Tag Archive for Sharratt Nick

You Choose in Space

Whenever I sneak a look at the top ten most borrowed books in the school library, there’s one book that always features. You Choose by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Nick Sharratt is that dream of a book: children can read it over and over again, huddled around its pages with their friends, changing the narrative each time, reinventing the story in multiple ways, daydreaming their future. After a while, there is even a comforting familiarity about the illustrations. Just this week, some Year 3 pupils were going through the book making choices based on how much money their character had! So, it was with open arms that I embraced the new title, You Choose in Space. Whether it’s which alien you would befriend, what mode of transport you would use, or which freaky food you’d eat for your space snacks, the book has everything for a fun-filled interactive space adventure. Just as the original, the pages are packed with vibrant, colourful, happy images, giving full boost to any child’s imagination. It’s amazing to think that the original premise was rejected by publishers – for many children, You Choose has been their introduction to books. So, to turn the world on its head, I didn’t ask readers what they would choose in space, I asked Pippa and Nick. Here, are their choices for You Choose in Space:

 

 

Pippa:

Nick and I are actually pictured in the space craft coming in to land on Planet Pick-and-Mix.  Search carefully, and you’ll spot us!

If I had all those choices to choose from when we came down to land, I think I’d mostly go for blue things.  Why?  Because blue is my favourite colour.  I’d pick the blue bobbed hair to wear.

Nick: I’d choose the blue and orange hair and the Saturn top.

Pippa: A blue iced donut to eat.

Nick: It has to be the rainbow jelly for me.

Pippa: I’d very much like to meet the smiley blue alien with knobs on her head who rides a scooter and makes blue sandcastles from soft blue sand. I think she would make a fun friend.

Nick: I think the tall alien with the spike on the top of his head looks like he’d be nice and friendly.

Pippa: I’d also like to try and spy a duckafly from all the strange animal things as I fly by in one of those big baskets with wings.

Nick: My favourite is the horse bird.

Pippa: I’d very much like to ride on a pink-powered orange space hopper.  Why?  Because space hoppers were a new toy here on Earth when I was about ten, and I got one for my birthday, and I hopped and hopped on it again and again.  If it had that added pink zoom power I could hop it higher into the sky, and maybe even fly into space and explore all those other planets.

Nick: I had a space hopper too! But I’m going for the rollercopter.

With huge thanks to Pippa and Nick for taking time out of their busy writing and illustrating schedules to read their book with me. What would you choose? Go into space and make your own choices here.

 

The Cat and the King by Nick Sharratt

cat and king

Probably best known for his imaginative picture books and for illustrating Jacqueline Wilson’s books, Nick Sharratt has just published his first novel, aimed at newly independent readers. This age group can be particularly hard to supply with good quality books. In the past the range has remained rooted in the Horrid Henry canon – but luckily for this new generation, there are now a whole host of beautifully illustrated great stories being produced so that the magic of reading continues from picture books into longer length novels (Mango and Bambang, Isadora Moon, Rabbit and Bear). One of the tricks with competent readers is to replenish the supply, whetting and sustaining their appetite for reading – and quickly; these enthusiastic readers can fly through books at the rate of one a day (although often coming back and re-reading to soak up the content and pore over the illustrations).

Nick Sharratt’s offering ticks all the boxes needed for this age. A well-paced enthralling story, plays-on-words, plentiful humour, great vocabulary, and of course overflowing with brilliant illustrations that enhance the story and add extra dimensions to it. The story is so well laid out that there are not only illustrations on each page, but on some pages illustrations to accentuate each phrase.

The king’s castle has burned down in an Unfortunate Incident with a dragon. Together with his cat, he must find a new home and a new way of life, seeing as all his servants took the opportunity to flee during the Unfortunate Incident. What follows is an account of a king transported from his comfort zone, and the unfailing loyalty and friendship of his most clever cat, without whom it seems, he would be truly lost.

There are so many praise-worthy elements to this book – from the easily absorbed and readable opening:

“Once upon a time there was a king who lived in a rather grand castle, with his best friend, the cat.”

to Sharratt’s constant references to the new experiences the king is having, as well as the cat attempting to provide a semblance of familiarity to their routine:

“As the bus set off, they heard a clock somewhere striking eleven. They might not have a marching band, but at least they were in a good place for the king to do some waving, which he now did most graciously to the passers-by on the pavement below.”

Sharratt is great at providing reader-impetus in his books. You cannot read the book without becoming fully involved. Drawing on previous ideas from books such as You Choose, Sharratt has provided illustrations of all the houses the king and the cat look at before they settle on the perfect fit, as well as illustrations of their possessions, and what they buy on their shopping trips.

He also plays with the idea of the king’s servants doing extra jobs, both whilst they were servants, and the jobs they do afterwards – so that the reader can spot the same person dressed differently. It’s rather good fun.

