My Name is Parvana

Deborah Ellis shares her experiences of researching her latest book, set in Afghanistan, My Name is Parvana.

Late in the l990s, I spent time in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.  Millions of Afghans fled there from the Soviet occupation, the civil war and then the atrocities of the Taliban.  The stories I heard there of sorrow and strength, of loss and kindness, formed the basis for my novel for young people called The BreadwinnerThe Breadwinner follows a girl, Parvana, who disguises herself as a boy in order to feed her family in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Breadwinner 2014

The Breadwinner was followed by two other novels about Parvana and her friend, Shauzia – Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.

Some years went by.  Afghanistan underwent many changes.  I wondered what life would be like for Parvana in this new Afghanistan.

To research My Name Is Parvana, I spent time in Kabul, meeting with a wide range of women and children.  I was able to record interviews with many children, and published them in a book called Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through A Never-Ending War.

My Name Is Parvana starts out with Parvana being picked up in a bombed-out school building by an American military patrol and being brought back to their base for questioning.  It follows the dream of many girls and women there, a dream of freedom, education, and a life without violence.

My Name is Parvana is out now.

My Name is Parvana

As with the other books, royalties are going to Canadian Women 4 Women in Afghanistan, for their on-going work in support of women and children in Afghanistan.

Deb Ellis largeDeborah Ellis has been a political activist since the age of 17, advocating non-violence. After high school she went to Toronto and worked in the Peace Movement. Later she got involved in the Women’s Movement, focusing on women’s rights and economic justice. She continues to be involved in anti-war politics. She has spent a lot of time in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, talking to women and documenting their lives through 20 years of war. The stories she heard and the children she met were the inspiration for The Breadwinner, Parvana’s JourneyMud City, and My Name is Parvana. The Breadwinner trilogy has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in twenty-five different languages. Deborah lives in Ontario, Canada.

The Truth About Imaginary Friends

We were talking about the old days, and I remembered the weirdest things. Like people calling them ‘friends’. And how they said they were good for your brain. Some families even laid a place for them at dinner. 

Debut novelist Nikki Sheehan shares her thoughts on the phenomenon of imaginary friends, based on her research for the brilliant new Who Framed Klaris Cliff?

I realise that telling the truth about something that is essentially a lie is a strange thing to do. But it’s an important thing because in the past adults used to tell a lot of lies about imaginary friends.

Not so many years ago, thankfully before I was born, they were about as welcome within a family as a dose of chicken pox. Maybe less so because parents never invited the neighbourhood kids round for imaginary friend parties. Some stats from the 1930s show that a paltry 10-15% of kids admitted to them, possibly because they were viewed as at best a sign of loneliness or insecurity, and at worst an indication of neurosis.

Then, a few decades ago, opinion went into reverse. Imaginary friends appeared more frequently in children’s books and TV programmes, and some parents, perhaps believing that imaginary friends are a sign of intelligence, began to encourage them the way we might lure hedgehogs into the garden, laying places for them at the dinner table and allowing them to take the blame for scribbling on the walls or tumble drying the remote control.

Within this more benign environment a huge 65% of children will now admit to having conjured up playmates out of thin air. At first sight the increase is puzzling. After all, as in my book Who Framed Klaris Cliff?, we know that imaginary friends appear when children have the time and space for free play, which means when they’re not at school, watching TV or playing computer games. Given the choice between racing Mario Kart, or racing raindrops down a window pane, few self-respecting digital natives would choose the old-school entertainment.

But there is another important factor. While the number of screens has multiplied in our homes, the number of children in them has dropped. Almost half of the UK’s kids have no brothers or sisters. Imaginary friends are more common in first, or only children, so although they may spend a lot of time being entertained by screens, we can deduce that our children’s imaginations are firing on all cylinders when they’re given a bit of down time.

As to whether they’re a sign of superior intelligence or imagination, there’s no conclusive evidence one way or the other. However, psychologists say that the interaction with an imaginary friend is very complex, requiring the child to practice viewing things from two perspectives, and it gives little brains and social skills an excellent workout.

But they do more than this. We know that children can turn to imaginary friends for companionship and emotional support at difficult times, and kids who experience loss will often ‘replace’ the person who has gone with a transitional invisible being. Someone I knew when I was young created an Old English Sheepdog when her brother was sent to boarding school, and her parents, no doubt feeling guilty, duly laid out the empty dog bowls and put up with the imaginary dog taking up all the space on the sofa.

Apparently they knew what most parents know now, that for children, as well as for many authors, far from being an indication of madness, it’s conjuring up imaginary friends that keep us sane.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff? is out now.

