A real treat of recent releases

I thought I’d wrote a quick post about some picture book titles that I’ve come across in the past fortnight and thought would be worth a shout-out. So, if you’re looking for an Easter present for this weekend that will last a little longer than ten seconds before it’s devoured, why not pick up one of these treats?:

The Disgusting SandwichThe Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards (Alison Green Books)

A hungry badger races to get his paws on a sandwich, but it repeatedly escapes him at every step… This is a fantastically illustrated book with extra little stories in the pictures, providing that priceless re-readability  – allowing you to see new things each time you read it. There are lots of little interactions between different animals – from foxes to squirrels – all taking place in one park. I love the way the sandwich is portrayed in such a gruesome, stinky way, and how the ending is icky enough to make children and adults giggle. And you’ve really got to feel for the poor badger! If you’re looking for a squirm and a chuckle, then this is perfect.

Look out, ladybird!Look Out, Ladybird! by Jack Tickle (Little Tiger Press)

This title’s about a ladybird who’s learning to fly and finding that she’s more than just a little bit clumsy at it! The words are great in this book – they’re the type of imaginative, rounded words that children want to repeat. I liked the use of such phrases as ‘tickled Tiger’s tum’ and ‘bopped your banana’, conveying the way the ladybird is clumsily falling through the air, and the zig-zag movement of the words on a page. The story shows that it can be tricky learning something new, but you always get there eventually… and the little wink from the ladybird at the end is a nice touch!

Oh no, George!Oh no, George! by Chris Haughton (Walker Books)

A book about a dog called George who’s trying extra hard to be good but is tempted by everything around him. It’s a great little tale about a dog and his owner, which I’m sure young children will be able to relate to their own pets. The pictures in this title are fantastic – even though I found the illustrations on the pages where he does something naughty a little bit unclear and crowded with colour (just me being picky), the body language really makes the story. And the ending is superb – it just sums up how much can be conveyed through a picture alone. A definite favourite of mine.

 If you have any ideas of titles you would like me to consider for review or recommendation on here, or just a title you that was great and want the world to know about, feel free to get in touch: spotunderthetree(at)gmail.com

Please note: Any books I recommend on here are purely down to my personal opinion – I have no obligation to any particular publisher to advertise their work. This blog contains nothing but my own words, unless stated.

Pop-up books: for better or worse?

During my last weekly-but-increasingly-frequent Waterstones visit, I spotted a title I’ve had my eye on for quite some time: Playbook Farm, published by Nosy Crow.

Playbook Farm, Nosy Crow

Playbook Farm

In case you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a ‘pop-up book and play mat in one’ that was published in September of last year. So, it essentially works in the same way as a board or picture book but also folds out into a 3D model that children can use to play with on the floor.

I’ve always been amazed by the intricacies of pop-up books. I remember trying my hand at making my own pop-up cards as a child (usually Blue Peter-style!) where the characters would all stand up in front of a painted background as you open the card, creating a little model. Even as adults, there’s no doubt that seeing something transform in front of your eyes is just as amazing as it is for children. The only difference is that us adults might tend to have a ‘wow’ moment and a secondary ‘how did they do that?!’ moment, whereas children probably hold on to that ‘wow’ moment for that little bit longer…

guess-how-much-i-love-you-1

So now, seeing the excellent types of 3-D masterpieces that can be created from layers of paper, complex mechanics and repetitions of images (just look at some of the images by Playbook Farm’s creator on this post!) not only amazes me but makes me wonder about the whole ‘how did they do that?!’ bit and – in a publishing mind-set – leads me to also wonder about the role of such masterpieces.

Crossing the boundary

When it comes to the first ‘how do they do that?!’ question, I won’t go into detail, but simply point out the long, complex processes involved in creating all pop-up books  – each one needing to be printed by specialist printers and assembled by hand. As pointed out by the paper engineer Andrew Barton: ‘the result is one of the last hand-made, mass-produced, complex products that you can buy today.’

Playbook Farm is just one example of what can be achieved by this term ‘paper engineering’. Here we see the idea of a picture/board book being transformed into something fully immersive and – dare I say it – crossing the boundary into the realm of toys (although, I did wonder when I first saw Playbook Farm how durable the ‘play mat’ concept would be beneath the feet of young children – even the recommended 36 months plus….). Such an innovative title hints at the ways publishers could think creatively to give books that upper-hand if ‘competing’ with the interactive element that digital apps might be able to offer – even for such publishers as Nosy Crow themselves, who also develop their own digital book apps. Yet, one might conversely think that the interactive element of the pop-up book could itself be compared to the ‘bells and whistles’ of the digital book apps that publishers have received so critically in the first place…

Giraffes Can't Dance

On the one hand, many pop-up books – similarly to digital book apps – could draw reluctant readers to pick up such a book due to their incongruity and surprise elements. But when it comes to anything more than looking at the pretty pictures, the idea of them promoting any hands-on learning or enticement to really get into reading has been debatable for quite some time. This is not just in the case of non-fiction pop-up titles, but for pop-up picture book titles aimed at early years, where they might be trying to teach basic morals or such simple concepts as ‘a cow goes moo’. Yes, they might see something in 3D, but are they associating what is going on with what it represents? With the emphasis being on the pop-up elements, might what is going on in the text be completely missed?

