children's book

Book Festival Fun: or 5 ways to cope with the crowd -2/5

2/5

Gusto

Wow, Gusto is a great guy. What do you mean you've never met him? Oh man, he's the best; gregarious, confident, nothing phases Gusto.

Gusto always looks at the upside of any predicament, never wavering in his focus to brighten up any situation. He's the master of his own destiny, king of confidence, duke of daring deeds, chancellor of cheer....you know what I mean, you get the idea.

Faced with a crowd of people, all staring at him, waiting anxiously for him to begin, he strides out before them like a demi-god, an unswervingly confident, lucky sod.

No hat too silly, no shirt too garish, always smiling, always swish. He dons his curly wigs with flair, he doesn't care about his hair.

You may know Gusto has a twin, though no one likes to mention him.

Oh dear, here comes Meeker now, come on Meeker take a bow.

He shuffles up to the plate, makes excuses why he's late.

Mumbles his lines, drops his script, over his laces he has tripped.

Getting up, he bangs his head, apologises, face turns red.

Stumbling back onto the stage, “what's my line?”, “where's my page?”

He clears his throat, he sounds quite hoarse, he's lost his audience now, of course.

Oh dear, why? Where did they go?

They've wandered off to see Gusto.

 

-Trevor Young, Tapocketa

 

We realised we needed Gusto for all our public appearance, and did our best to lose Meeker along the way. Worrying about making mistakes, we found, is more disabling than the mistakes themselves. Throwing yourself into your performance with gusto takes people along with you.

 

The odd mistake is all part of the show when done with flair of the Great Gusto.

Book Festival Fun : or 5 ways to avoid public humiliation -1/5

'I'm ready for my close up' - Eleanor helps frame this little character

'I'm ready for my close up' - Eleanor helps frame this little character

1/5

Prep

When it comes to preparation for a book festival reading, there are probably people who are a lot more self-confident than we are who would just turn up and see what happens. If you do this, take a well deserved bow; probably to the three people that turned up and slow clapped you as you left after your half-baked performance, away with you!

Ok, some may smugly recount the the time they “didn't prepare at all and it went fantastico”; well I'm not listening -la, la, la, la. You played with the proverbial children's festival bumper box of matches one time and didn't get burnt, lucky you, smarty pants! What? You've been doing it for years? Oh right, yeah, that's the exception, I'm just talking about those who are new to this, on your way please.

So, our prep regime was tough; up at dawn for vocal exercises and smile practice, rigorous silly gesturing rehearsal and, being true method actors becoming absorbed by our characters King Galdo and Brendara and the rest, months in advance of the big day...

...or alternatively, we may have just had a quick run through the day before. Yes, I think it was that last one.

Eleanor and myself holding on to our last shreds of dignity

"Why is everyone avoiding us?"

To be fair we had already performed a number of times at a local school, so we had an idea of what we were going to do. We knew we were going to use cardboard masks of our characters (actually, I managed to persuade Eleanor to do all the mask wearing, me wearing them would have creeped the children out). We knew we were going to get the audience to join in by helping us with the sound effects. We also knew that we needed to prepare our performance based on what we had learnt from that school booking.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, other prep stuff: we had posters made up (beautifully designed by a talented designer called Eleanor) which went up in the local bookshop a week before the event.

poster design by Eleanor

Our friend and all round pr guru, Emma, rallied round beforehand getting us a mention on local mummy blogs and an hour or so before the performance we walked around in silly hats handing out flyers and stickers and pleaded with anyone who would listen to come and see the show or risk seeing me, a grown man, break down to a shell of my former self before their eyes. At which point many people told me that would not be necessary as they were already coming anyway as they already knew about it -the power of prep.

Formed Opinions: The Fine Art of Kid's Feedback Forms

Bob the Burger - Austin aged 10.  Has a sidekick called Nigel the Nugget, apparently.

Our main purpose of presenting our book to children is to get their opinions.  That might sound pretty obvious but in the heat of preparations for our school presentation it was easily something that could become an afterthought.

A selection of masks and props for our school performance

As always, we'd given ourselves an enormous amount of work to do, printing, cutting and sticking bits together to make our presentation more visually exciting than just looking at Eleanor and myself.  Now you might say, if you read your book in a certain way you will bring it alive, capture the children's imagination and you won't need all those props; we needed the props.

Consequently, we didn't have a huge amount of time to think about how we were going to get honest feedback from the children.  We did have a question and answer session on the day, but you always feel you are missing the views from the less gregarious children and we wanted views from across the spectrum of personalities.