Who Framed Klaris Cliff

Nikki Sheehan author picNikki Sheehan is the youngest daughter of a rocket scientist. She went to a convent school in Cambridge where she was taught by nuns. Her writing was first published when she was seven and her teacher submitted a poem she had written to a magazine. She always loved English, but has a degree in linguistics. After university Nikki’s first job was subtitling The Simpsons. She then studied psychology, retrained as a journalist, and wrote features for parenting magazines and the national press. She now writes mainly about property and is co-founder of an award-winning, slightly subversive, property blog. She is married and lives in Brighton with her husband, three children, two dogs, a cat, an ever-fluctuating numbers of hamsters, and the imaginary people that inhabit her stories.

Stinkbomb, Ketchup-Face, and Salvador Dali

John Dougherty, author of the eye-poppingly funny new Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face series (illustrated by David Tazzyman of Mr Gum fame), ruminates on imagination and surrealism in children’s books.

You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to have my new book, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, chosen by The Times in early February as its Children’s Book of the Week.

Well, perhaps you can. And in a way, this blog post is going to be all about imagination. So go on, give it a go.

Done it? Good. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face, The Times, Children’s Book of the Week, and me being thrilled. In fact, I was so thrilled that I didn’t even notice the article next to the review until a couple of days later. But when I did, I found it both fascinating and serendipitous.

The article was one in which a chap by the name of Philip Howard examined the word ‘surreal’, explaining in a few column inches what it actually means. Apparently, the aim of surrealism was to explore the unconscious mind and “liberate thought from the constraints of logic”, whilst its practitioners “startled the conventional world with imaginary worlds in which natural laws were suspended”.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “If I’m not mistaken, I’ve written a surreal book.”

A brief glance at the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto added to my suspicions. It includes lines like:

“Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason…”

and

“Surrealism is based on the belief in… the disinterested play of thought.

That sounds very much like what I’ve tried to do with the adventures of my two little heroes. When I sat down to write the book, my aim was to produce a work of deep silliness, and I decided that the best way to do this was:

(a)  to pinch, borrow, and otherwise be inspired by the sayings and behaviour of small children, and

(b)  to remove the brakes from my imagination; to switch off the internal censors that tell me, but that’s impossible, or, that doesn’t make sense, or, you can’t do that.

And I’ve realised since that, really, what I was trying to do was to get back into the mind of a child at play.

Remember what it was like? Those days when anything could happen; when, no matter what was needed by the story you were acting out, it could be imagined into existence? When you had no idea where your game of let’s pretend  was going to end up, but it was fun getting there?

That’s what Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face is about. That’s why the story includes badgers pretending to be lemmings and driving too fast; a reigning monarch called King Toothbrush Weasel; an exceedingly irritating and supercilious army called Malcolm the Cat; pockets full of fish, dustbins and sports cars; and an extremely grateful shopping trolley.

Surrealism and children’s fiction is a perfect match. As Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. And as Megan, aged 8, said about Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers, “Blueberry jam! I laughed so hard my head fell off.

Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face – even funnier than Salvador Dali.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers is out now.

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers

John Dougherty

John Dougherty was the sort of boy who always had his nose in a book, and he grew into the sort of adult who always has his nose in a book, which is probably why he decided to become a writer.

Born and raised in Larne, Northern Ireland, John now lives in Stroud in Gloucestershire with his wife, two children, a few chickens and several bees. He’s a keen singer who has performed solo, with a band, and as a member of three award-winning a cappella groups. His books have been shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards – and one was chosen by The Times as one of the Best Children’s Books of the Year 2011 – but, more importantly, they make children giggle.

 

A Prank is for Life, Not Just for April Fools’ Day.

Stand-up comedian and author of the brand new The Private Blog of Joe Cowley, Ben Davis shares his top 3 favourite April Fool pranks…

Hi everybody! My name is Ben Davis and I’m a writer. My debut novel is called The Private Blog of Joe Cowley. It’s about a fourteen-year-old boy who starts his own secret blog to document his transition from outsider and wedgie-receiver to a Captain Picard-like master of life. Unfortunately for Joe though, his plans are dealt a major blow with the revelation that he has a step-brother with whom he has a serious history.

Of course, as my book is based on a blog, it was perhaps fitting that OUP kindly asked me to write a blog to mark the occasion of its publication.

To begin with, I had no idea what to write about. I mean, I do have many varied interests, but I doubt that young people of today would be interested in reading about my collection of 1990s WWF wrestling figures.

That's what you think, MAGGOT!

That’s what you think, MAGGOT!

When I saw what day this blog was going to be published on, though, I knew what I was going to write about.

Yes, April Fools’ Day. The one day, or to be more accurate, half day, when you can pull all manner of cruel pranks on your fellow man with no repercussions.

Now, I love pranks. To me, pranking is the best thing we humans can do. It’s what separates us from the animals.

