Tag Archives: Kim Donovan Author

Removing the Barriers to Reading

Kim Donovan AuthorRemoving the Barriers to Reading is my top pick for The Bath Children’s Literature Festival this year. The panel includes publisher Barrington Stoke, Dyslexia Action and author Tony Bradman. Hopefully, there will be lots of advice for children who find reading difficult. See also these two guest blogs on getting reluctant readers reading. Article 1 & Article 2.

In our house, the barriers to my eleven-year-old son reading are Xbox, electronic games on other devices such as phones and ipads, youtube videos, old episodes of Top Gear and the Dragon Ball Z television series which are available on demand… He draws manga characters, plays fantasy card duels, creates his own code for computer games and paints Games Workshop space marines. I’d need a removal van to take it all away! Then there’s always rugby, judo, meeting friends at the swimming pool and football in the park. For him, reading is nowhere near as interesting as doing any of these things – he always has something better to do. But I see the value of him reading. I know lots of boys who are like him, so here are a few of my tried-and-tested tips.

    • Create time for reading. Establish a time of day when all the electronics are turned off and you read. It helps to read together – try leading by example. Sometimes my son and I sit on the sofa together with our own books, other times we take it in turns to read aloud chapters of his novel.
    • Go with their interests. I buy him tech magazines, which he devours without him even realising he’s reading. As Dragon Ball is primarily a Japanese manga series, he has a number of these books piled up at the bottom of his bed. Games Workshop also sells books relating to the characters he paints. Graphic novels are often a big hit with boys too. I’m a great believer that it doesn’t matter what kids read as long as they’re reading and the content is age appropriate. I never look at the quality of the writing!
    • A poem a day/week. Poetry is great because it’s super quick to read and it exposes kids to rich, expressive language. Every weekend, we take it in turns to pick a poem from A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility.
    • Don’t give up. I’m always looking for the book my son won’t want to put down. I’ve just ordered Mortal Engines for him. I know he can suddenly become totally absorbed in a book – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was one of those stories. Sadly, the series I wrote for him – St Viper’s School for Super Villains – is now too young for him, but he loved it at the time.  Remember, a reluctant reader isn’t always one.
    • Keep bedtime electronics free. Other than e-readers just have books in the bedroom.
    • Try going on holiday where there’s no Wi-Fi or phone signal. We did it this year and it was good for all of us!

Thanks for reading my blog.

Kim Donovan

cropped-electrikinc_logo3_colour.png

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

International Women’s Day blog. Famous female writers who died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

In western society it’s easy to think that giving birth is safe, yet according to the World Health Organisation, about 800 women worldwide still die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth every day. In the UK, you don’t have to travel too far back in time to find maternal death was also a very real risk for women here. This blog pays tribute to three famous writers who have become immortal through their books, but tragically died in this way.

international women's day 1Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) was a founding feminist who argued for equality and for women to be educated on equal terms as men. She wrote a number of books, but is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.”

 She was years ahead of her time — it took a century for the feminist movement to really take hold — and incredibly brave to write it.  Her book continues to be cited and inspires women even today.

Wollstonecraft died at the age of thirty-eight, ten days after giving birth to a baby girl. Some believe she’d developed septicaemia (an overwhelming, inflammatory immune response to infection). Her daughter would go on to become an extraordinary writer herself, as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

Isabella Beeton (1836 – 1856) will always be remembered as Mrs Beeton. Her famous book of Household Management international women's day 2contained numerous cookery recipes, advice on running a Victorian Household and documented the essential qualities for the mistress of the house.

“When a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed. On the contrary, if she remain in bed till a late hour, then the domestics, who, as we have before observed, invariably partake somewhat of their mistress’s character, will surely become sluggards.”

 Oh dear, there is no hope for me! I imagine Mrs Beeton as a prim, mature woman, but Isabella actually died at the young age of 28. The day after she gave birth to her fourth child she too developed a postpartum infection and died a week later.

international women's day 3Charlotte Brontë (1816 – 1855) needs no introduction. Her novel, Jane Eyre, had immediate success and continues to be one of the nation’s favourites. My copy is falling apart from being read so many times.

“Why are you silent, Jane?”

I was experiencing an ordeal: a hand of fiery iron grasped my vitals. Terrible moment: full of struggle, blackness, burning! Not a human being that ever lived could wish to be loved better than I was loved; and him who thus loved me I absolutely worshipped: and I must renounce love and idol. One drear word comprised my intolerable duty — “Depart!”

“Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise — ‘I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.’”

“Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours.”

