(Huge thanks to Ailsa Cullen from our Children's Publishing team for letting us have an exclusive look into her day-to-day life at Parragon!)
How long have you been working at Parragon Books? Have you always had the position of Children’s Book Designer?
I have worked for Parragon since I graduated (about 6 years ago now – yipes!!). I was thrilled when I started at Parragon as an assistant designer helping the designers in the children’s team and learning the ropes, and then when I became a fully fledged designer working on innovative, exciting new titles.
How did you get into being a Children’s Book Designer? Has it always been a chosen career choice for you?
Yes, definitely! I studied illustration at university, specialising in children’s publishing. All the hard work was worth it and helped me get the junior level role at Parragon after I graduated. Making up my own stories and books was something I loved as a child so I count myself as really lucky to be able to work as a children’s book designer!
What does a typical day in the life of a book designer look like?
A children’s book designer’s day at Parragon is really varied – it’s great because we work on lots of different types of projects so each day is always different. A typical day usually starts with a cup of tea and the chime from my emails loading. I check through them carefully – there could be a sample from an illustrator or something I need to action straight away. Receiving emails from illustrators with artwork attached is the best part of my day! I am working on a new series at the moment with beautiful, handmade artwork, so every email leaves me feeling really excited about the new books I am working on.
Part of the job is also working closely with our production team, checking proofs, setting up finishes, such as glitter or shiny foil for the cover, setting up guidelines for shaped books and approving advanced copies of the new books before they reach the stores. It’s really important to make sure a cover is as eyecatching as possible. Most of the time the proofs look great so I can happily hand them over to my editor for editorial checks.
I have been creating designs and layouts for the exciting series of books with handmade artwork that I mentioned above. There are four in the launch of the series, so the majority of my time at the moment is spent creating art briefs and designs for this series, to help tell the stories with the artwork. It’s really important that all the books look consistent and everybody involved is happy with the result. I keep in touch with the illustrator to make sure she feels supported and guided throughout the whole process. Below is a sneak peek at one of the scenes that the illustrator has crafted for the series. Each tiny piece of furniture is painstakingly created completely by hand. Such talent!
We work on multiple projects at a time so I might have to pause on this series to work on my other titles – I might check in on how other artists are doing, create layouts for covers, select fonts to compliment the design and artwork and just generally check that my other books are running smoothly. Sometimes we don’t need new illustrations for a book so I might spend some time sourcing photography and finalising my own book designs.
We also hold regular meetings with the other designers and editors so we know what we are all working on and can help each other out.
Talk us through the process you go through when designing a book.
I usually start sketching out small thumbnails to get an idea of the layout of the book – this is how the design takes shape. I have to ensure all the artwork and text fits with the format so that it works when it becomes a final book. After briefing the artist, I chat over ideas we have together and the artist and I work as a team from very early sketches through to final colour. It’s a really exciting process and each book has a very different journey through to final production.
What do you love best about being a Children’s Book Designer?
My specialty is picture books – which I adore because I love working with illustrators. I really enjoy developing the characters and supporting the illustrator with layouts and suggestions to get the story across to all audiences. I love being a part of creating engaging, fun books for children and parents to enjoy together!
Where does your inspiration come from? At the office? Group brainstorming?
I work really closely with the editors in the Children’s team, and a lot of my inspiration comes from the story text. I find that from the story text I can picture the design, layouts and look of the book before I even commission artwork from an illustrator, which can really help develop the overall feel of the book from a very early stage. It’s very much a collaborative and creative process between a book designer and editor at Parragon.
What advice would you give to any young people who would like to work in a similar role?
Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way! At Parragon we regularly attend graduate design and illustration shows so it’s a really great chance to chat to people in the publishing industry directly and showcase yourself and your work. These shows are bursting at the seams with talent and I am always on the lookout for the best in new illustration for our children’s books. It’s worth tailoring your portfolio with a steer towards children’s publishing, if that is something you are interested in, so that your artwork stands out.
And finally, which is your most memorable book that you’ve designed?
There are so many! Here are a few most memorable to me...
