28 March 2008

See - Previously...

Or you could all tell Susan in person (presuming you all know what sort of user you are...) at the FCBG conference at Exeter Uni this weekend! We'll all be there, either in a panel of our own (Susan and Leonie), chairing one (Danny) or eating UBG cake at the Ultimate Book Guide tea!

Do come along and say hi - we only bite if asked.

23 March 2008

Visitor demographics

Susan wants to know, but apparently is too shy to ask, how many of our blog visitors are turkeys, how many are giants and how many are some other kind og visitor. (Trust me - just don't ask.) If you fit one of those categories of visitor, do get in touch with her.


22 March 2008

Oxford CBG

To Oxford on Thursday night with Leonie and Rebecca, for an event with the Oxford Children's Book Group (part of the FCBG). Wasn't a huge turn-out, partly perhaps because it was the eve of the long weekend and it was a very, very cold (VERY COLD!) night, but it was a really good group of people. In some respects close to the perfect size for a proper discussion, actually - with twenty or so there it meant that everyone felt they could chip in and ask questions and challenge us on things right the way through, which would have been quite different in a bigger group, I think; so it was informal and fun. We were meant to be talking about the UFBG mainly, though drifted quite a lot onto Darren Shan and horror, onto age ranging, onto the lemming-like qualities of publishers (always a favourite), on how important it is to promote reading as a pleasurable thing and how frustrating that the government and those who draw up curricula seem not to have grasped this...

Anyway, the hour and a half flew by (at least, it did for me and Leonie, and we hope it did for the others). Thanks to Rebecca for sorting it out at our end and to the Oxford group for inviting us and looking after us there; and to the Botley Children's Centre and Nursery School (really nice!) for hosting it. Always hugely heartening to see people excited and passionate about the same things we are, working hard to promote the same things we're trying to promote, and the room was quite clearly full of people like that on Thursday night.


20 March 2008

Just been reading an astonishing new sci-fi/fantasy book called The Roar by Emma Clayton. It publishes this summer. I dislike much fantasy and nearly all sci-fi, so I don't know what made me start it. I made myself just open it and start reading, because I knew that if I read the back cover first I would be immediately put off and not give it a go.

Anyway, after a few pages I was intrigued, and after a few more I was hooked.

It's set in a dystopian future where an animal plague has forced human beings to retreat to a tiny area of the world. They hide behind a high wall, and the majority live in squalid, minute 'fold down' apartments which are so small that you have to fold away the kitchen in order to use the bedroom, and fold away the bed so you can then have dinner... Mika and his family live in one such place, and Mika's twin sister Ellie has mysteriously disappeared. Everyone but Mika believes that she's dead...

I think this is this author's first book, and it's a really superb piece of writing. It's so self-assured and doesn't feel first-novelish at all.

Back again

Apologies for the silence this week. It's not because of a lack of UBG-related activity, but quite the contrary - so much running around doing stuff, that there's not been a lot of time left to write about it. (Still less to sit around in a leisurely manner doing luxurious things like reading...)

We've all been going through the second submission version of our new UBG, preparing a title list for additions to the new edition of the UTBG (the teen guide - any suggestions?); Leonie and I are talking in Oxford tomorrow and St Alban's next week, and we're all doing events in Exeter next week too, and the week after there's the launch of the National Year of Reading book and the children's books supplement in the Guardian and I'm doing Oxford again, etc.

And we do all have quite a few day jobs too, of course...

So, excuses over. Now, one bit of reading highly recommended for anyone with very little time but fancying a quick dose of something lovely and interesting, is Hilary McKay's The Story of Bear, which somehow I must have missed last year and just found new in paperback yesterday. It's an early reader, so for those of you who are grown-ups it's a 10-minute read, but like everything by Hilary McKay it's warm and quirky and more than worthwhile for any age. (Her Casson family books are among my favourites of recent years.) This is a peculiar story full of odd side-steps that even adults will have to look at twice before you're quite sure what's going on, but she's such a delightful writer she can get away with practically anything, truth be told; she's one of those everything-she-touches-turns-to-gold writers, and you can tell just how good she is even in this funny little piece. Should mention I quite like the pictures too, by an illustator I'd not come across before called Serena Riglietti - will look out for her again.


10 March 2008

Waterstone's Hampstead

Just a quick note to say that our Waterstone's Hampstead event we trailed in earlier posts has had to be rescheduled, so will not be happening tonight; the new date (probably late April) will go up here as soon as confirmed. Apologies for the last-minute change.


09 March 2008

Justin Somper

Firstly - Danny, that last post of yours is faintly terrifying!!!

Book news for me this last week was all about Vampirates. The totally delightful Justin Somper came to school and spoke to (and with) Years 5-8 about his books, reading, writing and publishing. He was a great speaker - very amusing, deliberately cheesy (sea shanties and swords have rarely been used to such good crowd-silencing effect before), fascinating on all topics and patient when the line of would-be signees (or some word like that!) stretched around three school corridors.

Before he came, Vampirates books were a little looked down on by the older boys - their perceived themselves above such childish matter. But, now - as if by magic - whole chunks of Year 8 are wandering around reading the books. I did tell them, but clearly I'm not grown-up enough to warrant them believing me about a book's worthiness for Young Adults to read. Hah!

National Year of Reading

2008 is the National Year of Reading - you might have picked up on that already? - and there's to be a UBG angle now (which is exciting for us, since promoting reading isn't after all too far distanced from what we've been trying to do all this time...).

