‘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.

toad cover image

‘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.

toad 4.

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.

toad cover image

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

9780192736666_WINNIE_ADDS_MAGIC_CVR_AUG14

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

Spooktacular Halloween Wishes!

 

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.
Picture 1

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!

pic_8_astra_spork

 

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

 

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.

north uist June 10 2014 004

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.

deer on allotment and North Uist 031

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.

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.

 

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.

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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’.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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).

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!

Winnie the Witch and Wilbur fancy dress – inspiration for children’s Halloween costumes

Halloween is nearly upon us, and what better way to celebrate than by dressing up as the mischievously magical Winnie the Witch and her black cat Wilbur!

To make a Winnie the Witch costume

First of all find a blue dress, purple cardigan and stripy tights with a string of shiny beads.

Winnie’s hat

winnie hat

You will need:

  • Blue, yellow, orange and purple paper
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Black felt tip pen
  • Glue stick
  • Hole punch
  • Elastic
  • Hat template from the Winnie the Witch website

Instructions:

  • If you don’t want to use coloured paper, just print the hat template on white paper and colour it in. Simple!
  • Print out the hat template twice – tape together and use as one whole template, onto blue paper, then cut out.
  • Copy the ‘stripes’ template on to a folded piece of purple paper and cut out. Unfold the semicircle and put to one side.
  • Copy orange and yellow stripes on to a folded piece of yellow and orange paper. Cut out. Unfold the semicircles. Then carefully cut along the yellow strip so it is in half again.

winnie hat elements

  • Cut out the moon and star from the template on yellow card.
  • Glue everything on to the flat cone and leave to dry. Then go over all the lines with a black felt tip pen.
  • Attach the hat together with some double-sided tape and/or a stapler. For a little extra touch, push a small bit of rectangular paper through the hole at the top of the hat and bend to one side!
  • Use a hole punch to create a hole on either side of the hat to tie the elastic to, to secure under the child’s chin.

Winnie’s hair

winnie's hair

You will need:

  • Black card (long enough to fit around a child’s head – A1 or A2)
  • 2 x A1 sheets of black sugar paper
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Stapler
  • Sellotape/double-sided tape for neatness

Instructions:

  • Measure a length of card around the child’s head. Tape into place so you have a card ring that fits perfectly around their head (the one in the photograph is 5cm deep).
  • Tape another piece of card across the top of the ring. Repeat on the other side so you have a cross.
  • Cut two more pieces of card and place diagonally over the cross. Staple into place. Then attach the last piece of card to cover any gaps so you can have the basis of your Winnie hair (like a skullcap).

winnie hair work in progress

  • Now the fun really begins! Fold two A1 pieces of black paper like an accordion for Winnie’s frizzy hair. Gently pull the ‘accordion’ apart and cut into the strips.
  • Attach the strip around the top part of the hair ring with double-sided tape or use a stapler. Then attach pieces from the top of the head, down. It doesn’t matter if there are different lengths or widths of hair, as that adds to the effect!

To make a Wilbur costume

No Winnie costume is truly complete without her faithful cat Wilbur by her side. Create the perfect costume for siblings or friends, or even a playful parent!

wilbur headdress

You will need:

  • Black card
  • Green, pink, black and blue paper
  • Scissors
  • Double-sided tape
  • Pencil
  • Glue stick
  • Stapler
  • Ruler
  • White pencil
  • Wilbur head template from the Winnie the Witch website

Instructions:

  • Cut out a strip of thin black card, long enough to wrap around the child’s head. Staple or tape together.
  • Cut out Wilbur’s head shape, then fringe the edges slightly for Wilbur’s fur.
  • Use the eyes, nose, teeth and ears from the template. Draw round the eyes on to green paper, nose on to pink paper and ears on to black and blue paper.
  • Glue the eyes, nose, ears and teeth to Wilbur’s head. Add some pupils to his eyes, white whiskers and mouth line with the white pencil.

wilbur headdress 2

  • Then attach his head to the headband. There you have it!
  • For the rest of Wilbur’s costume, wear a black jumper trousers or leggings and shoes. Another idea for Wilbur’s face would be to use face paints.

Abracadabra, everything you need to make this Halloween magic!

Download PDF instructions

We’d love to see pictures of your mini-Winnie and Wilburs – share your photos on Twitter @OUPChildrens

For lots of Winnie the Witch fun, visit www.winnie-the-witch.com

Why not start off your Halloween night with a brand new tale from Winnie the Witch?

