Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari plus 7 ways to turn your (child’s) words and pictures into a book

Posted on | March 24, 2014 | 7 Comments

Do you think there is an age at which you’ll stop reading aloud to your children?

Have you already reached that stage?

Why might you keep reading to an older child who can already read themselves?

These are some of the questions I’ve been contemplating as part of a discussion, initiated by Clara Vulliamy, about reading to big kids. I’ve also been thinking about books which I think work especially well as read-alouds to big kids, kids who can read perfectly well themselves.

the-good-little-devil The absurd, magical, funny collection of tales which make up The Good Little Devil and Other Tales by Pierre Gripari, with illustrations by Puig Rosado, translated by Sophie Lewis are curious and intriguing, and make for especially interesting read-alouds to “big” kids.

Adults in these fairy tales are often foolish and fooled, children save the day, taking everything in their stride, there is great humour, wit and cheekiness, as well as the occasional tinge of gruesomeness. Plot twists and turns which might leave my grown-up sensibilities unsatisfied perfectly resemble stories children will tell themselves, with little psychology, minimal internal reason, but plenty of pace. Talking potatoes, giants and shoes in love, witches hiding in cupboards – this book is full of off-beat, silly and enjoyable stories.

But one of the reasons why I think this book works particularly well as a read-aloud, as a shared experience with an adult, is that the book – translated from the French – is full of richness and new horizons that are easier to explore with someone else along for the ride. The book is set in Paris, and has a distinctly Gallic flavour (from the illustration featuring a naked female chest, to a helter skelter ride through French history, via a strong, albeit often tongue-in-cheek Roman Catholic presence), and whilst the wackiness of the tales will be enjoyed by older children reading alone, I think lots that could be missed on a solo reading might be fruitfully explored and doubly enjoyed with a grown-up around.

Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

Each story in this collection has one or two drawings by the Spanish illustrator Puig Rosado

Perhaps this all sounds a bit worthy and educational, and that’s not at all what I’m aiming at. Rather, I’m thinking about to what extent books are enjoyed with or without (some) background knowledge. The language and style of writing in this book is perfect for say 9 year olds to read themselves, (and it clearly is enjoyed by lots of children, having been translated into 17 languages, with more than 1.5 million copies sold around the world) but my experience of it was that it was a book which became considerably enriched by sharing it.

Library Mice says: “The Good Little Devil and Other Tales is the one book I’d recommend to any child of any age, from any country.
Julia Eccleshare says: “Delightful trickery abounds in this collection of magical tales all of which are spiced with a sophisticated sense of humour and sharp wit.
The Independent says: “[For] Readers of all ages who appreciate a good story and a kooky sense of humour“.

A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices des Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

A view down rue Broca. No. 69 is on the left, just after Les Delices de Broca. Image taken from Google street view.

One aspect that my kids and I particularly enjoyed about The Good Little Devil and Other Tales was the discovery Gripari wrote these stories with children: Gripari created them along with kids who would sit with him outside his favourite cafe in Rue Broca, Paris in the 1960s. As Gripari writes in his afterword:

The stories in the collection were. thus, not written by Monsieur Pierre alone. They were improvised by him in collaboration with his listeners – and whoever has not worked in this way may struggle to imagine all that the children could contribute, from solid ideas to poetic discoveries and even dramatic situations, often surprisingly bold ones.

My kids were so excited by the idea that kids just liked them had helped a “real author” write a “real book”. It was an inspirational moment for them, and with a glint in their eyes they were soon asking how they could turn their stories into books.

And so it was I started to investigate ways to turn M and J’s own words and pictures, stories and illustrations into books of their own. I soon realised that I was not only finding ways to support my kids desire to write, I was also discovering ways to store all those creations of theirs I can’t bear to part with, as well as objects that could be turned into unique Christmas or birthday presents for family members.

Here are 7 ways to turn your child’s words and pictures into a book. Some of these approaches could also be used by classes or creative writing/art groups, to create publications that could be used for fundraising projects.

1. The slip-in book

displaybookStationers and chemists sell a variety of display books that can be adapted for self publication. Choose the size you want and simply slip in your pictures and text! Photo albums often offer greater variety of binding, and come in many more sizes, so these are useful if you want to include documents which aren’t a standard size. Display books typically have either 20 or 40 pockets, giving you 40 or 80 pages in total. Depending on whether there is a separate pocket for a title page, you can use stickers to give your book a title.

Advantages: Very easy to produce, and cheap. Minimal printing required, and no typesetting needed! Older children can make these books themselves as all it requires is for them to slip the original into the binding.
Disadvantages: Only one copy of each book can be made this way (unless you photocopy the originals).
Cost: £ (Display books in my local stationers started at £2.50, and photo albums at £5 for larger ones)
Ideal for: Storage solutions, one-off books.

