#3000Chairs Campaign to Aid Child Refugees

Author Nicola Davies will this autumn sell off artwork donated by illustrators, including me and many, many amazing illustrators, to raise money to help child refugees.

The artwork, which you can find on Instagram under the hashtag #3000chairs, will be given away at an a special event at Foyles Charing Cross on 3rd September. The chairs will be distributed anonymously in exchange for a standard donation on the night.

The money raised will then be donated to Help Refugees, which provides humanitarian aid to and advocacy for refugees around the world.

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PROUD to take part in this YA anthology of LGBTQ+ authors and illustrators

Staying true to yourself & being in a minority is not easy. It can be emotionally crippling which is why I had to contribute to this powerful book of LGBTQ+ authors & illustrators curated by Juno Dawson. This book is trailblazing. I know people are weary of showing their true colours for one reason or another, even people in this industry. I understand that. But a few weeks ago I saw a blind person at a Pride march holding a sign that read "Born to be seen.'

Life is short. Live it.

The short story I've illustrated* is by NY Times bestselling author and YA master, David Levithan. Its title: 'As the Philadelphia Queer Youth Choir Sings Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’…' It's beautiful. You can pre-order this powerful book from Waterstones. Proud will publish by Stripes in March 2019.

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This Summer's Swindon Libraries Summer Art Comp

Last year I held two art competitions for Swindon Libraries: Design a Doughnut and the When I Grow Up art comp. We received hundreds of amazing entries from across the borough. This summer I'm launching a brand new creative competition with Swindon Libraries - Design Mr Panda's Hat! 15 winners will receive a signed book (and possibly some extra bonus goodies!) and the overall winner will receive a class visit from yours truly.

How will you design Mr Panda's hat? Patterned? Full of doughnuts? Stickers? Pick up an entry form at your local library from this Saturday the 21st of July! This art comp is for Swindon Borough only. You can pick up a competition sheet from any one of Swindon Borough's 15 Libraries. Deadline: Sept 9th. I can't wait to see all the entries!

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Pandas, Monsters and Growing Up at Whitchurch Primary with Booklover Jo

Today I had the pleasure of visiting Whitchurch Primary School in Hertfordshire. Super school librarian and award-winning book blogger, Jo Clarke (AKA Book Lover Jo) had invited along to read some of my books to their pupils alongside pupils from Long Parrish Primary (who bussed their way to Whitchurch). It was a full house and the pupils were so prepped and engaged that they practically read along with me. I read Please Mr Panda (I can't not read this book); we journeyed through the detailed visuals of When I Grow Up; we met the Monster in the Hood; and I taught everyone how to draw Mr Panda by only using shapes and letters. They especially enjoyed listening to Monster in the Hood. Bookstore, P&G Wells, kindly attended with a piles of books. Here are some photos from the day courtesy of Jo and Dave from P&G Wells. Oh and if you're not already familiar with Jo's Clarke's book blog, I recommend you go check it out: https://bookloverjo.wordpress.com/

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When I Grow Up art creatively reused at Waterstones Flagship

You may remember the big cover reveal of Tim Minchin's When I Grow Up at Waterstones Piccadilly last Oct. Well, I'm so pleased to see that Waterstones are still displaying my artwork from the book, as you can see from these photos. This time they've added speech bubbles. I can't help but wonder where window designer, Annie, stores my giant illustrations! I absolutely love what she's done here. 

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Mr Panda Board Books are here!

There's just no stopping Mr Panda. As if four picture books wasn't enough, Mr Panda is now applying his dry wit to board books (board books are like picture books but smaller, thicker and biteable). Mr Panda's Colours and Mr Panda's Feelings were both released last month in the UK. I know many Americans are wondering when they'll publish Stateside (gotta love Twitter). The honest answer is: I don't know. Watch this space, I guess. For now though, you can order them from pretty much any UK bookstore. 

I had such fun drawing these board books. I hope you like them!

