FCBG Annual Conference
FCBG Annual Conference
Conference took place at Woldingham School, Caterham this year (12th - 14th April 2019). It was an inspiring weekend and a big thank you to everyone who helped us to host it (with Oxted CBG)and to those who attended. Thanks also to Corina Fletcher who designed the logo.
There were celebrations to mark 20 years of Giraffes Can’t Dance, 20 years of The Gruffalo and 30 years of Elmer. The importance of diversity in children’s books and using stories to build empathy were highlighted in many of the talks.
Here is a brief look at some of the talks that took place over the weekend:
David Stevens and Aimée Felone have set up a new publishing company called Knights Of with diversity and inclusivity at its core. They will be also opening an inclusive children’s bookshop in Brixton this year.
Miranda McKearney from EmpathyLab spoke about the scientific research, which has shown that reading promotes empathy. When we identify with the feelings of a character in a book, our brain does not distinguish between the real and fantasy worlds. The more we immerse ourselves in a story, the more empathetic we become. Social media demands that we respond, respond, respond. In contrast, a story welcomes us in and gives us the space to breathe and dream. Jane Ray spoke about the importance of visual literacy and using symbolism in our stories, as children’s vocabulary for feelings can be very limited. Sita Brahmachari compared a character in a book to an artichoke – where we need to strip away the layers to explore the other person’s experience.
Throughout the conference, many authors spoke about a difficult challenge or a personal experience that they faced and how they used these experiences as inspiration for their writing and in doing so, turned a negative into a positive. Frank Cottrell Boyce revealed in a very inspirational talk that he has a blood disorder which causes his skin to turn a bright yellow colour. It also led him to be teased about it at school. But he turned the experience around to create The Astounding Broccoli Boy, in which the protagonist turns a green colour.
Holly Smale spoke about being bullied at secondary school for being different to others. She turned to stories to help her through it and used her experience as inspiration for the hugely successful Geek Girl series, which has sold over 1.4 million copies and has been translated into 34 languages. Holly also spoke about using stories to empower young people and referred to the importance of stories in building empathy.
Ross Montgomery worked as a primary school teacher for 7 years, before he became an author. He learned some valuable lessons working closely with an ICT assistant who was deaf and used this experience as inspiration for his story Max and the Millions. In writing the story, he hoped to raise awareness of the difficulties that a deaf person can face.
Amy Wilson spoke about drawing inspiration from her stories from real life and from the natural world. While Nikki Gamble led a discussion on non-fiction books (or should they be called information books, educational books, or knowledging books?) So are we in a golden age for non-fiction books? That is a very interesting question!
As part of their golden anniversary celebrations, the Federation of Children’s Book Groups held a very special conference last weekend in Hertfordshire. Some members of Lewes Children's Book Group went along to listen to some of the exciting speakers that had been scheduled for the event. Here is a brief summary of what happened:
Friday kicked off with a presentation by the publishing companies – a representative from each company was given just a couple of minutes to tell us what exciting publications were in store for the year ahead, including special publications for the 50th anniversary of the Tiger who came to tea, the 60thanniversary of A bear called Paddington and the 20th anniversary of Skellig.
There was an inspiring discussion about Make More Noise, which was published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, with two of the contributors M.G. Leonard and Patrice Lawrence being interviewed by Kate Wilson, managing director of Nosy Crow. M. G. Leonard was inspired by Sophia Spencer, an 8 year old girl who was bullied at school because of her love of insects, to write her story “The Bug Hunters”. Her message for young girls everywhere is that bugs are for girls and that if you are passionate about something, then be weird, be yourself. Patrice Lawrence singled out Malorie Blackman and Sylvia Pankhurst as some of the women who have inspired her. Lawrence is based in Brighton and has written the YA novel Orangeboy. It won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2017.
Lydia Monks spoke about her work as an illustrator. Julia Donaldson, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough are some of the authors that she has worked with. She gave a wonderful demonstration on how she creates her artwork, by drawing lots of different characters, including a rabbit balancing on a unicorn’s back!
On Saturday, there was a fascinating session by James Mayhew and Zeb Soanes. Gaspard the fox is a story based on a real fox, who has been visiting the BBC Radio 4 presenter at his home in London, since she injured her leg and he gave her some ham. He stressed that he only fed the fox while she was injured, as he did not want to tame her. Gaspard continues to visit him every day and has even brought her cubs to say hello. James Mayhew was brought on board to do the illustrations and the pair are currently working on two more stories written about her, so watch this space.
