WHAT AN INTERESTING CONVERSATION …

What an exciting week in the world of commentary about literature for young readers.  First an article in TES  (attached below for anyone who hasn’t read it) and then The Today Programme on Radio 4 follows it up with the author of the TES article having another opportunity to express his thoughts on the world of writing for Young Adults.  (Again link below )

What can I say!  It amazes me constantly that ‘other people’ are sitting around deciding in their great and elevated wisdom and critical ability what is ‘good’ and ‘right’ for Young Adults to read.  That these wise, educated and cultured people have a notion of what is good means that they also have very clear ideas of what is ‘bad’ and bad seems to be anything that the young person might choose for themselves.  Something that engages with the world on issues and concerns that they hold dear and want to address not only in the books that they read but in their lives both personal and political (or is there a difference!)  So much about reading is about entering another world, the world of another person or political situation which allows you to polish and refine your ideas and opinions.  For all of us (young or old) reading is also a way to vicariously experience, an opportunity to polish our opinions through the action of the protagonists without actually having to engage in the acts of rebellion, heroism, self-sacrifice and more.  Through the vicarious sharing in the dramatic actions of Standish Treadwell I might just make a better and more noble choice when facing smaller but no less significant acts of repression in my own life.

So, when someone writes a long article about the risible standard of literature for young adults and seems to have very limited knowledge of what is being read by young adults today I am very keen to know what they think is good. Like the best wish fulfillment fiction my dream comes true the next day when the same commentator suggests that a good book for Young Adults to read at the moment is ‘The Domestic Manners of the Americans’  by Fanny Trollope.  I have never heard of this book but a quick bit of research tells me that it created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic when it was published in 1832 as the author had ‘caustic views of the Americans’ , and that she found ‘America strongly lacking in manners and learning. ‘  Sounds like just the enlightened, sensible, generous and empathetic literature we need these days to make sense of our fractured world in such troubled times.  Thanks for the tip?  No.  Not really.  But thankfully young adults continue to vote with their feet.  To buy books by wonderful writers like Lisa Williamson, Louise O’Neill, Malorie Blackman, Brian Conaghan, Juno Dawson, Benjamin Zephanian, Alex Wheatle, William Sutcliffe, Laure Halse Anderson, Non Pratt, E Lockhart … someone please stop me

TES Article  

Radio 4 23.08.16 Today Programme the clip with the commentary about YA fiction is at 8:20 am  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07r1qh0

Calling all authors … open submission details

In my new role as Editor-at-Large at Pushkin Press I am delighted to be working on an initiative to encourage authors to send me their unpublished works of fiction.  I will consider the first 20 pages and a synopsis and there is a twenty four hour period from 00.01am  in the early hours to 23.59pm on the 20th June 2016.   I am looking for originality, strong characters, emotional impact and compellingly readable books for young readers 8+.  Please see the Press Release that went out this week.  If you are looking for tips on how to write a great synopsis this is a good place to start https://janefriedman.com/novel-synopsis/

Pushkin Press Announces Open Submission Initiative

Following the appointment of Sarah Odedina as Editor-at-Large for their children’s imprint, Pushkin Press is thrilled to announce the Pushkin Press Open Submission Initiative. Both Pushkin and Odedina believe whole-heartedly in encouraging new talent and this initiative will provide unpublished writers with a golden opportunity to have their work seen by a leading figure in the literary world.

Authors are invited to submit the first 20 pages and a synopsis of their novel, which will then be read by Odedina. Submissions will be open for full length novels for readers 8+.

Odedina previously launched and ran Bonnier imprint Hot Key Books, and before that she was Editor-in-Chief for children’s books at Bloomsbury, where she oversaw publication of the Harry Potter series as well as publishing Neil Gaiman, Louis Sachar, Celia Rees and Chris Priestley.

She said: ‘It takes a lot of energy and courage to finish a book and authors must find the process of getting published daunting. Pushkin Press are very positive about talking directly with authors and we hope that our Open Submissions Initiative will help us build bridges with the writing community and lead to some exciting books being published.’

Adam Freudenheim, Publisher at Pushkin Press, said: ‘Until now, Pushkin Children’s has focussed on previously published books, contemporary and classic, from all over the world. Sarah’s appointment is part of building and extending the Children’s list, and this open submissions initiative is one innovative way we hope to reach out to and discover up-and-coming writers.’

The 24 hour submission period will take place on the 20th June from 00.00 to 23.59, to coincide with the announcement of the 2016 Carnegie Medal, the UK’s most prestigious book prize for fiction for young readers.

Submissions should be sent to books@pushkinpress.com with the subject line ‘SARAH ODEDINA OPEN SUBMISSION MATERIAL’.

So why don’t children read the classics anymore?

I am delighted to introduce you to Anna, a 14 year old reader with some strong views on why children don’t read the classics anymore.  Her opinions are music to the ears of writers and publishers who are trying to create a more varied and interesting diet for young readers.  ENJOY!
“I’ve read countless rants from old people on facebook to old people in the guardian who oddly take some sort of pleasure out of voicing how this degenerate generation doesn’t take pleasure in reading from paper any more.  Not bored of saying kids don’t read enough, it appears that they also read the wrong books. I read recently in the guardian that the number of kids reading classics like The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia have decreased as readers move over to David Walliams and the Hunger Games.
But why is this? Why have children lost interest in the classics, and what makes modern YA so popular?  Here are some of my thoughts and to explain some of my points, I’m going to choose five classic books: The Secret Garden,The Chronicles of Narnia, Five Children and It, The Wind In The Willows and The Railway Children.
These are some of the most loved books by ‘older generations’ and now overlooked by kids. No doubt they deserve their status as classics as they are all fantastic in their own way.  And in contrast five modern books that are popular books, The Hunger Games, Refugee boy, The Boy in the Dress, The Fault in our Stars and The Percy Jackson series. These books have overtaken as the favourites on modern day book shelves.