Eventually Jane Eyre does get her happy ending — “Reader, I married him.” — but the author’s own story didn’t end so well. She became pregnant shortly after getting married and suffered from extreme nausea and vomiting. Within nine months of her wedding she was dead. Her death certificates states ‘phthisis’ (tuberculosis) as the cause of death, but over the years a different medical opinion has formed. It seems she probably had hyperemesis gravidarum (persistent severe vomiting leading to weight loss and dehydration) or a combination of both diagnoses.  In The Brontës, Juliet Barker writes, “her small frame and thinness would lead to rapid and severe deterioration, and that by fifteen weeks [of pregnancy] she would have been so worn and emaciated by the constant vomiting which in itself would have caused poisoning of her body fluids as her kidneys failed, that the death certificate verdict of phthisis, general wasting, would have been appropriate.”

If Charlotte had been born 200 years later she would probably have been hospitalised, given intravenous fluids and anti-sickness medication, and may well have lived to tell the tale. That’s, of course, if she was born in a country with good maternity care and she had access to it.

Sadly, these brilliant authors died needlessly because medical science and healthcare was not as advanced as it is today. I think it also says something about women’s place in society at a time when they had no rights and no vote; there wasn’t an incentive for political parties to fight their corner. Issues that were important to them were simply not addressed. Worldwide, women are still dying needlessly. The World Health Organisation say unavailable, inaccessible, unaffordable or poor-quality care is to blame. They believe that women should not die in pregnancy or childbirth. I do too.

Kim Donovan

This blog was first published on my own site. kimdonovanauthor.wordpress.com

Here are some links to organisations working to reduce maternal death:

http://www.carmma.org/page/why-carmma

http://www.halftheskymovement.org/campaigns/maternal-mortality

http://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/reducing_mm.pdf

http://www.unfpa.org/maternal-health

cropped-electrikinc_logo3_colour.png

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Exciting Ways to Celebrate World Book Day

WBD2014_lime_leftWorld Book Day is a celebration of books and reading, which is marked in over one hundred countries. At Electrik Inc we love to see children enjoying stories and we’re often invited into schools on this day to read from our books, facilitate creative writing workshops and generally join in with the fun! Here are some ideas from Kim and Kay if you’re looking for inspiration. Happy World Book Day!

Kim Donovan

Produce a School Anthology. This World Book Day I’ll be helping to launch a very special anthology of short stories and poems written by two hundred pupils from King Edward’s Junior School, Bath. My little publishing nest, Squawk Books, is the publisher of this amazing book and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s called Knock Your Socks Off! On World Book Day the children will take centre stage, reading their stories to friends and family, answering questions and, of course, signing books!

Guess the Book. Here is a clever way to get children thinking creatively about their favourite books. Pupils choose a story and tell the class about it using a box decorated in the theme of the book and filled with clues, such as a bottle with a label tied round the neck with the words “Drink Me” for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Bedtime Stories for Reception, Year 1 & 2. Why not hold a bedtime event in the school hall during the early evening? Make the room comfortable with gym mats, project glowing stars onto the ceiling and ask the children to bring in duvets and pillows. Give them an early midnight feast and then settle the boys and girls down for a story-telling session. Libraries could do their own version of Night in the Museum with guest appearances from book characters for a fun bedtime event!

Hold a book quiz. Stage your own show like University Challenge with teams representing a class or house, starter questions – “on the buzzer” – and bonus questions for the team who answered the question correctly. The questions might relate to books that have been studied by the whole class, contemporary and classic children’s literature or featured authors. For the picture round you could show the pupils cover illustrations and ask them to name the titles of the books. The music round could be on stories that have been turned into films – their music tracks. Don’t forget to say, “It’s goodbye from X (losing side), it’s goodbye from Y (winning side) and it’s goodbye from me.” I found the University Challenge theme tune on televisiontunes.com.

Kay Leitch

Take Two Books
Consider a fun afternoon event, where children take two books to school with them. One is their absolute favourite, which they would never swap – and they must tell everyone why they love it so much.

The second is a book they like but are happy to swap, and they must tell everyone why, and put it into a pile for ‘swaps’. There should be a pile of books the children want to swap, so everyone can take something from this pile, if they want.

To make this even more interesting, invite along a local author, who can bring their own published book to talk about and do a Q&A session on. They can bring a book they want to swap, too, and tell everyone why.

Write A Story With Your Favourite Character
Take your favourite character of all time and write a story with them in it. This doesn’t have to be from the same kind of story the character is from. In fact, it’s more fun if you put them in a completely different kind of story. Imagine the Gruffalo as a policeman… or a dentist … what would that be like? A bit like fanzine stuff. Have fun.

