In April, Newcastle University Museums Studies students Sarah Seeley and Maria Gkelmpoura joined the Seven Stories Collections team on placement. As part of her time with us Sarah has been exploring the archive of the editor, writer and publisher Kate Petty (donated to Seven Stories in 2012). Here Sarah talks about Kate's work and the range of interesting items she has found:

In 2012, a collection of work by the author and publisher Kate Petty was kindly donated to Seven Stories by Kate’s daughter, Rachel.  Kate Petty, who sadly died from cancer in 2007, wrote and published hundreds of children’s books on a huge range of topics.  The collection here at Seven Stories contains a wealth of material including notebooks, drafts, preliminary art and layouts, dummy books and correspondence, giving an enlightening and extensive insight into how she worked and developed her ideas.

Kate Petty began her career as an editor of adult books for Jonathan Cape and Phaidon. She carried out various editing, copyediting and proofreading jobs for other publishers, working on titles such as Rites of Passage by P.D. James and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.  Her own writing career of children’s books began with a series of non-fiction titles for 5-8 year olds on subjects such as animals, transport and planets.  From this, she went on to write various non-fiction books specialising in the 5-8 age range.

Selection of books from Kate Petty's early writing career

Kate is perhaps best known for her pop-up books.  While working at Random House Publishers, she had the idea of writing a grammar book for children.  Kate had always loved grammar as a child and together with illustrator Jennie Maizels and paper engineer Damian Johnston set about creating a book “as much fun as the wackiest of today’s ABCs” to fill a gap she felt was present in children’s education.  The Great Grammar Book, published in 1996, was an astounding success, providing a fun and interesting introduction to what is considered a dull and complicated subject, and it enjoyed many weeks on the Times Bestseller List.

The Great Grammar Book (Bodley Head, 1996) with Spanish co-edition

Kate and Jennie developed a strong friendship and together went on to produce a series of wonderfully detailed pop-up books full of intricate paper engineering and facts, ranging from music and science to the environment.  Jennie’s preparatory work for many of the books can be found throughout the collection, as well as mock-ups of paper engineering mechanisms and dummy books.  One book for which Seven Stories has some of her original rough artwork is The Global Garden.

Artwork and notes from Global Garden (Eden Children's Books, 2005)

The Global Gardenwas published through the Eden Project for which Kate was the editor of the Children’s Publishing List, and won the Royal Society’s Aventis Prize for Science Books, Junior Prize 2006.  In the collection here at Seven Stories we find a wonderful range of material, from the initial proposal with Transworld Publishers all the way through to the finished, published book.  Kate’s notebook and numerous drafts alongside her rough layout sketches, Jennie’s artwork, and plans and draft work by the paper engineer for Global Garden, Corina Fletcher, provide an amazing look into how pop-up books are made.

Preparatory handmade dummy book for Global Garden alongside the published book

Aside from non-fiction, Kate also wrote what she called “soft non-fiction”, children’s books that were informative but used fictional characters, which created an engaging way for children to learn about and identify with topics such as road safety and bullying.  She also wrote a small amount of fiction, most notably her teen novels Girls Like You, a series of eight books following the well-known struggles of eight different girls navigating life between childhood and becoming a teenager over a summer holiday.  This series was compiled into two volumes by Dolphin/Orion Publishers: Summer Heat and Summer Cool.

In Seven Stories’ book collection can be found two of these books which are particularly interesting.  Also donated by Kate’s family, Hollyand Alex are full of post-it notes on which are scribbled Kate’s own notes and edits she wanted made to the books.  Some of the edits can be found in the compiled versions of the novels and are possibly the only evidence we have of these changes.  Among Kate’s handwriting we find that of another person’s, possibly her editor, and in a folder containing material for another of Kate’s teenage books, Makeover, we find letters written by teenage girls reviewing the book pre-publication.  Here, and indeed with her non-fiction also, it is clear that Kate took great care with the research and realism of her work.

Kate's copy of Holly (Orion Children's, 2000) with post-it notes

Kate had a great talent for writing in such a way that was educational but never patronising or judgemental.  The popularity of her books is evidenced by the fan mail she received from readers and teachers alike, and she is a sadly missed voice in the genre of children’s non-fiction.

Sarah Seeley (postgraduate student in Museum Studies at Newcastle University, International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies)

If you'd like to find out more about the Kate Petty archive, the Seven Stories Collection, or the pop-up (and other!) books we hold, then 
email: or phone: 01914952707.