Children’s picture books: So few words, so many mistakes!

We’re all guilty of typos at some point, be it due to writing something in a rush, not checking Autocorrect has, erm, autocorrected correctly or because we have something else occupying our thoughts at the same time.

I don’t make a habit of criticising errors in friends’ emails, blog posts or Facebook status updates – what’s the point? – but I tend to be critical when basic errors appear where it really matters.

And this is what I’d like to talk about this week.

This happens all too often in the spellegance household: I get out a beautifully illustrated and typeset book from the library, sit down to read it with the kids, and immediately start noticing typos (I can’t switch off my proofreader’s brain, no matter how hard I try). It wouldn’t be so bad if these were longer books, but these are books of no more than 30 pages, with very few words. And these are for young children to enjoy – children who are learning how to read; children who still don’t fully understand the rules of grammar and spelling. How, then, are they supposed to learn when professional writers and editors aren’t picking up basic mistakes?

A particular bugbear of mine is in the series of Zoe and Beans books (Zoe is a little girl and Beans a dog, for those who haven’t read the books) by Chloe and Mick Inkpen, both well established in the world of children’s books. Yet comma use (or lack of it) seems to be a real problem for them:

Fetch Beans! Fetch!

(Fetch the beans? Are we going to do a spot of cooking?)

What is it Beans?


Fetch him Beans

(Yes, quickly – he’s hungry!)

Look Beans!

(I give up.)

There are also other issues besides, such as the way ‘Little Bear’ and ‘little Bear’ are used interchangeably and a full stop is missed out altogether, but the comma thing is what really bothers me here, as it’s not a one-off.

In the last batch of library books we had out, we had some odd grammar in rhyming poetry in Upside Down Babies, an otherwise fun and well-written book:

‘What a funny baby, no matter how I try’, Mummy Parrot said, ‘this chick won’t fly!’

What’s wrong with a semicolon or a full stop after ‘baby’?

And this beauty, in The Best Present Ever:

She was posing proudly wearing a beautiful silk dress, that gleamed with gold embroidery, dazzled with diamonds. And yes of course, teamed with stunning perfect pearls!

Oh dear. Even MS Word’s spellchecker knows the first comma is wrong – why didn’t the author or publisher use a spellcheck tool? (Don’t get me started on the missing comma after ‘yes’ in the final sentence.)

The Best Present Ever also had a really odd moment where it got its tenses mixed up in dialogue:

She announced to the King that she had a present for him and it was to be the best present he had ever had. But what could it be? The King tried to guess. “Was it a new crown?” he asked. “No,” said the Queen, “you already have lots in the Royal Jewels Room.” “Was it new shoes?” he tried to guess. “No!” sighed the Queen. “When you already have 412 pairs!” “Really!” he gasped.

(Surely ‘Is it a new crown?’ [etc.] would have been a more usual thing to say…and starting the last exclamation with ‘When’ doesn’t work at all.)

Along with the Zoe and Beans books, I had another series of books in mind, as the last one I tried to read was so full of errors I refused to take it home – but alas! the only one they had to loan out was already in some poor child’s home. I would have had a field day with that one.

I guess the point of this rather rambling post is that if writers, editors and proofreaders can manage to shape a several-hundred-page novel into something relatively error-free, how is it possible to make even one error – let alone several – in books of under 30 pages? If anything, it’s more important to get it right early on than at any other point in people’s lives. Children learn from what adults tell them. If those adults are teaching them wrongly, the same mistakes will be made again and again.

Have you spotted anything in a children’s book recently that’s bugged you? I’d love you to share examples with me on here or on Twitter (@spellegance).

Until next time,


What’s in a business name? One woman’s journey.

After taking voluntary redundancy in early 2011, I started to think seriously about how I could set myself up as a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. In 2012 I registered with HMRC under my own name as a sole trader. This was just the beginning.

I’d set up a personal Twitter account in May 2012, and realised by October that a Twitter handle for my business would be more useful than my personal one. After several attempts to find a name that wasn’t already taken, I came up with @spellegance, which I felt was just on the right side of corny.