Murder Mystery Day
All pupils who want to act a part, put their names into a hat. Pull six (or more) pupils’ names out: one is the victim; one is the murderer; one is the detective; one is the detective’s not-very-bright sidekick. Two (or more) are witnesses who tell conflicting stories…

Just for starters: you could write a script where it becomes clear that the murderer and one of the witnesses know each other and are covering for each other. The murderer keeps changing his or her story and it becomes clear they don’t have an alibi. The not-very-bright sidekick keeps missing clues. That kind of thing makes it fun for everyone.

Anyone in the participating class can ask questions.

If you want to share what you’ll be doing on World Book Day, or if you have any ideas you think children would love, use our Comments box and let us know. It would be great to hear from you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Children's Publishing, Kay Leitch, Kim Donovan, Parents and Teachers, Stories for stockings

Stretching my Wings

This year I’ll be flying a little further away from my virtual home at Electrik Inc, our collective of children’s writers involved in Professional Independent Publishing.  I’ll still be very much part of the group and will continue to write books under that logo and support Janine, Jenny and Kay with their stories. But I’m also ready for other/new challenges and have two exciting projects in progress.

SQUAWK - RED (2)My own little publishing nest, Squawk Books, is about to become the proud publisher of a whole school anthology, which I’ve been helping King Edward’s Junior School to write. Knock Your Socks Off! is the title the children picked for their book of short stories, poems and illustrations, and the name couldn’t be more apt. The book certainly does for isbn agencywhat it says on the tin! I also had my socks knocked off by the way the children grasped the opportunity to be published authors with both hands. I saw pupils working in the library before school on their stories, a reluctant writer not only produce a brilliantly funny piece but start planning a whole series for his character, and children discussing story ideas and helping each other in the playground. It’s been a lot of work but incredibly rewarding and good fun. I can’t wait for the launch on World Book Day!

My second solo project is to write and publish my first book for adult readers. One of the reasons I chose ‘the third way’, where a writer independently publishes some books and uses a traditional publisher for others, is that I thought it would allow me greater creative freedom to write what I wanted to write. So do expect different things from me! The story I’m currently working on, called Misdirection, is inspired by my writer friends at Electrik Inc. I’ll tell you more about the book another time, but it involves suffragette - bath in timea special group of real-life suffragettes who unconditionally supported each other in their common goal to win women the right to vote. I’ve had unconditional support from Electrik Inc with publishing the St Viper’s series and it is a privilege to work on their books too. Although I’m flying solo for this adult book I know that just below me my fellow inklings are stretching out a safety net – just in case.

electrikinc2

Kim Donovan

http://kimdonovanauthor.wordpress.com

electrikincTM
 

Leave a comment

Filed under children's books, Children's Publishing, Kim Donovan, Parents and Teachers, Publishing

Super Stories for Stockings

As special advisors to the children’s book department at the North Pole, we have been campaigning for a story to be included in every child’s stocking. I know a nine-year-old has written to Father Christmas asking for St Viper’s School for Super Villains because I’ve been asked by an elf to write a personal message inside the cover. I’ve seen Kay’s book Treasure This  on the present conveyor belt too. Here are some other brilliant stories we’ve suggested to the book-buying elf team.

Inkling ideas for bookworms

Kim Donovan, author of the series St Viper’s School for Super Villains.

Every Christmas Eve my son and I dust off Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs and read it curled up together in bed. The book is in comic-strip format and has well over a hundred exquisite illustrations, showing the reader everything Father Christmas does from the moment he wakes up on December 24th to going to bed on Christmas Day: making cheese sandwiches for the journey, filling the sledge with presents, riding through fog, tripping over a cat in someone’s house. We also see him being a grumpy old man, which is a nice change from the standard jolly Father Christmas character. The book is full of humour, the illustrations are delightful and my son seems to appreciate the story more with each passing year. A special 40th edition copy has just been published.  As Father Christmas says, “Happy Blooming Christmas to you, too!”

Janine Amos at  janineamos.com

There are so many wonderful children’s books to choose from. . .

For children who like fairy tales, I’d recommend The Snow Queen, vividly retold for confident readers by Sarah Lowes, Barefoot Books. This little version of the Hans Christian Anderson tale about friendship and courage is illustrated by Miss Clara, a French artist with a gift for the magical. There are other books in the series – The Princess and the Pea and The Twelve Dancing Princesses  − all perfect reading for a cold winter’s night.

