Monday, 19 March 2018

Picture Books to Share on an Allotment by Cath Jones

Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m BONKERS about growing vegetables and BONKERS about picture books. It’s not a huge surprise then that my debut picture book, 
Bonkers About Beetroot, is about a group of animals who decide to grow a giant beetroot.

Spring is my favourite time of year in the garden. The growing season is just beginning; the greenhouse is filling up with seed trays and seeds are bursting into life. Right now, thousands of people are heading for their allotments! But if you’ve got children along to help, sometimes it can be tricky to engage them in gardening activities, particularly for extended periods. 
My top tip for keeping kids happy on an allotment is to take the right picture books with you. So when they have had enough of digging holes and they don’t really want to help tidy up they won’t be bored!

I used to manage a community allotment and naturally the project’s focus was on children. At the end of every gardening session I shared picture book stories with the young gardeners. I tracked down lots of books that featured vegetables or gardening as their main theme. My picture book collection grew and grew, much like our vegetables. And of course it was growing beetroot with the children that inspired my story about a BONKERS beetroot eating zebra! I now volunteer on a local community allotment with a family group and get to share my own picture book with them.

I’m sure there are many vegetable themed and gardening related picture books that I have not discovered yet. But I do have a few firm favourites which I hope you will enjoy while doing a bit of gardening with the kids. For some reason the ones I like the most all feature carrots. And yes, I do have an idea for my own carrot related story...

In no particular order, picture books that I think work really well on allotments are: 

The Giant Carrot by Allan Manham and Penny Dann. I love sharing this one down on the plot. It’s a great one for getting the kids to join in with.
Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson. This has always been hugely popular. The text is perfect and it’s beautifully illustrated too. 

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. This one is great for sharing one to one. It’s a bit scary! It has really fabulous illustration inspired by Hitchcock films.

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! By Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. This a delightful story that shows the central character growing carrots and harvesting them as well as defending them! It’s great for joining in with and very funny.

Pattan’s Pumpkin by Chitra Soundar and Frane Lessac. This is a great choice if you are having a competition to see who can grow the biggest pumpkin. The text is so lovely; it’s a joy to read aloud.

If you are looking for stories that deal in particular with growing food then the following are ideal: Grow Your Own by Esther Hall.

Growing Good by Bernard Ashley and Anne Wilson 

and Dominic Grows Sweetcorn by Mandy Ross and Alison Bartlett. 

My own Bonkers About Beetroot is also good for showing how to grow seeds. 

There are many more titles I could suggest but right now I’m heading off to my greenhouse. I’ve got some beetroot seeds to deal with!

Wishing you a great growing season and I hope the kids in your life will feel inspired by all these wonderful picture books. If I have missed out a book you particularly love to read down on the plot, please do share in the comments section.

Cath Jones is the author of quirky picture book Bonkers About Beetroot and lots of early and reluctant readers. She also writes junior and middle grade fiction. Her whole life has been about books: as a librarian, teacher, editor, community gardener (vegetable story-time anyone?), and now an author she has always aimed to inspire a love of stories. She loves sharing her stories with children of all ages in libraries, bookshops, schools and especially on allotments. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Who Chooses The Books? By Pippa Goodhart

I buy lots of picture books.  My children are now in their twenties, and I don't yet have grandchildren, so I buy picture books for me.  I buy ones I just want to enjoy for myself, but I also buy books with thoughts of using them as examples when I teach classes of adults about writing children's books.

I love the clever, super-charged, thrill and danger of picture books such as Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat.  I'm moved to sadness and joy by books such as Jo Empson's Rabbityness.  I love the gentle beauty and humour of wordless book Wave by Suzy Lee.

But, looking at my books, I wondered which of them the young child me would have chosen.  We're all individual as children just as we're individual as adults.  But I know that child me was also different from adult me.  So I went through the books, thinking about what would have appealed or not when I was of core picture book audience age.  I picked out two books.

I would have hugely enjoyed Oi Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field for its wonderfully logical silliness and humour, and the way it plays with language.

But I know that the book I would have gone back to again and again on my own after a parent had first read it to me would have been Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown.  Why?  Because it is beautiful.  But, more than that, because Mr Tiger goes through emotions that I would have recognised as he copes with feeling an odd one out, testing freedoms, then coming to a happy compromise that lets him both be himself and fit into society.  It's a story I would have thought about a lot, and probably made up extension stories of my own in my head about.  I care about Mr Tiger, and would have done so then.

