31 January 2008

Woman's Hour

If you're near a radio tomorrow morning at 10, be sure to tune in to Woman's Hour on Radio 4. Leonie is going to be on with the wonderful Wendy Cooling (Wendy has been one of our consultants on the Ultimate First Book Guide), talking about books for 0-7s and hopefully giving the UFBG a nice little plug along the way. Should be interesting, so do listen in.

(Also because if Leonie's a bit nervous it'll help her to know that the among the audience of MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE LISTENING TO HER TALKING LIVE! there will be at least a few friends, so make sure you're there!)


dinner with friends

I'm feeling distinctly delicate this morning - despite not having had that much to drink last night! The trouble with going out for dinner with good friends is that time goes by and then suddenly you've only time for five hours sleep - not something I cope with very well. But, the evening was lovely - and the 'good friends' were Danny (the one who hangs around here too) and our truly delightful agent. I wonder if all authors think such nice things about their agents? Hmm...

Anyway, conversation roamed over many subjects, from Conversation Cards to George Clooney (Danny sighed) but mainly centred on children's books - from the ones we love, to the ones we don't, on to the state of publishing and to the future of books. It was all very positive, and I came away very happy to be involved in something that's so vibrant - it really is a brilliant time to be involved in kids' publishing!

29 January 2008

What next?

Busy working on an Ultimate Book Guide 'what next?' spread for the Publishers Association children's supplement, which is due to be distributed in the Guardian in March. All about what else to read if you're stuck reading nothing but a particular author. Fantastically complicated design (all book titles and arrows and different colours) and our designer may be about to have a nervous breakdown. Will be worth it in the end though, I think (the what next? spread I mean, not the nervous breakdown).

Tumtum and Nutmeg

I'm reading this today - it's the first children's book by Emily Bearn (who as it happens was at school with me a long time ago, tho' can't imagine she'd remember that), and illustrated by Nick Price.

It's an old-fashioned story about mice (who eat earwigs en croute) and humans (who have to make do with yucky tinned spaghetti), and I'm quite surprised to find that it's really exceptionally charming, a lovely & familiar-feeling piece of writing, which I'll be telling people about. I wasn't at first attracted to the cover, and flicking through it in the bookshop wasn't wild about the pictures, but have started warming to them too now. Will finish it off tonight as soon as I'm done with those tax returns...


PS First reviews of The UFBG from Rebecca yesterday, and all very positive so far... According to this month's issue of Child Education, the The UFBG is the latest in a series "which has become a firm favourite in the children's books world". Nice. I wonder if any press have picked up the American UTBG (teen guide) which came out a few weeks ago - any sightings?

27 January 2008

Teenagers' writing competition

Just launched the website for a writing competition I've been organising to support Human Rights Watch, an amazing organisation I've been working with for a few years. The competition, 'Right Words', is inviting young people in England (aged 14-16) to write something about or inspired by the situation in Darfur over the last few years - a story, a poem or an essay.

Press release is going out tonight. If anyone knows any teenagers who might be interested, or any secondary school teachers who could use it in the classroom (we have lesson-plans etc. to make it easy & useful for them) please let them know! The website is www.rightwords.org.uk - it's not 100% finished, but there's plenty there to get an idea. Tell people!

It's been supported, incidentally, by A&C Black (publishers of the UBGs) who very kindly did a big schools mailing for us a couple of weeks ago. Thanks!


PS You can tell, presumably, that I've just worked out how to put links into my blog posts?

PPS Nice endorsements on the site from former UBG contributors Jacqueline Wilson and Anthony Horowitz!

25 January 2008

One more for the collection

Amazon delivered my first Ultimate Teen Book Guide hardback from the US a moment ago. I think the idea behind having a hardback was for libraries, schools etc. (it's not a hardback sort of trade book, really, I think); but whatever the reason it looks very smart. I think there's something about a hardback that makes it feel like a Real Proper Book. Very pleasing.