Except the penguins.

Except the penguins.

To a prank guy like me, April Fools’ Day is Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Of course, because I prank so many people, I don’t usually get too many presents, but still…

When most people think of pranks, they think of the old cling film over the toilet trick, but this is old hat and you will always end up with one of two things: a wet floor or a lifetime ban from Homebase. So to inspire you, I have compiled my top three pranks of all time.

3. The Trojan Horse

image005This was a classic. You see, the Greeks really wanted to get into Troy. I don’t know why but I’m sure they had their reasons, maybe their Ikea had a proper good sale on. Point is, they wanted in.

Now this was the olden days, so things were different. These days, if I want to go to say – Nuneaton, I can just drive over there and walk around with complete freedom.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

Except in Home Bargains. That store detective is good at remembering faces.

 Back then though, they built massive walls around their towns and they’d only let you in if you knew the secret password. Secret passwords were often tricky to remember and had to be at least eight characters long with at least one capital letter and one number, and if you forgot it, you were out.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let's just move.

Is that an H or an N? Ah screw it, let’s just move.

Anyway, the Greeks didn’t have a secret password, so they decided to prank their way in. Because the Greeks, as a people, are nothing if not committed to the lolz.

I mean, look at that statue! He's got his bum out!

I mean, look at that statue! He’s got his bum out!

For their super prank, the Greeks proceeded to build a giant wooden horse and wheel it to the gates of Troy, with dozens of super-tough army guys hiding inside, trying not to sneeze or anything like that.

See, the thing you should know about the Trojans is that they loved giant wooden horses. Give your typical Trojan a giant wooden horse and he’s as happy as Larry, so this was the perfect thing to prank them with. It would be like tricking your way into Essex dressed as an immense bottle of fake tan.

Naturally, the Trojans were chuffed to bits with their surprise and wheeled it inside the town where they quickly began to plan where it would go in the Troy Museum of Giant Wooden Horses.

But before they could, as a hilarious crescendo to this masterpiece of prankdom, the Greeks jumped out and mercilessly slaughtered everyone.

Actually, that’s not funny. That’s horrible. We’ll move on to the next prank.

2. The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

image013Orson Welles was one of the most accomplished actor/directors of all time. He is known for being the auteur behind celluloid classic Citizen Kane, and the owner of one of the most impressive beards in Hollywood.

But what I’ll mainly remember him for was his love of pranks.

In 1938, Welles performed a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ (no relation, I mean, come on, they’re not even spelled the same) sci-fi novel, War of the Worlds. In case you haven’t read it, or you began to watch the movie version starring Tom Cruise and kicked in your TV screen in disgust, War of the Worlds is about what would happen if a legion of aliens came and took over earth with their terrifying disintegrator rays of doom.

As we have already established, Welles was a top-notch actor.

Unlike someone we know.

Unlike someone we know.

And his performance was so convincing that many listeners thought a real alien invasion was occurring.

This was an incredible prank and one that will never be repeated, because people are getting wise to it now. I mean, radio stations these days are trying so hard to convince me that Justin Bieber is an actual thing, but I’m not having it.

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

I’M ONTO YOU, CAPITAL FM!

1. The Epic Prank I played on my So-Called Best Friend Fat Barry

Ah, Fat Barry, my oldest chum. We’ve been friends since we were kids, but to be honest, I have no idea why because he’s always whinging:

‘When are you going to pay me back?’

‘Stop calling me Fat Barry, I’m thinner than you.’

‘No I don’t want a hug, now get out of my bathroom.’

Blah, blah, blah. You see? He’s Mr Negativity. And I’ll tell you something else about Fat Barry – he hates pranks. Every April Fools’ Day he is a terrible sport. Like this once, when I called the bomb squad and told them a suspicious package was in Fat Barry’s car, and they came out and blew it up, he barely even cracked a smile. Lighten up, Scrooge!

For some reason, after that, Fat Barry started going on holiday every April. He’d never tell me where he was going, either. Considering he’s supposed to be my best friend, he’s really secretive. Once, he even refused to tell me his mother’s maiden name, account number and sort code. What a weirdo.

Anyway, it wasn’t easy, but last year, I figured out where he was going – Spain. I won’t give away my investigative techniques, but let’s just say the contents of a man’s bin can reveal a great deal.

Straight away, I called my mate Spanish Steve who works in customs and told him that a high-end smuggler was coming over and that he should be searched thoroughly. And I meant thoroughly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be enough to just hear about it when he got home – I had to be there. I booked a ticket for his flight and got on board in disguise. The disguise in this case was that I actually looked like my passport photo.

Hello handsome!

Hello handsome!

When we arrived in Spain, sure enough, Spanish Steve took Fat Barry into a private room and searched him for illegal contraband. I stood outside as Fat Barry protested his innocence and giggled to myself as I watched him tenderly walk out after an hour.

