Special thanks to our friends at ‘Parents in Touch’ for this week's guest blog, all about what they (and their adorable mini tester!) think of our popular Little Learners range!
Little Learners is an excellent series for children 0 – 3. Each book features interactive elements to get little ones interested and the variety is fascinating – size, texture, tabs, sounds and light add to the variety and keep interest alive. All key skills are helped through the use of these books. The books are really well made too - durable as well as attractive, with soft colours and a format which links all the books together.
The Peek-a-Boo Board Books encourage little ones to peek through the pages, as they meet animals in one book and learn about colours in the other. They can also enjoy the colourful pictures which are cleverly integrated into the handle.
Two great gift ideas are Snuggle Bunny: Bunny's Bedtime Book and Cuddly Bunny and Bedtime Cuties: Animal Mobile and Storybook. The latter is a delightful mobile which comes with a cute little chunky board book to share. The former is a lovely cuddly squeezable soft bunny, coupled with a board book about a very active little bunny. Both are perfect bedtime stories and the soft colour palette is perfect for night-time.
There are two books in the Sound and Light series – Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Ring-a-Ring O’Roses. There are lots of sound books around, but these the first I have seen which also light up. It's really eye-catching and my little tester was mesmerised by the lights which flash along with the tune of the nursery rhyme. Excellent for developing a sense of rhythm.
Finger Puppet Books are designed to help hand-eye coordination, interactive play and language development. Often, with this type of book, it is hard to hold the book and 'operate' the puppet, but these little chunky board books work perfectly. In The Dog I Love Best, an endearing little dog pokes his head out of the front. Act out two well-loved tales with This Little Piggy and Mary Had a Little Lamb. There's plenty to talk about and for little ones to spot in the pictures too. My 9 month old tester loved the soft textures of the puppets and was fascinated to see the puppets appear throughout the book and was looking at the back to see where they came from!
The Shaped Foam Books are unusual - they are really light foam books which have a lovely feel for little fingers. Night Night is perfect for a first bedtime story and Yum Yum introduces words and pictures relating to food. A rounded top, lightness and soft corners mean you can safely leave these with baby. All Little Learners books have symbols on the back indicating areas where the book helps - in this case first words, language development, knowledge and understanding - and the age group.
The Slide and See series is ideal for children of 1+. In fact, the tabbed pages make the books accessible for younger children - my tester can't quite manage 'normal' board books but can easily turn the pages of tabbed books. He loves the clunk as the tabs go back into place! The ever-important topic of sharing is discussed in I Can Share - basic principles stated by a group of friendly animals and reinforced by the messages on the pull out pictures. I Feel Happy helps children to share their emotions.
Every time I give my tester a book, he immediately feels every page to see if there is a special texture – he loves textures. So the Touch and Feel series could not fail to be a success! Animals, Colours, My Day and Let's Play are the titles in this series. The pictures are colourful and help your baby learn about the world around her. The textured areas are generously sized - plenty for little fingers to enjoy.
The soft plastic Bath Book has tabbed edges meaning that little fingers can turn the pages even when slippery in the bath - another one of the simple but clever ideas which epitomise this series. Read the story about Little Duck then baby can have fun squirting the toy.
Snuggle is a Cloth Book for the littlest baby. It's time for the animals to go to sleep. Babies love to cuddle up with a snuggly cuddly book and they will adore this softly coloured cloth book all about cuddles and hugs - just right for bedtime.
Baby's First Buggy Books come in two sets Words/Animals and Colours/Numbers. Babies will enjoy their first learning with these softly coloured books with simple text and clear illustrations of familiar objects. Babies seem to take great delight in throwing anything and everything out of their buggy/highchair/cot, so these little books with their soft velcro straps to attach are the perfect answer.
The whole series is excellently thought out and almost provides a complete library for a little one. The books are practical, well made and cover a wide range of topics. The needs of babies and toddlers and their parents are obviously well researched, as otherwise the series would not be so remarkably balanced and well-rounded. An excellent series of books, which will go with your baby through the day – reading and sharing time, going out in the buggy, bathtime and bedtime.
By Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch.