So the three Guides have been digested into a single slim volume - a sort of 128-page sampler, a preliminary reading guide for all ages birth to teen, as a sort of first hit, for negotiating your way around the many exciting choices in an unfamiliar library. The little book will be given away free to everyone who joins a library in the UK, starting in April when NYR launch their big library membership drive. An alarming 250,000 copies are being printed as I write...



05 March 2008


Well, I survived the Education Show! I have to say that the NEC has to be my least favourite venue - once you've actually found the hall you want (three miles of corridors later) and then found the stand you want and survived the air-conditioning from Hell, well... all you want is a nice cup of tea and a sit down NOT to be talking to 100 people about Learning Through Reading!

But, despite my grouching, it went well (at least, Rebecca, our delightful publicist, told me it went well, I wouldn't presume to think such things all on my own). Er, apart from the fact that I spent a good ten minutes wittering on about how rubbish some publishers are and how they're all a load of lemmings - and then later did a show of hands to see who were teachers / librarians / publishers, and most of those in the audience were, um, publishers!

It amused me for ages...

03 March 2008

As I write, I'm really dying to get back to reading The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. For some irrational reason I've been avoiding reading this for years. I keep looking at it and thinking I ought to read it because it's such an important book. But of course, we tend to read things either because we want to or because we have to - but rarely because we ought to.

Anyway, last week I overcame my irrational reluctance (I think I thought it was full-on fantasy which isn't my cup of tea) and opened it up. And it is just lovely and brilliant. It's set in the modern day though it has a rather timeless feel about it, despite the mention of television, cinema and so forth. It's about a group of runaway children who make their home in an abandoned Venetian cinema, and are able to buy food and clothes because of the 'Thief Lord' - a mysterious boy barely older than themselves with an incredibly talent for stealing, who visits them late at night with his spoils.

An element of fantasy is creeping in as I read, and I'm dying to get to the end and see how that is going to develop, and whether I think it's a good or bad thing.

I am still a bit perplexed by the software for this blog, so I hope this entry registers as being written by me. Susan, that is...

01 March 2008

Forth Bridge

As is often the case with reference books (as I fail to remember each time I agree to take on a new one) the job of putting the book together is only the beginning of an endless task of updating and revising, which ends only when the book goes out of print or you drop dead, whichever comes sooner. Hence, for example, my mention on this blog a couple of days ago of our first 'second edition', the updated UBG for 8-12s. This will be followed by a second edition of book two, and then presumably a second edition of book three; and then quite possibly by a third edition of book one (which by then will again be frustratingly out of date) and so on. You see how it works.

Publishers will insist on publishing new books (a moratorium, anyone?), and as long as they do, we'll have to keep running just to stay in the same spot. Hence our frequent allusions to the painting of the Forth Bridge - that proverbial task that you finish only to discover that it's time to start from the beginning all over again. Updating the UBGs is now our lifelong 'painting the Forth Bridge' job. It's a nice metaphor.

So you can imagine my distress to read the anouncement last week on the BBC site that the FB painting job is scheduled to end in 2012. To end! Yes, the Forth Bridge will be painted, and not just in a perpetual state of being in the process of being painted. 2012, around which time by my estimate we'll be publishing UFBG2 and delivering UBG3 and contemplating UTBG3. So yes, even The Proverbially Endless Job will be done before we are. Next we will see headlines announcing the imminent freezing over of hell, the forthcoming blue moon and the expected arrival of those homecoming cows. Leonie, Susan and I, meanwhile, will still be at it. And while there's something to be said for job security, when people talk about a 'job for life' this isn't perhaps quite what they mean.


Reading Habits

To Roehampton this morning (after some trouble starting the car - with apologies again to Viv to whom I'd promised a lift...) for a half-day conference looking at the results of a major survey of reading habits conducted by the NCRCL in 2005, for children in Key Stages 1-4.

In the results themselves there was pretty little that was surprising, though that was interesting too - to have got those things we always refer to as a kind of received wisdom confirmed by some pretty robust statistics. So yes, it's true - boys won't read books about girls, and girls are less likely to read books about boys but aren't quite as determined in their prejudice; yes, boys are more likely to read about machines, monsters, cartoon characters, to read comics and non-fiction; lots of children like series books; etc.

It wasn't a study about reading abilities, but about reading habits - what children are reading (books, magazines, fiction, genres, non-fiction, comics, favourite authors, series...), how they choose their reading (influencers, sources), and so on. Little wonder - but again good to know, given our work on the UBGuides - that on the whole those with the best choosing skills are also those who get the greatest satisfaction from their reading.

The range of reading cited by respondents was depressingly predictable. Though even those who're well familiar (and who isn't?) with the massive, blanket-appeal of Harry Potter will surely be impressed that these books are the most popular in all four key stages, 1-4. In other words, from ages 5 to 16. Just stop and think about that for a moment...

Meanwhile overall favourite authors at KS2 were (in order) Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl and JK Rowling; the list for KS3&4 was (in order) Wilson, Rowling, Dahl. A comparable survey carried out in 1996 saw Dahl topping both of these lists (in the company of Blyton - second in both groups - and Dick King-Smith / Stephen King in third places). No great surprises there either.

But one thing rather more surprising, and pretty heartening: since 1996 the amount of library book-borrowing has actually gone up. (Would you have expected that?) One possible factor posited today is the existence of the relatively recent Bookstart scheme, which has affected several years' worth of children who've since grown into the survey age-groups. This may indeed be one of what's surely a number of factors, but whatever is having this effect it's something to be grateful for - it's certainly not the kind of news we're used to hearing on this subject...

Lots of food for thought today. Thanks to Laura Atkins (UFBG contributor, I'm proud to say) who organised it, and the four interesting, engaging speakers. Will be ordering a copy of the full report in the coming days to look more closely. Fascinating stuff.