Monday, 27 June 2022

Different perspectives by Jane Clarke

I’ve always loved picture books that show the same event or story from different perspectives, and/or empower the child ‘reader’ to feel as if they know more than the characters on the book. 

Here are a few of my favourites. They date back a while, but then again, so do I…


Rosie’s Walk written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins




Rosie the hen is completely oblivious to the dangerous fox stalking her, but the reader is in the know.


The Bottomley books by Peter Harris, illustrated by Doffy Weir




In Bottomley, Cattery, Bottomley the cat's account of what went on during his stay at the cattery doesn’t quite match that of the owners of the cattery and fellow guests.




The Doctor Xargle books by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross - in which Dr Xargle leads a class of small aliens to discover much about the habits of the strange creatures who live on Earth. Only Dr Xargle doesn’t get it quite right…



Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Hounds is still a family favourite






Different perspectives have crept into a quite a few of my own picture books. So I’m delighted that my newest about-to-be-published picture book also plays with perspective - on a subject dear to my heart. 




In A Small Person’s Guide to Grandmas, illustrated by Lucy Fleming, the small person’s views are not telling the whole story - something I hope will bring a smile to the face of a happily exhausted Grandma reading the book to their very own small person.




This week, Jane's a very happily exhausted grandma, as she has her rapidly-getting-larger small people, UK and USA varieties, all together for the first time since the pandemic.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Pride Month Picture Books, a celebration! - Garry Parsons




Pride Month is in full swing and this year the UK celebrates 50 years of the Pride movement. 
For the month of June, members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies celebrate their identities, accomplishments, and reflect on the struggle for equality.

Pride Month marks the police raid that prompted the Stonewall riots which in turn led to the establishment of LGBTQ+ rights. The raid took place during the early morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, a popular gathering place for young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. The LGBTQ+ community held a series of demonstrations to protest against the raid and called for the establishment of safe spaces for gay people, where they could congregate without fear of being arrested or becoming victims of violence. These riots served as a catalyst for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Since then, the LGBTQ+ community annually commemorates the years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing pursuit of equality in the form of a pride celebration, now widely observed with parties, parades, concerts, and other events that celebrate a diverse identity.

In the UK, the first official UK Pride Rally was held in London on July 1, 1972 (chosen as the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969) – so 2022 marks the 50th year of the Pride movement in Britain.

So what does this have to do with picture books? Well, we are all different to a greater or lesser degree and every day we meet people different from ourselves. It is vitally important that children get to read about all different types of people and families to promote an attitude of empathy and acceptance. Everyone should be able to see themselves represented in the books they read to support a positive environment for each of us so we can be free to be who we are.  

I've picked out some examples of brilliant picture books supporting diversity and asked some of the creators involved for their views on what Pride month means to them personally and why picture books are so important.



Nen And The Lonely Fisherman - Ian Eagleton & James Mayhew

James Mayhew is the illustrator of Nen and the Lonely Fisherman.

"For me, Pride month is both an opportunity to celebrate and feel part of an amazing, welcoming community and also a time to reflect on those who fought so hard for LGBTQ rights and how we must never take those rights for granted. The future relies on educating people and that's why I feel strongly that we need picture books to show children positive examples of different kinds of relationships. For too long the heteronormative 'happy ending' has reinforced the problem. Books like Nen and the Lonely Fisherman gently teach acceptance and empathy." - James Mayhew.


 Nen And The Lonely Fisherman - Ian Eagleton & James Mayhew




Forever Star - Gareth Peter & Judi Abbot

Gareth Peter is the author of Forever Star illustrated by Judi Abbot, a rhyming story about a same sex couple adopting a child.

"To me, Pride means family. We have a two daddy family and we have adopted two amazing boys. This was all possible because of Pride and all that the amazing LGBTQ plus community have done. So I will always be thankful and appreciative of Pride for allowing my dream to come true and become a dad. Pride should always be a colourful, accepting, tolerant and happy celebration and that's just like our family. Happy Pride everyone!" - Gareth Peter.




Harry Woodgate is the author and illustrator of Grandad's Camper. In this moving story, Grandad tells his granddaughter about the adventures he used to have with Gramps.

"Pride is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our LGBTQ+ friends, family and community, but more than anything I feel that it's a time to reflect on and campaign for the progress that still needs to be made, especially in the face of increasingly damaging legislation.
We know children's books are powerful tools for building empathy, kindness, confidence and emotional literacy, which is why it's so important that every child is able to access literature which is why it's so important that every child is able to access literature which reflects a diverse and inclusive range of identities, experiences and family setups." - Harry Woodgate.


