As Charlotte Eyre reports in The Bookseller: Oxford University Press Children's has bought three young fiction titles by author and illustrator Elys Dolan.
The books will all be aimed at readers aged 7+. The first, Knighthood for Beginners, is about Dave the Dragon’s quest for knighthood with his trusty steed, a goat called Albrecht, and will be published in 2017. The second book Wizarding for Beginners will be published in 2018 and the third book will be in 2019.
Commissioning editor Clare Whitston, who bought world rights from Frances McKay at Frances McKay Illustration, said: “Brilliantly bonkers, always surprising, and never, ever boring – working with Elys is an absolute dream! I can't wait for kids to get their hands on Knighthood for Beginners and immerse themselves in the weird and wonderful world that Elys has created.”
To mark the publication of their new book The Clockwork Dragon author Jonathan Emmett and FMI’s own illustrator Elys Dolan have written about the little ‘extras’ inside this book.
The Clockwork Dragon is about two children who come up with a clever plan to rid their kingdom of a greedy, man-eating dragon. The children are called Max and Lizzie and the dragon is called Flamethrottle. But this post isn't about them or any of the other characters that I wrote about in the story. This post is about the book’s extras, the unnamed characters that appear in the background or in the corners of Elys illustrations.
A good illustrator doesn't just illustrate an author’s story, they extend and embellish it. One of the things that make Elys’s illustrations for the book so appealing is the wider world she’s created around the textual story. The extras in The Clockwork Dragon look every bit as engaging as the story’s main characters. And they all look like they might have their own stories to tell!
Take this first spread for example:
The action described in the text is taking place in the foreground, but there is so much more to look at and enjoy in this illustration: the kite maker entangled in string or the distracted carpenter sawing through his workbench. However my favourite extra on this spread is not, strictly speaking, a proper character. It’s this little pink elephant toy on the workshop floor.
It has such a magnificently supercilious expression, as if it feels that its involvement in this slapstick scene is beneath its dignity. This next spread, showing the town square, is teeming with characterful extras…
… but the ones that immediately caught my eye are this family with the polar bears.
Who are they? And why do they have such unusual pets? These characters are part of a visual subplot that unfolds over the following pages. When Max and Lizzie make a nighttime visit to Flamethrottle’s cave, we see the dastardly dragon asleep with a polar bear tucked under his arm like a teddy.
When I first saw him, I assumed that this teddy substitute was one of the bears from the town square spread, but at the end of the book we discover he is a third member of the polar bear family who Flamethrottle must have snatched before the story started.
Pete Marley, the book’s editor, was also a fan of Elys’s extras and asked me to give some of them names so that they could be credited on the book’s endpapers.
So the polar bears were christened Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin and their owners are the intrepid mother and daughter explorers Elma and Thelma Amundsen.
The supercilious elephant is not featured on the endpapers (I suspect it might have made more of an impact on me than it would most readers) but, in case you’re wondering, I think it’s a he and his name is probably Augustus.
The endpapers also have a map of “Rodney” the playfully anachronistic kingdom in which the story is set. If The Clockwork Dragon proves popular, Elys and I are hoping to revisit Rodney in another Max and Lizzie book. We already have a plot in mind and if you study this last spread of the book you might spot a new character that’s sneaked in from that story.
Sometimes when I’m in my studio adding polar and supercilious pink elephants that no one asked for into picture books I wonder if this is helping the story or if it’s just the behaviour of a crazy lady. With this in mind you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that Jonathan, the author who has given over his story to me and was no doubt praying that I wouldn’t ruin it, actually liked these odd details. To celebrate here’s a few of my original character sketches from my Clockwork Dragon sketchbook where I came up with all these extras. I’ll give 10 points to anyone who can spot where in the book all these folks ended up.
The more eagle eyed of you may notice the very first incarnation of Augustus the supercilious pink elephant. Now that he has a name I’ll have to give him a cameo in any future books. I just don’t think it would be the same without him.
Jonathan and I did put quite a lot of effort into developing the world in which The Clockwork Dragon takes place. I’m a firm believer that a good story needs to happen in a convincing world that obeys it’s own internal logic. I spent many a long hour designing the geography of The Kingdom of Rodney and Jonathan seems to have written its entire eccentric history (perhaps we got slightly carried away). So to mark the publication of The Clockwork Dragon I’ve done a full colour version of the Rodney map for your viewing pleasure.
If you want to know more about the places marked on it can download the official Kingdom of Rodney Visitors Guide here.