‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

Helen Mortimer, commissioning editor at Oxford Children’s Books takes us behind the scenes of a brand new edition of the classic The Wind in the Willows, retold by Tom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and illustrated by the brilliant David Roberts.

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‘Have you heard about the Toad?’

toad 1With these words, Kenneth Grahame first introduced his enduring character in a letter written to his son, Alastair, on May 10th, 1907. During that summer Grahame, who was staying away from his son, continued to send Alastair instalments of the story by letter. The following year Grahame polished the material into a manuscript and the book was published in October 1908 as The Wind in the Willows.

At 55,000 words The Wind in the Willows is normally read to children over many bedtimes. But, for parents and children alike, it is well worth investing the time as it’s a wonderful story with friendship and adventure at its heart. The language is vivid and evocative and is remembered far beyond childhood. Here at Oxford Children’s Books we were delighted when we approached David Roberts to illustrate a glorious new gift edition of the original story and discovered that he shared our enthusiasm for the book.

 

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We published a sumptuous gift edition in 2012, packed with over 150 stunning illustrations from David.

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David’s illustrations are so bright, appealing, and accessible that we wanted them to reach children even younger than those who would enjoy sharing The Wind in the Willows. We wanted to condense Kenneth Grahame’s original story into a 32-page picture book and focus on the character who started it all back in 1907: Toad himself.

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There can be few characters in the world of children’s books more entertaining than Toad and even fewer illustrators who have captured his every mood and moment with the verve and panache of David Roberts. So we commissioned acclaimed author Tom Moorhouse to retell the story for a picture book audience. Essentially, Tom has taken Toad’s best bits from The Wind in the Willows to create The Adventures of Mr Toad, in Toad’s own words and songs.

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It’s a really engaging picture book that will introduce the youngest children to four of the most lovable characters of children’s literature: Mole, Ratty, Badger, and, of course, Mr Toad!

 The Adventures of Mr Toad is out now.

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You can also read the original Oxford Children’s Classic of Wind in the Willows, which now has a gorgeous new cover look and includes the unabridged text, as well as extra material to help you get the most from the story and lots of recommendations for other things you might enjoy.

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Have a very happy Halloween with Winnie the Witch!

Everybody’s fiendishly favourite time of year is almost upon us once again. And if you’re looking for inspiration both for party ideas and reading recommendations for younger children, then look no further.

Of course, every child’s favourite is WINNIE THE WITCH by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, and she has everything you need for your Halloween celebration to go off with a whizz, a bang and a pop!

Firstly, you can download your very own Winnie the Witch Party pack which contains drawing and colouring, party game ideas and an interactive storytime. PLUS there are step-by-step instructions to make your own Winnie the Witch hat and wig so you look the part!

Then, of course, no Halloween would be complete without a spooky tale or two – and there are three new Winnie the Witch stories that will fit the bill perfectly:

Winnie’s Big Bad Robot
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Winnie has made a robot! Out of cardboard! But when she decides to magic it into a real robot, both she and Wilbur soon discover that this robot is bad…

Winnie’s Amazing Antics

Winnies Amazing Antics

Three favourite Winnie stories in one: Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin, Winnie in Space and Winnie Under the Sea.

Winnie Adds Magic

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Four stories for older readers which take Winnie and Wilbur on a crazy journey, full of unexpected twists.

Spooktacular Halloween Wishes!

 

Thrilling YA fiction

Two unique, thought-provoking posts by two unique YA authors. The first is Night Runner by Carnegie Medal-winning Tim Bowler and the second is Replica by Australian writer Jack Heath.

Writing Night Runner by Tim Bowler

 
9780192794147_NIGHT_RUNNER_CVR_AUG14Night Runner
 
is a fast-moving story and it came to me at a sprint. It’s about a fifteen-year-old boy called Zinny and the novel begins with him hiding in his room at home because he has truanted from school. But within just a few pages we discover that his father is abusive, his mother has a dark secret, and there’s a dangerous man trying to break into the house. A few pages later Zinny is running for his life. When I first started writing Night Runner, I had no clear idea of how the story was going to work out. All I knew for certain was that Zinny was in terrible trouble. But I was hooked and desperate to find out what would happen to him. What appealed to me about Zinny, what made me care about him, was his isolation. He has no one to depend on. He’s not just isolated at school, he’s isolated at home too, and even in his head: he’s cut off from his dreams and confused about what he really wants. He doesn’t have friends to help him and his mum and dad have huge problems of their own.

