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January 6, 2014
The day I first met Malorie Blackman

It was nearly twenty years ago now, but I vividly remember the day I first met Malorie Blackman.

Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
April 10, 2012

Here in RHCP editorial, we are hugely passionate – not just about the books we publish ourselves – but about children’s books of all varieties. We are unapologetic fans, and our obsessions range far and wide. So here in ‘Ask the Editor’, we put a discussion question to our merry band of editors to try and give some insight into the books they love the most. Feel free to add your own answers in the comments!

WHICH BOOK WOULD YOU RESCUE FROM A BURNING BUILDING?

Annie: I think the book I would rescue from a burning building would have to be the old collection of Hans Andersen tales that my grandmother gave me when I was about seven. Some of the stories scared the living daylights out of me, but they made a big impression on me, and the scenes they conjured up have stayed in my head ever since.

Ruth: When I was an undergraduate I wrote my dissertation comparing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy to Paradise Lost (not sure I’d be able to do that anymore – or even understand what I wrote!). But anyway, I own very worn, heavily annotated editions of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass that I spent hours of time pouring over and highlighting etc. One day I want to go back through them so I’d rescue those from a burning building. I also have a twenty-eight-year-old copy of Dogger in my ‘memory box’, which sits in my parents’ attic – that’s very special too.

 

Sue: Anything I could beat the flames out with! Sorry. Impossible to carry a whole bookcase with me and I just couldn’t pick one . . . but if I had to, it would be one unlikely to be easily replaced so I’d go for Ballygullion by Lynn Doyle – amazing Irish short stories that was one of my dad’s favourite ever books and I now have his copy.

Emil: There are a few contenders. One is a book that I only own, honest, because it’s so hilarious and I can’t quite believe it exists: The Barry Manilow Scrapbook. It would be a shame to burn this priceless anthropological record of the 70s, in all its sartorial and particularly tonsorial glory. Less frivolously, there’s a slightly foxed edition of The Good Citizen’s Alphabet by Bertrand Russell, which was left to me by a witch (long story) and is signed by the great man. You can read it here with the kind permission of the publisher. But I think it’d have to be my dad’s book, A Melon for Ecstasy, which is perhaps the greatest novel ever written about a man who is romantically involved with a pine tree.

 

Lauren: The book I would save from a towering inferno, quite possibly to the detriment of close family members, is my 1943 first edition of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, with a soft back and watercolour illustrations. I adored this book as a child – my cousins are French, and the elder one, Julie, used to read this to me over and over again. I never tired of the drawing of the boa constrictor eating an elephant (hmm, bit dark) and I still think the words of the fox to the little prince, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye” are really very beautiful and wise.

Natalie: I have a beautiful Narnia collection with colour plates that my nana gave to me when I was about eight, and she’s not around any more, so maybe that. But thinking about it, it might have to be my old, tattered, dog-eared copy of The Story of Tracy Beaker. It looks like I treated it really badly but that’s only because I loved it so much and read it so many times! It’s packed away safely in a box at my dad’s house and I don’t think I could ever give it away.

 

Kirsten: I think this would have to be Birthday Letters, by Ted Hughes. I found my lovely, battered old copy in a charity shop some years ago, and it has stayed with me through thick and thin. I return to it often, and it never fails to make me weep (which perhaps seems more like a reason to leave it in a burning building!) I love it dearly.  

Pete: Mine is slightly egotistical as it’s a book I helped to write myself, but the book I would rescue is the Roald Dahl Diary that I wrote in for every day of 1992. I was only 9 years old at the time, so the entries aren’t exactly riveting. January 1st reads:

Today I was exsisted [sic] because it was 1992. I went to nans [sic] and played with Gick [a troublingly-named childhood teddy] and with the post office [a play-set with pretend TV licenses and real working scales for weighing packages!].

But the diary had a specially written introduction from Roald Dahl for each month of the year (later republished separately as “My Year”) where he talked about his own childhood experiences writing in a diary he kept hidden in a tin at the top of tree so as to keep it out of the hands of his nosy mother. I was so inspired by it that I wrote my diary not only for every day that year, but for every day up until April 1998. When I look at the book now, I’m reminded how writing and authors have inspired me throughout my life, and of why I’m still here doing what I do.

