What A Wonderful Song

Tim Hopgood, author and illustrator shares his love of Louis Armstrong’s world-famous song What a Wonderful World and takes us behind the scenes of making it into a picture book and getting it published.

One Father’s Day about five, six years ago my daughter gave me an old vinyl copy of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What A Wonderful World. Before we go any further, I feel I should point out that the song was not actually written by Armstrong, but such is the magic of his recording that people seem to assume the song is his! The words were actually written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.

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I first heard the song when I was about six years old; it was played at school during assembly. It made a huge impression on me as a child, such a seemingly simple song, yet so powerful in that it goes straight to the heart with its message of hope and love. Listening to the recording once again, complete with vinyl crackles, I realized the song hadn’t lost any of its charm and it hadn’t dated, that’s the beauty of something so honest and simple. And there’s something about Armstrong’s gravelly voice that stops it being too sentimental, maybe that’s the reason his recording is the one everyone remembers.

So what’s the first song you’d want your new baby to hear? For me it has to be this song. It was for Chris Evans too. I remember he opened his afternoon show on Radio 2 with the song after his first son Noah was born. Wouldn’t it be amazing to capture the joy of that song, probably the most life-affirming song of all time and put it in a book?

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Think about it, the lyrics are so visual ‘I see trees of green, Red roses too’ it could work. And as a gift, what better gift book could there be than to give someone what is essentially a love letter to the world? A simple message of hope.

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When I first showed the roughs for the idea the initial reaction was that it was going to be too complicated to get permission to use the lyrics. I think I’m right in saying that there are three music companies which own the rights to the song, and they would all have to agree on the concept and the publishing terms. My editor at the time loved the idea, but from a publishing business point of view it wasn’t looking quite so wonderful. As a relative newcomer to the picture book market, having at the time only published two books, the chances of making the figures work looked unlikely. “One to put on the back burner” was the advice from my agent.

 

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So that’s exactly what I did.  And then a few years later, I got a call from the commissioning editor at OUP, Peter Marley. Pete explained he was looking for gift book ideas and wondered if I’d be interested in working with him. I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference was between a picture book and a gift book, so he explained how gift books tended to have higher print production values than an ordinary picture book and that often they were based on classic titles that are given a new lease of life by a contemporary illustrator.

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I think it was the word CLASSIC that jumped out at me. Something made me think immediately about my ‘Wonderful World’ idea and so I mentioned to Pete that I did have something he might be interested in, not based on a classic title, but a classic song instead.

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When I look at the original roughs now it’s surprising how little has actually changed, surprising in a good way. Others may look at the roughs and see just a few scribbly lines, but to me the content and composition is all there, the journey and the pace of it all is pretty close to the finished book. My roughs are VERY rough, but the essence of what’s happening on the page is there.

I’m not someone who likes to produce very detailed roughs and then colour them in as it were.  For me the process is all much more spontaneous than that with each finished spread influencing the next. And so much of my work is about colour that often it’s hard for people to imagine the power and impact a spread will have until colour is applied.

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So for example, my rough drawing for the horses spread, which is probably my favourite spread, doesn’t look that impressive, but in my head I knew it would work. The power of colour never ceases to amaze and excite me. So like the song itself, the composition is kept simple and direct.

p22_unpublishedI guess the main change to come out of the editorial process was the relationship between the boy and the bird. It’s much stronger in the final version, much more deliberate whereas in the original rough it is more incidental.

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I hope the book will introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of this song and that it will encourage parents and teachers to share its joy by singing to their little and not-so little ones. The project was a labour of love. A project that came about because all those involved at OUP wanted to make it happen as much as I did. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without them. I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason. Had the book happened earlier in my publishing career it wouldn’t be the book it is­­; by that I mean, it wouldn’t be quite so charming, quite so powerful, quite so wonderful. Thank you to everyone involved.­­­­ ­­­­­

 What a Wonderful World is out now.

What a Wonderful World

Tim

Tim worked for twenty years as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator before he began his career writing and drawing for children. He has a deep love of music, often he wears large headphones and blasts Miles Davis or Stevie Wonder while he paints and draws. He works mostly with Derwent sketching pencils, using digital layering methods to create his artworks. He now lives in North Yorkshire with his wife, two children and his cats.

Countdown to publishing day!

