Tuesday 4th March 2014
Today I had my first opportunity to ‘field test’ my picture book stories with children in a local school.
The advice online is to share the material with a target audience not connected with you in any way to gauge the market. Before this the only feedback I’ve had from a child is from the son of a friend, so that wasn’t 100% unbiased.
So I sent out some letters to local schools and arranged to go and share my stories during Book Week – this week.
The first visit was to Bromham Lower School, a lovely village school on two sites. My wonderful daughter paid for me to get a taxi there, saving me from 75 minutes on two busses, going all the way into town and out again to get to a site only around 3 miles away.
I arrived a little before 9am and waited for the pupils to be registered. Then I was invited into a large classroom to meet the Year 2 pupils [aged 6-7]. They were a delightful bunch who asked lots of intelligent and interesting questions, such as whether I’d ever written any non-fiction. [Not to date]. When they asked which writer(s) inspired me I was ready with my copy of ‘Too Hot to Hug’ by Steve Smallman.
Having read them the first of my stories ‘There’s a Dragon in My Soup’, they asked me to read ‘Too Hot to Hug’ for comparison. They noted the main differences – Steve’s book is published and so beautifully illustrated by Cee Biscoe, and his story doesn’t rhyme – then they compared the two in terms of enjoyment, and mine fared far better than I dare hope. It was very encouraging.
Next I moved to a smaller classroom where, either side of break, I read all five stories to two groups of eight children from Year 1. They were all very receptive, and enthusiastically asked for more after the first one. During the second session one girl did put her head down on the desk towards the end, but this is only to be expected when there are no pictures to engage them.
We discussed each story after it was read, talking about their own pets etc. I asked them to pick their favorite story at the end, and all five stories received at least one vote. Most of the children gave an answer, changed their minds, then settled on ‘all of them!’
One girl in the second group said ‘I wish I could have a pet dragon now!’ but agreed her parents might not think it such a good idea.
They all said they would check the books out if they found them in the library, and some said they would buy them. Since they don’t hold the purse strings at that age and pocket money is more likely to go on sweets and toys, I count that as a successful result!
I talked to the teacher during coffee break and said, “I hope they really enjoyed it as much as they said and weren’t just being super-polite.”
She said that they were a well behaved bunch, but children that age are renowned for their honesty and would have made it perfectly clear if they hadn’t liked the material.
I am optimistic moving forward.
A great big Thank You to the staff and pupils of Bromham Lower School.