I would also have enjoyed having a go at copying those wonderful blocky pictures.

So what modern picture book would the child you have particularly enjoyed, and why?

Monday, 5 March 2018

My 10 Step Marketing Plan • by Natascha Biebow

So, after years of tinkering and not giving up, I’m super excited that I have finally got a new book coming out in Spring 2019. THE CRAYON MAN is a narrative non-fiction picture book about the invention of the Crayola crayon. 

It is a colourful jaunt into the invention of one of America’s signature childhood toys: In 1903, a man’s innovative invention appeared in homes in a bright green box – the Crayola crayons. In a world where children are given crayons almost as soon as they are born, where the smell of crayons is more recognizable than coffee and peanut butter, I wondered: what must it have been like to live at a time when crayons were a novelty?  

Original box of 8 launched in 1903. Image from

Oooh, I'm so excited. 

Last September, I went to the SCBWI Author Bootcamp to learn about how to market my book. I came away with lots of practical advice and a list in my notebook. But since then I have, well, hidden under my rock. I figured I had bags of time still. 
Then last week my publisher sent me a marketing questionnaire. 

Hmm, maybe I should crawl out from under my rock . . . 
. . . and think about starting to do some, erm, Marketing.

It’s one of those words that, for me, is like when my mum used to announce something I didn't like to eat for dinner, like fried liver with apples. It made my stomach clench in anticipation.

When I got the questionnaire, I decided to see if I could come up with a marketing plan. And, um, maybe you can help?

1. Hide under my rock.

No, actually the Bootcamp list says: don't forget to work on the next book. Yes! I can do that. I’ve been researching and writing some more non-fiction picture books, because I want to keep up the momentum and actually get to have coffee and cake with my lovely new editor at some point soon. 
But that's not really MARKETING . . . Right. The Bootcamp notes. 

2. Blog. I like writing. Yes, I can do those. Blogs are my friend. I blog here and I have a new blog for the SCBWI’s Words & Pictures online magazine:
To do: Write a couple of blog posts about topics like how the book came about, a glimpse behind the scenes, and perhaps even with some updates on this plan. What else?

3. Website: I’ve already used to build one of those for my coaching and mentoring service. So, I grab and start building an author website. But, what should it have on it? It’s a darned blank page!

I want to crawl back under my rock. No, come on, I coach myself. Chunk it down. Bring it back to writing.

Maybe I could share:

-       some quirky info about me Like this:
     Whenever I go anywhere, I always have a book (or usually books) in my bag -- IN CASE. I think my greatest fear is being stuck somewhere without a book . . .

             . . . (and chocolate)!

-       the book cover (can’t wait to see that!), a blurb with THE CRAYON MAN hook and links to bookshops

-       tips for readers and teachers about using the book in the classroom (I coach writers and illustrators, and I’m a Montessori teacher so that should be do-able), and maybe some useful non-fiction links and activity sheets.

-       some info about school visits

-       link to my blogs

Better get writing then and oooh, maybe do some colouring.  

But when? I'm supposed to be writing a new book (and working to earn a living).

4. Create some freebies: postcards/bookmarks? Or someone suggested a fun rubberised stamp saying “I met an author today”. Design and print.

5. Dream up and plan a school visit gig: hmmm, this one sounds a tad big and overwhelming. How to start? Oooh, I know, PROPS! I could buy some rearlly, cool stationery, like: 

-       Slates and slate pencils

-       Coloured chalk

-       Lovely colourful Crayola crayons . . .

But I can't just colour with an assembly of 200 kids. The notes say I need a PRESENTATION. I need to brainstorm and plan out my visit. (Maybe I can work on this while walking the dog?!)

I need some ideas. I know: go and watch some seasoned authors perform.

Mo O'Hara enthralling school children.
I wonder if I can come up with a party trick like Kes Gray did at my son's school where he flicked playing cards and biscuits across the school hall? Hmmm . . . 

Practise my presentation performance in front of a mirror. (I guess all those years of drama club in high school may come in useful. Who knew?!) Next, find a guinea pig school to let me try it out. And maybe . . .  book some school visits for when the book comes out?