...and here is a sneak peek of a new picture book cover that I am currently working on, due to be published later in 2014!
Celebrate the holidays with Parragon’s vibrant and varied range of books and gift sets. Whether you’re looking for a cupcake kit for a budding baker, a fun desk accessory for a colleague, or even a present for the pet in your life, Parragon’s range of holiday gifts are sure to deliver a smile!
Cookbooks for Beginners and Baking Delights
Our range of Love Food cookbooks make great gifts for budding chefs. Whether you’re looking for a gift for a novice, for someone who knows their way around a kitchen, or for a baking fanatic, we have a wonderful selection to inspire all!
Maybe you know someone who loves nothing more than to fire up the barbeque on a hot day? The Burger box set comes with a fun and quirky comic book style recipe book and a burger press! This set is bursting with flavour and is guaranteed to ignite passion in an already enthusiastic burger lover! Our Love Food cookbook Cook with Confidence is a perfect gift for those who find cooking a bit daunting! This helpful set comes complete with an informative DVD and a beautiful step-by-step cookbook. We also have an amazing collection of cookbooks for the budding baker. With baking being as popular as ever, you can't go wrong with our Love Food cookbook, Make, Bake, Cupcake! Containing chapters such as 'Cocktails and Mocktails', and 'Feisty Flavours', this innovative, fun cookbook will make sure that baking will never be dull!
From Snuggle Bedtime Fun For Babies and Toddlers, To Fabulous 'Create and Play' Sets for Boys and Girls
We have a huge array of gifts perfect for all ages. For babies and toddlers, our Little Learners collection is full of imaginative designs, stimulating textures and softly appealing pictures to grow your child’s curiosity and imagination. For little boys and girls, encourage their creativity with our range of fun 'create and play' box sets and inspire a love of reading with our heart-warming picture book and soft toy gift sets!
Super Stocking Gifts, and Even Presents for Furry Family Members!
Stocking gifts are the perfect way to add a little extra cheer to someone's Christmas day, and here at Parragon we have a wonderul selection to choose from! Do you know someone who is looking for the perfect man? They need look no further! With our My Right and My Hero mini tin sets, they can create the man of their dreams! Our Crazy Combat Catapult set is a perfect present to get the whole family involved, there's lots of fun to be had! Oh and let's not forget that furry companion in your family! Ensure that they're treated during the festive season with our Santa Paws box set, complete with a recipe book full of delicious treat and even a Santa hat for your doggy friend!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Parragon Books!
Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up, have a party, eat sweet treats and have fun; but sometimes planning the perfect scare-tastic party can become stressful. Here at Parragon, we’ve put together a few creative and fun ideas to make your party have the extra fright-factor! So whether you want to add a little extra decoration to your house, or keep your little ones entertained, we’re here to help!
Looking for a quick and effective way to decorate your party? Our easy ‘7-step origami bat’ is a perfect spooky prop to add a bit of extra scare to your party! Whether you hang them from the ceiling or place them on the dining room table, these blood-sucking creatures are sure to make an impact.
The Gruesome Facts
Our gruesome facts from ‘Monsters, Zombies, Vampires’ are sure to make your party guests squeal! Why not write each fact down and give one to each guest as they enter the party? It’s the perfect way to get your guests in a spook-tacular mood!
Monster Match Activities
Trying keep little ones entertained can be tough on Halloween, especially once the ‘trick or treat’-ing is over! Why not print out our Monster Match Activity page so your children can sit down and work out which monsters look the same! (It’s a great way to give yourself a break too).
Looking for more Halloween activities and ideas? Make sure you keep checking our social media channels this week to plan the perfect Halloween party! You can also find some of our best Halloween recipes on our Love Food blog, here: (UK | AUS | US)
We'd like to say a big thank you to Sarah Hammond and Laura Hughes for providing this fascinating insight into the story behind Mine! We hope that you enjoy finding out a bit more about Sarah and Laura, and where their inspiration for Mine! came from.
So Sarah and Laura, tell us briefly what Mine! is all about.