In November 2012, I asked on Facebook if any of my friends had any suggestions:

If I plan to go freelance, is it best to have a company name and website? And if so, how do I pick a good name?

I had some interesting responses, among them:

M (freelance translator, copywriter and editor) suggested avoiding the limited company option:

you have to pay to be a limited company, whereas trading as freelance (sole trader) is free and easy.

A friend who works as a professional photographer advised:

Don’t register as a company. Website maybe but not necessary. Definitely get business cards though, and get nice ones, good quality, good design etc. Affects how professional you look when you whip it out!

Having not yet registered as a limited company or even having looked into it yet, the fact that I’d have to pay put me off, at least at this early stage. As for business cards, I hadn’t settled on a name yet, let alone a logo, font or any of those other things crucial to making a good impression.

I decided to look into two options – using my name, and using a business name:

Using my own name

I’d attended a course run by social marketer Keith McMean ( back in October. His preference was for using real names if you work as a sole trader, on the basis that appearing ‘human’ is very important, and if you work alone you are essentially your own brand. This seemed fairly logical, although being a regular, responsive presence on Twitter and blogging could also be ways to come across as more human.

AB (owner and manager of a publishing services company) was also in favour of this option:

Yeah, go freelance, use your own name. Otherwise you end up adding loads of overheads you don’t need.

The main justification here seemed to be the issue of cost rather than the name itself. However, a lot of the work I’ve done for publishers has come via a relative by marriage, and communicating in anything other than my maiden name could look like nepotism. I also hoped at some point to promote my services locally, in many cases to friends and connections, and using my maiden name in these cases might well cause confusion for everyone involved!

As for using one name for some people and another for others…well, that was a non-starter.

Using a ‘business’ name

I was now leaning towards picking an original name. There are quite a few web pages on naming your company, and I particularly enjoyed reading the advice at Startups on choosing the perfect business moniker. One sentence that really resonated with me was “Humour or a nice play on words is an effective way to stand out from the crowd.” My job, after all, is to ‘play’ with the English language, collaborating with authors, translators, editors and publishers to polish manuscripts until they are the best they can be.

A software engineer friend (K) had these words of advice:

You can be a sole trader and still have a ‘company’ name though if you wish. Good names are subjective though. Short and memorable, tripping off the tongue easily and easily associated with what you do all make for good names in terms of word of mouth and people remembering you.

Another friend (A), self-employed as a counsellor and therapist, said:

Go for it Sarah. Sole Trader (free), catchy company name and tag line that sells the benefits of what you do… And good record keeping for when you sort your tax out…sorted!

I already had come up with a strapline – Changing the world one comma at a time – and was pretty happy with that.

My record-keeping was also in order – or at least I had a spreadsheet of all my income and a load of receipts shoved in the back of a notepad…

As K put it, good names need to be memorable and associated with what a company does.

I spent the next few weeks asking family and friends about various options I’d been considering, googling possible names to see if anyone else was using them, and generally getting myself even more confused.

As I was tempted to start trying to secure work from local clients, I wondered about selling the local angle, with names like Lake District Proofreading, Cumbria Proofreading and Editing…the list goes on. However, as I can potentially work for clients from all over the world, I wondered if this would make my appeal less global. I certainly didn’t want to put anyone off!

Although I didn’t want to go down the limited company route, I did want to have this as a potential future option, so I used HMRC’s WebCheck tool to make sure any names I thought of weren’t already in use.

I was also aware that I’d probably want to set up a website at some point, so I checked online to see if various domain names, both ending in .com and, were available at that point. I used GoDaddy’s domain name search, but there are plenty of other sites that you can use to check.

It was only after running through several different names that I realised I already had a web presence that wasn’t under my own name. My Twitter handle.

I’d been sending out sporadic tweets for a while, but hadn’t ever thought about using it as a name for my business, and certainly didn’t have any kind of strategy for using Twitter to market myself at that stage. I ran through a mental checklist:

  • Describes my business: CHECK. (Or at least the spelling part of it)
  • Memorable: CHECK. (I think so, at least.)
  • Humorous: CHECK (As above.)
  • Available: CHECK.

And that was that: spellegance it was, and spellegance it is to this day.