The science-y bit

A few researchers have in fact looked into this in the past. Most notably, a series of experiments determined that when children ‘have been encouraged to manipulate and play’ with something, they find it harder to understand that what they are playing with is actually a symbol of something else – known as ‘dual representation’. Furthermore, the cognitive effort it takes to manipulate the flaps and pop-up elements of the book can make it harder for them to additionally process what is being said by an adult or the book itself. Overall, they suggested that to get information across to children, ‘less is more’.*

Lost and Found

So it makes you wonder, are the pop-up elements worthwhile if what is going on in the text of a book might be missed as a result? And what about the titles that were originally straightforward picture books and are re-released to become pop-up books? We’ve seen how complex a production process each book has to go through – why go through that all if it is at the expense of the overall story or the message of a book?

The New York Times put it well:

“Why mess around with an established picture-book favorite – one that seems to land on every newborn’s bookshelf? Because the pop-up version isn’t a mess-up, but rather a beautifully produced, restrained amplification of the original” [sic]

In my personal opinion, similarly with digital book apps, it’s all about variation and knowing when to use different formats. If you’re really trying to teach a child what a duck is, perhaps you’re best off showing them a simple picture book about ducks. But if you want to amaze and entertain your child, then pop-up books are a fantastic novelty to do just that.

i-am-not-sleepy-1

Playbook Farm itself was engineered by Corina Fletcher, who has also produced some intricate pop-up versions of such well-known titles as Giraffes Can’t Dance and Guess How Much I Love You for many different publishers. Personally, I see the art in all her work and want to buy her work for myself, just as much as I would for a child!

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* It’s probably worth pointing out that it’s of course a completely different scenario if you’re working with pop-up non-fiction titles for older children and adults.  Some of the earliest moveable books were aimed solely at adults and used in the medical profession to illustrate the anatomy of the human body – clearly the 3D element has its use when you are cognitively developed enough to automatically understand ‘dual representation’.

All photos © Corina Fletcher: http://www.corinaandco.com/

Themes and dragons

Just a brief post to mention that the Reading Agency have decided on their theme for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge – ‘Creepy House’, with illustrations by the well-known author Chris Riddell.The Reading Mission

As with each and every Reading Challenge, there will be various levels to explore – this time The Awful Upstairs, The Gruesome Ground Floor and The Spine-tingling Cellar…

I never fail to be impressed by the theme ideas that The Reading Agency come up with year-on-year – from Circus Stars to The Reading Mission, to Space Hop and many more since 1999. As they say – they always ensure that they suit both genders and cover a wide age range, to entice as many children as possible to take part.

Circus Stars

The themes allow libraries and schools to get creative with displays and events to make The Challenge the centre of attention at libraries during the summer weeks, so that children really feel they’re a part in something big. When I worked at a Bristol library, I remember the effort we would make to promote The Challenge and make it as exciting as possible for every child. Take this big dragon, below, that I made one evening for the Quest Seekers theme! Now that was a lot of cutting and gluing…

“The annual Summer Reading Challenge helps gets three quarters of a million children into libraries to keep up their reading skills and confidence. Because everything changes when we read.”

– The Reading Agency
Quest Seekers

World Book Day… and a Womble

So, today was World Book Day in the UK and Ireland – a UNESCO-organised day to promote reading, publishing and copyright around the world…

World Book DayAs part of the many events organised for it around the country, thousands of children were expected to tune in to ‘The Biggest Book Show on Earth’ this morning to watch some of their favourite authors and illustrators celebrate reading. It was a live event in London streamed to 40 cinemas in the UK, with such popular figures as Tony Robinson, Anthony Horowitz and Shirley Hughes taking part. The hour-long event was also made available online to watch at home or in schools – and if you missed it (like me!) you can watch it again here from tomorrow.

Along with the show – which the World Book Day charity are hoping will have reached 750,000 children around the country – other events have been taking place to mark the day, such as author signings in bookstores, book fairs, storytellings and such quirky events as a book-making workshop and even a Giraffes Can’t Dance-a-thon in Woolwich.

But perhaps one of the highlights every year is the fancy dress that takes place around the country, where school teachers and children (and anyone who simply feels like it) dress up as their favourite book characters… This photo gallery on the guardian website shows some of the efforts made around the country today by teachers and, I’ve got to say, I especially like Roald Dahl’s Mr Twit’s beard!

So, I thought I’d take inspiration from World Book Day’s decision to broadcast via the web this year and take part myself by adding my own photo to the collection… Here’s one of me at my publishing course’s awards ceremony last year, dressed up as one of my favourite characters – a Womble!

A Womble of Wimbledon

I hope everyone taking part today had a great day.