Grandad's Camper - Harry Woodgate



Llama Glamarama - Simon James Green & Garry Parsons


Simon James Green is the author of Llama Glamarama, a story celebrating differences and of being true to yourself.

"One element of Pride is about being true to yourself, living your life fearlessly and boldly, and celebrating everything that makes you unique. I think that's something everyone should embrace, whatever their age and that's why it's so important to see that message in picture books" - Simon James Green.


For me, Pride month is an uplifting recognition of the strength of my identity and a validation that whatever family set up you have, a family is a family.
Here are a few more picture books worthy of your attention this June and in the months and years beyond.


The Pirate Mums - Jodie Lancet-Grant & Lydia Corey


The Pirate Mums - Jodie Lancet-Grant & Lydia Corey



Hello Sailor - Andre Sollie & Ingrid Godon


Hello Sailor - Andre Sollie & Ingrid Godon




We Are Family - Patricia Hegarty & Ryan Wheatcroft




Uncle Bobby's Wedding - Sarah S Brannen & Lucia Soto






Happy Pride Everyone!


                                                                                   ***


Garry Parsons is an illustrator of children's books and the illustrator of My Daddies! also written by Gareth Peter. A picture book celebrating same-sex parents, shared story time and introducing children to the different kinds of family in the world today.

My thanks to James Mayhew, Gareth Peter, Harry Woodgate and Simon James Green for their heartfelt contributions.
 
Garry's work can be seen here
Follow Garry on twitter and instagram @icandrawdinos







Monday, 13 June 2022

Checking roughs – a vital picture book author skill Moira Butterfield

I was inspired to write this blog after reading an interview with actor and writer Brett Goldstein, co-creator of the marvellous Ted Lasso TV series. He emphasised how important attention to detail was in his work. He also told the story of visiting the set of Sesame Street and being really impressed by the attention to detail that was evident as part of the team’s passion to make the work the best it could be. He even saw Elmo giving script notes! 


Elmo likes things to be just right, and so do I. 


 

It struck a chord with me because picture book authoring requires great attention to detail – especially non-fiction picture book work. There are checking stages the author will be asked to do and they require concentration, care and even a measure of diplomacy. It’s a vital part of being an author of illustrated books – a vital part of making good work. 

 

I‘m asked to check illustrator pencil roughs and then the colour work. I’m checking to ensure the illustrator has correctly interpreted the factual details of my text. The artist has invariably done a wonderful job and I take care to tell the editor so, whilst pointing out any things that need correcting. 

 

I’m not making purely subjective comments on the art but I point out factual errors - perhaps a beak is the wrong shape on a bird I’ve named or a creature is missing its tail, for example. I’m also checking for mismatches between the pictures and what is said in the text. So if I’ve mentioned, say, a particular creature and it hasn’t appeared as it should on the page. 

 

Occasionally, if the art is now in colour and it doesn’t affect the book, I might make a small text change to accommodate a new picture and make the work correct. Here are some examples of things I spotted in the last few days, just to show you the kind of detail I might point out.


There was no crab to spot. 

The coral cup needs a line to separate it from the tentacles. 

I changed the text here because Herefords weren't illustrated. 

The grass wasn't drooping like a mini arch. 


 

The writer should not point out errors with a heavy hand. You don’t want your reaction to sound like this: “Ha ha! Good for me! I found something!”. It ought to sound like this: “The illustrator has done a great job. I really appreciate the efforts made. Here are my comments. I hope they help. Do come back to me to discuss them if you would like.” 


Be this! 


 

It takes significant work time to do a thorough check on an illustrated non-fiction book. In fact it’s a good idea to check everything twice – and then even look again the next day if you have the schedule time and the book has lots of detail. 

 

Recently I had a spread up onscreen when a friend arrived and I explained what I was doing. “Oh kids won’t know it’s wrong,” she remarked, but they very well might and I certainly would. It does matter because attention to detail is a part of a writer’s creative passion, as Brett Goldstein pointed out. It’s necessary to make the book the best it can be, and that’s what I want for every book I write. 


