Monday, 19 December 2016

Warmest Winter Wishes from the Picture Book Den!

Season's greetings to all our readers!

It's hard to choose just one book each, but these are our favourite picture books for this time of year. We hope you'll love them too, and add your favourite to our list in the comments.


Jane Clarke


A lot of people will know Mog’s Christmas, by the wonderful Judith Kerr, from the new edition last year. It was first published in 1976, but this is the 1978 Picture Lions edition I read to my (then) small sons. We especially enjoyed it because my mum and dad’s cat never knew quite what to make of a Christmas tree. Now I’m the Grandma, It gives me enormous pleasure to read the same copy to my granddaughters - and granddog!


Jonathan Emmett


My family and I are big Dr. Seuss fans and Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a longstanding festive favourite in the Emmett household. I think that many, if not most, of the readers to this blog will already be familiar with it. Just in case you aren’t – it tells the story of a magnificently misanthropic creature who hates Christmas so much that he steals every last trace of it (gifts, decorations, food) in a brilliantly orchestrated Christmas Eve raid on his local town. You’ll have to read the book yourselves if you want to know if it has a happy ending.
Like all of Seuss’s books, the story is told in a funny, beautifully-crafted rhyme that reads perfectly aloud. However Seuss does cheat a little with the following couplet:
“And he stuffed them in bags. Then the Grinch, very nimbly,
Stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimbley!”
But you’d have to be a Grinch yourself not to smile at this!


Michelle Robinson

Muesli rejects your glad tidings.

Muesli the cat couldn't be less bothered about Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. She is totally unimpressed by all the illustrated details of his house at the North Pole. She isn't remotely curious about what he gives the Queen, or what he's wrapped up for his own pet cat at the end. If she could quote Raymond Briggs' Santa, she'd say,"Merry bloomin' Christmas." As it is, she can't even bring herself to meow.


Abie Longstaff



We love How Santa Really Works by the appropriately named Alan Snow. It's a lot of fun and includes answers to pressing questions such as 'how does Santa fit down the chimney?' and others. It also has a wonderful cross-section of Santa's sleigh (who doesn't love a cross-section?). The book is a messy, detailed, mechanical joy.

Pippa Goodhart

Five Silly Snowmen by Steve Lenton,
published by Little Tiger Press

Five Silly Snowmen is a Christmas book that I only discovered last year, long after my grown-up children gave an excuse for me to enjoy such things. This time I was buying a book to read, along with a whole lot more, to my local Home-Start group's party for pre-school children. I shared a range of books, but this was the one that got asked for again and again. Bright and simple and silly, this is a counting rhyme -
One silly snowman is splashing in the sea. Two speedy snowmen are racing round a tree,' etc. And it ends with them all five snowmen tucked up in bed.
I shall be reading stories at this year's Christmas party, and this book is top of the pile for it! Happy Christmas! PS The cat is called Dotsy.

Chitra Soundar

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
published by Scholastic Books

Stick Man has stood the test of time in my nephew’s Christmas routine. Other Christmas books have come and gone. But Stick Man is a staple. The rhymes, the rhythm, the muddles and the troubles – the situations are tense as much as they are funny.
However the biggest joy of the story is when Santa is introduced as Stuck Man. Like all good picture books and those especially by Julia Donaldson, the story has layers that you can experience each time you read. And you will read it many, many times.
If you come to our house for a Christmas party, the entertainment includes a demonstration of how Stick Man helped Stuck Man get out of the fireplace.

Paeony Lewis

Spud doesn't think the Three Wise Men in this story are very wise.
Don't they know bones make the best gift?

When the children were young we had huge fun sharing Jesus' Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan (published by Random House). Now my children are adults so I'm left with Spud the dog and he's unimpressed by the lack of bones in the story. Never mind, I appreciate the cheeky humour of a tired innkeeper growing more and more frustrated at the goings on in his stable - all the innkeeper wants is a good night's sleep! The story is a mischievous, animated delight to read aloud and it ends charmingly, proving that even a two-thousand-year-old nativity story can be retold in a fresh, new way.


Juliet Clare Bell

Melrose and Croc by Emma Chichester Clark

When they were young, my children loved Emma Chichester Clark's Blue Kangaroo. But Melrose and Croc is by far my favourite of her books. Melrose and Croc are both lonely at Christmas and it takes them a while to find each other, but when they do (and spoiler alert – it's in time for Christmas Day), it's just lovely.

Natascha Biebow


Our personal favourite is Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Flaconer. It is such a laugh! The author artfully captures all the joys of waiting for Santa, family traditions and spices it up with humour for children and grown-ups. We never tire of reading it over and over again. Is Santa here yet?!



