The Best Invented Characters in Picture Books

My favourite part of writing children’s picture books is creating and developing fun and likeable characters. The characters are what steer the story and give it purpose and a meaning to exist.  However, to date I’ve never attempted to create a new creature in its own right. For now I’ve concentrated on humans or animals. So like many before me I often wonder what the right ingredients are that make an everlasting and memorable make believe character. Is it just a single magic ingredient or a mixture of many? To investigate this I chose six original and well known picture book characters which have stood the test of time.

Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs (author / illustrator). Published: Penguin Books ed. 2012.
This edition is set out like a graphic novel and as the title states, Fungus is a Bogeyman who bizarrely is lovable for the very thing we dislike about him; his grimy, grubby lifestyle. His manners and habits are so disgusting that we can’t help but grimace out loud and revel in his yucky, sticky mess. Fungus lives in the deep, dark tunnels of Bogeydom and this book devotes a double page spread to Bogey anatomy. Bogeymen sleep in the day then like to stir up trouble and be a nuisance at night by waking babies, making as much noise as possible, frightening people and even giving them boils as Bogeymen do everything humans despise. Fungus lives in a world which seems topsy turvy to us but completely mundane to him so he soon begins to question the reason for his existence.

The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My by Tove Jansson (author / illustrator). Translated by Sophie Hannah, 2001. Published: Sort of Books, ed. 2001.

Moomin is a lovable Moomintroll who lives in the woods and helps his friend Mymble find her sister Little My and the fillyjonk. Right from the start Moomin is the one leading the searches and not afraid of adventure. Moomin is portrayed as kind, helpful and supportive to the others whilst remaining a tiny bit vulnerable. What is there not to love about Moomin?

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (author) and Axel Scheffler (illustrator). Published: Macmillan Children’s Books, 1999.


The Gruffalo is a creature that also lives in the woods, whose distinct physical characteristics are clearly described to create a memorable image (and rhyme). The woodland creatures talk about him liking “roasted fox, owl ice cream and scrambled snake” but his description turns out to be more intimidating than his actions as he mocks the mouse and gladly follows him. The fact that the reader is aware but not the Gruffalo, that it’s the Gruffalo scaring the other creatures and not the mouse only adds to our sympathy for the Gruffalo. He’s lovable because he’s not very bright and is easily manipulated by the mouse.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (author / illustrator). Published: Harper Collins Children’s Books, ed. 2009.

Dr. Seuss is the master of creating characters including The Grinch, the Once-ler and Wockets but The Lorax has to be my favourite by far. The Lorax lives in a tree trunk and looks like a wise but jovial and cuddly grandfather figure. He speaks for the trees and isn’t afraid to follow his principles and ethics when the Once-ler starts to destroy the Truffula trees and their Truffula fruits. So much so eventually all the creatures are driven out of their home. It’s a serious story about the importance of looking after the environment but as always with Dr Seuss, it’s told in a clever and entertaining way. The Lorax is a strong, individual character.

Larf by Ashley Spires (author / illustrator). Published: Kids Can Press; reprint ed. Jun 2015.


Larf is a vegetarian sasquatch described as a 7-ft tall manbeast who lives in the woods with his bunny friend Eric. He’s an unassuming guy who doesn’t like attention and enjoys a quiet life but deep down feels a little sad that nobody seems to want to acknowledge his existence.  Larf feels different to the humans so keeps himself to himself to avoid drawing attention to his differences. However when he meets Shurl and Patricia he starts to feel they might be able to understand him so he becomes more open to changing his life and sharing his time with them.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (author / illustrator). Published: Random House Children’s Books, Red Fox Ed. 2000.

Although the Wild Things are not the main characters I thought they deserved being included as they still play such a central role to the story. Of all the characters I’ve mentioned The Wild Things are probably the most fearsome with all their roaring and gnashing, sharp claws and rolling of eyes but as Max is able to tame them and play games with them, they quickly lose their frightening image. The Wild Things live on an island in the middle of the sea and although they are physically gigantic and unruly animals we soon understand that they are just doing what comes naturally to them.

What do all these characters have in common?

Having gathered all these creatures together in one room I started to try and decipher what I’d learnt from these characters? What do they all have in common? Although not an exhaustive list, I picked out the most important points which stood out to me and thought I’d share these observations with you.

