‘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.

 

toad 2

 

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

willows cover image

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.

toad 3

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.

OCC_WIND_WILLOWS_P#40F9C372

 

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
9780192738721_WINNIES_BIG_BAD_ROBOT_CVR_SEP14
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!

 

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.


9780192739308_HERE_BE_MONSTERS_CVR_OCT14
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.

 

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.

page 8

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.

page 110

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.

cover

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

 

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

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.

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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

Wilbur’s nine lives

With his lovely new board books about to hit the shops, Winnie the Witch’s lovable cat Wilbur joins us to reflect on his best moments so far in his adventures with Winnie…

Wilbur

They say that cats have nine lives. Well it’s certainly true in my case! I can think of nine nail-biting (or should that be claw-biting?) moments in my life but here I am to tell the tail (sorry, tale)! It must have something to do with being a witch’s cat.

1. I remember the time when I was dozing on Winnie’s Flying Carpet, and the wretched thing whisked me out of the house and took me on a white-knuckle ride, ending up at a fun fair. Though it wasn’t much fun for me! Luckily Winnie came to the rescue. Now I’m always careful about where I cat nap!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

2. Then there was the rather embarrassing moment when I was impaled by a broomstick after a day with Winnie at the Seaside turned into a whale of a time (literally!). Ouch!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

3. And I’ll never forget the incident with Winnie’s New Computer. The shiny new mouse was so tempting but when I pounced on it – ooof! – I disappeared into thin air! If you want my advice, be very careful when it comes to new technology.

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Artwork © Korky Paul

4. Cheers of ‘Winnie Flies Again’ greeted us when Winnie took to the skies sporting a new pair of glasses. Now she could steer her broomstick without bumping into things. Before she got her eyes tested, things were rather different, and rather painful for me.

From_winnie_flies__again

Artwork © Korky Paul

5. Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin was certainly awesome, especially when it turned into a helicopter. What was less amazing was the enormous caterpillar that scared the wits out of me on a giant beanstalk. I think oversized vegetables are overrated!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

6. I’ve always known that Winnie the Witch loves me, so being turned into a multi-coloured moggy and stranded at the top of a tall tree wasn’t my finest hour. But, you’ll be pleased to know, that particular story had a happy ending!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

7. Oh yes, on one occasion, an unexpected scaly visitor – Winnie’s Midnight Dragon – chased me onto the roof while his mother set my tail alight. Charming!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

8. There’s a day that I’ll always remember as Winnie’s Dinosaur Day. It started normally enough at the museum but before I knew it I was face to face with a prehistoric beast!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

9. And finally, there was the time when I reluctantly joined Winnie in Space – we had broken rockets and naughty space rabbits to contend with . . .

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Artwork © Korky Paul

So you see, being a witch’s cat is never dull. But I love being Winnie’s pet and I wouldn’t swap my owner for the world!

Wilbur’s first concept board books are out in June, and are full of humour and wit!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

Pages from 273508_WILBUR_WORDS_INS_JUN13

Artwork © Korky Paul

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For more fun with Winnie the Witch and Wilbur, visit the Winnie the Witch website.

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