Monday, 23 November 2020

Now We Are One! Picture books for one-year-olds by Lucy Rowland

Last year, when my son was still teeny-tiny, I asked the mums in our NCT group which books their babies were particularly enjoying. I wrote about their answers for Picture Book Den.

Recently, our children celebrated their first birthdays- a big milestone, which perhaps felt even bigger given the very strange year we've had- and I thought it would be nice to catch up with the mums and babies once again.  This time I wanted to find out which picture books they are enjoying NOW WE ARE ONE! 

Of course, most of the babies still like board books with their sturdier pages (for enthusiastic hands), and novelty books with their flaps, textures, buttons and sounds, but some of the babies are starting to branch out into more traditional picture books too.

Answers included the classics: 'Guess How Much I love You' by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram, the rhythmic 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, 'Goodnight Moon' by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, 'The Tiger who Came to Tea' by Judith Kerr, 'Not Now Bernard' by David McKee and the ever-popular 'Peepo' and 'Each Peach Pear Plum' by Janet and Alan Ahlberg.

But there were also some picture books which were either less familiar to me or which took me by surprise but are, never-the-less firm favourites with these one-year olds.  

My own son, Benji, enjoys:

'The Flying Bath' by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts.

My sister gave us this one, as her own son had enjoyed it so much. It was not a book I'd come across before but, with its minimal text and simple bouncy rhyme, Benji loves following the journey of the flying bath as it travels around the world helping animals with their water-related problems.  I think he enjoys the repetitive refrain- 'Wings out and off we fly, the flying bath is in the sky!' I like the soft colours and patterns used in the illustrations.

Grayson's mum said: Grayson loves Oi Dog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field I think it's the bright, bold colours and the funny voices that I do!

 Poppy's mum said: 
Poppy likes 'So Much' by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury.

Flora's mum said: Flo really likes 'I want my hat back' by Jon Klassen.  

Teddy's mum said: Teddy's favourite is 'Chu's Day' by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex

Joseph's mum said:  Because I read it almost every day over lockdown, Joseph likes 'What the ladybird heard on holiday' by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks. It's also my favourite of the trilogy! 

Ralph's mum said:  Ralph really likes non fiction picture books. He also has some lovely non-fiction 'Hello World' board books by Jill McDonald. He likes Solar System, Weather and Backyard Bugs. He really loves the bright and colourful illustrations and frequently after we've finished reading it, he will pick it straight up so we can read it again! There is a central text to read and then extra little facts for when he is older.

Holly's mum said: Holly likes 'Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes' by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury. She will give us kisses at the end of the book so that makes it my favourite to read to her! 

Archie's mum said: Archie loves 'Handa's Surprise' by Eileen Browne.  It's a definite favourite! We have a story sack version of it and he loves playing with all the different fruits and the animal masks!

So there we have it- top picture book picks as chosen by our one year olds! Which picture books do you recommend for this age group? 

Monday, 16 November 2020

The Thoroughly Creative Picture Book Author by Addy Farmer

A thoroughly creative picture book author? Yes, um, that’s what we ALL are, isn’t it? I mean, it’s difficult to write a picture book text without creativity? So, I’ll begin with a definition (warning: may stray from any number of dictionaries). For me, being a “thoroughly creative author’’ is to be a writer prepared to seek out her creative opportunities. She wants to be published traditionally but is also prepared to think widely about other routes to being published.

Okay, so let me expand a little.

I am published by two traditional publishers, Walker and Random House. My picture book Siddarth and Rinki came out with Verna Wilkin’s magnificent publishing house, Tamarind (which was subsequently absorbed into the Penguin Random House group). It was wonderful to work with an editor and to have Karin Littlewood illustrate the story. My next picture book, Worlds Apart was signed to one publisher but, after an agonising length of time; one foreign rights deal, one publishing house change and three illustrators later; it was dropped when it failed to gain interest at Frankfurt. Harsh but true. It taught me a few things:

  • Never wait around for a book to be published. Always be at work on the next one. Time is precious
  • Keep up with your reader and what they like - I didn’t want to get stuck in the past with my imagined reader. The children’s market is shifting and dynamic. Keeping up with what children and their carers are reading. This does NOT interfere with artistic integrity - it is a way of informing your creativity.
  • Get organised! I went on a pre-pandemic writing retreat back in January with my excellent pals, Juliet Clare Bell and Rebecca Colby. There, I got to grips with being organised with laser-like purpose. Wahay! I set flexible goals and objectives for 2021 and it has framed my approach to this writing year! I work hard and I work smart.
  • Think creatively about who you can write for.

