Spring News: Book Anniversary, Award Finalist, World Book Day, Writing Retreat and more… 😊

Happy spring, all!

I hope you’ve had a good start to 2023. Here in London the huge magnolia in our garden is in full bloom, and the daffodils and crocuses are out β€” and, of course, the days are gradually getting longer. I love this time of year!

Earlier this month we celebrated UK World Book Day week where I had five days of in-person school visits meeting children from Reception Year (kindergarten) up to Year 6 (fifth grade) around London and the south-east. One of the joys of writing across so many age groups is being able to meet pupils from across the whole school. All the children I met were a delight, with the little ones adoring the live fox footage that’s included as part of my Ferdinand Fox storytime, and pupils in the older year groups asking so many wonderful questions about writing, where I get my inspiration, and how books get made.

School children seated in a school hall with hands up during an author talk by Karen Inglis who is standing at the front of the class taking questions.
Year 2, The Oakwood School, talking about favourite books πŸ“š
A groups of school children sitting on the floor looking at a screen with foxes.
Reception Year, The Oakwood School β€” waiting to meet Ferdinand Fox 🦊
Fox and hedgehog soft animal toys sitting on a table in front of the picture book Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog
Ferdinand Fox and Hatty Hedgehog waiting to meet the pupils! πŸ¦”
Abbot’s Hill School, Hemel Hempstead β€”previously for borders but now a girls’ day school.
A great setting for a school mystery?!

Return to the Secret Lake β€” Double Celebration!

I can hardly believe that this month marks the first anniversary of publication of Return to the Secret Lake β€” how time flies! It has sold over 11,000 copies in English, and is proving extremely popular in German β€” and will be published in Czech later this year. There is also another foreign offer in discussion. It was also recently shortlisted as a Finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards, judged by UK Primary School Children and teachers. I love the finalists’ medal, seen below!

Thank you so much to all of you who have left ratings and/or reviews online β€” your feedback has been wonderful! And special thanks for not giving away any spoilers, which is so easy to do with this plot!

Cornwall Writers’ Retreat

In other news, I have just returned from a week in Marizion in Cornwall with a group of six fellow authors who write mostly for adults (or YA and adults). The house we rented looked out to St Michael’s Mount, which you can walk to when the tide is out. The St Aubyn family, which had owned the island since the mid 1600s, gifted it to the National Trust in the 1950s but still live in the castle on a lease arrangement with the island operating as a visitor centre. The current residents, Lord and Lady St Levan (James and Mary St Aubyn) have been there since 2003. If you choose the right day to visit you can take a tour inside the castle, and climb to the top.

There are a few other homes there with residents all working on the island and children going to school on the mainland. (One of the boatmen doubles up as a teacher in the local primary school β€” what a great way to get to work!)

House view to St Michael’s Mount β€” plus work and play!

It was wonderful to get away. Most days were rainy and blustery, with one day of glorious sunshine. But it didn’t matter. Looking out onto rolling waves provides all the inspiration and calm you need to focus. Much work was done by all β€” writing, editing, plotting and research. We also held an impromptu marketing meeting, seen in the image above.

For my part I was steeped back in Edwardian London where I am researching and planning for book 3 in The Secret Lake series. 😊 We did, however, get out and about! Below you can see the causeway that leads out to the island, and more from a spur of the moment hour’s walk I made into Penzance.

Walking to and from St Michael’s Mount β€” the causeway is revealed as the tide goes out.
A 50-minute walk along the coast to Penzance: wonderful views and valuable thinking time!

Zoom visits around the world

In between World Book Day week and heading down to Cornwall I squeezed in various zoom sessions: two with elementary schools in the USA who have been reading The Secret Lake, and one with an English language school in Bulgaria where the children have been reading Eeek! The Runaway Alien. Both sets of pupils had such interesting observations about the stories and the Bulgarian pupils had completed activities showing which new English words the text had taught them. The first time I met the Bulgarian pupils was when they were in Kindergarten, with my Ferdinand Fox picture books, so I really feel as if I’m watching them grow up! It was also wonderful to receive thank you letters from the pupils below from Columbia Virtual Academy in Wyoming!

Do get in touch if you’d like to find out more about my Zoom school visits at home and abroad. I love meeting my readers, wherever they are in the world. I can speak with whole schools (as seen below) or small book groups of a few children!

This zoom call in February was with close to 500 pupils in Utah.
Their school had recreated The Secret Lake theme in its grounds!

Authors love reviews 😊

If your children or pupils have read one or more of my books but not yet reviewed them online, if you could find a moment to help them do so it would mean a lotβ€” a short review is fine, whether on Amazon, Goodreads, Toppsta or your other preferred site! It will help other families, teachers and children discover my stories. Children also really enjoy seeing their words published online! Thank you!

And finally β€” our magnolia

I can’t sign off without including a picture of the glorious magnolia tree in our garden. They bloom for such a short time, β€”I just love them in the days before the buds fully open up. I hope you enjoy, along with my Mother’s Day flowers!

Magnolia β€” with Mother’s Day flowers from my son in the foreground!

That’s it for now. Happy spring reading! πŸ“š

The rhyme and the reason: confessions of a picture book author

It’s a well-known fact that we authors spend a lot of time alone, dreaming up and crafting our stories, discarding some and holding on to a golden few. If the idea takes off, we then spend many more hours, days – and often weeks or months – drafting, rewriting, testing, editing and polishing before finally having the courage to put the story out into the big wide world.

It’s a long (long) process – no matter how short the book. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that writing children’s books is the easy option!

