Sarah Coyle is the author of The Biggest Story, illustrated by Dan Taylor, and Once You're asleep, illustrated by Carolina Rabei. Pick a Story: A Pirate, Alien, Jungle Adventure was the first book in her interactive 'pick your own adventure' series. Sarah has a background in theatre and film, making her the perfect author to bring this highly interactive format to life. Sarah lives in Bath with her family.
Pick a Story: A Dinosaur + Unicorn + Robot Adventure (Farshore)
Children can create their own adventures in this action-packed picture book series, Pick a Story, by author Sarah Coyle and illustrator Adam Walker-Parker, with dinosaurs, unicorns and even robots included in the latest adventure - or visit the first picture book adventure with pirates, aliens and a jungle to explore!
Find out how to use the Pick a Story books with author Sarah Coyle, who explains in this video and Q&A how you can share these picture books with children, and why she wanted to create these highly interactive stories:
Q&A with Sarah Coyle
1. What happens in Pick a Story: A Dinosaur Unicorn Robot Adventure?
Gwen's birthday party is minutes away when the cake her Dad has baked suddenly disappears! Everyone's a suspect. From the unicorns on a cake diet, to the dinosaurs having a food fight, to the robots discovering YUCKY and YUMMY for the first time.
Gwen is going to need all the help she can get to find her cake before her guests arrive. That's where the reader comes in. There are choices to make on every page. The reader has total narrative control over what happens next. This is a very important part of Pick a Story. Without the reader's input the whole thing would be a complete nonsense. Trust me, I've read it that way.
2. Why did you want to give young children the chance to decide what happens in the story?
I wanted to write a book that would grab the reader's attention. Kids love making choices. As a rule they don't get to make that many, otherwise it would be pants on heads and bathtubs full of cereal. By giving our youngest readers control over the narrative, I hope to get them excited about how a book can take you on a marvellous adventure.
3. Did you ever read the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books as a child?
I did read a few. I loved exploring the worlds of the stories and I loved that usually they took place in magical or historical settings. Effective transportation into imaginary realms is my happy place. I approached each one in a very completist manner. I had to read each and every section, no matter whether I would rather have moved on to another book.
4. How hard is it to write these stories, as there are so many options for what might happen next?
Unlike my usual way of working, Pick a Story certainly requires planning before the real writing begins. I found it essential to know where I wanted to go and where I needed to end up. An awful lot of Post Its, coloured chalk and blackboards were involved. If you are going to write a pick an adventure book yourself, my advice would be to figure out your endings first, then work backwards.
5. Do you think these books can help children in developing their own stories?
I would love to think that they might. The narratives certainly have to be tight and simple which might show up how easy it can be to come up with one! The characters all want or need something and they must journey to find it. Because every page had to move the reader on, each one had to be a very concrete plot point. They nearly always had to be tied up quickly. I would say that giving your main character a clear, simple goal is a good way to start.
Having three different worlds to play with in every book is tremendous fun. When writing it definitely helps to be interested in your subject matter. So why not choose your three favourite subjects, worlds, or historical periods and make a story out of one or all three of them? Then you'll have material that you enjoy exploring. The options are endless. Chances are, if you find something interesting, other people out there will too.
6. How do children respond to the books?
The taste of power has gone down pretty well. At events my overarching aim is to give those who want to choose as much opportunity to do so as possible. So far the levels of enthusiasm I am greeted with means I do a lot of involving the whole audience by making a choice in your head or hands up. That way everyone gets that sweet taste of ownership.
7. And what about the parents - given that children can choose to keep the story going, endlessly...!
Ha! Yes. I try to include lots of exits but in practise it can be tricky to execute them. I wanted the books to be good value for money and I hope I have achieved that aim. They can certainly take up a decent slice of an afternoon. But if you only have a bit of time before bed, I would be very clear about expectations prior to reading. Something like: 'Listen up, small person. We've only got time for three choices in Pick a Story then it's lights out, pronto.' Then do yourself a favour. Don't flake like I do. Stick to the plan. Make your word your bond.
8. Why do you include additional activities and discussion points within the pages?
All the interactive bits began as rewards or secrets to be found on certain pages. Then they became so much fun to play with that we, (my editing team at Farshore and our celebrity guest editor Alison Green), had to put them in all over the place. Again it was just about getting as much engagement going as possible. Interactivity is great for that.
9. The illustrations by Adam Walker-Parker are great - any favourite spreads?
Aren't they just! Hands down my favourite is the final spread of A Dinosaur + Unicorn + Robot Adventure. It's so beautiful it glows. I also love the introduction of the aliens in the first book where they're all in different shapes doing different things. When I visit schools the children adore counting them all. THERE ARE SO MANY ALIENS!
10. What's next for Pick a Story?
I am currently on the delightful adventure that is polishing the third book in the series while pondering the fourth. Polishing and pondering are the best bits of the writing process for me, so I'm having a lot of fun.
11. What other kinds of books do you write?
I published two other picture books back before Pick a Story came out: The Biggest Story and Once You're Asleep and I write more picture books all the time. I also try my hand at other forms of writing. Stuff like, short stories, film scripts, novels. So watch this space! Not literally, though. That would be boring. And deadly dangerous if driving or operating heavy machinery.
12. What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing your next book?
Reading books, naturally, (imagine if I didn't!) Listening to music. Despite being in my forties I still enjoy finding new bands and artists. Long may that continue. I'm a runner, I like to run. Not to or from anything. Just generally. I'll combine the music with the running or the reading with the music but not the running with the reading. That would just be dumb.