Thursday, 23 February 2017

Interview with Steven Lenton

Steven hails from Cheshire where he spent many a school holiday working in the family Pom-pom Factory, packing poms and designing new products. Since this somewhat fluffy start to his career he has gained a BA and MA in Animation and has become a successful animator and art director within the realms of children’s television. Steven also designs greetings cards and prints. 

BWB: Did it take you long to decide on a character design for Fred?

SL: I designed a few different versions of Fred to begin with - it's important to sketch a number of possible character shapes and sizes when creating a new character, whether it be a panda called Fred or a Princess called Daisy!  Here are some of my original sketches... 

Being a panda he had to be big, friendly and fluffy: a BFF if you will!  We wanted him to have a cheeky, wry smile and of course those eyes... interestingly, as we knew the cover was going to have moving eyes, I had to ensure that they were a certain width apart so that the eye mechanism would work perfectly.  We all decided that Fred's face needed to fill most of the cover so that partially dictated the width and height of his face and the proportions therein. Then I based his body around the face on the cover and, Stanley’s your uncle – we had found our Fred!

I am very much a team player when it comes to the design of my books and it’s important that everyone is happy with a design, look and feel of a character and fortunately the Scholastic crew were all in agreement on my design fairly quickly…and don’t forget little Stanley of course! Ssshhh, don’t tell Fred but Stanley is my secret favourite character in the book.  He is a lovely simple, graphic character designed around a series of angles and triangles to create a lovely juxtaposition with Fred’s circle-centric roundedness.  I feel quite sorry for Stanley at first, but when you see the final endpapers of the book featuring my little homage to the classic Dirty Dancing dance sequence, you are reassured that Fred and Stanley are the best of friends, despite their ups downs and round and rounds (at the funfair!) 

BWB: Are Pandas your favourite type of bear?

SL: I think so now yes!  Although, and this is another secret, used to LOVE the Care Bears when I was little!  I’m also a Koala bear fan and of course, who can resist Paddington! When I was a toddler I had a favourite teddy bear called Patch.  He was so named because I threw up on him in hospital and my mum sewed a patch of material over the offending stain (after rinsing him through of course!) so he is an all-time favourite bear of mine too.

BWB: There are a lot of panda themed picture books out in the wild at the moment. What makes Fred stand out?

SL: I'm a big fan of Steve Antony's Mr Panda series and Sophie Henn's Pom-Pom books, so it was important not to tread on my peers paws!

The humour in Let's Find Fred is quite different to that in other Panda-based books.  Fred's moving eyes on the cover and the unusual mixture of 'zoomed-out' spreads with lots to find, intermingled with larger 'paws for thought ' moments where Fred takes up entire pages with his cuddly big tummy and candy floss-filled arms give the book lots of variation and a novelty/activity book feel brought together with a fun narrative.

We decided that, with there being a number of well-known Panda characters in existence, we wanted Fred to look a bit older and more life-sized, rather than small and cute.  This makes him look funnier when he is, for example reading a newspaper on the bus or running through an art gallery! One of my favourite things about the book is that Fred is really accepted throughout each scenario - he may get the odd raised eyebrow (don't we all) but generally everyone is really glad to see Fred and enjoy interacting with him – especially in the huge panda party in the final fold-out spread.

BWB: Let's Find Fred is part picture book, part interactive. Was it first thought up in this way? Or was it something completely different that evolved?

SL: Scholastic approached me with a loose concept for the book at the wonderful Bologna Book Fair a couple of years ago. The very first idea was to have an incredibly simple cut-out novelty book using silhouettes but once I had designed Fred, the team all agreed that we needed to see much more of this cheeky chap! Fred was always going to have some sort of novelty element and everyone decided that the combination of an interactive, fun cover and a giant fold-out finale spread would give Fred that bit of extra bit of magic.  It was quite an organic and wonderfully creative process coming up with the various cityscapes and environments and the narrative and visuals developed alongside each other which was a new way of working for all of us. The reaction to the cover has been a joy at all the events I have done with Fred so far – audiences have literally been hypnotized by Fred’s cheeky grin and mischievous eyes!

BWB: Will we see Fred pop up again?

SL: I'm hoping so yes!  Myself, the designer of the book Strawberrie Donnelly and editor Sophie Cashell have had numerous chats about other adventures Fred could embark on; underwater or sky-based spreads would be wonderful, or maybe Stanley could take centre stage and Fred could do the chasing next time! And of course you can see me, Fred (AND Stanley) around the UK at various literary festivals, books shops and school events throughout the year!

Huge thanks to Steven and Olivia for a wonderful interview. Let's Find Fred is available to buy at all good bookshops right now!

Let's Find Fred

Let's Find Fred

By Steve Lenton
Published by Scholastic

Let's Find Fred is the latest new book by Steve Lenton; with a novelty cover (moving eyes), a fun pull out finale, children will enjoy trying to spot this adventure seeking, black and white panda, named Fred.

It's night time at the Garden City Zoo but Fred is not ready for bed, he wants to have an adventure. With Stanley the zookeeper, hot on his heels, Fred makes his escape. Fred enjoys a visit to the City Market, a concert, trying ice cream but he's still not ready for bed time. With Stanley catching up, Fred makes a dash into the Pand-A-Maze, where there is a lot of panda distractions for the zookeeper. The funfair is the next stop for this cheeky panda and trying clouds of candy floss. Finally Stanley chases Fred into the biggest panda party, the Panda-Monium Ball! There are pandas everywhere but we finally catch up to Fred. What an adventure for this fun loving panda.