Night Runner is out now.

Should we profit from suffering? by Jack Heath

9780192737663_REPLICA_CVR_AUG14Good writing usually comes from a bad experience. Philip K. Dick couldn’t have written A Scanner Darkly, his novel about a DEA agent hooked on Substance D, if it weren’t for his own crippling drug addiction. The Makedde Vanderwall series by Tara Moss drew heavily on the abuse Moss had suffered as a young model. Bryce Courtenay wrote movingly about his son’s death in April Fool’s Day.

When a character experiences grief or rage the author takes advantage of his or her own experiences with these emotions, even if the circumstances were radically different. I was once violently ill on an aeroplane and found myself temporarily paralysed and unable to remember who I was. In the prologue of my novel Replica, Chloe Zimetski awakens with all her memories erased, trapped in the basement of someone who looks exactly like her. Chloe’s terror is convincing because of my own.
This raises an ethical problem. On the surface Replica is about an android who assumes the identity of her creator in order to investigate a murder. But thematically it’s about what we leave behind when we die. I was compelled to write it after several people close to me passed away.

And now I’m selling it.

Writing can be therapeutic. Sometimes putting trauma into words can help you understand it and let it go. And yet, if a surgeon removes a life-threatening tumour from your abdomen, is it appropriate to put the tumour up for auction? My gut says no, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But this is not a new argument. News sites use tragedy to sell ad space. The advertisers, in turn, profit from universal human feelings of inadequacy. 12 Years A Slave took the plight of African Americans in the 19th century and sold it as entertainment (Django Unchained even more so.) The salaries of police officers depend on the existence of crime. Necessity is the mother of invention, and misfortune is the father of necessity.

If I don’t sell Replica, I can’t afford to write more books. The readers lose. My grief doesn’t get less potent – just less useful. I suffered for nothing.

Perhaps it’s time we stopped asking the question, “Should we profit from pain?” Maybe we should be asking, “Can we afford not to?”

Replica is out now.

About Jack Heath
Jack Heath Ash Peak (2)Jack Heath was born in 1986 and started writing his first novel in high school. It was published when he was 19. He has since written several award-nominated books for teenagers, which are published all over the world. He lives in Canberra with his wife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Tim Bowler

Tim Bowler 2012Tim Bowler is one of the UK’s most compelling and original writers for teenagers. He was born in Leigh-on-Sea and after studying Swedish at university he worked in forestry, the timber trade, teaching, and translating before becoming a full-time writer. He lives with his wife in a quiet Devon village and his workroom is a small wooden outhouse known to friends as ‘Tim’s Bolthole’. Tim has written nineteen books and won fifteen awards, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal for River Boy. His books have sold over a million copies worldwide.

See the world of The Boxtrolls come to life!

Kathy Webb, Managing Editor at OUP Children’s Books gives us the inside track on working on the books that accompany the brand new 3D animated adventure film, The Boxtrolls - as well as the book that inspired the film.

Last Saturday I took my family and friends along to the cinema to watch the new movie, The Boxtrolls. It had only just opened in the UK and went on to be the number one film at the box office for that weekend. We all thought the movie was great—an exciting adventure, with some weird and wonderful characters, all brought to life by some truly breath-taking animation. But watching the film was like the end of a crazy and fun-filled journey for me because I had spent the last twelve months involved in putting together a range of film tie-in books to accompany the film.


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The Boxtrolls
movie is based on a book published by OUP entitled Here Be Monsters! by the hugely-talented author/illustrator Alan Snow. So when it came to publishing The Boxtrolls books, OUP were asked if they could produce them. Movie tie-in publishing is always great fun—schedules and deadlines go out of the window and all you can do is wait for the film company, Laika, to release the images you need for the books and then embark on a mad dash to put the books together and get them off to print. There’s something very satisfying about producing a book at breakneck speed!

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Together with the movie tie-in publications (The Boxtrolls Novelisation and The Boxtrolls: Make Your Own Boxtroll Punch-out Activity Book) we also produced a new edition of the original Here Be Monsters! which, although altogether more straightforward, also had times where we were at the mercy of the film company as we waited for their approval to use The Boxtrolls logo on our new cover, for example. But in the end, like a well-oiled Boxtrolls machine, everything came together in the nick of time and the books published just prior to the film’s release.

GROUP_MEET_BOXTROLLS_LRAs I settled down in the cinema and the film began, I felt proud to have had a small part to play in the huge world of The Boxtrolls. Seeing the characters that you’ve come to know so well, burst into life on a huge screen, is really very exciting.