Parul: I wonder if I’m unusual in the book industry, as I don’t really get attached to books. Certainly, there are books I love; some I will read time and time again, like the Larsson Trilogy and the Harry Potter series. There are books which I may not re-read but still, they remain in my head: like Un Lun Dun (China Mieville) and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon). But for me the attachment I have to books are in the stories and the imagination, not the manifestation of the physical book itself.

Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
September 16, 2011

Here in RHCB editorial, we are hugely passionate – not just about the books we publish ourselves – but about children’s books of all varieties. We are unapologetic fans, and our obsessions range far and wide. So here in ‘Ask the Editor’, we put a discussion question to our merry band of editors to try and give some insight into the books they love the most. Feel free to add your own answers in the comments!

WHICH CHILDREN’S BOOK CHARACTER WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO MEET?

Becky: No question. Bartimaeus, the brilliant djinni from the wonderful books by Jonathan Stroud. His devilish sense of humour, tremendous appetite for mischief, and of course his impressive powers make him just about the most attractive character you could imagine. I would love to hang out with him – although of course I wouldn’t be able to trust him for a second, and would never, EVER, step outside the circle…

Parul: I remember being in awe of Pippi Longstocking. I was quite a good girl when I was 9-years-old so she would have been a perfect antidote to my politeness.

Pete:  I would like to meet Grimalkin from Joseph Delaney’s “Spook’s: I Am Grimalkin.” True, she is an incredibly dangerous and half-mad witch assassin. True, she removes the thumbs of her victims and hangs them on a necklace around her throat in order to increase her own dark magic powers. True, if I went against her she would almost certainly drown me, or hang me, or stab me through the heart, or break my neck and drain my blood and remove my bones, or possibly all of the above. But on the off chance that I could somehow manage to get her on my side, then nobody in this office would ever dare take my favourite Doctor Who mug from my desk again.

 

Kirsten: Nancy Drew, legendary teenage detective!

Lauren: I would like to meet Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking. We’d hang out with her monkey Mr. Nilsson, cheek some adults, practice lifting horses up into the air one-handed and set sail for the South Seas.

Ruth: Surely any bookworm would say Jo from Little Women? I so wanted to have a room in the attic where I could read and eat apples when I was younger! Nowadays, I’d have to say Clarice Bean – totally stroppy and irreverent, my kind of girl!

 

Andrea: At one time it might have been the entire Babysitters Club – Dawn and Claudia being my personal favourites (oh, the fashion choices – the leggings, the mismatched parrot earrings and the fluro t-shirts with billions of belts!). We would have been such pals. Now, maybe it’s one of the many brilliant and feisty heroines I’ve met through children’s books: Philip Pullman’s Lyra, Katniss Everdeen or Mia from If I Stay. Or maybe it would be Hermione Granger – I feel like maybe I have a mini Hermione inside me sometimes: WINGARDIAM LEVIOSA!

Sue: All three girls from Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes – I’d love to know if Pauline, Petrova and Posy really did follow their dreams. Is Posy now dancing with Carlos Acosta? Is Pauline a ‘grande dame’ of the stage? And has Petrova forged her way in a more adventurous fashion as a top pilot or whatever…?  More recently, I’d love to meet Bartimaeus from Jonathan’s Stroud fantasy series – what tales he could tell!

Natalie: I wanted to be Sarah from A Little Princess when I was younger, so probably her – I really wanted to live in her cosy little attic room (ignoring the fact that it was freezing and she had no food . . .) and then triumph over the evil Miss Minchin. Or Albus Dumbledore, so I could ask him where my Hogwarts letter was.

Emil: Jack, for horticulture tips. (I secured some magic beans at great expense from a bloke in the pub, but having planted them, no joy as yet.)

Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
September 1, 2011

Today we publish the brilliant new Alfie book by Shirley Hughes: All About Alfie. It’s packed with new stories and poems, complete with secret dens and snowy skies and all the characters that Alfie fans know and love. Visit Alfie’s very own website for more information, exclusives and activity sheet downloads.  

