Anna McQuinn – Q&A

Anna McQuinn

Anna McQuinn

Anna’s two most successful series, the Lulu books and the Zeki books are published in the UK by Alanna Max (though she has also been published by several other publishers) and can be found over on Twitter as @AnnaMMcQuinn. Now coming up to her eighth Lulu book, there is so much more to see in her catalogue.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

Quite hard. I’d written quite a lot working in-house as an editor and publisher. After a difficult redundancy (while working on a Sure Start project as an outreach librarian) I first wrote ‘properly’ – a story about a little book-loving girl called Lulu.

I took it (along with some other projects) to Bologna and sold US, Danish and Dutch rights, but could not get a UK publisher interested. So on the eve (practically anyway – it makes for a better story) of pressing the button at the printers, I decided ‘sod-it’ and set up a little publishing company to publish it in the UK.

It sold 3,000 copies in hardcover in the first 10 months and needed a reprint immediately – and the rest is history.

Now I had a publishing company, I also had to publish other people AND I was published by other companies (Barefoot Books, Chicken House, Annick Press, O’Brien Press).

How long did it take to write?

Probably a few months, then some time to commission sample artwork and some roughs.

How many publishers turned you down?

Six or seven

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

Really positive – Lulu Loves the Library is a simple story about a little book-loving girl goes to a library to choose her book (it’s a simple picture book) so it is much loved by librarians, early years professionals and booksellers – as well as parents.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

Can I have two: one reviewer on Goodreads (so not someone who was sent a review copy) wrote “This book belongs on the shelf with the holy books… this book made me so happy I cried”

Another said, “I freaking ADORE this book. If you don’t want to reach right into this book and cuddle with Lulu, you’re BROKEN” I treasure those a LOT.

What can you tell us about your next book?

The next one is actually the eighth Lulu book! (the seventh: Lulu’s Sleepover just came out last September). The next one comes in 2023 and has Lulu’s Nana visiting her from Tanzania. There are some lovely moments with Lulu, her mum and her nana together. That’s coming in 2023, but before it there are two other new titles about Zeki. Zeki is Lulu’s baby brother and we added a line of his books in 2014. These will be titles 6&7 in that series.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

Yes (though you have to take some of them with a pinch of salt). I like that they are usually from parents, teachers, librarians and other book lovers many who’ve just picked up the books and taken the time to review.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I did one series for ages 7-9 for O’Brien Press which was old for me, and really enjoyed having more text to play with. Picture books are quite challenging in that you have to condense so much into so few pages.

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I started life as a teacher, worked as an editor then publisher for many years. After redundancy, I went back to working directly with young children and their families as a Sure Start librarian, combining that with editing freelance. I now do a combination of writing and editing full-time.

Which author(s) inspire you?

My favourite adult authors are Kate O’Brien, Emma Donoghue, Walter Mosley (actually there are too many to mention)

My favourite picture book authors are Suzanne Bloom, Barbro Lingren, Alan Durant, Bob Graham, Simon James, Ken Wilson-Max, Kevin Henkes, Komako Sakai – too many to list, actually.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I used to read a lot of crime, but I’ve gone off it recently.

What is your biggest motivator?

Giving kids stories which take them seriously

What will always distract you?

Twitter

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I’m lucky to have a lot of say in these two series since I kind of package them for the publishers.

Were you a big reader as a child?

UUUge! From when I could read I read everything in sight – the back of the cornflakes packet at breakfast, the back of shampoo bottles on the loo!

What were your favourite childhood books?

We didn’t have much choice waaaay back then – I loved Walter Macken and Enid Blyton. I’d read ALL the books in the children’s section of my local library (small, but still) numerous times so the librarian gave me an adult card then supervised what I read!

What is your current or latest read?

Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

I now live in the middle of nowhere now, so it’s harder to keep up. I’ve just ordered Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden and I got Elizabeth Strout’s Oh William for Christmas (but I’m sparing it)

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I’m kept pretty busy just now with the next Zeki and Lulu books, but watch this space.

Any events in the near future?

My publishers (Alanna Max) and I have just started making plans

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I’m a feminist with an interest in literacy and child development – writing a story about a little girl who loves books and has real agency in her own life brings all these strands together.


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The Owl Service

Alan Garner. HarperCollins. (240p) ISBN 9780007127894

The Owl Service

The Owl Service

A children’s classic that has passed me by, along with so many others.

It was reading Bookworm by Lucy Mangan that I’ve realised I have such a huge hole in my reading, classic children’s fiction and I’m now trying to catch up on this now.

The Owl Service is set in a house owned by an English family in a Welsh valley. It explores Welsh mythology, family dynamics, class, and service in a changing world.

A power is set loose gradually which starts to dominate the personalities of the main characters in the story, making them repeat a story that has been happening in the valley for centuries. Alan Garner threads this through the story with a fine hand, letting the characters off the reins of the power occasionally to allow them to discover that this has happened before.

The heavy use of dialogue did have me working hard to keep up with the story at the beginning but it suited the idea of a local mythology being orally transmitted and I eventually got into the rhythm of the story.

The pace of the dialogue got faster as the story neared its ending, and the ending was so fast that it did require rereading to set it clearer.

A great start to filling the gaps in my reading.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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14 Golden and Autumnal picture books

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves

I love this time of year, I love that definite signing of the changes of the seasons.

I do love Spring as well, that freshness, that boundless potential, all that growth…

But I’m a real September baby!

Over on Twitter I asked people for their recommendations for beautiful autumnal picture books and got a great response and have added them to the list I had in mind.

Please let me know if I’ve missed your favourite!

Storm

Storm

Storm by Sam Usher was the first book that came to mind for me and was also shared by a few others over on Twitter, the cover is just beautiful as is the interior.

‘It’s blowing up a storm, and a boy and his grandad decide it’s the perfect weather for kite-flying. There’s just one problem – first they have to find the kite. Their search brings up lots of wonderful memories of previous adventures together, but when they finally make it outside, their adventure really takes off!’

Publisher: Templar Publishing
ISBN: 9781787412422

The Very Helpful Hedgehog

The Very Helpful Hedgehog

The Very Helpful Hedgehog by Rosie Wellesley caught my eye as the pile of apples was so inviting and the hedgehog so cute.

A sweet tale of friendship and learning to help one another, set in the beautiful countryside

Isaac is a hedgehog who has only ever been alone – and that is the way he likes it. One day an apple falls from a tree and sticks onto the spines on his back. He wiggles and jiggles, but he cannot get it off. As he struggles to remove the apple, help comes in the unexpected form of a donkey who cannot reach the apples which fall outside of his paddock.

Isaac learns that it is better to have a friend and to be helpful than to be on your own all of the time.

Publisher: Pavilion Books
ISBN: 9781843651987

Leaf Man

Leaf Man

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert with the cover and illustrations made from real leaves and autumn bits this is a visually arresting cover.

Autumn has come, the wind is gusting, and Leaf Man is on the move. Is he drifting east, over the marsh and ducks and geese? Or is he heading west, above the orchards, prairie meadows, and spotted cows? No one’s quite sure, but this much is certain: A Leaf Man’s got to go where the wind blows.

With illustrations made from actual fall leaves and die-cut pages on every spread that reveal gorgeous landscape vistas, here is a playful, whimsical, and evocative book that celebrates the natural world and the rich imaginative life of children.

Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780152053048

City Moon

City Moon

City Moon by Rachel Cole, illustrated by Blanca Gómez a beautifully illustrated book about the shortening days and bedtimes.

A little boy and his mother take a nighttime walk to search for the moon in this gentle, keenly observed bedtime book that’s sure to appeal to fans of Kevin Henkes’s Kitten’s First Full Moon and young children who find the moon fascinating.

Soothing text and hip, coloruful collage style illustrations create a nighttime story that follows a little boy and his Mama as they walk around their neighbourhood looking for the moon. As the elusive moon plays peek-a-boo behind buildings and clouds, the little boy asks simple questions about it, and his Mama patiently answers every one. When finally the moon appears–bright and white and round and glowing–the mama and her boy stop and wait for it to disappear again. The moonlit walk continues until the boy yawns and Mama lifts him into her arms and whispers, -it is time for bed.-

Publisher: Random House USA Inc
ISBN: 9780553497076

Fox

Fox

Fox by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus, now for one that isn’t released yet (1st October 2020) but looks and sounds intrguing.