Unformulaic

So we decided on creating a feedback form that we could handout.  Yeah boring, right?  Well no!  That's where you're wrong (if you thought that, I mean; if you didn't then I apologise, that was a rash and presumptive of me) we were going to make sure it was anything but boring.  It would have lots of colour and things to do as well as collecting their views along the way.

So one side asked a few simple straightforward questions about the book and the other side had something fun to do: Create Your Own Hero!  Woo Hoo!

Actually that 'Create Your Own Hero' side proved to be a very good call, but before I explain why, here are the two sides of that single page form...

kid's feedback form FRONT

Kid's feedback form BACK

Forming a Relationship

Feedback fun

When we got a batch of the forms back later that week, we started to realise that, far from just being a fun activity, the 'Create a Hero' side of the form actually told us something about the child who had made the comments on feedback side of the form.  It was a way of getting a clearer picture about the sort of child that had decided to comment on one aspect or another.  Something we will definitely consider when gleaning future feedback -find out a little bit about the person making the comment if you can!

Mr Toast 

Making adjustments based on feedback can be difficult if you don't understand more about the person that gave that feedback.  It could mean that you could be in danger of making a sweeping change to your story where a nuanced alteration would have been the solution.

Oh yeah, plus we got to see lots of funny hero creations, plus we now have lots of funny hero pictures to post on our site (which we will do and let you know, of course).

And we will discuss the feedback in future posts.

 

 

Character-Forming

Mrs Toast, of course

The teachers were also happy with the story creation aspect of 'Create You Own Hero' (it was part of their school book week).  We had given the children a chance to give their hero a score rating for strength, courage and wisdom.  This 'Top Trumps' style scoring gimmick actually made the children think a little more about the attributes of their protagonist before they started their story.  Yes, they could score their hero a ten out of ten for everything but does that make for a very interesting character?  Isn't what makes a character interesting their weaknesses too?  Even if they are a hero.

One other interesting point to note that surprised me: I'm glad we handed the forms out at the end.  Once those forms were in front of the children, that was it.  Heads down, filling them out, all attention to us was lost.  Not a bad way to finish though, we just need to make sure we never hand them out at the beginning!

School Results

Eleanor and Trevor losing whatever remaining dignity they ever had

There is no hiding anymore, time to step into the spotlight and sink or swim.

A collection of harsh little critics file into the school hall and sit down and deliver their finest harsh critic gazes towards us. This is just the first of seven sessions presenting our book to the children of Commonswood Primary School.

Snail sketch

Now, something we had created from scratch, will be laid out for children to see, and critique.  We came armed with big colourful images and big colourful masks. I would narrate and Eleanor was to act out all the characters.

Eleanor slapped a cardboard crown on the front of my Velcro'd head and we were away.  There followed a slightly awkward, ad-hoc rendition of the book., with the children helping us by providing the sound effects such as fanfares, sword-swishing and booing (now, hold on there -we had asked them to boo, it was part of the story, honest!).  We'd given ourselves a lot of mask-swapping and prop manipulation and it was quite a challenge.

Making it in the world of kid's lit takes nerves of steel

Making it in the world of kid's lit takes nerves of steel

I can't claim that our first performance was a finely polished masterpiece, but we had given it our best shot.  This was our first time after all.  I was happy we had made it through.

snail small

Then we showed them the trailer and explained how we created some of the characters from bits of card and showed them some of our models.  Then we answered some of their questions (thankfully no 'why are you here?'), handed out activity sheets/feedback sheets (more about those in future blogs) and they filed out to make way for the next class.  This was exhausting and we had only done one.  Six more to go.

However, as we went from performance to performance throughout the day, we got better and started to realise where to put our focus, involving the children more and spending more time showing them the models and the process.

A few of the children had their photo taken wearing the masks and holding the props and they loved it.

A couple of masked heroes

A couple of masked heroes

In a future blog I will detail more of what we learnt and the feedback we got.  Safe to say it was a very valuable experience and I'm glad we stepped out of our comfort zone to do it.

 

Blast Off

Evil Eleanor as Brendara, ready to blast some blood-sucking bats to bits

Great we've managed to book up a number of public presentations of Galdo's Gift.  That's fantastic!  Woo hoo!  Go Tapocketa, yeah!

---pause---

'Yay.  Good.''

---pause---

'Yeah, it's going to be good.'

....

'Er, have you had any thoughts as to what we might do?'

'I dunno, you?'