For something much more contemporary, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s novel Millions is a miracle of a story: what happens when millions of banknotes fall from a train right into the arms of Damian Cunningham, Year 5. This fast-paced adventure, told in Damian’s voice, is both funny and sad; it will have you laughing out loud and crying too, and I can guarantee that after reading it you’ll never see the school Nativity Play in quite the same way again. Millions really will please anyone from 8 to 80 – Cottrell Boyce’s “dream-reader” is an adult and child reading together, one of the very best ways to spend Christmas I reckon.

Jenny Landor

Some stories have a magical quality you can’t quite put your finger on … For a rip-roaring yarn which adds that X factor to Xmas, look no further. Geraldine McCaughrean, one of the most acclaimed and original storytellers for children, gives Christmas a real twist in Forever X, a novel for ages 10+ which will enchant and surprise grown-up readers too.

When the Shepherd family car breaks down at the start of their summer holiday, they are forced to stay in the nearest B and B, a bizarre place where December 25th happens every day of the year. Despite Holly, the resident elf, and grandfather F-C’s efforts to fulfill wishes, the drama here isn’t all tinsel and candy, especially when the police and the mysterious Mr Angel arrive…

Funny, moving and brilliantly plotted, the story explores family relationships and gets to the bottom of what Christmas is really about. Read about Geraldine’s books here and check out another favourite, The White Darkness, a gripping and romantic survival adventure which, by contrast, has a decidedly wintry setting. Peter Pan in Scarlet, the official sequel to J M Barrie’s original, will delight too.

Kay Leitch, author of Treasure This

If you happen to see Santa sitting chuckling over a book before Christmas, he’s probably reading ”Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket (the first in the “All The Wrong Questions” series). And if you like your mysteries to have quirky humour, wit and a sense of the ridiculous, you’ll make sure this book finds its way into your stocking too. This series has all the usual fun, twists and turns we’ve come to expect from Lemony Snicket, along with more curious characters such as the enigmatic Ellington Feint, librarian Dashiell Qwerty, and Moxie Mallahan the journalist. Lemony’s secret assignment centres around finding a statue of the Bombinating Beast, presumed stolen… but perhaps not actually stolen…  and as usual Lemony shows himself to be much smarter than his chaperone, S. Theodora Markson, who is the best there is… or perhaps not…

A nice mystery, neatly tied up at the end… or maybe not…  which means you’ll probably want to read the other three in the series. Great fun and a delight to read. Just remember – the map is not the territory!

Another favourite of mine is One Boy and His Dog by Eva Ibbotson. A bit of a modern classic, this is simply but beautifully written and, sadly, was the last one Eva Ibbotson completed before her death. Hal has always wanted a dog and his overly house-proud parents humour him by hiring one – Fleck – for a weekend, thinking Hal will tire of the idea. As anyone who has ever loved an animal knows, you don’t tire of them in a few days – you fall more deeply in love. Hal is devastated when Fleck is taken away and returned to Easy Pets Rental. This is the story of how he runs away and tries to get Fleck back, with the help of his friend Pippa and four other dogs. An emotional journey for characters and readers alike and a very satisfying read.

electrikincTM

1 Comment

Filed under Janine Amos, Jenny Landor, Kay Leitch, Kim Donovan

Super Books for Boys

Ch4altIn a time when children are reportedly reading less than ever, what we need are story heroes who stand together and take on the fight. In a small way, my young evil geniuses at St Viper’s School for Super Villains  have been helping to save the day — they’ll be annoyed when they find out I’ve been calling them heroes! Readers tell me they can devour a St Viper’s adventure in a weekend (they take me months to craft and the illustrator to draw) and I know there are other super stories out there, which make kids want to read.

So here’s a novel idea: writers telling their readership about other books they would enjoy. Their competition! I know what my 7 – 10 year-old readers want from a St Viper’s story: plots to take over the world, plenty of action, use of super powers, cool gadgets, friends working together, tongue-in-cheek phrases, lessons in diabolical laughing, a fast pace … and I’m knowledgeable about what else is available in stores. We don’t have to work alone, do we? The time has come to join forces. We strike for victory!

If you like St Viper’s  why not try:

Magic Ink  by Steve Cole

Twelve-year-old Stew Pender loves super heroes as much as his grandfather, a once famous comic book artist, and spends his time drawing comic characters including his alter ego: Stupendous Man. When his grandfather goes to the great comic convention in the sky, Stew and his family move into his home. On the first night in the house, Stew is woken by a cartoon pig in a top hat and cape. This isn’t a figment of his imagination. In the attic, where his grandfather used to draw, Stew finds a bottle of magic ink, which brings characters to life. But it’s not all fun and games, the creator of the Magic Ink — the wizard Merlin — is imprisoned in a cave in a land of myth and monsters and needs Stew to draw super heroes to save him.