Aimed at ages 3+, children will enjoy trying to spot this naughty Panda but watch out, there's lots of distracting black and white, panda shapes which will make spotting Fred that little bit harder. The pages are filled with brightly coloured illustrations and cute pandas everywhere. With lots of different scenes, there's so much going on that you will end up spotting different things each time you read it.

Let's Find Fred is out and about in all good book shops, for more info, please click here.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Baby Touch and Feel I Love You

Baby Touch and Feel
I Love You

Published by DK Press
I Love You is the latest addition to the Baby Touch and Feel series by DK Press. A cute little board book, ideal for little fingers. There are a variety of touchy-feely areas to explore; soft felt teddy paws, shimmery hearts, furry puppies and rabbits among other textured surfaces. This little book explores love and friendship, perfect for Valentine's Day. 

This book has a nice feel to it, with a padded cover and a small format, it is a great size for little people to explore. It has bright and clear photography, and features a heart shaped mirror at the end for your little sweetheart! Not just for Valentine's, this would make a lovely gift to help little ones explore love, feelings and textures.

For more information, click here.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Skills for Starting school: Sharing is Caring + Please and Thank You

Skills for Starting school:
Sharing is Caring +
Please and Thank You

Published by DK Press

DK Press have a new fun and educational series: Get Ready for School, which offers a range of picture, board and activity books for your pre-school aged child. You can also find a free downloadable activity pack which introduces skills from numbers to colours here. They feature three friendly and educational characters: Bip, Bop and Boo, which you can find in Please and Thank You and Sharing is Caring, two board books within the series.

Please and Thank You features Bip, Bop and Boo at the park where they are having a picnic. Bip offers his friends a cookie each but they forget to say the all important magic words. A nice little book that offers discussion questions which will encourage children to take an active role in the story.  It can also open up a discussion with your child about manners and how the characters may be feeling. 

Sharing is Caring features Boo building a castle out of bricks when Bip asks to play with him, Boo says no but when his castle falls down he is ready to ask Boo and Bop for help, which results in them all agreeing that it's much more fun to share and play together. 
These are great little books for teaching social and personal skills and will be a great help in getting children ready for starting school.
 I read these with Aoife, who will be starting nursery school in June, so these were a great way to start talking about feelings and manners. Aoife did ask for a biscuit while reading Please and Thank You but remembered to say please so how could I say no.. Available late February.    

Monday, 6 February 2017

Also An Octopus

Also An Octopus

By Maggie Tokuda-Hall & Benji Davies
Published by Walker Books

An imaginative debut from Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrations from Benji Davies, the illustrator of The Storm Whale and Grandad's Island, comes a metafictive story about ... how to build a story!

First, a story needs a character. So why not a ukulele-playing octopus? And since this is a story, the octopus has to want something – maybe it dreams of travelling to faraway galaxies in a purple spaceship. But every character needs an obstacle to overcome, and when the octopus sets out to build its own spaceship out of glue, umbrellas, glitter and waffles ... well, he doesn't have much luck. Could there be another character that could help? Debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall sets up a funny, smart and warm-hearted story all about storytelling, then hands the baton to imaginative readers, who will be more than prepared to take it away.

Also An Octopus is a very original and imaginative picture book. The illustrations are what you'd expect from Benji Davies, full of character and quirkiness. I especially loved the octopus - not an animal you'd usually see pop up in a picture book and here he is portrayed as a lovable and fun character.

Maggie's text is full of humour and gives readers an insight into how stories come about and how they develop. I enjoyed the metaphor of building a story from anything that could enter your mind - the more bonkers the better! A great bedtime read and one to get slightly older readers thinking about how to tell stories of their own!

Also An Octopus is available to buy now from all good bookshops and online from the Walker books website.

Follow the Trail... Minibeasts & Baby Dinosaurs

Follow the Trail...
Minibeasts & Baby Dinosaurs

Published by DK Press
DK will be releasing a lovely collection of board books aimed at ages 1 plus, later this month. The Follow the Trail range includes Trucks, Farm, Wild Animals, Baby Animals, Minibeasts and Baby Dinosaurs; a series that aims to make early learning fun and exciting for curious pre-schoolers.

These tactile books offer peepholes for little fingers, colourful and textured finger trails, big and colourful illustrations which are paired with simple facts. There are also trails that teach children about shapes, matching and sorting.

Follow the Trail Minibeasts focuses on four insects that can be found in your garden or in the park. I showed these two books to my daughter Aoife, who at 2 and a half, got stuck right in exploring the trails and pointing out what she could find. Aoife keeps returning to these books as there are lots of areas to talk about and explore.
Follow the Trail Baby Dinosaurs has a similar layout to Minibeasts and focusses on four different dinosaurs, it also offers the breakdown of the name which will help children and adults pronounce their names correctly. Children are asked to follow the trails to help the baby dinosaurs find their mummy or daddy.

Aoife was a big fan of the baby dinosaurs, so this book is definitely not just for boys. She enjoyed pointing out the shapes which had objects inside them such as an egg and a volcano which led to questions being asked. These were definitely a hit with her.

These are books that can be brought out again and again as your toddler grows more curious; from just looking at the bright pictures and feeling the textured surfaces to learning the shapes and instructions, and finding out more about the interesting subjects. These books can be explored over and over again.

For more info, click here.