Last week I launched my 9th author-illustrator picture book, The Queen's Present, at Waterstones' flagship in Piccadilly, London, and in the process raised enough cash for literacy charity, Beanstalk, to support four pupils for a whole year. It was a festive affair. There was mulled wine, mince pies and a fab turnout of lovely people, including friends, family, my publisher and agent, Beanstalk volunteers, fellow authors, booksellers, librarians and several curious customers. The icing on the cake was a delicious Christmas bake, by Great British Bake Off winner, Frances Quinn. It was very nice of Waterstones to allow us to take over the children's department. THANK YOU, Waterstones; and thank you to all who donated! Below are some tweets from the event.
Maddy Barnes (teacher, English consultant, author, editor and blogger for Rising Stars) has devised two fantastic lesson plans - one is for THE QUEEN'S HAT and the other is for THE QUEEN'S HANDBAG. Maddy has kindly allowed me to share these on my blog. Below are screenshots of each lesson plan. More lesson plans and ideas can be found HERE.
And here is the plan for THE QUEEN'S HANDBAG.
This is me, moments before my 14th and final school event in Guernsey: a small island in the English Channel, just off the coast of Normandy. It's where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. It's where rare golden goats graze. It has historical castles, sandy beaches, cobbled streets and quirky shops.
I was there for Guernsey's Children's Book Week: a week to celebrate the sheer joy of books, filled with fun and inspiring events organised by Guernsey's fantastic School Library Service.
Almost a year ago, the library invited me to take part, and weeks before my arrival I knew exactly which schools I'd be visiting. All of the nitty gritty details, including all the tech stuff, like laptops, screens, papers and pencils, were clarified well in advance. And the hotel? It was perfect; and only a short walk from the island's indie bookstore, Press Shop.
All there was for me to do was remember my memory stick and Top Secret sketchbook.
My mission was to visit fourteen schools in five days. Authors, Tommy Donbavand and Nick Cook were there for the week, too. Tommy had a head-start, as he was there for Doctor Who day, which took place on the Saturday before Children's Book Week. Tommy's written for Doctor Who, and he's the author of many books including the successful Scream Street series (now a stop-motion animated series on CBBC).
Gaming guru and author of Cloud Riders, Nick Cook, wowed everyone with his tornado machine: a machine that actually creates mini twisters! I was there to read my books; draw pandas, corgis and toucans; and eat imaginary doughnuts all week.
On the Thursday, the three of us were interviewed by BBC Guernsey presenter, Jenny Kendall-Tobias, alongside the library events organiser, Elizabeth. It was a really fun (and funny) conversational interview that's definitely worth a listen. Afterwards, we took part in a panel event and a glittering awards ceremony, held in the town library, where winning entries to an art contest were announced. I awarded three talented children with signed copies of PLEASE MR PANDA for their zany, innovative doughnut designs. There was a healthy doughnut complete with vegetables, an amusing pig-faced doughnut, and an amazingly constructed abstract doughnut which won 1st place.
One of Tommy's winning entries to his 'draw a monster' contest was a fantastically monstrous caterpillar called a CaterKiller.
The week was packed with school events. Each morning, a librarian collected me from the hotel and accompanied me throughout each day. I mainly based my school events on THE QUEEN'S HAT, BETTY GOES BANANAS and PLEASE MR PANDA. I taught the pupils how to draw pandas, toucans and corgis with shapes and letters. They had great fun screaming along with Betty and spotting the butler in THE QUEEN'S HAT. Every school was well prepped for their event, so the pupils were already very familiar with the characters and stories. This makes author events so much better, because the pupils are already invested in the characters. This allows us to expand on each story by making up new characters and situations. And they were excited and interested to see how each story began. Ultimately, each of my visits were about inspiring kids to read, create and use their imagination.
For my lunch breaks, I was treated to a spot of sightseeing by each librarian who accompanied me. On Monday, Alan gave me a mini guided tour of Vale Castle: a famous, historic local landmark which also features in THE GUERNSEY GOVERNOR"S GLOVES, a brilliantly executed picture book created by Miss Kimber's Class from Vauvert KS1 that tells the tale of how a pair of windswept gloves took the Governor on an impromptu tour of the island (a bit like another story I know).
For Tuesday's lunch break, Emily drove us to the West Coast, which had suffered a minor battering from the tale end of Storm Imogene (pictured below). We also braved a freak hail storm to take a very quick 'book bench selfie'. The bench was based on the local classic, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G B Edwards, and it was painted by local artists Charlie Buchanan, Lauren Perry and Sam O’Neil (pictured below).