I say: It’s quirky, great fun and the idea’s brilliant. Unlike St Viper’s and NERDS (see below), most of the action comes at the end of the book, but there are lots of hooks to keep readers turning the page and the pace is spot on. Steve Cole is the author of the well-known series Astrosaurs.  Magic Ink is suitable for 8+ readers.

Atomic. The Madness of Madame Malice  by Guy Bass. Issue 2.

Ten-year-old super-powered twins Jonny and Tommy Atomic have a super hero father and a super villain mother. They live with their father, Captain Atomic, Aunt Sandwich who’s a hamster and Dogday, a super-intelligent dog on an island in the sky. Their mother is an inmate at The Stronghold, a high-security super prison, until she breaks out to spend time with her darling boys. In this book, one of the twins is drawn to the dark side and the other the light as they spend quality time with her. She frees all the animals in the zoo, turns their school to rubble and rips the roof off Icy Joe’s Delectable Dairy Den so they can fly to the front of the ice-cream queue. The story follows a predictable path until the end where Bass reveals their mother’s true dark colours.

I say: The storyline is simple, the chapters are short and there are lots of illustrations to break up the text. The book would be enjoyed most by my younger and less confident readers (7+). It’s also a suitable story for parents to read aloud. In book 3, Bass hints that the boys will become their father’s sidekicks. I hope that as the series develops we’ll see the children use their super powers a lot more. But what I think my readers will really like about this book is that it’s part novel and part comic. They’ll also like the super cool cover!

NERDS. The Villain Virus  by Michael Buckley. Book 4.

Michael Buckley is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sisters Grimm series and NERDS is a great read, too. In this book, the villain population rockets as a virus sweeps the world, which makes people develop insane alter egos. Ordinary folk start planning the destruction of the planet, building doomsday devices, wearing ridiculous costumes and calling themselves the Terrible Tornado and such like. Kids from the NERDS secret spy society are given the job of saving the world. They are all underdogs and what’s nice is that their weaknesses are all turned into super strengths. For example, Wheezer — Matlida Choi — can fly and blast enemies with her asthma inhalers. In this story, Flinch takes centre stage. He’s hyperfast, hyperstrong and just plain hyper (a bit like my son!) and I must say hyperbrave to be shrunk and injected into the bottom of a master villain near the end of the book.

I say: the story is great fun and has lots of action — KA-POW! It feels like an animated cartoon, which is also how I see St Viper’s.  NERDS is suitable for 8 + readers.

Cartoon Kid  by Jeremy Strong. Title: Zombies.

All of Mr Butternut’s class are super heroes — that’s what he told them in their first lesson. There’s Cartoon Kid, Big Feet Pete, Exploding Girl and many others. They are actually ordinary children, but in moments of crisis the book changes to a comic strip and the kids transform into heroes in cool super suits. Afterwards, we find out what really happened to them. There are three short stories in this book. In the first story, Cartoon Kid (Casper) gets the pupils out of a tight spot with Masher McNee and his Monster Mob by scaring them with the dead bat he’d brought in for Show and Tell. In the second story, the school inspectors pay a visit and are not impressed with what they find until Mr Butternut saves the day with an inspiring history lesson. Then in the last story, Cartoon Kid tries to be a hero (even if this is out of self-interest) by painting his sister’s bedroom with a water blaster. The underlying message behind Cartoon Kid is that anyone can be a super hero.

I say: It’s exactly what I expect from a Jeremy Strong book. Cartoon Kid  is funny, age-appropriate and suitable for children who are starting to build confidence with reading. Readership: 7+.

Vordak the Incomprehensible. How to Grow Up and Rule the World.  Scott Seegert

A comical step-by-step guide on how to bring out your inner evil and take over the world. Instructions include: how to select a gut-wrenching evil name, communicating with your arch-nemesis, picking a super menace mask and buying the right super villain lair — typically, I chose the most expensive one: an orbiting space station!

I say: It’s a fun read and I can see my older readers liking it (10+). The book’s packed with illustrations, lists and diagrams (I loved the Many Faces of Evil) and it may appeal to reluctant boy readers. But it does cross the invisible line I set for St Viper’s.  Some parents may not like how Vordak the Incomprehensible encourages children to grow the evil that exists inside of them. This book will appeal to my younger readers but it really is for older kids who know not to take the advice seriously.