2. Comb bound

Comb_bind_examplesMany local stationers offer a cheap and quick option using comb binding. For this option you’ll need to prepare your images and texts so that they can be printed (normally at A4/letter size, not at smaller or nonstandard sizes), and this may involved scanning images and a certain amount of typesetting. Once you’ve prepared your document, binding can be very quick (a matter of minutes), and because you’ve prepared an electronic copy you can bind as many copies as you’d like. It’s possible to buy coil binders (£100-£300) and this might be an effective option for schools.

Advantages: Cheap and quick, good for multiple copies.
Disadvantages: Can look a bit “cheap” (I think slip in books look more appealing; they can look like real hard back books), can be a little flimsy.
Cost: £ (comb binding at my local stationers – Rymans, for UK folk – started at £3.49 for 25 sheets, going up to £7.49 for 450 sheets). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
Ideal for: short runs of books at a low price

3. Glue bound

Image Source:  University of Birmingham Bindery

Image Source: University of Birmingham Bindery

Is there a university near you? If so, they will often have a binding service, aimed at students with dissertations, but open to the public too. If you’re looking for something which looks a little more like a paperback than a comb bound book, a glue bound book might be for you. Again, you’ll need to prepare your text and images so they can be printed, but once you’ve done that, you can print and bind as many copies as you like.

Glue binding (sometimes known as Thermo binding) is quick (often a while-you-wait) service, and you can often get your pages printed and bound at A5 size rather than A4 (making the finished product look more like a “real” book).

Advantages: Finished book can look quite a lot like a “real” book, which is very satisfying!
Disadvantages: Glue binding is considered “temporary” and so isn’t ideal for books which are going to be read very many times. Glue binding won’t work if you’ve very few pages in your book; most binders I’ve spoken to recommend an absolute minimum of 24 sides (12 pages).
Cost: ££ (glue binding at my local university was £7.50 per book). Don’t forget you’ll have to include printing costs too.
Ideal for: When you want a cheapish option which looks like a real book. University binderies are also often able to give some advice on typesetting and layout, so if you’re not confident about your skills in those areas.

4. Self published via Amazon’s CreateSpace

createsapceCreateSpace is a fairly easy tool to use to create paperback books. It has an extremely clear step by step process you can follow. There’s quite a variety of formats, both in terms of size, black and white printing or full colour, or cream paper instead of white (the former being better if you want to be dyslexia friendly, though this option is only available for black and white printing). To make your life much easier, you can download templates with much of the formatting done for you (for example margins set up correctly) – I’d definitely recommend doing this, though it isn’t a requirement. Once you’ve downloaded the template you’ll fill it in with your child’s writing and images, just like you would in a word processing document.

Both my kids have used the template and typed straight into it (rather than writing by hand and then me typing up their words). Adding images works just like it does in a word document, the only thing I’ve found you need to be careful of is making sure your images are of a high enough resolution. When you/your child has finished their document (perhaps with multiple stories and images) you need to upload your work as a print-ready .pdf, .doc, .docx, or .rt. CreateSpace then checks everything is ok before you go on to design your book cover.

You can order M's first book by clicking on this photo!

You can order M’s first book by clicking on this photo!

Advantages: The CreateSpace step-by-step guide is thorough and pretty easy to use. The resulting books have definitely had the “wow” factor with my kids.
Disadvantages: For a whole variety of ethical reasons you might not want to deal with Amazon. Everything is done online so you may want to think about personal details. M has used a pen name, so her real name doesn’t appear online, and if you were publishing work by children in a school you might want to consider only using children’s first names, especially if the name of the school also appears on the book you create (this is less of a concern if you don’t make the book available for the public to buy).
Cost: ££ The cost to create the book is nil. The final purchase price depends partly on page number and the use of colour (the more pages, and the use of colour make books more expensive), and whether you want to sell book at cost or to make a profit. M’s book (64 pages, 6″x9″, full colour) has a public cost price of £6.24 (although price is actually set in $). although as the author M can order copies at about half that price (though there are then postage costs to pay).
Ideal for: Producing books which really look like paperback books. Great if you want family and friends to be able to buy their own copy. You can also choose to publish your book in Kindle format.

insidequeneldasfirstbook

5. Self published via Lulu

lulu-logoI’ve yet to use Lulu, but Juliet Clare Bell has a really useful post on using Lulu in school over on Picture Book Den. Having taken a quick look at Lulu it looks quite similar to CreateSpace, although you can do hard covers, and A5 and A4 sized books (CreateSpace mostly does standard US Trade sizes, and doesn’t offer hardbacks.)