Between the classic and modern titles, there is far more diversity in the modern books. Yes, there were books like Amazing Grace, but without the help of google, I couldn’t think of any books containing ethnic minorities, disabilities or LGBT that fits in to the classic bracket. Yes, that is because of my limited knowledge of classic kids literature. But at the end of the day, a modern younger kid would not have any more knowledge of classics than I would, unless of course they actively searched. But when you have modern diverse books in your school library, a kid wouldn’t look any further than them (of course this is a sweeping statement, but bare with me.)
Going back to the classics I chose lets look at them a little more closely.  There is The Secret Garden – we have an orphan (white) moves into a rich family’s house (white) and befriends a boy who lives on the grounds (white.) Granted, Colin is disabled and the mother is dead. But I’ll get on to that later.  Next there is Five (white) children and it, a wartime story, The wind in the willows, (animals) The chronicles of rich white children in Narnia, a wartime story and lastly The (white) Railway Children another war time story.
The modern books I chose are different. You have The Hunger Games (okay they are mostly white) but we have single parents, secondary characters who are more diverse, and at the centre, a definite lack of rich family with the token tragedy trope.
Then we have Refugee Boy, a mature kids book about an Eritrean/Somalian refugee in Britain. There is The Boy in the Dress, with a poor single fathered family and a cross dressing eleven year old.  The Fault in our Stars, which has two cancer patients, and lastly Percy Jackson, with a single mother, a black protagonist and a dyslexic main character just in the first book.

The raw truth is the classic books are full of either very rich/very poor, very white and very healthy characters. While in contemporary books, all the kids who aren’t white and 100% able bodied and Neurotypical have representation and heroes.
I have to admit that for bereaved children and poor children, classic books do deliver. But now we are finally breaking into an age where ethnic minorities, refugees, cross dressing, gay, bullied, and outcasts but most notably the kids with learning difficulties have heroes. I haven’t even mentioned the steep rise in heroic female characters. In the past all the girls seemed to watch from the sidelines and cry occasionally, then need a rescue from time to time, and if we are lucky they would scream. That was about as good as our female heroes got. Now a new age of Katnisses are here and ready to be a role model for all the little girls a bit left behind on the hero scene. But we definitely shouldn’t stop here, there is still a really tragic lack of diversity in contemporary teen and YA literature.

On the whole the situations in modern books are a lot more realistic than in the classics. Real people, real conditions, real issues. Readers can directly relate to more of the presented issues in modern novels such as using phones and social media, and the wider scientific knowledge we have today means characters with illnesses have their conditions named and explained. Take Colin’s miraculously cured and completely ambiguous illness in The Secret Garden and compare it to The Fault in our Stars, where the two kids have a definitely incurable and terminal cancer. It’s quite hard to empathise with Colin if you’re in a wheelchair. But on the whole he wouldn’t be a bad role model right up until he gets up and goes for a little stroll. It must have been a bit annoying for all the kids reading The Secret Garden.

Dystopia and war is a noticeable pattern in popular modern novels. But why do kids love things like Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner? These are the big daddies, the most popular. I believe that these books tick every box for today’s readers:  diversity, tragedy, and a really messed up future.  A theory I found on google is that ‘It represents how teenagers feel oppressed by old people and want to stop them ruining everything’ which I think makes sense. In the stories it always seems to be teenagers who seemingly can’t tie their shoelaces that manage to take down the unbreakable and corrupt governments. So does it ignite and exercise that inner thought everyone has what it takes to take down the government? These YA books contain ‘politics with stabilisers’.  Very black and white and unrealistic dictatorships, a government where you have to blow it up and start again to change anything. I think kids read political YA to feel grown up, and feel like they have a good understanding of the real world after reading it.”

‘My name is Anna.  I’m fourteen. I don’t read that much because I prefer movies, but when I do read, my favourite genre is horror and sci fi. My favourite books are: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I don’t have a favourite author so far. I like to read to pass time, because it is like a movie that you can direct and make in your head, and there is more explanation than a movie. Book covers and titles are always the reason I get attracted to books. My pet peeves: forced romance, adventure, boring heroes and books that are the same but slightly altered variables. I buy books mainly because they are nicer when new and it is something to call your own. I look for a good motive, good characters, an interesting story and scary/ strange themes.’

Friendship is everything – the world of Brian Conaghan

Brian Conaghan is relatively new to the world of children’s books but not to the world of young people.  He was a teacher for 17 years before giving it up to become a full-time writer when he secured a publishing contract with Bloomsbury for his first book with them, When Mr Dog Bites. He explained that as a child he didn’t read until he was about 17 and he considers himself to have been what is now termed a ‘reluctant reader’   He said “I hated the idea of people telling me what to do” and he feels that readers have to learn to enjoy reading rather than be forced to read.  With this in mind he says that he read all sort of books with his pupils and felt that his motivation was to ‘grab’ readers with books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Refugee Boy, and early Roddy Doyle novels.  Books, he tells me proudly “with swearing in them and about people like them”  It is a literary canon that his own powerful novels very happily sits amongst.  “Swearing doesn’t have a profound effect on kids but what does have a profound effect is when characters open up their emotions and express love through the pages to these kids” he asserts.  When Mr Dog Bites garnered much praise for its original and brave story telling and also suffered some criticism for the amount of swearing in the book.  But it isn’t possible to imagine an honest portrayal of such a complex character without the swearing.  As a writer Brian aims to represent real life in his books and in the case of the books hero, Dylan Mint, real life includes having Tourettes Syndrome and an incredible ability to swear. Like all writers Brian makes a choice about who is going to represent and it is the good fortune of many many readers that he is choosing to go to the less frequently fictionalized characters for his heroes.

Brian goes on to explain that he is “interested in the individual who is lost and not heard and oppressed within the school environment and the social environment.   Who isn’t valued by their society and their community.  You see them constantly as a teacher.  Kids at the back of the classroom, do the work, don’t give you any bother or hassle and it just seems that no one has asked them their opinion or their thoughts or feelings.  These are the voices and kids I am interested in.  The disenfranchised.”  And to create these characters Brian has an incredibly original and unique voice himself.  Amongst the very crowded shelves of teen and YA fiction there are few authors prepared to go so out on a limb and Brian comments that “ignorance is bliss.  I can’t say I’ve read all these other books.  I think we live in a derivative world.  It is very difficult to be unique but what I do think you can be is honest, and I think you can be true, and I think you can represent people accurately.”