Moira Butterfield is the author of many non-fiction picture books, most recently Maya's Walk, illustrated by Kim Geyer (Oxford University Press) and Grandma's Story, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (Walker Books). 



twitter @moiraworld 
instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor



Monday, 6 June 2022

The (Lost) Spark of Back-and-Forth Collaboration? • by Natascha Biebow

 


Once acquired by a publisher, picture books are made by collaboration – a whole team behind the scenes, including the illustrator, the author, the editor, designer and production team works closely together to share their expertise and to build upon the creator's initial ideas. Once made, picture books look seamless: all those collaborative discussions are evident in the polished book. Now, there will be people championing it in the publisher’s marketing, sales, rights and publicity departments.

 

Many hands collaborate to make a picture book that shines

Sometimes, a collaboration is established in a particularly inspired author illustrator pairing that will go on to endure and delight countless young readers.

 

But what of the collaboration between the creative and the first point of contact – usually the editor at the publishing house? The kind that takes time and a special kind of eye to see the seed of something special and commercial and then time and effort to let it ‘cook’ till it shines. Is it a lost art?

 

In the US, recently several junior editors quit their roles citing being overworked and lack of proper recognition for their creative contributions to the business of making bestselling books. Increasingly we hear reports of submissions going unacknowledged in overflowing ‘slushpiles’ and overtasked editors. It stands to reason, then, that editors would want book proposals to arrive on their desks as polished projects that they can immediately envision in terms of potential. These they can effectively ‘run’ with as they pitch them in-house for acquisitions.

 

But what if . . .?

 

Editors once again had a bit of time and space to connect and collaborate back-and-forth, to nurture artists and authors at all levels of their career?

 

What if . . .?

 

Writers, editors, illustrators and art directors could meet in a kind of ‘writer’s room’ scenario like teams creating movie and TV series do?

 

What if . . . ?

 

Authors (and illustrators) with talent received encouragement and direction to work collaboratively with editors to help them take their ideas to the next level rather than just receiving no response or even an outright rejection to a project that has a seed of promise? Could it elicit a spark that later led to great works?

 


What if . . .  editors had more time and space . . .
to reach out, to nurture a spark,
to collaborate in a conversation . . .?


Writing letters may be a lost art, and emails are often at best short and business-oriented – everyone is so busy and short of time - but knowing that an editor is in your corner can mean the difference between being able to create the next big masterpiece or not.

 

Take for example the pivotal role legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom (1910–1988) played in bolstering Maurice Sendak at a key time in his early career, eventually leading him to believe in himself enough to go on to create the enduring classic Where the Wild Things Are.

When Sendak expressed his self-doubt in being able to stack up to the genius of Tolstoy and illustrate his work, Ursula wrote:

 

Sure, Tolstoy and Melville have a lot of furniture in their books and they also know a lot of facts (“where the mouth of a river is”) but that isn’t the only sort of genius, you know that. You are more of a poet in your writing, at least right now. Yes, Tolstoy is wonderful (his publisher asked me for a quote) but you can express as much emotion and “cohesion and purpose” in some of your drawings as there is in War and Peace. I mean that. You write and draw from the inside out — which is why I said poet.

 

You are growing and getting better all the time. I hope it was good for you to write me the thoughts that came to you. It was very good for me to read what you wrote, and to think about your letter.

….

You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy wasn’t Sendak, either. You have a vast and beautiful genius.” *

 


 

According to HarperCollins' website, 'Nordstrom had a simple philosophy regarding new authors. As one colleague said, “Anyone who called, anyone who got off the elevator, anyone who wrote in, could be seen and heard.” She always answered her own phone, and on hearing another ringing, would cry out, “Answer that! That might be the next Mark Twain.”'

Dear Genius The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
Collected and Edited by Leonard S. Marcus
 



I wonder if some of our great children’s picture books would have even come to fruition and evolved in quite the same way without the space and support to experiment and collaborate with editors and art directors?

 

Having the

 

friendship and support of a

teacher and mentor and listener to

bolster creative confidence

 

sounds like a real gem in this day and age. That TRUST and FAITH! Hopefully it isn’t too elusive and the ways can be found to bring back that back-and-forth collaborative spirit in a new, and perhaps even better, guise? We can but dream . .  .

 

Thoughts on a postcard, please.

_____________________________________________________________________

 

* letter excerpted from Dear Genius: The Letters of Urusla Nordstrom, Collected and Edited by Leonard S Marcus

 

Ursula Nordstrom was the editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row, who helped nurture many talented authors, such as Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, EB White, author of Charlotte’s Web, Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree, and Maurice Sendak, illustrator and author of Where the Wild Things Are.

 


_________________________________________________________________


Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. Find out about her new picture book webinar courses! She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at www.nataschabiebow.com

 

Monday, 23 May 2022

Five Tips for an Amazing Author Visit by Chitra Soundar

As a children’s author, I’m often invited into schools, libraries and festivals to tell stories and share my book with children and often parents. 