St Viper’s School for Super Villains

If you are not familiar with my series, you can read about it on this site or please visit Amazon for more reader reviews.  Thank you!
http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=st%20viper’s%20school%20for%20super%20villains&sprefix=St+Viper’s%2Caps%2C292&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Ast%20viper’s%20school%20for%20super%20villains

Kim Donovan

electrikincTM
 

1 Comment

Filed under Children's Publishing, Kim Donovan, Parents and Teachers

Despicable Me, Responsible Me

My eight-year-old evil genius was seriously unimpressed with one crucial thing that happened in the films Despicable Me and Megamind: the bad guys turned good.  So it would seem that Despicable Me 2, the sequel, is wrongly named – there is now nothing at all despicable about the main character. It is more Responsible Me. Gru, the villain turned hero of the original, is now a devoted dad who cross dresses as a pink fairy to save his daughter’s birthday party and makes jam instead of trying to take over the world.

‘This isn’t good,’ said evil son (now nine), shaking his head and looking like there was no hope for Gru. Clearly he likes his villains to stay evil.

I can see the same challenge ahead for my own book series, St Viper’s School for Super Villains. My young readers like the fact that the super villains in training are bad – it makes them exciting. But some of my more responsible, grown up readers would like to see all the characters become heroes in the end to send out the ‘proper’ message to children. Good always wins through in the end, right? Who shall I upset?

Fortunately in Despicable Me 2, the writers have made Gru’s life as a stay-at-home dad more interesting by having him recruited by the Anti-Villain League, which has its HQ in an underwater submarine. In places the film has the look and feel of The Incredibles.  The story has quirky scenes and cool gadgets. Gru’s secret agent partner, Lucy Wilde, has a lipstick taser.  Personally, I’d have made it a lip salve lightsaber, which when twisted grows into a long white laser beam (Hmmm … maybe a copyright issue). The Anti-Villain League have decided it takes a villain to know one and Gru’s first and only assignment is to find the master criminal who has stolen a lethal serum which when injected into a fluffy bunny does the equivalent of feeding a Mogwai after midnight.

The film is not amazing but it is certainly good family entertainment with lots of slapstick humour. The kids I saw in the cinema all looked engaged and laughed along with the story; as did evil son.  I saw no-one playing on their mum’s iphone (I did actually see this in a children’s theatre the day before). My super hero husband only nodded off for about five minutes (a record for a family movie) and there were several genuinely funny moments. Most of them involving the stars of the film, by some distance, who are the horde of little yellow ‘minions’.  If they ever get bored helping Gru load the washing machine, they will be welcomed with open arms to be villainous at St Viper’s School!

It may not be any more despicable than the first film, but the entertainment is just as good.  Take your young villains along for a laugh and even they won’t be too disappointed by the happy ending.

Kim

 
electrikincTM

Despicable me 29780957130005_cover.inddfinalViperCover(ebook)

Leave a comment

Filed under Kim Donovan, Parents and Teachers

Mission Possible

The last management consultancy job I undertook was to write a marketing strategy for a medium-size business (I have a Masters in Management). Then I started the MA in Writing for Children, fulfilling a long-held dream. For several years I forgot all about business strategy and management models and simply wrote whatever I felt like. Children’s fiction — lots of fantasy. It was wonderful! But now I find myself dusting off my old marketing folders for Electrik Inc members and also for me.

Before you can write a marketing strategy for an indie publisher you need a clear sense of what the business or individual is trying to achieve and their direction of travel. You need to look wider than the book that’s just been written. This would normally be documented as a mission statement. On Wikipedia it is described as:

“A statement of the purpose of a company, organisation or person, its reason for existing.

The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides the framework or context within which the company’s strategies are formulated.”

But as independent publishers do we need to be business focused? Having now published two books myself, I believe the answer is yes. From the moment I set up a limited company, I became accountable for the financial bottom line. I am responsible for paying the illustrator, graphic designer, ebook formatter, the printer . . . for their services in a timely manner. If I want to publish more books, the business has to generate enough income to fund these people again. I would also like to pay myself at some point in the near future — I am responsible for looking after my family, too. On Wiseinkblog.com they say that “the biggest and most devastating mistake indie authors make is that they forget to think like a publisher. A publisher understands its vision as a business and seeks manuscripts that reflect those values, principles, and its established criteria.” But the writer in me just wants to create, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want to be so market driven I stifle my imagination.