“The reason I like writing about teenagers is that I feel sometimes that irrespective of where you live in the world, which direction your life is taking and the social and economic political situation I think sometimes that what unifies teenagers is that we have all got the same fears about ourselves, about our bodies and about how other people see us and about how we see ourselves.” And it is this understanding about the universality and shared emotional world that we inhabit that gives Brian’s characters such universal appeal – regardless of the particular circumstances of their stories.  He tells me “I just feel we are not that different.  Other than the aesthetics and the language of it all we are not that different. I feel it is what’s in your head and in your heart that counts.”  And in that Brian reveals the profoundly humanitarian and kind pulse of his books.    Brian’s second book with Bloomsbury has just published and I am delighted to review The Bombs That Brought Us Together which has the hallmarks of the unique Conaghan voice, the unlikely hero, and a brave approach to telling the truth for his readers, but this time he sets his characters in a much bigger political arena.

When Mr Dog Bites
When Mr Dog Bites

BombsCover

After the huge critical success and a Carnegie Medal shortlisting for When Mr Dog Bites, Brian Conaghan’s second book with Bloomsbury, The Bombs That Brought Us Together, has just published. How do you follow a debut that caused such a sensational amount of interest? By writing something else brave, original and complex it seems.

In this moving novel Brian takes us on a more overtly political journey than its predecessor, yet at its core remains a touching portrayal of boys and their friendships. Brian explained: “I try to write tenderly about boys and I look at my own friendships as a kid and while we were into football and underage drinking we loved each other intensely and were always very open and honest with each other.”

When Charlie Law meets Pavel Duda it is at a time of great social unrest in Little Town. A suffocating regime is firmly in place with the laws laid out for all to obey and the enemy, in the form of Old Country, lurking menacingly across the border.  Pavel’s story of migration from Old Country to Little Town, arriving with nothing but a flimsy understanding of the native language, is particularly resonant today. Brian started writing the book in 2014 as wars were being fought at the edges of Europe and the humanitarian crisis in Syria was sending shock-waves across the world.  Struck by the nightly news pictures of families walking out of war zones, often with their entire lives packed in a small rucksack, he felt moved to write on their plight. .  The people in the news stories, Brian understood, are just like the rest of us; not in any way less human or empathetic because of the cards that life dealt them.   He was also aware of the Scottish Referendum and considered the imbalance of power between Scotland and England and he says “it got me thinking, what if this big place, a mighty powerful neighbour, would become a bully.”

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is inspired by and reflects  real life events. The book creates a relatable story that humanises and personalises those events for the reader. At the core of Brian’s writing is the desire to understand  his characters and their motivation. He wants to paint portraits that are honest and through the portrayal of those lives allow the reader to get closer to  understanding a bigger political context.

Brian believes that today we “live in a culture of fear. We have to look for answers as a country and as a community and look at why we are demonising young people”. He argues that this demonisation comes from a wider attack on working class values and working class communities being vilified by the media and politicians. Brian wants to show his readers that people are fundamentally not that different and when any differences are emphasised it is done in the name of greater political ambitions. In Little Town these differences are amplified to create a culture of fear in order to help the regime maintain the skewed power balance. Pavel’s arrival shows Charlie that he has been taken in by the propaganda, blindly accepting its sweeping generalisations, and the friendship that Pavel and Charlie go on to form is a safety net for both of them. While on the surface it might appear to the reader that it is Pavel who has most to gain from the friendship, we soon see that both boys benefit from the relationship in a profoundly important way. When Old Country invades Little Town and Charlie and Pavel find themselves on the wrong side of the regime, it is the courage and confidence that their friendship has given them that gives Charlie the strength to resist and take a course of action that will change their lives.

Dealing with big political issues in The Bombs That Brought Us Together is something that Brian feels is very important. He was brought up to be politically motivated and he is concerned that the disenchantment felt today about the democratic process is down to a failure of the system. He feels that books like his, that directly address political themes, are empowering young people and offer the opportunity for readers to realise that they have a part to play in the narrative and that they can question the disparity of power. He writes to give voice to the silent, both in the personal and domestic arenas and the larger political arena.

In the end The Bombs That Brought Us Together is full of optimism and hope for the future as, at its core, is the belief that people can overcome their hardships; that they can change; that they can find strength and security through friendship and love, and that caring for their friends and families has its own reward

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is a powerful book about important issues. It is a book with a strong voice and a book that doesn’t shy away from looking directly at a problem,. Like the best YA writing, its power is in its characters and their interplay as they contend with moral and social dilemmas that the reader can empathise with. Brain Conaghan’s book joins others such as Maggot Moon, in giving the world a different view of boys, their friendships and their hopes and dreams.  Brian is a thrilling writer whose respect for his audience is such that he doesn’t shy away from the truth. Happily for us, he tells me that he is a fast writer and that there are other books in the pipeline, which I for one am very much looking forward to.

The Enchanting Enchanted Lion

We all have publishing houses around the world that are our go-to lists for quality, beauty, wonderful content and sheer charm.  One of my absolute favourites is Enchanted Lion, the Brooklyn based publishing house with a list of picture books that are simply delightful.  Follow this link to read a profile of the company from Publishers Weekly

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/64017-enchanted-lion-a-visit-with-the-brooklyn-based-indie-publisher.html

 

 

 

Scottish Children’s Book Awards 2016

At a ceremony in Glasgow in front of 1000 children it is announced today that this years winners for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards are Simon Puttock, Ross MacKenzie and Danny Weston.  This is Scotland’s largest book prize with each winning book receiving £3000 and the winners were chosen this year after almost 30,000 children cast their votes.

Voting on three categories Bookbug Readers (3-7), Younger Readers (8-11) and Older Readers (12-16) children across Scotland were encouraged to read the three shortlisted books in their age category and to vote for their favourite.  All three winning titles feature magic and mystery suggesting that when children get to choose for themselves they will choose books that take them to different worlds.