For more information about the Little Learners range, visit: www.parragon/littlelearners
About Parents in Touch
Parents in Touch is an education and information website for parents offering guidance on all aspects of schooling, with over 6000 worksheets available across a wide range of subjects. A comprehensive range of resources are available to help parents understand how best to help their child at home to support the work done in schools.
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...
As another school break comes to an end and the back-to-school supplies and TV ads are out in full force, many children will be gearing themselves up for the new school year, and pre-school children will be getting themselves ready for their first big day!
For most children, heading back to school, or indeed starting school, can come as an abrupt transition from the joyful, carefree time that they may have experienced over the break. However there are lots of ways that parents can help ease their young children back into learning mode and help give them a head start on the new school year.
We’ve compiled some tips to try to help make the ‘back-to-school’ process a stress-free and positive experience for everyone:
Emotional Preparation – For Pre-school Children
The first day at school can be a daunting experience, but there are many ways that parents can help negotiate the transition from home to school. In the lead up to their first day at school, it is useful to engage pre-school children in books, DVDs and even role-play games that provide them with reference points for what a day at school might involve. Answering with their name when the teacher calls for attendance, lining up in a queue, writing their name and sitting quietly are all activities that can be practiced in advance at home.
Packing a School Backpack
Shopping for school supplies together can be a fun way of helping children feel involved in the lead up to going back to school, and can generate some excitement around the prospect of going back after a long break.
Remember, when your child packs their backpack with their new supplies, it is important to ensure it never weighs more than 10 to 20 percent of their body weight. Choosing the right backpack is about more than just picking the coolest-looking one! More tips on choosing the right backpack can be found here.
The school holidays are often a time when parents ease up on the strict bedtime routine, allowing their children to have a few late nights as special treats. However, it is important to get back in to a solid routine in preparation for going back to school. There are lots of places to get advice on the number of hours of sleep your child should be getting each night, a great example can be found here.
To help your children beat the inevitable barrage of bugs that come along at the start of every term, it is essential to make sure they have a healthy diet at home. This includes breakfast! And is not just important for your children, but for parents too! UK website Female First recently reported that as many as 65 percent of mothers in the UK admitted to skipping meals to keep up with looking after their families. If you’re having trouble thinking of ways to liven up the breakfast menu in your home, head over to our Love Food Tumblr where we are showcasing some of our best-loved breakfast recipes for the whole family.
Spending time with other children will help your child’s social and emotional development and prepare them for the school environment. If possible, arrange play dates with other parents of preschoolers. Many local libraries offer free events for young children in the local area, and some schools even have forums on their website for parents to engage with.
Space at Home
In an age where homes are full of distracting technologies, it is important to make an effort to find a space in the house where children can focus. Houzz, a leading website for home remodeling, provide some useful tips for creating the perfect home study space. If there isn’t space for this at home, many schools open early in the mornings in order to provide a breakfast and some also stay open after classes and provide a safe, comfortable environment in which to read or do homework.
Learning at Home
School holidays don’t have to mean that your child puts their learning on hold. The break provides a perfect opportunity for children to practice the skills they have learnt from the previous year, but also is a great chance to begin to look at new challenges. It is important to keep these activities fun, after all it is their holiday, but there are many useful resources available on the internet, on TV and in books. Our Gold Stars activity workbooks for children are designed to reflect the national curriculum and are created in conjunction with educational consultants. With a focus of making the activities enjoyable, the range boasts vibrant new designs and fun activities to engage children from pre-school right through to Key Stage 2. And what’s more, parents give Gold Stars the thumbs-up too! Read a recent review of the new Gold Stars range here!
Getting children interested in reading for fun can be a daunting task. During the school year, kids are working on homework and busy with books they’ve been assigned for class. On summer break, you’re keen to encourage your children to spend their free time playing outside and getting some exercise. And furthermore, studies have shown that it’s far more difficult to get boys to read than girls.
What is a parent/guardian with a young son to do? Luckily, there are some answers. The New York Times explored this problem last summer, highlighting the heart of the issue with insights from researchers and publishers alike. The article suggests that the real challenge is not about boys and the act of reading itself, it’s about finding books that boys want to read. The Times quotes Michael Cart, the former president of the Young Adult Library Services Association:
“We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become. In a commercially driven publishing environment, the emphasis is currently on young women.”
