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.


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


Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2013: rights, camera, action!

Elaine picThe Bologna Children’s Book Fair is now in full swing.

From Monday to Thursday this week our rights team have scheduled meetings every 30 minutes from 9.00am till 5.30pm with children’s editors from around the world. It’s our chance to showcase the OUP titles that we are planning to publish over the next year or so with the aim of selling them the rights to publish our books in their own language. It’s so busy the rights team barely have time to schedule in a loo break!

The fair takes place often before the books are published in the UK so, here is the rights team in action presenting  proofs and ‘dummies’ – artwork that is run out on the colour printer and stuck into blank books of the right size and shape supplied by our production team from our printers.


Head of Rights Anne-Marie Hansen. In the background you can see displays for picture book The Great Moon Confusion from Richard Byrne, and Haunted, a chilling new book for teens from William Hussey.


Zuzana Miyahara Kratka, Rights Manager. In the background is the hilarious Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom, by Wendy Meddour and Mina May.

While that’s happening, our editors are meeting with the rights teams of publishers from abroad who are presenting their titles to us. There are also meetings with other people interested in children’s books from film scouts and online sites to UK retailers and media.

Here’s Head of Publishing Liz Cross in a meeting on the OUP stand.


Our lovely designers have also been meeting with scores of potential new illustrators from around the world.

This year we are delighted to host a special dinner for publishers who have already bought or are considering Oliver and the Seawigs, a new illustrated novel by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre.  Here they are drawing sea monkeys from the book all over the OUP stand and causing a stir as they stroll through the aisles at the Fair. Sarah is resplendent in her ‘Seawig’ and, Philip, as elegant as ever, sports a Seawig sailor’s cap.

philip and sarah

seawigs graffitianne-marie drawing

This is one of the most important weeks of the year for children’s publishers. Selling foreign rights is hugely important to the industry and is often crucial to the success of a book – particularly colour publishing.

Elaine pic

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

Retelling traditional tales using phonics

­Traditional Tales tagWe all know the power of traditional stories such as The Tortoise and the Hare and The Gingerbread Man to capture the imaginations of children.

This month sees the publication of the first books in our new series of Traditional Tales home learning books, which contain well-loved traditional stories carefully retold using phonics and familiar language, so that children can read them for themselves.

Author Gill Munton joins us to share her experience of retelling these timeless tales.

Gill MuntonOUP: Would you like to write some stories for children who are learning to read?

Me: I’d love to!

OUP: They will need to fit the tight phonic rules that schools follow.

Me: Er – that’s fine. No problem.

OUP: And they will be retellings of traditional tales.

Me: Er…

OUP: Oh, yes, and we’d like you to write for the youngest readers.

Me: Gulp! Not so easy!

Well, it wasn’t easy, but it was certainly do-able, and great fun, too!

Whenever I write stories for children learning to read – and I’ve written a lot – I always make sure that I am supporting the way in which children are taught to read at school, and currently that is by using phonics.

The challenge is to combine the requirements of phonics with fluent, interesting writing. And humour is, of course, always good.

Artwork © Laura Hughes

Artwork © Laura Hughes

Writing for very young readers

OUP asked me to make sure that each story doesn’t contain words that have not yet been taught to children. (The order – or sequence – in which phonics is taught is already reflected in Oxford Reading Tree. For more information – and where I often look – you could take a peek at the Government document called ‘Letters and Sounds’.)

So what problems did I come across, and how did I solve them? Here are a few examples.

  •  We need the story ‘Goldilocks’ but we can only use three-letter words such as ‘sat’, plus a handful of tricky words (words which are not phonically regular but are very common, so that children need to learn them quickly),  such as ‘I’.

Solution: Use the first person: ‘I am in the wood’ instead of ‘Goldilocks is in the wood.’

Artwork © Ilaria Falorsi

Artwork © Ilaria Falorsi


  • We need ‘Daddy Bear’, ‘Mummy Bear’ and ‘Baby Bear’ but I can’t use those words because the children can’t read them yet.

Solution: Let the artwork show us that the characters are three bears, and label their mugs ‘Dad’, ‘Mum’ and ‘Ted’.

Artwork © Ilaria Falorsi

Artwork © Ilaria Falorsi

  • We need ‘Town Mouse’ and ‘Country Mouse’.

Solution: Let the illustration show us that the characters are mice, and give them the simple names ‘Tim’ and ‘Tom’. Ask the artist to make sure the mice show their different characteristics visually – a top hat for the town mouse and a spotted neckerchief for the country mouse!

Artwork © Emma Dodson

Artwork © Emma Dodson

  • We need ‘said Chicken Licken ’.

Solution: Put Chicken Licken’s words in a speech bubble, and so avoid the common but tricky word ‘said’.

  Artwork © Christine Pym

Artwork © Christine Pym


Retelling traditional tales

Folk and fairy tales come from all around the world, and offer a rich and varied resource for adaptation. But there are a few things that we writers need to bear in mind when doing retellings, e.g.

  • The characters and setting are already in place, and must be respected.
Artwork © Sue Mason

Artwork © Sue Mason

  • The storyline is fixed, and we need to plot the story out page by page to make sure we get it all in! Having said that, though, if there is just too much content, details and sometimes episodes can be judiciously cut.
Artwork © Paula Metcalf

Artwork © Paula Metcalf

  • We should capitalise on repeated refrains, which are often a feature of traditional tales and help children to read the words through repetition:

‘This bed is no good … This bed is no good … This is the right bed for me!’