Space travel! Toilet roll tubes! Moon-walking! Author/illustrator Richard Byrne counts down the journey to publication of his latest new picture book The Great Moon Confusion.

Way back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, during the time of the great space race, just about every child I knew wanted to be an astronaut – and I was no exception. I spent many happy hours building Saturn V rockets out of toilet roll tubes, practising my moon-walking in the local park’s sandpit and performing Houston-we-are-go-for-launch style countdowns before I did just about anything.

Unlike my childhood heroes Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, I never did become an astronaut, but still look up at the moon and stars with the same childlike wonder. So it’s not very surprising that I eventually created a picture book about the moon, rockets and suspicious-looking bears. Okay, the bear thing must have come from somewhere else.

So, how did The Great Moon Confusion get off the ground? Here’s my chance to sneak in another countdown…

10…

Did a doodle in my sketchbook…

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9…

…combined it with another doodle in my sketchbook…

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8…

… to spark off an idea for a new picture book – Who is stealing the Moon? Could it be those bandit bears? Or is it just a misunderstanding?

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7…

Refined the idea into a set of miniature storyboard-like sketches called thumbnails.

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oup_moon_blog_36…

Produced some studies to establish a style for each of the characters in the story.

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5…

Drew a full-size set of black and white roughs for every page of the book.

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Created the finished illustrations with a combination of hand-drawn and computer techniques.

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3…

Sent the illustrations to Oxford University Press for final production of the book.

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2…

Had a well-deserved cup of tea… and an idea for the next book.

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1…

LIFTOFF!

The Great Moon Confusion is published!

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The Great Moon Confusion is out now.

Great Moon Confusion PB

R_Byrne_portrait_1

Born in a hospital. Brought up in Brighton. Learned to colour-in in Eastbourne. Worked in graphic design. Worked in Brighton, London, Manchester and Yorkshire Hills. Worked for myself.

Met Philippa somewhere along the way. Had two children. Had the mid-life crisis. Bought my first guitar. Got the urge to create a children’s book. Got an agent. Got a book deal. Got another book deal.

Richard now lives in Chichester so that he can be closer to family, old friends, the coast, and the equator.

Spawning a Little Frog

Tatyana Feeney is author and illustrator of a brilliant series of books that tackle everyday toddler troubles. From losing a favourite blanket (Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket) to likes and dislikes (Little Owl’s Orange Scarf), her simple story and minimalist artwork speaks volumes. Where did the idea for her new book Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble which deals with a new baby in the family come from?

9780192735546_LITTLE_FROGS_TADPOLE_TROUBLE_CVR_APR14I have quite a young family still – my oldest is seven, so inspiration for stories about young children is fairly abundant in my daily  life!

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble, which is my latest book, developed from having my own children and seeing the effect of a new sibling on the first child. I am sure there are some children who are delighted with new children arriving in the family, but many feel threatened or upset by the change in the family dynamic. My intention, by having nine new brothers and sisters was just an exaggeration of how the change feels to the first child. Of course, most families don’t go from one to ten overnight – but it could feel that way when a new baby arrives…

A regret I have is that I didn’t make Mommy and Daddy look a bit more stressed once the tadpoles arrived – they are quite relaxed for parents of 10!

Some things Little Frog likes to do

Some things Little Frog likes to do

When I start working on a new story, drawing the characters (a lot!), is the best way for me to get to know them. I think  about what they might do, or  wear, what they like, what they DO NOT like. I need to know lots of things about their personality to help get the story started. I have a few samples of drawings I did when I was working on Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble. Some of the pictures are just Little Frog doing things he likes, including listening to music and trying gymnastics. Not all of these ultimately went into the book, but they still give me an idea of who he is.

Little Frog was very upset about the new tadpoles and he ran away...

Little Frog was very upset about the new tadpoles and he ran away…

I have included a few other sketches. One is Little Frog running away from home…

 

...luckily he didn't get too far...

…luckily he didn’t get too far…

(well, to under the kitchen table) when he heard about the new siblings.

Some things Little Frog likes to do with the tadpoles - teaching them to skip

Some things Little Frog likes to do with the tadpoles – teaching them to skip

There are also some ideas of things he could do with the tadpoles once they got a bit bigger.

Playing leapfrog!

Playing leapfrog!

It is always  nice to play around with the characters like this, even when not all of the ideas make it into the finished book – it seems to give them more personality somehow.

 

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble is out now.