Midlothian-based author Simon Puttock, who lives in Newtongrange won the Bookbug Reader’s (3-7 yrs) category for his picture book Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School, illustrated by Ali Pye.

Published by Nosy Crow
Published by Nosy Crow

Published by Nosy Crow, the book follows Mouse on her first day at Miss Moon’s Moonlight School for all the small creatures of the night, but she is very shy, too shy to even say hello. Luckily, with help from Miss Moon and her new friends Bat, Cat and Owl, a game of hide-and-seek makes Mouse feel right at home.

Renfrew-based author Ross MacKenzie won the Younger Readers (8-11) category for his novel The Nowhere Emporium.

Published by Floris Books

    Published by Floris Books

Published by Floris Books, the book explores what happens when the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, and orphan Daniel Holmes stumbles upon it by accident. Before long, the ‘shop from nowhere’ — and its owner, Mr Silver — draw Daniel into a breathtaking world of magic and enchantment.

Edinburgh-based author Danny Weston, who lives in Tollcross, won the Older Readers (12-16 yrs) category for his book The Piper. Published by Andersen Press, the book follows Peter and his little sister, Daisy, who are evacuated from London to the countryside and find themselves on an isolated farm in the middle of a treacherous marshland.

Published by Andersen Press
Published by Andersen Press

As Daisy gets drawn deeper into the secrets of their new home, Peter starts to realise that something very sinister is going on. What is that music they can hear at night? And who are the children dancing to it?

It is an exciting prize which does something that many prizes for children’s literary fails to do: it includes the intended audience for the books in its award process and it categories the award into age ranges recognising that the reading interests of an eight year old and a thirteen year old are literally years apart.  Congratulations to each of the authors.
Follow the publishers on twitter: @nosycrow, @AndersenPress @FlorisBooks

 

 

The New Internationalists by Martin Salisbury

As the Bologna Bookfair approaches now seems a good time to hear from Professor Martin Salisbury, Course Leader, MA Children’s Book Illustration, Cambridge School of Art and enjoy his optimism about the shape of the picture book scene here in the UK.

A gentle breeze of change seems to have been blowing through the UK picturebook publishing landscape over the last couple of years. It has gathered momentum and is now beginning to resemble more of a brisk wind- a very welcome blast of fresh air. We have a magnificent and long-standing tradition in children’s book illustration in the United Kingdom and in particular the art of the picturebook, a tradition which we have every reason to be very proud of. But for a variety of reasons, it has been clear in recent years that we have fallen behind many other countries when it comes to the picturebook as an object of beauty- in terms of illustration, design and production. A visit to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair would invariable induce for this writer at least, a feeling of envy when visiting the stands of the French, Belgian, Czech, South Korean and German publishers. As a member of the international jury for the Ragazzi Awards and the International Illustration Awards in recent years, I have often found myself facing a barrage of questions from fellow jurors (publishers, artists, designers, critics) about the reasons why comparatively few British books were entered for awards, why so few overseas titles were imported and translated into English, why our picture books seem so much ‘less artistic’, ‘edgy’ or creatively ambitious. I would find myself torn between, on the one hand, the impulse to point out the fact that our books have to appeal to a far wider audience and need to sell more copies than is the case for many of the publishers in other languages and, on the other, the temptation to agree that we have been just a little insular.

Taking my MA Children’s Book Illustration students to Bologna every year has been an interesting experience too. I designed the course in 2000 and student numbers have grown at an astonishing rate. We are now at absolute capacity, accepting around forty full-time and twenty-five part-time students each year, from far higher total numbers of applications. They come from all over the world. On graduation, most return to their native countries but all aspire to be published in English. Visiting Bologna gives them a real insight into the range of picture book cultures around the world. And in previous years, a visit to the British halls would sometimes act as ‘wake-up call’ that they may need to rein in their creative ambition if their hopes of being published in English were to be realized. My colleagues and I often chuckle over a recent experience of a graduate being told earnestly by a British publisher that her work was ‘too posh and too French’.

But almost overnight, we seem to be entering a new ‘Golden Age’. It surely started with the award winning visual publishing house, Nobrow. Worshiped by art students for their highly innovative output Nobrow has evolved from a little print studio into a significant player in the publishing scene. Their children’s book imprint, Flying Eye, was launched in 2013 and has been responsible for a stream of deliciously produced books, culminating in the richly deserved Kate Greenaway Medal 2015 for William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey. Now we are seeing numerous imprints springing up with newfound confidence in the potential for books that demonstrate real concern for quality design and production. Of course much credit must also go to Tate Publishing, V&A Publishing and now Thames and Hudson- all of whom have moved into children’s publishing in recent years. At last we are seeing the work of artists such Beatrice Alemagna and Isabelle Arsenault in our bookshops. And a special mention is needed too for Julia Marshall at Gecko Press in New Zealand, who has chipped away by introducing international picture books into the English language.

So for the illustration student, these are exciting times. But the illustration student must also take some of the credit for these changes. As more and more of our students arrive form overseas, there is more and more cultural and stylistic diversity on show at graduation exhibitions and in portfolios at Bologna. Our own MA students and graduates have been consistently prominent in the awards at Bologna, the Waterstones Prize, the Macmillan Prize for Children’s Picture book Illustration (our students have taken the top prize for the last five years), the V&A Illustration Awards, New York Times Top Ten Picture books, and in the shortlists for the Greenaway Medal among others. What is also noticeable though is the range of countries that they hail from. In the above awards and shortlists the individuals’ nationalities include Iceland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Norway, Romania, Spain, Taiwan as well as the UK. They are all bringing a rich diversity of visual diet to our culture of picture book-making and helping to drive standards up.

The fertilization process is not just one-way however. With our students attending Bologna and, in the last few years, having the opportunity to present their work at our Cambridge School of Art stand, it has been interesting to see how many of them have gained their first publishing contracts from overseas publishers. Of course this can sometimes mean that print runs and advances are relatively low. But getting into print is a huge advantage in terms of having something tangible to show other potential future publishers. The work of a significant proportion of our graduates has made its debut in languages other than English, or in English but in other lands like New Zealand and the USA.

