I attended a lunchtime Penguin Showcase yesterday. There are many good things coming, and several anniversaries to celebrate. The presentation made me wonder about certain things, so here’s a quick summary. Words only I’m afraid. Something about the event made me uneasy about getting out the camera.
Francesca Dow made passing reference to her new role at the helm of an amalgamated Penguin/Random House children’s book publishing conglomerate but moved on quickly, saying there would be another occasion to say more about that. In setting the scene, she emphasised the ongoing role that ‘stories’ have in generating the new world of apps and franchises.
A number of authors and illustrators had been invited to choose the book that had made ‘all the difference’ to them when they were growing up. Julia Donaldson kicked off (on screen, not in person) with The Book of a Thousand Poems, given to her, if I remember correctly, by her dad.
Peppa Pig is 10 years old and has sold 22 million pounds worth of titles. The Hungry Caterpillar is 45 years old. We were shown a video clip of Eric Carle explaining that the caterpillar began life as a worm, and his first draft of the picture book was titled A Week With Willi Worm. He still has the original drawings.
Jacqueline Wilson had selected Ballet Shoes as the book that made all the difference for her.
The big anniversary and celebration this year is the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Everything is scheduled to kick off officially on 1st February, the date on which Willy Wonka opened the factory gates. But before that, on Jan 30th, various Dahl audiobooks will become available as an iTunes app. [I will try and get more information about this, as it was only touched on yesterday.] And then in September journalist Lucy Mangan publishes a book aimed at adults on The Making of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for which she has been given access to the Dahl archive.
Eoin Colfer is launching a major new series in April called WARP, described as ‘Oliver Twist meets The Matrix’, which sounds enticing. [Book Two follows on closely in June.]
There are big things happening merchandise-wise with Topsy & Tim. The creator Jean Adamson surprised Puffin with her choice of book that made the difference. She selected Aesop’s fables, explaining that their smug moral endings prompted her to “rewrite them with immoral endings”, and thus began her career as a writer.
The new Peter Rabbit merchandise looked horrible to me so let’s pass over that without further comment.
An iOS game based on Charlie Higson’s The Enemy will be released in March, developed by Daredevil http://www.daredevil-development.com/games.php
We have to wait till September for the second novel in Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave series.
In the same month there will be a new book from Lauren Child, who was there to tell us all about it. Called A New Small Person it is about sibling rivalry (notably resentment at the arrival of a new brother or sister). It was interesting, and a surprise to me, that all her picture books start out as a storyline written in plain text. She held up the first draft manuscript of this new book.
The star entertainer of the Showcase was Irish comedian, David O’Doherty, a truly very funny man who, with illustrator and silent double-act stooge, Chris Judge, has written a joke manual, Danger Is Everywhwere: The Notebooks of Docter [sic] Noel Zone, Dangerologist, which is published in August.
O’Doherty’s book that ‘made all the difference’ was the Panini Football Sticker Album 1984.
There are other good things to look forward to. Arguably the biggest YA debut of 2014 in March, when Half Bad by Sally Green is finally out. Read my ACHUKAreview.
Before that, in February, comes book two in Michelle Paver’s Gods and Warriors sequence, (and then Book Three in August). The same month, February, sees the release of The Chocolate Box Girls by Cathy Cassidy, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead and a World Book Day title from Jill Murphy, Fun With The Worst Witch.
Kicking A Ball is a new rhyming picture book by Allan Ahlberg. It’s out in May, as is the new novel from Phil Earle, The Bubble Wrap Boy and a movie tie-in edition of The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.
Cathy Cassidy fans will be happy in both February and June, when new installments of The Chocolate Box Girls are published.
Where Bear by Sophy Henn is a picture book I’ll look out for in August.
In drawing the showcase to a close, Francesca Dow promised that Penguin/Puffin would “never lose sight of our consumers”. It was a carefully-chosen phrase, and very apt for the presentation, which emphasised throughout the popular appeal and entertainment value of Penguin’s book and merchandising programme.
In the scheme of things there seem to be fewer middlingly popular authors alongside the mega-sellers than there were in the past. I wonder how, for example, an author such as Kevin Brooks, whose The Bunker Diary has just won the Southern Schools Book Award, fits into the scheme of things. His books feel to me to be under-promoted. Even Foyles only had two separate titles by him on their YA shelves when I visited later that afternoon.
Also, for a publisher who is so justifiably proud of its Dahl legacy, (with the exception of Jeremy Strong – although no doubt someone will be able to give me other examples to counter this point) Puffin seems to publish remarkably little home-grown comic fiction for the 7-10 audience of the kind written by Philip Ardagh, for example.