It’s that time of year again! September is here and the new term is almost upon us. I know not everyone feels the same way but I love this time of year: picking blackberries, the first crunchy autumn leaves, getting to wrap up in cosy jumpers… and of course buying new stationery for those ‘back to school’ vibes.
Of those of you who are actually going ‘back to school’ in the next week or two – teachers, you can now find a brand new masterclass for my books on Authorfy – Mystery & History with Katherine Woodfine.
The Peril in Paris masterclass is ideal for KS2 pupils who would enjoy reading about spies, mysteries, daring-do in 1900s Paris, an intrepid sausage dog, and lots of cake! There’s also a KS1 masterclass inspired by Rose’s Dress of Dreams, which we filmed in the gorgeous surroundings of the Victoria and Albert Museum as you can see above. Each masterclass includes videos, extracts and a detailed scheme of work. Find out more here.
There are also lots more free resources on my website that you can access here – including a 3 week lesson plan for The Clockwork Sparrow, posters and activity sheets to download for my books, and much more.
And if you’re interested in booking in a school visit for the new school year, you’re welcome to get in touch: my calendar is currently booked up until May 2019, but please do feel free to contact me here regarding events for the summer term onwards.
Happy back to school season everyone!
This post was originally published on the Foyles website to celebrate the publication of Rose’s Dress of Dreams
The last year has seen an explosion of brilliant new children’s books telling the stories of women from history – from the bestselling Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to books about women in space, in sport and in science. It’s been brilliant to see these books shine a spotlight on women’s achievements – and I’m delighted that this month, my own book based on the life of an inspiring female figure from history will join them. Rose’s Dress of Dreams is published by Barrington Stoke as part of their super-readable Little Gems series, with gorgeous illustrations from Kate Pankhurst – herself the creator of the Fantastically Great Women picture books, introducing young readers to heroines of history from Amelia Earhart to Rosa Parks.
The real-life female figure who inspired Rose’s Dress of Dreams is perhaps a little different – and her name is certainly less well-known, although there’s no doubt that she continues to exert a huge influence on her field today. Rose Bertin is often described as the world’s first fashion designer, and the inventor of haute couture as we know it. From humble beginnings, she had a meteoric rise to become France’s most famous dressmaker, and a member of Marie Antoinette’s inner circle. Her incredible designs have influenced contemporary designers including the likes of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld.
As a writer of historical fiction for children, I’ve always got an eye out for interesting characters and stories from history, and the idea of writing about Rose Bertin first came from an anecdote I heard about an occasion early in her career when she mistook a princess for a maid. This sweet story of mistaken identities seemed like a fun starting point for a children’s story – but as I discovered more about Bertin’s life, I became increasingly fascinated by this story of an ambitious young businesswoman with an immense talent for fashion, who became one of the most important figures of the French Court.
Born in 1747, Bertin moved to Paris at a young age, where she was apprenticed to a milliner. She excelled at her work, and was quickly promoted to partner, before moving on to open her own dress shop, where she employed 30 women. Already very popular with the ladies of the court, she soon began dressing the young Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.
Bertin’s bold designs helped the queen make an immediate sensation – and she rapidly became not only her favourite dressmaker, but an intimate friend. Together, they understood the political power of fashion: the enormous skirts of Bertin’s magnificent dresses transformed the teenage queen into an imposing figure at the Royal Court. The towering hairstyles Bertin designed for her, with the help of coiffeur Leonard Autie, made her an even more formidable presence: measuring up to three feet tall, they were often decorated with objects relating to important current events such as the American Revolutionary War.
Soon Bertin had her own workshop at Versailles, and she and the queen met several times a week to discuss her designs, which she frequently compared to masterpieces in art. Her outfits set trends not only in France, but all around Europe: dolls dressed in miniature versions of her designs were sent to foreign courts to help them keep up with the latest styles. Bertin soon became known as the queen’s ‘Minister for Fashion’ and a powerful figure in Royal circles – this at a time when women very rarely wielded any influence in politics. What was more, Bertin was a commoner, making her important position at Court even more remarkable.
In fact, Bertin was not the only prominent professional woman in the circle around Marie Antoinette – which also included the likes of portrait painter Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. In this context, it’s especially interesting that in 1776 Bertin was granted Royal permission to head up a new and largely female guild of milliners, feather-sellers and flower-peddlers, quite separate from the established male-dominated mercers guild, which would help to give working women more power.
But of course, the days of rococo splendour at the French Court were numbered. The Revolution was just around the corner; both the queen and her lavish wardrobe were increasingly criticised; and pamphlets denounced Bertin herself as ‘a corrupt and corrupting merchant of luxury’. Soon the Royal family were placed under house arrest, but still Bertin remained a loyal friend, supplying Marie Antoinette with clothes including a mourning outfit for her to wear after the execution of Louis XVI. At her own execution, Marie Antoinette reportedly wore a lace cap Bertin had made for her.