Okay, thinking creatively is the biggy. Yes, of course I would like to be published in a traditional way again. I love being part of a professional team; I love being edited; I love the to and fro of illustrations and edits. I also love knowing that a big publishing company has endorsed my writing. That is partly what gave me the confidence to broaden my thinking and branch out into writing for non-traditional routes.

A Bagful of Stars

My first commissioned picture book was, A Bagful of Stars with the brilliant Bridget Marzo illustrating. The story of A Bagful of Stars was one of hard work and absolute joy. The queues for signing were looooooooong! Bridget and I had a ball!

This book came about through luck and making connections and then quite frankly just asking for the job. Someone I knew from The Rotary Club of Scunthorpe approached me in my capacity of ‘the only children’s writer in town’, to help her find a children’s author who could come up with a Christmas picture book for them. I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ even before the flat fee was mentioned. Oops. So, think for a mo before you agree to anything. For me, I had a track record as a published writer and there was no reason to accept a relatively small fee. What swayed me to accept the project was my heart. What came out of the project was definitely not a personal financial success and this is something you must think about on a personal level but also perhaps to ensure that we, as a body of picture book writers, are given the professional recognition we deserve. 

Working on a A Bagful of Stars gave me a few insights into undertaking and running your own picture book project

  • Understand your worth - you are a professional writer and you are not doing anything for ‘the exposure’
  • Have a fantastic designer
  • Maximise the income with workshops
  • Create educational resources/CPD in school training
  • Maximise the book’s reach through schools by approaching relevant council education officials
  • Use the project leading experience to sell the next project
  • Make links and collaborate with creative partners e.g children’s theatre, animation, add music and songs. 

The book went on to be reprinted and is still being bought today for Christmas. And yes, I will be investigating selling through this fantastic sounding 

How did I get more work from there?

I used that experience of working with creative partners in theatre and music (all found via my local council), to suggest another more ambitious project - a picture book which could be adapted as a piece of musical children’s theatre. A Place called Home, illustrated by the wonderful Louise Gardner, was conceived and developed with the North Lincs Music Hub and Rhubarb theatre in Lincoln. This project, from 2017, was properly funded by the Arts Council and is still used by North Lincs primary schools and performed by Rhubarb Theatre.  

An exercise in thoroughly creative writing

From then on, I was already thinking about other opportunities. I examined my own hobbies and interests. Was there anything in those extra-curricular activities which might transfer into ideas for a picture book? 

I made a list!






Medieval history

Peat and the environment

The great Outdoors

I might expand the list like so …

  • Clouds. I’m a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society and I am thoroughly absorbed in the ‘inventor of clouds’ - Luke Howard. I’ve found a gap in the usual narrative and I am writing with a view to pitching to a traditional publisher 
  • Interested in space and space travel - always fascinating to me, especially now with the developments on the moon. Look for the next anniversary or big anniversary.  
  • Family history - who might become a subject for a narrative non-fiction book? I am fascinated by my own grandmother’s involvement in the war time Air Transport Auxiliary. In researching this and the history of aviators, I have found some other fascinating female aviators - this needs careful thinking about because the market already has some great aviation picture book titles. 
  • I find the depiction of cats in medieval illuminated manuscripts thoroughly absorbing  (It really is). I could try approaching an organisation like the National Trust or English Heritage. But frankly, this is too niche and would have to be broadened to attract interest 
  • Being a community builder for a replica Neolithic Trackway (this girl knows how to have fun) -  a lot of my income came through physical workshops but now I’m going virtual and creating a series of school workshops (with a picture book element) for the Isle of Axholme and Hatfield Chase Landscape Partnership (what a mouthful).  
  • Being a member of our local Crowle and Peatland Railway - I am writing a narrative non-fiction picture book story called Little Peat. This has been commissioned (at my suggestion) by this local charity in order to inform the local community about the history on their doorstep as well as engaging people in the environmental issues surrounding peat. Where the funding will most likely succeed is with the environmental thrust. 
  • Being outdoors is really important to my mental health. In happier times, I run outdoor creative workshops for families and a picture book based on this seems to be a no-brainer. There are specialist mental health publishers like Jessica Kingsley and Upside Down Press to approach.