Illustrated by Poonam Mistry

If you’ve written a picture book and got it published, then you might want to visit schools to share your stories. 

Here are five tips for a wonderful author visit. 

1) Read the book aloud many times, knowing when to dramatize, where to change voices, how each character sounds. Prepare for the visit. 

Remember picture books are usually shared with children from 3 years old. So it’s important to engage them with the reading. When I read You’re Safe With Me to children, I change the voice for each animal in the story, that matches their personality, and the dialogue. You can try this out with your own family or friends to get prepared. 

Here is my reading of Tiger Troubles (illustrated by Hannah Marks) that helps illustrate this.

2) Expand and stretch the story. Introduce nursery rhymes as appropriate to break up the reading. Children love to join in and they enjoy and remember the experience when they can participate instead of being passive listeners. 

Illustrated by Frané Lessac

For example, when I tell the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, as the pumpkin floats, we sing Row, Row, Row the boat together with some relevant changes in the words that surprise the children and the adults alike. 

3) Carry props -  they could be shop-bought, handmade. But it adds a new dimension to the listening. Children can see and touch the object (pre-covid of course) especially if the characters or things in your story are new to the listeners. When I tell the story of Manju's Magic Wishes and the sequel Manju's Magic Muddle (both illustrated by Veronica Montoya), I carry a magic lamp with me and it is fascinating to see how the little ones are definitely happy to suspend disbelief and imagine the magic. And that's magic. 

4) Ask the publisher for a pdf version of the story and convert it to a slideshow (google can help you find tools to do this). In every class, there will be children who need visual cues to keep their attention. Also it honours the craft of the illustrator to show the children the art from the book and talk about it. Just remember not to leave the presentation / pdf behind in a school or festival computer. 

5) Create activities for the story – be it a colouring sheet (ask the publisher to give you one from the book) or a word search puzzle (google for this too) or a craft activity children can learn to do from the teachers. Check out my dedicated website for book related activities here

That's just five tips from the tip of the author visit iceberg I've shared with you. What are your tips to bring your book to readers and listeners? Share in the comments. 

Monday, 16 May 2022

Character Driven versus Plot Driven, by Cath Jones

When you’re writing a picture book, have you ever considered whether your story is ‘plot driven’ or ‘character driven’? It’s quite possible that you’ve never really thought about this. Perhaps you’re not even one hundred percent sure what these terms mean. Decades ago, when I first started writing stories for children, I had not even heard of ‘Plot driven’ or ‘character driven’. I just wrote instinctively.


This is how I now define the two concepts:

  • If you tend to focus on events, then the chances are your story is ‘plot driven’.
  • But if your character changes or develops during the story, or they come to a greater understanding of themselves, then your story is probably ‘character driven’. Ask yourself, is the personality of my character moving the story forward? 



When I came to write this blog post, I realised I had no idea whether I was a plot driven or character driven writer! So I thought about some of my own stories.

My next picture book, ‘Slug Love’ (publishing June 2022) follows a pretty classic plot structure so does that mean I am plot driven? Not necessarily! 

The plot may follow a pretty classic structure of problem to be solved, situation worsening, all is lost moment and a twist ending but all the action is driven by the optimism and determination of Slug. So that sounds like my story is definitely character driven.

What clinched the answer for me was the realisation that, when people asked me what my story was about, I always answered:

“Oh it’s about an optimistic slug,”


Rather than describing the plot or the problem, I always described Slug, the central character. And from the moment I started writing ‘Slug Love’, Slug was the star of the story, not the plot! In fact, I really struggled to get the plot to work. It took me literally years to reach the final draft.



‘Bonkers About Beetroot was my first traditionally published picture book.’ When I set out, it was definitely plot driven. There was a problem to be solved and that was the plot. Simple.

However, what really makes this picture book (apart from Chris Jevon’s stunning illustrations of course) are the two main characters. At the heart of the story is an optimistic and determined Zebra and a pessimistic, rather grumpy penguin. If I had not populated a classic plot structure with two larger than life characters, the story would have been pretty uninspiring. And I will admit that the original germ of an idea for this story was a purple zebra and the title. The plot definitely came later.


But let’s see what other picture book authors think about character versus plot. I asked a few to consider their own books and writing style. Did they think they were plot driven or character driven?