The above holds true for middle grade novels (aimed at ages 8-12), for early reader chapter books – and for picture books whose word count is typically around 500 but might range from zero to 1,000. (Less is best. Less is harder! And it goes without saying that the illustrations are crucial.)

Ferdinand Fox picture books side by side
Ferdinand Fox rhyming picture books

The rhyming game

Trying to squeeze a satisfying and entertaining tale into a picture book’s 26 or 28 pages (this is what’s left after the title and copyright pages etc are used up) is hard enough at the best of times as we toil away on our own. Add in rhyme and you’re into a whole new layer of complexity. Getting the story and the rhyme and theΒ rhythm to cooperate along with the illustrations over a limited page count is one huge challenge!

‘Why on earth would anyone want to write in rhyme?’ you might ask yourself. I’d agree with you there. Except that’s how it came out when I began composing my Ferdinand Fox stories after seeing a beautiful fox trot past me in the mist one November evening. I simply couldn’t express the story in any other way!

Happily, rhyme, it seems, is still what little children love best – or most consistently at least.

Speaking as a parent, I also know that the rhyming stories I shared with my children, such asΒ Hairy MaClary from Donaldson’s Dairy and the others from Lynley Dodd’s wonderful series were firm favourites for me and my husband!

Kids know best

Another well-known fact is that children are the most discerning and honest audience out there – and generally the younger, the more discerning! If they don’t like your story they will let you (or their parents or teachers) know in no uncertain terms πŸ™‚

This brings me on to the flip side of all of those hours spent alone getting things just right – namely the rewards for authors of getting out and sharing our stories with young readers at school visits and other live events.

Children's Author Karen Inglis reading Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog to the pupils of Barnes Montessori
The pupils of Barnes Montessori eagerly listening to Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog

With my rhyming picture books I often see Reception year children as part of a wider primary school visit with my other titles. However, just as rewarding – and with an extra special place in my heart – are my visits to nursery schools, where I have the opportunity to introduce the magic of books and stories to such young, receptive, (and brutally honest!) minds.

The pictures above and below from my recent visit to Barnes Montessori, a stone’s throw from where I live, offer a glimpse of how meeting my readers brings such joy both to me as an author and to the children. These three to five year-olds were hooked from the get-go and highly engaged for each of the 30-40 minute sessions I offered. That’s quite a tall order from children of that age – especially the three-year-olds!

Keeping picture book listeners engaged

I always warm things up with a rhyming game and by asking children about foxes they may have seen. This sets the scene well for what’s to follow and ensures they feel relaxed and invested from the outset.

Karen Inglis at front of class holding up rhyming game images for pupils who are out of shot
Rhyming game warm-up before I introduce the rhyming stories

Whether as an author or parent/carer the key, of course, to engaging children with books and reading is the enthusiasm you show yourself – it’s infectious and little ones quickly pick up on it. It’s reflected not just in the energy and variety you bring to delivering the story, but also in using opportunities to involve the children with the characters and storyline as you go.

Have you seen a fox in your garden? Where did you see one? What did it look like? Was it a beautiful fox or did it look sad and hungry? What might you call your fox? How do you think Ferdinand feels in this picture? How does baby Ed feel here? Do you think he’s scared? Have you ever seen a hedgehog? Did you touch it? How did it feel?Β  What colour is the mouse in this picture?

In Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, as Ferdinand sleeps (and snores) through the story we are introduced through his dream bubbles to his favourite food. This provides ample opportunity to talk with the children about their favourite food – as well as hear whose mum or dad snores!Β  There’s also a clock that chimes from one to five as the hours pass. As the story moves forward I pause at the clock chimes and count the numbers with the children. Needless to say they get lots of praise for their counting skills!

 

Image of interior page of Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep - colour image of fox sleeping and rhyming text
From Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep: lots of opportunity to discuss food likes and dislikes πŸ™‚

In Ferdinand Fox and the HedgehogΒ there’s a section at the end dedicated to fun facts about foxes and hedgehogs, such as where they live, how long they live and what they eat. We always have great fun discussing whether the children would like spiders for breakfast, caterpillar sandwiches for lunch, or worms on toast for supper! This part of the book also shows how we can all help hedgehogs find food by cutting holes in the bottom of garden fences, and help them hibernate by building up safe areas in our gardens.

Karen Inglis at front of class with nursery pupils at Barnes Montessori
Discussing what hedgehogs like to eat – caterpillar sandwiches anyone? πŸ™‚

Live video

As time has gone on I’ve added videos to my sessions. One is of a fox that fell asleep in an author friend’s garden and looks remarkably like Ferdinand Fox. The children all ‘ooh’ and gasp when he finally starts to wake up!

The other is a video of a hedgehog running down the side of my family home in Hertfordshire – captured by chance by my brother. As with the fox video, it has the children entranced and goes just one step further to enhancing their experience of sharing stories and books.

Karen Inglis author pointing to hedgehog video with nursery pupils in front
The children loved the video of the hedgehog running up the side of my family home!

The pictures here mean a lot to me and encapsulate the double sided joy of being writer. From sitting alone in a quiet world where stories tumble, mature and develop as they try to get out – to seeing the delight on children’s faces as they lap up your characters and the journey you have taken them on.

Author and teacher with pupils - picture book reading
Reading Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep

Writing children’s books is a journey I wouldn’t give up for the world!

Rhyming or no rhyming πŸ™‚

With thanks to Barnes Montessori for inviting me and for taking these lovely photos.

If you think your child’s school would like a visit, please do get in touch via my school visits page (opens in new tab).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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