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feeney0062kpo2011_bwTatyana Feeney grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She studied History of Art at the University of North Carolina and Design at the Art Institute of Atlanta before getting a BA in Illustration for Children’s Publishing from NEWI in Wales.

She has illustrated several books with Irish publishers, including 3 in the Irish language. She has also done illustrations for websites and cards.

She lives in Trim, County Meath with her husband, two children and small dog.

 

 

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.

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

 

Too Small For My Big Bed – behind the scenes with Layn Marlow

Layn Marlow

I love the comparison that’s often made between picture books and theatre.  I’ve always felt shy about being on stage, but in illustrating picture books, I discovered I could be director, stage designer and a whole cast of actors, all from behind the scenes.  For my latest book, this analogy even helped me discover a new way of working.

A change of scenery

I’d already collaborated on six picture books with Amber Stewart as author.

Books by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow

Books by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow

                  

Each one saw a cast of small woodland animals, sensitively tackling subjects significant to young children: a duckling starting school, a rabbit losing her security blanket, a little mole learning to try new foods.

In each case, I approached the illustrations in the same way; using a dip pen, then fine brushes, to apply thin layers of acrylic paint onto smooth board.

Layn Marlow artwork

© Layn Marlow

I gave the rural scenes some botanical detail, which I hoped would draw the reader into the animal’s world.  It was all very green and pastoral – like the best bits of my early childhood.  But our seventh book left that familiar landscape behind…

New actors

Too Small For My Big Bed portrays a mother tiger’s tender relationship with her growing cub, Piper, as he struggles to overcome his nightly fear of being alone.

Too Small For My Big Bed UK hardback

Suddenly, I had an even smaller cast to work with, (two!), although of course, the actors were much bigger.

When developing any animal character, I usually start by sketching real animals. Then I try to modify and infuse their bodies with the more human expressions of the character in the story. (This often involves some acting in front of the mirror!)

© Layn Marlow

© Layn Marlow

Tigers are not easy to observe in real life, even in captivity, so I’m greatly indebted to the marvellous John Downer film, Tiger – Spy in the Jungle.

Tiger: Spy in the Jungle DVD cover

Tiger Spy in the Jungle. Director, John Downer. Narrator, David Attenborough. BBC, 2008. DVD

The narrator, David Attenborough, has described it as “the most intimate portrait of tigers ever seen”, which made it the perfect way for me to research mother and cub behaviour.

Setting the stage

The film also enabled me to see what the ‘jungle’ looks like. It was made in India’s Pench National Park, home to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.  Having never travelled to India myself, I was surprised to see only limited greenery. In fact much of the Pench landscape looked just as Amber Stewart’s text describes – Golden Grasslands and Red Rock Ridges – colours more evocative of a tiger’s fiery coat.  I realized these warm hues would contrast well with the deep ultramarine blue of a night sky, and so my new palette was chosen.

 Too Small For My Big Bed palette

In the spotlight

In Too Small for my Big Bed, the close relationship between mother and cub takes centre stage.  This is what gives Piper the feeling of security he ultimately needs to find independence. I tried to echo this intimacy in the gestures of the tigers, but I also wanted to strengthen their presence in the compositions.  So, rather like applying stage make-up, I intensified the outlines of my pencil drawings by printing them with black ink onto watercolour paper.

© Layn Marlow

© Layn Marlow

Previously I’d dismissed watercolour as a pale and unforgiving medium. Now I found deep, rich inks to use, and learned to be slightly less respectful of the high quality paper.  I worked over the ink areas with coloured pencil, acrylic paint and even collage.

With the spotlight on the tigers, I really began to treat the landscape more like a stage set. I enjoyed creating rubbings of various textures and seeking out other collage materials from which to build the ‘scenery’.

Too Small For My Big Bed collage materials copy

Even though I’d long been aware of the theatrical analogy, somehow this time it felt to me like a real liberation.

A star performance

My favourite phrase in Amber Stewart’s text comes when we first see Piper fall asleep in his mum’s bed, ‘spread out like a small star’.

© Layn Marlow

© Layn Marlow

I’ve already found that children love to identify with Piper as a character. They feel rightly proud of how they’ve grown and of all they’ve learned to do.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing Amber Stewart’s little tiger to life, and in doing so; I think I may have grown a bit myself!