And we are also celebrating 30 years of Alfie! Who would believe that Alfie is 30 years old? But the perennial preschooler continues to delight us. One of the reasons he does, I think, is because we see ourselves in him and his adventures. His problems and stories have happened to us all, young and old. And in this spirit, and to celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I would ask the Editorial team to share stories of their own Alfie days, starting with me:

 Andrea Gets in First

“Yes, I locked the door on my mum, leaving her outside, and me in. I think I was quite happy with this new arrangement to start off with, until it dawned on me that it was time for ‘You and Me’, and I didn’t know how to change the channel on the television. Happiness turned to tears and tantrums, as my mum tried to both console me, and get me to open the door. Dennis the fireman from down the road was called in (this is a very Alfie touch, though not a milkman in this instance) and I was persuaded to post the key through the letter box and all was well. And just so you can have a visual, here I am with my Annie Rose curls, missing front tooth and Machivellian plots (I have constructed some kind of wool web behind me in the first picture, and in the second I am showing an Alfie-like determination, for something?).”

 Carmen’s Feet

“One of my earliest memories is reading Alfie’s Feet with my Dad and I thought Alfie was having so much fun splashing around in the puddles that my dad bought me a shiny new pair of yellow wellies which I deliberately put on the wrong feet in hilarious Alfie fashion!”

 Pete Wins a Prize

[Editor’s note: This is a tale of 12-year old Pete, but I include a picture of Alfie-age Pete, as he is very much channelling the Alfie look!]

“I did an Alfie Wins a Prize when I entered a local cookery competition. They had a category for children, but that was too easy for me, so I entered the grown-ups’ competition against all the local grannies! In the story Alfie wins third prize, and as usual proves what a lovely little chap he is by swapping his prize with Louise to cheer her up. Alas, I am no Alfie – I came in first, beating a group of ladies whose collective cooking experience amounted to several centuries. I did not ask, nor would I have cared, if any of them were disappointed with their prizes. I won £20 and I spent it all on Red Dwarf videos. For myself. So there.”

 

Becky Also Wins a Prize

My school had a fancy dress competition every year. We used to get all dressed up, parade down Clapham high street and all around  the common. When I was six I dressed up as Queen Bee. I do remember gazing with slight envy at some of the incredibly fancy, shop-bought costumes of the bigger boys and girls. But to my delight, it was my costume, handmade with lots of love by my Gran and my Mum that won first prize! I was so excited – the first time I had won anything.  Unlike Alfie, I didn’t share or swap my prize. I have a funny feeling that Robin Hood and Friar Tuck (aka my brothers) ran off with those sweets…”

An Evening at Emil’s

[Editor’s Note: I think Emil displays tendencies of Alfie’s strong-willed friend Bernard here.]

“There was a time at primary school when I felt that I needed to make some Vows. The first was that I would never again, under any circumstances, wear a bobble hat (kept to this day). The second was that I was going to change my name to Wilbur, after a character in Rosemary Wells’ book Morris’s Disappearing Bag. So armed with a note from my mum I relayed this to my teacher at the Spinney Infants school, who very sweetly made an actual announcement in assembly that henceforth I was Wilbur. And I stayed Wilbur for a good week or so, until I forgot all about it. Actually I guess technically this means I’m still Wilbur?

I was kind of passive-aggressive as a kid. Looking back on my early adventures they all seemed to involve notes of some kind, possibly because I was a bit precocious literacy-wise and had become giddy with the power of the written word. My bedroom was directly above the kitchen, and often of an evening I used to pour out my frustrations on paper, attach the note to a piece of string, and dangle it out of my window so that it would hover in a ghostly manner outside until my parents noticed.”

 

 And an Evening at Sue’s

“At Alfie’s age I had loads and loads and loads of stuffed toys, all of which I wanted to sleep with, tucked in beside me at night. At one point I ended up with so many squashed around me that I thought they would fall out or get cold so I got out of bed to sleep underneath so my toys could have the nice warm bed…”

 Kirsten and the Mushroom Surprise

[Editor’s Note: Please don’t eat mushrooms unless you are absolutely sure that they are not poisonous or hallucinogenic!]