The following selection of just six of our recently published graduates at Masters and PhD level is relatively arbitrary but contains a range of nationalities and may give some insight into the ‘new internationalism’ that appears to be gaining a toe-hold.

Simona Ciraolo completed her part-time studies on the MA course in 2014 and after interest from several publishers at her graduation show, opted to sign with Nobrow/ Flying Eye, having long been an admirer of their work. Simona is originally from the island of Sardinia. She studied animation at the Film School in Turin and worked as an animator here in the UK for some years before joining the course. The training in animation has stood her in good stead, underpinning her acute, sensitive character observation with secure draughtsmanship. She is a natural storyteller and her first two picturebooks, ‘Hug Me’ Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.17.14and ‘Whatever Happened to my Sister’ were both developed as projects during the final stages of the Masters course. Stylistically, there is a hint of mid-Twentieth Century retro but the work rises above trend or mannerism through its depth of sincerity and complete absence of sentimentality. Both books are rendered with simple old-fashioned marker pens. ‘Hug Me’ tells of a lonely cactus who yearns for physical contact. ‘Whatever Happened to my Sister’ is a touching story of the a little girl’s bemusement and sadness as her big sister grows away from her.

Carolina Rabei hails from Romania. As a student, Carolina particularly took to screen-printing in our excellent printmaking workshops. This ancient process originated in China and was used commercially over the years for large-scale poster printing and for printing onto T-shirts and e.g. metal packaging. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.18.57For artists, it is a medium that forces one to learn a lot about the layering of colour. Prior to her first visit to Bologna, Carolina printed a batch of small scale, double sided, folding ‘concertina books’ depicting the Little Red Riding Hood story. Printed in two colours, these delightful objets were used as self-promotional handouts to lucky publishers. One such recipient was Faber children’s Books who were looking for material for their new picture book venture, more specifically to work on a picture book based around Walter de la Mare’s poem, ‘Snow’. Carolina’s work had just the right feel. The second in the series, ‘The Ride-by-Nights’, has just been published. Carolina’s artwork is now generated digitally, for reasons of practicality and speed, but is greatly informed by her experience of screen-printing.

Maisie Shearing hails from marginally less exotic Hull, via an undergraduate degree in Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art. Her work is edgy, witty and occasionally dark. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.19.58These and other characteristics won her the $30,000 First Prize in the 2015 Bologna International Award for Illustration, sponsored by the Spanish publishers, Fundación SM. The prize also came with a contract to develop for publication the book project from which the winning illustrations had come. This was a graphic novel format book, based on Maisie’s mother’s recollections of schooldays, once again originally developed during the final stages of the Masters course, which she completed in January 2015.

Becky Palmer is currently working on a project with one of the UK’s leading publishers but her debut came in the form of a stunning graphic novel for the French publisher, Sarbacanne. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.20.46She did not study Art & Design at undergraduate level but had always drawn compulsively. Currently researching the boundaries between the picturebook and the graphic novel in the form of a practice-led PhD, Becky was an early winner of the Sebastian Walker Memorial Award- a prize sponsored by Walker Books specifically for an outstanding Cambridge School of Art MA graduate. She is in increasing demand as an illustrator, author and teacher.

Yu-Wen Huang – The eye of the émigré artist can often be particularly acute when exploring and describing another culture (think Miroslav Šašek’s ‘This is …’ books for example). Yu-Wen Chuang’s personal sketchbooks teem with anecdotal observational drawings of the everyday life EnglandScreen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.21.59 and her native Taiwan. One of her final student projects on the MA course was in the form of a visual tour of London that combined observation, pattern and narrative in a rich mélange of painterly colour.

 

 

Katherina Manolessou

Originally from Greece and from an academic background in Chemistry, Katherina studied illustration at the University of Kingston and the Royal College of Art before successfully undertaking a practice-led PhD at Cambridge School of Art. Her research centred on the role of animal character design in children’s picturebooks. This was a fitting topic for an artist who has always populated her work with an array of creatures, when working primarily in the arena of editorial illustration. Katherina’s first picturebook, Zoom Zoom Zoom, was developed as part of her PhD research and subsequently published by MacMillan in 2014 and was one of a small number of books to be selected for exhibition at Bologna that year. The visual characteristics of Katherina’s work are rooted in her work as a printmaker. Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 15.26.00The bold, flat, screen-printed colours would perhaps have been deemed ‘too European’ for the UK market until recently.

 

Follow the artists on twitter:

@MaisieParadise, @Kmanolessou, @_BeckyPalmer, @CarolinaRabei

Tara Books: The Making of a Publishing House by Gita Wolf

I am delighted that our blog post this week is by Gita Wolf.  She is talking about Tara Books, the company she founded 20 years ago and which has worked to produced high quality, innovative and content rich books for young readers ever since.  Tara Books is a truly inclusive organisation, having its books manufactured by a local printing collective, working with folk artists from around the country and concentrating on creating content that abides to its core values of respecting individuals and their cultures.  It is a unique publishing house, based in Chennai and with an impressive international reach.

Sarah Odedina, The Read Quarterly.

 

Tara Books turns twenty years old this year. When I started the publishing house two decades ago, I had neither a concrete business plan nor a definite programme. The project was tentative and exploratory, with only this overarching idea: to widen the scope of what we think of as children’s literature, particularly in India. I was also keen on exploring visual narratives, and the dialogue between words and pictures. So with the help of a few creative friends, that is what Tara set out to do.

From the very beginning, we felt that the entrenched form and content of children’s books needed to be challenged. Particularly in India, a limited range of themes, styles and renderings had to stand in for ‘what children like’ – and therefore, what they will be offered. But, in our understanding, it all came down to what children were exposed to. We also doubted whether all children (even within a particular age group) were alike in their tastes and preferences. Like adults, children are individuals – some like humour, others love a good mystery, some are serious, others more light hearted. So a genuine variety of perspectives was much needed.