Children wearing tiger masks

Layn Marlow

Photo © Tom Greenwood

Born in Essex, Layn Marlow studied Art History at Reading University. She then worked in libraries, and lived in Belgium for some years with her young family, before returning to university to gain a first class degree in Illustration. She has been writing and illustrating picture books ever since.  Her books have won a number of awards, sold over a million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 20 languages. Layn is particularly inspired by the natural world, and now lives in Hampshire, where daily walks with her dog, Rufus, are essential.

Visit Layn’s website and Facebook page.

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Too Small for my Big Bed is out now in hardback. The paperback edition is out in August.

Books to tickle your funny bone for April Fools’ Day

Happy April Fools’ Day everyone! Today is all about silly jokes, hilarious pranks, japes, larks, and general tomfoolery, and so in the spirit of all things jocular, I thought I’d share some ideas for suitably rib-tickling reading.

Charlotte Armstrong, Marketing Executive

Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom

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This book is guaranteed to give you the giggles, no matter what your age (this is an absolutely true scientific fact because we’ve tried not laughing and it’s impossible).

Wendy Quill could be forgiven for assuming that she would get the lead part in her school production of Peter Pan and Wendy – after all, it literally has her name on it. Much to Wendy Quill’s bewilderment, this doesn’t quite work out, but that doesn’t stop her from making a stunning debut as the crocodile’s bottom!

The book is written by the hilarious Wendy Meddour (who really did miss out on the lead role of Wendy in her school play) and is illustrated by her incredibly talented daughter Mina May (aged 11).

crocodiles bottom

Artwork (c) Mina May

You can find out more about the story and see the illustrations in the spectacular Wendy Quill trailer:

 

I am not a Copycat

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Hugo the hippo loves to do water ballet – it makes him unique – but Bella the bird won’t stop copying him. The friends nearly end up falling out – that is until they realise that they are in fact doing the most incredible synchronised swimming together. This quirky storyline is told completely through dialogue, so it’s really fun to read aloud together and do silly voices.

To top it all off, you get to enjoy seeing a hippo dressed in swimming hat, chequered shorts, goggles, flippers, and armbands!

Waiting for Gonzo

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Moustaches can be funny. Drawing moustaches on photos – also funny. That is unless the photo you choose turns out to be of the resident psycho at your new school. This is exactly what loveable rogue Oz does when he moves to a new town, and it sets in motion a chain of events which will see him make both friends and enemies along the way. With both serious moments and touches of pure comedy, this book has it all. There’s even a soundtrack!

 

John Foster joke books

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I couldn’t do a blog post about funny books without mentioning this set of four joke books from the master of witty verse, John Foster. These are jam-packed with jokes, riddles, and rhymes – here are just a few gems:

What do you call a one-eyed dinosaur?

A do-you-think-he-saurus.

What did the stag say to his girlfriend?

I love you deerly.

And my personal favourite:

What do you call a lazy skeleton?

Bone idle.

Charlotte pic.png Charlotte Armstrong, Marketing Executive

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.

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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

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.

liz

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

Picture This: Karen George on becoming a published illustrator

karen_george_2013Karen George shares her journey to becoming a published illustrator, with a little help from Waterstones and Julia Donaldson…

In 2009, I won the Waterstones/Macmillan ‘Picture This’ competition, beating 900 hopeful unpublished illustrators to the top prize of illustrating Freddie and the Fairy for Julia Donaldson.

freddie and fairy 3The timing of the competition was perfect for me, my youngest son was about to start nursery and I was at the point of making decisions about work. After leaving the Royal College of Art, where I studied fine art, I eventually settled as a film set painter and muralist. It was during my time as a standby painter on films, which involved a lot of waiting around (of course ready to pounce like coiled spring when called for!) that I started drawing and jotting down ideas for stories to pass the time. I then entered into a long and continuing period of research into children’s picture books following the birth of my first son, who demanded three stories a night, every night. I spent these years scribbling, writing, cutting out and sticking; creating characters of my own that I hoped would catch a publisher’s eye. Some were extremely interested but not quite ready to take the final plunge, there had been many words of encouragement  but alas no contracts.

Billed as a ‘life changing’ prize, ‘Picture This’ came at a pivotal point, but it was a competition that I nearly didn’t enter…

The early hurdles

The first hurdle was that I first heard of the competition horribly close to the deadline. I wasn’t sure that it could be done in time, but dither over, I set to work.

