My fourth picture book is published on 24th June. The Lion on the Bus is illustrated by Jeff Harter and follows an eventful bus journey through the eyes of a little girl happily singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus.’ When she spots a lion get on, she sings:

Her mother is lost in a book and oblivious to the fact that her daughter's song is describing what is happening around her - as yet more ferocious animals board the bus, eventually taking the passengers hostage! Don't worry. It's all right in the end. 


I came up with the idea for this book when I was singing The Wheels on the Bus with my daughter and one of us (we don't agree on which one) started singing The Lion on the Bus goes RAR RAR RAR! 

I wondered what a lion would be doing on a bus then wrote this book to answer that question.

While most picture books are designed to be read aloud, this one is designed to be sung so requires some level of performance. 

As the author, I am dying to get out and perform this book. I find that picture books come to life through performance in ways that often surprises and intrigues me.  I often learn something new about my own books when I read them in public, because it allows me to see them through my audience's eyes.

When I’m writing a picture book, I will read it aloud countless times to ensure that the words trip off the tongue, rather than the tongue tripping over the words, but reading a book to an audience is an entirely different experience. 

With 3 picture books out this year, I can't wait for the return of school visits, festival shows and library events. Happily, I've got a few lined up so I've been reminding myself of the important things to remember when performing a picture book. 

You can practice reading your book in advance all you like but you won't be able to properly rehearse it until you have an audience in front of you (no matter how small). For me, it takes a good 5 or 6 public readings before I have properly learned how to perform one of my books. Even after 50 performances, I still discover new ways to improve the reading - and quite often these ideas come from the audience.


The best readings (especially of picture books) don’t actually involve much reading. With a new picture book, I might still be reading the words for the first few performances, but eventually these words get ingrained in my head like the lyrics of a song and this means I can focus on all the other aspects of the performance. It also means I can hold the book so that the audience can see the pictures. 


With my first picture book, The Dinosaurs are Having a Party (illustrated by Garry Parsons) I get the audience to roar a lot and, at one point to throw tantrum, shouting, "It's not fair and nobody cares!" In Are You the Pirate Captain? (also with Garry) I have them hammering nails, chipping off snails and swabbing the decks. With Rabunzel (illustrated by Loretta Schauer) I have discovered that the audience love to bring the hungry eyes creatures to life with growls howl, hisses and eagle screeches - although mine often sound more like seagull squawks. I don't think about these interactive elements when I'm writing the books. Nor when I'm commenting on the illustrations. I usually discover them through the performance itself. 


The more engagement, the better when it comes to reading books in schools. The more you can keep the audience involved the less chance you give them to wriggle about and get distracted. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask a question or add in a funny aside. Or maybe you have a puppet. Or a prop like this treasure map that Garry made. Or a song. Whatever you can do to make the reading more than a reading will really help hold your audience's  attention.


No matter how clear it is to you that your beautifully composed conclusion signifies the end of the book, your audience may not realise it's over. Perhaps you can indicate it's the end with an emphatic closing of the final page. Or maybe you have a song to finish with. Or is there a repeated phrase or action that the audience can join in with that will let them know it's all done? It’s worth thinking about because, although it is perfectly fine to end with the words “And that’s the end of this book,” there will always be a more satisfying way to conclude.  

And that’s the end of this blog.  

Gareth P Jones’ new book The Lion on the Bus is illustrated by Jeff Harper and published by Farshore Books. You can see him talking (and singing) about the book on 24th June at Moon Lane TV. He is appearing at Camp Bestival & Latitude this summer and is currently taking bookings for school visits, library events and festivals.  

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