Sunday, 3 November 2013

The little boy/girl who lost his/her name

Snappy title for this post eh?

Personalised things were few and far between in the 1970s. One of the main frustrations of my childhood was the sheer absence of 'Polly' mugs/magnets/lollipops/bedroom door signs available in Motorway Service Station's named-thing racks. Ah The Curse of the middle class labelled child. How we suffer.

I don't think personalised books existed at all. I seem to remember coming across the concept in late teenagerdom and feeling a sense of burning injustice at the fortunes now bestowed on an ungrateful younger generation. All I had to make do with was a napkin ring engraved with the number 6; my position as youngest in the family.

Of course now all your possessions can be personalised in any way you want. But it's true that adding a name to something is not an end in itself. In fact if something has your name on it you want it to be even better than the average to mirror your own very particular brilliance. And personalised books may have suffered particularly from being a bit ho and a bit hum in the past.

So along has come www.lostmyname; a group of friends with a self funded, self published project to produce individual books that are a bit more ooh and aah than ho and hum. And I think they've just about pulled it off.

We were sent three samples for Bill, Eddie and (AT LAST!) me. The books follow the story of a child who has lost their name and must be reunited with its letters. He or she goes on a magical adventure meeting characters who have their own dilemmas and part with their own letter in exchange for advice; a lion needs somebody to play with for instance, an Inuit needs warm holiday ideas. Each story is thus genuinely unique and it depends on your own letters as to who you'll meet.

The boys thought this an amazing magic trick. "But HOW did they know? HOW is it done?" Bill really enjoyed unpicking them and comparing the stories. Because his name is short he ends up with an extra linking 'story' page in the middle. Duplicate letters are dealt with my means of a few generic letter generating characters- although Eddie did get both eagle and elephant, suggesting the commonest offenders get extra characters. I did wonder whether you'd lose the will to live reading it out if you'd called your child Guinevere or Jeremiah or something. But then you reap what you sow...

There's a lot of craft and thought gone into these books; particularly the number and quality of the illustrations I think. I'm less of a fan of the rhyming prose. (I think people coming fresh to writing children's books often make the mistake of thinking they'll work best in rhyme. The answer to that, unless you're very skilled, is generally No.) But the stories are warm and funny and Eddie and Bill enjoyed them. The production values are faultless and these books would make interesting and original christening/naming/new baby presents. They're not cheap but you wouldn't expect them to be given the up front investment that's been made. Have a look at the website and see what you think.



Incidently, and for free, Persil has produced some online personalisable adventure stories here. Written by Adam Perrot and illustrated by Clare Elsom I thought they were surprisingly good quality. The stories are funny and unexpected and pleasingly un-gendered in their approach to fun. There may be a debate to have about mixing major corporations marketing budgets with children's books but I'll applaud anyone prepared to generate free access to quality words. Even Mcdonalds have been at it with Michael Morpurgo after all.

As a final note, both 'Lost my Name' and Persil run into difficulties when it comes to personalising the illustrations of their lead characters. Some generic decisions have obviously been made about the 'Lost my name' children. The boy and girl both have black hair and white-with a very faint hint of coffee skin. They don't look like  my children. They're fairly likely not to look like yours. The Persil characters are customisable but only to a very limited degree which may end up being even more frustrating. "But I have glasses!" "But I have long hair even though I'm a boy" etc. etc. These things bothered me more than my children though so perhaps I'm just Mrs. Finickerty Pants. (you'd definitely get fed up reading your name through THAT one.)

With thanks to the Lost My Name team for providing us with lovely free samples. Our decision to review and our opinions are our own. They also kindly provided me with some 15% off coupons- just chuck me a comment/tweet if you'd like one.
Persil did offer me a FREE no-strings-attached  sample of their washing tablets when they told me about their books. I turned them down folks. My integrity in that respect is clean (even if my clothes are grubby...)

2 comments:

  1. "I think people coming fresh to writing children's books often make the mistake of thinking they'll work best in rhyme. The answer to that, unless you're very skilled, is generally No." <- This, this, this! There are a couple of books that I would have loved so much more in prose rather than clunky rhyming text. Just because it rhymes, doesn't mean it should ;-)

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  2. I love this for a baby gift. I am also sending one to the 'big brother' or 'big sister'.
    A coupon would be very helpful!

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