This week saw Shark Week rear its toothy jaws, providing some sharktastic fun for all the family. First launched in July 1987, Shark Week was developed by Discovery Networks as a way to raise awareness about sharks and to get people excited about one of nature’s coolest creatures. (The Atlantic has a great story this week about the history of the event.) Now in its 25th year, Shark Week has developed into a cultural phenomenon, and we here at Parragon try to live, as they say, “every week like it’s Shark Week.”
To join in the fun, here are some of our favourite sharktastic facts:
• Sharks have no bones! A shark skeleton is made of light, stretchy cartilage.
• The pygmy shark is the smallest shark of them all.
• The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean, and can grow to a giant 60 feet (18m) in length!
• The bullet-shaped mako shark is the fastest fish in the ocean. It can swim at over 70kmph!
• The giant basking shark can filter up to 2000 tons of water an hour as it swims along
• Great white sharks have 3,000 teeth. Each one is about as long as a finger.
• Sharks have been living on Earth for 400 million years.
• A blue shark mother can give birth to 50 or more babies at a time!
• Highly sensitive electro-receptors in the snout enable sharks to precisely locate their prey.
• Shark’s teeth continue to grow throughout their whole life!
Most importantly, Shark Week is fun for the whole family. Sure, sharks can be scary for kids, but they can also be a whole lot of fun! Shark Week is a fantastic opportunity to get children interested in non-fiction learning, something that is a proven difficult task for many! In a recent Publisher’s Weekly blog, Elizabeth Bluemle highlights the lack of excellent non-fiction available for contemporary kids and teens, and urges publishers to help promote children’s non-fiction better, by making sure the books have visual appeal.
The Discovery Kids brand, in the spirit of both Shark Week and children’s education, has put together a section of coloring sheets, games, and more to celebrate Shark Week with the whole family. You can check it out here – there’s loads of free content for kids, in addition to more information about our Discovery Kids Sharks app and more children’s non-fiction content.
We hope you’re having a truly fantastic Shark Week! For even more shark facts and photos, check out some of our Tumblr posts from this week.
As the searing heat wave in the US eases off and the rain in Europe calms, it is tempting to hope that summer will now return to normal. In Australia and New Zealand, people are settling into winter with a spate of severe storms. It seems the one thing we can never quite count on is the weather – unless we rely on it to be ever-changing! There really is no normal when it comes to the outdoors.
That said, we often find that one thing never changes despite the weather: our craving for good, hearty comfort food. Happiness, we think, is about the little things – a pair of perfect new shoes, the song that reminds you of the good times, and delicious treats like warm cookies or the perfect sandwich.
Who says you can’t have roast beef on a Tuesday or pumpkin pie in April? Some things are so good they deserve to be enjoyed all year round, and there are comfort foods that work in all-weather situations. Nothing says I love you more than the perfect steak sandwich!
Research carried out on behalf of the recipe sharing site Many Faces of Potatoes found that we connect the smell of baked potatoes with happiness and “memories of grandparents.” Perhaps that’s why Grandma’s Best Recipe’s (available in your favourite shop, and on sale this month on Amazon!) remains to be one of our most loved titles.
Have you ever tried putting almonds in your coleslaw; did you know that tomatoes loose their flavor when they’re stored in the fridge? With recipes straight from the kitchen of your childhood, Grandma’s Best Recipe’s guides you through traditional cooking methods and offers tips gathered from years of experience. Most of all, it showcases some recipes that we feel work in all manner of weather. What better way to celebrate sunshine, cozy up away from the rain, or warm up from the cold than with some perfect all-weather comfort recipes?
We’ll be showcasing our top comfort food recipes for all seasons throughout the next week on our Tumblr, so come rain or shine, there’ll be a recipe to make you smile! Click the image below for our first great recipe, Fish and Chips.
When you need a food cuddle, what is it that you reach for? Head on over to our Tumblr this week and see our recipe suggestions, and then tell us your thoughts!