Mine! is a story about two little girls, Kitty and Lea, who have very different ideas about imaginative play. Kitty has her own café rules (‘tea for Teddy in the tall cup’) but Lea is more spontaneous and creative (‘let’s have a dancing competition!’). The two friends clash but ultimately learn to appreciate and accommodate their differences: they learn to share. The story is about them discovering how to accept their differences and find a way of having fun together.
The character Kitty has a great personality! What was your inspiration for her?
S: The setting for the story was, I am sure, a direct result from spending many happy hours playing cafés with my (then) five year old niece. We wrote menus. We created pretend dishes. We took it in turn to be café ladies and customers. Below is a picture of our kitchen/café! Kitty grew quite naturally from this experience, and popped out the page with very clear ideas about how she wanted to run her own café with her toys.
L: From reading Sarah’s text I imagined Kitty to be a very neat and well presented character so I gave her plaits, a hairband and a smart blue dress. To contrast with Lea who is more vibrant and energetic, I tried to keep a limited palette for her character and clothes that match. I worked on the sketches simultaneously so they inspired each other.
What was the best thing about working with each other?
S: Laura interpreted my story so well! I was astonished that a couple of the spreads almost mirrored the images in my head, especially when Kitty has had enough and huddles with her toys in her tent. I love the facial expressions of the characters and toys, and the way the café comes to life.
L: It was really great to work closely with the author of the book during the artwork process. Sarah had some great feedback on my illustrations and it was nice to hear that I had captured what was in her head visually.
Are there any particular places that you like to work, or places that really inspire you?
S: I often start story-dreaming, pen and notebook in hand, while sitting on the bed; somehow it helps me be more flexible and imaginative. Edits and rewrites often happen in front of a desk, although I was lucky to have wonderfully inspiring views out the window from the study when I wrote Mine!
L: I mostly work from my studio in Hackney, London, but I often work at home too. Being at home is great because I get to spend time with my cat and we also have have 2 chickens in our garden and lots of birds and squirrels that visit us too! I love animals and find them really inspiring so it’s nice to be surrounded by so much wildlife.
What would you say is the best thing about illustrating/writing books for children?
S: I’m a real bookworm and this hobby merges almost seamlessly with my job. There is something wonderful about creating characters and stories and whole worlds in your mind, and then communicating your creation to readers. I love the open-mindedness of children – they have no problem in taking leaps of imagination.
L: My best-loved thing about illustrating for children is developing loveable characters for the reader to get to know. I love thinking about where they would live, their friends and what they enjoy doing in their spare time!
We noticed that you have both spent time either studying, or living, in Bath, UK. With our UK head office being based in Bath, we’d love to hear if you think living in Bath has influenced your writing, or illustrative style at all?
S: Yes! Bath had a huge influence on my writing as I did my MA in 'Writing for Young People' at Bath Spa University. It was a magical year when I allowed myself the time to write full-time, and wallowed in the excellent creative support from the course. The whole city is inspiring for a writer – both in terms of obvious literary resources (brilliant bookshops, book clubs, writing circles, the annual Bath Children’s Literary Festival) and also the way the architecture, landscape and atmosphere of Bath seeps into you and encourages creativity and daydreams.
L: I was born in Bath and lived there until I went to University so Bath was a big influence on me growing up. My Dad used to help organise local art fairs so I always had an interest in fine art and painting – something that still remains with me until this day.
Tell us one thing about you that people might be surprised to learn?
S: I typed my first novel on a computer without an ‘h’ key. My cat clawed it out of the keyboard in protest at my disappearance on holiday (she wasn’t abandoned, just left at home with a cat sitter).
L: I nearly became a Forensic Scientist.
What were your best-loved children’s books when you were little? What was so special about them?
S: There are loads of books that I loved dearly as a child. Two of my all-time favourites were:
The Tale of Peter Rabbit - I wore my first copy out from enthusiastic overuse and I still have the replacement copy which looks rather dog-eared. I loved the animal characters created by Beatrix Potter – they are so accessible and intriguing to a child.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was another favourite as I grew older. Who isn’t seduced by Narnia, the world behind the wardrobe? It was one of my childish fantasies that hidden magical realms were just around the corner if you looked hard enough.