Well, thankfully, ideas and elaboration are our strong point; our problem is time.  We need to find some way of presenting our book to a whole bunch of heckling children that is fun colourful and inventive and relatively quick.  We decided the best idea was to blow everything up.

That is to say, we would take the illustrations directly from the book and blow them up to human size so we could perform the story at full scale.  We would just need to work out how we could attach the character heads to ourselves and be able to switch them quickly.

 

Ingredients:

A whole bunch of illustrations

A bemused local printing shop

A lot of thick card

Tonnes of Velcro

A huge loss of dignity

 

With a skull cap made from Velcro (which looked fine on Eleanor but for some reason on me gave the air of someone all prepped up for the electric chair, 'sorry, kids') and its Velcro counterpart attached to the back of each character mask; we had our quick-change system ready.

some of the card masks and props ready for the school presentation

Child's Play

Our first 'gig' would be Commonswood Primary School in Welwyn Garden City.  We had initially asked if we could 'perhaps, kindly have a quick session talking to a few children about the book, if that would be to much of a problem, thank you'. 

Cut to: booked for seven half hour sessions each with thirty children (the last session would actually be sixty children) aged from seven to eleven, all on the same day.  -'Oh, *gulp*, thank you, that sounds great'.  Oh God.

Ok, so no hiding, time to step up...

5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

(to be continued...)

 

 
Ready for battle

Ready for battle

 

World Book Day: Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel)        [image:Library of Congress]

So today is world book day and also the birthday of the late, great Dr. Seuss.  In the image above he is sketching Grinch for the 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' but his most famous book, of course, was 'The Cat in the Hat'.

Cat In The Hat

In 1950s USA, books that were intended to further children's literacy were mighty boring and it was felt that children's reading was suffering as a result.  A challenge was put to Seuss to come up with a story that used a pool of 250 words that were thought to be vital for first grader's literacy levels. He was also to make it actually fun to read.  He penned The Cat in the Hat and it was an instant success.

Ted Geisel

Dr. Seuss was his pen name (he left Oxford without a degree), he started using the name because he was caught drinking gin at college during the prohibition era and, although he was then banned from contributing illustrations to the college publication, continued under this thinly-veiled pseudonym.  His real name was Theodor Geisel.

Propaganda

Seuss' life was not without controversy, he was recruited as a propagandist during America's war with Japan and the racist tone of the illustrations from this time and early in his career were a source of great regret later in his life.

Helen

Seuss' wife, Helen Palmer, was devoted to him and it was this devotion that led to her to take her own life in despair when, after many illnesses and knowing she was losing Seuss to another woman, Audrey Dimond, she took an overdose of barbiturates.

She left a tender note...

"I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you ... My going will leave quite a rumor but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed ... Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years ..."

Seuss was distraught.  Seuss' niece, Peggy, later said "Whatever Helen did, she did it out of absolute love for Ted." Peggy called Helen's death "her last and greatest gift to him.".

Seuss married Audrey eight months later.

His Legacy

Dr. Seuss left an indelible mark on the world of children's books.  I love the way he plays with verse and subverts the normal construct in the service of fun, both in the text and the imagery.  He made sure never to use a moral as the basis for a story (he once stated "children can see a moral coming a mile off") and he has shown many children how joyful and playful words can be.

There is no doubting that there are demons to wrestle if you are going to give your carte blanche adoration to Dr Seuss, but perhaps on World Book Day we can look to the work and give credit to the positive influence it has had on the lives of many children across the globe for so many years.

 

Gilty Pleasures

pure gold... work in progress lettering for Galdo's Gift inside cover

pure gold... work in progress lettering for Galdo's Gift inside cover

One of the books we are using as reference: Nature Walks and Talks, available at all secret old bookshops.

When working on the inside cover of Galdo's Gift we are taking inspiration from a number of very old books we have gathering dust on our shelves (ok, we don't dust our books).

One technique that was used on many old books and that fits very well with our story is gilding (applying layers of gold leaf), in this case gold lettering, motifs and decoration.  The more modern method (used on the books we have access to) is hot foil stamping (pressing a gold leaf substitute onto the surface with metal type).  This has it's own unique charm, especially when printed onto a textural material and given the passage of time.

Even though our book is in digital land, we want to harness some of the charm and character of old books; including the knocks and scrapes they have gathered as they are passed on from one semi-careful owner to the next.

acorn motif in Galdo's Gift

acorn motif in Galdo's Gift

We want our book to feel like it has been passed on down the generations and ended up in your hands.

lettering on our flyers

lettering on our flyers

Monster Mash Ups

creature chaos: some of the many drawings that have been created for Galdo's Gift

The stuff of our nightmares are rarely under the bed or in the wardrobe (unless you are a fashion stylist perusing inside my wardrobe), they are out there in our everyday world.  As a child these demons surfaced in the form of the school bully, a vindictive teacher or the embodiment of all evil, Brussels sprouts.  Sorry Brussels sprout lovers.

