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My Herts Life: Jo Bicknell

PUBLISHED: 14:31 09 March 2015 | UPDATED: 14:49 09 March 2015

Jo Bicknell

Jo Bicknell


With World Book Day this month, Sandra Smith talks to Berkhamsted’s innovative children’s book publisher Jo Bicknell about engaging youngsters in a digital world

One of Make Believe Ideas' interactive booksOne of Make Believe Ideas' interactive books

Why did you set up a children’s book publishing company?

After working for two big publishers, I decided I wanted to try out my own approach. It’s my passion that all children should have books – from babies through to adults, everyone should love reading. The idea was to make beautiful, attractive and interactive books which are competitively priced without stinting on quality.

Now we have plans to take that creativity and keep moving into any areas we can, such as games and stationery.


What is the ethos behind Make Believe Ideas?

A book has to be attractive to look at. I want mums to be nicely surprised at the price and for the book to deliver more than expected. I know who our purchasers are: women. We are not all victims of fashion but we know what’s going on around us and we’re all affected by it. I’m not interested in book fairs but my job is about discovering new designs, fabrics and homewares being exhibited for the buyers of the world. I go to exhibitions and absorb textures, colours and typography so my books look as contemporary as they possibly can.

In a young world we deal with a small range of subjects, so I want to bring them to the child in a fresh, new way. Our core age range is up to eight years but for those who haven’t yet learned to read, a book has to be designed as a visual feast, something beautiful. Visually, words are unimportant to young children but the quality of the books we produce means we create a look and feel to which mums will be attracted.


Who creates your books?

Everything is done in-house. I have a big team of designers and editors. I’ve found designers at craft fairs and even met one at a design show in New York. I work with all the big retailers around the world so I spend a lot of time on planes! It’s an alternative way of approaching things but I’m looking to bring something fresh and new. We create about 150 books per year and are driven by what the customers want. We customise our creative, clever ideas into a format which will work.


You also set up the Make Believe Café in Berkhamsted. What’s the link with publishing?

When my children were young I felt passionately about being in places where you could relax with children. We established the café three years ago and it is very much about the community, an environment where mums and little ones feel safe and welcome.

We don’t serve rubbish food. Everything is homemade and organic. There is storytime and children can do crafts or decorate cup cakes.


Can reluctant readers learn to love books?

Absolutely! Key to this is a big emphasis on home life and what is being encouraged there. For kids who struggle to read, if you can unlock it for them it’s phenomenal. Computers are such an easy temptation but the world’s their oyster once children can read.


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