Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Events for the picture book age group by Abie Longstaff

I do lots of events: in schools, in shops and at lit fests. Performing was really scary at first but I've got better over the years and I've learned a few tricks along the way!

1. Pre-event

The more effort the event organiser puts in, the better your reading will be. If a shop books me I try to engage with them in the run-up to the show, making sure there are advertisements, posters in the window, notices on local forums; anything to get the message out to parents.

Sometimes the shop needs a bit of a nudge to do this - I often ask my lovely publicist at my publisher to help here. Publishers can make a range of fantastic posters and showcards.
2. Prepare

What are you going to do?
I start by reading a story

I talk about how I make a book: where my ideas come from, my writing process, the editing stages.

then we play games - for The Fairytale Hairdresser we play salons.

I have some great dolls with really strong hair that can be brushed, pulled and pinned and we spend ages putting in clips and ribbons. I also have pirate outfits for Pirate House Swap and some fantastic puppets for The Mummy Shop.

There are colour-in activity sheets...and sometimes we even have cake!

Work out your event in chunks of time. It's really important to know how long each segment takes so you can plan and so that, on the day, if you only have ten minutes left, you know which segment to do.
3. Know your age group

Children of 2-6 don't sit still for long! You have to work hard to engage them. I find sitting with them on the floor really helps because it keeps you in their eye-line and you can hold their attention more easily. I ask them lots of questions as I read: about the pictures and what they can see; about how they think a character feels; about what might happen next. I try to make it a bit like being read to at home, a chatty cosy time so they feel at ease and confident.

Don't forget, along with your target age group will come their parents (who also need to be engaged with and chatted to) and often a much younger sibling.

If you watch the audience you can see when the children start getting wriggly and itchy - spot trouble before it happens and change to another activity.

4. Think about actions, pictures and sounds

When you are reading it is very easy to get caught up in the words. Don't forget to points things out in the illustrations. Ask the children to make sounds - horns, doorbells, rain, animal noises; whatever suits your texts. I get to hear some pretty evil witch cackles! The same applies for actions - we spend time plaiting Rapunzel's hair along with the fairytale hairdresser.

If I'm lucky enough to have the illustrator (Lauren Beard) with me there is a whole new dimension to the event - she draws as I talk and the children can really see the story come to life!

5. Questions

This age group come out with some fantastic questions. They often don't understand that a book is printed - I'm usually asked how I make my writing so neat in the printed books and if it took me ages to write out each book by hand! I ask them how long they think it takes between my first idea and the book ending up on the shelf in a shop. If I really could make that process happen in a day or a week I'd be a very prolific author indeed!

They also tend to spot tiny elements of the illustration that can pass adults by. Be prepared to explain the drawings as well as the words in the story. Get to know every inch of your book. And be prepared for off the wall comments. My favourite question has to be from the little boy who put up his hand to say proudly:
"I had pineapple for breakfast"

I'd love to hear your tips on events!

Have a look on my website for my future events 

Book to see Lauren and me at Hay-onWye Lit Fest here


  1. Brilliant, Abie. The tip about planning time segments is great. Thanks!

  2. I want to come to one of your hairdressing sessions! It can be tricky with picture book audiences because very small children aren't particularly bothered about meeting authors (in shop scenarios, at least) - they'd often rather meet a large, cuddly storybook character! I've found my audio games are a great help, again particularly in book shops - the noise attracts people and focuses on entertainment rather than hard sell. People seem more comfortable with a crazy woman pretending to be a mammoth than an author trying to sell books. I'm also very glad I have plenty of books to choose from. Events focused on one book can be much harder - as you say, you need to think about how to fill the time. A really useful and practical post, thanks!

  3. A brilliant blog Abie... such practical advice. I like the bit about working out your event in chunks of time... so you know when you have 10 minutes left what you should be cutting out. I think sometimes the age makes you also cut out a chunk, as you unexpectedly find yourself with a group of 4's and under!