“When I was two years old, I loved eating mushrooms. One day, I went to the supermarket with my mum, and spent the whole time pestering her to let me eat some raw mushrooms from the vegetable section (a bit weird, I know). She wasn’t having any of it. So when we got back home, I decided to retaliate.

While my mum was unpacking the shopping, I went into our little garden and starting eating all the toadstools I could find. When she came out to check on me, I was apparently hallucinating and singing ‘Mary had a little lamb’ in the most peculiar way. I was immediately rushed to hospital, where they kept me overnight. When the doctors and scientists examined the toadstool samples that my mum had brought along with her, they discovered that it was a previously unknown species of mushroom! Now that I’m older, I like to think that they named it after me, and that there is now a ‘Kirsten fungus’ out there – listed as having ‘mild hallucinogenic properties’.”

 All About Louise

“The first photo is a typical afternoon in the Grosart household – me and my sister, much like Alfie and Annie Rose, loved painting. If you look closely, you can see that my sister is eating the paint and I seem to be quite amused by this. Like Alfie, my siblings and I also loved making things. In the second photo, which was taken one Christmas celebration in the eighties, I have made a crown in honour of the occasion (and am also wearing the Christmas cracker hat on top of the crown – I clearly loved hats). Every child wants to be like Alfie!”

 

Kelly Gives a Hand

“I can definitely remember birthday party anxiety from when I was small – just like Alfie in Alfie Gives a Hand. I didn’t have a comfort blanket that I insisted on carrying along but I always wanted my mum to stay at the beginning. I usually did warm up once the games started though.”

 Natalie Doesn’t Really Give a Hand

“When I was about six, I went into the kitchen to get a glass out of a cupboard that was a bit too high for me. I leaned up and, to try to reach the glass, I grabbed the shelf it was on. But I grabbed a little bit too vigorously, and pulled the entire cupboard down off the wall, smashing every single thing inside it.. which happened to include all the glassware that my parents got for their wedding. On the way to the floor the glasses also knocked my dad’s new, first-ever mobile phone off the kitchen table and smashed that too.”

Lauren and the Big School                                                            

“I was ridiculously attached to my toy penguin Papa when I was little, trailing him around with me everywhere. My mum was constantly having to stitch his arms (flippers?) back on after they fell off due to wear and tear! I’ve had him since the day I was born, and wouldn’t let him out of my sight – until my first primary school teacher bravely banned him. For such a small person, the force of my wrath was quite something, apparently. What a massive Bernard.”

and finally Fiction publisher, Annie Eaton:

 Annie’s Hat

“When I was Alfie’s age apparently I was very attached to a battered old cowboy hat and I wore it day and night. Mum says every morning I would fish it out from right down at the end of the bed. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it.”

 

Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
August 16, 2011

Here in RHCB editorial, we are hugely passionate – not just about the books we publish ourselves – but about children’s books of all varieties. We are unapologetic fans, and our obsessions range far and wide. So here in ‘Ask the Editor’, we put a discussion question to our merry band of editors to try and give some insight into the books they love the most. Feel free to add your own answers in the comments!

WHAT’S THE SCARIEST THING YOU REMEMBER FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK? (MINOR SPOILERS BELOW!)

Lauren: The child-eating giants of The BFG (Fleshlumpeater, Bloodbottler, Gizzardgulper et al) gave me proper Trogglehumpers. I also had a recurring nightmare as a child that I’d woken up to discover I looked like Mrs. Twit – Roald Dahl has a lot to answer for!

Kirsten: After becoming obsessed with ‘Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds’, I decided to pick up a ‘child-friendly’ abridged edition of Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Never have I been so traumatized. There I was, expecting jolly repartee and friendly swordplay (and, knowing my six-year-old self, probably talking animals). Instead there was just blood, murder, and then a bit more blood. I was so terrified I couldn’t finish the book.