6. Connect with reviewers, librarians and booksellers. Go into local bookshops and introduce myself. Leave postcards. Make new friends. Make a list of everyone I know so I can tell them about the book. For this one, I have to be brave and network. (That rock is looking quite tempting again right now).

7. Create an author profile on and and. And on Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Facebook etc. Maybe I can re-purpose some of the writing from building my website?

8. You Tube is big. Maybe I should make a book trailer. I can get my 8 year-old son to help me since he’s keen to be a photographer/videographer.  

9. Get on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram . . .

Um, here is where things go pear-shaped. I don’t like social media. What to do? Hire a coach?

10. Organize a launch – check in with the publisher, but also maybe do a blog tour?

Ouf, such a long list! How do busy authors have time for all this stuff? I think it’s time to go hide under my rock again. And take a long nap. At least till next Monday.

Have you got a book marketing tip? I’d love to swap and share!

Natascha Biebow Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of The Crayon Man (coming in 2019), Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Check out her Cook Up a Picture Book courses!

Monday, 26 February 2018

Going Back to School • Lynne Garner

Over the last two years I've been concentrating on getting a short story collections published (suitable for older readers). In order to do this I put my picture book writing on the back burner. However, at the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to return to writing picture books (I surprised myself by how much I've missed them). I also set myself the goal of getting at least one picture book contract signed. I therefore revisited some stories I'd written and had not managed to find place with a publisher.

My collection of Brer Rabbit tales, published Jan 2018   
I selected five I felt may have the best chance of getting published. One of the five I picked had almost been published, but sadly fell at the last hurdle (unfortunately it often happens). Knowing the book market is always changing and is extremely competitive I decided to invest in my writing by sending my stories to a professional to critique them for me. 

I discovered once I'd pressed the send button it felt as if I was back at Uni and I'd submitted my course work. As I waited I began to question myself and my writing. What if I'd lost it? (What ever 'it' is). What if they thought none of them have potential? What if ...? 

Thankfully, when I received the feedback it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I'd feared. In fact it was quite positive. Unsurprisingly, areas for improvement had been highlighted. So, for the first time in years I've been set homework!

I've read and re-read the feedback and I'm now working through each story. As per the suggestions given I'm:
  • Altering the layout of the manuscript slightly
  • Adding an illustration note here and there, to make things more obvious
  • Improving the flow of the text
  • Correcting those little spelling errors I'd missed
  • Inserting (in the stories that need it) a 'second layer' to create a more rounded story
Once I've completed this process I plan to resubmit in the hopes I get the thumbs up. If, no once I do then the stories will be sent off to publishers and agents. If luck is with my I may just get one of them published. If I do it'll prove that it's never to late to go back to school.

Hey, you never know I may even get all five published - us authors always live in hope.



P.S. If you know of a publisher open to un-solicited submissions or an agent looking for a new author to represent please let me know.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

World Book Day Treasure Hunt • Jonathan Emmett

Last year's Picture Book Den post on how to organise a "Picture Book World Cup" in schools got such a good response that I thought I'd follow up with a similar post on how to run a Picture Book Treasure Hunt.

Like the Picture Book World Cup, this is an activity that I originally ran with my former Patron of Reading school, Asfordby Captain's Close Primary in Leicestershire. We did our treasure hunts in June, which meant we were able to run them outside, in the school grounds, but a hunt would work just as well inside. And it would make an ideal book-themed activity for the upcoming World Book Day, which is why I'm blogging about it now!

A Captain's Close student discovers one of the question sheets.

We ran two separate treasure hunts: a picture book themed hunt for Key Stage 1 and a novel themed hunt for Key Stage 2. I'm going to describe how to run the KS1 picture book version, but the KS2 version works in a similar way and you can find information on it and links to download packs for both versions at the bottom of this post.

How the hunt works

The hunt is a race against time. The first student to complete it correctly wins. A winner's certificate is included in the download pack, but schools may want to offer a book as a prize as well.

Once they have completed the hunt, students will need to hand in their answer slip to a Hunt Collector (a nominated member of staff), so make sure all the students know who the Hunt Collector is and where they can be found before the hunt starts. 

If the hunts we ran are anything to go by, the winner is more likely to be a tortoise than a hare. Make it clear that the winner is the first student to hand in a CORRECTLY COMPLETED answer slip. The twentieth student to hand in their slip could still be the winner if the previous nineteen have not completed the hunt correctly!

It will take a little time to check the answer slips, so let the students know when the winner will be announced. If you're running the hunt in the morning, you might tell the students that the winner will be announced in an afternoon assembly.

The hunt uses a set of ten multiple choice question sheets like this one:

The question sheets are stuck up in different locations around the whole of the school. Before the hunt starts, make sure students know where they can and where they cannot look.

Students all start the hunt at the same time, but in any place, with any sheet. It makes sense to split students up as much as possible at the start so they begin in lots of different locations. That way, they will not all be looking for the same question sheet at the same time.

Each student is given an answer slip like this:

When a student finds their first sheet, they write down the big letter at the top in the first square of their answer slip. Then they read the question and decide which of the four book covers at the bottom of the sheet is the correct answer. Then the student has to find another sheet that has that book cover at the top and repeat the same process.

Students should be able to answer the questions in the KS1 hunt in the download pack by looking at the books' covers. Remind students that if they have a problem reading or understanding a question, they can ask a teacher for help.

As students search for the question sheet with the correct cover, they will probably spot other question sheets that they will need to find later on in the hunt, so students should try to remember where each sheet is, even if it's not the one they're currently looking for.

When a question leads a student back to the question sheet they began with, they should have a letter in each of the 10 boxes. They have now finished the hunt and should hand in their answer slip to the Hunt Collector straight away!

The first student to hand in a correctly completed answer slip to the Hunt Collector wins.

Tips for the organisers

Example question sheet: Before starting the hunt, use the example question sheet in the download pack to explain how the hunt works and what students have to do.

Synchronise the start: Agree an exact start time for the hunt, then split the students into small groups and ask a member of staff to accompany each group to a different part of the school to start the students at that time.

Leave time to find the winner: If the hunt we ran is anything to go by, the first students to hand in their slips will have got their letters in the wrong order and you will have to check through several incorrectly completed slips before finding a correctly completed winner.

When you announce the winner (preferably in an assembly), you might want to spread the credit and heighten the tension by revealing the top three hunters in reverse order.  If the school is feeling generous, they could give a prize to the runners-up too.

Tips for the Hunt Collector

Don't worry about marking the answer slips as they come in! The important thing is to keep a record of the order you receive them. So write a number in the top box in the top right corner of each slip as it is given to you.

The first few students to give you their answer slips will probably have filled them in incorrectly, so keep collecting the slips and recording the order you receive them in until you've collected them all or until the time programmed for the hunt is over.

Once you've collected all the answer slips, you can use the long marking strip in the download pack to check the sequence on each slip quickly. Starting with the first answer slip to be handed in, line up the first letter on the slip with the first occurrence of the same letter on the marking strip. If the student has completed the hunt in the right order all of the following letters will match those on the marking strip.

Use the long marking strip to check the sequence quickly, by lining up the first letter on the student's sheet with the same letter's first appearance on the strip.

If the sequence of letters on the first slips you check don't match the sequence on the marking strip exactly, put a cross where the sequence is broken. It's worth keeping rejected slips in the order they were collected in as, in the event that no student gets the whole sequence right, you will need to go back through the slips and pick out a winner with the longest correct sequence.  

Once you've found the winner you can fill out the certificate in the download pack and present it to them.

Foundation and Reception Simplified Option

Foundation and reception students can do an easier version of the hunt by simply finding all the question sheets and writing down all the letters. The winner is the first student to hand in a slip with all the correct letters in any order.

Hunt the Teacher Option

The download pack contains an off the peg version of the hunt that will work in any school. However, the original hunts we ran included extra questions about teachers' favourite books, as shown in the example below.

Additional Hunt the Teacher question sheets like this get
students talking to teachers about their favourite books.

To answer this question, students had to find the teacher and ask them which book was their favourite. This was a good way to show children that grown-ups enjoy reading and to get the students talking to staff about their choices. If you want to create your own version of the hunt using this option, you will need to ask staff to name their favourite books in advance so they can be written into the hunt. And if a staff member is unexpectedly away on the day (as was the case with one of our hunts), make sure another staff member knows the correct answer and that the students know who this is before they start the hunt.