  • NAME – something easy to pronounce but with no other meaning.
  • APPEARANCE – they cannot be a human or animal but must be recognisable as a creature with eyes, legs and arms for example.
  • SETTING – where does the character live? Somewhere hidden from the human eye.
  • RELATABLE FEELINGS / ACTIONS – ensure the reader can empathise with the character’s reactions and reasons for doing something.
  • PERSONALITY – the character needs traits that we admire, love or sympathise with.
  • SOMETHING UNIQUE – there needs to be something unique or distinct about the character to make them stand out. Either through physical or personality traits, a particular interest, passion or belief or being unconventional in their outlook.
  • GROWS – the character needs to change, grow or learn something since the start of the story.
  • EFFECT ON OTHERS – they need to have an effect on the other characters, stir up feelings, instigate behaviours etc.
  • INTERESTING EXPERIENCES – they should experience a range of feelings and events in the story which surprise or capture the reader’s imagination.
  • NEVER MEDIOCRE – the character should be clearly defined with distinct personality traits and an individual appearance. Nothing vague or wishy-washy, these characters are different, unusual, with a purpose and the reader knows it.
  • GOOD OR BAD? – Are they a good or a bad character? They can be bad, but not intimidating, good but not weak or they may grow from being a bad character to a good one but never remain in between.

Looking at the characters within a story in this way isn’t easy and it’s obvious there are a number of factors to consider but breaking the character down like this can help to determine their motives, dreams and behaviours in greater depth in order to understand who they are.

Maybe now I should attempt the trickier part of creating a character of my own…

 

Source: Library or private copies.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

 

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14 Common Misconceptions About Writing Picture Books

Tree Frog 2

With people like Simon Cowell making flippant remarks about all children’s books being boring and that he could easily do better it’s no wonder the genre doesn’t always get the credit it deserves inside and outside the writing industry. It’s short sighted to assume that because children aren’t yet as knowledgeable, educated or verbally adept as most (but by no means all) adults that their books are easy to write. I chose to start my writing career with picture books because I could see the difference they make to thousands of children’s lives but do I feel I plumped for the easy option? Hell no and these 14 misconceptions make up just a few of the reasons why I feel that way even at this early stage of my career.

