Monday, 2 May 2016

Picture Books To Get Children Talking, by Pippa Goodhart

Shouldn't children should sit and listen when a picture book is read to them?  That’s certainly how children’s books used to work.  Adults wrote, and perhaps read, them, and children received them, whole and pre-digested.  But we’ve got cleverer at the games that can be played between story book and child in more recent times.

We all know that the best picture books give opportunities for young children to join-in with the storytelling.  Think of the simple genius of Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo in which the animals aren’t named in the text, and it’s for the child to open the flap and name the camel that’s ‘too grumpy’ and the frog that’s ‘too jumpy’ and so on.  That clever leaving of story spaces to be filled by the child is a way to give small children a taste of being a story teller, and also gives them a feeling of ownership over the story; they’ve contributed vital parts to the whole story, and that’s powerful and fun!  See Polly Dunbar’s PBD blog on the subject

But here I want to consider picture books which get children doing a different kind of talking; talking about themselves.

I’ve recently become involved in the wonderful charity Home-Start. .   Home-Start works by training volunteer parents to pair-up with families with young children who are struggling for some reason.  Multiple births, post-natal depression, illness, bereavement, distance from friends ... there are multiple reasons why some struggle in that vital stage of family life.  Home-Start volunteers give whatever help the parent wants.  It may be taking the children out to give the parent a break, it might be listening to the parent and discussing things, it might be accompanying parent and child to family centre sessions, it might simply be doing the shopping or the washing up. But it will often involve talking with young children, or allowing time for the parent to have some ‘quality time’ with their child.   

When there’s a family crisis, one vital thing which can get lost or forgotten is communication with young children.  When people are preoccupied with problems, important ordinary conversations about everyday life might not happen.  A shared book can give an occasion for conversation between parents or other adult carers and children.  Even in families with no particularly pressing problems, we all know how you can ask a child what they did at school today, and the answer that comes back is often, “Nothing.”  Sometimes it simply takes too much energy, or things are too complex for a child to explain, so children don’t tell what might be bothering or exciting or puzzling them.  Of course parents might not be telling how they feel about things either.   

I don’t know how far the ‘Sally is Being Bullied’ (I’ve made that title up) sort of book does help a child who is being bullied.  It might, but my suspicion is that many children would react against something that labels their problem so bluntly.  Besides, a book of that kind often doesn’t have a story, or, if it does, it’s a story steered around an agenda rather than coming from character.  It won't be fun.

Since my ‘You Choose’ book, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, was published twelve years ago, I’ve heard again and again from parents and therapists how that book has proved a fun way to get children talking about themselves, as well as simply talking and improving their vocabularies.  With that in mind, I wrote my new book ‘What Will Danny Do Today?’, illustrated by Sam Usher. 

What Will Danny Do Today? follows a child, Danny, through a day, from getting up and deciding what to wear, off to school where lots of options offer themselves, to after school fun with Dad, and finally a choice of book for bedtime.  Each spread is busy with possibilities.  So, for example, when going to school, there are ordinary options, the child walking with Mum and a baby sibling in a pushchair, there are the more unusual options, going to school via a zip-wire from your bedroom window to the school entrance, and there is also, if you notice, the shy child, alone at the school gate and not sure about stepping through it.  Which of those does the child reader identify with?  Or wish that they were like that one?  This is a book that can be played purely for laughs.  Or it can be played straight.  Or it can prompt discussions about aliens or detectives or stealing or whether one should eat ice-cream for breakfast, or much more.    

Which other books to get children talking about themselves can you all recommend? 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Authors and money– Panama anyone? Moira Butterfield

A practical ‘author housekeeping’ blog today, folks. I’m assuming that, just for once, you don’t need my advice on rhythm, rhyme, teddy bear usage etc.

Instead I’d like to comment on the news this week.

“What?” I hear you say. “Has this blog changed tack? She’ll be mentioning celebrity shenanegins in a minute!”