Researchers all have different theories on why and how to get middle graders, particularly boys, reading, but they all seem to agree on one thing. You will have a hard time getting a boy to read if you’re not presenting him with topics he’s interested in. Through sales figures and firsthand accounts alike, we’ve come to recognize that boys are more likely to read nonfiction than fiction, and that their interests in both genres carry many of the same themes: Dinosaurs! Sharks! History! Superheroes!
All of the above helped the Parragon team to find our own answers to the question: How do we help boys become more interested in fiction? Well, we met a snarky, adventurous boy by the name of Will Solvit, and the rest was history – literally.
Will, you see, has a problem: His parents are missing, and it’s up to him, his best friend Zoe, and a set of mysterious clues to save them! The catch: they’re trapped somewhere in time, and Will has to travel back to a number of places in history to try to find them. Can Will make it past Roman gladiators, fierce dinosaurs, space aliens, and other creatures?
To help kids find out, we’ve released the first book in the series, “Will Solvit and the T-Rex Terror”, for free on the iBookstore, Barnes & Noble Nook, and as a PDF download on Scribd. It’s packed with time travel adventures, real facts about dinosaurs and prehistoric times, and our cool friend Will!
Will Solvit & the T-Rex Terror Free Download:
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…
[Above: a still from one of our children's apps, Discovery Kids Sharks.]
“Content” was the big word at Digital Book World’s annual conference this year. “I’m not an author, I’m a content provider”, said Nancy O’Connor as she took the stage during Barnes and Noble’s Nook Kids presentation. She was half-joking, but the message was clear: the definition of a “book” is much, much broader than it used to be. When it comes to children’s books, that landscape is looking different by the day. “Children’s Publishing Goes Digital” was an all-day session designed to engage publishers, developers, researchers, and other “content providers” in conversation about what it will look like going forward. I spent the day there earlier this week getting the lowdown, and it is safe to say that publishing will see a lot of exciting activity in 2012. With this in mind, I wanted to share some highlights from the children’s publishing portion of Digital Book World and try my hand at some industry predictions for the year to come.
1. When we talk about “content”, we are talking about two things: quality and distribution.
One of the few points echoed with consistency across the whole of the conference was that what stands at the heart of any sales and marketing effort is strong content. A book’s quality is what will ultimately sell it and make people read it. Also, its “content” is about much more than just what fills its pages in print. Now, we can use vibrant illustrations and great characters to our full advantage and bring them to life in transmedia (multi-platform) storytelling formats. Video, web-based content, and interactive apps are all ways to continue the story “off the page” and truly bring it to life in a way that encourages young readers.
2. Children’s publishing formats are evolving, but children’s basic learning and development needs remain at the core of our own product development.
"Sesame Street is a 43-year research experiment," said Sesame Workshop’s Jennifer Perry in her presentation on how to teach pre-schoolers using digital technology. It is easy to look to Sesame Street and other trusted children’s brands like Discovery Kids, Nickelodeon, and Disney for cues on creating digital content that remains true to the core of children’s education. Perry pointed to a number of “best practices” that research has showin improve reading comprehension for kids. Questions that publishers and developers should ask include, “Does the child understand the calls to action?” and “What features increase understanding?”
3. Apps are not a shiny new toy; they are a tool to be used wisely.
There are quite a few articles (see this great recap from Digital Book World) going around about the wane of interest in apps by publishers. There is only one major reason for this, and that is of course that apps are not guaranteed money-makers. It is difficult – and sometimes expensive – to build a good app and even hard to get it noticed, and publishers are learning that apps should be part of a broader marketing strategy rather than a standalone attempt to capture sales.
Ultimately, this is great news for consumers! It means that more than ever, developers need to make sure that their apps represent their very best content with the best functionality available.
4. Rather than being a “threat” to print books, the publishing industry needs to see digital as an incredible opportunity to create young readers through technology.
Now more than ever, publishers have the opportunity to reach kids through nontraditional formats and encourage them to start reading at an early age. Kids have always and will always love the newest technology, both because they want the newest and coolest toys and because their curious minds are fascinated by how technology works. It is our job as content providers to deliver them engaging and interactive digital books and apps that will make them excited about becoming readers. This is a reward that will extend back to print books and beyond.