Be thoroughly creative!

  • Think fiction and narrative non-fiction and non-fiction
  • Mine your own interests and history 
  • Expand your own knowledge with research
  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK with regards to other and similar books on the market
  • Be bold! Make contact with organisations you might write for. You never know .. 
  • Check out the funding bodies and make your own applications e.g Arts Council
  • Find help with developing funding applications. E.g. our local MP has an assistant who works two days a week sourcing funding for local projects.
  • Look for and create your own writing opportunities with local charities
  • LinkedIn - yeah, I know but I have a presence AND was paid to write a picture book story arc for a startup company. I also found work as a story app writer with an education games company.
  • Work with other creative collaborators - you never know where it will go!
  • Create workshops for education settings and families. 

Does this sound like hard work? Yep and I’m aware it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Remember to be selective because you’ve got to enjoy it! Work hard but work smart. If you do want to find those opportunities to write differently, they are out there or with a bit of creative thinking, you can make them. 

As that jobbing writer-hero of mine, Jo Nadin says, 

“I’ve earned a living doing what I love- which is a rare privilege in itself.”

P.S. I’m working on an illustrated story with Child Bereavement UK at the moment. I will be crowdfunding it soon!


Monday, 9 November 2020

Political Picture Books - Garry Parsons

My seven year old son has been gripped by the US election. His enthusiasm being mostly ignited by watching coverage on CBBC’s Newsround, the topical news program from the BBC. 

Newsround offers clear bite sized chunks of information from the world stage in a clever and informative way. While my son continues to enjoy rhyming ‘Trump’ with ‘dump’ and repeating the hilarity of someone in the highest office having a name the same as what we might call a fart, he was able to absorb a surprising amount of information about politics, particularly around the notion of fake news and was able to form his own opinions on who appeared credible and who did not.

With this in mind we looked to the library bookshelves for politically themed picture books to expand on this new knowledge.

Finding books which dealt with the real aspects of how the political arena operates was limited, we found just two.  To understand the workings of an election The DK Children’s Book of Politics and Usborne's Politics for Beginners have between them, all the factual information a young voter might need covering elections, voting and government as well as issues on freedom of speech, feminism and my sons current favourite topic, fake news. The Usborne book includes tips on how to debate and importantly, a glossary.

But for a wider feel of politics and a more general understanding of some of the big issues we face in the world there are plenty of pictures books to help young voters. 

Picture books can be surprisingly political and sometimes strongly politicised but many carry their messages of social justice in beautifully subtle and imaginative ways. Social issues are an inherent part of children’s literature and as we've looked at many times at the Picture Book Den, picture books have the unique ability offer a safe place to explore complex social issues through imaginative writing and clever illustration. So covering a myriad of topics from gender equality to civil rights, the arms race to the protection of the environment, here are a few of the favourites we found on the shelves in the library.

The first two picture books we enjoyed take a look at the presidency itself. In 'Madam President', Lane Smith lays out the civic minded qualities needed by any future president through the day in the life of a little girl as she imagines being the president herself.

from Madam President by Lane Smith

Sofia is a Mexican American girl who who becomes the voice of change for her community in Andrea Beaty's 'Sofia Valdez, Future Prez', illustrated by David Roberts. Taking on the dangerous Mount Trashmore, she campaigns for improvements for her local area and courageously takes her plans to the city hall.  

from 'Sofia Valdez, Future Prez' written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