In the frost-covered forest of early spring, fox is on a mission to find food for her three cubs. As they grow, she teaches them how to survive in the wild. Until one day, fox dies. Her body goes back to earth and grass and air, nourishing the world around her and bringing the forest to life. Death is not just an end, it’s also a beginning.

Fox: A Circle of Life Story answers the big scientific question: What happens when we die? Bringing together an evocative non-fiction narrative with breath-taking illustrations, this book will help parents and children to talk about life and death. It introduces the scientific concept that death leads to new life, and that this way of understanding the world is no less beautiful and awe-inspiring than traditional stories. Fox: A Circle of Life Story unites story and science to explain this big concept to children who have lost a pet or a loved one, or who simply are curious about death and what happens after we die.

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 9781526600776

Leaves

Leaves

Leaves by David Ezra Stein, I just loved the look of this board book, so cute and bears are always a winner.

This simple, charming story of a young bear’s first autumn is perfectly suited to board book format. Bear is surprised when the leaves start falling off the trees, but when he tries to reattach them, it doesn’t work. Eventually, he gets sleepy, and burrows into the fallen leaves for a long nap. When he wakes up, it’s spring-and there are suddenly brand-new leaves all around, seeming to welcome him.

With its childlike main character and graceful illustrations, Leaves is a great way to teach the youngest children about the changing seasons.

Publisher: Penguin Putnam Inc
ISBN: 9780399254970

Tumshie

Tumshie

Tumshie by Mark Mechan it was bloody hard work I can tell you.

Tumshie is the Halloween story of a dad and son making old fashioned Halloween lanterns and a costume together.

The story is set today in Scotland, and it’s inspired by how a Scottish Halloween used to be celebrated.

Back when Halloween meant ‘guising’ (today that is trick or treating) and ‘dooking for apples’ (bobbing for apples) and carving out a tumshie (Scots for turnip) was a rite of passage for Scottish children who needed the strength of an ox and the stubbornness of a donkey.

Publisher: The Gresham Publishing Co. Ltd
ISBN: 9781849345323

Autumn Story

Autumn Story

Autumn Story by Jill Barklem is an old favourite, part of the Brambley Hedge series.

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the miniature world of the mice of Brambly Hedge!

Bad weather is on the way and the autumn stores are still not gathered in!

Quickly, all the mice of Brambly Hedge set to work to finish the harvesting before the rain begins. Primrose, Lord Woodmouse’s daughter, meant to help, but somehow she daydreamed her way over the cornfield and into the Chestnut Woods, and before she knew it, she was lost. The sun went down, the wind rose and it began to rain. Primrose was all alone in the dark and she was frightened.

Poor Primrose, would she find her way home again?

Also look out for Summer Story, Spring Story and Winter Story!

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 9780001837393

The Golden Acorn

The Golden Acorn

The Golden Acorn by Katy Hudson, looks playful and fun with great illustrations.

Whoosh! Squirrel takes off at full speed through the autumn leaves. But slam on the brakes, because this year The Golden Nut Hunt race is a team event. Squirrel reluctantly enlists her friends and is not impressed. Will Squirrel’s competitive spirit take over or will she learn how to be a team player?

Best-selling author Katy Hudson (Too Many Carrots and A Loud Winter’s Nap) proves that winning isn’t everything in this energetic picture book about friendship, teamwork and forgiveness – and that those are things to go nuts about!

Publisher: Capstone Global Library Ltd
ISBN: 9781474778060

The Squirrels Who Squabbled

The Squirrels Who Squabbled

The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field is a firm favourite when we could do storytime, wonderful illustrations and a fun story.

Two greedy squirrels learn to share in the third hilarious rhyming adventure from the bestselling creators of The Lion Inside and The Koala Who Could.

