Monday, 7 August 2017

Favourite Picture Books of Writers and Illustrators ● Paeony Lewis

“What’s your favourite picture book?” Argh! That’s such a tricky question. Is it a favourite picture book to share with children? Or a favourite picture book you enjoy as an adult? 

Escaping to the country
to immerse ourselves in picture books

Recently, at a long weekend in the depths of the English Cotswolds, a collection of children’s picture book writers and illustrators shared their answers to this questionable question (and they couldn't pick their own books!). It’s a wonderful way to discover new picture books and see familiar ones with fresh eyes. So I thought I’d share their choices, even if I‘m staggered at some of the books chosen (ha ha, I won’t say which!).  

The discussions were originally recorded in my scruffy writing in my scruffy notebook. Apologies if I’ve misunderstood anyone and just contact me if you want anything changed. In general, I only included those who are published because although I mentioned I'd be writing a blog post, I didn't ask individuals and those who are published are more familiar with seeing all manner of stuff about themselves on the internet (even nonsense!).

Also look out for extra VIDEO LINKS. Later that weekend the talented Candy Gourlay grabbed some of us to talk about our choices on camera (we were totally unprepared – well I was!).

THE THREE PIGS by David Wiesner (Clarion Books 2001)
Chosen by guest speaker and author/illustrator, Adam Stower  + Video

The words and pictures come together to create something greater than the individual parts. It starts off lulling you into a sense of traditional security. Then the pig literally blows the pig right out of the visual frame of the story. There are speech bubbles followed by a wonderful word-free journey with a surprise at every turn.

GRUMPY FROG by Ed Vere (Puffin 2017 )
Chosen by author/illustrator Mike Brownlow  + Video

A new book which has been stylistically pared back. The lines are out of the ordinary and all unnecessary detail has been removed and the colours are particularly strong. The book removes or plays with the authorial voice and there’s a dialogue with the reader. 

Mike also sneaked in WE FOUND A HAT by Jon Klassen (Walker Books 2016) because the dialogue between the two characters appealed, and the ethical dilemma is told in a refreshing way.

THERE'S A PIG UP MY NOSE by John Dougherty & Laura Hughes (Egmont 2017)
Chosen by author Julie Fulton 

It's great fun though probably a bit of a 'Marmite' book (non-British readers: this means you'll either love it or hate it!). The trotter prints in the illustrations and the very matter-of-fact way the characters accept the doctor's diagnosis of a pig up the girl's nose add to the enjoyment. The oink repetition is fun to repeat by a child.

WATERLOO & TRAFALGAR by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books 2012)
Chosen by guest speaker and publishing art director
Zoë TuckerVideo

Beautiful and unusual book that is wordless and relies on observational body language. Great characterisation. Adores the cover from a graphic designer's point of view.

CRY, HEART, BUT NEVER BREAK by Glenn Ringtved & Charlotte Pardi (Enchanted Lion Books 2016, originally published in Danish in 2001)

A popular choice and picked by two people, writer Alison and illustrator Rachel Tilda Wolf  + Video

A story within a story. It was the stunning illustrations that first attracted Rachel, and then she fell in love with Death - he has so much respect for everyone. It's such a strong moment when Death puts his hand over the coffee cup and says now is the time.

It was an emotional book for Alison too and she particularly empathised with the intertwining of sorrow and delight; who would enjoy the sun if it never rained?

ONE OF EACH by Mary Ann Hoberman & Marjorie Priceman (Little, Brown and Company, USA 2000)
Chosen by author/illustrator Bridget Marzo  +  Video (about another favourite: Caleb and Kate by William Steig, 1977)

The saturated colour is reminiscent of Matisse. The illustrations work well with the writing and there's a strong rhythm. Bridget enjoyed sharing it with her children who found it hilarious.

PARK IN THE DARK by Martin Waddell & Barbara Firth (new edition Walker Books 2002)
Chosen by illustrator John Shelley

An old favourite. John adores the illustrations but it's the poetic rhythm (not rhyming) of the words that pulls him into the night-time world of the toys. You simply can't stop reading it from beginning to end. A simple story told in a beautiful, poetic way.

HENRI'S WALK TO PARIS by Leonore Klein and illustrated by Saul Bass (originally published in 1962, this edition Universe Publishing, USA,  2012)
Chosen by illustrator Alyana Cazalet  + Video

One of many favourites, Alyana loves the work of American, Saul Bass. The illustrations are simple, patterned, and use space, colour and typography in an interesting way. Although the book is about Henri, we never see him, which works well. Plus Bass doesn't use cliched tourist images of Paris. For a book first published in 1962, it looks very contemporary.

