Book Events · Panel Notes

Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate Promotion with Julia Donaldson.

Please note these are the notes I took during the panel, all of these are my jottings down and are not direct quotes from any panel member

Marian Keen Downes – Booktrust
Melissa Cox – Waterstones
Julia Donaldson – Children’s Laureate

Marian – Booktrust always keen to promote picture books not just in early years but right through into secondary school programme.

Julia – chosen 10 picture books for the promotion. Initial brief was for Julia to choose books that could be read aloud. Lovely task, 10 being featured but chose 20 and had another 20 that nearly made her shortlist. It was Waterstones that chose the final 10 from 20. Her love affair with picture books started long before she started writing them, when she was discovering them with her own children. Loves that for all children picture books give an opportunity to explore the world, to find out about things they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to experience or to find out about themselves e.g. books about bereavement. Parents can also find out about their children things they wouldn’t necessarily discover. Loves the huge variety of picture books there are from the very realistic to the very wacky, fiction to non fiction, prose to poetry.

Asked publishers to send their 5 star picture books for her selection.

  • Dogger by Shirley Hughes, very realistic, good story, opportunities for discussions
  • The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell, structure more comic like, humorous story, it’s predictible but also unpredictable – don’t know what the next creature will be
  • Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore, cat has 6 owners all living in the same street, neighbours don’t know each other
  • Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp / Sara Ogilve, dog just wants to be a ballerina, lovely nice recurring phrase that children can join in with
  • Would you rather… by John Burningham
  • Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson, Otto is a book bear, looking for a new home – the library full of books and book characters, ends up being read by lots and lots of children
  • The Snorgh and the Sailor by Will Buckingham/Thomas Docherty, also about books, longer story (smallish text)
  • Handa’s Surprise by Eileen Browne, a short text but lovely
  • Mad About Minibeasts by Giles Andre/David Wojtowycz, a book of little poems about insects, very bright and colourful featuring lots of bugs, could inspire children to write their own.
  • Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, Julia’s absolute favourite, quite muted colours, longer stories, frog and toad are like a comedy double act (frog is straight man, toad is comic), each small book contains 5 stories, there are around 4 books.

Waterstones are passionate about story telling and getting children reading. They sponsor Julia as children’s laureate. Aware that their average store has 6000 different children’s books (large stores have 10-15,000) so wanted a promotion that could provide guide to some of the best books for children. Leaflet will be available in stores alongside display of books. Alongside Julia’s choices Waterstones have added a couple of their own.

Picture This competition last year, Julia wrote text and illustrators competed, winner now working on a second book with Julia.

One that didn’t make the list, unsure if it’s still in print, Whose Mouse Are You? by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego. A question and answer book, nice to have the variety of structure. Has cliffhangery element, question on right hand page, turn page to get the answer. Would also have liked to have had more rhyming books e.g. Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake.

Promotion launching now, will be down to individual stores as to exactly how they do it, but all will have leaflets and most will have some sort of displays.

Q – You mentioned picture books for secondary, what are these books like?
Marian – depends on what book is for, recently selected Anne Frank picture book which is quite dense but mainly illustration, also Antony Browne’s Hansel and Gretel which has dense, dark, quite adult text. Things like A Monster Calls are very different.

Melissa – thinks the potential for there to be illustrated books for older readers, Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman is YA colour illustrated book, will be published by Egmont later this year, already out in the US.

Marian – trend for GN and manga is making it less difficult.

Julia – think it’s lovely to have the availability of these books, though also need for plenty of books without illustrations. Personally finds pictures in GN hard, not the way her understanding works.

Comment from audience member – because librarians have identified the desire for older readers to read picture books many have now got collections.

Q – Julia you mentioned wishing for more rhyming books, so why didn’t they make it?

Julia – submitted shortlist but was aware that some may have been out of print, so not entirely sure of what the ratio had been. Whilst she does love rhyme she feels there are some very clumsy rhyme books out there.

Melissa – decision was not made to exclude rhyme books, decision was based on in print / available and then to make sure there was a good variety of books including both illustration style and story style

Q – Will there be another Picture This?

Melissa – not finalised but do hope to do so, both books already done need to be published!

Julia – was very interesting thing to do, made her realise how important the central character is, some were so talented but some of the fairies looked so original that it didn’t work. Karen George managed to get the appeal right, realised you can love an authors work but their characters don’t work for the particular project.

Q – When writing how closely do you work with the illustrator?

Julia – not at all, when writing doesn’t know who it will be that does the illustrating, may think it will be done by a certain one, but they still have the opportunity to turn it down. Writes story in a vacuum, contact is mainly with editor – useful go between.

Q (Marian) – What are you working on a the moment?

Julia – on the road mainly so grabbing writing time when she can, working on series of very short plays for reading groups, 6 characters, feels absolutely best way of learning to read. Far more animated than simple prose. Working on a couple of other ideas for picture books. Not working on long form fiction, doesn’t work with her way of writing and being on the road.

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