  1. Writing children’s picture books is easy. Writing a picture book plays on a very particular set of writing skills including saying something of note, interest or amusement within a limited word count; picking words which convey your sometimes complicated message clearly and simply; choosing a topic or character of interest to your reader who is of an age you have experienced but in an era vastly different to that of today and usually long forgotten. Every single word is important and every phrase should stick in a child’s mind for the right reasons. You are not writing for someone who thinks like you, you are writing for someone who is learning from you.
  2. You just have to send your story to publishers. Finding a publisher is only a small part of the process. First there’s learning all about what publishers are expecting, how to stand out from the crowd, having an original idea or putting a new spin on an old one, adapting your writing into a style children will appreciate, getting the layout right, learning how to be a tough editor on your own masterpieces … and that’s all before you’ve even approached any potential publishers and agents.
  3. If your family and friends like it everyone else will like it. Of course it’s a good start if they genuinely like your stories but unless your family members are involved in the publishing industry chances are they haven’t a clue if it is written well or whether it’s a potential top seller. Your family may be among your target audience but their’s is only a limited (unprofessional) opinion. Find someone who knows the industry who can give you sound advice to take your dreams forward.
  4. Everybody is writing a children’s book. Sometimes it may seem that way with the amount of talented competition appearing out there but not everyone has the desire or inclination and especially not the perseverance to write a children’s book so concentrate on developing your own talents and skills and just enjoy reading other writer’s books and learning from the successful ones along the way.
  5. You just have to write your main idea down as it comes into your head, do a couple of tweaks then send your first draft out as the editors will do the rest. I think I once read that you’re likely to write your book at least 5 times. In my house that’s a gross underestimation even before sending to publishers. First there’s the idea and coordinating it into a solid story structure. Then there’s the correct layout and word count to consider, the suitability of the words I’m using not to mention the checking part, checking I’m successfully saying what I set out to say, that it’s believable and makes sense and that each spread evokes good imagery. Yes editors will want to alter your work but first the publishers need to see that you have an idea that works within a picture book framework.
  6. Picture books are too short to need a story structure. Wrong. Everything you’ve ever learned about writing an outstanding story needs to be covered despite your challenging word count.
  7. You have to be able to draw (or know someone who can) to write picture books. I’ve come to realise that if you’re a professional illustrator and a writer you do have an advantage in marketing terms. Pictures and images are always a more attractive sell than stand alone text. However if you’re not a professional illustrator don’t attempt to pretend you are. Poor pictures can do more harm than no pictures. Be brave and trust in your ability as a writer to speak for itself. Many publishers have a bank of illustrators they like to use so it’s certainly not an expectancy in the publishing world and they will be happy to match your writing style with the right illustrator.
  8. It doesn’t take long to write a picture book. Writing a picture book takes as long as it takes. What do I mean by that? It’s different for everyone as a number of factors can affect the speed of production. How experienced are you? What other commitments do you have? Is it your full time job? Do you write in short bursts or hide away in a room for hours? Can you focus on your writing at the drop of a hat or do you need to build up to the levels of concentration required to produce good written work? One thing you do need to do is to keep persisting and continue writing.
  9. Anyone can write a children’s book. True anyone can and even anyone can publish one nowadays but writing a quality, timeless picture book takes, talent, willingness to learn, being able to accept criticism, not being precious about changing and adapting your story idea and understanding the commercial expectations.
  10. If it’s a good picture book it will sell itself. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a talented writer or even a published writer is instantly recognised. People need to know you’re out there before they can like your stories. An agent can help but knowing the basics of marketing will go a long way to building your career – although if you’re Simon Cowell you’ve probably already got this part covered.
  11. Picture books can be as long or as short as you like. Most picture books follow a strict layout and word count which has been proven to appeal to their market audience. Generally the more succinct the better. Any deviance from this can reduce your chances of being published. So pinpointing your story’s plot, progress, conflicts, surprises and goals on a limited word count without reigning in your imagination is a constant juggling act and paramount if you want to avoid a boring tale Mr Cowell.
  12. Rhyming picture books are the most popular. I’ve read with many different children and undoubtedly they enjoy books in rhyme as do their teachers. However for many publishers, this is a perfect example of when it’s not always wise or viable to follow the demand. Rhyming stories can add complications to the publishing process as rhyming books pose numerous translation issues. So beware when writing in rhyme. Every word and every sentence has to flow effortlessly to convince the reader it’s the right style for your story. The rhyme must serve to enhance the pace and humour and know that even when you master this you may be limiting your market.
  13. If your picture book is rejected is must be rubbish. It might be rubbish (probably a doubt many writers suffer from) but rejections can be due to a number of things. Your book may be too similar to another book they’re publishing, the subject matter doesn’t fit with other books they publish, they’ve already filled their quota for the year so don’t have the resources to support the offer of a contract. One of the hardest parts of being a writer is to accept when your work isn’t up to scratch but to believe in your abilities and success regardless.
  14. Picture books only appeal to young children. Picture books may be aimed at young children but the appeal stretches much further than that. When writing a picture book you need to bear in mind that much of the time adults are the ones who make the initial purchase and the ones who read the stories so giving consideration to an adults enjoyment can only enhance the longevity of your story. As picture book popularity develops, despite being traditionally billed as starter books, more and more of the contemporary picture books are retaining their simplistic appeal for older children too now. The bold, colourful and often humorous stories can be an attractive, uncomplicated read for any able reader too.

So Mr Cowell, all any children’s writer is aiming to do is to offer a book that is captivating, exciting, fun and interesting to pass on their love of reading and if you can achieve that with your army of editors supporting you, I look forward to an entertaining read at bedtime.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 4: Overcoming Fears

Fear is designed to instinctively protect us, yet it’s that same fear which also limits us and prevents us from achieving our goals. Some even believe that prolonged fear can manifest as mental and physical illness. Fears come in many guises, great and small such as a fear of snakes, the fear of being different or doing the wrong thing, the fear of failure or perhaps the fear of heights. Everyday, we let our fears determine our choices. The fear of reproach may stop us speaking out about an important issue despite feeling we should, we may opt to miss out on experiencing different countries and cultures as we can’t face getting on a plane or we simply avoiding a situation completely when we fear the outcome will be rejection. Fear makes us feel uncomfortable so many of us will automatically prefer to seek the quickest route to restoring the harmony rather than pushing past the fear to get to where we really want to be.