On Thursday, Ellie took me to see the island's rare and mysterious Golden Guernsey: a breed of goat named after its golden fleece. Alan had kindly given Ellie directions to a small holding where we found the golden goats quietly grazing (pictured below). I love discovering new animals, and I love adding rare and endangered animals into my stories.
I had Friday's lunch in the airport. It was sad to say goodbye to Guernsey. I had such a great time. In fact, this has to be one of the best book tours I've ever been on, which is all down to the super-organised and hospitable librarians of Guernsey.
I definitely plan on returning.
Below are several photos from each of the schools I visited, along with photos of Vale Castle, golden goats, and the aforementioned 'bookbench'. But first, here is a list of some things I didn't manage to snap.
- A band of bearded folk singers that suddenly popped up behind me, Tommy and Nick in the hotel bar.
- The cute, shaggy sheepdog that suddenly turned evil when I tried taking its photo.
- A big independent toy shop. Independent toy shops are hard to come by these days.
- Dolphins. According to the paper, a pod of dolphins were spotted on the coast.
- Sark island: a tiny island between Guernsey and Jersey that has no cars and a population of around 500!
I feel incredibly honoured that the London Symphony Orchestra's Autumn concert was based on my debut picture book, THE QUEEN'S HAT. The spectacular concert took place twice on Tuesday and twice on Wednesday at London's famous Barbican Theatre. I attended the Tuesday morning performance alongside teachers and hundreds of pupils who came wearing hats of their own, ranging from sporty caps and smart trilbies to pointy witches and wizard hats.
As Her Royal Highness dashed after her bonnet, followed by hundreds of guards, the orchestra performed incredible music that really brought to life each London landmark in the windy chase. Featuring music by Walton, Elgar, Mussorgsky and Rossini amongst others and two brand new songs written by composer, Rachel Leach, alongside large animated images from the book, this really was a feast for the eyes and ears.
I especially liked the two new songs written and performed by Rachel Leach. 'Catch that Hat' and 'The Queen's Hat'. In fact, 'Catch that Hat' is very catchy indeed. It's currently playing on a loop in my head. Hearing these songs reminded me of when I use to write songs. I really enjoy songwriting, but in my early twenties I gave up pursuing a career in music because in the end I kept gravitating more towards writing stories and illustrating. Plus, I never really quite knew where to place myself in the field of music. And because of the issue of translating picture books, I've moved even further away from rhyming. But I absolutely love the thrill of songwriting, and watching Rachel and the LSO has hugely inspired me. I couldn't help but think how amazing it would be to collaborate with musicians to turn a story into a musical (what can I say, I've always been a dreamer).
The event was organised especially for schools by LSO Discovery: an education and community programme that makes the London Symphonic Orchestra relevant in the lives of thousands of people beyond the concert hall by holding workshops, projects and masterclasses. Each school that attended had been given a THE QUEEN'S HAT project pack prior to the concert. The pack contained fun learning activities alongside useful information about the concert. It was clear to see that the pupils thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I was impressed with how well prepped they were, especially when I realised they were all singing along to the two new songs!
Congratulations to everyone involved. It was a truly amazing concert and I loved every second of it.
On Saturday, Richmond was buzzing with rugby banter. Footpaths carried a heavy stream of supporters to the big match (or the pub) and just about every other pedestrian had a Kiwi accent.
I, however, was not going to the match (or the pub). I had a date down at The Alligators Mouth in a quaint, little side street a side-step away from the river of Rugby fans.
The Alligators Mouth is new independent children's bookstore in the heart of Richmond run by a friendly trio of passionate booksellers: Tony, Margaret and Mark. I heard rave reviews about this shop not long after it opened, which if I can remember rightly from my conversation with Tony, was May this year. Since opening, they've had special visits from the likes of Jacqueline Wilson, Axel Scheffler and Chris Riddell, and that was in one day!
Naturally, I couldn't wait to visit.
I was particularly excited to discover that the shop had managed to acquire some copies of the not-even-officially-published-yet GREEN LIZARDS VS RED RECTANGLES, which presented the perfect opportunity for me to incorporate the battling reptiles and shapes into my event.
Another nice surprise was a call from my friend, Jane Elson, author of award-winning A ROOM FULL OF CHOCOLATE and Carnegie-nominated HOW TO FLY WITH BROKEN WINGS, to say that she was coming to my event, which meant I had at least one guaranteed audience member!