Illustrating for Julia Donaldson and the other notable judges proved disastrously daunting, the weight of their pedigree made me produce some of the worst work I’ve ever done!

A day of despair followed, at my inability to manoeuvre a pencil, and a lost opportunity to enter the world I had so long wanted to be a part of… but I had invested too much over the years to completely waste such an opportunity, so I decided to use the Julia Donaldson text and an impending deadline to at least update my portfolio. I pushed all thoughts of Julia and the judges aside (sorry!) and set to work again. With VERY little time left I sketched, painted, cut and glued my way through several near sleepless nights. Exhausted, with only hours to spare, I finally delivered my finished artwork to Waterstones Kew Headquarters; excited by the three new character sketches, three animal sketches and  colour spread that would refresh my portfolio.

 freddie and fairy 1

The home straight

A week later, I was plunged into the deepest deep end. Amazingly I had been shortlisted down to the final six!

There then followed six weeks of intense drawing; night after night well into the small hours, the twelve required spreads drawn and re-drawn.

It was an extremely steep, but exhilarating, learning curve.

freddie and fairy 2

And the winner is…

Standing alongside the other finalists on ‘judgment day’, the tension was unbearable; as we waited to hear which one of us had been successful.

On arrival we had been told that the jury was still out. A final decision had not been reached and there would be a slight delay before the announcement. We all chatted nervously.

Finally the moment arrived. Giving nothing away, Julia talked about each finalist and what she had liked about their work. It was lovely to hear and know that a great deal of thought had gone into the decision… but it was also excruciating!

At length came the words ‘and the winner is…’

Julia Donaldson’s books have always been a staple at bedtime for my sons. I had empathised with the Old Woman in A Squash and a Squeeze and had, at times, donated my clothes for the needs of my small children, feeling a little like The Smartest Giant in Town, but I had never dreamt that my name would appear alongside Julia Donaldson on the cover of a book. Indeed, it now appears alongside hers on two books!

The desire to scale down the size of my paint brush from a film set painter to become a published children’s illustrator has taken me on a long and sometimes frustrating journey. Winning ‘Picture This’ catapulted me, like a moment of fairytale magic, to illustrating for the Children’s Laureate and on… to become an author too, with my third book, Hugh Shampoo… all about a boy who will NOT wash his hair!

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Find out more about Karen and her work at  www.karengeorge.net

Hugh Shampoo is out on 4th April.

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Why today is a dinosaur day: dinosaurs, Oxford, and Winnie the Witch

In the latest Winnie the Witch picture book adventure, Winnie visits the museum and is transported back to the time of the dinosaurs. Oxford is home to Winnie the Witch, but did you know it is also home to one of the leading fossilists of the 19th century, William Buckland, whose birthday it is today?

Helen Mortimer, Senior Picture Books Commissioning Editor and editor of our Winnie the Witch books, explains Oxford’s connection to dinosaurs…

Helen MortimerIf you were to open a copy of Winnie’s Dinosaur Day, at the start of the story you would find Winnie and Wilbur queuing excitedly outside a grand museum.

Artwork © Korky Paul

Artwork © Korky Paul

Visually, it has all the hallmarks of Winnie-esque architecture: turrets and gables, mullioned windows, tile upon tile, and of course that classic grey-black brickwork that graces Winnie’s own home. But it is also based on a very real building. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, just a ten minute walk from our offices.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford’s Natural History Museum and the Megalosaurus

For the time being the museum is closed while major renovation work is carried out to the roof, but outside the huge reconstructed footprints marching across the lawn give a clue to the impressive dinosaur displays that can normally be found inside.  These footprints were unearthed on the floor of an Oxfordshire quarry in 1997 and were left, around 168 million years ago, by a Megalosaurus.

Dinosaur footprints

Dinosaur footprints

William Buckland

And this dinosaur, the Megalosaurus or ‘great lizard’, was first described by William Buckland who was born on the 12th of March in 1784.  Buckland was professor of geology at Oxford and in 1824 he gave a lecture that presented the very first scientific account of a Megalosaurus dinosaur, some 18 years before Richard Owen coined the word for this group of animals.  The area that is now Oxfordshire was swampland fringing shallow-water lagoons and seas in prehistoric times and Buckland had dug up hundreds of fossils from around the county. According to one visitor his college rooms were crammed with ‘rocks, shells, and bones in dire confusion’.