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 The Guardian

The Guardian

A Little Peek Inside Amazing

Receiving proofs in the post is always exciting. This particular soon-to-be-published book, Amazing, was inspired by my time working part time as a Special Needs Support Worker at Swindon College and it's one of very few trade picture books that feature a wheelchair user, the main character, on its cover. But in this, the wheelchair is merely incidental, which is not something you often come across in picture books.

I often stick to limited colour palettes, with the exception of Tim Minchin's When I Grow Up, but I wanted this book to be really colourful and commercial-looking, because when was the last time you saw a disabled character on the front cover of a picture book in your local supermarket? Only a very small percentage of (usually highly commercial) picture books make it into the supermarkets. Most are licensed character books, like Peppa Pig or Frozen.

I'm fortunate in that all of my books are (or have been) stocked in the high street (Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, Smiths) and I'm forever grateful to all the indie bookstores who stock my books, not to mention libraries! The Mr Panda books have even made it into Sainsburys (UK) and Target (USA) and other supermarkets around the world. That said, I'm really hoping this book receives the same level of support.

Below is a peek at the proofs. Amazing is set to publish first in the UK in Jan '19. 

  reason I 

 reason I 

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25 Things to Spot in The Queen's Lift-off

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Suffice to say, this book features the planets of our Solar System (and little Pluto), but if you look hard enough you might just find the following.

1. Sputnik 1 - The first artificial Earth satellite. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on 4 October 1957, orbiting for three weeks before its batteries died.

2. Voyager 1 - A space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977 as art of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System

3. Laika - Laika was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. 

4. Lunar Rover - A lunar rover or Moon rover is a space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of the Moon.

5. Curiosity - Curiosity is a car-sized rover designed to explore Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.

6. Face on Mars - The "Face on Mars" was photographed by the Viking 1 spacecraft as it made its way to the Red Planet. The image shows what seems to be a giant humanoid face, carved out of or even built onto the surface of Mars.

7. Crop Circle - Crop Circles are geometric patterns that appear mysteriously in crop fields. The term was first coined in the early 1980s by Colin Andrews. Although obscure natural causes or alien origins of crop circles are suggested by theorists, there is no scientific evidence for such explanations.

8. International Space Station - The International Space Station is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit.

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9. The American Flag - NASA's Apollo 11 blasted to the moon on July 16, 1969. Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins were the astronauts on Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon. They both planted the U.S. flag there. 

10. Mice on the Moon - The myth that the moon is made of cheese has been around for millennia. The best-known early citation dates to 1546, and can be found in The Proverbs of John Heywood (which can be read in its entirety here). The document is a compendium of some of the titular author’s most famous sayings, such as “the more, the merrier,” “a penny for your thoughts,” and “Rome was not built in a day.” At one point, he jokingly states “the moon is made of greene cheese” (in this context, “greene” refers to the food’s age rather than its color).

11. A subtle reference to a popular American science fiction television series and movie franchise.

12. Mr Panda - Mr Panda is from my ongoing 'Mr Panda' series. He also appears in The Queen's Handbag and The Queen's Present.

13. Another nod to a popular American science fiction television series from the 1960s (this time, in the text). 

14. The Queen's Hat - The Queen's Hat appears four times in this book. 

15. The Sneaky Swan - This thieving swan stars in The Queen's Handbag, but he also make a brief appearance in The Queen's Present, too. 

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16. Royal Guard and Police Officers - These characters are from The Queen's Hat and The Queen's Handbag, respectively.

17. Blip - Blip stars in her very own book called Unplugged, but she does manage to make a cameo in The Queen's Lift-off.

18. A Lizard - This lizard is from my book, Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles.

19. The Alien Butler - The Alien Butler has replaced the Queen's actual butler in this book, as he follows the hoards of astronauts through space with a tray of tea. 

20. An Elf - This elf is from The Queen's Present. 

21. A Comet -  An icy small Solar System body that, when passing close to the Sun, warms and begins to release gases, a process called outgassing.

22. The Asteroid Belt - The asteroid belt is the circumstellar disc in the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter.

23. Contents from The Queen's Handbag including lipstick, perfume, a notepad, crossword puzzle, pen, a safety pin, compact mirror, spectacles, sweets and doggy treats for her corgi.