Key Stage 2 Version

A download pack for an off the peg Key Stage 2 version featuring children's novels is also available below. This runs in exactly the same way as the KS1 version, but has the following tweaks to make it a little more difficult:

  • There are 15 questions instead of 10.
  • While the answers to some questions can be found by looking at the covers, others require a little knowledge of the books.
  • On some question sheets, more than one of the covers at the bottom of the sheet can be found at the top of other sheets, so students can't just go looking for any of the four options like they can in the KS1 hunt - they need to find the sheet with the correct cover to get the correct sequence of letters. If students get back to the sheet they started with and haven’t got a letter in all 15 of the boxes, they will probably have skipped a few letters by answering a question incorrectly.

And of course, you can create your own KS2 hunt with some hunt the teacher question sheets just like the ones described for the KS1 version above.

Click on an image below to download a Treasure Hunt pack as a zip file.

Key Stage 1

Key Stage 2

For some more ideas for activities your school can do to celebrate World Book Day,

For an exciting picture book race against time, check out Jonathan's rhyming romp The Silver Serpent Cup, illustrated by Ed Eaves, and published by Oxford University Press.

Find out more about Jonathan and his books at his Scribble Street web site or his blog. You can also follow Jonathan on Facebook and Twitter @scribblestreet.

See all of Jonathan's posts for Picture Book Den.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Inclusive Indie Publishers by Chitra Soundar

In the last few years, there has been a positive trend of many independent publishing houses being setup and many of them are inclusive and diverse. While some focus on publishing stories from around the world, others bring work of translation into the UK. And in some cases, new houses are focussing on specific cultures that are under-represented in the UK.

My picture books in the UK are published by three indie houses that support cultural diversity and it is great to know that there are more publishers whose mission is to bring the world to the children here in the UK.

Here is a list I put together based on my own un-scientific research. If you know of any others, please leave their names in the comment section.

I’ll start with the three publishers I’ve worked with:

Otter-Barry Books – Janetta Otter-Barry published both poetry and inclusive books as a publisher at Frances Lincoln and her new venture carries on that tradition with beautiful books for today’s world.

Lantana Publishing – In their own words, “Lantana Publishing is hugely proud to bring UK children’s publishing one step closer towards achieving a more diverse and inclusive children’s book landscape for the next generation of young readers.”

Red Robin Books – while Red Robin Books were originally setup to produce and promote books by Neil Griffiths, they also now produce books by other authors and illustrators. I’m proud to say my Farmer Falgu series have been adopted by Red Robin Books in the UK.

I haven't worked with the publishers listed below, but I've heard wonderful things about them. 

Tiny Owl Books – The books they publish…”give children unique perspectives on universal themes such as love, friendship and freedom and a greater awareness of the diverse and colourful world we live in.”

FireTree Books – Verna Wilkins is back and she has renewed her commitment to inclusive books at her latest venture FireTree Books. Her first publishing house Tamarind Books is now part of Random House and continue on their mission too.

Book Island – this publisher brings books from other languages into the UK.
Read here about why more translated books are important for the children in the UK

The next two publishers focus on a specific cultural heritage - African and Chinese respectively.

African Parrot – is a publisher based in Edinburgh who want to promote positive images about Africa to children across the world.

Snowflake Books is a joint venture between Taiwan and British experts to bring Chinese stories to the UK

Darf Publishers and Pushkin Children’s produce a number of children’s titles from writers and illustrators across the world, though their main focus is fiction.

Sweet Apple Books  also publish inclusive children’s books.

And slightly venturing outside the island, here are some publishers with similar missions.

Yali Books, NY who promote stories from South Asia

Golden Baobab & African Bureau for Children’s Stories is a non-profit organisation based in Ghana, whose vision is to inspire the imaginations of African children through African stories.

Groundwood Books, Canada who are particularly committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.

So if you’re a parent who is looking for diverse picture books for your children or a teacher who wants to have an inclusive bookshelf or a writer/illustrator who is looking for inclusive publishers, do check these publishers out.

If you have suggestions for other publishers, especially indie, who are committed to an inclusive list, do leave their names in the comment section.

Chitra Soundar is a writer made into an author by indie publishers. From her picture books in India to the ones in the UK, she works with wonderful publishers whose passion for inclusive books is infectious. Find out more at or follow her on Twitter at @csoundar.