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:
(Huge thanks to Assistant Designer Rhys Kitson, from our License team for letting us have an exclusive look into his day-to-day life at Parragon!)
I live approximately three minutes away from work, which is super handy – just a hop, skip and jump away. I’m greeted at the office by a gentle aroma of coffee and early morning chatter about the previous evening’s activities. But the natter soon becomes a murmur as people focus on the day ahead.
A new Barbie movie is being released on DVD soon, which is exciting as we create books to tie-in with all the Barbie movies. We generally create 4 books to tie-in with each movie: a magical story, which is an abridged version of the movie, a 'classic', a full version of the story, a colouring storybook and a sticker scene. I have the proofs for the 'classic' to go through now and to check over….
The Barbie proofs look great so I am happy to pass it over to my editor to have a look and make any editorial comments.
My inbox is looking quite light so far today, sometimes it’s overflowing!
Next, I spend some time looking at the book cover for the magical story that we are creating for the same Barbie movie. We have tried to make this book cover really stand out, so we have added something called a 'lenticular' as part of the cover. This makes the picture look 3D. Lenticulars can be quite fiddly to set up, and we have been trying to make a small tweak to the art on the cover. I can see that it is still not quite right, (as I said it’s very fiddly!), so after discussing it with the relevant people, we decide to resupply the file with the amendments made. It will look ace in the end!
Sometimes I find myself staring so intently at the screen I think my gaze might burn a hole in it. Note to self: give my eyes a 5-minute break! It’s time for quick cuppa and onto my next task.
Next up is looking at one of our newest licenses, ‘Victorious’. This is Nickelodeon’s big new tween show, and we’re producing a top range of books to support it. We've been taking onboard comments from Nickelodeon along the way. My job now is to check through some of the titles and images, and check that they are all in the correct place on each page. As these titles will be printed in both the USA and the UK, we have two different versions of text, one for US and one for UK. Whilst they are pretty much the same language, a few words differ. It can get a little confusing at times, but we want to make sure that the right text is in the right place! Everything is looking good, so I repackage it all to make sure all the images and fonts match up too. Once that’s done it is pretty much ready to be sent to the reproduction house.
With that done, a fresh cup of tea sits invitingly on my desk and I approach my final task of the day, which is to create a cover and internal spread for a new Barbie Jigsaw book. It is still very early days for this project, and there will be lots of little changes that we make before the book is ready to be printed. This Barbie Jigsaw book should look pretty neat; I have a few good ideas for it. We want to make it look fresh and bold, but keep that core ‘Barbie’ identity. It can be more difficult than you might think!
With a cover and an internal spread created, I think it’s time to go home, my eyes sting a bit from staring at the screen all day and I have a 3 month old son at home waiting for a cuddle!
The weather is starting to warm up in part of the world, and as it does many of us at Parragon are thinking about outdoor eating. Whether you’re camping outside or having a party in the backyard, we’re here to help provide some new outdoor cooking inspiration!
Our friends at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award charity approached us earlier this year to see if we could lend a hand in their own summer eating adventures. The result is the Outdoor Eating app, available now for the iPhone, which provides a wealth of ideas about eating outdoors. Parragon has contributed a number of delicious recipe ideas, from Baked Camembert to Banana & Dark Chocolate S’mores. Best of all, proceeds from the app go towards supporting youth clubs, volunteer organizations, and schools. Learn more about the DoE here.
One of the easiest and best ways to celebrate warm weather when it finally comes is with a delicious ice pop. It’s a snack, it’s a dessert, and in our newest book Irresistible Ice Pops, it can even be a cocktail. With Ice Pops, we wanted to make warm-weather desserts easy, with real fruit and simple, affordable ingredients. What we learned in the process was that making new and innovative fruit and chocolate combinations is a lot of fun!