6. Using the Scholastic We Are Writers scheme

we-are-writersThe Scholastic We Are Writers scheme is specifically designed with schools in mind. It costs nothing for the school to set up and publish, thought each final book costs £5.99 (though you can sell it for more if you wish to make a profit) subject to a minimum order quantity of 50 books. A nice feature is that the books come with an introduction written by a leading children’s author (although this isn’t personalised to your school)

Advantages: You can run We Are Writers as part of your Scholastic Book Fair to earn Scholastic Rewards for your school.
Disadvantages: Not ideal if you just want a few copies of the book you create. Although the cover is full colour, the interior of the book is black and white only, so not ideal if you wish to include artwork. Books must contain a minimum of 50 pages.
Cost: ££
Ideal for: Schools wanting to create books which are text based.

7. Book Creator for iPad

bookcreator200pxThe Book Creator App makes ‘fixed layout’ e-books and is apparently very easy for kids to use to create books with lots of images. I’ve not used it, but here’s a series of case studies where it has been used in the classroom, and it would seem families at home could also easily use this app (free for your 1st book, then up to $4.99 for unlimited use).

My thanks to @candyliongirl and @sue_cowley for helpful suggestions when exploring options for creating books.

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of The Good Little Devil from the publishers.

Diversity in picture books and the astonishing case of the stolen stories

Posted on | March 20, 2014 | 8 Comments

“Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?”



Last weekend Walter Dean Myers, a previous National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (the US equivalent of the UK’s children’s laureate) wrote a thought-provoking article in the New York Times about the need for books for children’ and young people to truly reflect the world around them. In his piece he was focussing on the lack of black children and young adults in books written for them. But I think much of what he writes is more widely applicable, as was explored and demonstrated at last month’s Inclusive Minds ‘What About Me?’ day at Imagine Children’s Festival. Among many other activities that day there was a discussion of the “concept of normal” in books for children and young adults, and the importance of diversity, of showing all sorts of children, from all sorts of backgrounds, so that all children could read books and see themselves somehow reflected, included and valued.

In a beautiful case of serendipity, with Myers’ words in my head, I picked up stolenstoriesThe Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories by Anca Sandu (@anca_sandu).

Across a fairy tale kingdom, all stories have been stolen. The palace bookshelves are empty, the bookshop has no stock, and even cookery books and spell books are missing. A trio of detectives are called upon to crack the case and track down the culprit, but when they do so the explanation given for the thievery is heartbreaking:

“Well, I don’t know who I am,”
replied the thing. “I’ve found everyone
else in a book, but never me –
I thought if I kept looking
I might find a book with
my story in it.”

Children may not always be able to articulate it, but it is tremendously powerful when they find a story in which they recognise something of themselves, or something of what they could be. It’s the same for us grown ups, isn’t it?

Sandu’s gorgeous story ends positively with the detectives not only solving the case, but going further and taking steps to solve the source of the problem. Upbeat, witty, inventive, with compassion and creativity – there’s lots to love here.

The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories is tantalisingly ripe for use in literacy lessons, begging for teachers and children to work together to write their own stories. There are even jokes about enriched vocabulary, which will revitalise the drive for kids to use “wow” words or “power” words.

sandu

Sandu’s illustrations are shot with spring-like pastel hues and achieve a quite magical balance of clutter free, smooth spreads (enhanced by slightly glossy printing) sprinkled with humorous detail: See how many fairytale characters such as the Gingerbread man and Rapunzel you can find hidden in the illustrations.

Although I love The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories and would urge you to read it yourself, I also feel Sandu perhaps missed an opportunity in illustrating her story about the importance of readers seeing themselves somehow reflected in the books they read.

There are few female characters in this book; the humans that feature are all white, and the only inclusion of someone with any sort of disability is a pirate with an eye patch. Now I’m not saying that every book has to feature equal numbers of males and females, and different skin colours and people who use wheelchairs (for example), but I am observing that even in a book where your attention is drawn to the fact that readers like to find themselves in books (and thereby explicitly acknowledges the importance of reflecting society in its beautiful diversity – even in a fairy tale kingdom – in the stories we write and read) perhaps more could have been done to reach out to those kids who find it hard to find themselves in stories.

