Penguin Random House Showcase

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Alice Broderick, PR director for Penguin Random House children’s division, welcomed an assorted group of media guests to a showcase of forthcoming titles, and after a few short introductory words from the ever-elegant MD Francesca Dow, Lucy Mann kicked off with details of some picture books we can look forward to.

The publishing powerhouse puts on a slick presentation, which is just as you would expect from such a full, talented and experienced team, and in such a grand setting, on the 10th floor of their offices in the Strand.

I travelled up in the lift with a bearded and behatted guy (not sure where from) enthusiastically singing the praises of The Beano, to which his young son subscribes. “You should see him, when it arrives. He scurries off with it to his bedroom like a hamster tucking up in its nest.”

Just the reaction PenguinRH will be hoping to get from the new titles they are so excited about.

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One of the picture books highlighted by Lucy Mann was Goodnight Spaceman by Michelle Robinson with a foreword by Tim Peake, publishing next month.

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The first of the author-illustrators present at the event themselves was Nadia Shareen, creator of picture book The Bumblebear, publishing in May She gave us all a quick workshop in Bumblebear drawing. My effort:

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Also coming in May is Alison Hubble by Allan Ahlberg. This one sounds really good. “Alison Hubble went to bed single, woke up double.” It’s a rhyming text, illustrated (first time for Puffin) by Bruce Ingman.

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The following month comes Max and the Bird, a new book about Max the kitten by Ed Vere. This third Max title is a witty riff on friendship.

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Also third in the Pom Pom Panda sequence is Pom Pom Is Super by Sophy Henn, a funny story about finding your talents – coming in August.

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Much will be made of Beatrix Potter’s 150th anniversary and an important celebratory event will be the September publication of The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, already the subject of much media attention.

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John Burningham is 80 this year and there’s a brand new Burningham picture book coming in September, Motor Miles.

Odd Bods, publishing mid-summer, by Steven Butler (Diary of Dennis the Menace renown) and illustrated by Jarvis, is described as a “raucous and charmingly-disgusting rhyming romp through the quirks and oddities of the strangest children you will ever come across”.

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Penguin RandomH have chosen to call junior or middle-grade fiction ‘Primary’. I can understand the objections to both ‘junior’ and especially ‘middle-grade’, but ‘Primary’ carries too many connotations of school for my taste. Now that YA fiction is more and more being appreciated as a genre in its own right, I would prefer to describe the books for this age range (6-12) as children’s books, pure and simple.

So, one of the major excitements in books that aren’t picture books and aren’t YA titles will come next month, designated Wimpy Kid month, with lots of build-up surrounding Wimpy Kid #11 due to publish in November.

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As well as a continuing programme of rejacketed paperback reissues, Jacqueline Wilson has not just one but two hardbacks out this year, including Rent A Bridesmaid in May, and the publisher will be helping to promote the newly launched Jacqueline Wilson creative writing prize.

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It’s a Roald Dahl centenary year and everyone is very excited by the prospect of Spielberg’s movie adaptation of The BFG coming in the summer. We were shown the trailer. And there will of course be a movie tie-in edition.

Rick Riordan continues his Magnus Chase series with Magnus Chase and the Hammer of Thor, publishing in hardback in August.

The big Christmas title this year is set to be The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher, publishing in October. The promotional video – first shown at the publisher’s February sales conference and since viewed upwards of a million times online online, was very well-received by the showcase audience. Not surprising really. It’s witty, has a catchy ukulele song and great pace and movement. If only all books could have such a launching. The book-trailers most authors have to settle for consist of a generic slideshow, in-your-face crass-typography captions, a faux-cinematic voice-over, and very little imagination in terms of production.

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Coming before that is Clare Balding’s children’s books debut, The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop. Most authors have a reflex response of resenting the incursion of celebrities into the publishing world. You can see their point. But this title has an interesting hook. Balding thinks “the world is waiting for a heroine with big thighs”. In a short but polished summary of what we can expect in the book she hinted that a lot of the background arises from her own experience. I’m looking forward to it. Sadly I was too slow off the mark and all the advance copies were gone when I went to get one. Everyone involved with publishing, promoting and selling the book will hope it flies off the shelves and display tables just as quickly come the autumn. It publishes at the end of September.

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Out this week comes another title in the Murder Most Unladylike Mystery series. Jolly Foul Play concerns some not-so-jolly fall-outs between the girls at Deepdean. Robin Stevens drew on her own memories of intense adolescent school friendships when writing the title.

Notable on the reissues front is The Originals – really stylish rejacketing for fifteen outstanding 20th centuryYA novels. I particularly like the look of the cover for S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.

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On the Teen/YA front Sally Green’s Half Bad trilogy reaches its conclusion at the end of this month with Half Lost. And then, in April, we get an intriguing new title from Malorie Blackman, who declared that she wears her “geek colours with a great deal of pride” so is unapologetic for the new direction. Describing it herself as Shakespeare in Space, Blackman has attempted a reimagining of Othello in a ski-fi setting.

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Looking forward to Zoe Sugg’s summer title Girl Online: On Tour, Tania Vian-Smith was forthright in saying “It’s our business to stay on the pulse of what teenagers are interested in and talking about.” Quite right too.

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The YA title I’m probably most looking forward to reading myself is Laurence Anhalt’s teen fiction debut, The Hypnotist. It’s an intriguing scenario: The lives of a professor of neurology and a 13 year-old Afro-American farmhand become linked during the racial tension of the 1960s in the American South.

Anholt wasn’t there himself to tell us more about his book, but DJ Simon Mayo was.

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Mayo has written a futuristic YA thriller about a time when people are arrested and imprisoned for crimes their parents have committed. Mayo apparently based his descriptions of the new type of prison on the Victorian workhouse. It’s out in July.

Apart from a few too many references to “the next Hunger Games”, “the YA Girl On The Train” and the like – publishers and authors alike would do well to keep quiet about any successes they are hoping to emulate – it’s an impressive mixed publishing programme and ACHUKA will look forward to reviewing and reporting on the various titles in due course.