From the bookshelf
While I stumbled through the beginnings of Fluffy Gardens with a very limited amount of knowledge, it became clear early on that I could only benefit from studying all aspects of creating content for children and, since then, I have made it my business to find out everything I can about other shows, what has worked and not worked and why, and I have sought out the research – and there is a LOT of research out there. This is a well worn road and so, even for those of us determined to find our own path, it makes sense to see what we can learn from others. Not just the odd line we pick up browsing through an industry website. Real research and understanding. Would Fluffy Gardens have been a better show had I done my homework? Absolutely. And Cosmo is going to be a far, far better show for all the experience I have gained and research I have done since diving into Fluffy Gardens for the first time.
With that in mind, I thought I would recommend a few books that I think could really help those creating, producing or directing shows, or hoping to one day make a show. To start with, here are three books I think will help you –
Animation Development From Pitch To Production by David B. Levy
As the name suggests, this book covers animation development from the idea stage all the way to the screen. It uses industry stories to illustrate each part of the process and offers a huge amount of practical advice. Like so much of the most useful advice, much of it is stuff common sense would tell us and yet, in the midst of a busy life, we need to hear again and again. Within industry quotations are many different points of view – you don’t have to agree with all of them but there is plenty to consider and thoughts that may lead to you producing better work.
It should be pointed out that this book is based around the US system of getting shows off the ground. Things work very differently over this side of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of value in knowing why things work that way in the US.
Mind In The Making by Ellen Galinsky
This is not a book on moulding shows. It is a book on moulding better people. Recommended by David Kleeman on Josh Selig’s Kidscreen blog, I found this book to be incredibly valuable. As I have said on this site before, a show needs something special to justify its existence. What can your show give children that will be of real value to them? This book will provides many suggestions. It takes you through seven essential life skills and shows how we can better nurture those skills in children. It is a reminder of the importance of we do, of what we can offer children that will contribute positively in their lives. This book is for the people who are serious about giving children something good.
I recommend building a show with your contribution at its very core, not shoehorned in at the end. This book can help suggest ways to do that. Not the easiest read in the world – I find academics seem to write like, well, academics. But informative and valuable.
Children And Television Fifty Years Of Research by Norma Pecora, John P. Murray and Ellen Ann Wartella
There is over fifty years of research into children and television. You might think you will do fine without knowing any of the results but why would you want to? This book is a gold mine of information. What works, what doesn’t work, what content affects children in what ways, how educational television affects children as they grow older, the effects of violence on your audience, how children process ads and so much more. This book summarises all of the results and, in doing so, provides a guiding voice for what to do, and what not to do, if you have the well being of your audience in mind and want to engage them positively.
This book is like the anatomy of what we do. With drawing, for example, you can copy a drawing of a person and it might look okay, but not great. But if you have a working knowledge of human anatomy and structure, your drawing will be so much more solid because you aren’t just copying lines – you have a real understanding of what you are doing. Many people making shows just copy the surface of what they see on TV (I was guilty of this myself at one point). But the great shows often had years of research to get where they were at. You won’t get the same results copying the surface. You need to know how they reached all their decisions.
This book is the starting point. From here, you can look up the studies and dig deeper and deeper and I guarantee you that it will make your work better.
So there you have it, three books to start with. If they sound interesting to you, seek them out. Read, take notes and make your work excellent.