Do let us know your old or new picture-book favourites for this festive time of year.
Our next blog post will be Monday 2 January, 2017 - a new year filled with new books!

Monday, 12 December 2016

An alternative way to fund picture books that tackle tricky subjects –and finding a new way of working at the same time. With thanks to the Arts Council England, by Juliet Clare Bell

  


Have you ever wanted to write a picture book (or any other book) about a subject that you believe there’s a genuine need for but that you also know would be really difficult to sell to a traditional publisher?

And what if the book would take time and resources to research in order to make it as authentic as possible?

I am currently working on a project for which I received funding from The Arts Council, England. The project involves writing a picture book about a subject that would have been very difficult to sell to a traditional publisher –namely, child bereavement.

I am not going down the route of every book I write using alternative routes to publication. I am still using the traditional method for the majority of the time. But I've had a big rethink about what I really want to be doing over the past couple of years. Previously, if there was a certain topic that I was really interested in writing about but I knew the resulting manuscript was highly unlikely to be picked up by a traditional publisher, then I decided against writing it. And then I decided that that wasn't going to work for me any more. I decided that I'd look for different ways to make those books happen. And that different way -in this instance, funding from the Arts Council- has worked. And it's something I definitely plan to do again. From now on, if what I most want to write about is going to be a really difficult sell and is going to take research to do it, then I’m going to look for funding to create that book. 

In this post, I'm going to talk about hints for getting an Arts Council grant for writing/creating a book, but it's worth thinking about other charities that might support you instead (or as well as). And having been commissioned to write one picture book by Bournville Village Trust


It was fun... (with Jess Mikhail, who illustrated the book)


(and here's the front cover, by Jess)

 and another for Birmingham Children's Hospital in the past couple of years, 

Dave Gray (the illustrator) and me, with some of the children involved in the project -(L-R) Calum, Aaron, Charlie and Dan, and Jess Wilkes-Reading who coordinated the project. With Dave's amazing book bench

I'd also suggest thinking really creatively about who might fund the book you're itching to create. The questions I've outlined below are with Arts Council funding in mind but a lot of them would apply to any potential funder...

So, if you’re interested in the possibility of applying for funding from the Arts Council for writing a difficult to sell book, but you're about as sure of what to do as when you are confronted with your first ever candyfloss... 



(Genuinely first ever exposure to candyfloss...)


here are some questions that might be good to think about carefully…

  • [1] Do you have a great idea for a fictional book (the Arts Council is not as interested in nonfiction, I believe) that’s going to require research? Are you keen to get funded so you can afford to start the project in the first place and so you can do the subject justice? Can you say why it’s such a great idea?
  • [2] Is there a genuine gap in the market for the book you want to write? Can you really state your case for the need for this book?
  • [3] Is your great idea one that tackles a subject that would be really hard to get a traditional publisher interested in (or, given what it will take to do the research, will it be hard to get a publisher to commission you to write the book so that you can afford to write it)?
  • [4] Are you the right person to write it/illustrate it? Can you outline why you’re the right person to write/illustrate it?
  • [5] Can you come up with relevant creative work with individuals who might typically have less access to the arts that will add to the project and help you with coming up with the most authentic book you can write?
  • [6] Can you find organisations/charities/individuals that would agree with your answers above and want to champion the book, either during the research/writing process, or once it’s released?
  • [7] Can you articulate how this grant would help you as an artist in terms of your future as a writer or writer/illustrator?
  • [8] Can you articulate how this grant would help you as an artist in terms of your future as a writer or writer/illustrator?
  • [9] Can you come up with ways to promote your book so that it will have the widest (and most relevant) audience reasonably possible?

If your answer to all the above questions is yes, then you might be in a strong position to get Arts Council funding for your project –if you write your application well, and ask for the appropriate amount of money (grants fall into two categories –up to £15,000, and over; my guess is that for most projects including writing a picture book, you’d probably want to apply for the up to £15,000 grant as I did. And with these grants, you find out within six weeks if you’re successful, which is extremely helpful).

In case it is of use to people thinking about applying, I’ll answer the questions above, below, for our project which was successful.

[1] Do you have a great idea for a fictional book…  and you are keen to get funded so you can afford to start the project in the first place and so you can do the subject justice? Can you say why it’s such a great idea?