Caldecott for Hugo Cabret!

Absolutely delighted to hear that this year's Caldecott Medal has gone to The Invention of Hugo Cabret. (Announced about a week ago, but somehow I missed the news...) It's an extraordinary book, and the one I chose every time I was asked for my 'book of the year' for 2007; not surprised at all that I'm clearly not the only one to think it's just remarkable.

If you don't know it, it's the story of a boy who lives in a Paris train station, and about the early days of silent cinema; and it's told in a combination of words and pictures that work together like in no book I've ever seen before. Some of the story is taken by the words, some by the pictures (no page has both), and it works amazingly well, giving you an experience partway between reading a beautiful book and seeing an atmospheric silent film.

Since I was introduced to it I've bought countless copies for adults who've all felt the same way; so go buy it if you haven't already! My mother in London loved it, my friend Monique in Boston, my cousin Antonio in Rio, Susan too... - this one, I think is unanimous.


PS Also delighted that Brian Selznick - the author/illustrator, who I met at Cheltenham for an event together and subsequently in New York, and who is as well as being a fantastically talented illustrator a lovely man - just before receiving the prize found time to write us a little piece about The Borrowers, a favourite of his, for the forthcoming updated 8-12 UBG. Hugo Cabret itself is going in too, of course, recommended by illustrator David Roberts. And the new US teen UBG has also included it, with an American librarian writing "I don't think I've ever read a book quite like this". I quite agree.

24 January 2008

Time Out

The wonderful people at TO have decided - as if it wasn't a fantastic enough mag already - that they're instituting a new 'Children's Book of the Week' column. And it gets better, as in this week's issue, the very first, they've picked us! Ultimate First Book Guide, with a lovely picture and everything! (Page 61, if you have a copy to hand...) Book isn't even out yet, so I hope this attention bodes very well indeed...


22 January 2008

Blogging debut

Gosh - ok - my first entry on the UBG blog - and my first entry on any blog ever.

I'm just taking a break from working on the revised edition of the Ultimate Book Guide for 8-12 year-olds, which is going to include lots of new titles that have been published since 2004 when the first edition came out.

I'm immersed in the moment in Allan Ahlberg's 'Boyhood of Burglar Bill' which is totally fantastic. It's autobiographical, and about how as a small boy Allan and his friends get a football team together for the Coronation Cup. Now, I couldn't be less interested in football, but his writing is so compelling that I'm busy agonising over every twist in the team's fortunes. It's the first time in a while that I've persuaded myself to read something other than the totally addictive Cathy Cassidy. (Apart from the Icelandic detective story that I've just read for my book group, but I won't even get into that.)

Now I'm going to try to post this...

21 January 2008

First sighting

Ultimate First Book Guides in my local Waterstone's! (Brighton, since you ask.) Exciting (and unnerving) to know it's now properly out there in the real world. Four of them on display, albeit I think in quite the wrong place in the shop... But still bought myself one of the four copies, in the spirit of celebration.

We deliver our picture-book reviews today for the Publishers' Association children's books supplement that's going out with the Guardian in a couple of months. Fun to do, even though trying to choose just five books to review from all the great possibilities has made for a pretty stressful morning, and so many good things I now feel guilty at having neglected...


School talk

Invited by my old friend Paul Ryan to go down to Sherborne to speak yesterday on 'Books and Reading', as part of a reading week being held at the school, where students are being encouraged to read from a particular selection of books including 'Boy in the Striped Pyjamas', 'Looking for JJ', 'Purple Hibiscus', 'Kavalier & Clay', et al.

The talk was I think (I hope) OK, though rather free-form; talking to a couple of hundred students for 45 mins is always fine, but doing it on a big vague subject more or less without notes makes it a much more fun experience, tho' a little dangerous too, and I hope I didn't ramble too much... Some good questions ("What can a book do that a film can't?"; and in response to my comment that I think there are too many books published in this country, the reasonable question, "Well, then how many should we have?"), which I find the most fun bit always...