You can get Irresistible Ice Pops in stores now and try out five recipes in our free sampler download, available here for the US and the UK.
Of course, no outdoor eating experience would be complete without a burger. Our new book The Burger won’t be available in stores and online until August, but we have compiled a ten-recipe sampler to tide you over and fill all your barbeque needs until then! What should you serve at a party between the burger course and the ice pops and s’mores? We recommend keeping it simple and preparing ahead so that you can enjoy your own gatherings more – fresh vegetables with dip is an easy side to prepare, as are simple potato or pasta salad dishes. When in doubt or pressed for time, slice up a watermelon!
Check back in the coming months as we offer more tips for outdoor and indoor cooking on both sides of the world. Next up, we’ll tackle our favorite all-weather comfort foods.
In exactly 42 days, 11 hours, 24 minutes and 29 seconds, I will be waking up to one of the most exciting days of my life. That is because in 42 days, 11 hours, 24 minutes and 29 seconds (well, 19 seconds now!) I’ll be waking up on my wedding day!
As you might imagine, soon after he ‘popped the question’ I began thinking about what kind of day would really suit us and capture both our personalities. This was spurred on when my best friend arrived at my front door struggling to balance the sky-high pile of bridal magazines that she’d bought for us to look through! Like two excited little girls, we spent hours admiring the beautiful dresses, breathtaking venues and stunning floral bouquets.
Beautiful as everything was in the magazines, I've never really pictured our wedding day having that polished, formal feel, and I felt myself drawn to the more handmade, DIY ideas that I stumbled across on various wedding blogs and Pinterest pinboards. I was really inspired by the beautiful, original ideas that people had come up with and my list of ‘things-to-make’ just kept getting longer!
I have to say I think my partner was a little anxious when our flat turned into a buzzing craft hub, but he soon came around when he saw just how much I was enjoying making each little item, and he was even more encouraged by the fact that making so much by hand meant that costs for the big day were steadily being driven down.
I've now made a whole range of things including tissue paper pompoms to hang from the beams in the venue, origami buttonholes made from old maps, bunting, invitations and I've just started working on making the table decorations.
Looking for ideas in the office, I came across a great template for a milk carton style box in the book 'Perfect Papercraft Cards and Gifts'. Filled with my favourite sweet treat - strawberry bonbons - I thought these would make lovely little table settings!
Below is a step-by step-guide on how to make the milk carton style box, taken from the book Perfect Papercraft Cards and Gifts.
1) Glue the two halves
Pre-crease all folds before gluing anything together. Lay the two sides on a flat surface in the positions shown. Then glue the two halves together.
2) Fold and glue panels
Turn the box over and fold the two outer panels inwards, to meet each other. Glue the tab to the panel.
3) Fold over the lid flaps
Stand the box on its end with the shaped flaps facing upwards. Now carefully push the box into a square tube shape. Fold over Flap 1 first. Then fold over Flaps 2 and 3 and tuck the little curved ends under Flap 1.
4) Finish the box
Close the end by folding over flap 4 and tucking it inside flap 1. Now turn the box the right way up.
5) Tie the ribbon round
Push the sides inwards until the two flaps with the holes meet each other. Finish by securing the top with the ribbon.
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…
What does “comfort food” mean to you, and what is its role in healing? Sometimes when we’re sick or broken (per below, we literally mean “broken”!) food can act as medicine, providing vitamins and nutrients to help our bodies get well. Sometimes, it’s about mental health: food makes us feel better! Our intrepid roving reporter Sarah Purvis recently learned that sometimes, when you fail to respond to a medical emergency the first time around, you get a second chance through food…Read on for her story and a wonderful recipe!
I have, what a nurse called, a ‘tender disposition’ and this was on display just recently when, on the last of his hang gliding lessons, my husband unfortunately landed badly and broke his arm. There was no blood gushing from a deep wound, there were no bones protruding from his right limb, but for some reason my mind went into overdrive mode recreating a scene from a zombie movie, and within seconds of reaching my husband’s side I passed out. This is embarrassing for me to admit. My poor husband really could have done with some support – and I failed to deliver. I regained my composure quickly and was able to hand over my broken husband to the amazing staff in the ER to literally mend.
