Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures

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The MOOsic Makers by Heather Pindar and Barbara Bakos

There’s nothing more exciting than coming home to an envelope full of books! Even more exciting is a book cover that is full of sound and rhythm. Many of my own stories feature sound as an integral part of the story, so I was curious to see what came next.

The story starts quite quietly… Joni is sat on her farmhouse porch, just listening. There’s a stillness that draws the reader in to explore the double spread until you spot the riotous MOO-grass music rising up from the barn. What is going on?

Joni is surrounded by talented music making animals so when disaster strikes her loyal gang set out to save the day.

Along the way they discover fame but no fortune, the perils of being something you really don’t want to be and the nature of true friendship.

Although, on the surface, this story appears quite straightforward, there are several themes which would make it a very useful story for any classroom. Nutmeg and Celery, the talented duo are lured by the scent of fame, but have to become DisCOW musicians instead.  Georgie Smarm, music industry baddie extraordinaire, tells the girls that their preferred checked shirts and straw hats are for boys and instead they must wear pink and glitter! Joni is a capable, cowgirl boot wearing character too. Discussing these characters would make a very interesting starting point for conversations about gender, image and personal preferences.

Music clearly plays a large part in this tale. Nutmeg plays a mandolin, which is not a typical instrument in most children’s musical repertoire and certainly not mine! I recently went to hear the Ukelele orchestra of Great Britain playing and had been surprised at the range of ukuleles that exist. A quick google indicates that there are specific bluegrass mandolins and I’d guess Nutmeg’s instrument is sporting a lovely traditional sunburst colour scheme. You can read a bit about the mandolin here. Listening to fast, finger picked mandolin would be an exciting way to introduce the story and create a sense of the western environment it is set in.

I also felt that this story would be of value to read with slightly older children. The perils of forgetting your friends and your true self, in pursuit of quick fame and glory, might not be so evident for younger listeners but children who have been steeped in the overnight success seen on X Factor or Britain’s’ Got Talent, could find some insight into the dangers of being seduced by all that glitters.

The story is riotously chock-ful of puns, which will have children laughing and adults groaning in equal measures. Some may need explaining but all will add to the pleasure of the read. The good news is that Joni and the MOOsic Makers save the day and the evil impresario gets his comeuppance. It said so in the New MOOsical Express!

The MOOsic Makers

©Chez l’abeille  2019

Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book by Maverick Books. I was not recompensed for this review and all views are my own.





From paper to published: How to stand out in the slush pile!

Getting your carefully crafted manuscript into the hands of a welcoming publisher is the dream of all picture book writers so this SCBWI workshop was just the ticket! Led by Ellie Brough, Assistant Editor at Maverick, we worked through the many pitfalls and pratfalls of submitting and how to get out of the slush pile.

Maverick is one of those wonderful publishers in the world of children’s books who actually accept unsolicited manuscripts, thus getting us swiftly over hurdle number one – where to send your story. However, as Ellie reminded us, there are still many hurdles; writers with agents already, the time of year or just simply the 3-4k submissions Maverick receive each year!

Still, undaunted by the long odds we considered what would make our submissions stand out and sometimes even jump the queue. Rather marvellously, Maverick read all submissions in order of arrival but sometimes a title will just scream “Read Me!” and get noticed sooner. Ellie gave the wonderful “Strictly No Crocs” by Heather Pindar as a good example. As Steve Bicknell, the founder of Maverick says, “Title is king”. Titles are my downfall so I’m going to have to work on this!

Ellie Brough from Maverick

So what do we need to do? Continue reading


Picture books and the power of poo!

SCBWI workshop 2015 Jude EvansJust what makes a picture book exceptional? The  illustrators and authors who gathered together at the most recent SCBWI picture book workshop were all very keen to find out. Fortunately we had Jude Evans, Associate Publisher, of Little Tiger Press on hand to share her accumulated wisdom and industry insider knowledge about what makes a picture book stand out from the crowd.