 WHEN FRANK WAS FOUR by Alison Lester (pb Allen & Unwin, 1997)
Chosen by author Cath Howe  + Video


This is a book about real children, to be shared with children. It creates lots of discussion and is not a narrative and breaks expectations of what works in a picture book. Cath likes the way all the children do one thing, whilst one child does something else, and Cath's children love it.

BAHAY KUBO illus by Hermes Alegre (Tahanan Books, 1993)
Chosen by author Candy Gourlay 

Not in English but we all understood what was happening. This is a traditional folk song that everyone knows in the Philippines. Candy adores the colours and illustrations and picked it because she's especially interested in books that show other countries and cultures that aren't familiar to European children.

Similarly, writer, Cathy, picked THE MOUSEHOLE CAT By Antonia Barber & Nicola Bayley (Walker Books, 1990) partly because it reflects her Cornish identity and life, her language and places. Also, she feels there's a place for longer picture book stories.

THE RED BOOK by Barbara Lehman (Houghton Mifflin, USA, 2004)
Chosen by author Juliet Clare Bell  + Video

A wordless picturebook, although for Clare the attraction is not in the illustrations. Instead it is about the 'whole thing' and the way the book makes her feel . The wordless story is about two lonely children who meet in an extraordinary way. It's a different form of storytelling.

Another book was chosen for the overall way it made the reader feel.  This time  it was an unusual (weird?!) book, THE BEAR WHO WANTED TO STAY A BEAR by Jörg Steiner & Jörg Muller (Swiss), originally published in English in 1977. Chosen by illustrator, Paul Morton, and you can find out more in this general video link.  Once again, for him it's not the pictures, or even the writing. Instead it's the feeling you get from the book. Despair with a little hope at the end.

After that book, if you want to cheer yourself up then listen to Gary Fabbi talk about Stickman in the video below.

STICKMAN by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler (Alison Green Books 2008)
Chosen by writer, illustrator and filmaker, Gary Fabbi  +  Video

Gary loves reading this 'awesome' story to his children and says there are no other books like Stickman. It's a story about homecoming.

Time to squeeze in my book choices.

Like others, I brought along several books. There was Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson - a reassuring tale about separation anxiety and a favourite to read to my young children. Plus This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen - I adore the illustration and simplicity of the expressive fish eyes, the deadpan language that says so much, and the childlike morals of the little fish who tries to justify the theft of the hat. However, we had to pick one book and my choice was...

VARMINTS by Helen Ward and Marc Craste (Templar Publishing, 2007, 2013)
Chosen by Paeony Lewis  + Video

I have two copies: an everyday secondhand copy and a signed hardback in a slipcase. Despite this I hadn't read Varmints in quite a while so if you listen to the video you'll be confused by my chaotic rambling (I panicked and didn't know what to say - which is daft as I can cope with radio interviews!).

Varmints is a slightly abstract tale about being subsumed by urbanisation and cutting ourselves off from nature. But all is not lost and it only takes one person to nurture a seed of hope that spreads change and the return of bees. The illustrations are unusual and atmospheric. Sometimes the text is hard to read, which is deliberate as the noise of industrialisation drowns out sound. Perhaps it's because my degree is in environmental sciences that this is a favourite?

Sadly there's not enough room for all the 'favourites', but here are a few more that other lovely writers and illustrators shared over the weekend.

The variety of 'favourites' is staggering. Many were new to me and I found some choices surprising. I think it shows that our personalities and experiences influence our preferences far more than sales hype or academic evaluations of what is 'good'. Plus there's often a difference between our personal favourites (as adults) and the ones we enjoyed sharing with children. For many, 'favourites' are fluid, so often new favourites replace old favourites. I'd love to hear your favourites.

Paeony Lewis

PS The long weekend was organised by the SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators), a proactive group that encourages both published and aspiring writers and illustrators. Click picture book weekend for an excellent write-up of the event by Candy Gourlay.

Monday, 31 July 2017



Hello! Before I start my first blog as a regular Picture Book Den blogger, I’d like to say how excited and grateful I am to have been asked to do this.  For the last few years I’ve visited the site regularly and have often been inspired by the posts and comments on here so...Thank you Picture Book Den!

This year has been a year of many firsts for me…first picture book published, first event in a book shop, first event at a school, first event at a festival!  And, of course, there was that fantastic first time that I was asked to sign one of my books! (It was in the pub, for my lovely editor, Laura Roberts- and yes, she made sure that she documented the moment!)  