Don’t worry. I have no intention of revealing the many secret shocking things I know about famous people. 

It was the Panama leaks that got me thinking, specifically the news that the Duchess of York had some sort of hidden offshore company to store the earnings of her ‘Little Red’ picture books. 
Er…I can’t remember them, to be honest, but nice to hear she made a few quid, if she did. 

(Aside - You never know with newspaper reports that celebs have earned loads from writing. Occasionally I’m told such reports might have a tiny touch of PR and therefore may not be entirely accurate…).  

But anyway, the papers went on to describe the Duchess’s finances as ‘chaotic’, so that is more proof that she’s a creative professional, surely! Bless.

But we really mustn’t be chaotic, people. Most writers are some way down the earning tree and therefore have to pay tax in the normal way, and that’s where I can help with some sage advice based on my own experience. You may spend your days having fabulous creative thoughts, but a small portion of your time must be spent getting your accounts up together if you earn money from writing. 

The UK tax people have been very interested in me over the years, and that’s good to know, isn’t it? As a self-employed author I may be a small-scale ‘sole trader’ but I could be stashing away the loot, after all. I've been tax investigated twice. On both occasions I had just had a baby and my earnings had plummeted. My accountant thought that might have triggered the investigations, though it's impossible to find out. Perhaps I was hiding earnings away in the nappy bin? They had a duty to find out. 

They could just as easily swing their never-sleeping eye over to you, and if you live in countries elsewhere I expect you have your own version of our UK tax friends.

For the first investigation I did not have investigation insurance, and it cost me £1,000 in accountancy fees. During a UK investigation you are interviewed more than once in a small room, like the sort of room you see on crime shows, and you need your accountant with you - and that costs money.

First piece of advice: In the UK you must get yourself investigation insurance if you have self-employment earnings. Check your position in other countries. You can get it from an accountant or, in the UK, from the Society of Authors if you are a member. Very weirdly, days after I wrote this blog I got an email from the SoA - if you want to go on their scheme for next year and you are a member you have to join by April 27th and it costs £12. 

Second piece of advice: You must keep your author earnings accounts up together and, unless you keep really accurate weekly records of all your incomings and outgoings, keep your work earnings separate from your personal spending accounts in some way. In the UK the tax investigator will want to look at work accounts going back five years, and all your personal accounts, too. If you can’t separate the two easily it gets complicated. I do keep mine entirely separate, and it was still complicated. You must account for every payment that has gone into your personal account going back five years. Unless you can prove otherwise it can be assumed to be work earnings you failed to declare. In other words, if Grandma once gave you a birthday cheque, for example, you may have to prove it came from her.  

If you live in other countries, you may not get these investigations, but I'm sure the advice still holds true - Keep your work accounts tidy. 

The thorough UK taxman did catch me breaking the rules.

In the first investigation he found one thing wrong - a packet of Opal Fruits and a £4.50 toy golf set on a petrol receipt that I had put through my accounts. I was rightly given a telling-off.

In the second investigation the tax lady said I’d claimed too much for travel because ‘writers don’t go out’, and though I’d recently written a series of round-Britain history books she wasn't having it so I was fined a small amount.  If I wanted to argue, she pointed out, she would take it upon herself to fine me for an assumed five years of over-claimed travel. So best not to. I can't tell you how much travel UK authors are actually allowed to put into their accounts, by the way. Nobody can tell you. It's up to a tax investigator to judge. Perhaps I should have offered mine an Opal Fruit...

So listen up. If you want to stay calm enough to write, you must keep evidence of your earnings in perfect order, ready for anyone to see. 

Don’t neglect this dull and tedious side of writing.

Unless your assets are offshore, in which case don't worry. You can do what the **** you like.   

Moira Butterfield 

Latest picture books: 
The 'Everybody Feels..." series by QED 
I Saw a Shark - Ginger Fox