L: When I was small I really enjoyed books by Richard Scarry. I especially loved his big detailed scenes and I would spend a long time looking at the page and inventing my own stories and scenarios.
Kitty enjoys playing café’s and making up imaginary worlds. Can you remember any best-loved games/imaginary worlds that you liked to explore in your childhood?
S: I can’t really remember any favourite childhood games that weren’t based (at least in part) in an imaginary world! One of the most memorable games was to play Magic Kingdoms with my oldest friend – we would divide the playroom into kingdoms, write spellbooks and drape ourselves in sheets to become wizards/royalty/ghosts in turn, and launch into endless adventures and quests.
L: Like Kitty, I often used to line up my toys and play café’, making ‘tea’ out of mud in the garden!
We then spoke to Sarah to find out more about her dramatic career change, transatlantic travel, and of course, her first ever picture book Mine!
You used to work as a solicitor, what made you decide to begin creative writing?
I always wanted to write for young people. I attended a couple of creative writing courses when I worked as a solicitor, although my job was too demanding to sink into the writing of a story for very long. One day I decided to take the plunge and do an MA degree in 'Writing for Young People' as a special treat to myself and I have never looked back.
This is your first picture book. What have you found to be the most exciting part of creating Mine!?
The moment I saw Laura’s drawings I was over-the-moon. Her characterization and story-telling are fantastic and bring my little story to life beautifully. The clue is in the name ‘picture book’ – her illustrations made my story complete.
You split your time living between the UK and in Chicago. How do you think your transatlantic travel affects your writing?
Writing is a wonderful job for many reasons, not least because it is so flexible: I can do it anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and my imagination. Travelling is also excellent because being an ‘outsider’ gives you a different perspective on life and culture. The opposite is also true though: I have also learned how similar people are despite superficial differences and the lines that have been drawn across a map.
A key theme throughout Mine! is the importance of sharing. Being the eldest, did you ever go through a stage of being territorial about toys with your siblings?
It has been said that I once sat on my little red wooden trike in the middle of the playroom, gathered my toys around me and refused to share them with my friends. But I‘m sure that can’t be right - surely just a rumour!
We also spoke to Laura about her evolving illustrative style, working on Mine! and her love for cats!
How did you first get into the children’s book world? Did you study illustration?
I studied illustration at Kingston University, UK, and after graduating worked mainly on editorial illustration. When I joined the wonderful Bright Agency (who represent me) I got a lot of work in greetings cards but I always wanted to get into children’s books so I worked very hard on my children’s book portfolio. My first publishing job was with Oxford University Press about 4 years ago and I have been working on books ever since.
Did you ever get stuck on how to illustrate a particular scene or character in Mine!? How did you move past that?
The hardest scene to illustrate was probably the first spread. The interaction between the characters, the toys and the tea set are the main focus in the story so we decided to keep background detail to a minimum. It was hard to retain the space around the characters while trying to set the scene but all the important items are there like the tent, the picnic basket and the table so hopefully it works.
What is your best-loved page in Mine!?
I love the page where Kitty and Lea have made friends and they are in the tent having an indoor picnic. It’s a happy scene and it was great fun to illustrate all the different toys enjoying the food.
How would you say your style evolved throughout your time working as an illustrator?
My work has become a lot brighter and clearer but I always try and retain the energy in my artwork. I think it’s very important to constantly challenge myself and see where I can push my style and so I’m always looking at how I can make my work better.
Your ‘Drawing Claws’ Tumblr is great! What made you decide on sketching a different cat every day? Are cats your best-loved animals to draw?
Cats are definitely my favourite animals to draw! I create a lot of feline characters and so I thought it would be a good idea to put them all in one place. It’s great to be able to document quick sketches that could turn into new stories and books one day.
Thank you to both Sarah and Laura, for taking the time to talk to us about their experiences of creating Mine!
