We describe The Little Girl/Boy Who Lost his/her Name as personal and magical. We realised that personalised books weren’t being done nearly as well as they could – usually, the amount of personalisation is pretty perfunctory – for example, a character’s name might be changed to the name of the child it’s for. Our books take personalisation to a completely new, magical and quite amazing level. Depending on the child’s name, they are completely, fundamentally different – both story and illustrations.
Why are personalised books so popular?
Children love to see their name in print, love to feel that they’re part of the story – it really is a kind of magic, at that age. It gives any story an extra dimension. But, just like 3D cinema gives a movie an extra dimension, it doesn’t make a movie good – the movie has to be good in its own right. Too often we’ve seen personalised books which don’t work because the rest – story, illustration, idea – isn’t up to scratch.
Can you tell us about the process of personalising one of the books?
The books are about a child who has lost his or her name, and they go off on a glorious adventure to track it down. Along the way they meet lots of weird, wonderful and wise characters – who all offer the child a helping hand, by giving them the first letter of their name.
So let’s say the child you’re giving the book to is called Emily. She’d meet a forgetful Elephant, a rather vain Mermaid, a cold-averse Inuit, misunderstood Lion and genial Yeti. Each gives the first letter of their name – and Hey Presto! EMILY’s name is found.
To get to this point, we had to write and illustrate stories for every letter in the alphabet, plus duplicates for the more popular letters. It was a huge project, involving over thirty different stories and hundreds of illustrations. But it’s this amount of work upfront which makes it such a magical book. Instead of changing one name in the text, we create every story from scratch, depending on the child’s name.
How can both parents and children enjoy the books?
We wanted to make each story interesting, surprising and funny – not just for children, but for adults too. So there’s a Viking who, rather than looting and sacking and pillaging, really just wants to make artisan bread. Or an Ostrich who’s a bit of a diva. A bit like the Pixar films, there’s something in the books for adults and children.
I am also a comedy writer – for example, I’ve written for The Armstrong and Miller Show, Allan Carr, Bob Mortimer, Harry Enfield – and I think this helped the writing. At bedtime, when you’re reading to your child, you want to be entertained as well. I know – I read to my son for years, and I loved the stories which had something in them for me, too.
Tell us about the initial ideas for the project
The idea came pretty quickly – it needed to be simple, and gettable – and I remember inspiration striking fast. What took time was thinking of each letter. What creature should I choose? What character should it have? Every creature the child meets is a story in itself, and needed to be rich and entertaining without being too long. A few got discarded along the way, for example a Rat didn’t work out too well (he resented still being blamed for the Black Death, which seemed a little dark).
How did you get the business started?
We’re fortunate in that the three founders – myself, Tal and Asi – all have different skills which made this such a success. Obviously I did the writing, and Tal and Asi made the book actually happen. The site needed to be built, our wonderful illustrator Pedro found, the code which enables all the magic happened had to be written, marketing, development, distribution all needed to be put in place... A huge amount of work. And all done in our spare time. Looking back, it seems incredible.
What has the reception been like so far to the books?
The reception has been phenomenal. People love the books, word of mouth alone has been astonishing. We think that there has been a real desire for this – a personalised book which is truly personalised. Parents and children really do seem to think that it’s magical.
Which books did you used to read as children?
I read the usual, lots of Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Jennings, Douglas Hill (he was the stand-out for me)... Too many to mention. I read everything.
What is next for you?
Growth. As soon as we printed the first book, we said we want to make a million kids happy and clever. We have some very exciting ideas for the next year, including exploring the digital/interactive version of the book, planning for another title, and launching a limited edition A-Z book. Translation of the book for other languages and markets will happen soon, too.
We deeply care about narrative, storytelling and making experiences for kids and parents to enjoy together. While the gazillion eBooks and 'educational apps' launched every day may keep a child quiet and let parents attend to their business, we wanted to lead with a physical book, full of complex interactions which rely on a dialogue between parent and child, interpreting and discussing and enjoying. So whatever we do in the future, we’ll always emphasise an approach of ideas and creativity over format, a transition from digital to physical, stories over features, and bonding over shutting a child up with a screen.