Inspired by the hunt for stories in Sandu’s book we set up our very own storybook treasure hunt. M and J were designated storybook detectives for the afternoon, after I had hidden books and clues around the house and garden.

detectives4

The clues were very simple and just asked the girls to work out a location based on a book I knew they knew. So, for example, I asked “Where was Pushka trapped until Lulu rescued him?” (The oven, see Pushka), “What gave Ulysses the squirrel his name?” (A vacuum cleaner, see Flora & Ulysses) and “What are you sorting out when you go DING DONG BANG or BING BONG CLANG?” (the kitchen pans, see All Join In).

detectives5

They then rushed around finding the books I’d hidden…

detectives3

detectives6

detectives1

And when they had solved the final clue we sat and read a selection of the books they’d found whilst munching on a treat:

detectives8

These are entirely edible storybooks made from no-cook fudge, coloured to match the pastels in The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories

detectives7

The recipe is super easy and brilliant for kids – just 3 ingredients (not including colouring or sprinkles), and all you need to do is mix everything together. The resulting “fudge” is lovely to play with, a little like edible playdoh. If you put it in the fridge for a little it firms up nicely and makes perfect books!

Whilst making the no-bake-fudge story books we listened to:

  • Every Great Detective by Sharon, Lois & Bram
  • Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler. Yep. Terrible. Brilliant. Will make (some) sense when you’ve read Sandu’s book!
  • The ultimate detective music – the Pink Panther theme!


  • Alongside reading The Astonishing Case of the Stolen Stories you could enjoy:

  • The Lost Happy Endings by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Jane Ray (you can read my review here)
  • This post by Pippa Goodhard about the gender disparity in anthropomorphic characters in children’s picture books (Thanks to @letterboxlib for helping me find this article)
  • Writing your own story! If you want to give your kids some prompts to help them create their own story, why not try these mini books Clara Vulliamy and I created for you to download.

  • What sort of stories are you currently hunting for?

    Disclosure:I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.

    Barbapapa’s New House – A book so good I’m featuring it for a SECOND time!

    Posted on | March 18, 2014 | 1 Comment

    barbapapasnewhousecoverBack in 2010 I chose a book very dear to my heart in celebration of my 100th post on Playing by the book: Barbapapa’s New House by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor. I am now feeling very old, as this will be my 770th post on Playing by the book and it is celebrating the fact that Barbapapa’s New House is back in print!

    To celebrate this fantastic occasion I was luxuriating in thinking about what I loved and love still about this book. And it is – appropriately enough – the houses, the homes of the barbapapas. 670 posts ago we made a dollshouse that looked like the new Barbabpapa home…

    Image taken from my old edition of Barbapapa's New House

    Image taken from my old edition of Barbapapa’s New House

    barba_house5

    …but this time I was dreaming about the old Barbapapa home, with its romantic turret and fairytale quality.

    Image taken from my old edition of Barbapapa's New House

    Image taken from my old edition of Barbapapa’s New House

    As a child I longed to live in a house like this one. And when I recently saw that none other than Judith Kerr had lived in something similar as a child (there’s a video of her visiting it here) I sighed wistfully.

    Our 1930s ex-council house isn’t nearly as magical, but to bring a bit of that old fashioned charm and beauty into our home I thought I’d create some colouring-in pages based on the Barbapapas gorgeous old house.

    colouringin1

    Click to download and print the colouring-in sheets:

  • Barbapapa street in its entirety (the houses are small, as this prints onto A4)

  • colouringinlarge

    For larger houses (2 per A4 sheet and much easier for little hands to colour in) use this series:

  • Barbapapa Street part 0
  • Barbapapa Street part 1
  • Barbapapa Street part 2
  • Barbapapa Street part 3
  • Barbapapa Street part 4
  • Barbapapa Street part 5

  • To make these colouring in sheets I used a series of images I found in the British Library’s Photostream on Flickr . Back in December last year the British Library released over 1 million images from 17th, 18th and 19th century books in their collection, making them available for anyone to use, remix and repurpose.

    I’ve previously blogged about some of the vintage children’s book illustrations I found but all the illustrations I used for the Barbapapa colouring in sheets come from Strassburg und seine Bauten. Herausgegeben vom Architekten- und Ingenieur-Verein für Elsass-Lothringen. Mit 655 Abbildungen in Text, etc, published in 1894 by Architekten- und Ingenieur-Verein für Elsass-Lothringen. I used the trace function in Inkscape to create clean(er) black and white images, and the same programme to put them together in order to create my dream street.

    colouringin

    Using felt glued to card and googly eyes I created a Barbapapa family and the girls then coloured in the street I’d created. Here’s the final result!

    colouredinbarbapapastreet1

    colouredinbarbapapastreet

    colouredinbarbapapastreet2

    I hope the Barbapapas capture your kids’ imagination just as much as they did mine – there’s so much to love about them from their inventiveness and thoughtfulness to their playfulness. You don’t need to read the books in any set order to enjoy them so if Barbapapas are new to you, please do seek out the gorgeous book that is Barbapapa’s New House and let me know what you think of it.

    Thanks got Damyanti and her family for trialling the colouring-in sheets.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Barbapapa’s New House from the publisher.

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