One of Dr Seuss’ lesser known picture books 'The Butter Battle Book', 1984, is an anti war story, particularly addressing issues around arms races and nuclear weapons, told through the Yooks and the Zooks who share a love of buttered bread. Difficulties arise between the two groups because they enjoy the bread in different ways which results in the threat of mutual destruction, but told in Seuss's joyful and funny rhyming text and familiarly wacky illustrations.

from The Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss

In Yertle the Turtle, Seuss tackles dictatorship and oppressive cruelty. Yertle is the king of the pond but is tired of the stone that he uses as a throne and commands the other turtles to stack themselves “in a nine turtle stack” so he can see farther and expand is kingdom but to the detriment of others. Luckily, a simple but courageous ‘burp’ from Mack at the bottom of the stack topples Yertle’s empire.



from Yertle The Turtle by Dr Seuss

From the empowering ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series of autobiographical picture books, 'Rosa' depicts the life of civil rights activist Rosa Parks whose courageous refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus to a white man lead to the end of segregated transport in America.



One of our favourite household books is 'No Room For Napoleon' written and illustrated by Adria Meserve. Napoleon is a dog with big ideas but bad manners. When he lands on an island paradise he insists on inflicting his vision for the island which escalates to building himself a fortress, destroying the island environment and forcing out the friends who live there. A story about appreciating good citizenship, environmental issues and the meaning for friendship.

 This list would not be complete without reference to David Robert's 'Suffragette The Battle for Equality'. Beautifully illustrated picture book carting the history and making the centenary of the first women winning the vote in the UK.

from 'Suffragette The Battle for Equality' by David Roberts

And considering the plight of current British politics, take a trip to 'The Little Island' for a powerful story about building bridges not walls and nurturing respect not resentment. By Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Robert Starling, a story for our times.

Garry Parsons is an illustrator of picture books.


Monday, 2 November 2020

Virtual Reality

As a children’s author, I have been visiting schools for well over a decade. When I first ventured into a school, I didn’t understand what was expected of me, but over the years I’ve come to love them and now I find school visits inspirational, uplifting and joyous. 

Being a school visiting author is something you learn on the job. You can spend all the time you like getting your PowerPoint presentation looking snazzy, but there is nothing like standing in front of a whole school assembly to really focus your mind. Fielding random questions, retaining the interest of a distracted child or getting a teacher to look up from their marking are all things you learn to deal with by doing them. 

And then 2020 happened. Things are different now. I haven’t stood in front a school assembly since March. I’ve seen that some authors are still managing to physically go into schools but all of my events have now been put online and so I have had to relearn how to do my job. So, in no particular order, here are some things I’ve learned about doing virtual events.

Sitting in your own room, drinking your own coffee from your own mug, you might not feel like you are actually there ‘in the school’ but it’s worth remembering that’s exactly where you are. I watched a clip of a recent class visit that and was taken aback by how it looked from their point of view. As detached as you feel, try not to acknowledge it. This week, when I begin my events I will say, “Thank you for having me in your classroom. It’s lovely to be here.” If I can, I remark on the work I can see on the walls. Don’t draw their attention to the technology that is making it possible. Don’t sell it as a less good version of an actual visit. Act like you are there… and you will be.  


I never appreciated the value of being able to point at a child and say, “Yes?” until I could no longer do it. With virtual events, there is no point pointing. It’s pointless. This threw me to begin with as my events are basically hour-long Q&A sessions with songs, games and readings thrown in along the way, but I have discovered the solution can actually be quite a positive thing. I now have a teacher in the room, choosing who should speak next. This means more work for the teacher (sorry teachers), but it also ensures they are fully immersed in the session and an engaged teacher will get more of the sessions and ensure that their pupils do too. 


Sometimes a school or library will request a pre-recorded session. My preference is for these to be much shorter. We all know from our own online habits that people have a very short attention span, but sometimes schools or libraries want something longer. Recording these are likely to make you feel like you’re going crazy as you prattle on and on, without any audience to react. I have wondered if it might be a good idea to record a generic event, then add on a bit that specifically mentions the school, but I haven’t done this yet and it would take a bit of editing I suppose. Another useful thing to mention is that if you are doing a long piece, it makes sense to record it in sections because it can be tiresome trying to send it as a massive chunk. 


