I’m a celebrity, get me a children’s book!

Fame Fortune

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s no longer a big surprise when yet another celebrity announces they are trying their hand at writing for children and become a member of the famously increasing book club which already includes much loved stars like Ricky Gervais, Will Smith, Madonna and Holly Willoughby. Yet at the same time it still tends to attract a decent amount of groaning and moaning from the public. So why is this? Many of us may be getting a bit tired of hearing about celebrities who think they rule the world and can do anything they like. So we could be forgiven that our first reaction might be that they should stick to what they’re good at! Yet why shouldn’t they use their fame to get ahead in the publishing world? After all they have achieved their stardom off their own back; it’s their talents that have earned them the media attention in the first place so there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t –unless they’re truly rubbish at writing of course! Every book goes through a million and one grammatical and editorial checks, months sometimes even years before it goes to print so how much of it is ultimately written by the celebrity themselves? For some it is very little if anything at all in the instance of a ghost writer being employed. A ghost writer would discuss ideas with the celebrity and put them on paper in the correct grammatical format, create a story around these initial ideas and ensure vigorous editing is achieved whilst the final book itself is officially credited to the celebrity, who’s possibly contributed a few bullet points. Katie Price was blatant about using a ghost writer but as the American actor turned author Jason Segel put it when singing the praises of his co-author Kirsten Miller, I’d rather team up with someone who’s amazing at what they do and have something turn out great, than do it alone, out of pride, and have it be less good” (Jason Segel relishes the role of storyteller). At a readership level it is very hard to fathom the true level of involvement the celebrity has in writing the book especially when they’re publically taking the credit; they have to look like they know what they’re talking about. Those involved might say it’s a win-win situation from a financial point of view, others, that it’s a pure farce to twin a writer who isn’t bothered about celebrity status with a celebrity who isn’t bothered about writing!

HOLD ON…….is this just bad feeling on my part from assuming that celebrities can instantly get published on the basis they’re a good marketing bet? Is it not possible that they could be talented at more than one thing?

Frank Lampard has in fact stuck to what he does best by basing his children’s books on football and surely few could argue that for David Walliams to share his sense of humour with children can only be a positive influence. Believe it or not, being a celebrity can also be a hindrance in the writing world. It mustn’t be forgotten that being famous could actually predetermine a negative bias towards the celebrity’s book. If you don’t like the often controversial Russell Brand for example chances are you’re not going to bother with his book, acting on a judgement you’ve made before even opening his book! Whereas a reader has no preconceptions of an unknown writer so if the blurb on the back of the book sounds good they could be more likely to give their book a chance.

A couple of the Guardian write ups were less than complimentary to Russell Brand’s books (My booky wook for the kids: Russell Brand is telling fairy stories and Russell Brand’s and Neil Gaiman’s childhood reinventions) suggesting that in true Brand style he merely throws an array of possibilities up in the air leaving you to slot all the pieces together and try and determine if they actually mean anything. Yet isn’t that his appeal? Is this the journalist’s view of the book or the author? This kind of bad publicity could be a disaster for an unknown but this is probably when being a celebrity comes into its own and just needs a quick flick off the shoulder for them to bounce back into the marketing light.

Realistically the amount of celebrities gaining publication of a children’s book in comparison to the amount of celebrities out there is actually very low, it’s merely we hear about celebrity books more often as they’re already a person being talked about in the news. Let’s face it, a column on Russell Brand’s new book venture is bound to entice you over a headline unveiling Amanda Lonergan’s new children’s book – never heard of her, who is she anyway! It begs the question whether it is the book the readers are interested in or the celebrity? If I do ever get a national newspaper spread about my books, the chances are it would be exactly that – about my books and not so much me – which in my eyes is the right way round as it is my books I want children to enjoy and seek out. It is not an unusual trait for some writers to shy away from the public eye and favour solitude over celebrity status, so perhaps it is the perfect partnership after all.

Here are some more links for a good read on this topic.

The emerging cult of celebrity authors moving in on the industry.

Frank Lampard: Why I love reading, writing and playing football.

Why I’m Glad that “Girl Online” was ghostwritten.