24. The Alien Queen and Space Corgi

25. Big Ben - Yes, Big Ben, a nod to the first book in The Queen Collection, is somewhere in this book. 

 

Taiwan Book Tour

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My amazing Taiwan publisher for the Mr Panda books, Monster in the Hood and Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles invited me to Taipei for a whirlwind book tour! The tour was incredible. What made this tour truly unforgettable were the delicious doughnuts. No, I’m kidding. What made it truly unforgettable was the people.

Over the course of one week I met so, so many amazing people.

I was interviewed by children's TV presenter 劉清彥 - 阿達叔叔 (Uncle Ada) at the Taipei International Book Fair. I was also interviewed (twice) by Parenting Reading - one interview was for their magazine and the other interview was live on air. Parenting Reading are also the publisher of the Betty Goes Bananas series. I held two signings at the book fair where I met so many friendly people, including Conrad and Joey from Parent Shop, Hong Kong. Conrad interviewed me about Mr Panda (video below).

I visited the European School (where I held two drawing workshops) and two huge libraries: The Taipei National Library and Kaohsiung Public Library. I also held an event at Eslite Book Store, which is massive! And I also held a fun workshop at Little House Books in Kaohsiung. 

To everyone at my Taiwan publisher CPL 青林國際出版: Corrine, Lilian, Ada, Sharon, Robert, Joanna, Marsha, Jay, Sandy and Robert, THANK YOU from the bottom of my box of doughnuts.

Oh, I also took Swindon Library's little teddy, George, with me. George visits schools all over Swindon to share his diary of adventures and love of books, and what an adventure this was!

Below are a selection of photos and videos from the tour. I will add more photos to this blog soon. 

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When I Grow Up publishes in the USA

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The US edition of When I Grow Up, the new magical picture book inspired by Tim’s hit song from the acclaimed and multi-award-winning Matilda the Musical is out today! It imagines life from a child’s viewpoint, with all the humour and poignancy of the song.

The book is illustrated by Steve Antony, an internationally published, award-winning author and illustrator of many picture books, including the Mr Panda series.

Published by Scholastic Press US, it’s available from all good booksellers, including:

Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million
IndieBound
Target

Or on Kindle.

You can take a peek inside and find details about the already published UK edition here and the Australian edition here. Each cover, for the three editions, is slightly different but infused with the same playful energy and imagination for which When I Grow Up is so beloved.

A boy, his dragon (and a wheelchair). My new book AMAZING and why I wrote it.

At the bottom of this post I reveal the cover of my next picture book. But first I’d like you to read this. 

Four years ago I worked part-time as a Student Support Worker in Swindon’s art college. I took the job because I needed the money and it was the only job in Swindon connected with art. This was after I took voluntary redundancy from Thames Water and before my first book deal. 

I had never worked with Special Needs students before so I really didn’t know what to expect. 

One of my students was a wheelchair user. Every time I worked with him he would update me on all the fun things he’d done over the weekend. He’d even keep me posted on his social life. In spite of his limitations, he had this infectious zest for life, not to mention a wry sense of humour. I worked with another wheelchair user who wanted to be a games designer, and I worked with and supported many other special needs students. Some were dyslexic, some were colour-blind (like me), some wore hearing aides, some had ADHD, and some had Aspergers. 

This was a truly eye-opening job, and as I settled into my new role I became more acutely aware of the challenges, embarrassing moments and narrow-mindedness some of my students faced on a daily basis. Let's face it, being a teenager can be rough at the best of times. Peer pressure, fitting in, feeling isolated, depression. It’s even tougher if you’re in a minority - the only gay one in class, the only Asian one, the only wheelchair user. But when you’re a teenager you at least have a better understanding of who you are. Younger children are still figuring stuff out. In elementary school I can remember a really pale girl with bright white hair and eyebrows. I remember how she was picked on by the playground bullies. I had never seen anyone like her. Not on TV, not in books, not anywhere.