Ruth: I remember feeling really tense through a lot of Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams. Not properly scared but so nervous for him! Also, my dad read us The Hobbit and I hated Gollum.

Parul: Actually, only a few years back, I read one of the Spook’s Apprentice books and it had a creature that crawled on the wall and then dropped onto an unsuspecting person in bed and chewed away at them. I read it late at night and was a bit freaked. 

  

Sue: Amazingly I have no real memory of being scared by characters in a children’s book – I think probably because my dad made up much scarier tales as bedtime stories that left me and my siblings terrified to sleep. But I do remember being terrified of Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist who I first met at the age of about 11. I especially felt sorry for his dog . . .

 

Becky: I don’t remember reading too many scary books when I was younger – but certainly a book that I read as an adult made a terrifying and lasting impression. Coraline by Neil Gaiman is chilling – the alternative world within the house, and the creepy warning from the mice sent shivers down my spine.  But it was the Other Mother, the one with buttons for eyes that completely unnerved me. An unforgettable read.

Natalie: I was always terrified by Room 13 by Robert Swindells – although I couldn’t help re-reading it a couple of times a year. I felt so trapped and panicked whenever I read it, and just couldn’t understand why the children in the story didn’t just ring their parents and beg them to come pick them up! Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence was also so frightening because I convinced myself that everything in it could really happen one day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. And Lindsey Barraclough’s Long Lankin is one of the eeriest books (and characters) I’ve ever come across, for children or for adults – a serious spine-chiller.

 

Hollie: When I was around 6 or 7, I read a Picture Book about a boy who watched so much TV that his eyes turned square (The Boy with Square Eyes by Juliet & Charles Snape). I was terrified and genuinely believed it could happen, so I read lots and lots of books instead. The front cover still makes me twitch.

Emil: Oooh, so many choices. The giant spiders in The Hobbit. Nicholas Fisk wrote excellent SF for children, including the very scary Grinny and the extremely eerie A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair. I remember vividly a book called Cry Vampire by Terrance Dicks (who also wrote a lot of the Doctor Who novelizations that I used to devour as a child). And there was a book by an Australian author called Lee Harding, Displaced Person, that made a strong impression on me – the teenage protagonist finds himself literally fading out of the world as people just stop noticing him. It was a scary, moving novel, and I’ve never met anyone else who’s read it.

Joe: One of the scariest things that I can remember is the shadow-beast from Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. Sparrowhawk is a wizard (attending a pre-Hogwarts wizard school!) who unleashes a terrifying monster that the reader gradually realises is actually a part of the wizard himself. The monster stalks the wizard, but is all the more frightening for being always just out of sight, suggested and hinted at but never quite there. The world and the characters are so believable and despite the fantasy, you really believe that there might be a scary part of yourself just itching to get out and turn on you. A stunning book!

Heather: There is a scene from Satoshi Kitamura’s ‘When Sheep Cannot Sleep’ that remains in my memory as one of the scariest in a children’s book. Woolly the sheep goes on a frightening evening excursion; he runs away from mysterious flashing lights in the sky before sheltering in a haunted looking house, where he finally finds himself in a corridor of many doors. The illustrations illuminate Woolly’s fear as he finds himself trapped in a semi-conscious world between dreams and reality.

  

Andrea: The scariest thing I remember was a picture from my child’s illustrated Bible – a hyper-realistic depiction of John the Baptist’s head on a plate. It was so terrifyingly gorey; I think his eyes were even open.

Pete: My memory of this is all mixed up with the 1990 film version by now, but the bald-headed witches in Roald Dahl’s The Witches always scared me as a kid. The part where they turn the poor boy Bruno into a mouse while screaming “This smelly brat, this filthy scum, this horrid little louse, vill very very soon become a lovely little MOUSE!” is terrifying. And as a male editorial assistant working on a fiction team full of women, I certainly know what it’s like to be picked on by a group of villainous old witc-[TEXT REDACTED BY SENIOR EDITORS]

 

Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
May 27, 2011

Here in RHCB editorial, we are hugely passionate – not just about the books we publish ourselves – but about children’s books of all varieties. We are unapologetic fans, and our obsessions range far and wide. So here in ‘Ask the Editor’, we put a discussion question to our merry band of editors to try and give some insight into the books they love the most. Feel free to add your own answers in the comments!