Why do celebrities think they can write children’s books?

Going Christmas Crackers About Picture Books!

Xmas Book

Main image courtesy of debspoons at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As part of our family tradition every year I put together a little red box of goodies to give to my children on Christmas Eve. It always contains a new pair of pyjamas each (sprinkled with “Santa dust” of course), hot chocolate and mini marshmallows, a small toy, a Christmas DVD and some Christmas themed books. All the ingredients for a perfect snuggly evening together to prepare for a good night’s sleep before Santa arrives. So here are ten picture books I have included in the box in previous years. As with my Halloween book blog I have included a brief comment from myself and each book has been rated out of ten by my two boys now five and eight years old. In each case the first score is from my eldest. However getting a rating other than 0 or 10, or even a number within that parameter proved somewhat challenging this time! Is it too early in December to start on the mulled wine?


Harry and the Dinosaurs make a Christmas Wish – Ian Whybrow (author) & Adrian Reynolds (illustrator). Publisher: Puffin (re-issue ed. 2 Sept 2004). RATING: 8/10; 0/10.

If you’re a fan of Harry and his troop of dinosaurs, then you’ll love this old favourite. This got a zero rating from my youngest as Harry’s wish didn’t come true!

CLICK TO BUY Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Christmas Wish


The Smelly Sprout Allan Plenderleith (author/illustrator). Publisher: Ravette Publishing Ltd. (4 Sept 2008). RATING: 12/10; 10/10.

Fantastic! This is well loved by all of us. So much so my eldest thought a ten rating just wasn’t enough! The wit and imagination of this author leaves us feeling so fond of the dear little sprout! Very much looking forward to reading his new one “The Christmas Carrot” (which is in their box for this year – shhh!).

CLICK TO BUY The Smelly Sprout


Stick Man Julia Donaldson (author) & Axel Scheffler (illustrator). Publisher: Alison Green Books ( 7 Sept 2009). RATING: 5/10; 3/10.

Despite the poor rating, I think I would struggle to find a parent who doesn’t like this book – but it’s not about us is it? My youngest was very quick to say that “too many sad things happened to Stick Man” for him to give it a high number. It just goes to show how children view stories very differently to adults.

CLICK TO BUY Stick Man


How Santa Really Works Alan Snow (author/illustrator) & Maggie Bateson (paper engineer). Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Books (1 Nov 2010). RATING: 11/10; 10/10.

The paper engineer deserves a medal! Beautifully constructed and the humorous annotations and illustrations make a superb pop-up book which neatly explains many unanswered questions.

CLICK TO BUY How Santa Really Works Pop-Up


Mr. Men, The Night Before Christmas – Roger Hargreaves (original concept) & Adam Hargreaves (author/illustrator). Publisher: Egmont (3 Sept 2008). RATING: 10/10; 10/10.

It’s hard not to love a Mr Men book and Roger Hargreaves’ son Adam has certainly adopted the same matter of fact humour we appreciate with this new series.

CLICK TO BUY Mr. Men: The Night Before Christmas (Mr. Men & Little Miss Celebrations)


The Snowman Raymond Briggs (author/illustrator). Publisher: Puffin (re-issue ed. 3 Oct 2013). RATING: 1/10; 0/10.

This book has been around for a while now and I threw it in to see if it still holds that same magical quality that originally captured children’s imaginations. Sadly my two were pretty unimpressed. Slow and boring was the feedback I got from them.

CLICK TO BUY The Snowman

Father Christmas Needs a Wee – Nicholas Allan (author/illustrator). Publisher: red Fox Picture Books (5 Nov 2009). RATING 10/10; 10/10.

This is both funny and educational by including counting and numbers within bright, bold illustrations. All qualities that contribute to this winning combination. We’ve read it so many times and yet it always gets a giggle.

CLICK TO BUY Father Christmas Needs a Wee


Aliens Love Panta Claus Claire Freedman (author) & Ben Cort (illustrator). Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Books (1 Oct 2010). RATING: 6/10; 10/10.