Greedy squirrels Cyril and Bruce both have their sights on a very special prize: THE VERY LAST NUT OF THE SEASON! As the nut bounces crazily though the forest, the squirrels race after it, between the trees, over boulders, down the river and – ARGH! – right to the edge of a waterfall! Working together might be the only way to save themselves now …

A laugh-out-loud tale about friendship and sharing from the award-winning creators of The Lion Inside and The Koala Who Could. Perfect for competitive friends and sibling rivals!

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group
ISBN: 9781408340479

Sweep

Sweep

Sweep by Louise Greig, illustrated by Julia Sarda, such a wonderfully energetic cover alone makes this a book I want to have.

An uplifting story about confronting big emotions from the author of The Night Box, stunningly illustrated by Julia Sarda.

Ed’s bad mood begins as something really small, hardly a thing at all.
But before long it grows, gathers pace, and spreads through the whole town.
Can Ed sweep his troubles away?

A wonderful bedtime story for children aged 3 years and up, perfect for helping children learn to recognise and deal with big emotions.

Publisher: Egmont UK Ltd
ISBN: 9781405283779

The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief by Alice Hemming, illustrated by Nicola Slater has just the cutest cover I’ve seen in a long time.

A brilliantly funny picture book about seasons, written by Alice Hemming and illustrated by Nicola Slater. Squirrel is so cross. Yesterday there were loads of beautiful leaves on his tree, but today?

Today some are missing and Squirrel is convinced that someone has stolen them… there’s a leaf thief on the loose! Join Squirrel on a mission to find the culprit, and meet so many fun animals on the way, while you find out how the world takes on different colours as the months pass by.

A laugh-out-loud book about the changing seasons, with extra information in the back for especially curious minds Perfect as a companion reader to children learning about seasons in school A brilliant picture book that explores feelings, moods and times where we feel out of control

Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9781407191447

Little Goose's Autumn

Little Goose’s Autumn

Little Goose’s Autumn by Elli Woollard, illustrated by Briony May Smith, just been published and looks to be one I would love to use in an autumn-themed storytime.

Little Goose’s Autumn is a second stunning story from an exciting picture book pairing and the uplifting tale of a lively young goose finding her place in the world.

As summer fades to autumn, a lively young goose feels a change in the air and senses she has something important to do – but what? The beavers are chopping wood, the squirrels are storing nuts in the ground and the bears are busy building a den. The plucky little goose tries to join in, but without great success. She realizes her wings weren’t built for chopping wood, or burying food, or building a den, but they were built for something magnificent – they were built for flight . . .

A beautiful, lyrical and hopeful story about finding your wings and your place in the world. Written by star picture book author, Elli Woollard with wonderful illustrations by rising talent, Briony May Smith, whose artwork brings an autumnal landscape of mountains and forests to life with truly breathtaking beauty.

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781509807970

After the Storm

After the Storm

After the Storm by Nick Butterworth, and let’s finish on a great addition to one of the most popular series of picture books around.

Celebrate thirty years of Percy the Park Keeper and his animal friends with this funny story in the classic series from award-winning author and illustrator Nick Butterworth!

A storm is raging outside and Percy the park keeper is having a sleepless night. When he gets up the following morning, Percy finds that the old oak tree has been blown down. It is a disaster for his animal friends who live there, but Percy is soon devising a plan to help his little friends find new homes.

Includes a fabulous, surprise fold-out poster!

More than 9 million Percy the Park Keeper books sold, worldwide!

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 9780007155156


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Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Vashti Harrison. Penguin. (96p) ISBN 9780241346846

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Another great addition to the short history type books that are being developed on a lot of different subjects but especially so on women who’ve been hidden from history.

As the name states this book is about black women in history, mainly from the 18th century up until recent times, a little biography about the subject with some great illustrations to accompany them.

The illustrations are really cute but also very strong and seems to capture the individuals personality well.

Like all these snippet-history books Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History is a springboard into learning more and exploring histories that are often hidden or forgotten.


If you want to help and support this blog you could become a Patreon which would help pay for my hosting, domain names, streaming services, and the occasional bag of popcorn to eat while watching films.

If you can’t support with a monthly subscription a tip at my Ko-Fi is always appreciated, as is buying things from my Ko-Fi Shop.

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