A couple of weeks ago, on a virtual visit, I read out a short story I had written about Halloween. I couldn’t really gauge how well it went down until, last week, the teacher contacted me to tell me that the pupils had loved the story and all written their own. He shared one with me. It was brilliant and it reminded me that readings work just as well virtually as they do in person. I don’t do a lot of reading with KS2 events but with picture book events it is essential. I am not sure of the best way to do it yet. It might be that from the class’ point of view, sharing a screen so they can see the book works best, but I think I’ll keep trying it as a reading of the actual book at the moment because I think a reading can be as much as about the delivery as the book itself. Keep your reading interactive and remember where your camera is. Hold the book up and show them the details. 


With physical school visits, it is important to give yourself enough down time between events to reset yourself, but also because sometimes you’re dashing between classrooms. It is the same with virtual visits. Just because you aren’t physically dashing anywhere, you still need to schedule your day so that you are ready to give each event your everything. 


There are lots of aspects of virtual visits that I haven’t considered here. I am not an illustrator so haven’t had to investigate the best way of live drawing. And as for many of us, school visits are an important source of book sales for me, and I am yet to work out the best way of encouraging book sales in this new world. I’m sure there are lots of things I will learn over the next few months about the best way to do this stuff. None of us knows how long it will be like this, but while it is, if we can continue to support each other, then we can continue to visit schools and be super spreaders of books and literacy. So, if you have any thoughts on this subject, please do feel free to share them below.

Gareth P Jones is an author of over 40 books for children of all ages. He has two picture books coming out in 2021 (published by Egmont). If you would like to book a virtual visit, he can be booked via Authors Aloud or contacted directly at  

Monday, 26 October 2020



We all know that writing is tough. Really tough. Sometimes it’s a wonder why we keep putting ourselves through it, which got me thinking… why do we?

The science behind what happens when we write and partake in writing activities is actually quite fascinating. Our brains and bodies are constantly undergoing complex chemical processes that we can modify with simple, daily actions.  As it turns out, being part of the writing community releases lots of happy chemicals into our brains, which make us feel good and are good for us, too.

Let’s dig a little deeper.


Dopmaine is known as the reward chemical. When you sign a deal, hit a word count target, or finish a draft you receive a pleasurable hit of dopamine in your brain that tells you you’ve done a good job. This is why it is important to set SMART targets for yourself and celebrate little wins. No matter how big or small, when you complete a task the dopamine is released and the chemical does its ‘feel good’ job.

You can also get a dose of dopamine when you perform self-care tasks or acts of kindness toward others. Volonteering has been shown to increase dopamine as well as having other long-term health benefits. So those of you who volunteered to be mentors in the Write Mentor Agent Showcase, or who volunteer for roles in organisations like SCBWI, will be receiving a dollop of happiness thanks to dopamine. See? Your generosity and kindness goes a long way!


Oxytocin is known as the love hormone. You can get it by playing with a dog or a baby, but also from giving a compliment. It helps us adapt to emotional and social situations and contributes to us feeling close and bonded with others. The writing community is a wonderful place – if you’re a part of it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Oxytocin is the reason why it feels good to tell an author or illustrator you loved their book, to wish them well on publication day or to post a review telling them all the reasons you LOVE their work. Yes, it’s as easy as that! A dose of this happy hormone is released just by you being kind  and thoughtful to another person.

Oxytocin is important for us, too. It helps us form trusted relationships with our peers, which in turn supports us to take risks and stay resilient in the face of challenges – of which, of course, there are many in the writing world.



Serotonin is a mood stabilizer. We can get it from exposure to sunlight and in activities such as walking and swimming.

If you’re a creative who likes to take outdoor ‘troubleshooting’ breaks, to think on a problem or solve a plot hole, the serotonin that is released will also be helping to improve your mood.