Find out more about Sarah on her website, or follow her on Twitter: @SarahHammond9
To see more of Laura's wonderful illustrations, take a look at her website, or follow her on Twitter: @inkylaur
As we end 2012, we’re all feeling quite festive around the Parragon offices! Our UK office recently took an ice skating trip, we’re all celebrating with our own holiday parties, and we’ve worked hard to get our holiday shopping done. (Check out some of our festive pictures from around town in Bath & New York on our Pinterest board here.)
Still, this is the week we’re finding ourselves in last-minute preparation for the New Year and (for those of us who celebrate) the Christmas holiday. We’ve rounded up a few of our top recipes for the holiday along with some easy papercraft ideas in case you – like us – need some inspiration right about now.
Looking for a great decoration that transcends holiday specifics? Festive paper ornaments can traverse the seasons, depending on the color schemes used. Be it Christmas, winter, summer (for our Australian readers!), or New Year’s, you can use a variety of techniques to make simple buntings, garlands, or hanging ornaments. Use a simple triangle pattern, patterned paper or cloth, and string to make your own bunting, or create a garland out of paper curls!
You will need:
- Thick Card or Poster Board
- Green Paper
- Thin White Card or Construction Paper
- Sticky Tape
- Felt Tip Pens
1) Draw a large circle on the thick card and a smaller circle inside. Cut out the large circle. Use a sharp pencil to make a hole in the small circle. Push your scissors through and cut out the inner circle, making a card ring.
2) Cut out candy canes from thin white card. Decorate them with a stripy pattern, using ribbon, crayons, sequins and felt-tip pens.
3) Snip leaf shapes from green paper and curl around a pencil before sticking to your wreath.
4) Fold the ribbon into a loop at the top to hang your wreath. Tape the ends neatly in place on the back.
Tip – To make the rings, trace around a dinner plate for the outer circle and a cereal bowl for the inner circle.
Cranberry Jelly: The Perfect Gift
Still looking for a last minute gift idea for hosts, parties, or family? Whip up our cranberry jam (US recipe | metric recipe) and download our holiday gift labels, and you’ll have an impressive and delicious treat to give or serve.
For many of us, the holiday season revolves around baking: pies, cakes, strudels, and cookies have all emerged from Parragon employee kitchens since mid-November, and we’re still going strong. A few of our best cookie recipes are true classics. We recommend iced sugar cookies for a sweet treat that anyone is sure to love. Here’s a recipe adapted from our Christmas Cookies book! (US|UK)
- 225g / 8oz / i cup butter, softened
- 140g / 5oz / 3/4 cup caster or superfine sugar
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 280g / 10oz plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 200g / 7oz / 1 3/4 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
- 1-2 tbsp warm water
- food coloring
- sugar sprinkles and other desired decorations
1) Place the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Halve the dough, shape into balls, wrap in clingfilm/plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes
2) Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper
3) Unwrap the dough and roll out between two sheets of baking paper to about 3mm thick. Cut out cookies with a star-shaped cutter and place them on the prepared baking sheets, spaced well apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
4) To decorate, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough warm water until it is the consistency of thick cream. Divide the icing among 3-4 bowls and add a few drops of your chosen food colorings to each. Leave the cookies on the racks and spread the different colored icings over them to the edges. Arrange decorations on top and leave to set.
*The cookies photographed here were made using this recipe, but to adapt for the holiday season, a snowflake design was piped onto each cookie with white icing sugar.
The holiday season provides a great reason to introduce new books to children. Especially for those reluctant readers, the excitement of the season – Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and other holidays, the promise of a break from school, or upcoming travel - may just be enough to lure them to the page.
Disney recently launched its fantastic new Winnie the Pooh Storytelling Academy, an online resource offering tips, tricks and guidance designed to help modern parents create shared family story-time experiences. With ideas for storytelling at home, when you’re away from home, and when you’re on the go, this is a wonderful resource that could prove particularly helpful for making the most of storytime this holiday season.
One nice idea that we recently stumbled across on Pinterest is organizing your own ‘Christmas Picture Book Advent’. 24 Christmas stories are wrapped up and numbered 1 to 24. Each night, a book is unwrapped and read together as a bedtime story. This idea can even work if you prefer reading digitally. Instead of wrapping up a physical book, simply wrap up a picture of the book cover! With the great range of enhanced eBooks now available, this option could make the experience of reading even more enjoyable for little ones!