Despite having a royal person – although doubts are cast on his actual royalty – the picture book is modern and up to date – our friendly cat is often spotted with his laptop. Moreover, Sharratt plays with the idea of royalty and words – at first the king and the cat only buy items at the supermarket that seem related to them:

“frozen KING prawns, Jersey ROYAL potatoes, CORONATION chicken sandwiches…”

And added to all this interactivity and play with stories, text and illustrations, are the wonderful personalities of the cat and the king, each with their own foibles and senses of humour, and yet a great partnership – they do truly care for each other – providing a shining example of friendship.

Children can absorb the message behind the story easily – that it is best not to be so pampered that a person can’t do anything for themselves – in fact they will delight in being able to accomplish tasks that the king himself can’t.

Illustrated in two colours, this is a sweet, warm and wryly funny story. For reading together and discussing, or reading alone. You can buy it here.

 

Never Judge a Book By Its Cover

Children do judge a book by its cover. The children who come to my library sessions tend to look at the back cover blurb only after they’ve decided they quite like the cover art. For younger children of course the picture on the front is everything – they cannot read the blurb yet. Even for adults, the cover picture dictates whether they buy the book for their children – this is particularly true in a gender divisive way – I don’t see many parents even picking up, let alone buying, this for boys:

cathy cassidy sweet  honey

Or this for girls:

books for boys

Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting that there should be ‘separate’ books for boys and girls, I have lots of girls reading football books, especially the Tom Palmer series, although not so many boys reading Rainbow Fairies. Gender aside, how do we make a judgement on whether a book is right for us?

The emotional pull of the front cover is what draws in the reader at the start, and the artwork nowadays is often stunningly beautiful. The pairing of a good illustrator with the right writer can produce an artwork that is completely indicative of what’s inside. This is particularly relevant in modern children’s literature as illustrations become more and more central to a book’s success. One only has to look at sales of Wimpy Kid or Tom Gates to see that heavily illustrated text is today’s big attraction.

Tom GatesSkullduggery pleasant parent agencySophie bookhansel and gretel

I know that Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates is going to be a funny story fully annotated with diagrams and illustrations simply by looking at the busy covers. In the same way I can tell that Skullduggery Pleasant crosses the horror/fantasy lines; The Parent Agency (illustrations by Jim Field) is going to be a comedy; and the Dick King Smith stories (now with rebranded covers by Hannah Shaw) will be gentle, old-fashioned and comforting. Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Hansel and Gretel, even if I was unaware of Neil Gaiman’s style, is clearly going to be chilling. Lorenzo Mattotti’s dark cover illustration reflects those within, which in turn reflect the darkness of Gaiman’s retelling. In fact publishers seem to be taking more time and interest in picking the right illustrator for their covers as bookseller shelf becomes even harder to win.

mr stinkTwits

Some illustrators are used widely and can give the book great appeal – the use of Quentin Blake to illustrate David Walliams’ books gives them a market advantage and immediately allows for comparisons between Walliams and Roald Dahl. On the other hand, it can also be quite confusing for children: Chris Riddell’s Ottoline and Goth Girls titles have similar ‘looks’, but so does Witchworld – which is by a different author – Emma Fischel.

Goth Girl FeteWitchworld

Likewise The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket looks vastly similar to The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas – both illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, and yet both completely different books by completely different authors, John Boyne and David Almond respectively. Within the industry we may know what’s going on – but does the consumer?

Barnaby BrocketBoy Who Swam With Piranhas

Likewise the choice of Nick Sharratt, illustrator and author of such titles as Shark in the Park, You Choose, and the Daisy picturebooks, to illustrate Jacqueline Wilson books is an interesting one. Whereas the Daisy picture books are aimed at 4-6 year olds, Jacqueline Wilson stories are for 8 years and over – sometimes 10 years and over, because of the issues dealt with in the story, but the covers appeal to the younger end of the age group.

Daisy picture book Nick Sharratt Tracy Beaker

When a publisher rebrands a classic book, there’s a collective interest in what they’ve chosen, as we already know the content and so we’re party to the same thoughts as the publisher. When Bloomsbury rebranded Harry Potter with Jonny Duddle covers (see Harry Potter blogpost), the publishers knew they had to please the people who had already read the book, as well as appeal to the new young readers who hadn’t. Personally I feel they got it right. One Hungarian student decided to design her own Potter covers – they glow in the dark. You can read about it here.

Sometimes the rebranding of the cover is an update, sometimes a publicity stunt. The Penguin Modern Classics edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in August 2014 took many by surprise, but was defended as being aimed at the adult market. Here are some of the Charlie covers through the ages.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory1charlie4charlie5Charlie cover2 charlie6   charlie3  Charlielatest

But how else can we judge a book? The book cover and blurb aside, Chickenshed publishers and Little Tiger Press often give a page number on the back of a book, almost like a film preview – indicating that you should read that page as it will give you the clearest insight into what the book will contain, or as the most enticing and intriguing part of the story, ensuring you want to read more.

When you’re buying online there’s a tool on many sites to ‘look inside’ the book, or view a couple of sample pages. More often than not it’s the contents page or endpapers, neither of which give much of an idea as to what’s inside. Some publishers and sites are more generous, giving the whole first chapter, although this is impossible with picture books, and rare with non-fiction titles.