For a theme that I feel is possibly verging on the repetitive now, it still manages to entertain with its easy rhyming quality and fantastic choice of underwear! Who knew pants were such an integral part of our world history.

CLICK TO BUY Aliens Love Panta Claus


1001 Things to Spot at Christmas Alex Frith (author) & Teri Gower (illustrator). Publisher: Usborne Publishing Ltd (28 Aug 2009). RATING: 10/10; 10/10.

I’ve included this as an alternative to the other classic picture books which proved a resounding success. It gets them reading but also occupies them for longer. A mixture of lively illustrations, words and numbers means it’s suitable for all ages.

CLICK TO BUY 1001 Things to Spot at Christmas


Slinky Malinki Christmas Crackers Lynley Dodd (author & illustrator). Publisher: Puffin (re-issue ed. 4 Oct 2007). RATING: 5/10; 10/10.

If the rating had been down to me I would give it a ten. The Slinky Malinki story lines are always very simple but the melodic rhyme and imaginative wording is inspired. Sorry Slinky my two boys are obviously dog people not cat people! So I think if Hairy Maclary had been the star of this book the scores may have been different!

CLICK TO BUY Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers (Hairy Maclary and Friends)

I hope this has given you some ideas for Christmas. What are your favourite Christmas picture books?

Where obtained: public or personal library.

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A Doorway to a Bigger World: Part 3: Imagination

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Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

IMAGINATION

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. Albert Einstein

Imagination, WOW! Saving the best for last! Stories are a great source for developing imagination. Imagination is at the heart of all great achievements. Everything we achieve in life begins as a thought in our imagination. If we don’t use our imagination we only limit our achievements. Reading develops imagination by helping children to believe in possibilities beyond their own experience and that to me is like offering a child the potential for an incredibly fulfilling life. So how exactly does reading stimulate their imagination?

  1. Reading develops the skills to visually imagine something in order to make sense of it. Children need to be actively engaged in the story in order to become a part of the story and be able to critically and imaginatively process the information in front of them. To actively engage in a story demands a visually imaginative mind to comprehend the ideas and meaning conveyed. To explain this further, if a child is still learning to read they first need to visualise the letters in relation to each other as meaningful words. They then have to figure out what the individual words mean within the sentences and their meaning within the context of the whole story. This requires the ability to imagine things from different perspectives in order to make sense of why they are put together that way. Then just to make the whole process that little bit more mind blowing, by this time more images, more ideas and thoughts are popping into their heads creating their own interpretation of the story. With all this going on simultaneously, it’s no wonder reading can be a real effort for many.
  2. Reading stories can provide inspiration for pretend play. Role play and pretend play, whether in the playground or independently at home is a way for children to act out and practise real life scenarios or conjure up their own make believe world.
  3. Books leave room for the imagination to grow. Picture books and films are a representation of the author’s and illustrator’s imagination. However, unlike films and television, a book cannot create the whole picture but inevitably leaves some gaps for the child to fill. Children are still required to imagine the feelings, the setting and sounds on a larger scale and it is the words which force these new images to appear in their minds. A book is a series of static snapshots of the story whereas television can encompass so many more continually active frames to the story. So an author’s creativity becomes the trigger for the child’s imagination to take part in the story, whereas television is more akin to passively viewing someone else’s idea.
  4. Reading introduces the possibility for new experiences. This may simply be through reading about an event or person they have no prior experience or knowledge of or it may be the idea that something is achievable that they previously thought was not. The point is, reading opens up their minds to consider what might be possible and it puts no limits on imagining what is possible.
  5. A large vocabulary leads to a creative communicator of ideas. Books by their very nature are bursting with words. The more words a child is familiar with the easier they find it to communicate their ideas and share what’s in their imagination. In turn by talking to others, more ideas and inspiration are absorbed in their minds which can only lead to an even greater imagination.

For more information on pretend play here is an article from Psychology Today Reading for Imaginative Play .