To give you a helping hand, we’ve selected some of our best holiday reads below.
The festive period is a great opportunity to revisit some of the classic reads you may have loved yourself when you were young. Available both in print format and eBook format with enhanced read-along audio, the below traditional Christmas tales are sure to delight children, parents and grandparents alike!
A Christmas Carol
Get in the holiday spirit with the classic read-along story of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, retold in the form of a rhyming children's story with the spirit of the Charles Dickens classic. This picture book features beautiful illustrations and is perfect for family reading.
A Letter to Santa
Children will love this enchanting picture book, which follows the journey a young boy's letter to Santa Claus and delves into the secret world of Santa’s workshop. With fun rhyming text and beautifully-crafted illustrations, this is sure to become a popular read at Christmas time!
More Christmas Reads:
Muddypaws’ First Christmas!
Christmas is an exciting time for Ben and his lovable but mischievous dog Muddypaws! Any family with a pet will appreciate the trials and joys of Christmas together, and kids will love the adventures of Muddypaws in this spirited holiday tale.
Disney Christmas Storybook Collection
Enjoy the magic of Christmas with your Disney and Disney•Pixar friends! This festive collection features eight heartwarming Christmas tales from Winnie the Pooh, Lady and the Tramp, Monsters, Inc., Bambi, Dumbo, 101 Dalmations, Pinocchio and WALL•E.
Fairy Tale Classics:
This month marks 200 years since the first publication of the Grimms' Fairy Tales classic ‘Children’s and Household Tales’. Since then, these stories have been retold and retranslated countless times and have become treasured classics for families across the world. With so many to choose from, these beautifully illustrated books will keep children entertained for hours!
We hope that your holiday season is filled with joy, laughter, and wonderful books to read together!
With the holiday season quickly approaching and the merry jingles of festive music already permeating shops everywhere, many families will soon be making their travel plans for the holiday break. Whereas it was once common for families to remain in the same city or state for generations, nowadays families routinely spread out across the country if not the world. This can present a significant challenge for families who want to spend the holiday season together.
The journeys that we take can sometimes be a stressful start to the festive season: the Tetris-like packing, the hyper-excited children and the sometimes treacherous driving conditions, but travelling can be an enriching experience for both children and parents. There is a wealth of travel blogs online, and many websites seek to provide families with handy tips and tricks to make travelling as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.
Some great travel advice is featured in parenting website Cool Mom Picks’ recent subscriber newsletter. Tips include stashing a few healthy snacks for long trips and selecting music that everyone can enjoy. Another idea they suggest is to load up on a few new apps for your gadgets. (For UK & European fans, the new FREE Chad Valley Playtime! app would be a good option if you’re travelling with little ones & want stories & games all in one.)
The Guardian also features a classic article on the ’50 Top Tips for Travelling with Kids’. The article provides a fantastic array of practical advice, including medical advice, transport advice, and ideas for keeping children entertained. A key theme through the piece is the importance of preparing children for upcoming trips. “Getting your children started on a few holiday-related projects before you leave is a great way to prepare them for what’s to come. You could explore maps, or the history, geography, animal and plant life of your destination, or read books or watch a film that’s set there.”
Our 100 Wonders of the World and 100 Cities of the World Book and DVD box sets provide readers with a book full of inspiring imagery and fascinating facts from all corners of the world, plus a DVD with in-depth footage of the sites and cities portrayed in the book. Whether you’re planning a trip to one of these cities or just thinking about it, it can be great fun to have kids guess famous attractions from their photos or to read them fun facts. Did you know that the largest indoor aquarium in the world is Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium?
Car rides can seem much longer than they actually are if you have a car full of bored and irritable children. However, when you’ve run out of options for ‘I-Spy’ or ‘Spot the Car’, look for some inspiration to spice up long journeys with ingenious games. Inspired by the all-too-familiar refrain of “Are we there yet?”, our family travel book (UK|US) was designed to provide relief for stressed-out car trips. For example, try playing “One Line Each,” a simple game that requires only an active imagination. One player starts the game with the first line of a story. The next player has to add a line of their own, and so on. The story can go on forever and it’s an easy, silly way to keep kids engaged.