Heather Crossley spoke very passionately about using books to support child development. The board books stories published by her company Pat-a-cake are aimed at children aged 0 – 6 years. She has a very detailed child development chart that she refers to before deciding what book they will create next.
Alice Curry from Lantana Publishing interviewed Indian born British author/illustrator Chitra Soundra and Iranian illustrator Mahrdokht Amini. Both illustrators expressed a desire for all children to be able to see themselves in the books that they are reading. Chitra’s new book You’re Safe With Me has been chosen for the 2018 Read for Empathy Collection of EmpathyLab UK. Amini has written and illustrated a new book called Nimesh the Adventurer. It is a book that turns ordinary tasks into thrilling adventures – Nimesh’s classroom is an ancient cave, the corridor becomes an ocean, the street becomes the North Pole. A wonderful exploration of the imagination.
Dame Jacqueline Wilson spoke to us about her experience as an author. She told us about how she wrote her own story for the Nipper series, carefully noting how many pages the other stories were and how many words per page. And they published it, even though all of the other stories were by famous authors and she was at that time unknown. Her big breakthrough came with her book The Story of Tracy Beaker. She also spoke about her story The Suitcase Kid which she compared to an alphabet book for its chapter headings – something that caused quite a headache to translators.
Zaro Weil, who has recently published a poetry anthology called Firecrackers, containing raps, haikus, fantastical poems and fairy tales, gave a talk about using poetry to change the way we see things. She spoke about how creativity enhances problem solving skills. Children eagerly explore their environment – if they see a worm on the ground, they will pick it up and examine it closely. Adults are more removed – they may merely point to the worm and say what it is. Children will look at nature (for example a cloud) and see it as something else. And this is the starting point for them for creating metaphors and therefore poetry. And it is something that they do naturally. She said that anything that makes you stop and turn around or take a second glance is a starting point for poetry.
Michael Morpurgo and Sarah Crossan both spoke during the Gala Dinner, recounting personal experiences. Michael Morpurgo told a wonderful story about his experience as the lead role in the Christmas play when he was 6 years old. Not everything went as planned, but it all worked out in the end!
On Sunday, Jackie Morris and James Mayhew spoke about their book Mrs Noah’s Pockets. James Mayhew handpainted every piece for the opera Noye’s Fludde which was written for children. In the opera Mrs Noah is a wicked character who wanted to stay on land and refused to get into the boat. When Jackie Morris wrote her story featuring Mrs Noah, she asked James Mayhew to illustrate it. In this story, Mrs Noah is aware of what is right and what is wrong and just gets on with it. We were taken through images detailing the work involved behind the illustrations and Jackie Morris read the story aloud to us. If, like me, you are a fan of this beautiful book, there were strong hints that there may be more books on the way featuring Mrs Noah.
Robin Stevens and Katherine Woodfine were next up discussing mystery stories. Both cited Enid Blyton as their influence. Robin is the author of the Murder Most Unladylike series, which is a murder mystery set in Hong Kong. Robin also wrote The Guggenheim Mystery, the sequel to The London Eye Mystery, at the request of the Siobhan Dowd Trust. Katherine Woodfine has written the Sinclair’s Mysteries series, which take place in an Edwardian department store similar to Selfridges. She has recently started writing a new series, with the first book Peril in Paris, due out in August.
Meg McLaren and Lizzy Stewart were interviewed next about their picture books. Both illustrators have received Kate Greenaway nominations. Lizzy spoke about how she was always drawn to tigers as a child and as an adult and her illustrations in There’s a Tiger in the Garden are based on her nan’s garden. The book won the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize and is a fabulous story for teaching children about the power of imagination. Her latest picture bookJuniper Jupiter is based on a female superhero who is looking for a sidekick. Meg McLaren showed us an example of a tiny dummy book which she creates when working on her stories, to see if the pacing works. Meg’s latest book is The Station Mouse which follows the exploits of Maurice the mouse and his station rule book. Meg believes that her books are very personal, and her identity is definitely apparent within them. Meg has also written Pigeon P.I., a picture book story with a film noir pigeon detective.
Kaye Umansky closed the conference with a spectacular and dramatic reading aloud session. She explained how when she writes, it’s all about the voice. She can hear the characters speaking. She has worked as a teacher, played in a band, and has written over 130 books for children so far!