Frances Tosdevin, author of the 2021 picture book THE BEAR AND HER BOOK (illustrated by Sophia O’Connor) said:

“The Bear and her Book started off as plot-driven because I wanted to have lots of interesting visual possibilities in the text. But I do feel that the bear's character drove the plot, too— her kindness came out the more I got to know her. The creatures she meets (hopefully) all have their own personalities, too. 

However, in general, I do try to have a mix of both plot and character in my stories, as I think they are quite interdependent, and also somewhat necessary!”




I’m sure many of you will relate to what picture book author Emily Ann Davison said:

“I do sometimes try to plot a story that is one or the other but most stories just fall out of my brain.” 




Jill Atkins, author of the 2021 picture book ‘Raccoon and the Hot Air Balloon’ and over 150 other books explained:

“In Raccoon’s case I began by wanting to write a story about a raccoon who was adventurous but kind. Then the plot fell into place... But sometimes the plot just comes to me and the characters develop from that.” 



Lou Treleaven author of eight picture books, said:

“I think I'm probably plot driven but I find that in picture books the plot is so bound up with the character that you can't really separate them. The character IS the plot! For example in the Snugglewump the fact that the Snugglewump is just a piece of fabric compared to the other toys means it's going to feel inferior and unloved, so it had to be that character to make the plot work. But I've just realised that in my last few books I have started with the title and worked from there, and the title is a microcosm of the book, eg The Knight Who Might was a title that came to me when I was playing around with words, and that of course invokes the idea of a clumsy knight, and then the knight needs a challenge to see if he can get over his clumsiness. The fact that he believes he is the Knight Who Might against all the odds shows his self belief and determination. Again, the character is the plot. So maybe it would be better to say my writing is concept-driven!” 


Personally, I think on the whole, you need BOTH a clear plot and brilliant characters. If the reader doesn’t care about what happens to the characters, it doesn’t matter how amazing the plot is. To write a brilliant picture book, I think you need to be a master of both plot and character. To create a great story one needs to find a balance between plot and character. 


So, now you know! Do you set out with a great plot or some brilliant characters? Are you plot driven or character driven? I’d love to hear your thoughts.




Cath is the author of scores of early readers, junior and middle grade fiction and a couple of quirky picture books. She’s passionate about diversity and strong female characters. She’s particularly proud of The Best Wedding Gift, a story featuring a child with two mums. Her life is dominated by vegetable growing, picking up litter and swimming in the sea. Cath lives in Kent with her wife and a spoilt rescue cat. 


Monday, 9 May 2022

What Do You Mean? by Pippa Goodhart

How much does it matter that children understand every word that we write in picture books?

 

One quick answer is that of course picture book readings are a wonderful way for children to learn language as it's used in context. For that reason we wouldn’t ever restrict texts to only the language that children already know. But what if none of the text makes sense to them?

 

When I was a child our family picture books were Phyllis Krasilovsky’s 'The Cow That Fell Into The Canal', Robert McCloskey’s ‘Make Way for Ducklings’, and the Brian Wildsmith ‘Alphabet’. But my mother’s Swiss cousins also sent us some beautiful Swiss picture books with Swiss-German texts. I loved them! Here is one called ‘Knirps’, by Max Bollinger and Klaus Brunner. 

 

 

 

I understood the name ‘Peter’ amongst the writing, but that was the single word in the whole text that I understood. However, I understood enough of the story to be captivated by it. 

 

 

 Look at some sad opening images, which surely any child could understand –





 

 

Then comes lush colourful nature. I don’t know what is happening to Peter at these points (he's not in the pictures), but I filled those gaps with my own ideas –

 





 Before we end, returning to less lush colours, but this time a distinctly happy ending mood –

 

 


What is it that Peter has written on the blackboard? I still don't know.

 

My children grew-up loving ‘Pingu’ as tiny five minute television adventures about penguin Pingu, friends and family. Rather as The Clangers spoke in breathy hoots, Pingu and company speak in expressive musical notes. We perfectly understand what they are saying to each other, at least in terms of emotions.

 

Carson Ellis’ much more recent ‘Du Iz Tak?’ picture book similarly uses invented word sounds, but a good reader out loud of this picture book makes it totally accessible to young readers. They understand what is being communicated between the insect-human characters.

 




 

 

And of course young children are much more used to not understanding than we adults are. Language is new to them anyway, its sounds just beginning to have meaning, and finally enabling us to use those words to express things for ourselves. 

 

There are many wordless picture books which let the pictures do all the communicating. But do you know of others where words are there, but in non-standard text ways that still speak to children?