So if you are planning a trip with your family this holiday season, remember, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare! Make use of the wealth of handy tips and advice available on websites, blogs and books, keep calm, and enjoy yourselves. Most importantly, don’t forget to pack a good book!
Passed down from one generation to the next, fairy tales continue to captivate children across the world. But where did they come from?
The name ‘fairy tale’ was first given to these stories by a French writer, Madame d’Aulnoy, in the late 17th century. However, contrary to the name, it is widely agreed that it is not necessary for these tales to just be about fairies. Instead, fairy tales can feature a wide variety of fantasy creatures such as goblins, elves, trolls, witches, giants, and even talking animals. Evil, cruelty, truth and comedy are major elements, as is justice. The good suffer hardship, often horribly, yet they usually triumph in the end, and live ‘happily ever after’.
There are many different theories that have attempted to explain the similar elements found in fairy tales from different cultures and different continents. One theory to explain the similarities is that fairy tale stories are derived from human experiences, and many cultures, over time, share those basic experiences. The other theory is that a tale comes from a single source and spreads from culture to culture over time, by storytellers and via written form.
Interestingly, while parents today love recalling their best-loved tales to their children, the dark and often gruesome plot lines of the original stories were in fact intended for adult audiences, not children. Dating back to the 17th century and earlier, these tales were passed down from one century to the next, but it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that these tales began to be amended to remove some of the more ghastly and frightening elements to make them more appropriate for a younger audience.
The first collectors to attempt to preserve the plot and characters of fairy tales for children, and also to preserve the style in which they were told, were the German brothers Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859). They didn’t invent their stories, but referred to existing myths and legends, some of which can be traced back to the Middle Ages! Most of the fairy tales we know today are ones that the Brothers Grimm wrote it down and brought it to a wider audience. The list is extensive, but includes tales such as the Frog-King, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.
Next month marks 200 years since the first edition of Grimms' Fairy Tales ‘Children’s and Household Tales’ was published. Since then, these stories have been retold and retranslated countless times. How do the stars of these tales look in your mind today? To us, they look something like this...
Here in the Parragon office we've been trying to recall our earliest memories of being read to as children.
I can remember how delighted I was to receive a box-set of short stories about frogs on my fifth birthday. I sat with my Grandad and made him read every book to me, one after another. They even had to drag me away to blow out the candles on my cake! The thing is it’s not just the books that we have fond memories of; it’s the people who read them to us.
The British PM David Cameron recently was quoted urging parents to read to their children more:
“Try to read to your children every night, however busy you are in life”*
Some may question the importance of doing this with toddlers and babies, who don’t fully understand the story concept, but the amazing truth is, children are never too young to be read to. In fact, studies show that the earlier babies are exposed to reading, the more they will enjoy reading and learning - and the better they will perform in school.
But more than just being a way of encouraging development, reading is a great way to interact and communicate with babies right from the start: stimulating their curiosity about life in a fun and engaging way.
Our vibrant new interactive range of books 'Little Learners' ('Little Me' in Australia), is aimed at children aged 0-3. When we were developing the series, we were lucky to have educational consultant Geraldine Taylor on hand to advise us. Here are Geraldine’s top tips for enjoying books with little ones:
• How pictures help:
Learning to read is part of a young child’s drive to make sense of more and more details. They need to have fun looking at lots of features in pictures before they can see that the letter a is different from the letter d, for example.
Later, when children are learning to read with their teachers at nursery and school, they will be reading books with only a few works on each page. It’s pictures, and the stories and rhymes that we read to children, that inspire them to want to learn to read for themselves.
• Words and pictures:
At first, children see words as black squiggle patterns on the page. It’s helpful to explain that we call these squiggles words and that they tell us what to say. It’s the words that tell you the story, and one day, when your child can read, the words will tell them the story, too.