In her latest picture book Winnie sets sail for a swashbuckling pirate adventure!

winnie's pirate adventure

For older readers, try Spooky Winnie, or Winnie’s Halloween Gift Pack, which contains two brilliant Winnie books and a pumpkin orange trick or treat bag.

spooky winniewinnie's halloween gift pack

Horsing around: editing our bbbrilliant new pony series

Life-long pony enthusiast and OUP Children’s Books Editorial Assistant Helen Bray joins us to talk about the experience of editing Che Golden’s brand new series for pony-mad children, The Meadow Vale Ponies.

If someone had told me when I was a child that a job existed which satisfied both a love of books and a love of horses, I would’ve thought they were thinking of a wild dream they’d had of a library filled with ponies hoof-deep in picture books . . . with themselves as Head Librarian – giving away carrots as bookmarks.

And although that actually sounds quite appealing (note the ‘mad’ in ‘pony mad’) there is a real job where you can celebrate a love of stories AND a love of all things equine—it’s MY job!

It was Che Golden’s new book Mulberry and the Summer Show that proved this to be true.

Meadow Vale Ponies logo

Che’s new series is called The Meadow Vale Ponies, and stars a girl called Sam and the beautiful, Black-Beauty-esque, mare, Mulberry. Unfortunately, Mulberry is also the grumpiest little pony at the Meadow Vale Stables. In that way, she reminds me of a pony I used to know. Tinkerbell was almost pure white and barely bigger than a Great Dane. Sounds adorable, right? WRONG. Let’s just say she bore more similarity to Hook than Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell!

 Tinkerbell – who, if you look closely, is eyeing up my fingers wondering if she can get away with the excuse that she thought they were carrots...

Tinkerbell – who, if you look closely, is eyeing up my fingers wondering if she can get away with the excuse that she thought they were carrots…

Sam is quite nervous about learning to ride—ponies are big, powerful animals after all. Sam’s nerves get the better of her in her first lesson, when she’s unceremoniously dumped at the feet of her stern riding instructor by an overexcited pony.

It’s easy for me to sympathize with poor Sam here, as the first hack I went on with my favourite pony, Cobweb, ended in me being dumped on a grass verge next to a bemused gardener after a hair-(and mane!)raising gallop.

Me and Cobweb before the excitement

Me and Cobweb before the excitement

As Sam is trying to console herself, she hears a strange little voice saying the most bizarre things . . . but it’s only her and the Shetland ponies in the barn—surely it’s not the little Shetland, Apricot, speaking to her?!

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Sam can talk to ponies because she listens to what they have to say. And any pony-mad rider will know that there’s a lot of truth in this—horses have as many opinions, likes, and dislikes as their riders. The horse I ride at the moment, Beau, is no exception: every time it rains she tells me she doesn’t like it by galloping around the field until I let her take shelter in her stable; every time I pick out her rear hoofs she tells me she doesn’t like it by farting on my head; and every time we jump she tells me she loves it by charging at the fences and clearing them as if they were the Puissance Wall at Olympia!

Mulberry tells Sam she doesn’t like her nervous riding by performing her famous Sliding Stop:

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Thankfully, Beau seems unaware of the tricks that Mulberry delights in playing on Sam, such as the classic hold-your-breath-while-the-girth-is-done-up-so-the-saddle-slips-when-your-rider-tries-to-mount. I did used to ride a horse called Dolly who did exactly that, though. And a pony called Laddie who had a Sliding Stop even more impressive than Mulberry’s. And there was Pepé, whose party trick was trotting backwards . . . quite amazing really, but a bit embarrassing when the rest of the lesson are going the other direction! Holly was perhaps the most terrifying of all—she could do 60 bucks a minute—although that might’ve just been in response to the sparkly hoof polish I insisted on putting on her . . .

Despite all of this, for some reason that is surely only madness or love, these mishaps never seem to put us pony-mad riders off. Perhaps it’s because when things go right, it’s the best feeling in the world? Or perhaps it’s because through getting to know each other—however turbulent it might be, you and your pony become the very best of friends? For Sam, it’s because when she rides Mulberry well, it feels like flying. Learning to ride Mulberry teaches Sam that she has to trust her pony, and trust herself.

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Illustrations (c) Thomas Docherty

Working on Mulberry and the Summer Show has been such a joy for me. The story is funny and heart-warming, and it’s just so easy to become completely immersed in the world of The Meadow Vale Stables. The realism Che does so well is perhaps unsurprising when you learn that she is as pony-mad as they come, and her lead characters are, in fact, based on her own daughter and the first pony she really loved, Brie. When Che asked her daughter why she insisted on riding Brie even though she kept throwing her off, her response was ‘because I love her!’. And you can’t argue with that now, can you!

