What a fantastic time I had at the Word Café Raglan writers and readers festival at the weekend. Books are so much fun! And so interesting. And so are the people who read and write them.
Around 35 people came along to the workshop that Andre Ngapo and I ran on getting started in writing for children. (Andre’s in the picture, doing his stuff on the day: I’ll tell you more about him in my next post.) That’s 35 avid writers and readers of children’s fiction all in one room. It was electric.
We had a wonderful discussion about what makes a great children’s book. It reminded me why I love them so much (and also of all the things I should be doing in my stories to make them even better). Everyone agreed that there needed to be:
- lots of humour – kids (and the adults reading with them) love to laugh
- a great story – that’s a beginning, a middle and an end, with lots of twists and turns in between
- plenty of action – whizz, pow, bang, uh-oh, ah-ha, ahhhhhhh…that sort of thing
- fabulous characters – no dull and boring please
- not too many messages – the aim is to entertain
- a pinch of amazing – that special something that makes a story zing.
Can you think of anymore?
Personally, I think there is one, and it’s a bit of a magic ingredient when it comes to stories. That something is poo.
In the 20-ish years that I have been writing stories, I have noticed that, along with humour, kids love poo. Look at all the books that have been written about it.
For starters, there’s Baa Baa Smart Sheep by talented New Zealand author and illustrator duo Mark and Rowan Sommerset, about a bored sheep that tricks his mates into eating, you guessed it, poo.
Then there’s the hilarious Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake (she’s not a new Zealand author, but her publisher Gecko Press is from here) about a little rabbit who will only say one thing: “Poo bum”. That is, until he gets eaten by a wolf, at which point he changes his tune to…read it and find out.
Then there’s Captain Underpants by Dave Pilky about all things to do with undies, wedgies and toilets (that’s got to count poo). And the all-time poo-topping favourite, The Little Mole who Knew it was None of his Business by Werner Holzwarth, about a mole that is poo-ed on (it lands on his head) and runs around trying to find the culprit (and encountering many and varied poos along the way). It even has a plop-up version!
That’s just off the top of my head (the list that is, not the poo). There’s no denying poo is popular.
So at the moment I am busy writing my own story about poo. I can’t give too much away, except to say that it’s a picture book and it’s about a dung beetle who spends his nights rolling endless little balls of poo (well dung, but it’s the same thing). Until one day he looks up and discovers…