• Talk and more talk:
Talking is a skill fundamental to life and learning, especially reading. Children need a stock of words they understand and use. Take the time to talk together all you can! Talking about stories, rhymes and the pictures on the page is great for developing this skill.
• What’s that sound?
Being able to listen, interpret and respond to what we hear is another vital life skill, and essential for reading, too. Our alphabetic reading system is built on being able to tell one sound from another. Play lots of listening games with your toddler (ssssh, close your eyes, what can you hear?), and have fun with sound effects. Go out listening and talk about what you hear in the garden, on a walk, at home. Story and rhyme books are ideal to develop listening skills, as they introduce sound effects for the characters – especially the animals!
* Source: London Evening Standard, 2012 http://bit.ly/zmN8nf
(Huge thanks to Laura Baker from our children's team for letting us have an exclusive look into her day-to-day life at Parragon!)
My day starts, as I’m sure it does for most people, with the cheery jingle of my email application opening and the whoosh of new emails downloading. I read through them and deal with them as much as I can (flag, file or delete to keep my inbox and mind clear, as I learned in a useful course on email management many years ago!). Several of these emails are reminders of upcoming dates when material, such as book covers, is needed for sales, so I update my schedule, calendar and project list. Things are always changing, and we’re juggling dozens of book projects at a time, so just keeping on top of everything is a big part of the job!
Once I feel organized and on top of things, I’m ready to get down to business. Today starts with checking some proofs that have come in from the repro house (where a book is prepared for print once it’s left us) for a new picture book that I’ve been working on. I check for about the hundredth time that there are no typos, that all the text is in the right place and that all the copyright and branding information is correct, and I pass the proofs on to the designer to check that the colours are printing properly and everything looks as it should. The proofs pass our inspection, and the email with our approval is sent to the production controller. The book is now on its way to the printer, and I can’t wait to see it in print!
Next, I’m on to a couple of touch-and-feel books that haven’t yet gone into production. The text and illustrations are in place, so I print the pages out and send them in three different directions: to a proofreader to check the UK text, an Americanizer to show us any places where the text needs to change for the US audience and an educational consultant for a final check that all the words, pictures and concepts are suited to the age range.
Once the print-outs are in the post, it’s on to checking some board books that have come in from the printer. These are advance copies that we get before thousands of them get printed – so it’s a last-chance check! Luckily, all looks good. Huge sigh of relief!
It’s eleven o’clock, so I settle in with a cup of tea to read through some manuscripts that have come in from an author for a new series of four picture books. I know these books could be huge sellers, so I want to get the stories just right. I read through them several times, jotting down comments and suggestions. It’s important that the stories are sweet, emotive and exciting for both the child listening and the parent who will be reading them aloud – again and again and again! I brainstorm with the designers, to be sure that the stories will lend themselves well to illustrations. I ring the author, who is very responsive and comes up with some other exciting ideas too, so it’s back in his hands for the next draft.
After a busy morning, it’s off to the gym to work out and rejuvenate myself for a just-as-busy afternoon…
This afternoon I’m settling into a big project. For nearly the past year, one of the designers and I have been working on a 224-page craft book. We’ve come up with the book plan for what types of crafts would be included, we’ve chatted with two craft makers and had them create the crafts, we’ve done a photoshoot of the finished products, I’ve had an author write up the instructions and add some fun titles and introductions, we’ve had the book designed and illustrated where necessary, proofread, checked by the craft makers, checked by a consultant to ensure everything works and is right for the age group… Phew! This afternoon we’re inputting the comments from the proofreader, consultant and craft makers, and doing our own final check.
I get my head down and go chapter by chapter, stopping only a few times for emails and to discuss with a designer some art samples that have come in from an illustrator for a new picture book (a fun break!). By the end of the day, with a few butterflies fluttering in my stomach, the designer and I place print-outs of the full 224-page craft book on the senior commissioning editor’s desk, ready for her check and the sign-off of the Head of Children’s before this goes into production. Fingers crossed they like it!
Finally, a few final emails, and I’m off for the day, feeling good about a productive one and looking forward to the proofs and advances and manuscripts and art samples we might see tomorrow…