It's something to bear in mind when breathing life into monsters for children's books.  Do you want them to represent these fears?  Oftentimes humans can quite happily fulfill this role anyway.  Additionally, fear of creatures other than ourselves isn't really the noblest of objectives when comes to wonderful world of children's literature.

We also need to avoid creating actual nightmares for our more sensitive readership.  A bad actor in an laughably unconvincing rubber creature costume on Doctor Who could scare the proverbials out of me when I was five years old.  We certainly don't want to cause sleepless nights.

Thankfully, our technique of constructing our creatures out of constituent parts has allowed us to mix and match to find the perfect look for everything from enormous rabid blood-sucking bats to giant screaming snakes. 

Sweet dreams, everyone.

 

 

Defining Moment

So, how to make reading and understanding fun for children...

So, how to make reading and understanding fun for children...

Everybody likes print books.  If you don't, I don't want to be your friend; there I said it.

So we are creating a digital book.

'Whaaa?  I thought you just said...', yes I know, it seems a little back-to-front and we will bring out a print book version in good time, but hear me out.  There is a reason why digital books should have their place among the stories that children enjoy. 

We know what digital books don't offer; their tactile nature, the intimacy of the page to reader experience, the ability to have varying formats; big, small, pop up, cutouts etc.  But they do have the ability to enhance the reading experience in their own way.  We've been speaking to parents and teachers about our ideas for Galdo's Gift and they are very excited by the possibilities it presents.

One of those is the ability to click on any word and find out what it means.  This, to us, seemed like a small thing to begin with.  Hardly setting the world alight, right?  Well, to a child that is reluctant to read because a book has many words that they simply don't understand, it's a game changer.

And the advantages don't stop there, but that's for another day.

The Changing Landscape

a newhorizon... Eleanor's latest paper model of Galdovia

Galdovia is always somewhere we wanted to revisit and truly explore what it has to offer.

Previous visits had always been fleeting.  There was never time to take in it's full potential, we had to push on, quicken the pace, 'no time to linger' barked the uncompromising, yet dashing, Trevor.

Well sometimes it's good to pause, contemplate and revisit; you begin to see what you truly missed the first time around.

Eleanor revisited Galdovia; sighed it's cool fresh air, strolled its winding hill paths and misty valleys and brought the landscape into crystal sharp focus before our eyes...

...and next time, we go together.

The Book Look

A section from our latest Galdo's Gift page backdrop

A section from our latest Galdo's Gift page backdrop

Looking worse for wear...much like the martyrs in the book

One thing that is important to Eleanor and I when making Galdo's Gift is to stay true to, and celebrate, the beauty of books.  This may sound contradictory when you learn that Galdo's Gift will firstly be a digital book;  we don't see it that way.  We want to encapsulate all that we love about print books alongside what a digital book can offer.

The image here is the front cover from a very old book I have inherited from my parents, The Foxes Book of Martyrs (a church copy, listing the stories of many Christian martyrs through history).  It has many of the qualities that have consciously fed into the design of our book.

Obviously a digital book can't be as wonderfully tactile as a print book, but we can draw a lot from it's visual texture, patterns and surface qualities and add all that is good about digital books; animation, sound, informative visual overlays, increased engagement of reluctant readers; the list goes on.

We look forward to sharing that experience with all of you.

 

I Need a Hero!

Wait...did he just? Nah, can't be.

Wait...did he just? Nah, can't be.

What a noble specimen of heroics. What a dashing, noble knight.  No wonder they have chosen to immortalise him with such dynamic realism.  Wait a minute, did he just move?  No...maybe not.

As I was saying, he seems just the sort of unflinching, bold hero we need for our tale.  What a fitting tribute to him this very realistic painting is...  no wait, he moved again.  Did nobody see it this time?  I'm not sure whether my mind is playing tricks on me.

Anyway, to get back to what I was saying... no there it is again.  Hang on, this is no painting.  No wonder it is so lifelike; Sir Strompliff is that you?  I'm not sure the hero we need is the sort that has to be his own portrait in his spare time.

Although heroes are pretty rare these days, so you might just have to do.

Chin tucks and nose jobs

What chin? Who nose?

What chin? Who nose?