Understanding Overcoming Fears

For the most part fears are irrational as they’re either based on a limited amount of past experience or we’re imagining all the horrible things we think could happen in the future when they haven’t actually happened yet. We can be scared of something happening in the present but we cannot fear something happening in the present as fear needs time to breed. This suggests that fear has no power over us in the current moment, just the past or the future. Overcoming fear is about recognising that if the event we fear has happened in the past, this isolated incident doesn’t necessarily foretell the way a future event will pan out and likewise if our fear is of something which might happen in the future that fear is never a real experience until it occurs in the present. This tiny piece of knowledge alone should start to diminish the power of any fear.

Book Review on Milton’s Secret by author/s Eckhart Tolle and Robert S. Friedman.

Milton's Secret

What’s it all about?

This story is about a boy called Milton who’s being bullied by an older, bigger boy called Carter. In the beginning Milton feels powerless when he sees Carter and becomes overcome with the fear that the bullying will never stop. The author Eckhart Tolle shows why Carter’s fear has formed and how the more he replays the events in his mind the greater the fear becomes. Eventually his feelings become overwhelming, stop him sleeping and leave him scared to go to school. When Milton finally falls asleep he has a dream where he’s told about a light inside everyone and everything. This book advocates living in the now, seeing situations as they are in the present moment and understanding how the present continually effects and alters our perception of an experience. The idea behind the story is that by focusing on the present Milton is able to reduce and remove the fears he has built up in his mind about Carter.

Which age group is it aimed at?

As this story covers a very complex subject involving the concept of time, I would suggest this book is aimed at 6-10 year olds, an age by which most children have a firm grasp of the sequence of the past, present and future.

Conclusion: 

This book wasn’t published recently but at the same time it felt as though both the illustrations and the approach had aged very quickly for a book of less than a decade old. Despite this I had high hopes for a children’s picture book by Eckhart Tolle and I wasn’t disappointed until about three quarters of the way through when Milton was suddenly told about a light inside him and everything around him. Now as an adult I could get all philosophical about this and even explain to a child it’s like Yoda feeling the force as he focuses on the present moment but my problem with this part of the book was exactly that – that it needed explaining. The introduction of the light inside us felt irrelevant to the topic, made no sense in the context and it didn’t feel like a workable solution or explanation as to how to deal with the bullying.

I thought that maybe I was just reading too much into it and perhaps a child might understand and see it differently so I gave it to my nine year old to read and without any prompting from me he said “I liked the beginning but what was the light all about? That’s just weird. I don’t think that would help me if I was being bullied” as he raised his eyebrows and looked at me like the world had gone crazy.

I had to agree with him because the explanation was too abstract for a child to comprehend.  It didn’t seem to take into account that children often take things far more literally than adults do. A child would be more likely to be looking for a physical light within them than a feeling of energy and self belief.

That said, the idea of maintaining an open attitude, being aware of the present and letting go of the past is a practical and usable idea in how to build the courage to overcome the fear of bullying particularly in today’s virtual world of social media. The story demonstrated that when Milton was open to observing Carter in another environment he noticed different behaviours and because of this Carter appeared less threatening to him and it changed his perception of the boy.

Author/s: Eckhart Tolle and Robert S. Friedman.

Illustrator: Frank Riccio

Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc. (2008); co-published with Namaste Publishing.

Our Rating: 3 out of 5

CLICK TO BUY Milton’s Secret: An Adventure of Discovery Through Then, When, and the Power of Now

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 1: Emotions.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 2: Visualisation.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 3: Thinking Positively.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 3: Positive Thinking

One of the hardest things to do in life is to remain positive when we’re facing events which make us unhappy, anxious or confused and there’s always a fine line between burying our head in the sand and viewing the situation positively. So how do we remain positive in adverse situations without feeling like we’re blatantly lying to ourselves? Today I’m reviewing a book called I Think, I Am which explores instances of when children might need help turning negative thoughts into positive ones.

