Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories launch 17 unique picture books, written by children and brought to life by volunteer illustrators

Young writers at Shoreditch library.
Young writers at Shoreditch library. First row: Mahi age 8, Uresa age 10, Melinda age 9. Second row: Helin age 12, Danae age 9, Bodil age 8. Third row: Bartu age 10, Erencan age 10, Selin age 12.

In June 2017, Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories launched 17 new picture books, which were written by children aged between 8 and 12 and brought to life by volunteer illustrators.

The children attended weekend workshops at the Ministry of Stories’ creative hub in Shoreditch to write stories ‘for their younger selves’. Each child was then matched with their own volunteer illustrator, who brought their stories to life on the page. Penguin Random House UK has now published the young people’s stories as real picture books. Each child worked closely with their illustrator and had creative control over their picture book, explaining what their stories looked like and sketching ideas together.

The collection of picture books is so exciting, as it offers a glimpse into how the children see their world right now. It includes a story about two toucans who travel to England in search of jobs and become violinists in an orchestra, a rhyming book about a boy and his magical football boots that stop working when they get muddy, a classic fairy tale which sees potions and magic spells transform a princess into a giraffe just in time for her coronation, and the beautiful The Moon and Montgomery, about a little boy who wants to go to the moon but is too small.

The unique publishing project is part of a partnership between Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories, which is now in its second year. Since 2016, the publisher has been supporting the charity’s efforts to reach new communities through both funding and expertise, through inspiring authors and employees to volunteer and fundraise. Together, their goal is to help close the creativity gap for 7,500 children across the UK by 2018. The picture book project has enabled a creative collaboration between children, illustrators, and Penguin Random House UK to captivate the imagination of the children and help them to realise their creative potential.

Ministry of Stories, a creative writing and mentoring space, co-founded by Penguin Random House author, Nick Hornby, in 2010, helps young people aged 8-18 discover and realise their own creative potential through innovative creative writing programmes, including after-school writing workshops. By making writing fun and accessible they help young people find their voices and unleash their imaginations, building their confidence in thinking and producing creatively.

Over 200 Penguin Random House UK employees have been involved in other ways with the Ministry of Stories partnership, from mentoring to fundraising challenges, to volunteering with Hoxton Street Monster Supplies to offer their professional expertise as editors.

Picture books written by children
Picture books written by children aged between 8 and 12 and brought to life by volunteer illustrators.

Rachel Gimbert from Penguin Random House UK, who was involved in the picture book project, said: “Getting involved in the picture book project was an absolute pleasure and reminded me why we all do what we do every day. The kids were fascinating and creative in the most wonderful ways and their imagination as a group was truly inspiring. The chance to find new talent in the illustrators was really exciting and pairing them up to bring the stories to life was magic.”

Monica Whelan from Penguin Random House UK, one of the designers involved in the picture book project, said: “This was such a great project to be involved in, the kids were so enthusiastic when I went to visit and had a real interest in how books were made. They were all so creative with their stories and it was great to see them come to life when the illustrations came in. I can’t wait to see their faces when they get a copy of their finished book!”

Lucy McNab, Co-Director of Ministry of Stories, said: “This is a unique project which sees children author picture books for the first time. Children have a special take on what other children will be interested in. They are much closer in age to picture book readers, far closer than adults are. We found that the project gave the young writers a lot of empathy for the little ones.”

Danae, age 9, author of The Royal Giraffe, said: "The best thing about writing this book was I got my own turn to be an author and be me. Working with an illustrator felt like being a real author - it makes me feel happy that people notice my book."

Melinda, also age 9, author of Tecnoglo and the Special Element, said: "I really like the illustrations, it's like a comic book. It feels amazing to have something published for real and it's really good that children might be reading my book as a bedtime story."

Maisie Noble, one of the illustrators involved in the picture book project, said:

“I felt really energised by this project, I think it’s really important to introduce kids to the creative industries from a young age and this project gave them a perspective of creative writing, illustration and publishing that could be hard to access via the mainstream educational system. Selin, the little girl who wrote the story about Montgomery going to the moon, was always enthusiastic, she had heaps of energy and our meetings were really fun. The writing mentors and myself encouraged her to have control over all aspects of the book, from the food that Montgomery likes to the colour scheme. Selin mentioned to me that when she told people that she was having a book printed they didn’t believe her, and couldn’t wait to show them the finished thing. I felt as though I could have spent a year working on this project, the content was so rich.”

50 sets of the books have been printed for all those involved in the project and will be given to local school libraries and the Shoreditch Library in East London.  All the picture books will be available to read on our website here.       

Selin age 12, author of The Moon and Montgomery
Selin age 12, author of The Moon and Montgomery
Danae age 9, author of A Royal Giraffe
Danae age 9, author of A Royal Giraffe
Volunteer illustrators
Volunteer illustrators. First row: Rose Robbins, Laura Casella, Faan Peeti Second row: Alex Clark, Krina Patel, Tin Yan Lee, Michi Mathias, Zahra Tharani, Melis Malatani, Mrinali Alvarez, Anna Brown Third row: Heidi Carlson Coburn, Maisie Noble, Gareth A Hopkins.

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