A Doorway to A Bigger World: Part 2: Laughter

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Image of children courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

LAUGHTER

Is there any better sound in the world than hearing your child in fits of laughter and giggles? We all know just how infectious it is. The immediate benefit of laughter is evident by the way it makes us and our children feel. Reading and listening to stories stirs an array of emotions within us but reading humorous books makes us feel relaxed and happy. It is by nurturing this association between books and happiness that children are more likely to want to read. If a child feels happy when reading it is only natural that they will want more of what is making them feel good.

    1. Laughter is fun. When something is funny, it’s so much more enjoyable and easier to read. Laughter immediately lifts a person’s mood so suddenly homework reading is no longer a chore but a pleasure.
    2. A book that makes a child laugh helps them to feel more connected to the story. Laughter is an emotional response to a comment or situation and by laughing the child has formed an understanding of the story and starts to interact with it.
    3. When sharing the laughter with a parent or carer who is reading the story it becomes a social interaction between two people whereby the mutual enjoyment of the story can help the child to feel secure and understood which can only strengthen the bond between them.
    4. Stories encourage children to develop their own sense of humour. By recognising funny phrases or words in the book they are reading, children start to build their own sense of humour essential for dealing with life’s ups and downs. Understanding a joke is more complex than we might initially think. It often requires an understanding of a much larger context so teaches them to consider the bigger picture about the world around them and how people and objects relate to one another.
    5. Laughter is said to be a great healer of both physical and emotional health. Once laughter involuntarily kicks in, it stimulates an increase in the release of endorphins in the brain which contribute to the feeling of being happy and relaxed with reduced physical tension around the face, neck and shoulders. This means a humorous book becomes a mechanism for relaxation offering an outlet for our children to wind down and forget about any worries they may have, even if for a brief moment. Laughter has also been said to increase the number of cells producing anti-bodies which strengthen the immune system and reduce cortisol levels to boost the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and keep blood sugar stable.

So let me leave you with a little poem I wrote about laughter.

 

THE GIGGLE BUG

A chuckle a day

Keeps the germs at bay,

A giggle, a chortle, tee hee.

That bit was so funny,

I’m holding my tummy,

My head is still bursting with glee.

 

It’s a hilarious ditty

So rib-tickling-ly witty,

I’m enjoying this jovial path.

I’m really not faking,

My stomach is aching

Caught up in a big belly laugh.

 

Now you’ve started to snigger,

It’s a hysterical trigger

That is winding us both up in mirth.

Sitting bent over double,

In a merriment bubble

Is the sound of our laughter’s true worth.

 

To complete this series of blogs, “A Doorway to a Bigger World: Part 3: Imagination” is out soon.

If you’re curious to read more about the benefits of laughter check out this blog I read earlier this year The Power of Nonsense.

A Doorway to a Bigger World: PART 1: Independence

A Doorway to a Bigger World: PART 3: Imagination

A Doorway to a Bigger World: Part 1: Independence

 

Open Your Mind Quote

Reading is where the impossible becomes possible, which is always an uplifting thought. Books are universal, for any level, covering any theme, evoking laughter or tears and being translated into any language. The opportunity to read is not limited by class or race but simply by the access given to reading material. However, should that really be an obstacle? Many books can be borrowed from libraries or schools or be downloaded free of charge, so really there is no excuse. Any child can find the books they love with a little help.

It has been proven that reading is the number one foundation for a very good start in life and with so many benefits to be gained with so little effort, why wouldn’t we encourage them? In doing so you are opening doors of opportunity for them and feeding their independence, laughter and imagination, something I always try to bear in mind with my own writing.

In this three part series of blogs I will expand on how reading helps develop each of these three traits opening a doorway to a bigger world.

INDEPENDENCE

“The more you read the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go”. Dr Seuss

“Books were my pass to personal freedom. I learned to read at age three, and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi”. Oprah Winfrey

Reading is amongst one of the first things children learn to do independently. Independence is confidence in who they are. To be able to read enables their individual mindset to grow and develop the power to make unique choices. So what are the aspects of reading that inspire independence in children?