Understanding Positive Thinking

Positive thinking is a chosen perspective. We always have the choice to decide how we’re going to think and react towards a situation. Being positive comes naturally to most of us when we’re faced with a rewarding or enjoyable situation but as soon as we’re faced with a bad situation to conjure up any positive thoughts and feelings requires ever increasing conscious effort on our part. One way to do this is to look for what we’ve learnt from the event and how it can help us be better or create a more desirable outcome for the future. A more proactive way is to use affirmations, the oral or mental repetition of positive desires or outcomes. They’re almost like a little reminder to ourselves that it’s up to us to change the things we don’t like. However if we want to avoid these affirmations feeling like we’re announcing the sun is shining while we’re battling our way through a blizzard it has to be a statement which we can believe in, something that we know in our hearts to be true or has the possibility of becoming true. For example, I can feel the blizzard easing off might have been a more successful affirmation in this instance. The belief behind a positive thought is often triggered by how we phrase the thought in our minds and the words we use to contradict the undesirable situation we’re in. As soon as we start saying these positive words and phrases our minds cannot help but start to picture the scenario in our minds.

Book Review on I Think, I Am! by author/s Louise Hay and Kristina Tracy.

I Think, I Am

What’s it all about?

I Think, I Am is a picture book set in a fairground and each colourful double page spread covers a new scene depicting twelve everyday issues that any child may experience. In turn each scene talks of the negative feelings which may accompany these situations, such as feeling left out, jealous of how someone else looks or frustrated at not being able to do something in the same way as someone else has.  For each issue encountered the story provides a simple positive affirmation to be used to replace the negative thoughts talked about. At the end of the book there are seven tips for how to do affirmations.

Which age group is it aimed at?

From the illustrations and basic text I would say this is aimed at 4 to 7 year olds when life is generally much simpler. However most children regardless of age would still relate to the examples given so it could serve as an introduction to the topic for older children as it highlights the kind of situations when they may fall into negative thinking without realising it. In this instance the book could be better used as a starting point from which to build on this knowledge of how to be positive. Once they’ve grasped the basic idea they could start to come up with their own positive thoughts that are believable to them so they become better able to adapt and deal with any new situations as their insecurities and interactions become more complex.

Conclusion: Although I like the idea of giving children examples of positive thoughts to replace negative ones, unfortunately I’m not convinced that all the affirmations suggested in this book would be believable at the precise moment that the child was in the thick of the upsetting situation. They could be useful for them to use when reflecting back on their experience but the leap between the negative to the positive thought feels too large in some instances, leaving me feeling that in order to keep the book simple too many crucial steps may have been omitted for the positive thought to be considered remotely achievable. However, what this book does do is clearly explain the concept, relate it to situations a child can identify with and encourage them to be aware of their thoughts, question them and provide a platform for the reader to discuss more gradual affirmations with the child and maybe even real life situations. In so doing they can learn that what they’re seeing and experiencing is not the whole picture and is merely a temporary situation where they have the power to take control, change what they’re thinking and make their life a happier place. With mental health issues among children on the increase this is an invaluable life skill to master from an early age.

Author/s: Louise Hay and Kristina Tracy.

Illustrator: Manuela Schwarz

Publisher: Hay House UK Ltd (2008)

Our Rating: 3 out of 5

CLICK TO BUY I Think, I Am!

Next week in PART 4 I’ll be reviewing a book about overcoming fears.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 1: Emotions.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 2: Visualisation.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 4: Overcoming Fears.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – Part 1: Emotions

There are certain aspects of life which we’re never taught about in school. It’s the things we tend to stumble our way through, across, over and under as we rack up the years of our lives. Some may say that’s how we grow and learn and gain wisdom but if only there had been a few more sign posts along the way when we were children, just to give us a hint and point us in the right direction, perhaps the path would have shown us a very different view. Today as the first part of a short series of blogs I’ll be writing, I’m reviewing the picture book called Emotionary: Say What You Feel which helps to explain the confusing, involuntary and intangible subject of emotions.

Understanding Emotions

Emotions are an essential part of what it means to be human. If listened to, emotions can make us aware of what we’re thinking and feeling about any given situation through the corresponding physical and mental reactions which manifest. Being aware of our emotions can give us the power to take control of our own lives rather than being at the mercy of seemingly involuntary reactions. Emotions can often appear irrational and illogical so understanding and accepting them can elude many of us for most of our lives. After all it’s only the reaction to the emotion which can be captured in a lab and put on display. The emotion itself is something far less tangible with its intuitive and instinctive state.