But thankfully, I had more than one audience member. Phew! I recognised retweeters, and I met some big fans of Mr Panda, including a mother who is planning a Mr Panda themed party for her child's 1st birthday.
It was a brilliant event. I read most of my books. We took a crazy trip with The Queen across the United Kingdom, spotted the butler (and an alien, surfing police officers, Mo Farah and more) and we drew Mr Panda with shapes and letters.
After my event I bought some books for myself (of course!) before devouring an entire margerita pizza in the restaurant next door.
All in all I had a great time. What a fantastic shop!
Thank you to Mark, Toni and Margaret for having me, and for finding me a Sharpie to sign with! Thanks also to Jane for coming along (and taking photos). But mostly, thank you to all who came for making the event so enjoyable.
So, If you're reading this in London (or even New Zealand), take note, The Alligator's Mouth is well worth a visit (and so is the restaurant next door).
Below are some photos of my event, taken by Jane and Mark.
From decorating doughnuts to acting out plays to learning about geography and jungle themed Reading Corners, TEACHERS from the UK to Australia have invented CREATIVE LESSON PLANS and FUN ACTIVITIES based on my books.
In response to the many emails I've received from teachers, I've created a web page devoted to lessons and activities especially for teachers, librarians and booksellers.
Most of these lesson and activity ideas are suitable for KS1 (ages 5-7) pupils, but they can also be tailored for younger pupils. I have indicated a recommended age group next to each lesson based on my experience from school events, but you can tailor them for just about any age group.
Press HERE to visit the corner of my site that's especially devoted to teachers and librarians.
Year 3 of Ramsey Junior School in Cambridgeshire totally reimagined my latest release, THE QUEEN'S HANDBAG, in the most creative way!
By replacing HANDBAG and rewriting my synopsis (and adding other famous landmarks from around the world) they made up their very own royal adventures.
The teacher simply created a small booklet of blank pages. On the cover of the booklet is THE QUEEN'S *BLANK*. On the back is my back-cover synopsis for THE QUEEN'S HANDBAG (below). But the teacher cleverly omitted key words so her pupils could then use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
The pupils filled the blanks in with words like GOLDEN POTS, NINJA MONKEY, SPITFIRE, HELICOPTER, CHEEKY HORSE and GOLDEN BANANA.
Then they wrote and illustrated their very own adventures, which include lots of other famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.
Some even added their very own final 'butler' scene just like in THE QUEEN'S HANDBAG and THE QUEEN'S HAT.
I think this is such a brilliant idea! I'm mightily impressed by all of these funny, imaginative and totally bonkers additions to THE QUEEN series!
Below are some photos of the class's work. Absolutely Amazing!
My 'The Queen's Hat' inspired Shaun in the City sculpture (complete with hidden characters from the book, including HRH herself) went under the hammer this evening and raised a whopping £15,000.00 for Wallace & Gromit's Children's Charity.
Collectively, all 120 custom designed Shaun the Sheep statues raised a staggering £1,087,900.00!
Congratulations to the winning bidder! Congratulations to all the winning bidders, the charity and every single person involved!
It was a real pleasure and an absolute honour to have been involved in this incredible cause. If you'd like to see the making of my Shaun the Sheep, press here.
On Thursday last week I had the honour of visiting Broadwater Primary School in Tooting to open their Imagination Garden, a volunteer-led project aimed at creating an exciting and inspirational outdoor learning environment designed to fire the imagination and enhance the curriculum. Featuring vegetable growing, a wormery, a ‘mud pie kitchen’ and a mini volcano, the garden is funded in part by a Big Society grant and in part by the Waitrose Community Matters scheme.
But before cutting the ribbon of doughnuts to open the Imagination Garden, I held an event for the school's two Reception classes and two Year 1 classes, and I joined the pupils and teachers for a 'Queen's Hat' parade around the Garden.
Here are some photos of the day, courtesy of photographer, Emerson Wimsey, and Fritha Lindqvist, Head of PR for Hachette Children's Books. Comments accompany each photo to talk you through my memorable day at the school.
It was a real privilege to be part of such a special day. Thanks, all, for inviting me along and for making me feel so welcome!
After the event, the school wrote about their day and pinned their fantastic soldier drawings to the wall. Thanks, Fritha, for sending these photos.
Thanks, all, for such wonderful comments!
Check out these amazing drawings and stories (inspired by The Queen's Hat) from Littleport Primary School. I've had a good look at all of the stories and drawings and it looks to me that Littleport have some very talented and creative pupils in their midst! Below each photo is a little comment from me about each piece.