Working on The Boxtrolls books was a bit like the film itself—fast, furious, dramatic, sometimes scary, but above all else, just great, great fun.

The Boxtrolls is in cinemas now.

 

A perilous world for children…

Julia Lee, author of  The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth examines the different types of childhoods experienced by the children in the Victorian setting of her new book The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard.

In my latest book, The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, I got to plunge back into the perilous Victorian world of The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth. (I have to take a deep breath even to type those long titles!)

Clemency Wrigglesworth

It’s a world where schooling is not a great priority. That might sound like fun, but in fact most children work for a living instead, as they do in my book. Their families need every penny they earn to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Gully’s family, the Marvels, have links to the theatre and their children are lucky to have jobs that reflect that. Cousin Whitby is a dancer and dance-school assistant. Nine-year-old Impey has acted on the stage and hopes for greater things in future. Gully’s job is more mundane. He’s just a delivery boy, and wishes he had a special talent like his cousins. But they all share rather adult worries about money, whether they might lose their jobs, and how to find another.

 

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Having so much independence and responsibility means that children are out and about all day, unsupervised by parents – so different from now. But that also means plenty of scope in my story for adventures and chance encounters, some exciting, some alarming. Bumping into an old school-mate is the start of a scary rollercoaster of events for Gully.

There’s one character who isn’t allowed out on her own – who isn’t allowed to do very much at all, in fact. Agnes Glass comes from a wealthy family. Although her life is comfortable she’s isolated and lonely. Her over-protective mother fusses about her health. Poor Agnes can only go outside on fine days and then she must be wrapped in blankets in a little pony-cart, led by a groom, going ‘at a sedate pace and only down the quietest streets’. Not much scope for adventure there! Until she decides to do something about it…

I’ve always loved those classic children’s books like Heidi and The Secret Garden where ‘sickly’ children manage to challenge the limitations imposed by illness or disability. So I had great fun helping to prise Agnes out of her narrow world and defy her mother. When she is thrown together with Gully and Impey, there’s quite a gulf between them and lots to discover about each other’s lives. Lots to discover about themselves, too, especially as the perils begin to pile up.

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard is out now.

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Julia LeeJulia Lee has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. She wrote her first book aged 5, mainly so that she could do all the illustrations with a brand-new 4-colour pen, and her mum stitched the pages together on her sewing machine.

Julia grew up in London, but moved to the seaside to study English at university, and has stayed there ever since. Her career has been a series of accidents, discovering lots of jobs she didn’t want to do, because secretly she always wanted to be a writer.

 

Julia is married, has two sons, and lives in Sussex.

 

 

Cakes in Space!

Greetings, space cadets! Philip Reeve reporting from the Reeve and McIntyre international space station (we built it out of some of Sarahʼs spare hats).

Yes, for our new book, Sarah and I decided to launch ourselves into outer space. Weʼve even had some space costumes made so we can be properly dressed when we do book events.
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People often ask, ʻWhere do you get your ideas from?ʼ, but by the time youʼve gone all through the process of writing (and illustrating) a book it can sometimes be hard to remember where you started. I think the first idea for Cakes in Space came when I noticed that Sarah is really good at drawing aliens, and that got me thinking that we should do a space story. And then I thought it might be fun to start with an idea that felt quite cold and futuristic – a girl sets off on a long space voyage in a gleaming white starship. She and her family are off to live on a new planet, called Nova Mundi…

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So I told that idea to Sarah – we always come up with our stories together – and we started discussing what might happen next. We decided that Astra and the other passengers would all be put into a frozen sleep while the ship makes its long journey. But something goes wrong, and Astra wakes up in the middle of the voyage, while everyone else is still asleep. That was the idea which the rest of the story grew around. (Not many of us have been aboard a starship, but we all know that slightly magical, slightly scary feeling of being the only one awake in the house.)

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What would Astra discover as she crept around the silent, sleeping ship? We didnʼt want her to be too lonely, so we invented a friendly robot called Pilbeam…

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And Sarah didnʼt want to be drawing just white corridors all the time, so we gave the ship an overgrown zero-gravity fruit garden…

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But there are problems, too. Thereʼs a bunch of aliens called the Poglites, whom Sarah has drawn wearing chimney-pot spacesuits. Theyʼve come to steal all the spoons…

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And, more worryingly still, the shipʼs food making machine, Nom-O-Tron 9000, has gone bananas and started baking batch after batch of KILLER CAKES. That was Sarahʼs idea, and once she suggested it, those cakes sort of took over the book.