Che’s daughter with Brie – the inspiration for Mulberry’s character

The first book in The Meadow Vale Ponies series, Mulberry and the Summer Show, is out in July, with further titles in 2014.

9780192734662_MEADOW_VALE_PONIES_MULBERRY_SUMMER_CVR_JUL13

Photograph (c) Lou Abercrombie

Photograph (c) Lou Abercrombie

Che Golden is a graduate of the Masters course in Creative Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University and her two great passions are writing and horses. Che’s first horse was Velvet, a huge, black Irish cob who not only taught Che how to ride, but taught her two little girls as well. Now, they own Charlie Brown, a rather neurotic New Forest pony, and Robbie, a very laid-back Highland pony.

Visit Che’s website

Helen Bray is Editorial Assistant at OUP Children’s Books

Helen and Beau

Meet the mother and daughter team behind Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom: Wendy Meddour and Mina May

Hi! And thank you for asking us to join you on this blog. So here we are: the mother/daughter team behind the Wendy Quill books – working EXTREMELY hard. Mina May is slaving away on her iPad whilst I am doing VERY IMPORTANT writerly work:

Wendy Meddour and Mina May

Wendy Meddour and Mina May working EXTREMELY hard

You see, because Mina May is only eleven, people are always asking us: ‘What was it like doing a book together? Was it really hard?’ I’m tempted to say: ‘Oh yes, of course. What with all the deadlines and having to produce pictures for a professional designer’:

Mina and Karen Stewart

Mina May with our very professional designer

And having to submit manuscripts to an editor who is ever-so strict . . .

Mina and Jasmine Richards

Illustrator and Wendy Quill editor hard at work. Again.

 But then I realise that I have to stop pretending.

Because the truth is, we’re having an absolute blast. Our designer and editor at OUP are AMAZING. And Mina May and I LOVE creating Wendy Quill together – she’s a little bit of both of us, I think. We’ve got the same sense of humour – so are giggling all over the place and having a bit of a ball.

This is how it works:

Mina May: ‘Were you really a crocodile’s bottom, Mum? You know, in actual real life?’

Me: ‘Erm. Well. Sort of, yes. It was for my school play: Peter Pan and Wendy. My head wasn’t big enough to fit under the front bit, so I had to go at the back.’

Mina May: ‘Oh no!’ *giggling* ‘But why weren’t you picked to be “Wendy”?’

Me: ‘I have absolutely no idea. I mean, I should have been Wendy. I am a real Wendy. I even look like a Wendy. And the girl they picked had straight black hair, which everyone knows is completely wrong for Wendy in Peter Pan and . . . ’

Mina May: ‘Aw, never mind Mum. I bet you were a great crocodile’s bottom.’ *Starts drawing on iPad* ‘How about this?’

Wendy Quill as crocodile

Artwork from Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom © Mina May

Me: ‘Oh my giddy Aunt! That’s unbelievable!!!! That is just what it was like!’

Or, to take another example . . .

Mina May: ‘So what do “The Girly Gang” actually look like Mum? Have you written that chapter yet?’

Me: ‘No. Not quite yet. But basically, they all have their ears pierced and wear pointy shoes. It’s part of their “Girly Gang” Rules. Oh. And they’re really scared of rats.’

Mina May: ‘So kind of like this?’

Wendy Quill girly girls

Artwork from Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom © Mina May

Me: *squeal* ‘Ahhhh! Exactly like that! You’ve done it again! Perfect.’

Then we send it to our designer, the brilliant Professor Karen Stewart – and she puts the images all cleverly on the page. And then my editor, the lovely Jasmine Richards (with the gymnastic abilities, editorial brilliance and completely ‘natural arch’), reads my Wendy Quill chapters and tells me if I’m ‘cooking on gas.’

If I am ‘cooking on gas’ (and being Wendy Quillish to the core), we all get very excited and eat lots of cake! And then we get even more excited when we see the final product, tadaaaa:

9780192794635_WENDY_QUILL_CROCODILES_BOTTOM_CVR_MAY13

And then we say, ‘Can we do another one? Please?’

So no. It’s not hard. It’s a DREAM. And we don’t really want it to stop.

Here’s a little ‘Behind the Scenes’ video so that you can see us in action. We hope you giggle over Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom just as much as we giggled over making it.

Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom is out now. Also available as an eBook – in full colour!

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