Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Humdinger! - doing a picture book event for toddlers, by Malachy Doyle


One of the strange things about being a picture book writer is that you get asked to do loads of events, but because the vast majority are in schools, you’re rarely if ever actually reading your books to the age groups they’re written for.  I read picture books to everyone, from age 0 to 99, and they always seem to enjoy them - but it’s delightful to read them to real live pre-schoolers, for a change.

That’s why I love doing events like the one I did recently for the Humdinger Festival in Derry.  It’s a lovely little festival of children’s books run by Dog Ears – a new and exciting children's media company, and it was part of the year-long celebration of Derry as the first UK City of Culture. 

At the pre-planning stage the organisers asked me what age group I wanted to read to and I replied 3 to 8 (though I said if anyone wants to bring younger or older children, don’t turn them away – I know how complicated it can be, sorting out child cover in a busy family). 

I was delighted, therefore, to see lots of little ones turning up.  Now little ones, as we all know, have limited attention spans.  They can run about the place and yell and stuff...  If they like you, that have a propensity to edge closer and closer till they're crawling up your trouser leg...  They shout ‘I have a dog!’ and ‘I need a wee!’ 
So if they sit still and listen, or wriggle and listen, or join in and listen, even for a few minutes at a time, even just some of them, then you’re on a winner.  It’s chaos – but it’s wonderful.

Well in Derry, on Saturday morning, I did 45 minutes - and most of my audience were still there at the end.  I read them Well, A Crocodile Can – my first pop-up book - and they flapped their ears to keep cool, pretended to slurp a bathful of juice, stuck out their tongues to see whose was the longest, swung from trees like a monkey, stood on one foot while singing Twinkle Twinkle… 

I read One, Two, Three, O’Leary – while they joined in the songs (sort of), counted down the ten children falling out of bed, and all pretended to sleep at the end. (a rare moment’s peace)...

I read Too Noisy!, my most recent picture book, and when they all joined in, with great enthusiasm, on the HELP! spread, I was surprised the security guards (Derry’s still big on security guards) didn’t come rushing in...

I read Big Pig, and they all wanted Farmer Joe to let our eponymous hero, who'd saved him from the deep dark hole, live in his farmhouse with him , rather than be sent out to the field.  

 A little girl took the part of the boy in Hungry! Hungry! Hungry!  Guess who played the Grisly Ghastly Goblin?  You guessed it... 

And we finished, as we always do, with The Dancing Tiger.  Because it’s quiet.  And calm.  And sends them away with a warm glow (well, the Mums, anyway)  Two little girls came out to dance with my tiger.  (Though the first one went all shy on us and almost forgot how…)

So that was it.  Except they didn’t want to go yet, so we had to do one more story…

Oh, and while I was there I got to meet Meg Rosoff and Alex T. Smith, and to go and see the phenomenon that is Julia Donaldson, doing the second of her two sell-out shows that day in the Millenium Forum (a 900-seater auditorium).  Proof, if proof were needed, that Dog Ears have got it right - that there’s an enormous demand out there for happy, fun, children’s book events, even in a place without much of a history of such.

So congratulations to Dog Ears and the people of Derry.  What a Humdinger of a festival!  


  1. Sounds like you had a fantastic time, Malachy. I love reading for that age group too - they are so enthusiastic and cynicism-free! They have few boundaries which, as you say, comes out in their questions and comments, but also in the way they interact. I find they cuddle up to me and play with my hair or my shoes and sometimes even climb onto my lap! It's very sweet :)

  2. Sounds fab sorry I wasn't there to listen quietly in the corner and enjoy.

  3. Wonderful. Love the way you've used your books to get the most interaction you can from your wee audience.

    1. Yeah - a mix of sit-and-listen stories and all-join-in stories seems to work best. I used to be more sit-and-listen. Now I'm more all-join-in.
      At that age you haven't a clue what they're going to do or say, but that's half the fun.

  4. You are such a great reader, Malachy, that you could make the telephone directory beguiling...

  5. It sounds absolutely wonderful, Malachy! I did an event at a Homestart centre, and that was for a crowd of parents and toddlers and babies ... and I learned an important lesson from the skilled librarian who was alternating story tellings with me. He didn't really bother with the text in the books he used, but used the pictures, and particularly the page turns to dramatic effect as he LIVED the story in just the way you seem to have done with your elephant one. I've written picture books much more for performance since that day.

  6. Sounds like a great festival, Malachy. Always fun (and unpredictable) reading to preschoolers. And I'm with you on the joining in.

  7. I LOVE how you kept the kids so engaged with your interactive reading style! It sounds like a great festival.

  8. Sounds like a lot of fun, Malachy. Dog Ears is a great name! & the Humdinger Festival sounds great
    I've just been doing a few events with little ones in Aberdeenshire. Exactly as you say, you never know what is going to happen but the best thing is to keep it fluid, interactive and fun!