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Will Astra be able to defeat the fearsome flapjacks, murderous muffins and beastly battenburgs? Youʼll have to read Cakes in Space to find out. But never fear – she has a SPORK, and sheʼs not afraid to use it!

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Cakes in Space is out now.

Cakes

And you can get Oliver and the Seawigs too!

Oliver and the Seawigs PB

cakesinspace-smallformatPhilip Reeve was born and raised in Brighton, where he wrote his first story at the tender age of five about a spaceman called Spike and his dog Spook. He is a talented illustrator and writer, and he has illustrated several titles in the Horrible Histories series.  Philip is best known for his multi award-winning Mortal Engines quartet, which won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award, and the Guardian Children’s Book Award. Philip has also won the prestigious CILIP Carnegie Medal with Here Lies Arthur. Philip lives in Dartmoor with his wife Sarah and his son Sam.

Sarah McIntyre is a writer and illustrator of children’s books and comics. She once applied for a job as ship’s rigger, intending to run away to sea, but instead, she found herself studying Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and graduated in 2007.

Sarah grew up in Seattle in the US and went to university in Philadelphia, where she studied Russian language and literature. She thought she wanted to be a journalist, and worked for a year at a newspaper in Moscow. One of her articles caused a huge scandal, and she ran off with a British diplomat named Stuart, who married her and took her back to London with him. She thinks he probably wasn’t a spy, but she is not entirely sure. She shares a studio with three friends in an old police station in Deptford, south London, (complete with cells!). You can visit Sarah’s website and blog at http://www.jabberworks.co.uk

 

Water Vole Watching

Tom Moorhouse, an ecologist at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology and author of the brilliant debut The River Singers (out now in paperback) shares his tips on finding and seeing water voles in their real habitat.

The River SingersWhen I talk to classes of children in schools, I always ask them the same question: “How many of you have seen a water vole?”. Usually a few hands go up – perhaps one in ten children, excited to describe their wildlife encounters. And that’s great. The thing is, though, that if I had asked a class that question in the 1980s (the parents of the current generation), perhaps a third of them would have raised their hands. And if I’d asked a class in the 1950s (the grandparents) the vast majority of hands would have gone up. Indeed, for children living in the 1950s seeing water voles was “normal”, a part of going for a walk by a river or canal. It’s difficult not to think that our children are missing out in some ways. The small joy of seeing water voles swimming in a river, doing their determined “doggy paddle”, is now a real rarity, not what it used to be: a common oh-that’s-lovely before carrying on with your day.

The good news is that there are still places you can go to watch wild water voles. Your local Wildlife Trust should be able to point you in the right direction. And if you find a suitable river try to get there early in the morning, or late as the sun is setting, and take an apple with you. Locate a pile of feeding sign or a latrine (chopped up piles of reeds or other stems, about 10cm long, or piles of droppings that look like black tictacs, both hidden at the base of the plants at the water’s edge) and leave ¼ of the apple nearby. If you’re lucky, and sit very patiently and still, a water vole will steal up to the apple and sniff it for a bit. Then it will either eat it, or grab it and scarper. Either way, the sighting will be worth it, I promise. And, of course, you’ll be helping to restore, in some small way, what was once a common experience.

 

The Rising, the sequel to The River Singers will be published in October.

The Rising

Tom MoorhouseTom Moorhouse lives in Oxford, where he enjoys the refreshing and perpetual rain. He is somewhere in his mid-thirties. This, he has discovered, means that small white hairs now grow out of his earlobes when he’s not looking.

He spends a lot of time climbing rocks. He used to play the trombone, but doesn’t any more. He is, without the slightest fear of contradiction, the world’s worst snowboarder. Ever. Tom also happens to be an ecologist, working at the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology. As a child he devoured – not literally – just about any fantasy book going.

The Rising, the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed debut novel The River Singers, will be published in October 2014.

 

 

Making writing fun with the Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary

Nilanjana Banerji,  Editor of Children’s Dictionaries for Oxford Education gives us a sneak peek behind the creation of the brand new edition of the Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary for primary schools, which includes writing tips from top children’s authors for the first time.

Charlie Higson, Andy Stanton, Jeremy Strong, Jacqueline Wilson are all well-known names in the world of children’s fiction today but not normally found in a children’s dictionary. The Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary has this unique and exciting feature – all of these authors have written for it.