I've been down to speak at Sherborne before (really so beautiful - always arrive there and think, "Why don't I live here?") and always impressed with the students there. After the talk Paul and I had lunch with the librarian and a few of her reading group, who talked with great interest and enthusiasm about Adrian Mole, the Inheritance series, Harry Potter books/films/translations, and the idiocies of George W. Bush. As always, confident, polite (one of the Sherborne boys called me 'sir' when I bumped in to him later on the train) and really interested in books. What a good place to be.

Read 'Ottoline and the Yellow Cat' this weekend, and smiled an awful lot. What a genius Chris Riddell is.


20 January 2008

I've been getting some lovely messages regarding the Ultimate First Book Guide - which is officially published in a week or so, but comp copies have gone out already - from contributors, via here, email and real, actual, letters in the post! It's so good to know that everyone seems to like it as much as we do.

The Teen guide is also being published. Ah, you say, but it's been out for AGES... Not in America it hasn't! The Ultimate Teen Book Guide USA is coming from Walker USA, and even in hardback! I've got a paperback copy and it looks wonderful - and chock full of US teen books I really, really want to read. When I finish the UK pink / fairy / sparkly ones, of course...

18 January 2008

I'm sitting at my desk and all I can hear is the drip-drip-drip of rain on the roof - good job I'm not going out today! I'm actually staying to work on some reviews, though I got completely sidetracked yesterday and instead of reading the pink / sparkly / fairy books that I should have been, I read Catherine Fisher's Incarceron instead...

OK, so it's not pink or sparkly, and *definitely* not for the under sevens, but I loved it - and in fact read it in pretty much one long, self-indulgent sitting. Set in a future dystopia (a favourite theme in her books) it's about a boy, Finn, who lives in a terrifyingly appalling prison, and Claudia, the daughter of the prison's warden, who has never seen even the doors to the prison. Her own life is controlled by 'the protocol', which means that though there is advanced technology, the whole world is designed to look and be like some Hollywood art-director's vision of ye olde worlde England.

There's a plot involving a tattoo on Finn's arm, and the whole world-creation is detailed and totally believable. There's also a brilliant twist - and at least one sequel in the offing.

I love Catherine's writing. She gives sci-fi a fantasy twist, and yet never lets you forget that the people in her books are real; they suffer and agonise and don't always get things right.

So - back to the fairy books!

15 January 2008

Puffin 2008

To Puffin yesterday for a preview of their 2008 titles, with lots of exciting things on the way, it seems...

Picked up a copy of the new Kevin Brooks (yippee!), also a delightful picture book by Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward called The Bog Baby (which Jeanne read to us); and many other goodies.

Among these others was a proof of the first official prequel to Anne of Green Gables (Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson) which for no good reason I object to in a vague purist sort of way, while still absolutely accepting that if I just give it a try I'll find (as promised yesterday) that it's wonderful, really well written etc. So given that I had just the same instinctive prejudiced aversion to Peter Pan in Scarlet, and then read it and thought it was utterly WONDERFUL (and indeed - whisper it... - possibly even better than the original...), I'll give this a try. As I will all the others in my goody-bag as soon as I can, and will report back.

Also at Puffin - Charlie Higson talked about his forthcoming Young Bond 5 (still titleless) and Ed Vere introduced us to his character Mr Big, a big, strong, very vulnerable, piano-playing gorilla... Looking forward to seeing that. I'm reviewing Ed V's Banana this week, btw, and think he's fab. You'll see a rave about his first book, The Getaway, in the Ultimate First Book Guide, where it's recommended by Kelly McKain.

(Puffin event also exciting because I bumped into the first disinterested person who'd seen a copy of the new UFBG and loved it! In balance, of course, Waterstone's today hadn't heard of it and looked it up and said vaguely, "Um, March?").