Today, Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe has been endlessly discussed and criticised – but regardless of the role fashion may have played in the queen’s downfall, I was excited to shine a light on the story of her amazing dressmaker. Rose’s Dress of Dreams is a celebration of the joy of fashion, but also of a young woman of huge artistic talent, who made history with her passion, determination and limitless imagination. Rose Bertin was a true trailblazer – and I hope this story will help her to find a deserved place amongst the historical heroines that are currently inspiring the next generation.
My brand new book Rose’s Dress of Dreams is now out in the world – and I couldn’t be more delighted! I’ve had such a wonderful time working with incredible illustrator Kate Pankhurst and the team at publisher Barrington Stoke on this book for the super-readable Little Gems series.
Like my Sinclair’s Mysteries books, Rose’s Dress of Dreams takes inspiration from real-life history. The story is inspired by Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker – who is often described as ‘the world’s first fashion designer’, and the creator of haute couture as we know it today. Here’s a bit more about the book:
Young Rose dreams of sewing stunning dresses for the women of Paris. But when a chance encounter with royalty changes her life, Rose must draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all.
Inspired by the life of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with inventing haute-couture, this is a story to inspire bold girls and boys everywhere.
You can buy a copy now from: Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon
To celebrate the new book’s publication, Barrington Stoke organised a fabulous mini blog tour with special content (including an advance look at some of Kate’s gorgeous illustrations) hosted by an array of lovely bloggers. You can catch up on the tour here:
1) BookLover Jo: Q&A with Kate Pankhurst
2) Minerva Reads: Video reading from the book
3) Space on the Bookshelf: Some of the images that inspired the book
4) Library Mice: A sneak peek at Chapter 5
5) Almost Amazing Grace: Q&A with me (with extra questions from Year 6 at Shakespeare Junior School in Eastleigh)
If you want to read more about the book, then you could check out this piece I wrote about it for the website Female First and also this piece for Foyles in which I explore the historical background to the book – and the story of the real Rose Bertin – in lots more detail (if you love my ‘Behind the Scenes’ blog posts, then this one is for you!)
You can also of course check out my Rose’s Dress of Dreams Pinterest board, which is crammed with gorgeous images that helped inspire the story.
I’m especially thrilled that Rose’s Dress of Dreams has been selected by Children’s Books Ireland to be part of their fabulous Bold Girls project, celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage in Ireland. Bold Girls is highlighting and reviewing books that feature strong, intelligent, self-possessed female protagonists in children’s books – and their Reading Guide features both Rose’s Dress of Dreams, and the anthology Make More Noise! The reading guide is crammed full of loads of brilliant book recommendations, and also celebrates twenty female Irish authors and illustrators, both emerging and established, who have made an exceptional contribution to the canon of Irish children’s literature. You can download it here – as well as lots of other material such as classroom resources and a beautiful poster.
To celebrate the publication of Rose’s Dress of Dreams, I also wrote this piece for them about why I think Rose is a brilliant example of a ‘bold girl’!
Finally for publication week, Barrington Stoke organised a lovely celebration of Rose at the London Book Fair – complete with a special chocolate cake. Sadly I couldn’t go as I was at home with tonsilitis (feeling very sorry for myself!) but I’m so pleased that everyone was there to wish Rose well – and I’m looking forward to more celebrations very soon!
I’m so excited to be able to share the news that I’ve written a book for Barrington Stoke, which will be illustrated by Kate Pankhurst!
Rose’s Dress of Dreams is based on the real-life story of Rose Bertin – a remarkable pioneer of fashion at the court of Marie Antoinette. Here’s how the Barrington Stoke team described the book:
Young Rose dreams of sewing stunning dresses for the women of Paris. But when a chance encounter with royalty changes her life, Rose must draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all. Inspired by the life of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with inventing haute-couture, this is a story to inspire bold girls and boys everywhere.
As soon as I discovered Rose’s story, I was captivated by the idea of this determined young girl, forging a new path for herself – and going on to change the course of fashion history. I had a lot of fun writing about her and researching the fabulous fashions of 18th century France.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams will be part of Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems list, which they describe as ‘chapter books designed for little readers who still have their ‘L-plates’ on. Each captivating story from a well-known author is fully illustrated to help picture book fans make the jump into reading fiction. There’s fun and games hidden in the jacket flaps, and it is all wrapped up in a package that’s perfect for little hands.’
I’ve long been an admirer of Barrington Stoke – an award-winning publisher of super readable books accessible to young people with dyslexia or reading reluctance – so I’m really excited about this project. I’m also thrilled to be working with Kate Pankhurst, creator of the Mariella Mystery Investigates series and the truly fantastic Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World. I can’t wait to see how she’s going to bring the story – and Rose’s stunning Paris fashions – to life with her artwork.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams will be published in April 2018 – preorder links to follow shortly. More information about the book can be found here.