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.

It’s the little things…

I came across a collection of Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books in Waterstones the other day, which brought a smile to my face – as they manage to do every time I see them. Seeing the classics there on the shelf next to The Wind and the Willows and beautifully bound copies of Peter Pan made me wonder about what made these books so successful.

Alfie by © Shirley HughesI remember being so captivated by Alfie Gets in First as a child, and to this day have held on to my copy of Alfie’s Feet and another of Shirley Hughes’ titles – Lucy and Tom’s Christmas – which still sit proudly on my bookshelf. But the success of a book wasn’t something I was aware of at that age. I didn’t read and re-read them over and over again because they were so popular – neither was I likely to know whether or not my friends a few doors down from me were enjoying having the same books read to them at night. All I knew is that there was something magical about opening those books and following the words and illustrations through to the end, until I was able to do so all on my own.

Of course, my parents might have known about the success of the books and picked up the copies after hearing good things about them; they might have been urged to buy them through some clever marketing strategy, or they might simply have liked the look of them on the shop shelf – there are many reasons for choosing a title for your child. But it’s what made me so attached to them after they first landed on my lap that mesmerises me. What is it about these books…?

I hardly know the answer – if a straightforward formula existed for ensuring the success of a picture book then the publishing industry would be a very different place. But I thought this article on the Guardian website, from as far back as 2005, got quite close.

In the article, Jane Richards considers not only why her children might enjoy the books so much, but also why she herself still enjoys reading them. As she puts it, Shirley Hughes seems to have ‘an instinctive understanding of the mind of the pre-schooler’:

‘It’s all about the “little things” that dominate their lives. It’s about realising your new wellies are the wrong way round when you’re out splashing in puddles; it’s about getting locked out of the house with your mum when you’ve been shopping and are tired and hungry; it’s about hearing a dripping from the attic that turns out to be a burst pipe when Mrs MacNally’s Maureen from over the road is babysitting for you; and it’s about going to a birthday party for the first time without your mum.’

IMG_20160614_160026I couldn’t have worded it better. Books are there to not only inspire, teach and nurture a child’s imagination, but also to help them understand the world immediately around them. And I think the latter is what Hughes does best. As I grew older, I held on to those books, and they were always there to remind me of the ‘little things’, even when I thought I understood everything so well.

Thinking about it got me wondering about the pressure put on publishers to compete with the distraction of new technology nowadays. At a time where the industry is adapting and experimenting, it might be more important than ever not to lose sight of the fact that the simplest stories are sometimes the most memorable.