This year was also the first time that I was asked to speak to adults about my writing.
I was asked by Fiona Barker who, along with Kate Poels, hosts ‘Picture Book Club’ in Reading and Windsor.  Pitched as a ‘monthly book club for grown-ups who love picture books’, Fiona says that Picture Book Club is for authors, illustrators, anyone with ambitions of writing picture books, lovers of art and illustration and for those who want to learn just a little bit more about children’s publishing. 

I met Fiona at the SCBWI_BI conference in November last year.  When she first asked me to speak at Picture Book Club, I was a little nervous as I haven’t studied Children’s Literature or taken any formal writing classes. Fiona, however, invited me to come along and see Picture Book Club in action. 

Fortunately I took her up on her offer and went to watch Mat Tobin whose talk was fascinating, interactive and really eye-opening.  Unfortunately, Mat Tobin also happens to be a senior lecturer in English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes and he really knows his stuff…so this experience did little to calm my nerves!  However, Fiona reassured me once again and she suggested that I speak about my journey to publication …so that’s what I did.

                                             Getting ready in Waterstones, Reading.

Speaking at Picture Book Club was a GREAT experience and, with a lovely supportive audience of picture book-enthusiasts, what could really go wrong?  There was plenty of time for chats, drinks and book-browsing in the Waterstones Children’s section and of course, no Picture Book Club is complete without one of Fiona’s famous (and often book-themed!) cakes.  Check out some of her creations so far! 


Fiona and Kate have managed to secure some fantastic speakers, from Author/Illustrators Sophy Henn and Meg McLaren to Literary Agents James and Lucy Catchpole (to name but a few). 
The evenings are very relaxed and informal and every so often Picture Book Club even goes on tour! This year it has been to Oxford and I’m told that a Summer trip to Exeter is also planned.  You can find out what’s coming up at Picture Book Club here

For those living further South, fear not! A new branch of Picture Book Club has recently been set up by Melanie McGilloway,  Emma Perry and Greet Pauwelijn and it has had some wonderful speakers so far- Yasmeen Ismail (hugely talented Author/Illustrator) and Author, Michelle Robinson (who needs no introduction to Picture Book Den readers!)   You can find out more information about Picture Book Club’s South West chapter by following the hashtag #picturebookclubSW on twitter.

This year of firsts, including my first 'Picture Book Club', has taught me to be brave and to say ‘Yes’.  Author, Tracey Corderoy, speaking at a Nosy Crow Picture Book Master Class, once explained that she says ‘Yes’ to everything and then works out how she’s going to do it later. I think that sounds like a pretty good rule.

I shall definitely be going back to Picture Book Club, for more book chats and more cake!  And who knows, perhaps I’ll be invited back to talk again one day?  Though my next picture book, with illustrator Mark Chambers , is called ‘Jake bakes a Monster Cake’ and I’m not sure anyone will want a cake quite like this one! Fiona, are you up for a new baking challenge?!

‘Jake Bakes a Monster Cake’ written by Lucy Rowland and illustrated by Mark Chambers is out in September 2017 and is published by Macmillan.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Now For Something A Little Different • Lynne Garner

I was recently asked to visit a school as part of their 'aspirations day' and talk about being an author. As I have close ties with the school I agreed. The day came and I was led to the second year room and sat in front of 20 or so year two children. After introducing myself and telling them about my typical writing day I asked if there were any questions. The first question I was asked was where do you get your ideas from? My response was anywhere and everywhere. Including:

  • Seeing random objects whilst I'm out walking
  • Sitting in a pub or similar, especially when I overhear an interesting conversation     
  • On the train, again overheard conversations are wonderful generators of ideas   
  • In the car as a passenger when I'm watching the world go by
  • Reading snippets in a newspaper, when I should be cleaning out hutches
My last example received a giggle or two. I admitted my last flash of inspiration was whilst sitting on the loo of a very quaint tea room. Among the many photographs was this one of a donkey, wearing a fab utility coat full of pockets and interesting items. I have a few ideas floating around but nothing concrete, yet.

I was then asked how random objects could generate a story. I replied things can spark different ideas based on our life experiences and our imagination. So here is the 'now for something a little different' part of this post.

Below I've inserted a few random objects I've photographed whilst out walking. I'm inviting you to give one of these objects a story, a life of it's own. Go on give it a go. I'd love to read what life you think these objects had prior to being lost or discarded in the grass.