That is what we have tried to create, over these twenty years, and it remains the basic direction that we continue to take. Meanwhile, Tara has grown into a collective of writers, designers and book makers, and it is owned by the people who run it. There are eleven of us in the office, and after years of working out of small rented houses, we’ve now built our own space, called Book Building. Our offices are on the first floor, and on the ground floor there is a bookstore and gallery where we hold exhibitions, events and workshops. Visiting artists have painted murals on the walls, and on the top floor, we have a studio apartment for the artists, authors and designers who come to work with us on projects. Book Building’s reputation as a destination for lovers of books and the arts is growing, and we’re pleased at the number of visitors who come by.1 Book Building_a

 

We generate most of our titles in-house, but we also collaborate with other adventurous professionals both from within India and abroad. It is these dialogues and interactions, between ourselves, but also with others, which allows Tara to grow – each creative individual sets us off in a new direction.

For instance, a serendipitous meeting with a wonderful silk-screen printer gave rise to the first book we made entirely by hand, from the paper to the printing and binding. That printer is now part of the core group at Tara, taking care of our entire production. Meanwhile his screen-printing workshop, which Tara helped to set up, has grown into an artisanal fair trade collective of twenty-five bookmakers. The unit is located a couple of kilometers away from our office, and is run as an independent entity, producing books exclusively for us.

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The work of these printers and binders has ensured that over the years, Tara has come to be known for a range of handmade books, where the art, paper, printing and binding offer a supremely tactile experience to the reader. Because of our unique set up, we’re able to offer what are really limited editions of artists’ books, but at an affordable price to the average book lover.Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 15.39.58

Creation by Bhajju Shyam, with Gita Wolf.  A collection of origin myths from the Gond tribe in central India.

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Gobble You Up  by Gita Wolf, Sunita

A cumulative rhyming story of a jackal that swallows all the other animals. Illustrated in the Meena tribal art style. One of the favourite motifs of Meena women artists is pregnant animals ‑ which led to the idea for this book.

When we started publishing in 1995, there were hardly any interesting picture books for children in India. Ours has been a largely oral tradition, and the notion of children’s literature came from abroad, so Indian children’s books tended to be derivative. They were also very didactic. One of our aims was – and still is – to celebrate the sheer pleasure of reading for fun. All of us who love books first began to read because we enjoyed it. At Tara, we find it particularly vital to foster this enjoyment, as in India, most parents tend to be competitive and ambitious for their children, and are therefore disinterested in books which provide too little ‘information’. Our flouting of this received market wisdom certainly was (and continues to be) a risk, but it’s one we’re willing to invest in.  Two examples of the light-hearted and fun books that we publish are Alphabets Are Amazing Animals and Captain Coconut and the case of the Missing Bananas.

Alphabets Are Amazing Animals

4 Alphabets_CoverAlphabets are Amazing Animals by Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper

Captain Coconut

Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas by Anushka Ravishankar and Priya Sundram

Ace Detective Captain Coconut, who can solve any mystery, is called in to investigate the case of the missing bananas. He soon finds himself on a slippery trail of peels and missing numbers.  This is Anushka Ravishankar at her absurd best. British-Indian artist Priya Sundram’s collage art brings together elements of popular Indian imagery.

At the same time we have always been interested in pedagogy ‑ not in terms of traditional ‘information’ books, but in exploring a more complex yet accessible approach to learning, which does not shy away from difficult social issues. We’d like our books to reflect our own ethical positions on gender equality, environmental engagement and human rights. So, our approach to pedagogy is to frame the theme around a story or an argument, and offer the reader ideas to ponder, as well as practical activities which lead to a more nuanced understanding.

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Trash!  by Anushka Ravishankar, Gita Wolf and Orjit Sen

A combination of fact and fiction Trash! tells the story of a runaway village child who ends up as a ragpicker in a big Indian city. Along the way, it explores a range of issues—from child labour and child rights to waste and recycling.

An area of learning that we’re particularly interested in exploring is art and craft education. For a country as colourful and visually exciting as India, the state of our visual literacy is dismaying. There are barely any art classes in schools, and what there is available tends to be stodgy and unimaginative.

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An art class in action in the Book Building

 

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8 Ways to Draw an Elephant by Paola Ferrarotti with various artists. An unusual art activity book featuring the Indian elephant that introduces children to a variety of Indian art traditions. The elephant is imagined and rendered in eight different folk and tribal styles, put together by Italian designer Paola Ferrarotti

Of all the art on offer in India, we’ve always been particularly drawn to the incredible wealth of folk and tribal forms. Unlike in most parts of the world, these traditions are not confined to history, and artists who practice them are very much our contemporaries, with a lot to offer us. They often come from rural or remote communities, and their images keep to certain traditional themes and styles of rendering. Originally painted on floors and walls, most of this art arose from common everyday practice: the decorating of homes, community spaces or places of worship. Over the course of time, these artists began to paint on paper, and also to sell their work.

Many of our artists come from poor and marginalized communities, and before they met us, hardly any of them had ever read a book, let alone made one. Some of them could barely read and write. But we found that they had an astonishing wealth of talent, imagination and intelligence – and, equally importantly, they came from a world completely unfamiliar to the middle class urban Indian child. This, to us, was one of their greatest strengths, for along with their skill, they also effortlessly brought in an entirely new way of looking at the world.

Women of the Warli tribe from Maharashtra depict the busy activities of their village on the walls, with special paintings done on ritual occasions. The iconic simplicity and dynamism of the form can translate into a wonderful children’s book as in our book Do!  which was inspired by traditional paintings on walls.  This is a set of action pictures, rendered in the Warli style of tribal art from Maharashtra, western India.

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Women of the Bhil tribe in central lndia draw in a typically colourful, joyous style of painting which uniformly dots all things and all beings and we worked with Bhil artists on both Visit the Bhil Carnival and Tree Matters

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Sample spread from Visit the Bhil Carnival.  Subhash Amaliyar with designers Catriona Maciver and Oliver Mayes.

Before we began working with these artists, Indian children’s publishing had not drawn on these traditions in any significant way. At that time in India, a form of Disney-inspired cartoony style of illustration was considered ideal children’s fare. So our work was quite pioneering, and at the outset we faced a lot of skepticism about how children would respond to such radically different visual languages. We ourselves never seriously considered this a problem as to us taste seemed largely formed by what was available and ubiquitous – how could we pronounce on what children liked, when they hadn’t been given enough choice to decide for themselves?