Anyway, I worked as a Special Needs Support Worker for about a year and a half before becoming a full-time author/illustrator, and so I really only had a little glimpse of what it must be like to have a disability or to live with and support someone with special needs. But as an aspiring author, I developed this huge desire to write a story that featured a disabled child, and so I did just that. The story is simply called AMAZING.

But here’s the thing: I did not want the child’s disability to define his AMAZING story in the same way that my students did not want to be defined by their disability. In my mind my students were defined by their hobbies, interests and aspirations. Yes, they required different levels of assistance but they really didn’t want to be treated any differently to anyone else. 

I wanted the inclusion of my main character’s wheelchair to be entirely incidental. This is very important. And believe it not, it’s rare to find this sort of incidental inclusion so boldly depicted on the front cover of a UK trade picture book, even in 2018.

I wanted to focus on possibility and what makes each and every one one of us amazing, so I invented Zibbo. Zibbo is a loveable, cheeky and a-little-bit-naughty dragon. He’s also very small; possibly the smallest dragon anyone has ever seen. 

Simply put, in AMAZING the child is telling us about his little dragon.

“Some children have cats. Some children have dogs. I have a dragon...”

Zibbo the little dragon embodies that very special something inside us all that makes each and every one of us amazing in our own unique way. 

I wrote this book before The Queen’s Hat was adapted into a musical concert, before Please Mr Panda began appearing in Sainsburys down the road, before the Famous Five cover, Tim Minchin and all of my other books. In fact, I actually showed the book to a publisher at the Bologna Book Fair before I was published. She liked it but said it’s too niche and that a picture book with a wheelchair on the front cover could be a very hard sell (I won’t name the publisher, but I could see her point even though I disagreed). So I shelved the book until I eventually showed it to my editor, Emma at Hodder, last year. Without hesitance, Emma and the team all agreed, “We want to publish this.” 

I want to prove that earlier publisher wrong, which is why I am sincerely hoping that booksellers (including supermarkets) really get behind this book and prove that a picture book with a wheelchair on the cover can and will sell. Heck, I’ll even come and decorate your windows, just contact me. 

I know of parents, teachers and librarians who are proactively looking for more books that feature incidental inclusions of children in minorities, and I really hope they (you) like this book. Also, the secondary characters include girls wearing camo or violet or yellow flowers and boys wearing pink or viking helmets. One child (also on the cover) wears a hearing aid. Incidentally, this book also features the winner of last year's National Literacy Trust 'On the Shelf' charity auction. He appears inside the book as one of the main character's friends.

Without further ado, here is the cover! Feel free to share #Amazing2019. AMAZING will publish first in the UK by Hodder Children's in Jan 2019.

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Win 3 signed Mr Panda books!

To celebrate National Panda Day, I'm giving away signed copies of Please, Mr Panda, I'll Wait, Mr Panda and Thank You, Mr Panda! All you have to do is answer the following question. Mr Panda may not like doughnuts, but what do actual pandas ordinarily enjoy eating in the wild? Send your answer to enter a prize draw. The winner will be announced March 30th. Good luck!

***UPDATE***

Thank you for all your amusing entries and congratulations to the winner, Samantha (AKA Mrs Wheeler)!

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Unplugged now out in the UK and US and here's what I have to say about it

Unplugged now out in the UK and US  All of my picture books are first published in the UK.  Buy in the UK: Waterstones, Foyles, WHSmiths, Amazon, Hive Buy in the States: Barnes and Noble, Amazon Buy in Australia: Booktopia, Dymocks, Angus & Robertson  Buy in Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Taiwan. For other countries, please visit your local or online bookstore.

Unplugged now out in the UK and US!

A book release is always exciting and although this is my 12th release the feeling is still just as amazing as seeing my first book in print. But what's even better, and still something I find a little surreal, is seeing my characters take on a life of their own as they fly into bookstores, libraries, schools and the hearts of little readers.

This is my third stand-alone title. My stand-alone titles often explore themes relevant to our times. Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles was my reaction to the world becoming a much smaller place and how humans from different backgrounds often struggle to share the same space. Monster in the Hood has a similar theme but focuses more on learning not to judge someone based on preconceived and ignorant notions.