‘Hey, Fat Barry,’ I yelled. ‘April Fool!’

Fat Barry slowly turned around and looked at me. It was as if he knew.

‘Now here’s your April Fool,’ he said, before smacking me in the face and knocking out three teeth.

You might think he got me there, but the thing is, Spain is an hour ahead of us and by the time he hit me, it had gone twelve. So in a way, the joke was on him.

I hope you have enjoyed this round-up of my all-time favourite pranks, and that it has inspired you to terrorise your own nearest and dearest this year.

But that’s not all. I have one more prank up my sleeve. You see, at the beginning, I told you that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is my debut novel. Well, I was lying. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley isn’t a novel at all – it’s a horse.

APRIL FOOL!

APRIL FOOL!

Actually, I should point out that The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is a book and that you should definitely buy it. Please, I’ve got dentist bills to pay.

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is published on 3 April (honest!).

9780192736758_THE_PRIVATE_BLOG_OF_JOE_COWLEY_CVR_APR14

Ben2

Stand-up comedian Ben Davis studied English at University, which was quite easy because he was already fluent in that. Ben was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. Since then, he has written jokes for everything from radio shows to greeting cards and, despite his complete lack of singing and dancing ability, was once invited to audition for a lead role in a West End musical. He now lives in Tamworth with his wife and his wimpy dog. The Private Blog of Joe Cowley is his first novel.

Picture credits

PENGUIN: http://www.gifbin.com/981126

TROJAN HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STORE DETECTIVE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

STATUE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

ALIEN: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

CRUISE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

JUSTIN BIEBER: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

SCREAM: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

HORSE: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

About Mums by Mina May (age 13)

To celebrate Mother’s Day, an ode to mums by Mina May, illustrator extraordinaire of the Wendy Quill series Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom, Wendy Quill Tries to Grow a Pet and Wendy Quill is Full Up of Wrong (out July 2014), which she creates with her own mum, author Wendy Meddour.

This is me when I was ten: the year I became an illustrator with Oxford University Press.

image001

I’ve wanted to be an illustrator for as long as I can remember, and when it finally happened, it just felt right. I’m thirteen now, and have just finished illustrating my third book, but it took years of submitting my pictures to publishers and entering competitions before I got my first contract. (I started doing all that when I was eight). People are very lucky when they achieve something they’ve always aspired to do and I’m very grateful for that! But I definitely didn’t get there on my own. My mum was the first person who believed in me: she inspired me to draw and encouraged me to try and achieve my dreams (and do most of the other things I enjoy so much now). She even helped me type and colour in the first proper books I made at home when I was only four years old.

Here’s a page from one called:  ‘Mina’s World’.

image003

It’s a bit different to what we make together now!

image005image007image009

She knows how important drawing is to me. She understands how happy it makes me feel. She knows that it’s something I just really need to do. Mum says that ALL children have a talent and it’s important they find an outlet. Football. Singing. Telling jokes. Whatever. I feel so lucky that Wendy Quill is mine.

image013

Often, I write little messages to Mum when I’m drawing, like on this picture of Wendy Quill’s family at breakfast.

image015

She writes back.

image018And we have great fun doing events together – like at this book launch party of Wendy Quill tries to Grow a Pet. (Mum always makes sure there are lots fab cakes for me and my brothers too).

image019So, what’s so special about my mum? Well, she’s funny, talented and I know this might sound soppy, but she’s always been my ‘guide through life’. And when tricky things happen, we just get closer. And stronger.

She’s great company and always makes me feel happy! I think that mums are the best. Simply that. A lot of people may not get on with their mums because they are ‘this and that’ and they don’t let you do ‘etc.’ But I figured not too long ago that they are just there to protect you, make you smile and to share your best moments with. They aren’t there forever and they literally work their socks off for you, so we really need to look after them too.

Now I’m not meaning to have a bit of a crazy lecture about ‘be nice to your mum before it’s too late’ because that’s not what Mother’s Day is about.

Mother’s Day is a day when we remember how fab our own mothers are and how we should appreciate the things they do for us every single day: like washing up, making dinner, giving you the hug that you didn’t realise you needed so bad until you came home and got it. Or maybe just making you laugh.

image021

To be honest, I believe that Mother’s Day should be every day but I suppose the card factories would get a bit fed up and it would stop being so exciting. It would be like having your birthday every day and get boring, wouldn’t it? Actually that’s not such a good example… (I really don’t know how my Mum does it! All of those hilarious and well-written books and blogs that never seem to waft off into my endless babble!)

Anyway, back to the ‘intended’ point. What I was trying to say was that Mother’s Day wouldn’t be special if we had it every day – so let’s make the most of it!