We are interested in Children’s Books with Folk and Tribal Artists

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Alone in the Forest  by Gita Wolf, Andrea Anastasio and Bhajju Shyam.           A powerful exploration of the psychology of fear, this is the story of how a boy slowly overcomes what he is afraid of. Illustrated by the well-known Gond tribal artist Bhajju Shyam, the inspiration for this book came from Bhajju’s stories of his own childhood.

 Over a period of twenty years, we have created a set of children’s books with folk and tribal artists that, through stories and images, offer very different perspectives on the world. The themes are quite varied, ranging from the artists telling their own stories to collaborations with authors from other background. If there is one basic premise on which this list is based, it is that when the artist is not painting her own tale, she has freedom to interpret a different story or theme in the light of her own visual tradition. In this sense, she is also an ‘author’ of the text, and actively creating meaning. And this in turn means that she actually reverses the usual anthropological gaze. Folk and tribal communities are usually described by others, we rarely find them speaking for themselves. In making this possible, we imply that their skills and experiences are valuable, and worth preserving and passing on.

What do such voices bring to children’s literature? Exposing children to a variety of perspectives sounds simple, but is in fact one of the hardest things to achieve, particularly nowadays. Today, it feels like we have more choice than ever before but in reality much of it is really homogenous – popular books are marketed worldwide, television programmes are beamed across the globe, internet content is available everywhere…This gives us an illusion of unlimited choice, yet all these things often originate from quite similar – and fairly limited – sources. Seen another way, it is the market and the media which largely decides on what is put out and what is worth taking notice of. There are a handful of independent publishers around the world who dare to take the risk of publishing truly unconventional books, but it is a struggle to survive.

One way for us to bring in radically different worldviews is through working with folk and tribal artists. Their perspective is unlike anything any of us normally get to hear or see, so it is not just a question of replacing a white figure with a brown one. Indeed the challenge here is not to set them up as exotic outsiders, or as a niche. We’d like them to be seen as our contemporaries and equals, and that what they have to say is as relevant as all the other voices we listen to every day. When a book is successful, the reader actually identifies with the protagonist, and if that protagonist happens to be an individual who is normally ‘invisible’, or not part of the reader’s everyday experience, then the book has the potential to be transformative. In this case, universality need not be a global sameness, but more an empathy with those who are not like us. We think this realisation is as valuable to an urban middle class Indian child as it is to a youngster from an entirely different background.

And in a larger publishing sense, this mirrors the way we see ourselves: our content may have arisen mostly from within an Indian context, but we think a sizeable number of our books transcend their location to become accessible to readers everywhere. This is obviously not the case with every title – and we do need books that have a purely local flavour and relevance. But by and large, our success with selling rights to our books (we’ve collaborated with about eighty-seven publishers around the world to date) bears out the fact that we are not niche; but rather we are actively a part of international publishing. This is quite unusual in the history of Indian children’s literature as India has always tended to buy in more books than we send out.

What enables so many of Tara’s books to travel so widely? Apart from the universal values which inform them, an important factor would have to be the focus we place on contemporary design and careful production. Clearly, good design plays an important role in re-framing tradition for the modern reader. But there is another reason why design is fundamental to how we conceptualize our books. From the very beginning, one of our core members (who is a designer) has emphasized the idea that the function of design is not merely to embellish a book, but also to contribute to the way that meaning is created.

Exploring the idea of ‘designer as author’ has been an ongoing project for us, not only in order to render traditional art into a more contemporary idiom, but also as an undertaking in its own right. We’re keen on experimenting with typography and layout, and also on exploring radically different forms of the book, to push the boundaries of book design as we know it. This is also where we see ourselves as part of an international conversation.

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Sample spread from Visit the Bhil Carnival.  Subhash Amaliyar with designers Catriona Maciver and Oliver Mayes showing innovative novelty elementsCombining the elements of a map, a puzzle, a pop-up, and a storybook, this interactive title is about a wonderful carnival called Bhagoria, celebrated by the Bhil people of central India every year

 

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The Enduring Ark

Joydeb Chitrakar, Gita Wolf.  This Indian version of the Biblical tale of the great flood is illustrated in the Bengal Patua style of scroll painting. Each flowing fold of the accordion takes the reader from a deluge of water to a rainbow of hope.

From the beginning, our publishing vision has always relied on dialogue. The process continues to be a very collaborative, and through the course of all our successes and failures, what we’ve always enjoyed are the scores of enriching conversations that we’ve had with people. We’ve learnt a lot along the way. Next season, we’re looking forward to a number of books in collaboration with young Japanese illustrators, and along with them, our quest continues to be an old one: what possibilities can we uncover in a world that is increasingly dominated by big business, much hype and the safety of homogeneity? We’re proud to be part of a small group of independent publishers across the world who continue to take the risk of this challenge.

 

Gita Wolf is a writer and publisher. She founded Tara Books in 1994.  Follow Tara Books on instagram @tara_books and on twitter @TaraBooks.  Their wonderful books are available from bookshops and amazon worldwide.

 

Children and the Magic of Bookshops by Jen Campbell

 

Little girl (pointing to a cupboard under one of the bookcases): ‘Can you get to Narnia through there?’
Me: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think you can.’
Little girl: ‘Oh. Our wardrobe at home doesn’t work for getting to Narnia, either.’
Me: ‘No?’
Little girl: ‘No. Dad says it’s because mum bought it at IKEA.’

From ‘More Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops‘ by Jen Campbell

 

I maintain that children say the best things in bookshops – from the young girl who declared books to be her ‘quiet place,’ to the boy who told me I should hire a dragon to guard the bookshop when I’m not around. Recommending books to children and watching them fall in love with reading is the best part of my job. Sure, sometimes they try and climb the bookcases, too; they’re not perfect, but I’ll let them off because their passion for discovering new things is infectious.