Stonesfield bones

But the particular bones that led to Buckland’s ground-breaking description of the Megalosaurus came from a small village about 15 miles northwest of Oxford (and just a foggy Sunday morning bike ride away from where I live).

Stonesfield, Oxfordshire

Stonesfield, Oxfordshire

Stonesfield slate was quarried here from the 17th century onwards and the slates were used to roof college buildings and churches in the city. The mined slate was kept damp until it could be split apart by being exposed to frost and the slate makers, finding fossils as they worked the blocks of rock, would put them aside for sale to visiting collectors.

Information about Stonesfield's fossils and slate

Information about Stonesfield fossils and slate

The fossils that were acquired by Buckland from the Stonesfield quarrymen included part of the lower jaw with some teeth in place, fragments of backbone, and sections of the pelvic and thigh bones. Not much, but enough for him to make his startling discovery.

Buckland’s legacy

So, remembering him on his birthday, we have William Buckland to thank as one of the pioneering fossilists of the 19th century whose findings led to the discovery of the age of the dinosaurs – laying the foundations for the on-going study of these incredible animals, endlessly fascinating for children (and witches) everywhere!

Artwork © Korky Paul

Artwork © Korky Paul

Unofficial curator

During his time in Oxford, Buckland also took on the role of unofficial curator of the geological collection of the Ashmolean museum – at the time housed in a building in Broad Street. He added many, many specimens to the collection and it was moved to the present site when the ‘new’ Natural History building was completed in the 1860s.

Roof repairs

So we also have him to thank for providing many of the exhibits in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Buckland was by all accounts a larger than life figure with a great sense of humour. He would probably have liked the idea of needing to repair the roof on the building housing his great fossil discoveries, the most important of which he came across thanks to quarrymen extracting slate for . . . repairing roofs!

Note:  The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is due to reopen in early 2014. During 2013 you can still access the building to visit the Pitt Rivers museum. Visit the museum’s ‘Darkened not Dormant’ blog to stay up to date with all of the special activities taking place at the museum during the closure year.

Helen Mortimer

Helen Mortimer is Senior Picture Books Commissioning Editor at OUP Children’s Books.

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Winnie’s Dinosaur Day, by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, is out now!

Find out more about Winnie the Witch at www.winnie-the-witch.com

Christopher Nibble: the greenest guinea pig in town

Author and illustrator Charlotte Middleton introduces the wonderful Christopher Nibble’s latest eco-adventure!

Coming up with an idea for the next Christopher Nibble story was a bit of a challenge.

We’ve already established that Christopher is a plucky, forward thinking and considerate guinea pig.  In his adventures so far he’s prevented the whole town of Dandeville from running out of their staple food – dandelions (Christopher Nibble).

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And in Christopher’s Caterpillars, he has learnt to nurture caterpillars, so that they can flourish and turn into magical butterflies, as they flutter right before our eyes out from Mr Rosetti’s café window.

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So what for the next tale of Christopher Nibble? So far Christopher’s world has been about the natural cycle of life. His home town Dandeville is a very green and harmonious world and Christopher likes to help keep it that way.

In the next story, then, Christopher would surely be encouraging the residents of Dandeville to help him in his next environmentally-friendly quest, whatever that might be…

It all boiled down in the end to the word ‘cycle’.  Christopher’s world is all about sustainability so ‘ recycling’  seemed to be the way forward  and what better way to propel this guinea pig into the next story book, than with a recycled bicycle!

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Now Christopher was well and truly on the road to his new adventure! In this story we revisit Mr Rosetti in his cafe and we meet some new characters along the way, as Christopher spots recycling opportunities all over town.  With the help of his sister and Posie his neighbour, they come up with some brilliant ideas and set to work turning old rubbish into something useful and wonderful!

The young guinea pigs have worked their magic again and ignited the interest of all the residents of Dandeville and hopefully some aspiring young readers too!

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Charlotte Middleton

At school, Charlotte loved drawing and would regularly illustrate her spelling and times tables test papers. She went on to study Graphic Art and Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. Her first book, Tabitha’s Terrifically Tough Tooth, was published in 1998 and since then she has written and illustrated more than a dozen books. Her stories have been sold all over the world and Charlotte would love to be as well-travelled as her books one day.

www.charlottemiddleton.com

Christopher’s Bicycle is out now.

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Join Christopher in his other eco-adventures, Christopher Nibble and Christopher’s Caterpillars.

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