If you've taken the time to write a few words thank you. I hope you enjoyed the process and fingers crossed it may even give you an idea for your next piece of writing.



Now for a blatant plug:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Monday, 17 July 2017

Can you teach people how to write a good picture book? • Pippa Goodhart

         No and yes.

         No, in that there are no clear rules that can be learnt and followed that would fit all good picture books.  If you set rules for picture book writing they might include …

Rule 1) Remember that pictures are the key feature of any picture book.  That’s why they are called picture books.  But then you’d never get a brilliant and successful book such as this –
The Book With No Pictures - Paperback - 9780141361796 - BJ Novak 
Rule 2) When writing for young children you must always supply a happy ending.  But then you’d never get an important honest books such as this –
Missing Mummy - Paperback - 9780230749511 - Rebecca Cobb 

Rule 3)  When writing for such a young audience, you must make clear exactly what is happening in the story.  And then we’d miss out on genius such as this –

I Want My Hat Back - Paperback - 9781406338539 - Jon Klassen 

So, no, you can’t neatly teach picture book writing in that didactic sort of way.  But you certainly can equip people with necessary knowledge for writing picture books, and also nurture their skills at working with pictures and the book format to convey stories suited to both target audience and market place. 
I’ve just finished teaching another run of the four week online course in picture book writing that I do via the Writers’ Workshop.  On that course, I take students back to thinking about what life was like when they were of the 2-5 year old core picture book audience age themselves. What mattered to them?  What did they find funny?  I tell them a bit about the often international market for picture books.  We think about what a story is, and how best to play it between words and pictures and page turns.  We think about writing style, how the text must read out loud pleasingly, the potential pitfalls of writing in rhyme, how dialogue can bring pictures to life, and so on. 
I asked the participants on the recent course what they thought about that course, and perhaps the most telling comment was this –
‘I learned a lot through doing (making mistakes, your comments, having another shot at it).’
It’s that having a go, actually doing, and then discussing the results, that develop writing skills far more than teaching 'rules' ever could.  It’s what I get from group of writing friends I belong to where we meet regularly, bounce ideas around, read out work and critique it, but the course provides that supportive yet critical community virtually.  I love it.
Still no guarantee that it will result in a publishing contract and book sales, though! 

            Do any of you have experiences of courses in picture book writing?  
            Can you think of any other books that clearly disobey the sorts of rules that might be thought to apply to the writing of picture books?

Monday, 10 July 2017

This post has no pictures by Juliet Clare Bell

I'm trying a new way of writing. Without writing.

I have a temporary problem with my arms and hands which makes writing and typing very difficult. Fortunately it is only temporary, and I am trying to learn what I can from this enforced difference in the way that I try to write.

As anyone who knows me can testify, I talk a lot. My answer phone messages are always too long and I can take a lot longer to say something than I need. Which is why writing picture books has been a really interesting challenge for me over the years.  

I'm a really messy thinker. So for me, I always need to start by brainstorming ideas messily onto a piece of paper. And when I start structuring my picture book, I leave out the vast majority of the original thoughts that I had. But I do need to get them down on paper before I start refining my thoughts. I think best by writing things or typing things down. 

Soon I'll be able to write and type things again properly. By the end of the summer, things should be back to normal. And I will be very happy when that happens. But in spite of the frustration of not being able to do what I want to do, it has also been an interesting learning experience.

Here are some things I have learnt.

So much of my thought processes are crystallised by writing things down. I discover what I'm really trying to say by writing it down. Voice recognition software on the phone has been brilliant, but even making to do lists by speaking rather than writing is massively less efficient for me. It's not just that it's slower, it's that I still haven't learnt to think that way. So I miss out loads of things I should be doing. 

Writing helps me remember what I'm trying to remember in a way that speaking does not.

Someone told me the other day how my text messages now are like my old answer phone messages! But in fact, text messages and emails are the easiest things to do with voice recognition software if they're just about something practical. And actually, when everything is completely better again soon, I will still use voice recognition software for those kinds of texts and emails- because it is really quick.

Some people are very quick writers. They can say what they want to say really concisely from the start. I, on the other hand, am very slow. And without being able to brainstorm first so I can see what my ideas are in order to structure what I write, I am going to be slower than ever over the next few months...

Brought to you by voice recognition softer with minimal editing and no brainstorming so no structuring. 

If you've ever tried new ways of writing, physically, because of an injury or condition, how much has it actually affected what you write?

And has anyone come up with a way of brainstorming without having to use your hands?