Is anyone else a creative napper? If I’m struggling to find a way forward, I often close my eyes and take a short daytime nap where I dream about my story or character. Not only does a nap boost my energy levels, a creative nap can also help me connect with my subconscious, which is great if you believe you already have all the answers to those pesky plot holes somewhere in your brain! Serotonin rewards us when we part-take in mediation-type activities, so you’ll also get a burst of happiness chemicals as well as feeling energised and inspired, too!


Endorphins are known as the pain killing chemical because they release a brief sense of euphoria that masks physical pain. Laughter and exercise are two simple ways of increasing your endorphins, which have been linked to relieving the effects of anxiety and depression.

When it comes to writing, if you’re working on a comedy or writing a funny scene and making yourself laugh, you’ll be activating a good dose of endorphins. Reading funny books will also boost your happy hormones. In a race, endorphins help you ‘power through,’ pushing harder and further to achieve your goals. So, as well as making you feel good, endorphins will be helping you stay motivated on your writing journey – which let’s face it, can be a bit of a marathon!


So, it turns out there’s a whole lot more to a writer's happiness than just the book deals! Together these four happiness chemicals create desirable brain states and feelings, that make us feel good, and keeping us coming back to writing again and again, despite the many challenges it brings. They're pretty good for our health, too. 


Now you understand how writing affects your feel-good hormones, you might be able to trigger them more often!


So, what are you going to write today?

A blog? A journal? A letter? A chapter of your WIP? Some poetry or free writing? Perhaps you’re going to take a creative nap, take a brisk walk or write a review for a book you enjoyed recently.

Whatever it is… enjoy!_+

You can read more about ‘Happiness Chemicals and How to Hack Them’ here.

Clare is the author of fiction and non-fiction picture books and early readers. She is passionate about using creativity and the arts to promote a love of learning and emotional well-being. Clare also works as a Write Mentor tutor, is the Write Mentor Picture Book Writer in Residence (2021) and offers a manuscript critique service and 7 week Picture Book Course.
Clare is represented by Alice Williams of Alice Williams Literary

Monday, 12 October 2020

How to Become a Picture Book Idea Catcher by CHITRA SOUNDAR

Over the last few weeks, PBDenners have been talking about different topics that relate to the picture book world. From end papers to book launches, talking consent or children who are at a loss for words, there is a treasure trove of topics you can dip into. 

This week I want go back to basics. Perhaps because I’m between projects and my mind is subconsciously searching for the next idea for a picture book. 

I recently watched a clip in which Neil Gaiman answers an audience question about where you get your ideas from. 

I loved his answer for so many reasons. First, this is a question everyone asks when they meet a writer – be it a school visit or at a cocktail party. Secondly, he thinks it through in real time, talking as he thinks and while the answer is never clear cut, he lays out a few fundamentals that are useful for all writers too. Go watch it. 

With the pandemic raging across the world, and most of us stuck inside our homes, gathering ideas has become more of an indoor activity – at least for me. 

So, when ideas flutter by, identify them, acknowledge them and file them for later. Ideas do grow and find other ideas to relate to. It’s like when you consciously look for red cars, all you can see on the road are red cars. When you see a glimmer of an idea, things that be compatible to that idea will attract your attention. You will notice things that you would have otherwise ignored. 

But if you’re new to this idea-catching skill, you might need some help in the beginning until your own subconscious can take over. 

Here are six tips to help you become a picture book idea-catcher.

1. Read loads of picture books. 

This is totally obvious and yet most new writers I meet haven’t read that many books or haven’t books relating to the idea or type of story, they are working on. Read more contemporary picture books – perhaps published in the last 10 years or so.

2. Read baby development books.

If you haven’t been near a baby / child/ toddler / pre-schooler in the last few years, chances are you need reminding on their behaviours. What can they do at which months / years and what they cannot do at certain ages. Not just physically, but emotionally and cognitively. Many of these books will tell you about the children’s fears, behaviours and about what they find interesting. 

3. Look for words that children would love to say.

Look for words that children might want to repeat. Or even phrases. Find funny sounding words. I’m not saying it will lead to a story directly. But it will definitely inspire ideas. 

4. Write five What-if Statements every day.

In your journal / writing notebook / laptop wherever you’re comfortable, imagine five age-appropriate what-if imaginings. 