IF YOU COULD VISIT THE WORLD OF ANY CHILDREN’S BOOK, WHICH WOULD IT BE?

Kelly: The Edge, from Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell’s Edge Chronicles. I’ve always loved seeing Chris’s pictures bringing the world they create to life but to actually meet sky pirates and banderbears would be incredible. Plus I know how vast the world is, having read all ten books, so I know there’s a good few years’ worth of travelling to be had there.

Lauren: I would like to live in the Hundred Acre Wood playing Poohsticks with Tigger, learning wise things from Owl, grumpily shooting the breeze with Eeyore, and taking pot-shots at any Disney execs spotted looming through the trees with their cheque books.

Ruth: Well, I’d love to go back into time to the world of The Luxe (Anna Godbersen) – all those events, dresses and charming rich bachelors, ah! And to be honest the gossip would keep me entertained for hours! However, in total contrast, if I wasn’t an editor I would love to be an astronaut, so the world of Lucy and Stephen Hawking’s George Sequence would just be mind-blowing.

Emil: Ben Blathwayt’s Little Red Train books. An idyllic version of the British countryside, where every journey ends in a trip to the seaside!

Andrea: This is very difficult! I’m torn between Prince Edward Island – land of Anne of Green Gables which is described through Anne’s amazing imagination so vividly that every pond becomes a Lake of Shining Waters – and hanging out with Cassandra from I Capture the Castle, one of the loveliest characters ever written. But there’s also a lot of good food in children’s books, and it’s pretty hard to resist a Famous Five style picnic, or Milly-Molly-Mandy’s lid potatoes . . .

Annie: I would love to go back to Edwardian times and be part of the gang in The Phoenix and the Carpet. Or the Famous Five of course. All those lashings of ginger beer.

Pete: I love London, and I’ve always wanted to travel back in time and see what it looked like in the 19th Century. The next best thing might be to visit the alternate London of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. The books give a real sense of the city, and I’d love to be able to visit a London where magicians and djinn roam the streets, where the Crystal Palace still stands, and where you might spot Bartimaeus himself on a stakeout at Seven Dials!

Parul: I love the Hobbits’ shire in the Lord of the Rings with its sweet blossoming trees and food-loving people. If I got bored, I’d move in with the Elves.

Becky: That’s almost impossible to answer! But I think it would have to be a small village near the coast, one that’s full of indomitable Gauls who still hold out against the Roman invaders. I loved Asterix as a child, and always wanted to join in their adventures, get into scraps with the Romans, and eat at the banquet that features at the end of every book. Come to think of it, I still do…

Sophie: Definitely the wonderfully cosy fantasy world of The Little White Horse – all scarlet geraniums and checked tablecloths.

Sue: No doubt about it – I want to go to Discworld and meet Tiffany Aching, Granny Weatherwax and, of course, the Nac Mac Feegle. I had a dream a few years ago in which a Nac Mac Feegle was sitting on my car bonnet making a very rude sign at other motorists so I feel certain my subconscious has a huge urge for me to meet these little pictsies.  Maybe they are real, after all? (and if I’m not allowed Discworld, well, it has to be Narnia . . .)

Jess: It’s a HUGE cliché, but if someone told me that my Hogwarts admission letter had actually been lost in the post for the past 13 years, and Professor McGonagall had kept my space open for me to attend as a mature student, I would be one very happy witch…

Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
Random House Children's Publishers | One of the UK’s largest children’s publishers
April 20, 2011

Here in RHCB editorial, we are hugely passionate – not just about the books we publish ourselves – but about children’s books of all varieties. We are unapologetic fans, and our obsessions range far and wide. So here in ‘Ask the Editor’, we put a discussion question to our merry band of editors to try and give some insight into the books they love the most. Feel free to add your own answers in the comments!

WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST BOOK MEMORY?

Sophie: Being absolutely terrified by the ‘dark, dark woods’ in the NODDY books – seriously scary! I still have a problem with woods to this day.

Kelly: I can vividly remember the book corner at my playschool, with cushions and those shallow shelves where you can see the books face-out. I would spend time there every morning looking at books on my own before going back for official story-time later.

Lauren: Having a picture book (title of which is lost to the mists of time) read to me by my mum, the last sentence of which was “Little did he know!”. I totally misunderstood this last line, and for ages thought “Little Diddy No” was the name of a character, confusingly introduced on the last page of the book and given absolutely no further embellishment. Mum says I used to get quite indignant about this, which she found amusing and so didn’t enlighten me.

Pete: My dad reading me Postman Pat picture books at bedtime. I made him read the same one every night until he got so bored that he started skipping pages to finish more quickly. I obviously knew the books off by heart, as I would always notice this and insist that he read “the whole thing from the start”. My dad would then think it hilarious to read every word of the imprint page, from the publisher’s address to the impression numbers! Maybe it subconsciously started my interest in the world of publishing.

Natalie: My headmaster at first school, Mr Rowan, used to read aloud from the folk tale ‘The Hairy Toe’ in assemblies. He did it about once a month but we loved it – it was such a creepy, tense story, and we all knew the words off by heart so we used to chant along. Mr Rowan would read very quietly until the final line of the book, and then he’d yell YOU’VE GOT IT! at the top of his voice – it used to make us scream every time and then cry laughing.

Sue: Janet and John readers, of course.  ‘John has the ball’, ‘The dog has the ball’ etc etc.  Surprisingly, I found these enormously entertaining as I learned to read. But my first absolute favourite that I picked out for myself and read oodles of times was a Famous Five-ish detective story called The Twins and the Smugglers. Oh, how I longed to be a carefree twin living out my life mostly on beaches or on ponies . . . (subsequent life has, of course, included both so perhaps this book was very inspirational. Not sure I’ve met any smugglers yet, though.)

Annie: At school, and I must have been between 5 and 7 because it was in the ‘baby class’ playground (the 6/7 year olds used to lean over the fence and shout ‘baby class’ at the 5 year-olds – great insult), we had a student monitor called Simon who read us the whole of The Magician’s Nephew in the lunch breaks. We used to gather around him, all standing up, as he strolled gently around the playground, reading it out. Absolute magic, and I devoured the rest of the CSLewis titles. The Christian stuff was totally lost on me until I was about 30…

Ruth: All my earliest book memories – and I imagine those of my younger sisters – are all linked to Shirley Hughes. She was a constant presence in our house. Dogger, Alfie Gets in First and Moving Molly were my favourites.

Becky: I can remember sitting on my gran’s lap as she read out loud from A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. I always loved the poem “Disobedience” and can clearly see us whispering the last verse, then shouting out the last line together “You must never go down to the end of the town if you don’t go down with me”. Thirty years on, I now read the book to her, and it’s just as much fun as it ever was.

Emil: I think it was probably a book called My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes, which came out the year I was born. I can still remember bits of it, thirty-odd years later. Either that or Jan Pieńkowski’s Haunted House. I remember very vividly opening and closing the book to make whatever it was that was hiding in that crate saw its way out… it probably wasn’t a cat.

Jess: My parents thought they had a child prodigy on their hands when they found me reading Moonbeam on a Cat’s Ear by Marie-Louise Gay aloud to myself, aged two… Turns out I had just memorized all the words and which pages they fell on – but that doesn’t stop my dad grumbling, ‘Should’ve known then…’ whenever anyone comments on my career choice (as he loans me another tenner).

Parul: I will never forget the first book I bought. I was given $5 NZ for pocket money when I was 6 years old and I spent ages choosing a book from a catalogue at school. I choose a book about a boy who longs for a new lunchbox and still remember his wish to the night sky ‘Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight’. I thought it was some sort of magic and would use it when I wished for something to happen.

Andrea: Maybe Each Peach Pear Plum, which I could probably still recite for you now…

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