One of the main reasons I became an indie writer after the MA was that I wanted to have complete creative freedom to write what I wanted to write and not be pigeon-holed into producing a particular type of book for a publisher, just to meet their sales targets. However, I find the writer and independent publisher in me somewhat at odds. I have to find a way of balancing both sets of needs, as does a traditional publishing house.

I have looked at publishers’ mission statements for inspiration for my own one. What is interesting is how different they are and how those statements shape their business activities. Stripes Publishing said their mission is to “make books that children WANT to read, not because it’s good for them but because it’s fun!” While Scholastic said they are, “committed to providing quality, engaging educational content in digital and print formats for the next generation of learners, and their families and educators who guide them”. Clearly they will publish different types of books and market them in very different ways. On Random House’s website, they talk about “connecting  readers worldwide to adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction authors both familiar and new.” Here we have a real focus on distribution and marketing. I don’t believe my books will just be found by readers. Connecting readers with my stories is important to me as well.

Interestingly, publishers’ mission statements often leave out the need to be commercially successful, but it is usually documented elsewhere. For example, Egmont said:

Mission – stories are at the heart of all our activities at Egmont. Stories are our promise to the world. In short we bring stories to life.

Ambition – We are commercially minded. We are here to achieve results, both on the bottom line and within the media industry.

But I have decided to include the need to be commercially viable in my mission statement. I’m not vanity publishing or self-publishing on the cheap. Costs must be covered. Due to the low profit margin on my books, I’m also aware of the need to find different revenue streams. Note that Egmont’s focus is on bringing stories to life not books.  On their website, they said, ‘Our organisation can tell a world of stories in every medium imaginable’.  I also want to make story content that can be translated into other media. It would introduce new audiences to my work and help with funding.

The creative side of me is still not inspired though, so I’ve looked at other artistic organisations’ mission statements. One of my favourites was for the Cirque du Soleil:

“Cirque du Soleil is an international organization founded in Quebec and dedicated to the creation, production and performance of artistic works whose mission is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.”

Independent publishing is also partly a lifestyle choice for me and I want to include something about my personal situation in my statement.

I am wondering how different the electrik inc co-founders’ mission statements will be — I’ll be finding out soon! If they are different, our marketing strategies may vary greatly too. Here is mine:

To publish stories that excite me, and that I believe will be desirable to readers world-wide and be commercially viable. I will produce story content which has the potential not only to be a physical and electronic book, but which can be translated into other media, such as film, apps and computer games in order to reach new audiences and provide different revenue streams. I will work hard at making new readers aware of my stories, build the trust of my existing readers and form good relationships with suppliers and potential business partners. Because I also have a young family, and want to be a good mother, I will maintain a strict work/life balance.

This won’t stop me experimenting with my writing, but I will only publish stories through my company if they meet the requirements of my mission statement. In the future, I may find myself rejecting my own manuscript!

Kim Donovan

Author of St Viper’s School for Super Villains.

electrikincTM

Leave a comment

Filed under Children's Publishing, Kim Donovan, Publishing, Tips for Authors and Illustrators

St Viper’s School for Super Villains. Book 2.

9780957130005_cover.indd
THUD. THUD. THUD! The second book in the St Viper’s School for Super Villains series, The Big Bank Burglary, is breaking through the workshop doors. KRAKK! The ebook has escaped – it’s been spotted on Kindle and Smashwords. THUD! Any day now, the physical book will break out of the workshop too. A few lucky children have read pre-publication copies of The Big Bank Burglary. Their verdict: It’s even better than book 1. They want to know when they can have book 3!

The first ebook in the series, The Riotous Rocket Ship Robbery, is being offered at a promotional price of just 77 pence (0.99 USD) for readers to ‘give it a try’.

LinksThe Riotous Rocket Ship Robbery
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/155638
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=st+viper%27s+school+for+super+villains&sprefix=St+Viper%27s%2Cstripbooks%2C248

LinksThe Big Bank Burglary
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/293710
Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vipers-School-Villains-Burglary-ebook/dp/B00BRLVF00/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362905214&sr=1-6

Leave a comment

Filed under Children's Publishing, Kim Donovan, News and Events, Publishing

Improving Literacy

How do you encourage reluctant readers to want to read? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I know reluctant readers, I’ve met them on author visits to schools and some reviewers have said that my story, St Viper’s School for Super Villains, is a good book for them. But what actually makes a good book for a reluctant reader? Is there a list of gold star stories which will help them to find a love of reading and what advice is available for parents who are struggling with this issue?
I’ve been talking to teachers, librarians and parents about the topic and reviewing the literature. I was lucky enough to visit Stuart Boydell and his wonderful Year 2 class in 2012. He is such a great teacher! I’m very happy to be able to share with you my second guest blog, by Stuart, on improving literacy.