What if a turkey were to sing… and such…

This is a brainstorming activity and is very useful for exhausting what's on the shallow top layer of your brain and slowly dig into the ideas that lie beneath the surface.

Ever so often one of those sentences might spark a story – open a new document or turn a page and start writing. 

5. Read fairy tales and folk tales. 

Firstly just for the joy of enduring stories. But secondly to see how some of those fairy tales might work out today. Or are there parallels in some stories to real life?

6. Read an encyclopaedia 

A visual one if you have it. But when you read it, read it like a child. What would a child find fascinating and now can you see a story in any of those fascinating topics? 

Becoming an idea-catcher is a lifelong vocation. Start now and see how your little idea notebooks fill up. And every few months or so, go back and read your ideas notebook and see which ideas have found each other and will work great in the same story.

Good luck with your idea-catching!

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published, award-winning author of over 40 books for children. She is also an oral storyteller with a loud voice. She also writes trade fiction, non-fiction, poetry and theatre. Find out more at Follow her on twitter  @csoundar

Monday, 5 October 2020

Express YourSHELF for National Libraries Week


National Libraries Week kicks off today to celebrate the role of libraries in the UK’s book culture and promote libraries as “spaces for reading, engagement, learning and creativity.”


When did you last visit the library? Do you remember a school or class library from your childhood? If you have children, did you go to the bounce and rhyme times? Or maybe the library is a place where you go to work and think, meet people, or even learn a new skill. People come into the library for all kinds of reasons, including searching for elusive bits of information and archive materials.  

“Libraries offer a safe space, providing access to digital & online learning, helping to combat loneliness and having a positive impact on people’s lives.” – Arts Council for England


Research shows that there is a correlation between getting families reading and children enjoying stories with them doing better at school and doing better in life. So, how can libraries engage children?


In More than a House of Books", a Podcast commissioned by the Arts Council for England, Sarah Mears (Library Services Manager, Essex County Council. Former chair of the Association of Senior Children's and Education Librarians) stressed that the most important thing is the welcome they receive at the door.


The library needs to be “ . . . an exciting and vibrant space that attracts children. It's light, it's airy, it's colourful. There are lots of things that engage them. Activities for them to do, interesting technology that they may have not experienced in their own homes. But I think most importantly, it's still the books. Children love reading for pleasure and they love being inspired to read new titles, new authors.”


Today, libraries aren’t places of where librarians go ‘shhh!’; instead they are vibrant community hubs where authors, illustrators and storytellers visit, arts & crafts clubs meet, music and theatre activities inspire the imagination, and poetry groups perform.


Regrettably, many libraries are closing, but some – such as the new Manchester Library, which has soundproofed music area, and the Birmingham Library, with its roof gardens ­­- are being imaginatively re-purposed and re-thought to inspire the next generation to use the space to engage people both with reading and digital skills.”

Libraries are filled with wonderful new contemporary books to explore, and dedicated, knowledgeable librarians who are thrilled to help you. You can check out a whole pile of books to explore new ideas, discover and re-read favourite authors & illustrators, and even learn new skills. If something doesn’t resonate, I love that the books come with no strings attached – you can simply return them and check out some more – for free!


As part of the campaign for National Libraries Week, six SCBWI authors were invited to participate in CILIP’s Express YourSHELF campaign and make a video about the books that influenced us.


For me, books are like friends, so choosing favourites was tricky!  


You can see the videos here at midday each day this week.


And YOU can join in too! Express yourSHELF by sharing some books that shaped YOUR world by snapping a pic of your book shelves, too, and posting on social media with hashtag #ExpressYourshelf


The thing about libraries is they are there for all stages of your life and for the whole family:


In lower school, I went to the library at break time to hang out with the books and magazines, and choose new ones; I even made library cards for the small shelf of books I owned at home (mostly birthday presents sent by my grandmother who lived in England).