So the heroine of our story, Brendara, is not looking herself.

BEFORE

BEFORE

Not sure why, she just seems distant, aloof, not her old self.  Is it the hair?  I don't think so.  Maybe the clothes, a new hat, perhaps?  No, she's always had that hat, she's always had those clothes.

Maybe the chin?  Hmmm, Brendara thinks so, so we are going to try some other chins.  Let's see...

Cue make over music

Cue make over music

So tricky, some make her look too sinister, some make her look too stupid (sorry, Brendara).

However....

Ladies and gentleman, after all the votes have been counted and verified, we have a winner.

Brendara final illustration on white

No that's more like it.

To the Bat Cave, Let's Go!

The stage is set for our herione...

'Away inside a distant cliff face, our brave heroine bravely battles away again a colony of fearsome foes...'

What?  What do you mean she's not there?  Your kidding, right?  Don't tell me the fearsome foes are late as well.  What kind of show is this?  They were supposed to be here days ago.  Don't tell me they're stuck in traffic; I won't believe you.  There is no traffic around here.

I suppose all we can do is admire the view until they arrive.

As you can see the cave here is made up of many layers to create a picture book/pop up book feel or perhaps like a stage play set.  Like a stage play, the set is all important in setting the scene.  We need to consider where our actors will be placed, how they will be lit and how their surroundings will compliment this.

Cramming our set with too much detail may detract from the main action on the characters.  Colours need to be carefully considered so that they work alongside the colour of the characters and the lighting.  We are using a lot of fairly saturated colour lighting and this can alter the perceived colour of the set.
 

'So I killed a bit of time there to give them time to show up.  Still not here?  Oh my, maybe tomorrow then.'

 

Setting the Scene

The swamp scene ready for our character's entrance

Now the stage is set for one of our first scenes.  Awaiting the arrival of our brave knight on his shimmering steed.  Oh, and lets not forget the serpents. What's the point of having a brave knight if he just roams the countryside admiring the view and then just trundles home in time for tea with no combat involved?

Might pop a few snails in there for good measure.

This is one of our first virtual sets by Eleanor Long and will be one of the first scenes to be completed for our children's poetry book.

Slime Time

Lettuce eating snail animation.

'Chomp, slurp, crunch, what you looking at?  What a guy can't eat his lettuce in peace now?'

Oh, I'm sorry, I apologise for my 'friend's' rudeness here, it's very difficult to find snails with the manners required for our book.  Most of them just leave slime everywhere and munch on leaves all day.  As time is short I guess he will have to do.

Material World

One of our element sheets that will be populating our scenes.

'Yeah, we all shine on, like the Moon and the stars, and the Sun.' (John Lennon).  How true, but someone has to make them first. 

'Eleanor! How's the Moon, the stars and the Sun coming along?  Our scenery is looking distinctly like it needs some creative illumination,' and Eleanor is the one to provide it.

Eleanor is drawing (pun intended) on her history, set building on films as The Borrowers and tv progs such as the highly acclaimed Graham Norton Show to create the scenic backdrops for our cast of characters.  Although so far she has avoided the oversized objects or glitzy flamboyance of those previous projects.  But then you never know.

Critter Call Thinking

We now have our roll call for various scenes in the book.  All the people are putting on their hats and boots and forming a nice orderly queue, ready to play their part.

Time for the creatures of this world to make an appearance.  How do these move about?  What makes them unique and interesting?  What will they look like when all their parts are put together?

We look forward to finding out with you.

Rough Idea

Storyboard Animatic Door Forest

While we make new acquaintances, new little characters to recruit into our world, we thought we would show you a snippet of our early animatic.   An animatic is the the next step on from the storyboard it helps us see how things will be progressively framed by the camera through the stories various scenes.  Think of it as an animated storyboard if you like.  It is still very much not finished in terms of look but helps us make decisions about what might be added to enhance each scene.

The small snippet above represents this frame from our storyboard:

Through the Swampland

Oh my, I think I've taken a turn for the worse.

Oh my, I think I've taken a turn for the worse.

There seems to be a part of every momentous journey when you are forced to slow down and take stock of your surroundings, and I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing.  Stopping and taking a look around you means you have time to re-evaluate whether you really have taking the right path or perhaps back up a little and take a slightly different route.

We have ended up in swampland and have had to stop and work out why we ended up there.  The development of the inhabitants of the world we are creating have not been very forthcoming and we are now in the process of inviting new ones to our land.  Hopefully they won't be so difficult as the last lot.  Creating cool characters is hard!