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We began updating this dictionary to make it colourful, contemporary, child-friendly, with clear definitions, helpful tips, bright, modern illustrations, and a new supplement on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, for essential language help.

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As usual, we consulted the curriculum and used the children’s language research based on the Oxford Children’s Corpus, a database of writing for and by children, to create an authoritative and age-appropriate children’s dictionary. From enchanted to prehistoric, from e-book to parliament, young writers can look up all the words they need for homework help and creative writing.

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But how could we help more with creative writing? Why not ask the experts directly? This was a great new idea – for the first time we had successful authors giving us fun tips like Don’t be afraid to copy and Don’t be afraid not to copy! We editors were gratified to hear authors saying Edit your work. And our mission was captured perfectly by the important message Make writing fun.

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This vibrant new edition of the Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary will make literacy fun and give children aged 7+ a head start in reading, writing, and spelling.

The Oxford Children’s Colour Dictionary is out now.

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Islands and imagination

Julia Green, author of Sylvie and Star and Tilly’s Moonlight Fox gives us an insight into the inspiration behind her brand new book for younger readers, Seal Island.

I’ve loved islands as long as I can remember: I like the smaller, more intimate scale of an island, the way you can get to know it on foot, the sense of community found there, and the relationship with the weather, the sea and the rhythm of the tides. Recently I’ve re-visited the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, and this is the setting for my new book for children, Seal Island.

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My island is imaginary but based on these real places. I drew a map to show where everything happens in my story (I loved maps in books as a child).

 

mapThrough Grace’s story, I hope to bring a sense of this beautiful place to my readers, to share the pleasure of beachcombing, spotting seals, making friends and experiencing the freedom to play and explore. I researched real seals, but also read the old tales about Selkies – half seal and half person – and wove these into my story.

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Grace learns about the island, about life and loss – there are some dramatic events after a storm – but I have tried overall to capture the summery feel of life on an island, the warmth of family and friendship, the rhythm of the sea and the wide starry skies.

Seal Island is out now.

Seal Island

Copyright Kim Green

Copyright Kim Green

 

Julia Green lives in Bath. She has two sons.  She writes fiction for children and young adults. She is the Course Director for the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Julia leads creative writing workshops for children and adults in a variety of settings, including festivals and schools and for the Arvon foundation. She has worked as an English teacher in school, as a lecturer in FE, Higher and Adult Education, as a tutor for young people not in mainstream school; she has also been a publicity officer, a sub editor for a publishing company and a library assistant at a medical school in London.

World Nature Conservation Day and The River Singers

The River Singers

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse (now available in paperback)

Today is World Nature Conservation Day highlighting the threats to our wildlife on both a local and global scale from the effects of habitat loss, climate change and pollution.

The River Singers by Tom Moorhouse, published to critical acclaim last year and out now in paperback, is the story of a family of water voles who journey along The Great River to find a new home. Tom will be visiting a number of blogs over the next couple of weeks, answering questions and providing a fun fact or two about water voles! And to kick off the tour, we asked him, when did your passion for nature begin?

Tom Moorhouse I grew up in a very small market town in the North East (called Barnard Castle, or “Barney”), surrounded by hills and woods (and, yes, a river runs past the town). So I spent a lot of time walking and playing out in the countryside. And I have very clear memories of sitting down with my Mother and consuming every David Attenborough documentary I could (not literally, you understand…old VHS videos are tricky to chew). So it’s fair to say that the passion began quite early on! And I’m really glad that there’s a spotlight on World Nature Conservation Day because it needs all the attention it can get. Even if the sheer ethical and moral weight of our responsibility not to allow species and habitats to go extinct were insufficient (which it shouldn’t be, but somehow is), it’s about time folks realised the colossal inadvisability of continually undermining the ecological resources that support our access to things like clean water and abundant food. You know: the non-essentials. Basically what we are collectively doing is the equivalent of sitting high up in a tree and sawing through the branch we’re sitting on…Phew. And breathe. Sorry. Rant over. But yes, today is an important day.

 

Catch Tom over at the following blogs from tomorrow until Friday 8th August:

Tuesday 29th July – Smiling Like Sunshine

Wednesday 30th July – Serenity You

Thursday 31st July – Confession of a SAHM

Friday 1st August – Library Mice

Saturday 2nd August – My Mummies Pennies

Monday 4th August – Madhouse Family Reviews

Tuesday 5th August – Red Peffer

Friday 8th August – Making It Up

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