Tag Archives: Mostly Books

Ways into Reading: Oxford Children’s Book Group Conference 2013

Oxford University Press

image from Wikipedia

I am sitting here with about eight A4 pages covered in notes from the Oxford Children’s Book Group conference, wondering how to even start writing it all up. In summary: it was excellent. All of the speakers were interesting and informative and everything ran smoothly. The conference was held at the Oxford University Press offices, which was the perfect venue.

The day was split into ninety minute sections for the speakers. There were drinks and pastries on arrival, the same at mid-morning break and then a delicious buffet lunch. The OUP museum was also open for viewing, which I managed briefly after lunch, and Mostly Books were supporting with their travelling bookstall of relevant books.

My camera battery died at lunchtime so I have limited pictures but I spent more time making notes than taking pictures because the talks were so informative. All the talks were on the theme “Ways into Reading”, and the different methods available to encourage and support children to become readers.

The first speaker was Victor Watson, a retired lecturer and current author. His interest was in series fiction, which a child had described to him as entering a “room full of friends”. Series fiction is comforting to readers, you are returning to characters and places that you’re familiar with and you want to know more. He talked about how series fiction is often sidelined as being worthless, but argued against this premise. The series fiction author must provide a story that regular readers want, but make it different each time. He described the difference between progressive and successive series and the effect that time had on series written over long periods – for example the effect of the second world war and the sixties on series started in 1940’s and completed in 1970’s – and how different authors approached these changes. It was a fascinating talk, and I’ve requested his book Reading Series Fiction: From Arthur Ransome to Gene Kemp from the library.

Oxford Children's Book Group Conference 2013

Victor Watson, Caro Fickling, Tracey Corderoy, and some props!

Andrea Quincey from Oxford University Press talked about the perception of reading schemes and the aims of the Project X scheme. This was a great continuation from the theme of series fiction because reading schemes are series, however Andrea pointed out that becoming too attached to one series can have a negative effect so the aim is to create an interest in all kinds of reading. For some children, reading schemes are the only books that they come across in their lives so it was important to create something that will hold interest. Research states that the clearest indicator for a child’s future success is not economic status, family background or other social indicators but their ability to read. The details behind creating a 21st century reading scheme to hook children and the challenges faced in ensuring that the series can be read in any order but still make sense was fascinating.

As a picture book aficionado, Tracey Corderoy was my most anticipated speaker, and she didn’t disappoint. With a suitcase packed with props she exuded enthusiasm and wit. She talked about her childhood growing up in what she described as a grey and smoky Welsh town, in a school that was often closed due to chemical spills, and a childhood with few books. But being unconventional she turned into a literature student, a teacher, a parent and an author with 38 published books in three years. Tracey’s talk was all about setting children’sĀ  “senses on fire” – using colour, props, crafts and singing to pull out a story and make it an experience. She talked about how she tells children that if they write stories then they are writers just like she is; this particularly spoke to me because it’s something that I do with my children. Tracey was incredibly inspirational, and a very humourous speaker. This was the highlight of an amazing day.

Tom and Caro Fickling talked about comics, and specifically The Phoenix. Tom talked about how comics are a way into reading that works because the child ‘owns’ the books by discovering themselves. As adults we’re allowed to look at pictures but children are expected to dump pictures at a certain age. Caro wondered whether declines in literacy were correlated to the lack of decent children’s comics in the last few decades and about how today’s ‘comics’ are thinly veiled marketing devices based on characters with printed matter not designed to stand up on its own and are thrown with relief into the recycle bin – I could completely relate to this having small children who are only interested in the plastic tat attached to the front! They talked about the medium of telling stories visually and how positioning and page turns affect how a story is read. Another fascinating insight.

Oxford University Press Museum

Oxford University Press Museum

Vineeta Gupta from Open University Press talked about the Oxford Children’s Corpus. This is not a term I’d actually come across before but with a background in analysis I now want to work for them! The Corpus is an enormous database of words used in writing for children and, more interestingly, in writing by children. The writing by children was collected in collaboration with Radio 2’s 500 words competition which gave them access to 160,000 samples of writing and over seventy million words to analyse. The Corpus is used to create dictionaries full of words that children actually come across in daily life, and to give real-life examples. Analysis of connections between words (for example, how often a word is used ‘near’ another word) means that, for example, ‘zoom’ can be illustrated by Harry Potter zooming around a Quidditch pitch making dictionaries relevant for today’s children.