14 January 2008

Danny has rose-coloured specs - just about the only thing that would make me look OK in violet!

Reading today has been Sam Llewellyn's Little Darlings, which I'm enjoying all over again. Still can't think that spit-roasted London pigeon would be anything approaching appetising, but other than that, it's great.

Also, I read in the Bookseller than the sales of Francesca Simon's Horrid Henry books have exceeded 10 million! Amazing, and good for both Ms Simon and for Tony Ross (Henry's wonderful illustrator, who brings the stories to totally wicked life) - they must be so proud!

13 January 2008

Cornelia Funke, etc.

While Leonie (who does incidentally look just great in violet and mauve, btw) has been tucking into Cathy Cassidy, I've just made a start on 'Inkheart', which to my shame is the first Cornelia Funke book I've read. (Yes, I know, I know...) So far, fab, a really originally imagined sort of fantasy. We're all very excited too because Cornelia has just joined the ranks of UBG contributors, writing a lovely piece for our first 8-12 update. Not out for a year, I'm sorry to say, so you'll just have to wait and see which book she's chosen to recommend... (She has excellent taste, though, I'm pleased to report.)

Can't wait to get back to 'Inkheart' soon, and to get on to all her other books when that's done. Have already ordered them all. How lovely to discover someone new! Next will be 'Airman', by Eoin Colfer.

Our wonderful publicist Rebecca is working away planning our events for the launch of the 0-7 Guide next month, and we'll post details of them on here in case anyone can come along. Meantime I'm speaking at a school next Saturday, just generally approximately vaguely on the more-or-less subject of, y'know, 'Books'. Where on earth to start? Help!

What with the weather being so dreary, I've been tucked up inside reading all sorts, including Cathy Hopkins Recipe for Rebellion, which is one of the Zodiac Girls series. It's not often I really don't like a character in a book, but to begin with Danu just exasperated me! Luckily, she was meant to, and after a while she even exasperated herself... When Cathy gets around to writing about the Aquarius Zodiac Girl, I'll be reading that too - just to find out what I'm meant to be like, as the last astrological portrait of me said I was tall, thin and looked good in all shades of violet and mauve - none of which are true!

11 January 2008


Hi -

I'm one of the others.

As Leonie said, we're still working out what sorts of directions this blog will be going in - though books will of course feature prominently one way or other - but let us know if you have any thoughts, any requests...

I think it'll predominantly be a place we can talk about newly published and forthcoming books we're reading, and where we can enthuse about things between editions of the UBGs (so I don't have to wait for years and years before I can start telling people how much I loved Fly By Night last month, or The Invention of Hugo Cabret, or the new Emily Gravett picture book...).

We'll let you know about our forthcoming events - there should be a lot of exciting things planned for the coming months organised for the launch of our third volume, The Ultimate First Book Guide (pub. Feb 4th); and if there's anything you want to know ("Help! Just finished a great book - what should I be reading next?"), please ask!

More soon.


PS Just received a press release from Puffin announcing a new Kevin Brooks book! Hooray! Am I the only person on here who thinks he's God?

10 January 2008


A UBG blog - who would've thought? And now that it exists, goodness knows what we'll all be writing about! The three of us (the UBG editors, that is) are Leonie Flynn (that's me, currently sticking my toe in the blogging waters), Susan Reuben and Daniel Hahn, and from time to time you'll be hearing from all of us.

So, what will we talk about? Well, books, mostly. Though you might get the occasional snippet about family, babies (though I must remember that Isaac isn't a baby, he's a toddler, and not only is he cute as a button he's also a major tester for picture books. He's Susan's), TV, the weather and - from time to time - book events that we'll be attending. As I work as a school librarian, there might even be bits and pieces about that.

Right now, it's time for breakfast, and another few chapters of Cathy Cassidy's Sundae Girl, which I'm loving - even though the story is breaking my heart! All I can say is, it'd better have a happy ending...