Buy your Mum a big bunch of flowers and tell her how great she is!

Write her a letter or phone her up and tell her how fabulous she’s been.

Make her breakfast in bed.

Help her mow the lawn.

Or maybe just write a blog.

Like I’m doing now.

About how great she is.

Or something similar.

Only try not to waffle as much.

So … Happy Mother’s Day, Mums!

WE LOVE YOU!

And Mum – thanks for being such a great best-friend xxx

image023Mina May: I’m thirteen years old. I live with my three brothers. I have green eyes and crazy curls. I’m half Algerian. I love trying new things. I don’t like peas. But I do like drawing.

Wendy Meddour: I’m thirty-eight years old. I live with Mina May’s three brothers. I have green eyes and crazy curls (that I straighten when I’m trying to look smart). I’m not half Algerian. I love doing old things that I already know I’m good at. I quite like petit pois. And I do like drawing (but I’m not as good as my thirteen-year-old daughter).

Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2014: The Rights Place to Be!

Elaine McQuade

Anne-Marie, head of rights at Oxford Children’s, once worked out that her team travel over 109,000 miles every year. Their job is to sell rights to publishers from around the world to publish OUP children’s fiction, picture books, dictionaries, home learning and schoolbooks into their own languages. The team visit publishers in their offices and at book fairs around the globe, and, of course, they also keep in contact via email and the internet. However, the Bologna Book Fair is still the most important event in the children’s publishing calendar for them. Every year in March, thousands of children’s publishers pour into this gorgeous Italian city with its stunning medieval centre around the Piazza Maggiore.

The ‘Fiera’ takes place in a large, purpose built complex, where around 1,200 publishers and other related organizations from 75 countries showcase the titles or the services they have to sell. The fair’s website states that about ‘25,000 international professional trade representatives’ attended last year.

The Oxford Children's Books stand

The Oxford Children’s Books stand

The run-up to the fair’s opening is one of the busiest times in the publishing year. The British picture book industry, in particular, has been built on co-editions. Colour printing is very expensive so publishers need to build print runs by selling rights to as many customers as possible. The more books we can print, the cheaper the books become to produce for everyone.

Customers naturally want to see as much of the finished book as possible. So for the past few months, authors, illustrators, editors and designers and the production team at OUP have been extremely busy getting proofs ready for the fair.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of the projects we took to Bologna this year, which will be published later on this year or in 2015:

What a Wonderful World

A glorious picture book version of one of the most popular songs of all time

The Adventures of Mr Toad

A funny and fabulously illustrated picture book retelling of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for younger readers

Here’s author/illustrator Steve Antony with his rather tempestuous ‘toddler’ Betty and his US publisher:

Steve Antony and his US publisher.

Steve Antony and his US publisher with a sneak-peak of Betty herself!

The Rising

The stand-alone sequel to last year’s exciting river bank adventure ‘The River Singers’

 

Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football

A top-of-the-league tale, publishing in time for the 2014 Football World Cup!

 

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley

The hilarious and highly illustrated of a teenage, self-confessed ‘girl-repeller’

 

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Cakes in Space: the intergalactic new Reeve and McIntyre production!

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre weren’t in Bologna this year but do see the Bologna blog for 2013 for pictures of the two wowing the crowds.

Just before the fair we wrapped up a deal with Philip Reeve’s agent (Philippa Milnes-Smith of LAW) to publish his next novel for older readers. We’ll be publishing it autumn 2015. We sent a press release to the trade press and were pleased that ‘The Bookseller’ magazine featured the story in their daily emailed news flash. It is another way of ensuring that foreign publishers, keen on British fiction and picture books, are kept abreast of exciting new projects, while they are at the fair.

Here’s some of the team at the fair presenting our list to colleagues from around the globe. I am constantly amazed that almost everyone can speak English. However, between them the rights team can speak over 10 different languages so, communication is rarely a problem.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football and The Rising.

Head of Rights, Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football.

Giuseppe

Rights Manager, Giuseppe Trapani.

Rights Manager, Stella Giatrakou.

Rights Managers, Stella Giatrakou and Valentina Fazio hard at work!

Clare, Helen and Pete from our fiction and picture book editorial teams were also at the fair seeing agents and foreign publishers, who presented them with projects, manuscripts and picture books that we might look to publish in the UK. It’s fascinating to wander around the stands of colleagues from countries such a France, Korea, or Italy and to note sometimes similar trends but often very different illustrative styles.

The rights team/editors arrange appointments in half an hour slots from around 9.00 till 6.00 daily throughout the fair.

Time for a cappucino!

Time for a cappuccino!

Coffee breaks or a dash to the queue for the loos (too few loos and a preponderance of women publishers is not a good combination) have to be squeezed in if and when someone turns up late for an appointment.