Andy Mulligan only just arrived in time for his talk, having a journey cursed by public transport problems (Trains? Today? Of course they’re not running…) His theme was dangerous books and contemplating at what point children go from wanting to read “Shadow the Sheepdog” (Enid Blyton) to “The Fault in Our Stars”, and is something like The Fault in Our Stars a children’s book? Should children read books that don’t offer them reassurance that everything is going to end well? His talk was fascinating and engaging and covered a range of experiences. I now have all his books on my wish list too, especially The Boy with Two Heads and Trash. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do go.

Finally the day was rounded off with Bill Laar, educational consultant, whose passion for sharing books and words spun into the room of fairly tired attendees. It is quite lovely as a ‘grown-up’ to have picture books and poetry read to you by such an enthusiastic reader. The perfect end to a packed day!

Thanks must go to everyone at Oxford Children’s Book Group who put together such a smooth-running and informative event whilst keeping costs low; and to all the speakers and publishers who provided their services, especially Oxford University Press. I had an amazing day, got to meet up with some people I usually only know on Twitter, and learnt so much.

Jane Hissey at Mostly Books

Original Jane Hissey Art

I managed to miss out on Jane Hissey‘s books when I was a child, because I was a teen when most of them were first published, but I’ve been aware of the gorgeous art for long before I had children. The Old Bear stories seem older than they actually are (written from 1986 onwards) purely because they have a classic feel like they’ve always existed…

We were lucky enough to review Ruby, Blue and Blanket when it was first released and have a small handful of Old Bear books second-hand but I’m embarrassed to say only a few and I didn’t realise how many different books there are; or that there had been a TV series too!

Hearing that Jane would be visiting our lovely local independent bookstore, Mostly Books, I promptly booked tickets just before two weeks of endless sun in England! I panicked about the heat the day before, but as it turned out although there was rain, which cooled the air down, there was also fortunately no rain during the two (packed) sessions Jane held.

Jane Hissey is as wonderful in real life as you could imagine. Over an hour she emptied an enormous bag full of some of the stars of her books, including Old Bear himself; read three of her stories to the children and shared so many wonderful details about how all the stories were created, illustrated and animated. I missed some of the event because Mighty-Girl had a sore tummy and we needed to find some water (supplied in an instant by Nicki, thank-you!) but still learnt loads.

Jane Hissey, Old Bear and Friends at Mostly Books, Abingdon

Jane started by introducing some of the stars of her books one by one. One of the little girls in the audience was obviously an expert on the stories as she could name all of them. For each toy, Jane told the story behind where it came from and how they inspired her stories. I particularly liked how Hoot was handmade from the sleeve of a coat and that the other sleeve was used to make the model used in the TV series. Jolly Tall arrived in a box which inspired his tale, and many of the toys were handmade for her children.

She said that many of the stories were inspired by the toys themselves. Little Bear’s Trousers came about because she loved Little Bear’s legs and wanted to draw them, so decided to tell the story of how his trousers were lost and found so she could draw his legs! What happened with each toy who borrowed the trousers was easy – she just saw how they would use them (hump warmers, rabbit hat, bone holder!) and then saw what would happen – they would fall over rabbit’s eyes so he’d not be able to see…

One thing I found fascinating was that everything drawn in the books exists (or existed) in real life. In order for Little Bear to wear pyjamas, Jane had to make him some first! She shared a lovely anecdote about the bath picture in Little Bears Trouser’s where it took her two weeks (I think) to draw so her children couldn’t use the bath until it was finished! Each picture is created with coloured pencils and it was a thrill to see some of the original art there too, as well as a mock-up book.

We all loved the event. Mighty-Girl is always excited to meet real-life authors and illustrators, and she was certainly inspired by Jane Hissey. As soon as we arrived home, she grabbed a sketch book and pencils and announced “Right, I need some toys!” I’m looking forward to Giraffe in Dinosaur Land once she’s written it šŸ˜‰ Mighty-Girl is shy when meeting people, so didn’t say much (or let me take pictures), but she went up to let Jane know that she liked to write too.

Destructo-Girl loves reading books, and happily turned the pages of her copy of Ruby, Blue and Blanket when it was being read. Jane kindly signed that for her, and a copy of Old Bear Stories I bought for Mighty-Girl. We do have second-hand copies of half the stories, but I wanted a special edition for my girls, and to compare the text as it’s been rewritten this year (another post, soon hopefully…)

You can read more about Jane Hissey at Mostly Books on their website, covering both events and with pictures from the midday event.

Destructo-Girl at Mostly Books

I’d like to thank Jane Hissey, Salariya, and Mostly Books for putting on a wonderful event. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank-you šŸ™‚

Stop the Clock by Alison Mercer

Stop the Clock: Alison Mercer (Black Swan, 2012)Reviews of “grown up” books don’t really fit with my blog, but it is a personal blog and I do want to write about whatever I want to write about so I’ll be adding a few pages of other book reviews over time. The first of these is Stop the Clock by Alison Mercer.

Meet Lucy, Tina and Natalie, twenty-something friends who are all negotiating the risky business of being grown-up.

Lucy knows exactly what she wants: her marriage to be a success, her children to be perfect, and to be the ultimate home-maker.

Tina knows what she wants too: her journalism career to take off and to see her name as a byline in a national newspaper… and the illicit affair she’s started leaves her free enough to follow her dreams

Natalie just wants to be happy – happy with the boyfriend she’s dated since college, happy with the job she’s drifted into, happy with a life she thinks is enough – but is it really?

Ten years later, all three women have the lives they thought they wanted. But somehow, reality isn’t quite as neat and clean-cut as their dreams…

Stop the Clock is Alison’s first novel and as she is a local author, I was lucky enough to go along to the book launch held at Mostly Books, Abingdon. Being terminally shy I was utterly terrified but I’m also a book addict so it was a delight to be there for such an event, and something I will definitely remember fondly when Alison is a guaranteed best-seller – which based on this novel would be well deserved.

I mainly read children’s books, and my adult genre is fantasy / science fiction but I also enjoy real-life, female oriented fiction (“chick lit” if you prefer), for example Bridget Jones (although I disliked the sequel) and Marion Keyes’ novels. But on thinking, I don’t think I’ve read in this genre for over twelve years so Stop the Clock was a change of pace for me.

The novel is about three women who have been friends since university, and how their lives are unfolding ten years after they saw in the new millennium together. They have what they (thought they) wanted in life but are they happy?

I mainly read novels involving supernatural beings and some kind of contained plot where the world need to be saved or the bad guys thwarted (or a crime solved.) So it’s rare for me to read something where there’s not a specific plot end to work towards. But Stop the Clock works perfectly as an insight into the lives of the three main protagonists, a series of ups and downs in their lives and an ending where although there is so much more that could be told about these women’s lives, you feel completely satisfied on the journey that you’ve taken with them.

The reviews I read before reading the book myself talked about relating to the characters and therefore as I started the book I was thinking I have nothing in common with these rich London people! It didn’t stop my enjoyment, but as with any new friends you don’t get to know everything about them instantly, you learn over time. As I progressed through the book, and got to know Lucy, Tina and Natalie, I can now honestly say that I related to and with them all in different ways.

This is a novel, so there needs to be conflict. I did feel sad that relationships seemed to be breaking down all over the place, but that’s the point of a story and the fact I felt for the characters is a good sign. I think Alison’s writing is excellent quality and am in awe that she wrote it in the evenings while her children were sleeping.

Although I went to the book launch, I didn’t get this book as a review copy but chose to purchase it and support the launch because the synopsis interested me. I’m glad I did and I’m glad I read Stop the Clock. It’s a departure from my normal reading but I’m sure I shall be buying Alison’s second book once it’s published.

You should read this book if: you’re a parent; you like chick-lit; you want to support a debut author; you’re looking for the next good read.

Kennington Literary Festival 2011

Back in October I was fortunate enough to take Mighty Girl to the Kennington Literary Festival. Kennington is a village just south of Oxford which has a wonderful tiny library in the village centre which is threatened with cuts on an almost daily basis despite the huge number of people it supports, mainly through voluntary work as it is…

It also has its own literary festival, the second of which was in October 2011. The festival started on a Friday evening with a film showing and talk and continued throughout the Saturday with various author events. For such a small place, the festival organisers did brilliantly attracting SF legend Brian Aldiss, Joshua Files author M G Harris and Winnie-the-Witch illustrator Korky Paul, among others.

As a picture book fan with two small children, of course we went to see Korky Paul so this review is purely about that part of the festival. For other reviews and information, please visit the sites of: Mostly Books (review), Brian Aldiss (review), MG Harris, Save Kennington Library, The Oxford Times.

I really do love Korky Paul’s art, it is so detailed and funny. First introduced via Winnie the Witch, we have quite a collection of his books. He is also a very nice person in real life as we found out at the festival.

Obviously with a lot of experience of doing events for children, Korky Paul directed the staff to what he needed: which was basically a flip pad, two glasses of water for cleaning his brushes and a hat for putting raffle tickets in. Each child was given a raffle ticket, which was for a very special purpose (and a great idea).

To start with, he asked the children his name, and then pretended that one of them had said “Snorky Snorl”. He got one of the children to write how they thought that was spelt, and then talked about how the word sounded like a creature which he then sketched and painted whilst also talking about how to just experiment with colours and see how things turned out. Once the picture was complete, a raffle ticket was taken out of the hat and the child with that ticket got to keep the painting. What a fantastic idea!

Then he read the first Winnie the Witch book, taking time to talk about the words chosen by Valerie Thomas and how he thought they were just right, e.g. “Winnie was furious.” He really appeared to be enjoying reading, despite the fact he must have read it so many times at different events (we’d actually been fortunate to hear him read earlier in the year, also in Kennington, after a march protesting the library cuts).

After this, he used the raffle ticket system again to draw dinosaur portraits for each child selected. He managed to do four or five in the time allotted. I think this raffle ticket system was a very fair idea. He obviously would never have enough time to paint a portrait (he’s the world’s greatest portrait painter, didn’t you know…) for all the children at every event and this system is completely fair. We didn’t get one, but I think MG would have been too shy to stand at the front while he painted.

Finally, he gave out some prizes for a local children’s poetry and art competition and then was available for signing books. I said I didn’t think he would have time to paint a picture for every child, however he did take the time to sketch in each book he signed.

He is very approachable and chatty, and I really wish I wasn’t so shy in real life. This also sadly is rubbing off on my children although I do try, and they are more naturally confident compared to me. MG handed over a picture she’d drawn of Winnie, a pumpkin and Wilbur and Korky Paul accepted it graciously (although I’m sure he gets hundreds of these!)


All in all, it was a fantastic event. I’d absolutely recommend taking a child to a Korky Paul event if you ever get the opportunity. He will be at the Oxford Literary Festival in March, details can be found on the Oxford Literary Festival website. We won’t be going as I could only afford one event and we chose to see Clara Vulliamy and Emma Chichester Clark, which I’m really looking forward to.

Kennington also have more children’s book events, including one with Cressida Cowell in March, which I must sign us up for… I really enjoyed the Kennington Literary Festival, and would have loved to have seen more of it. I very much hope they have another festival this year.

Vote Douglas! (Or not…)

It’s the final week of voting for the Red House Children’s Book Awards and one of my favourite author/illustrators, David Melling, is up for the younger children’s award. What sort of a rabid fan would I be without trying to influence your (child’s) vote? šŸ˜†

Don’t Worry Douglas (Hodder, 2011) is a gentle tale of the very huggable bear who makes a mistake and is scared to tell his dad. Of course it all ends well when he does tell the truth. A lovely story to read to young children to show that parents understand accidents and will love them just the same. This is a sequel to Hugless Douglas (2010); there’s a third in the series out this year (Hugless Douglas and the Big Sleep); and Mr Melling is working on a fourth one – hurray! šŸ™‚

I have a soft spot for Douglas for several reasons:

1) My father-in-law and my youngest nephew both have Douglas as one of their first names!

2) There is a double page spread at the end of each of these books of ‘hugs’ and ‘hats’ which is like seeing into an artist’s ideas book.

3) I took Mighty Girl to a ‘How to Draw a Hug’ event at Mostly Books bookshop in 2010 and I was so proud of how my only-just-three year old concentrated so hard and really enjoyed the drawing tutorial (and I was star-struck and didn’t say much but all (two of, outside Twitter) the children’s writers and illustrators I’ve met have been lovely and very approachable, they’re a fantastic bunch!)

4) Who couldn’t love this bear:
(Picture credit: Mostly Books)

I haven’t read any of the other books in the Younger Children shortlist but Mick Inkpen is always worth a look; we’ve enjoyed One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell and like his art; and I really love the front cover of Peely Wally and definitely want to read it to my girls at some point. You can vote for your favourite at the Red House Children’s Book Award website. Last day to vote is Friday 20th January.
There are also Younger Readers and Older Readers categories but they’re not applicable to my daughters yet and we’ve not read any of the entries so I’ll not be writing about them but if you have the right aged children, they might like to vote on their favourite.