However, understanding how we feel is still only the start of the journey. What about expressing those feelings to others? How are we supposed to translate these illusive feelings into words? Although I’ve always been very aware of my own feelings for people and situations, throughout my life at times I’ve struggled to voice the feelings most important to me in ways in which others can clearly understand. It’s something I’ve had to learn over the years through tears, misunderstandings and heartache and not something which has come naturally. Any words expressed out loud suddenly seemed inadequate for the emotions I was feeling, like hollow voids preparing to be impregnated with misinterpretation but I’ve come to realise that a good writer or speaker is someone who can embody any amount of emotion into each empty sound or mechanically printed word. Perhaps that’s how we capture the magic of writing. I’m never quite sure if my fascination with words and writing was born in part from this desire and need to coherently express my feelings or whether I recognised that my love of words and writing was the tool I could use to express my feelings. I’m pretty sure the former had a strong influence but the lines are blurred.

Book Review on Emotionary: Say What You Feel by authors Cristina Nunez and Rafael R. Valcarcel.

Emotionary

What’s it all about?

As the title suggests Emotionary is a dictionary of emotions and without a doubt it does what it says. A total of forty-two emotions to be exact are explained and illustrated in this beautiful book. The explanations include positive and negative emotions including fear, embarrassment, admiration and compassion for example with each emotion having been assigned a two page spread, mostly taken up with original illustrative interpretations which are complemented by the poignant text.

Emotionary helps children to recognise and understand their feelings by describing each emotion and providing the vocabulary to express those feelings to others. I wish I’d had a book like this as a child. Each emotion can be read randomly but when read from page to page the authors have also cleverly linked the emotions to show a cycle of feelings and how one can lead to another.

Which age group is it aimed at?

The text is by no means simple and the explanations are often profound as the book doesn’t hesitate to deal with some complex emotions. Whilst it captured my six year old’s attention and both boys loved making requests as to which emotions I read out first, my nine year old undoubtedly gained more from it due to his increased vocabulary. I ended up reading the whole book with him in one evening as he didn’t want to stop. As such my recommendation would be eight years upwards (and yes this can include adults) as this is not only when feelings become far more confusing for children as they begin to realise that everything is not as black and white as they may have once thought but they’re also at an age when they’re wanting to make sense of their emotions and are better equipped to comprehend the explanations. However that said, this book prompted many questions from both boys and both were keen to acknowledge which emotions they could relate to and when they had experienced them.

Conclusion

Every child’s shelf should hold this book so they can refer to it whenever they feel lost and need some reassurance that what they’re feeling is perfectly normal and understandable.

My 9 year olds verdict: This book has “very descriptive text and imaginative pictures. This book makes me feel pleasure.”

Author/s: Cristina Nunez and Rafael R. Valcarcel.

Illustrators: Twenty two illustrators have collaborated to illustrate this book, depicting one or two emotions each so listing all of them is sadly not practical (view image for all attributions) but my personal favourites are Love by Maricel Rodriguez Clark, Relief and Embarrassment by Nella Gatica, Compassion by Nancy Brajer, Insecurity by Virginia Pinon, Acceptance by Josefina Wolf, Envy by Cynthia Orensztajn, Satisfaction by Tofi and Pleasure by Luciana Feito.

Publisher: Palalbras Aladas (2016)

Our Rating: 5 out of 5

CLICK TO BUY Emotionary: Say what you feel

Next week in PART 2 I will be reviewing a book to teach the art of visualisation to children.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 2: Visualisation.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 3: Positive Thinking.

Books About Things We’re Not Taught in School – PART 4: Overcoming Fears.

 

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

You’re a Funny Man Mr. Stanton!

The Cambridge Union Chamber with Mr Stanton

Mr Stanton was an animated middle aged man with a curly black beard, bright spectacled eyes and arms which flapped like an owl trapped in the House of Lords. He was an unexpected surprise who hated being serious or limited to reading one type of book. What he liked was acting the fool, reading books, twisting a tale, having the audience in hysterics, writing stories, being silly, taking the mickey, guzzling water, reading and eating pizza and… did I mention books?

Only those of you who have read You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum may recognise some distant similarities to that quirky introduction.

Mr Gum 1

I’ve just returned from an afternoon in Cambridge with my family having been thoroughly entertained by Andy Stanton, children’s author of the Mr Gum series (published by Egmont), as part of the line up for the Cambridge Literary Festival today. His zany approach was both refreshing and uplifting and cleverly appealed on many levels to both adults and children.