  1. Clever stories can prepare children for real life events, such as what it’s like to go to school, that learning to swim can take practise etc. Even a small insight into how it might go could give them the confidence to give it a try themselves.
  2. Reading encourages children to think for themselves by learning to question things and determine what is reality and what is fantasy. Can a mouse really dance? Do aliens wear underpants?
  3. By questioning the story they start forming their own perceptions and opinions, from the type of book or magazine they want to read, through to the information they choose to accept or discard from each one.
  4. Each book is an experience which offers them the freedom to acquire new knowledge and ideas that they might otherwise never gain access to.
  5. Reading builds up a child’s vocabulary which can give them the confidence to speak out and explain their own individual thoughts.

Watch out for “A Doorway to a Bigger World: Part 2: Laughter”.

 

 

 

Zombie Mania Infecting Children’s Picture Books!

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Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s no denying it, the zombie mania is still huge but are we ready to see them in children’s picture books? As with vampires and werewolves, it has been heavily debated as to whether zombies are based on fact or fiction so there’s a possibility we could be promoting a real scary character opposed to a fictional one. Zombies are not a new phenomenon by any means. In 1929 the book “The Magic Island” by William Seabrook was largely responsible for their manifestation into western culture where he delves into their link with the dark history of voodoo practices in Haiti. They since slowly cropped up in horror movies such as “White Zombie” directed by Victor Halperin in 1932 and DC Comics “Green Lantern” as the villain known as Solomon Grundy in 1944 but it wasn’t until George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” hit the big screens in 1968 that zombies became the mainstream flesh-eating living dead we know today (although Romero didn’t actually call them zombies it was the fans themselves). Zombie mania has since evolved and there are indeed a number of children’s books in the YA and 9-11 age range but are these really the type of characters we want to depict in young children’s picture books as being loveable?

I have to admit I am not a fan of zombies; I just don’t see the point of them. I think it’s their lack of function that gnaws at me. I like my scary characters to have a purpose and an agenda like a shape-shifting, terrorizing werewolf but zombies by their very nature don’t really do anything just wander around aimlessly in a semi-dead state. They’re laughable, not scary; they don’t do anything of interest, merely a very good job at irritating me! So much so I was mortified when the producers of the magnificent “Game of Thrones” introduced zombies to the plot. It was like someone had burst my imagination bubble by stretching the story just that little bit too far for it to remain believable to me. Although how I could quite happily accept dragons into the plot as a perfectly natural occurrence but not zombies, is beyond me! In fact come to think of it, we’ve all seen plenty of children’s picture books about dragons and we also have Winnie the Witch (author Valerie Thomas; illustrator Korky Paul) and Mona the Vampire (authors Sonia Holleyman & Hiawyn Oram) for example so why not have Colin the Zombie! In comparison to a manipulative spell casting witch or controlling blood sucking vampire, a zombie could probably be considered a more harmless character for a children’s picture book (aside from their human devouring antics of course!). Obviously Winnie and Mona are perfect examples of how to make the character more “friendly” for the purpose and both have been executed in very clever ways. Yet how has this transition from a terrifying, monstrous character into an adorable, lovable one become acceptable? This cuddly version suggests they could possibly even make a good friend for your child yet there’s no escaping they still represent that violent, terrifying monster guaranteed to give any young child nightmares, particularly if the tales of Haiti are anything to go by they may possibly be in danger of being turned into one! These characters are heading a long way from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit!

The truth is that attitudes have changed significantly since Beatrix Potter’s time. Our children today are probably more familiar with Ubisoft’s Raving Rabbids than Peter Rabbit! If a zombie picture book was done in the right way I see no reason why it couldn’t be considered amusing and maybe even serve to keep any potential nightmares at bay. So of course it’s acceptable nowadays. After all it would be like banning Halloween if it wasn’t!

I don’t currently have any intentions of writing a picture book about zombies but who knows maybe gormless Colin could be a future big hit! In the meantime I found a couple of light-hearted Zombie picture books already on the market for any little zombie fans out there and a chilling article on the history of zombies for any brave adults.

Would you buy a zombie picture book?

Zombie-Kids by Julia Dweck (author) & Mark Draisey (illustrator).

Zombie in Love by Kelly S. Dipucchio (author) & Scott Campbell (illustrator).

Reaping Grimly: How to Make the Traditional Zombie by Ellis Nelson