Fast forward a week and the patient is doing very well. He has most of the movement back in his arm already thanks to the numerous exercises he was given to do to prevent his arm seizing up. And of course, to encourage healthy bone growth and general well-being, we’ve boosted areas of our diet to include more foods that contain iron, calcium, and vitamins. For dinners, this often means steak with oven roasted potato wedges, tuna with roasted vegetable couscous, pork stir fry with black beans and pak choi and, probably the best, Fisherman’s Pie. Not only is it very easy to make, it’s also packed with a heap of nutrition. I added some chunks of salmon filet, a boiled egg and some frozen peas for a little variety. The husband with a broken arm is also optional – you don’t necessarily need one of these in order to make this dish!
Serves 6. Ingredients:
900g/2 lb white fish filets, skinned
150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, tarragon or dill
175g/6 oz small mushrooms, sliced
70g/ 2½ oz butter, plus extra for greasing and for the mashed potato
175g/6 oz cooked peeled prawns / shrimp
40g/1½ oz plain flour
125 ml/4 fl oz double cream
900g/2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized chunks
salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 1.7-litre/3-pint baking dish with butter.
2. Fold the fish fillets in half and place in the dish. Season well with salt and pepper, pour over the wine and scatter over the herbs.
3. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes until the fish starts to flake. Strain off the liquid and reserve for the sauce. Increase the oven temperature to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
4. Sauté the mushrooms in a frying pan with 15g/½ oz of the butter and spoon over the fish. Scatter over the prawns.
5. Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes without browning, remove from the heat, then add the reserved cooking liquid gradually, stirring well between each addition.
6. Return to the heat and gently bring to the boil, still stirring to ensure a smooth sauce. Add the cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour over the fish in the dish and smooth over the surface.
7. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes. Drain well and mash with a potato masher until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and add the remaining butter, stirring until melted.
9. Pile or pipe the mash onto the fish and sauce and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
She was engaged to a Rockefeller, her social circle included famous actors and socialites, and she lived so extravagantly that she thought nothing of spending an entire paycheck on a party or purse. If she were a modern-day star like Rihanna or Lindsay Lohan, we wouldn’t be surprised by this story: we’ve heard it before. But what if I told you this colorful character was Margaret Wise Brown, author of such famous children’s books as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny?
Margaret Wise Brown did indeed live a wild and interesting life, prompting last week’s question from a great Slate article: Do childish people write better children’s books? Drawing on Brown’s rich life history and extensive back catalog, we’d certainly say yes in her case. Brown’s approach to writing children’s books was innovative in itself and she actually prided herself on her ability to see life from a child’s perspective – especially given that she didn’t have children herself.
How did she do it? First, Brown taught at the legendary Bank Street Elementary School in New York, where she was able to interact with children’s learning processes and where she began to develop the idea that children wanted to hear stories about characters like themselves, not just fairytales and fables. She began to develop a feel for a child’s creative mind, and she used this to fuel her writing.
Most importantly, Brown believed that the key to successful children's writing was to make it physically accessible to children in the first place. Throughout her career and her wild, fantastic life, she fought to make sure books were available to children through any means possible. She tried to get her publishers at the time to place stories on the backs of cereal boxes, and she supported the idea of creating affordable “value” products that anyone could find in any store.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Brown’s death. As a book publisher founded on the idea that everyone should have access to affordable, entertaining, useful books, Parragon was especially pleased to have the opportunity to publish some of Brown’s back catalog (starting with Count to Ten With a Mouse and Goodnight Little One, out now). We’re grateful for Brown’s childlike vision, and the story of her life only makes her all the more fascinating!