He began by reading various amusing excerpts from his childhood schoolwork followed by some story ideas he’d written for Mr Gum which never reached the final book. A great message I thought for all writers young and old, that even though not all ideas will come to fruition keep writing them down. You never know how they may be used in the future.

Mr Gum 2

Mr Stanton was able to mix the trivial with the serious and jump from wacky to informative in the flip of a coin and was almost lyrical about his expulsion from Oxford University. He said “picture a vast meadow where you might want to look at a tree, a stream and a patch of grass or a flower.” For him reading is like being able to look at each of these elements separately or combined but he felt the university was putting constraints and limitations on which elements he was allowed to focus on. I see an even greater message lurking here. One that says you should always follow your heart – or maybe I’m misinterpreting it when really Andy is saying that “the truth is a lemon meringue.” Friday from Mr Gum would understand.

Mr Gum 3

It was clear Mr Stanton enjoys performing. He was consistently engaging as he continued to tease and interact throughout. He even got those who don’t like putting their hands up to put their hands up. My youngest particularly loved the conversation between the crow and Old King Thunder Belly. Andy continued his light hearted pantomime approach right through to the grand finale of question time.  He is a true entertainer and it was hilarious to experience his personality.

If you liked the sound of this event, please follow me on Twitter Amanda Lonergan (@lonerganbooks) and Facebook to hear about other upcoming author events, book crafts, news on children’s book releases and much more.


CLICK TO BUY You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum!

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Kindle or book for kids?

 

Kindle or Book for KidsSo far I’ve resisted the Kindle urge and continue to cling to the faithfully printed pages which I can open up and touch; where I can fan through the remaining chapters and not stare at a soulless percentage figure; where I have the choice to peek at the last lines with a dramatic flick to tease myself into thinking I know how it ends, where there’s no scrolling through endless digital pages which look eerily familiar to all the previous ones. However sometimes I do wonder if I’m missing out or getting left behind in the dark ages. Could the slim line word generator make me a quicker, more avid reader?

For me I won’t be defecting to the Kindle side anytime soon as my current “mother of two” lifestyle gives me no need for one. I’m happy with my chunky literary fascinations knocking each other off my busy bookshelves. If you’d offered me one fifteen years ago however it may have been a different story. I may have welcomed the ease of such a svelte device in my overcrowded commuting bag.

As a determined writer on the other hand, sometimes the magnetic allure of its promises can be very tempting. When Amazon launched the Kindle Fire for kids coupled with their Kid’s Book Creator my mind started planning a whole new fantasy world of its own. Exciting! Was this the revolutionary kick start I needed? The book creator would enable little old me to publish full colour children’s illustrated digital books. At first I was ecstatic at the prospect of publication being at the command of my own fingers. Could the power of the send button be the answer to my success? I felt sure I could conquer the digital networks of such a program and present my stories in an instance to the real world.

Until the first signs of doubt set in.

I soon hit the brakes when I started asking myself basic questions. What type of books am I writing? Picture books. Who is my target audience? That will be four to seven year olds and their parents. Of course by this stage a whole new set of questions tumbled out of my mind. How would the illustrations look on screen? Do the parents want their children to have more screen time? When would a parent deem it ok for their child to read from a Kindle? Or do they, like me, prefer the printed alternative?

Suddenly it was looking less and less like the best forum to launch my books.

With the way I feel about books I struggled to see how a digital picture book could be more captivating than its printed version. How a solid flat screen could compare to flipping the floppy pages of children’s books which of course have the added advantage of doubling up as hats or towers whenever the need takes hold! So I resorted to considering the practical advantages as a parent.

When would I be tempted to read picture books to my children from a Kindle or iPhone for example? The only time that I thought a children’s e-book would have its advantages over a printed book, was on holidays. Travelling with children inevitably involves taking a myriad of unnecessary items plus the kitchen sink, so a skinny, lightweight screen could be welcomed to ease such a heavy, bulky load. A Kindle would mean I could take one or even two different picture books for every night of the holiday without having to arrange a separate shipment for them. A definite advantage but is this enough to make the e-book option more attractive overall?

For now I’ve chosen to embark on the traditional publication route but I haven’t dismissed self-publication forever. Perhaps there are merits to pursuing both? I’m sure the debate will continue to rage on in my head for some time and I know as a children’s writer I’m not alone with this conundrum. Feel free to offer your thoughts.