Jude gave us a very detailed overview of the UK picture book market today. In the current top fifty titles Julia Donaldson accounts for a whopping eighteen of them, books with licensed characters such as Disney films took up eight spots and the classics or discounted titles had a further six titles apiece.  It was very clear from this industry list that the market place for debut authors, or even just the less well-known, is very, very crowded indeed. Jude also included what she grouped as “scatological books” in the top fifty. Apparently you still can’t beat dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

So just how do you get someone to even look at your masterwork? Examining the current trends and fashions of children’s publishing can be a good starting point. As more and more agents and publishers use social media, this can be a great way to find out what they are all getting excited about. Even observing what booksellers are making a song and dance about can tune you in to what’s hot and what’s not in the picture book world. Currently illustrated non-fiction is flying off the shelves, after the publication of books such as Shackleton’s Journey. Alternatively you could opt to focus on the perennial themes that just seem to run and run. Yup. You guessed it: dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo. Continue reading

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100 years of Ladybird books!

Ladybird book of the weather coverOne of my most prized books is my copy of “The Ladybird Book of The Weather”, purchased on 21st November 1970 for 2/6d. I know this because my mum has carefully inked most of this information into the frontispiece. From this much loved book I learnt how to use the Beaufort scale, the inner secrets of a Stevenson Screen and many other marvellous weather related facts besides.

So how exciting was it to discover an exhibition, currently on at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, featuring many original artworks from what is probably the golden age of Ladybird, between the late 50’s and 70’s. In fact – my Ladybird reading era.

Fortunately, the day I chose to travel down to the coat was the sunniest day this week – a perfect day to be beside the seaside. Bexhill itself seems to be made up of quite a few charity shops, but the Pavilion is definitely worth a visit. Standing on the seafront in full sunshine the building positively glows. The result of a national architectural competition, the Pavilion was opened in 1935. It has had many uses over the decades, but was extensively restored and regenerated in 2005 as a contemporary art gallery.

The exhibition of Ladybird art works was fascinating. First produced in an era of paper rationing, they were cleverly designed to fit precisely on one sheet of paper when printed. Aimed primarily at educating and informing children and their parents, many skilled and talented commercial artists were commissioned to create the images which fill their 24 picture pages. The focus on good design and detail in the illustrations was very important to the overall look of the books and I would argue that this was a significant factor in their success.

As I walked around the exhibits, there was a very strong sense of being “at home” . These books formed such a large part of my childhood and being amongst them brought a sense of comfort and well-being that was hard to explain. They do reflect a world that is very different to today; one that was measured and orderly, where gender roles were more precise and where the society they depicted reflected the British sense of Empire and it’s place in the social order. Yet the quality of the artists work is hard to fault.

The exhibition video is worth a watch and explores this in more detail.

More of the glorious images on display in the exhibition can be found here.

The exhibition runs  from Sat 24 Jan 2015- Sun 10 May 2015 and best of all, it’s free!


©Chez l’abeille 2015



Book display at Southbank centre


Rejection. It’s hard!

So I’ve written 2 children’s books.

Rejection #1

16/10/12 Thank you for your recent email and the material which we have now considered.  As a small agency we take on very few of the many writers who approach us each year and, having reviewed your work, we do not feel we can effectively represent you. We trust you will understand that the sheer volume of submissions to this office unfortunately prevents us from providing you with a more detailed and personal response. May we take this opportunity to wish you success with another agent or publisher.

With all best wishes,

…and so on through Rejection#2 and Rejection #3

BUT then we have:

Number 4 Dec 2013 – A very nice rejection! Hurrah.

 I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting so very long for a reply – thanks for being so patient. You may have been signed up by another agent by now! I liked *********** very much, but in the end I’m going to have to pass this time, I’m afraid. Although I’m sure you’re right that it fulfils a need among children, I’m not confident that I could place it with a publisher at the moment.  ******** I think is a bit too scary!

I do think your writing has lots of potential though, so please feel free to keep in touch and send me more stories in future. 

Apologies again for the long wait!

Best wishes, Anne

So there’s hope!! Currently waiting on no. 5…watch this space.