I’ve worked in bookselling for nine years, since getting a part-time job when I was studying for my degree. The Edinburgh Bookshop in the heart of Bruntsfield specialises in children’s fiction and, when I worked there, we had a bookshop dog called Teaga – a giant Leonberger who looked like Nana from Peter Pan. Sometimes the children would try and ride her like a pony (and we’d have to run to poor Teaga’s rescue) but mostly they stroked her in awe, got her to sit down and calmly read books to her. Teaga dutifully listened – a dog full of stories.

I’ve worked in both new and antiquarian bookselling over the years and I hear from customers time and time again: ‘Kids don’t read these days, do they?’ To which I always want to laugh. If you haven’t already noticed, we seem to be a bit pessimistic in the book trade (‘The book is dead!’ ‘The publishing world is over!’ ‘Bookshops are doomed!’). When I researched my most recent book, The Bookshop Book, I discovered that a bookseller in Florence had declared the book trade dead in the water in the 1500s due to the invention of the printing press, but in actual fact we’re doing just fine: children are reading and UK sales of children’s books in 2014 were up eleven percent on the previous year.

And it’s little wonder, really. Stories are the foundation of what makes us human. We’re the only known species to make up tales to bring us together as communities. When we don’t understand something around us, we’ll make it up – whether that’s right or wrong – and when we’re young everything is new, everything is exciting and our imagination knows no bounds. I was in Sweden last week on book tour and spoke with several young bookshop customers there. One, a young boy of maybe seven or eight, told me ‘When I grow up, I’m going to be a Viking warrior, with a robot unicorn who writes books about tigers… on rollerskates.’ And why the heck not? Another beckoned me over and whispered: ‘I’ve written a book’ and when I asked her what it was about, she uttered wise words known by authors all around the world: ‘I don’t know. It’s in my head. I haven’t read it yet.’

Like many bookworms, I spent a lot of time in both libraries and bookshops as a child and I’ve always thought of them as safe places. I’d hide out in the children’s corner of Hill’s in Sunderland scouring through the Animal Ark books and I’d check out Lynne Reid Banks’ novels from the library for the dozenth time, too. Now, whenever I travel to a new town, one of the first things I do is locate the nearest bookshop and work my way around from there. I’ve been asked many times why bookshops are such wonderful places, and why – when we find a good one – we are drawn back to it again and again. I could write a whole book on the subject but, for me, when it comes down to it: bookshops are portals. In a world where the internet, as wonderful as it is, can offer us anything we know we want, a good bookshop shows us what we didn’t know we wanted. They are the curated physical mindspace of the person who owns it; you can hop from shelf to shelf, from story to story and lose yourself in worlds you never knew existed. Children are aware of this and I see it every single day.

When it comes to antiquarian bookshops, too, let’s not forget the grown up children who come in looking for lost parts of their childhood. Books they remember holding at ten years old, fifty years ago, that probably had a red cover and possibly, maybe, perhaps had a flower on the first page and the word ‘elf’ in the title. I spend a lot of my time as an antiquarian bookseller piecing together memories, tracking down stories and why? Because books when we’re young become such an important part of us that we want them back when we are older. We want to hold them, and quite possibly smell them (there’s a scientific reason books smell so good, you know, but that’s another story) and we want to re-experience that escapism we had as a child. Perhaps it’s a bit of a Neverland syndrome. Somewhere in our memories the books we read when we were younger are still there, still chatting away with our younger selves. Some parts of us never grow up and we’re never too old for a good story.

Perhaps one of my favourite moments as a bookseller is one where a ten-year-old girl called Imogen and her father were browsing through the shelves for half an hour. Suddenly Imogen looked up and said ‘Dad, where’s Henry?’ at which point I blinked in disbelief. What parent doesn’t notice for a full half hour that their son isn’t with them? However, it turned out that Henry was not Imogen’s brother – he was her hamster. She’d brought him along with her in her pocket and now couldn’t find him. We spent a slightly manic twenty minutes hunting through the shelves, desperately trying to find him, knowing it was an impossible task and that Henry was probably destined to wander the overflowing shelves forever before being somewhat unceremoniously squished under a pile of old children’s annuals. Poor Henry. But, after nearly giving up, Imogen gave a squeal of surprise – Henry hadn’t made a bid for freedom after all. He’d nibbled at the lining of her pocket, buried deeper into her coat and was very happily asleep, completely unaware of the utter chaos around him.

“Maybe I’ll write a book about that one day,” Imogen grinned, holding a sleepy Henry in one hand and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr tightly in the other.
Jen Campbell is the Sunday Times bestselling author of the Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series and The Bookshop Book. She’s also an award-winning poet and short story writer. Her poetry pamphlet The Hungry Ghost Festival is published by The Rialto and she runs a Youtube channel over at youtube.com/jenvcampbell where she talks about all things books. Follow Jen on Twitter @aeroplanegirl

 

THE WHOLE EARTH CATALOG

IMG_2775I have a copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog.  It is a book that gives me ridiculous amounts of pleasure.  I prowl its pages for references to books, and art and thinking and despite being a publishing icon of the 1970s there is something timeless and utterly of the moment about it.  I was showing the book to two people in their twenties and one of them succinctly said that ‘it was a blog of the time’ which really does perfectly sum it up.  A book that ranges across subjects and ideas and information but held together with the principal of sharing information, disseminating information and supporting a world view which (despite its incredible focus on retail) was about a self sustaining ‘do it yourself’ ‘can do’ attitude.

From making your own shoes, building a wood cabin, perfecting your yoga positions, baking perfect bread or smoothing out your throwing skills in pottery IMG_2776and building a kiln to fire it all The Whole Earth Catalog could (and can!) guide you to references and books and people who can help.  I often look up books mentioned in the catalog and track them down on-line, usually second hand and often slightly worn at the edges.  But the information that I am guided to is none-the-less invaluable or appreciated for the greying covers and yellowed pages.

Then today on Radio 4 there was a programme about this perfect publication.  Listen here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06rx8jc  Once again my affection for The Whole Earth Catalog took me on a journey of discover and now I know about Ed Sanders and The Woodstock Journal.  More exploring to be done, more to read and discover, more to ENJOY!  http://www.woodstockjournal.com/