In an event held in the basement auditorium and bar of the Ham Yard Hotel in the midst of Soho, PenguinRandomhouse presented their Children’s Publishing Highlights for 202o.
A prominent feature in the bar area where the assorted journalists, bloggers, booksellers, authors, illustrators and publishing teams congregated before and after the presentation, was a tall spiral of oranges stretching from the lower cloakroom balcony (and entrance to the auditorium circle) down to the basement bar.
After a welcome drink we were ushered through to the auditorium stalls, with bright orange leather-style cinema seating set against plush purple walls. On the stage were five chairs with microphones on their seats. A lectern stood to the left.
Francesca Dow was the first to use the lectern, climbing the four or five steps up to the stage in striking fuchsia patent leather ankle boots.
She told us this was one of her favourite events of the year – presenting the many surprises that are to come, with a sense beginning to form of what the year ahead is going to be like.
First she looked back to the year just passed. Amongst the publishing triumphs and highlights she singled out were Sabina Radeva’s On The Origin Of Species, a book that gave young children “a gateway into a world of scientific wonder”. That book was 2019’s best-selling debut picture book.
Also singled out was Jamie Littler’s Frostheart, the best-selling debut middle-grade fiction book of 2019.
2020 is to be a very special year, celebrating 80 years of Puffin. The occasion will be marked in May with a special anthology, The Puffin Book of Dreams
Francesca handed over to Tania Vian-Smith, from the PR team, to guide us through what is in store, beginning with a few Teen and YA highlights.
First up was Daisy Upton‘s Five Minute Mum (just published), something of a curiosity it has to be said for a children’s list, as the book is essentially aimed at stay-at-home mums/parents. After a background in football TV production, Upton turned her back on the media life to become a teaching assistant. She has brought some of the skills learnt in school to this collection of easy to set up activities for pre-school children. None of them take more than 5 minutes to put together or pack away.
Coming next month is Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, a YA novel in verse. It’s a book “inspired by women and girls from marginalised backgrounds” Mann told us, after giving a powerful reading from the book.
Amber, the main character, is a teenage girl who feels trapped, and the author would like the novel to be “a rallying cry for anyone who’s ever felt powerless.”
Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis is described as “Stephen King meets Hitchcock for the Netflix generation” – that appeals to me. This YA thriller is not published till the summer (July). Ellis came on stage with her editor and confessed to having grown up in the 80s “watching an inappropriate amount of horror films.” Her mother is an avid Hitchcock fan so she was introduced to the genre at an early age.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Ladybird has been rejuvenated under the guidance of Shannon Cullen. One of this year’s highlights is going to be Mabel And The Mountain (May), a debut picture book from Kim Hillyard, who has a background in both music journalism and drama.
Also highlighted was Everything Under The Sun by Molly Oldfield (October) a collection of 365 +1 answers to questions posed by curious children. The book is a spinoff from her popular weekly podcast.
Guardian columnist Stuart Heritage (previously author of the adult title Don’t Be A Dick Pete), has his first picture book Jonathan And The Magic Pony coming in August) . While the book’s illustrator Nicola Slater created a live-drawing of the lead character on the big screen, Heritage told us, refreshingly, that the story is nothing more than “a silly book about a very stupid horse”.
Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola publish Clean Up!, the sequel to Look Up!, in the summer (July). They joined Rashmi Sirdeshpande, author of How To Change The World, for a quick panel discussion.
Hana Tooke’s The Unadoptables sounds like a quality fiction title for 9-12. The author grew up in Amsterdam and moved to Devon when she was 12. She describes the book as “a madcap adventure set in a beautiful European country about daring to be different.” Another one I shall personally look forward to.
Cat Doyle spoke eloquently about her retelling of A Christmas Carol, The Miracle Of Ebenezer Street, Puffin’s hope for a seasonal bestseller. Doyle also publishes with Bloomsbury, for whom she is writing The Storm Keeper, a quartet which she is half way through.
The star name headlining the 80 Year celebrations is Michael Morpurgo, and the big ‘reveal’ at the climax of this preview event was the news that Puffin have acquired a new book from Morpurgo, The Puffin Keeper, fully illustrated by Benji Davies. The book will publish in hardback in November.
Morpurgo was there to tell us about it, clearly thrilled to have a book coming out with Puffin. His father-in-law was Allen Lane, founder of Puffin and Penguin. Morpurgo was introduced to the Scilly Isles, the setting for The Puffin Keeper (as well as for some of his previous books), by his wife’s family. “It’s the only place I have ever seen puffins. And it was the first place Clare, my wife, ever saw puffins too.”
Since being introduced to the Isles, the Morpurgos have taken their family holidays in Scilly every single year. He says, “I have tried to weave that family history with a wonderful bird under serious threat, with my fascination for lighthouses. The result has been The Puffin Keeper. I loved living it as I was writing it, and hope very much you love living it too as you are reading it.”
After a short reading, he joked, “I tried the story out on the sheep, and they loved it.”
Of course there is a lot more to come from Ladybird and Puffin than the few titles highlighted above, and a lot more to celebrate in association with the 80th birthday. For example, 2020 marks the year that Nigel Hinton’s Beaver Towers has been continuously in print for four decades – that’s quite an achievement for an author who is far from being a household name.
Some other notable titles on the horizon:
- February Are You Watching? by Vincent Ralph [published today 6 Feb and ACHUKA’s #BookOfTheDay]
February Orphans Of The Tide by Struan Murray
February You Must Be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied
- March Pretty Funny by Rebecca Elliott
March Anna K by Jenny Lee
March The Secret Garden (launch title in a new Picture Book retellings series)
March Daisy And The Trouble With Nature by Kes Gray
- April The Eve of Man Book 2 by Tom and Giovanni Fletcher
April Last Lesson by James Goodhand (debut YA)
April Love Frankie by Jacqueline Wilson
April film tie-in edition of Artemnis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
- May The Fountans of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
May Worst Holiday, Eever by Charlie Higson
May My Brother’s Name Is Jessica by John Boyne
- June paperback of The Book of Dust vol two
June What To Look For In Spring (freshly updated Ladybird What To Look For Titles)
- July Little Leaders by Vashti Harrison
July The Ship Of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar
- August Pretty Rude by Rebecca Elliott
August Murder Most Unladylike Book 9 by Robin Stevens (final book in the series)
August Little Pop-Ups: Little Red Riding Hood, A Book Of Colours
- September The Tower Of Nero (Trials of Apollo Book5) by Rick Riordan
September Ladybird Tales Of Crowns And Thrones
September The Ladybird Big Book Of SLimy Things
- October Frostheart 2 by Jamie Littler