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Between the lines

TES books editor Geraldine Brennan on the inside literary track

"Everyone over 20 to the back, NOW!" Somewhere in a past life, Nellie Shepherd must have been a teacher. Crowd control at Madonna's picture book launch was in safe hands. So was crowd-pleasing entertainment to pass the two hours between the unrolling of the pink carpet and the brief appearance of Madge to read a sample few pages from The English Roses, a slightly finger-wagging tale of four little A-list girls (pictured) who learn (in a dream, fairly painlessly) to be a bit nicer to another little girl whose only fault is being too beautiful. Shepherd, author of the Dorling Kindersley early years series My Art Class, ran the ultimate art class at Kensington Roof Gardens: paper roses by the truckload, glitter by the ton and someone else to clear it all up. She was also responsible for most of the flowery bower and butterfly ball that recreated Jeffrey Fulvimari's charming illustrations. The swans on stilts that teetered elegantly in a corner of the gardens don't appear in the book, but they could have done.

The absence of any actual books from the launch was almost unnoticed as Shepherd projected over the din: "The clouds are pink, purple, blue and yellow, it's a fabulous day and I've got a very special person to introduce to you." It was only the "headmaster" from Penguin Books, but we were agog all the same. Nellie Shepherd's next two My Art Class books are published next month and you don't have to sign a confidentiality agreement to read them.

London can't run to a city-wide or regional children's literary festival like Birmingham or the north-east, and The Word now takes place in one venue, the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. Madonna is not on the programme for September 27 and 28 but it's worth the trip to see Brian Jacques, Louise Rennison and Narinder Dhami, who retold Bend it Like Beckham. Box office: 020 8543 4888; boxoffice@polka;

If you receive the teenage entertainment channel Capital Disney (, check the schedules for Star Story on September 29, a pilot for a new series in which a celebrity introduces and reads a book for young readers that they're enjoying. Zo Ball kicks off with When Isla Meets Luke Meets Isla by first-time author (and English and drama teacher) Rhian Lewis. This snappy account of a teenage romance told alternately by a feisty Glaswegian girl and a dreamy boy is published by Bloomsbury Children's Books.

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