Artwork © Ilaria Falorsi

Artwork © Ilaria Falorsi

So, all in all, a very interesting and enjoyable project and one which I hope will get children learning to read – and love – these timeless stories for themselves.

Gill Munton

With an extensive background in primary publishing for literacy, Gill Munton has written numerous reading scheme titles for major UK publishers – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays. For OUP she has written various phonically structured reading books including titles for Project X, Bertie the Lazy Crow for Oxford Literacy Web (as well as being phonically decodable, this is written in humorous rhyming couplets), and all the storybooks and non-fiction titles for Ruth Miskin’s Read, Write, Inc.

Gill lives in London with her husband and Sergei, the (very naughty) Russian Blue cat. She enjoys writing, cooking, going to art exhibitions, and, best of all, reading!

The first two books in the Traditional Tales home learning series are out now. Each book contains 4 phonically decodable traditional stories.

The Gingerbread Man jacket Tortoise and the Hare jacket

Further titles are due for release from September 2013 onwards.

For more information on phonics, visit the Oxford Owl website or read our recent phonics post.

Phonics explained

In 2012 the government introduced an annual phonics check for all children in England in year 1, which supports the synthetic phonics method of teaching reading in schools.

You may feel unsure about how to approach helping children learn to read using phonics. In this post we’ll be explaining briefly what phonics is, along with some information on the phonics screening check. We hope you find it helpful!

You’ll find lots more information on phonics at

So what is phonics?


Synthetic phonics is a method used in schools as a way of teaching children how to read.

Children are taught to read letters, or groups of letters, by saying the sound(s) they represent. Children can then start to read words by blending the sounds together from left to right to make a word.

There’s a really useful video on the Oxford Owl website, where phonics expert Ruth Miskin explains what phonics is, along with some top tips on getting started with phonics.

You can listen to the correct way to say the sounds in the Phonics Made Easy section of the Oxford Owl website, as well as how to blend the sounds into words.

The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check


The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is taken individually by all children in England in Year 1 (children age 5-6) in June. It is a short, light-touch assessment used by teachers to ensure that children are making sufficient progress in their phonics skills and are on track to become fluent readers who can enjoy reading for pleasure and for learning.

The handy Phonics Screening Check FAQ guide on the Oxford Owl website, from phonics advisor Laura Sharp, provides lots of information on the check. The most important thing to remember is that it is a check, not a test, and is designed to identify whether a child needs any additional support so that they don’t fall behind.

Phonics support at home

There is a wealth of free support and advice on phonics on the Phonics Made Easy section of the Oxford Owl website.

We also produce a range of useful resources for parents wishing to support their child’s phonics learning at home, based on how children learn at school.

my phonics kit in action

For some fun phonics practice at home, My Phonics Kit is specially developed for 6 year olds. It contains 3 full-colour phonics workbooks, a CD-ROM with interactive eBooks and activities, reward chart, stickers, and leaflet for parents with information about the phonics screening check and features the much-loved Read with Biff, Chip and Kipper characters.

We’ve had lots of great feedback on the kit from parents; here are just a few from Mama Syder, Read it Daddy, and Mad House Family Reviews

 my phonics kit

Complementing My Phonics Kit are My Phonics Flashcards. Young children learn best when they are having fun, and these playing cards help practise phonics skills by reading words and playing games.

my phonics flashcards

We also publish a unique Oxford Phonics Spelling Dictionary, where words are ordered by initial phonic sound, with subsections to show how the same sounds appear in the middle or at the end of a word. This makes it easy to explain how ‘sun’ and ‘Cinderella’ both start with the ‘s’ sound, and how ‘dance’ has the same ‘s’ sound at the end.

 my phonics dictionary


And don’t forget, you’ll find lots more information on phonics at

Come on in . . .

. . . to our brand new Children’s Books blog, where OUP authors, illustrators, and publishing team will be bringing you news and views from the world of children’s books.

If you have an interest in children’s books and who creates them, this is the place for you.

A sneaky peek of what’s in store for January

We’re celebrating the launch of the new blog with a post a day for the first week:

  • Ever thought what your ultimate superpower would be? Ali Sparkes will be sharing her superpower wish list.


  • Picture book author Ann Bonwill will be exploring how she approaches writing picture books which teach preschool social skills in a really fun way.


  • The hilarious Joanna Nadin will be joining us to talk about that hallowed object, the teenage diary, and even sharing excerpts from her own!


  • Mortal Chaos author Matt Dickinson will be telling us all about his fascination with Chaos Theory, with some amazing real life examples of how small events really can have big and unpredictable consequences.


  • We’ll be helping you get to grips with phonics, and sharing some ideas on how to support children learning to read with phonics.


  • The wonderful Gill Lewis will be talking all about the coastal reefs and local sea life so central to her fantastic novel White Dolphin.

Gill Lewis

Over to you

We’d love to know what you think of the new blog, so please do leave comments, or email us at if you’d prefer.

So, make yourself at home, and we hope you enjoy reading!

The OUP Children’s Books Voices team

%d bloggers like this: