Monday, 13 May 2019

Picture Books That Highlight Climate Change by Chitra Soundar

When I wrote You’re Snug With Me (illustrated by Poonam Mistry), it was intended to be a book about a mother reassuring her children of life in their habitat. We had chosen polar bears as our animal mother and children.

As I researched polar bears, I could not ignore the fact that polar bears faced loss of their habitat due to climate change caused by humans. How was I going to tell the polar bear cubs (as their mother) that their ice might be melting, and cause a threat? How could I tell the children who are reading this story that everyone has a role to play in combating climate change?

I created specific questions that the cubs ask about the ice, the oceans and about being the biggest predator in their habitat. And Mama Bear tells them “They must take only what they need.”

It’s been six months since this book came out and now climate change has risen to the top of everyone’s awareness after the climate change strikes by children across the world inspired by Greta Thurnberg. 

I also watched the BBC documentary by David Attenborough on the facts of climate-change, and I wanted to explore how this topic is dealt with for younger children (and their parents).

As storytellers, there are different ways to explain to young readers the effect of climate change and the need for action. As a picture book writer, this is an important decision to make. Is the story about conserving energy, or protecting our wildlife or reducing our carbon footprint more impactful as a fable or a fictional story or as pure hard facts.

So I looked at what’s out there for young children on this topic and I found these books dealing with the effects and activism of climate change in different forms of storytelling.  There are of course many wonderfully curated lists available if you wanted to research more.

As a fable:

Stories like “The Cloudspinner” by Michael Catchpool tell us a story of excess and how if we take more than we need, we will suffer the consequence. Illustrated by Alison Jay.

In The Promise, Nicola Davies tells us the story of an old woman who asks for a simple promise – the promise to change not just her own life  but the world.  Illustrated by Laura Carlin

As an inspiring tale of activism

Winston of Churchill (by Jean Davies Okimoto and Jeremiah Trammell) is a funny book about polar bears in Churchill, Canada and Winston who rallies the tourists to save the melting ice. It not only uses a real life example, but also shows us that no matter how small, we all must contribute to saving the planet.

Alison Jay who illustrated The Promise, takes us on a wordless journey in Bee & Me, showing young people how they can help in protecting our natural world.

As a life story

One Plastic Bag (written by Isatou Ceesay, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon) and Wangari’s Tree of Peace (by Jeannette Winter) both tell us stories of pioneers who tried to change their corner of the world, thus inspiring children and adults everywhere.

As non-fiction

The Earth Book by Todd Parr shows us how we can all do our best to help this planet.

Water Wow! (A Visual Exploration)  written by Paula Ayer, Antonia Banyard and illustrated by Belle Wuthrich show us the importance of water and how climate change affects the availability of this important resource.

If you were to write a picture book about climate change – how would you go about it? Which specific topic will you tackle? Which method of storytelling will you adopt? Tell us in the comments.

Chitra Soundar is the author of over 40 books for children. Her picture book You’re Snug With Me (illustrated by Poonam Mistry), deals with the anxieties of polar bear cubs whilst also underlining the role of humans in saving our planet. Find out more about her here

Monday, 6 May 2019

Horror In Picture Books, by Pippa Goodhart

I have a new early reader picture book published this month, and it’s a ‘sort of’ retelling of a well-known tale. I say ‘sort of’ because it’s actually very very different from that well-known tale. Why? Because the original story is horrific! Working on adapting that story has set me thinking about which sorts of horror are, and aren’t, allowed in picture books.
            The story I was asked to write a simple version of was Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Mermaid’ story. Children love mermaids, especially little ones. They love Disney’s ‘Ariel’ story, based on Andersen’s tale. But the original story is very much about sex and temptation and damnation, and it is full of violence. The young woman Little Mermaid falls in love with a drowning prince whose life she saves. She wants to join the prince on land. So she goes to the Sea Witch who makes her a horrible offer. She will chop out the Little Mermaid’s tongue in exchange for giving her a pair of legs, and those legs and feet will always feel as if they are walking on sharp knives, and bleed. If the little mermaid can get the prince to marry her, she will attain a human soul, and go to Heaven when she dies. If not she will die and become sea foam. But the prince marries another. The Little Mermaid is dying, but her sisters save her with a new deal from the Sea Witch. The Little Mermaid will become a sea sprite instead of foam, and if she does good deeds for three hundred years she will then rise to The Kingdom of God. 
            Is that a pleasant story for young children to practice their reading skills on? No! So my story is about a child mermaid who wants to play with children on the beach. She chooses to have legs as her birthday wish, has a happy time with new friends, but decides she wants to go home to her own family, just in time before midnight when the legs would become permanent. 

            Which other classic stories have we changed to suit our modern sensibilities when rewriting those stories for very young children? No modern picture book version of the Cinderella story includes her sisters having their eyes pecked out by doves as happens in the Grimm brothers’ version of it. You won’t find picture books of the story of Noah’s Flood that include the people and animals drowning as God saves just those in the Ark.

            And yet we don’t always shy away from real horror of kinds much closer to home for young children. Think of award-winning powerful simple picture book ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna. 

In that book we see the father going out into danger and not coming back. We see the mother in tears as she hurries with her children in search of safety. That safety isn’t sure for them even by the end of the book. It’s a book that is emotionally honest about war and killing and homelessness; what it is to be a refugee. But we don’t see the perpetrators of that death and destruction. 
Is the dividing line between what can, and can’t, be depicted in stories for young children the line between showing the violence and showing the aftermath of that violence? Should we judge differently between ‘real’ and clearly fictional horror in stories when deciding which horrors should, and shouldn’t, be included? Discuss….!   

Monday, 29 April 2019

Picture Books and the Five Ways to Wellbeing • Lynne Garner

If you've read any of my previous posts you'll be aware that I also teach for a living. I'm lucky that my job is slightly different to most teaching roles. I teach almost any age from four year olds to someone in the 80s or even 90s. I teach almost where from a school dining room to a church hall to a craft room in a garden centre. Part of my job entails encouraging my students to look after their wellbeing. To achieve this we use the five ways to wellbeing. These five ways are:

  • Connecting
  • Being active
  • Taking notice
  • Keep learning 
  • Giving 

Now I've talked about how picture books can be used as an educational tool in my posts Picture Books Aren't Just for Reading and Take a Picture Book and Add a Story Sack. However, in this post I've decided to explore how to use picture books to highlight the five ways of wellbeing. 

Firstly, I'll use one of my books. 

A Book For Bramble

Teasel the mouse has a best friend, Bramble the hedgehog. Bramble has gone into hibernation and Teasel is missing his friend very much. So he decides to create him a gift (giving) and writes him a book. In the book Teasel writes about all the fun things he does (being active), about the things that happen during winter (taking notice) and lastly when Bramble emerges from his long hibernation Teasel is waiting for him (re-connecting).    

The next book I'd like to suggest to use to explore the five ways to wellbeing is written by one of the Picture Book Den team, Chitra Soundar

It's the perfect day for flying a kite so Farmer Falgu and his daughter Ella load the cart with kites and they head to the fair grounds. On their way they meet Ahmed (the balloon man) and Pushpa (the fortune teller) who Farmer Falgu gives a lift to (connecting and giving). As they travel the kites and balloons are whisked away by a strong gust of wind. Some of the kites are blown high into the sky whilst others crash land. Farmer Falgu uses his skills (giving) to create a kite everyone is proud of.      

The next book I'd like to share is by another of the Picture Book Den team Pippa Goodhart

Publication date 31st May 2019

Daddy Frog is so in love with his tadpole (Baby Frog) that he decides to get her a gift (giving), which will show her how much he loves her. So, ignoring her plea to teach her to swim (missing the opportunity to connect) in goes in search of the perfect gift. Daddy Frog misses teaching Baby Frog important froggy things such as wriggle and swimming. But finally shows her how to leap and  also discovers just by being there and doing things together he can show her how much he loves her (re-connecting). 

Looking at connecting from another perspective can be achieved by sharing a book written by yet another 'denner,' Jane Clarke.

Although this book doesn't look at connecting in the way I've highlighted in the other books it is about connections and how we all connect to one another. How an act we do can affect not just the person/animal next to us but others who are nowhere near us. A lesson that is extremely important and links to one of the biggest issues of today, global warming and the degradation of the environment.     