On e-readers, samples are usually available to download before buying, but once the book is purchased, I find the most frustrating element of the e-reader is that you never see the cover or title again. Research shows that you’re more likely to forget a book having read it this way –is that because we need a more visual element with which to connect? Personally I find I can remember a book by its cover, even if I don’t always judge the book by it.

 

Reluctant Writers

It was late in the holidays, with work to be done
Going back to school soon, the end of the fun
My son scratched his head and gave a big sigh
I’ve got to write a story, to give it a try

The problem he said was creating a story
His teachers would never give him the glory
He was averaging c’s in his paper he said
He simply had nothing flowing from his head

Then, wait just a sec, I said with a yelp,
There’s this book I know, I think it could help
Called Descriptosaurus with characters and stuff
It could pad out your stories without any fluff

With settings and adjectives and adverbs and things
You could write about dragons and monsters and kings
It could give you emotions; happy, evil or sad
With heroes and villains; the good and the bad

Creatures with wings, arms, legs and heads,
Buildings with secret stairs, armchairs and beds
Landscapes with mountains, volcanoes and bogs
Atmospheres with lightning, misty skies, fogs

In conjunction with that though, I said just remember
There’s no substitute for reading Jan to December
With Descriptosaurus you can make quite a start
But you’ll also need to use what’s in your heart.

Many parents have asked me which books their child should read to improve their creative writing and enhance their vocabulary. There’s no magic solution to writing – otherwise we’d all be published authors, but there are tools that can help. The two issues that come up most often are 1) the creative process – a story with which to work – which comes from the child’s imagination. Some children are better at this than others – and many who themselves read voraciously will find it easier to come up with an idea. And 2) vocabulary and setting. It sometimes seems that those who devour non-fiction more readily than fiction can have the stronger vocabulary. For vocabulary and setting, I’ve found a book that might be able to help.

Descriptosaurus

Descriptosaurus by Alison Wilcox is an interesting resource, marketed mainly at the education industry, although it does have a place in the home if used correctly. It aims to frame that first ‘idea’ or expand vocabulary into a rounded piece of creative writing – offering help with settings, character traits and emotions. It helps to break down language into its different grammatical components – explaining phrasing, adjectives and verbs and using them in conjunction with landscapes, places, and characters so that the child has a starting point and can then progress to a story from their own imagination with the tools in place to help them. The book divides up into settings, characters, and creatures. It’s an expensive resource for parents, but can be a useful addition to a classroom environment.

Show Me a Story

Show Me a Story by Emily Neuburger is also targeted primarily at parents or carers, but with a less academic slant. It is American, so the store suggestions at the back are redundant for the UK reader, but the rest of the book is illuminating and inspiring. Initially the start of the book is aimed at the parent, informing them how to start a discussion on narratives, to encourage inventive minds and demonstrate how children use stories to explore emotions and questions about the world, to solve problems and to answer moral dilemmas. Emily Neuburger then goes on to explore how to encourage storytelling – visiting inspirational places, starting a journal etc. She then describes different craft activities to help children form a story and storylines, from ‘story pools’ to collages, blocks, dice and games. She brings to mind the Simon and Garfunkel song (America) of sitting in a train carriage imagining what all the other people do for a living, exotic or otherwise, making up stories wherever you are.

write your own story bookwrite and draw your own comics

The Usborne Write Your Own Story Book is a user-friendly book, spiral bound to lay flat, which encourages writing within it. It uses the same sorts of tools in a more basic way – setting and character suggestions, and possible story openers. In a way though, it is quite prescriptive – the blank pages have titles at the top that encourage the child to write within a certain genre: telling a story from a given picture, continuing a story already started, creating your own fairy tale, writing a story about time travel (all good training but more limiting perhaps). There are handy tips in the margins too: explaining motive, questions to ask, super verbs, sights and sounds etc. The crucial difference between this and Descriptosaurus, is whereas the latter looks like an academic text book, Usborne’s looks like a fun book to play with – which will help to get the creative juices flowing for enjoyment. Usborne’s more recent title is Write and Draw Your Own Comics, which is similar but of course with the drawing element as well – explaining speech bubbles, sound effects, exploring action drawings, and moving the story along frame by frame. Both encourage a love for writing.

Write Your Own Story2

These are all great tools for starting out, but again, for me there is no substitute for reading as much as possible and also discussion about stories with your child – be it stories from books, newspapers, TV, family history and the real world. It’s important to share views on what might happen next, why a character acted how they did, what emotions you feel after reading or watching something. From this, children can gather the tools needed to create their own wonderful imaginative adventures.

You ChooseYou Choose2

If completely stuck for a starting point for discussion, one useful book is You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. For a while it was given free to toddlers in the Bookstart book pack in the UK, and although it is lovely to look at with a toddler, it is also an ever-useful tool to spark ideas for creative writing, in much the same way as the more advanced titles above. Each page aims to provide a different ‘choice’; where would you go, where would you live, how would you travel – all excellent tools for setting a story.

Happy writing!