The EARJ lower school library had a lovely central area
where we could read beneath the colourful papier maché elephant

In high school, I spent most of my lunch times in the library eating my sandwich on the sly while hanging out with my friends (we weren’t allowed to eat in the library). In those days, you went to the library after school and in class to look stuff up in the Encyclopedias; reference books couldn’t leave the reading room because they had to be on hand for all students to use for research. Strange, now we can ask Google everything!


Now, I go to my local library almost every week to get a pile of bedtime reading, to see what’s new in picture books and check out nonfiction kids’ books for research. 

A pile of TRUE story picture books to pore over

There is something comforting about being amongst all those book friends, the promise of a story or a new idea or a-ha moment. You never know – until you get home and crack open the covers – whether it’s the right book for you, but it’s ever so exciting!


I asked some fellow Picture Book Den authors to share some stories of how libraries have influenced their lives, too:


Lucy Rowland


    “I remember my primary school library the best – a calm quiet space where we would be taken in small groups to borrow beautiful books. It was also used as a spill-over learning area so we had some of our most exciting lessons in there - music lessons, a craft workshop, a puppet show performance. For that reason, the library always felt like a rather special place!” 


Jane Clarke


    “As I child, I loved Kettering's town library. I'd rush up the steps, dash into the children's section, scoop up armfuls of books, then retire to a quiet corner to sit on the floor and decide which to take home. When I discovered new series, there were nerve-racking moments - would the title I had set my heart on be on the shelf - or had it already been borrowed? Oh, the joy if it was there!”


Jane Clarke entertains her library audience with a science activity

Clare Helen Welsh


Clare Helen Welsh enthralls her young audience


    “I don't actually remember visiting the library as a child, which is a huge shame. I'm sure we did and that it's just my foggy memory, but I vividly remember taking my classes to the library as part of my job as primary school teacher. The informal visits provided the opportunity to pore over worlds and characters, words and pictures. The times we went to meet visiting authors, illustrators and storytellers were just as memorable. I'm certain they inspired the children and they definitely inspired me. I now have the outrageous privilege of writing stories that live on those shelves, and delivering story sessions just like the ones I watched


Craft activities with author Clare Helen Welsh

I wonder if I would have had the courage to make the step from teacher to writer, had it not been for the possibilities the library gave me. Of course, in these increasingly challenging times the battle is keeping libraries open and keeping them alive. But we must - a library is so much more than library.”


Pippa Goodhart

     “When my children were little, a visit to the library was the treat at the end of the weekly shop. I think a lot of people find the huge number of books on shelves in libraries daunting, and don’t know where to begin with choosing. Children just find the right shelves and get stuck in! But we do need expert librarians onhand to help pair the right child with the right book at the right time, especially with those books that might comfort or inspire or enlighten at particular moments in a child’s life. Or an adult’s life, come to that!

Pippa’s daughter as a child blissfully combining reading a book (from a library -

see the spine!) with a kitten, and her now as a grown-up, reading to baby her son.


I love using libraries now, at least in non-Covid times. I borrow armloads of books, but I also like them as places to work. Being surrounded by books and other people, heads down as they work, somehow helps me to focus better than I sometimes can at home.”



Gareth P. Jones


    “The Summer Reading Challenge is one of the best things that libraries do. Each year, libraries around the country encourage children to keep reading through the summer. As an author I’ve had my books selected for several lists (my Dragon Detective series formed part of this year’s Silly Squad), and I’ve appeared at libraries up and down the country to hand out certificates, celebrate reading and shake the hands of local mayors (shaking hands - remember that?).


2020 Summer Reading Challenge

But my most positive experience was when my son did the challenge. He had to sit down and talk to a librarian about each book he had read, telling her what he had enjoyed about it and what he had taken away from the book.


Gareth P Jones plays the uke and Steve May pens the pictures

Many politicians think that libraries are old fashioned and irrelevant, but when you have seen first-hand how they bring communities together and the positive effects they have on children’s (and the nation’s) reading habits then it makes you want to scream #SaveLibraries from the top of the tallest library.”



And here's a pile of picture books on one of my shelves. There are others around the house . . . As I've said, they are my friends.  


But I'm always looking for more -











 Do you have a library story? Share it with us!


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. She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at