Many UK retailers take the opportunity to visit the fair and Louise, our sales director and I gave them a preview of some of the projects we have coming much later in the year and in 2015. Siwan from production was here to meet with suppliers from outside the UK who are involved in the production of our print and digital books.

Vineeta and Sam from our dictionary team were also at the fair. In 2016 we are very much looking forward to publishing the ‘Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary’. 2016 is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth and Vineeta and I attended a presentation and dinner for many of his foreign and UK publishers where we heard about the exciting plans the Estate has to celebrate the anniversary around the world. I sat on a table with lovely publishers from Taiwan and Estonia as well as Amanda from Puffin and it was great to hear how popular Roald’s books are around the world. Here’s Vineeta and me leaving the beautiful, medieval palace where the event was held. The photo is a bit dark but you can see we’ve got our winter coats on! It’s been pretty chilly weather-wise.

Head of Children's Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR Elaine McQuade.

Head of Children’s Dictionaries, Vineeta Gupta and Head of Marketing and PR, Elaine McQuade.

For a few days in March Bologna becomes the centre of children’s publishing and it is always a joy to meet colleagues from around the world who work in this wonderful, creative and important industry.

Elaine pic

Elaine McQuade is Head of Marketing and PR for OUP Children’s Books

 

Spell with Pip: a fun new app to help children practise their spelling

With the new emphasis on spelling, punctuation and grammar in primary schools, including a test in year 6, it’s more important than ever to make sure that children have lots of opportunity to practise their spelling. We’re very excited to introduce Spell with Pip – a fun new spelling app for children from the team behind the world-famous Oxford Children’s Dictionaries.

There are lots of quirks in the English language which make it tricky for children to spell words correctly. Here at OUP our Children’s Dictionaries team has a huge database of children’s writing, so they can spot exactly the kind of spellings children often struggle with (read more about the Oxford Children’s Corpus here).

For example, silent letters can be confusing: the silent ‘h’ at the beginning of ‘which’ is often left out by children, and sometimes an errant silent ‘h’ finds its way into other words, making ‘whith’ and ‘whent’. Sometimes we blur certain sounds when we speak, which is reflected in spellings like ‘happend’ and ‘suprise’. Double letters often prove difficult, as spellings such as ‘realy’ and ‘untill’ show.

With so much to think about, spelling can be challenging for children. But help is at hand from a new feathery friend.pip

Meet Pip the parrot, star of Spell with Pip: An Oxford Spelling Game – a brand new iPad app which is so much fun that children won’t even notice they are practising spelling.

In the app, children use their finger to swoop Pip around the screen, picking up floating letters in order to correctly spell a word. Spell with Pip has spelling skills at its core, but it is also a real arcade-style game which is exciting enough to keep children practising and learning. Take a look at this short video to see Spell with Pip in action.

The 3,000 words in the app have been carefully sorted into levels, guided by our Oxford Children’s Corpus research. As Pip visits different locations around the world, from the Oasis to the Arctic, the words he has to spell become gradually harder. Our Children’s Corpus has shown this doesn’t just mean longer words, but also words with double or silent letters (‘accidently’), consecutive vowels (‘freinds’) or irregular endings (‘heared’). Spell with Pip provides a friendly, colourful environment to rehearse these tricky words and gain confidence in spelling skills.

oxford first dictionaryThe app is designed for children aged 4-8, or for any children who need a little more confidence in spelling. All the words are taken from the Oxford First Dictionary, and the app is suitable for users of both UK and US English.

You can download Spell with Pip from the App Store (a version for Android will be available in spring 2014).

We’d love to hear how you get on with the app. Happy spelling!

Spell with Pip

Oxford Children’s Dictionaries

Oxford University Press publishes English and bilingual dictionaries for children of every age. Find out more about our bestselling range on our website, including the Primary Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Dictionary and School Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar Dictionary.

9780192745378 9780192734211

Monkeying around with Oliver and the Seawigs – our first ever sea monkey intern!

This month we’ve had the company of a rascally sea monkey, who has escaped from the pages of Oliver and the Seawigs to learn what it’s like to work in publishing and help us in the lead up to Christmas. It’s been an interesting time to say the least, and it does seem suspicious how all our mince pies and office treats have been going missing…

Oliver and the Seawigs Christmas greetings

Our new recruit was very excited to begin counting down to Christmas. She braved the bus on the way in to the office and soon made her way to the Oxford University Press front gates. EEP!

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey on the bus

By the end of her first week, she was happily working away in the publicity office, sending out copies of Oliver and the Seawigs and teasing the new titles for 2014, such as Nikki Sheehan’s Who Framed Klaris Cliff?

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey press release

On the 5th December our office sea monkey placed an important call, ready to announce that OIiver and the Seawigs had been shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award! The announcement went out on the CBEEBIES channel that evening.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey phone call

The next day she decided to make a show card to celebrate the Blue Peter news. But all that tape was very sticky and she got into a bit of a pickle in her excitement.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey showcard

By the 9th December our well behaved monkey had been feeling a little mischievous and decided to have some fun. She ventured down to visit the editorial offices and ended up making some VERY IMPORTANT changes to a manuscript from editor Clare Whitston’s desk – EEP!

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey editing

Next she went to visit the home of Oxford Words to take a #selfie, as she’d heard that it was word of the year. Even if she really thought the best word ever was EEP! To make her feel better, the digital dictionary team added an entry to their app to explain the etymology of her sea monkey language.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey selfie 1

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey selfie 2

She was so impressed with her award announcement and app entry that she decided to edit the front cover of Oliver and the Seawigs and add in her own ideas.  We’re not sure designer Jo Cameron was as happy with her changes, though.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey designing

As Christmas crept closer, the sea monkey took to travelling in style and hitched a ride with one of the Oxford University Press reindeers to get to work.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey reindeer

And judging by photos from our Christmas party, it looks like she is now right-hand monkey to Big Boss Rod Theodorou.

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey Rod

Our sea monkey intern has certainly been making a splash eeping about Oliver and the Seawigs. However, we have become increasingly worried that her time here may have just been part of a monkey master plan for world domination…

Oliver and the Seawigs sea monkey rights

First Oxford University Press, then the world!

Oliver and the Seawigs monkey takeover

Oliver and the Seawigs Christmas greetings wood cut

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre is out now.

oliver and the seawigs

If you’re feeling creative, take a look at this Oliver and the Seawigs Christmas present pack from Philip and Sarah, complete with gift tags and a knit your own sea monkey knitting pattern!

And the winner is . . .

Hooray! Richard Byrne won the picture book category of the 2013 Oxfordshire Book Award for The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. Richard’s editor, Helen Mortimer gives us a run-down of the award ceremony.

The trophies

A rewarding afternoon for picture-book maker Richard Byrne

Although 360 children from 20 schools across the county were squeezed into the Amey Theatre at Abingdon School for the 2013 Oxfordshire Book Awards, when Richard Byrne picked up his marker pen to draw some instant dinosaur art, you could have heard that proverbial pin drop. Rather than make an acceptance speech, Richard chose to let his pictures do the talking. The whole audience was spellbound as the Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur took shape over four flip-chart sheets. First the tail, then the back end, the front end, and finally a smiling face with a ‘thank you’ speech bubble for all the children who voted Richard’s story about prehistoric friends, jellybeans, and sharing as their favourite picture book of 2013.

flip chart big dino-1

Flip-chart art as the Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur takes to the stage with Richard Byrne and pupils from Oxfordshire schools

Richard’s hastilysketchedosaurus was then the subject of an on-the-spot raffle and was won by Burford Secondary School where it is destined to take pride of place on their library wall.

R.J. Palacio – who won the primary book category for Wonder – had recorded a heartfelt video message for the children of Oxfordshire from her New York home.

And Anne-Marie Conway who won the secondary book category with her novel Butterfly Summer gave an entertaining insight into her life as an author. When asked what had been her dream job as a child Anne-Marie revealed that she had always wanted to be on the stage but that now, actually being on a stage, was proving rather daunting. But if she was nervous, she really didn’t show it, and she engaged the audience in a fascinating question and answer session.

Anne-Marie Conway

Anne-Marie Conway

A warm tribute

The audience was also treated to a warm tribute given by Piers Ibbotson in memory of his mother, Eva. He talked about her book The Abominables and how the manuscript was discovered after her death in 2010. It was published last year.  His words were utterly encouraging for any budding writers listening as he explained how his mother held a firm belief that children have a gift for telling stories and losing themselves in imaginative worlds. A gift that is all too often lost as we grow up. But not lost by Eva, who was writing up to the day she died and whose richly-imagined stories always recognize how brave, funny, and resourceful children are.

Piers Ibbotson

Piers Ibbotson

Pupils steal the show

But if I had to choose my favourite part of the afternoon it would be the pupil reviews for the winning books. Alex from Glory Farm School, Bicester loved the ‘bright pictures’ in The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur. He also liked the ‘way the words go with the pictures’ and said he would give this ‘funny book’ five stars. He ended his review with three well-chosen words: ‘laugh out loud’. And the audience did!

Looking forward to 2014

The ceremony finished with a now traditional mass countdown to launch the selection process for next year’s award and an invitation to ‘let the reading begin!’

And finally . . .

Everyone then left the auditorium and headed over to the dining hall where Richard and Anne-Marie signed for their fans.

Top-drawer author!

Top-drawer author!

Fuelled by coffee and chocolate cake, by the end of the afternoon Richard had doodled over 160 Finlays.

signed book

Worth the wait: a proud owner of a just-signed book complete with a unique dinosaur doodle

And he got to meet Lucy and Caitlin from Watlington Primary School who had earlier been on stage to introduce Richard to the audience.

richard with caitlin and lucy

Richard with Caitlin and Lucy from Watlington Primary School

The whole afternoon was a wonderful and celebratory event and thanks are due Lynne Cooper, Jacky Atkinson, and all the committee for making it happen.

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur is out now.

really big dinosaur

The First Rule of Time Travel: Don’t Kill Grandad!

Polly Shulman shares the challenges of writing her time-travel novel, The Wells Bequest, a story full of fantastic objects from popular science fiction stories and packed with fascinating time-travelling conundrums!

I thought the hardest part of writing a time-travel novel would be getting the historical details right. I was wrong. The hardest part was dealing with the paradoxes.

The Wells Bequest

Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla

In The Wells Bequest, my characters work at a very unusual library—one that lends out not books, but objects. Want to try playing a tuba or see how you would look in Marie Antoinette’s second-best wig? You can borrow them from the New York Circulating Material Repository. Hidden in the repository’s basement are several Special Collections. One houses working, magical objects from fairy tales (this was the subject of my previous novel, The Grimm Legacy). The Wells Bequest involves the repository’s collection of working gadgets straight out of science fiction: starships, shrink rays, invisibility potions, and so on. But the star of the story is the time machine from H.G. Wells’ classic novel. My characters use it to visit Nikola Tesla—the world’s greatest (real-life) mad scientist—in his New York City lab in 1895, on the eve of the fire that destroyed it.

Sadly, electric taxis like this one came into use in New York City in the late 1890s, a few years after Tesla’s lab fire, so my characters ride in a horse-drawn cab instead

Sadly, electric taxis like this one came into use in New York City in the late 1890s, a few years after Tesla’s lab fire, so my characters ride in a horse-drawn cab instead

Getting the historical details right was very important to me. I searched 19th century newspapers for stories about Tesla and his contemporaries, read biographies, hunted up old restaurant menus, pored over photos and train schedules, and stalked through Tesla’s neighborhood with antique maps to see how the streets had changed. I even interviewed a transit historian to find out how people got around town back then. What were the fares for horse-drawn omnibuses? How about trolleys? Where did you buy a ticket for a ride on the elevated railroads, and did the ticket clerk punch it and give it back to you or just keep it? Even if nobody else ever noticed, I wanted to get things right!

But all that research was a walk in the park compared to keeping the time-travel paradoxes straight. The most famous one is the Grandfather Paradox: Suppose you use a time machine to travel back a few decades and kill your grandfather before he meets your grandmother. Then your mother will never be born, so you yourself will never be born, so you will never use a time machine to travel back in time and kill your grandfather. That means your mother will be born after all, and so will you, which means you will be able to use that time machine after all and kill Grandad, so you won’t be born, so you will be, so you won’t be…

H. G. Wells’ novel was no help with this particular paradox. His character uses the machine to go forward in time, not backwards. Going forward in time doesn’t raise nearly as many difficulties—after all, we’re all traveling forward in time all the time!

Inventor Lewis Latimer, who improved Edison’s light bulb, invented a toilet for trains, and introduced my characters to Tesla

Inventor Lewis Latimer, who improved Edison’s light bulb, invented a toilet for trains, and introduced my characters to Tesla

Related puzzles kept popping up all over my story, driving my editor crazy. We would have dialogues like this:

My editor: Wait! How could Leo and Jaya find the time machine in London in Chapter 13? I thought it was in the repository in New York the whole time! Is it a different time machine?

Me: No, it’s the same one. It’s just on an earlier trip. It’s crossing paths with itself.

My editor: How can it be an earlier trip, when they’re both there now?

Me: Time machines can be two places at once—that’s what time machines do.

In the end, all we could do was laugh—which is what I hope everyone will do when they read The Wells Bequest.

The Wells Bequest is out now.

The Wells Bequest

Polly Shulman profile picPolly Shulman has written about edible jellyfish, Egyptian tombs, infinity, blind dates, books, brains, centenarians, circuses, and cinematic versions of Jane Austen novels, for The New York Times, Salon, and many other publications. She edits news stories about fossils, meteors, the ocean, the weather, and the planets for Science magazine.

Polly collects Victorian jewellery, puts cayenne pepper in her chocolate cookies, and reads forgotten books with frontispieces.

She grew up in New York City, where she lives with her husband and their parakeet, Olive.

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