Improving literacy and nurturing an enjoyment of reading has been the aim of successive government policies for decades. The media is peppered with reports on international league tables and school SATS results with depressing statistics about the nation’s reading levels. In this atmosphere we are constantly being reminded that we need to all be doing more and more to help our children get on in an ever-changing world where communication is central to everything they will be doing in the future.

Understandably, there is a growing sense of urgency to see our children learning to read at an ever younger age. For some children, however, reading is a chore and holds little enjoyment. These children are increasingly being labelled as “reluctant readers”. I am sure we all know a child who somebody has labelled as a “reluctant reader”. Yet, I wonder how many of us have actually ever stopped to unpick the term? To be reluctant means to be hesitant, or uncertain. Uncertainty often develops from a lack of confidence or experience. If a child is reluctant to read, it is incumbent upon the child’s teachers and parents to try to ascertain what it is about reading that makes them reluctant. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. Helping our children to develop a love for reading takes a lot of time, a lot of patience and a huge dollop of encouragement. But, there are a few things we can all do that will encourage greater levels of engagement with books.

For many children, particularly boys, once they have learnt all the myriad skills needed to decode words accurately, it can be a lack of interest, motivation or stamina to read for prolonged periods of time that is holding them back from progressing in their reading. It certainly means reading novels and longer stories will be a huge challenge. Often, however, this is compensated for by an interest in non-fiction books which is, after all, still reading and a core component of school literacy. There will be, of course, a minority of children for whom even non-fiction books will present them with difficulties. But I am sure I won’t be risking my professionalism to be fairly sure that these children will happily read the many instructions and rules needed to understand how to download music or get to the next level of whatever digital game they are playing, Oh and scanning the TV guide looking for their favourite shows. The opportunities for reading go beyond fiction and books!

In an ideal world, we all want children to love story books and ultimately novels. Stories are how they make sense of the world around them and how they play out many of the ideas, wants and frustrations that occupy their minds. Consequently, publishers have been addressing the need to get more children involved in fiction for the last few years. There is a plethora of new and excellent authors out there tackling these issues with strong storylines, but often using language to describe plots and themes which appeal to today’s children.

Increasingly, children are enjoying stories that have strong, feisty characters and a huge amount of humour – think Jack Splat or Jack Stalwart. A simple search on the internet or a quick chat with your child’s teacher will point you in the right direction. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love Horrid Henry or Mr Stink. Check out the “Out of this World” series from Scholastic Books. There is a growing trend to produce illustrated books that mix animation with real-life images, which seem to really appeal to children. The texts can be a bit limited, but they are fictionalised stories and short enough to give some children the sense of achievement that they have just read a whole book.

The motivation and stamina to read longer texts is undoubtedly a bit of an uphill challenge for some – but it isn’t an insurmountable challenge. The best way to develop these skills, like all skills, is to develop it slowly over time. You can’t run the Bath half-marathon if you haven’t got out there and built up your stamina! Most children will have an area or topic of interest that you can tap into. Tap in sensitively and discreetly! Try to avoid the temptation to have an ‘action plan’ of how to maximise reading potential from your child’s interests – it is amazing how quickly they will change their interests! Work with them, taking the lead from them, as much as you can. Talk to them when their interests appear on TV or in articles in the press or magazines (shared reading is a common practice in schools and is a lovely way for parents to engage with their children). It is always worth remembering that there is nothing wrong in sharing the task of reading a book.

In short, don’t be unduly alarmed if your child seems to only be interested in short, sharp bite-sized reading material like non-fiction books or comics. These texts still require children to use many of the skills needed to be competent readers. Small, easily-digestible reading chunks are often enough for some children. As their interest grows so too will their desire to read more. And, with carefully chosen fiction that taps into their interests, they will soon be mixing their reading between fact and fiction in the much the same ways as we do.

To get yourself started check your local library and book stores for any reading competitions and lists of latest quality fiction out there or pop in to see your child’s teacher and find out what reading materials the schools use to engage the children. There are plenty of reading and writing competitions on-line that taps into all manner of subjects. Grab a cup of coffee and trawl through the different websites. Check out the World Book Day website as well as the ReadZone pages.

Stuart Boydell

King Edwards School, Bath

1 Comment

Filed under Children's Publishing, Guest Blogs, Literacy, Parents and Teachers