Lastly I want to include these four books written by ex-denner, Moira Butterfield.

These books as a set would cover all of the five ways to wellbeing. For example just this single page from 'Everybody feels... Happy! could be used to talk about:
  • Connecting: spending time with family
  • Giving: being kind or helpful  
  • Taking notice: being aware everyone has feelings and we can have an impact on another person, both positive and negative
  • Keep learning: perhaps learning a new skill e.g. cooking
  • Giving: Not only makes the person receiving the gift feel good but also it provides the giver a lift too 
So next time you read a picture book or discover a new one think about the five ways to wellbeing and 'notice' how what you can pull out and 'give the gift' of 'learning' to the child or children in your life.

Finally if you have any books you feel would lend themselves to teaching the five ways to wellbeing please share them below in the comments.


Click here to visit my website
Click here for my short story collections  

My latest short story collection

Monday, 22 April 2019

Dioramas and 3D illustration in children’s picture books, by Paeony Lewis

For centuries, dolls’ houses have encouraged children’s imaginations and story telling. Toy farmyards, zoos, soldiers and train sets, even Playmobil and Lego, can also be used to create miniature imaginative worlds. Children’s television was once full of 3D models: Thomas the Tank, Fireman Sam, Clangers, etc. So I am surprised there aren’t more children’s fiction picture books that use dioramas and 3D illustration, and I thought I’d investigate.

From a dolls’ house exhibition (my own dolls’ house was nothing like this!).
Traditional illustrations create imaginary worlds, but there is something about a miniature 3D scene that draws me in and makes me smile. I am sure I’m not alone (am I?) and I wonder if some children could relate better to a photographic 3D image as it’s so similar to what they see on screens. Or is there a hidden reluctance amongst adults and publishers towards books that look more like television, unless they are already a television series? Alternatively, perhaps most 3D artists/illustrators already work with moving images for the screen, rather than books?

The television world of the Clangers
Another explanation for the scarcity of 3D models and dioramas in picture books might be that they are very time consuming to create and require photography and model making or papercraft skills, in addition to illustration. For example, Antje Damm, who has created several lovely diorama picture books, commented online: “I am not a very good photographer, and this was my main problem while creating this book.” Whilst Lauren Child used a professional photographer, Polly Borland, for her two delightful 3D diorama books, and the first, The Princess and the Pea, took almost two years to complete, compared to the usual three-six months for her picture books. When it came to her second 3D book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this time a set designer was also used, Emily Jenkins. Lauren Child comments on her website: “As much as I enjoyed designing and building sets and styling scenes, I must say I was relieved that this time it wasn’t my job.”

Whatever the reason for the scarcity of fiction picture books that use 3D dioramas, I thought I'd share some delightful examples. I'll begin with an appealing American one I’ve only just discovered, that is aimed at younger children: Hank Finds An Egg by Rebecca Dudley (with a name like Hank, I doubt I needed to mention it’s American!).

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley (Peter Pauper Press Inc, USA, 2013)
This was Rebecca's first picture book and as an architect she was familiar with working in 3D. It's wordless and the theme of kindness and perseverance shines through the simple-to-follow visual story about a monkey who tries to return an egg to a nest. Rebecca also trained in graphic design, and the uncluttered layout and quiet natural colour palette add to the book. There are many more images on Rebecca's blog.

From Hank Finds An Egg       Everything is handmade, including all those leaves, and then photographed. 
The same US publisher, Peter Pauper Press Inc, is behind a further 3D book, this time creating 3D paper-cut dioramas. Published in March 2019, I haven't yet seen Little Things by Nick Dyer, illustrated by Kelly Pousette. Years ago, the illustrator was given a book on paper cut and says she became fascinated by the process. She is particularly interested in the shadows and lighting that are possible from photographing the scenes.

Kelly Pousette in her studio (from Letstalkbooks blog post)

The next American 3D book is another I haven't seen, Viva Frida by Mexican-born illustrator Yuyi Morales. There are few words, though perhaps this should be classified loosely as non-fiction as it is about the creativity of artist, Frida Kahlo. This vibrant award-winning book appears to be Yuyi Morales' only book that uses 3D models, as her other books are traditionally illustrated. In this video she talks about how time consuming it was to create a book from models and scenes. Interestingly, like Lauren Child, Yuyi Morales used a photographer for her 3D scenes (Peter O'Shea).

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Book Press, USA, 2014)
Inside Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Moving across the ocean to the UK, as mentioned earlier, Children's Laureate, Lauren Child, is behind two gorgeous 3D picture books. In the first, The Princess and the Pea, Lauren Child both wrote and created the scenes, ready to be photographed professionally by Polly Borland. The figures are painted 2D cut-outs and the backdrops are 3D dolls' house furniture or specially commissioned items. Many of the panelled rooms started life as cornflake packets. Not everything is to scale, as happens in a real doll's house, and Lauren Child feels this creates a stranger, more childlike world. In the book, she writes: "I love the paintings of Vermeer, his detail and the way he allows you a glimpse into someone else's world." This, and her passion for dolls' houses and use of collage in her books, must all inspire the dioramas in Lauren's quirky retelling of The Princess and the Pea.

The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child,
photographs by Polly Borland (Puffin 2006)

Creating a scene, from The Princess and the Pea

Lauren Child's personal doll's house, that took thirty years to create.  More here.

From inside The Princess and the Pea

When Lauren Child and Polly Borland partnered again on their second 3D book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, they decided to use dolls and teddy bears because Polly Borland's favourite book as a child was the American photographic picture book, The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright. Since it's publication in 1957, it has caused controversy because of the bear's worrying penchant for smacking, but it remains an iconic book and he published many others using the same realistic photographic 3D techniques.

From The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright (Houghton Mifflin 1998 reprint of 1957 original)

Again, Lauren Child twisted the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but this time she didn't personally produce the time-consuming hand-built sets, and instead passed this to Emily Jenkins. Polly Borland remained the photographer. The three bears and Goldilocks were created by doll-maker, John Wright, and Goldilocks stands 30cm tall. Personally, I adore studying the fantastical, intricate photographic 3D illustrations.

From inside Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child and many others (Puffin, 2008)

This photograph from the making of the book gives a sense of scale.
In reality the trees are young.
Another illustrator I really enjoy who produces dioramas is the German illustrator, Antje Damm. I've even bought one of her books that hasn't been translated into English, which is slightly daft as I don't read German - here it is (can anyone translate the title for me?!). Looking through a book when you can't read the language reminded me what it must be like to be a child faced with a mass of alien words, trying to create a story from just the images.

Like Rebecca Dudley, Antje Damm also studied architecture and therefore was proficient at visualising in 3D and making models. I first bought Antje Damm's Waiting for Goliath because of the interesting illustrations that were a mixture of stand-up 2D and 3D paper/card models, and the strong colour scheme. It looked different to the other books on the shop shelves.

Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2017)

From inside Waiting for Goliath

With a few changes, the model above was used to create the image in the book.
It's interesting what can be done with lighting and photography.
For more info see this blog.
The Visitor (Gecko Press, 2018) is probably Antje Damm's most well-known book in the UK. Here, all the story takes place in one ground-floor room and it is about loneliness and overcoming fears. Again, the book is in her distinctive 3D style and Antje uses variations in colour and lighting to show the development of the story. For the last scene she took the model outside because Antje wanted the warm light of the sun and enjoys experimenting.

Antje Damm experimenting with lighting the diorama.
From inside The Visitor by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2018)
A torch provides different lighting effects
Variations in lighting played a major role for another illustrator, Elly MacKay, when she created the diorama images for Maya. Canadian illustrator, Elly Mackay, worked with Indian-born author, Mahak Jain, to create a book that combines reality with the fantastical and a dreamworld. This wasn't Elly's first paper-cut, 3D book, but she said it proved the most challenging. Online, we are told she creates the illustrations by inking synthetic YUPO paper and cutting it into layers that are set up like a Victorian paper theatre, and then she plays with lights and filters to create atmosphere and photographs the scenes. There's a video here on the making of the book, including collaboration between the author and illustrator, which isn't often allowed to happen in publishing.

Maya by Mahak Jain and illustrated by Elly MacKay (Owlkids Books, 2016)

Elly MacKay creating Maya

The images above from the pages of Maya show how Elly MacKay utilised lighting and different techniques. She says the dreamworld uses only black and white, with shadows and fluid, dreamy lines and otherworldly lighting.  The real world is crisper, rigid and clearly three-dimensional.

There's more on the creation of Elly's award-winning 3D paper cut diorama books at her website. The image below is from her 2018 book Red Sky at Night, and shows the photography of a scene within one of her 'theatres'.

As I've been putting this blog post together, apart from appreciating how staggeringly time consuming the books are to create, I've come to realise how integral photography and lighting are to the images. Some illustrators use professional photographers, and others learn as they develop their skills. All the illustrators here say they use minimal post-production digital computer manipulation, if at all, and Rebecca Dudley says it might only be to remove a pin holding up a model.

Lauren Child deliberately mixes the sizes of objects, as you'd find in a doll's house, and not reality. I enjoy this as, for example in the delightfully quirky The Princess and the Pea, the juxtaposition of 2D paper figures and 3D miniature objects makes it clear this is an imaginary world. From a positive point of view, Antje Damm's dioramas are also clearly not real, which I like. For me, sterile perfection and seamless minaturisation would detract from the make believe of the storybook world because it leaves less psychological space for the reader's own imagination. Thus perversely, intricate perfection would be more unreal (maybe others disagree?).

Part of the charm of dioramas, whether paper-cut or models, is to feel you are stepping inside a world/theatre of the imagination, not reality. It's like discovering a fairy door on a tree in a wood. You know it's not real but your imagination takes you on a journey of joyous make believe. Now I want to create a 3D story about one of those doors, and where it leads!

Paeony Lewis
Please click for more of my blog posts at the Picture Book Den

Monday, 15 April 2019

Getting Crafty, by Jane Clarke

Here are a few tried and tested examples of simple, not too messy, activities that might inspire you to create a craft to go with a picture book - one you’ve written or illustrated - or to go with a favourite book you read over and over again to your little one. Have fun!

You'll need to pre-cut coffee filters into the shape of a butterfly.

Provide enough washable felt pens for children to share and one pipe cleaner for every butterfly.
Encourage the children to use lots of colour - vaguely symmetrically.

Fold the pipe cleaner in half and twist onto the wings.
If you’re somewhere where you can do this (better not to attempt in a library), hold the coffee filter butterfly by it's pipe cleaner antennae and squirt with a light mist of water or dip for a moment in a shallow saucer of water. The colours will run together. Spread out on a kitchen towel to dry.

Inspired by Who woke the Baby, by Jane Clarke, illustrated by Charles Fuge 
CD Creature
A local charity shop lets me have their unsaleable CDs/DVDs (make sure the contents are not unsuitable for kids). 
As well as CDs, you’ll need:
Pre-cut ears/nose/paws/trunks/ tails/ monster/alien features (whatever relates to the picture book you’re reading) in card.
large googly eyes and glue sticks
Permanent black markers for facial features (only use under adult supervision! A washable pen won’t make a mark on a CD)

inspired by my friend Ruth who part manages the local Oxfam shop and wanted a use for unsaleable CDs and DVDs. We set up a table at local events and for a small donation to charity, kids can make their own.

Pre-cut card into the shape of a chameleon (this takes a while when you need large numbers!)

Make a 2 metre length of wool into a small ball of wool for each chameleon.
Googly eyes and glue sticks
Wrap the wool around the chameleon’s body, then stick on the eyes.

This chameleon is orange because it’s inspired by Neon Leon, by Jane Clarke, illustrated by BrittaTeckentrup

Other pre cut-out crafts I've done include
inspired by Sky Private Eye by Jane Clarke illustrated by Loretta Schafer
and Bats -great for anything halloween-related but very quick to do, so allow 2 or 3 per child so they can make a family. Google eyes and white pencils are a must, cheap star stickers a fun addition.

Of course, there are often activity sheets, too. Check out the Picture Book Denner's downloadable sheets - and enjoy getting crafty! 

Jane’s latest craft is a green-eyed tree frog inspired by her newest picture book, Leap Frog, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup.