Leicester Author Week is part of the 'Whatever It Takes' initiative to get kids reading. And it's brilliant. In an area where a lot of children won't own many (or any) of their own books, the programme brings in authors to do events, and then every single kid in the audience gets to take home a signed copy of a book by that author.
The evening before the events, I signed books in the hotel conference room with fellow author John Dougherty. (It's fun seeing which author will be there at the same time as me; one year John even helped me work out and learn chords for the There's a Shark in the Bath song I used at events! And it's also a great chance to catch up with Leicester friends.) John has lots of colourful pens.
Right before I left, my husband Stuart bought me this terrific yellow jumper at St Pancras station, so here's a picture of me with the Dinosaur Firefighter books I was signing, excellently colour-coordinated.
The hotel also has terrific carpeting.
And here's the team I worked with on the day: Becca Partington and Daniel Routledge.
Dan's an absolutely brilliant host: as the coaches full of children are pulling into the Tiger's Rugby Club, they can take awhile (especially the youngest ones) to get off the buses and file into the assembly hall. Dan works the audience, getting them to tell him jokes and sing songs. Very often their jokes make absolutely no sense but they still laugh like drains. Here's one joke that had a terrible punchline, but I wrote out the question and asked Twitter to come up with an answer while we waited. (Thanks to @katbrown for the speedy response!)
Here in the neighbouring hall, you can see John making his magic on stage, with his picture book There's a Pig up my Nose, illustrated by Laura Hughes.
We first had a 45-minute assembly where I introduced the schools to Dinosaur Firefighters and read out the story. I talked a bit about my work and how I made the book, showed kids how to get ideas for their stories, and answered some of their questions.
We then had a little break and they moved to a big area with tables, and we had 35 minutes to make books from scratch. I told them that the different between a wanna-be author and an author is that the author has finished making the book. It's all about finishing! I walked them through the process of making the book and we started with the front cover, where we drew a T-Rex together, then came up with a title combining 'Dinosaur' with a profession they thought might be fun to draw. Here's Dinosaur Scuba!
Because the children were very young, and we didn't have a lot of time, I was quite formulaic with the book's structure, but I think it gave them a good idea of what goes into a book. I explained to them how things need to go very wrong in a story before they can go right (just like in Dinosaur Firefighters). For the first page, I had them come up with a name for their dinosaur, then write '________ wanted to be a __________. But everything went wrong.' Then on the bottom of the second page I had them write 'At last... success!' and illustrate what went wrong and then how it went right.
On the back cover we kept if very simple, and I told them that a blurb was to lure people into opening the book. We decided that the best way to make people want to open something might be to warn them not to, so they all wrote 'Danger inside!' (or variations on that). And they drew a peek of their dinosaur and a big loud 'RAWR!'
But from the hubbub that ensued, I think their FAVOURITE part was coming up with a bar code and price tag and writing it on. Kids love to think they could possibly sell their work. We talked about how they could charge whatever they wanted, 20p or 20 million pounds, but if they charge a lower fee, they might actually sell more books and make more money than if they charge millions.
Here's Dinosaur Astronaut:
The poor T-Rex says 'I don't fit!' When I went around the tables, I tried to encourage the children to give us a clue about how their dinosaur goes from having a problem to solving it, but even just getting the two pictures on the interior pages with words was a big accomplishment for some of them.
After lunch, we did it all again for a second group! Local author Steve Skidmore popped by to say hello.
Big thanks to organiser Tiffini Castle and the whole team for your help and enthusiasm!
Last year I put Annie Smith from the charity I'm patron of, Read for Good, in touch with the team at Whatever It Takes, and they ran a city-wide Leicester Readathon, which raised £9,091 for getting books and storytellers to children in hospital, with a percentage going to stock their own school library. But just as important, 28,745 pupils signed up to get reading! This year they're going to run the Leicester Readathon from 30 Sept - 11 Oct. Get in touch with them to find out more, and if you're involved with a school in Leicester, how your school can take part!