Every parent with a child of a certain age will be all too familiar with Peppa Pig - the little pig with a big attitude who loves nothing more than to jump in muddy puddles.
Peppa has become a heroine for pre-school girls the length and breadth of country and it is entirely possible that one very cute and very local wee girl could follow in her footsteps.
Meet Miss Rosie Red, created by local author and illustrator Trisha Deery. Her first big adventure ‘Let Me See, What Will I Be?’ will be hitting the shelves in the coming weeks - ready and waiting to delight a new generation of mini book lovers.
But this is no ordinary book, and the local women behind bringing Rosie to life have big ambitions for the cute local lady.
Laura Campbell, Fionnuala Deane and Jackie McColgan make up Dogs Ears - a new children’s media company. They are keen to point out that they are not “just” a publishing house. In an age when children, even toddlers, are more media savvy than ever - they are set to deliver an all singing, all dancing experience which will plunge Rosie and her friends straight into the homes, computers, phones and television screens of local families.
“Nothing will ever take the place of a book,” Dog Ears Editorial Director Laura Campbell said. “We want to encourage that - to promote that moment at the end of a day where a parent sits down with their child to read them a bedtime story.
“But we can’t ignore that the world is changing - and technology is playing a bigger role in people’s lives these days. We want to embrace that.”
Laura knows exactly what she is talking about. She spent several years in London working for Macmillan Children’s Books - and was part of the team involved in the launch and marketing of the Peppa Pig phenomenom. She saw first hand how a brand can be created which extends beyond the paper and card of a book - and this was something she was keen to bring home with her when she returned to her native Derry after the birth of her son, Milo.
“When I came home I wanted to carve out a niche for myself - and I had known Fionnuala and Jackie for years. We wanted to do something different - which hadn’t really been done before in Derry.”
At the time Fionnuala was working with Yes! publications - a job which she loved. “We published some great books - very worthy books which deserved to be out there. But it could be heavy going at times. I suppose I was looking for something different.”
With a distinct, and original, business model under their belts Laura and Fionnuala, along with Jackie, approached the Arts Council and pitched the idea of a children’s publishing company with a difference. All this was done at a time when children’s publishers were cutting back and turning away from picture books generally - fearful of the production costs.
Was it madness? Managing Director Fionnuala explained their reasons. “Yes, we were aware that established publishers were turning away picture books. But we also saw that in the top ten of children’s books Julia Donaldson (author and illustrator of ‘The Gruffalo’, ‘Room on the Broom’ and many others) took seven of the top ten spaces.
“The demand for picture books was certainly there. What we wanted to do was source new talent and to work against the general flow of things. As a smaller company we were able to take risks where larger publishers are more reluctant to do so.
“We wanted to take in the bigger picture - to try and launch not only books but apps which can be used on Ipads and Iphones as well as the concept for a TV show and associated merchandise.”
They were delighted to find the Arts Council were hugely supportive of their plans. “In fact,” Jackie, Marketing Director, said: “They told us if we were going to go for it we should go for it all guns blazing. No half measures.”
And the girls indeed jumped in and have given it their all over the last two years. With Arts Council funding in place they ran a mentoring programme designed at nurturing new talent - both from writers and illustrators. “We were overwhelmed with the response,” Jackie said. “We expected some interest but we were blown away by the number of people coming forward.”
“Trisha was the star of our first intake,” Fionnuala said.
Trisha, who hails from Derry has a degree in Illustration from University College Falmouth. She loves working with children - having facilitated creative workshops while studying for her degree. Miss Rosie Red - the illustrations and the stories - are entirely her creation.
A three-and -half-year-old girl who is described as being at that age where she is trying to assert her independence (delightfully described as the “I’m a big girl” stage), Rosie keeps the company of her stylish mum, her baby brother and her cat Cooper.
The girls at Dog Ears have purposely made her a local as possible. “We are proud of where we are from and we wanted Rosie to have a very local identity,” Laura said. With that in mind they hired a local tot to voice Rosie for their iPhone and iPad app - and she has helped bring the character to life. Although the identity of the tot in question is a closely guarded secret, we’re told she is a big Rosie fan. And why wouldn’t she be?
The book, priced at a very competitive £8.99, is a beautifully produced item which would fit nicely on anyone’s book shelf and is sure to become a well thumbed family favourite.
“The name Dog Ears,” Fionnuala said, “is because we want the books to be dog eared through over use. At the heart of all this, is still the book.”
Derry book fans are invited to the launch of Miss Rosie Red - which is also being published in Irish - at the Playtrail on Saturday, 7 May 2011 from 2-4pm. The children’s party event is open to the public and will feature lots of fun activities in the playtrail’s eco-hut and fairy garden. Games and party food for the kids and a nice cup of tea and a wee bun for mum and dad.
To register interest in attending the launch email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dog Ears has received funding and assistance from NI Screen, Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Invest NI.