Bringing History to Life

design, Ken Wilson-Max, stories

Are you worried children will be bored by stories of events that took pace ages ago?  A little self-conscious that you might start to sound like an old person, a know-it-all? You wouldn’t be the first parent or grown up stuck with the challenge of making history sound, well, current for children. Talking about war is an even trickier proposition. Trust in your child’s intelligence, imagination and empathy. Then do some research, because the facts are already written. Then, all you have to do is tell the story in a way that relates to here and now.

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Take for instance, the story of Momčilo Gavrić (pronounced, Momchillo Gavrich), the youngest soldier in the First World War, which started one hundred hers ago in July, 1914. He was  the eighth child of eleven. His mum and dad were Alimpije and Jelena Gavrić. With 10 brothers and sisters, imagine the house they all lived in. Life must have been quite full and loud and happy. In the middle of summer, August 1914, one hundred years ago, Austro-Hungarian soldiers attacked. His dad, mom, grandmother, his three sisters, and four of his brothers were killed. The happy house was burnt to the ground. Momčilo was at his uncle’s house at the time. His life changed forever.

Momčilo found the Serbian army nearby and told them what had happened. The soldier in charge, Major Stevan Tucović, ordered someone in the unit to look after Momčilo, as he lead the unit to where the Austro-Hungarian soldiers were.

When he was 10 years old, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal by his commander. The unit was sent to Thessaloniki, in Greece. Major Tucović sent him to Sorovits where he was sent to school for a while.

Back in Serbia, the commander of the Serbian army was shocked when he saw an eleven year-old boy in uniform. Momčilo’s commander, Major Tucović told him the story; that the boy had been with them since the Battle of Cer, and that he had both been taught discipline and had even been wounded during his time in the unit. The commander promoted Momčilo again, to Lance Sergeant. 

He was sent to England and finished his education at Henry Wreight school in Faversham, Kent. In 1921 he went back to his country after Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić ordered the return of all children to Serbia. Back in Trbušnica he found his three surviving brothers. He died in 1993 at the grand old age of 93.

What a story! There is so much to discuss…

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There’s more to Ken Wilson-Max’s Lenny Goes to Nursery School (Frances Lincoln, £9.99), with its jolly little hero successfully making it through his first full day away from home. A multi-coloured cast of characters have an equally good time in this picture book, also sturdily produced.

Nicholas Tucker, ‘Children’s summer reading: Treats for the very young’,
The independent on Sunday
 
 

Lenny Goes to Nursery School Book Review – Our Verdict: A nice little book that can help you talk through starting nursery with your little one, including what he will do all day and how he can make friends and have fun. Quite simple and easy for children to understand and good pictures though it’s quite expensive.

Little Darlings Magazine

 

Two Reviews: Lenny Goes to School

character, children's books, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, pre school books, publishing, stories

African Mythical Creatures: a Recap

african, character, children's books, design, Events, idea, illustration, stories, Zimbabwe

I haven’t had much time to add tot he growing collection these last few weeks, so I thought it would be good to show you the set so far in one blog post. ‘m going to be making some 3-d versions of these for a school event on June 19th. It should be fun! Details of that event will follow in the coming days.

K

Books are too expensive, or so I’ve been told

character, idea, illustration, publishing, stories

What can you do? You hear something like, I really love your books but this one is too expensive. Why is so pricey?

You explain; all the expertise, time and hours that have gone in to making the book, the production in China, the… You realise that your fan has glazed over, dipped out, you’ve lost him or her.

16 illustrations later, many other hands involved in the process, the publisher’s cut, the bookstore’s cut, the distributor’s cut, everyone has a cut of your £7.99 book. I sometimes think it’s hard to be published these days because so many people have to get paid. We don’t seem to have found a better way to do this publishing thing.

On the other hand people will spend £30 on a poster, which is one piece of paper.  I found that out when I offered the Nursery rhymes by hand as A3 prints. A larger profit margin than a book and less effort. Cheaper to print, store and ship.

I haven’t seen many successful attempts at combining posters and books, i.e., one page books. I like the idea a lot.

I’m going to give it a try. Hold on for Design Tribe Books, coming your way soon. I’ll be posting more information over the coming weeks.

K

“Cowboy Come home”

character, children's books, design, From the sketchbooks, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, London, publishing, stories

Working with text and pictures.

The text is written and the layouts are nearly done. The working tittle is above. Here are sketches showing the treatment of the text which, to me, should be almost illustrated. The final exploration will be to bring type and image much closer together.

Recently, agents and publishers have asked for more finished presentation of book ideas. I have to admit to refusing to do this. It takes blood, sweat and tears! The reward is often a rejection with little or no explanation. It is an understandable development, though. Many people want to be published and there are not enough publishing lists is one reason.

Self publishing has opened a door of opportunity for the brave ones. It will take a little while longer to find the best way to do this with kids books, in my view, as they are still more expensive to produce.

K

 

What about other cultures?

african, children's books, design, idea, illustration, Ken Wilson-Max, publishing, stories

I spent time in book shops over the festive season.  I realised it is still a better experience than being online.

I also noticed the lack of contemporary stories for children about other cultures. Most, if not all publishers have an anthology of folk tales from ‘the world’. Then, most publishers have the obligatory ‘multicultural’ collections, or a series about a character from somewhere else. But there aren’t many of these and they are so similar that they can be mistaken for being the same.

Children that don’t have access to cultural stories will grow up to be adults that don’t have access to cultural stories. What will they pass on to their children? Flights of fantasy for young children don’t have to all be dragons and giants and talking animals that are candy coloured, or warm and fuzzy. In this age where more respect is being given to a person’s background celebrating cultures could go a long way.

Youth culture is current and ever-changing and really quite exciting. We cannot look at it like a sub culture. It has its own language and code of behaviour which comes out of the your person’s experience as a child.

African culture is all but forgotten by publishers. Traditional culture is crammed in to the one volume I mentioned earlier and modern African culture is simply not present. 54 countries and the cradle of human life is not seen as interesting enough…

If you ever have the opportunity to sit with a book seller our buyer you will hear that these stories simply don’t sell, it’s a sales and marketing issue. I believe it is one of misunderstanding and slight fear. As the world looks to Africa and the East it is only a matter of time before that will change.

So, this year, I will be focusing on cultures of all kinds: How to make them fun, how to turn them into stories. What’s more, I’ll let you know how the year progresses.

K

Ring a Ring o’ Roses

Activities & Play, children's books, Ken Wilson-Max, kids, London, pre school books, publishing, stories

© Ken Wilson-Max 2011.

I think there is still some thought about the decoration of the type and the flowers that has to happen, but wanted to post it anyway as I’m fairly pleased with the progress.

Ring a Ring o’ Roses

The historical context for this rhyme dates back to around the time of the Great Plague of London (1665). The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin and violent sneezing. People carried sweet smelling herbs, or posies, as they believed the disease was transmitted by bad smells.

The death rate of the Great Plague was over 60% and it was eventually brought to a fiery end by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats that carried the disease.