The idea of Unplugged came to me when I almost walked straight into a lamppost. I was more interested in Twitter than where I was walking. I thought to myself, 'I seriously need to unplug!'.

Unplugged is my reaction to today's obsession with social media and viewing life through filtered screens. It seems that whenever I go to a concert, show or even a nightclub, people are literally viewing their experiences through tiny smartphone screens instead of actually living, which I think is quite sad. For example, just the other day I was watching a David Bowie tribute act with my Dad and noticed someone watching the entire show through her tiny little phone. Then I saw someone else doing the same thing. It was like playing spot the millennial! But why are we all so obsessed with recording moments, taking selfies (which 10 years ago would have absolutely been considered to be completely self-obsessed and narcissistic) and staying connected every waking minute of the day? Of course, all of the above relates more to adults than children, but I personally think the best stories come from real life. I have never once tested any of my books on a child. Not once. And that's not even a conscious decision. I just get lost in my own little stream of consciousness without ever feeling the need to 'test the audience' because I'm not even thinking about an audience, I'm just writing a story and enjoying the creative process. It's cathartic. 

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Anyway, so here we have Blip, the star of Unplugged. Blip is a She. Is this important? No. It shouldn't matter if Blip is a boy or a girl but I guarantee you that most people would make the automatic assumption that Blip is a boy. Heck, people who have read and reviewed the book have even misgendered her. Is this because all female children's characters need to have eyelashes and bows and dresses? "But how do you know Blip is a girl?", a boy asked. There's possibly a conversation to be had here (I might blog about it) and we haven't even touched on the actual theme of the story yet. 

The story is ultimately about how great 'screens' are, but also how 'unplugging' is fun, too. Don't get me wrong, I love computers. When I was a kid I enjoyed playing Mario and watching my brother try to defeat the nefarious Mother Brain in Metroid.

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But my fondest and most treasured memories are of building forts in the desert, walking barefoot on hot concrete in the height of summer, discovering unusual animals amongst the tumble weed, pretending to be superheroes in the back yard, inhaling fresh mountain air for the very first time before stumbling upon the most beautiful waterfall I think I've ever seen. The list could go on and on and on. I was lucky.

 I remember stumbling upon a horny toad. Did you know they spit blood from their eyes!?

I remember stumbling upon a horny toad. Did you know they spit blood from their eyes!?

In Unplugged Blip lives in a black and white world of computer activities. She sees and does literally everything through a screen. She visits faraway places, listens to music, does aerobics, solves problems, plays games and so on. But one day all of this changes when there's a power cut. Blip trips over her wire, accidentally unplugging herself, and tumbles into a world of bright, fresh colours where she makes three new friends: a fawn, a duck and a bunny rabbit. The two halves of the story mirror each other, only the first half takes place in black and white pixels and the second half takes place in glorious technicolor, with friends. As with most of my books, much of the story is in the drawing. When it gets late Blip realises it's time to find her way back home. But will she plug back into her giant computer?

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I recently discovered that McDonalds now have little smart tablets filled with games, so the kids can now glue their little eyes to vivid pixels, while their parents catch up on Facebook. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that's actually quite sad. I recently read an online review, possibly on Goodreads, in which someone said something along the lines of 'Get with the times. Screens are here and make life better...'. I'm badly paraphrasing, but I actually agree with the reviewer. My book is quite simply a playful reminder of all the wonders that exist just beyond the screen. I think the best childhood memories come from exploration, adventure and the great outdoors, all of which I believe are good for the soul. Computers are amazing and they've revolutionised our lives in so many brilliant ways. Smart phones, iPads and games consoles are all valuable in their own way, but childhood memories of building forts with my friends in the desert?

Priceless. I'd rather have that than an iPhone 10.

All of my picture books are first published in the UK.

Buy in the UK: WaterstonesFoylesWHSmithsAmazonHive
Buy in the States: Barnes and NobleAmazon
Buy in Australia: BooktopiaDymocksAngus & Robertson

Buy in CanadaJapanItalyGermanyFranceTaiwan. For other countries, please visit your local or online bookstore.