Celebrating Old Friends

by Chris Routh (Chair, FCBG)

The FCBG annual conference provides a great opportunity to find out about upcoming publishing and discover new authors and illustrators. On Friday afternoon, exhibiting publishers will be racing against the clock with just three minutes each to tell us about the highlights of their year ahead. New names in publishing for children will be contributing throughout the weekend including Aisha Bushby, Sharon Dogar, Sam Hutchinson, Knights Of, Serena Patel and Cynthia So.

But the weekend also provides an opportunity to celebrate some old friends as well. And although we’re really looking forward to catching up with the likes of Frank Cottrell Boyce, Nick Sharratt and Jeremy Strong – we’re talking about four of our favourite book characters here! Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, Gerald the dancing giraffe, the Gruffalo and Horrid Henry all have birthdays this year – so bring on the cake!

Let’s start with Elmer, the oldest of the four, who we’ll be raising a glass to before the gala dinner on Saturday. The creation of David ‘Mr Benn‘ McKee, this endearing pachyderm has now been delighting us for 30 years! With the underlying message that it’s OK to be different, the books are popular around the world and have been translated into over 50 languages.

The annual Elmer Day takes place on 25th May and a new Party Pack has been designed for this special anniversary year. As well as some new publications, there will be three interactive, family art trails in Plymouth, Suffolk and Tyne and Wear featuring Elmer statues decorated by artists from around the country, each in aid of a local hospice charity. And an exhibition of McKee’s original artwork opens this month at Seven Stories. 

Long live Elmer!

Our gala dinner speaker is Francesca Simon, creator of our second birthday boy – Horrid Henry, who turns 25 this year, and as of 2019, 25 titles will have been published, plus all the other associated publications, an animated TV series and a film (2011). For me, Horrid Henry isn’t Horrid Henry, however, unless he’s drawn by Tony Ross. You can watch a film of Tony explaining how to draw the horrid boy on YouTube – and it’s all in the eyes! In January, Francesca and Tony were inducted into the Nielson Bestseller 21st Century Platinum Hall of Fame for sales of Horrid Henry. The series has been translated into 27 languages and the combined UK sales amount to over 10 million copies!

Before that, we’ll be celebrating our third well-loved book character’s 20th birthday with tea and cake on Friday.  Created by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the Gruffalo is that not-so-scary monster who encounters a fearless, quick-witted mouse on his way through the woods. Translated to stage and screen and the inspiration for Forestry Commission trails, sculptures and activities, this wonderful story will undoubtedly continue to capture young children’s imaginations for many years to come. We were delighted that Julia and the Gruffalo could join us at the Three Laureates event in November to help us celebrate our Golden Anniversary last year.

Like The Gruffalo, the success of Giraffes Can’t Dance, which also turns 20 this year, results from the combined work of a well-matched author and illustrator. The engaging rhyming text by Giles Andreae is bought to life by Guy Parker-Rees’s exuberant artwork. Watch the CBeebies Bedtime Story version on YouTube if you’re not familiar with this touching story about self-belief. ‘This was the first book in which I found a way of illustrating that I was happy with’, Guy has said. ‘It’s such a wonderfully life-affirming story.’ We are looking forward to hearing Guy speaking about this and his many other picture books at the conference on Saturday afternoon followed by (even more) celebratory tea and cake. 

For more information about the Opening Doors conference programme and details about how to book as a day or weekend delegate see http://www.fcbg.org.uk/conference/

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