision after all!

Monday, 1 June 2009

A day late this week, I was enjoying the sun and painting plant pots in the garden which I hope is a good excuse. Whilst doing this I was listening to Radio 4 from the Hay Festival and marvelling at the wonder that is book festivals - next year I really will go!
As well as festivals to celebrate books there are also parties and book launches, this week I have three events to head off to with more booked in for the remainder of the month. It is great to see so many things happening in the world of books, it is very exciting that so many great new books are being published and I am wondering how am going to keep up with them all. It is with a great team and a continued enthusiasm for all children's books I think... if anyone would like to come on board and contribute, helping me to move Armadillo into the hearts and minds of a very wide readership then do get in touch. I firmly believe that more children and adults need to discover the sheer pleasure of a good, unputdownable book - mine for last week was Trudi Canavan's The Apprentice - I will let you know what this week's will be ...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

New Books, Old Books...

Having just been at the inspirational 'Something Old, Something New' Write Away conference I am thrilled that there are so many teachers, librarians, readers, writers, poets, publishers and booksellers (have I forgotten anyone?) keen to promote books both old and new, find classics for the future and remind us all how good books will stand the test of time. We are constantly reminded to re-use and re-cycle, why not apply this practice to books? We can and certainly should continue to encourage the new but remind ourselves of the old and use it for inspiration.

The content for Issue 2 of Armadillo is now with the web editors so I am going to go and sit in the garden to enjoy the bank holiday sunshine and read a book - a new one - in preparation for an interview later this week (I shall report on it next week), I encourage you all to follow my example, take a rest, sit back with a good book and enjoy the opportunity of an extra day off.
Do you need a suggestion for a good book to read? Well there is always the Branford Boase award short list with some fantastic title, among them Emily Diamand's 'Flood Child', she is a new talent to be watched. Or there is the scary 'The Toymaker' by Jeremy De Quidt, the gripping and dark 'Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness among others. Visit the website at for more details.

Now I am off to enjoy my half term week with the large pile of books that are clamouring for my attention!

Louise x

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Well, It is Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining and I am writing my first blog post! I should, I suppose, set out my aims for this blog which are to promote the Armadillo Magazine, children's literature and reading.

As a school librarian and editor of Armadillo Magazine, I feel very strongly about exciting children about books and reading, there are so many things that I want to say and so much content that could go into the magazine that I want to be able to bring to you on a regular basis, that I have decided to start this blog.

So watch this space for my weekly news and remember to visit the magazine, read the reviews and other features from my wonderful team and help us to promote literature to and for children...

Louise x