It looks like you all had a lot of fun! Keep drawing and writing!
Oscar's First Book Prize is such a personal, touching award. I so admire Oscar’s family for starting something that’s a really positive celebration of his life – thousands of people across the UK now know his name, and I’m so honoured to be part of it, as well as being part of a fantastic celebration of picture books. Each book on the shortlist is so brilliant!
To have won is very moving.
Oscar's First Book Prize, which is sponsored by Waitrose, is designed to find the best first book a child might pick up on their own, and was launched last year in memory of Oscar Ashton, Evening Standard’s executive editor and columnist James Ashton’s son, who was three-and-a-half when he sadly died of a heart condition in December 2012.
The awards ceremony took place last night at Hubbard & Bell, and the prize was presented to me by the lovely Gillian Anderson.
It was a real pleasure to meet and chat with Oscar's parents and grandparents. It was also great to chat to everyone else on the shortlist, Richard Byrne, Tim Warnes, Lucy Tapper, Steve Wilson and Victoria Turnbill (a fellow MA grad).
Below is today's article in the Evening Standard. You can read the full article online HERE.
If you already haven't, I highly recommend checking out the shortlisted books. They are all amazing. Hedgehugs, written by Steve Wilson and illustrated by Lucy Tapper, Dangerous! by Tim Warnes, This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne, and The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull (all below).
Congratulations to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!
I am delighted to discover that 'The Queen's Hat' has been shortlisted for the Oscar's First Book Prize: a touching tribute to Oscar Ashton, the son of Evening Standard executive editor and columnist James Ashton, who was three years old when he died in December 2012 from an undetected heart condition.
It’s the second year for Oscar's First Book Prize, which is given to the best first book a child might pick up on their own. Last year, Benji Davies picked up the award for his heartwarming picture book, 'The Storm Whale' (pictured below).
Sixty submissions were whittled down to a long-list of ten, and the final five were carefully picked by a panel of judges: actress Gillian Anderson, Dame Marjorie Scardino, former Pearson CEO and the first female board director of Twitter, Rupert Thomas, marketing director of Waitrose, and Oscar’s parents, Viveka Alvestrand and Evening Standard executive editor and columnist, James Ashton. Gillian Anderson will present the award, sponsored by Waitrose, at Soho House, on May 7.
Below are the final five books shortlisted books for Oscar's First Book Prize. Congratulations, all!
Back in October, Aardman asked if I'd like to design one of their 'Shaun in the City' Shaun statues and base my design on my London-centric picture book 'The Queen's Hat': a funny tale in which HRH is taken on an impromptu tour of some of London's most famous landmarks. The statue went on to fetch a staggering £15,000, which was all donated to Wallace & Gromit's Children's Chrity. In reverse-ordered photos, here is the making of my Shaun the Sheep, which is currently part of the London trail. My Shaun is sponsored by Studio Canal and is located just off of Carnaby St, London. The trail, which will raise funds for Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Charity and The Grand Appeal, makes a great day out. It ends on the 25th of May.
You can click to enlarge the photos.
To end this blog post, here are a few fantastic tweets I've received.
Go visit the official Shaun in the City site HERE and go download the fantastic sheep spotting app!
50 differently designed Shaun the Sheep have made their way to London this weekend for the much anticipated Shaun in the City London Trail, including mine, which is inspired by 'The Queen's Hat' and sponsored by Studio Canal.
I am so thrilled to be part of this absolutely amazing project.
Everything you need to know about the trail, you can find HERE, including a link to download the super-fun sheep-spotting app!
But most importantly, this is for an incredibly worthwhile cause. Ultimately, the sheep will be auctioned off in October to raise funds for the Wallace & Gromit’s Children’s Charity.
As soon as I'm back from the Bologna Children's Book Fair, I'm heading straight to London!
PS. Look out for the hidden 'The Queen's Hat' characters in the bunting!
BLOG UPDATE: New photos added. I'll add more from my visit to London and some work-in-progress shots soon.
TO SEE MAKING OF MY SHAUN AND THE CITY, PRESS HERE.
It all started on the 1st of April, 2011, when I stumbled across THIS article.
It inspired me to draw a very rough story that night of 'The Queen's Hat' - a simple tale about HRH losing her hat to a gust of wind that takes her and her guards on an impromptu tour of London - to take in to uni the next day.
My tutors loved it. And I knew it had potential. I knew it could be a lot of fun to develop, too.
Little did I know that I'd end up channelling the home-sick child in me that lived in the New Mexican desert for eight years.
I loved my childhood in the States - watching Saturday morning cartoons, eating Twinkies and digging forts in the desert with my brothers and our best friend, JR. But I occasionally yearned for home - walking down a cobbled street to buy a Flake bar from the corner shop, eating fish and chips with my dad on the weekend, feeding the ducks with my grandparents, searching for a new Mr Man in a bookshop while my brother fished out the latest Choose Your Own Adventure book.
I began creating a book that I would have loved as a kid, a reminder of home. I wanted to fill it with as many British icons as possible: umbrellas, Big Ben, double-decker buses, etc. Things that my friends in the States were fascinated by. Things that were/are British.
Being red-green colour-deficient actually helped me decide upon the book's colour palette. All of my books have few colours, but the colours are chosen carefully and with clear intentionality. The colours of the Union Jack were perfect for what I wanted to acheive!
I was so excited about the book. I entered contests and showed publishers (whenever the opportunity arose, which wasn't that often). People said it was 'too British' and that it wouldn't sell outside the UK.
Around that time I received a hand written postcard from Ronald Searle. Earlier that year I was commended for an alphabet book about endangered animals that I'd entered into the The Searle Award for Creativity. Here's what he said.
"I checked your alphabet. Liked it very much. But prefer your tumbling guardsmen. The freer, looser style is infinitely more interesting. Keep it up!"
He'd obviously looked at my website. Because at that time I had an image from 'The Queen's Hat' on my homepage.
This complete surprise and absolute honour spurred me on to further develop 'The Queen's Hat'.
I went on to exhibit it at our class's final show at Foyles, London in February, 2013.
Not long after, I signed with Hodder Children's. While developing the book with Hodder, we decided to add the 'spot the butler' subtext, which goes down a storm at events!
Now, I look back and find it remarkable that a chance discovery of a newspaper article (as well as tenacity, patience, positive-thinking and lots of drawing) has led to the creation of a real-life published picture book that you can actually buy in bookshops and borrow from libraries.
A few months ago a parent approached me after an event. She said that part of her family moved from the UK to another country (Spain, I think) and that they love 'The Queen's Hat' because it reminds them of home.
Who would have guessed that 'The Queen's Hat' would publish in the States as well as other countries including Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, Brazil, France and Spain?
On World Book Day I held a 'The Queen's Hat' event for a class of 5-6 year olds at The Story Museum in Oxford. Before I started the story, one child excitedly declared that they'd already read the book at school, to which I responded, "But did you find the hidden Butler on almost every page?" They were surprised and delighted that there was a whole other narrative taking place in the background of each spread that they hadn't seen. Even the teacher hadn't noticed the subtext.
This hidden 'spot the butler' subtext isn't mentioned in the book's back cover blurb, nor is it mentioned anywhere online, except by some reviewers. I like people to make these sorts of discoveries by themselves. In fact, the only time the Butler really comes into full view is on the very, very last page of the book asking, "Would anyone like a cup of tea?"
This added depth to the book invites the reader to pore over the details of each page. "OK, so you've found the Butler, but did you spot the fish, or the chameleon, or the waving guard, or the Gherkin or the...?"
This is what I LOVE about telling stories through pictures. You can add all sorts of little extra tales within the main plot.
While preparing for my very first 'The Queen's Hat' event, I was a little nervous that I wouldn't be able to fill 40 minutes with so few words. Little did I know that the whole 'spot the butler' element would provide the most fun and actually take up quite a bit of time!
At one event, an eagle-eyed child spotted the butler on the Tower Bridge page within seconds. The audience applauded. This is possibly the hardest page for spotting the butler.
So, my advice to teachers, librarians, parents and guardians is to really play with this side of the book. It's not just a book about London landmarks, or the wind blowing the Queen's hat. It's also about a loyal Butler who's incredibly skillful at balancing a tray.
Hopefully, it will inspire people to take a closer look at picture books just in case they miss something. My favourite picture books are the kind that are deceptively simple, the kind that are 'more than meets the eye'. This is something you'll notice in my books, so look closely. But most of all, have fun!
Just wait until you see Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles.
This utterly charming stop-motion adaptation of 'The Queen's Hat' was made by Sebastian, Tadeus, Maxime & Lorenzo from Thomas' Kensington. I think it's out-of-this-world amazing. My older brother and I use to make these sorts of videos when we were kids, but this is way better than anything we ever did. Well done, you incredibly talented bunch!