Acorns Children's Hospice -who first asked about the possibility of writing the book


I wanted to write a picture book about the death of a child (because I'd been approached about it by a charity who didn't have the funding for it and once I'd started thinking about it, the idea wouldn't go away). It would require spending time with bereaved families and young people with life-limiting conditions in order to make it as authentic as possible. I couldn’t afford to do the project (which would spend months of liaising with different charities and meeting families) if I wasn’t going to get funded, or if there was no guarantee that the book would go ahead.


[2] Is there a genuine gap in the market for the book you want to write? Can you really state your case for the need for this book?

I’d already written a manuscript about the death of a grandmother after the death of my own mother. It’s not a story about my mother (whose life and death was very different from the grandmother in the book) but the emotional truth of love and death in the story came straight from my own experience and my relationship with my mother. And although it’s one of my agent’s favourite things I’ve written and still remains my own, it’s been a very hard sell because it’s about death, and because it is sad (though hopeful).

In late 2015, I was contacted by someone from a children’s hospice who’d seen an early copy of The Unstoppable Maggie McGee (illustrated by Dave Gray, which I’d been commissioned to write for Birmingham Children’s Hospital). 



She asked if I’d consider writing a picture book about sibling bereavement. From the research I’d done for Maggie McGee, I already knew that there were very few picture books about death in children (far fewer than the relatively small number there are about death in adults) and it was clear that it would be an extremely hard book to sell to a traditional publisher. Also, and I think this is really important, in order to write a picture book about such a sensitive subject as child bereavement, I’d need to take my time and do some proper research. So I’d need to find funding.

And to make sure there was a genuine need for such a book, in addition to looking for other picture books about death, I spoke with a child bereavement counsellor from Edward's Trust (the local bereavement charity),



a palliative care consultant, someone from a children’s hospice and some librarians. They all confirmed that they felt there was a genuine need. (And I used some of their quotes about that need in the accompanying document that goes with the application.)

If you have a book in mind, do some basic research to make sure there really is a gap in the market and then think about the most relevant people in that area that you could ask in terms of whether there would be a genuine need for the book. 


An awesome picture of librarians from 1896. Librarians these days come in full techni-colour and generally know everything and are generous enough to share their knowledge. Hooray for librarians....



Hooray for librarians!

Librarians are brilliant for this, as are experts in the area, and most people are pretty nice about being contacted I have found...



[3] Is your great idea one that tackles a subject that would be really hard to get a traditional publisher interested in (or, given what it will take to do the research, will it be hard to get a publisher to commission you to write the book so that you can afford to write it)?

Yes, see above.

[4] Are you the right person to write it/illustrate it? Can you outline why you’re the right person to write/illustrate it?

In 2015, I was very lucky to be commissioned to write a picture book set in a children’s hospital (partly to raise money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital). The characters Dave Gray (the illustrator) and I created have major disabilities and some are extremely sick. In order to make the book as authentic as possible, I did creative sessions in the hospital school with inpatients and siblings of very sick children. I also spent time on the wards with children with chronic conditions, and then with children with long term disabilities or chronic conditions who use the hospital frequently.

I’ve also worked with other vulnerable people creating books, including teenagers from a pupil referral unit. Dave and I worked together on the hospital book and the structure for the project I was going to apply for funding for would be partly based on what worked really well from the hospital project, and Dave had also done creative work with vulnerable groups of young people. We could show that we had worked well as a team before –as we’d created a book that had sold over 8000 copies within nine months. And we had an excellent relationship with the printer (who was also the printer on another book I’d been commissioned to write, previously). I have also done lots of author visits and could put a series of launch/post launch events into the application.

Think carefully about what makes you the best person to write the book. If it's something that really interests you then there's probably a reason for that. Make sure you look like the best possibly contender to do the project you're applying for. Think about everything about you and what you've done previously -were you a teacher? Did you do research on X when you were younger? Do you have family who have been impacted by something you want to write about? 

[5] Can you come up with relevant creative work with individuals who might typically have less access to the arts that will add to the project and help you with coming up with the most authentic book you can write?

Working with the children or families that are most relevant to the book you want to write works really well in two ways –it helps you create the most authentic story/book that you can create, and it also means that children/young people who may have less access to the arts get to do some really interesting projects they might otherwise not get to do.

I’ve made lots of books with children in schools (after I’ve done author visits at the schools, usually) and with my own students where I teach for Writing West Midlands. I use lulu, the self-publishing print on demand company and it means that we can make the books and then the students can buy as many or as few copies as they like and they’re really cheap to buy. They’re usually collections of writing done by the children with some black and white pictures added, though with my own students, it’s more often their own short novels that they’ve written. And when I was doing the hospital project, one of the children asked that we create a picture book together. Because the quickly created picture book worked really well (even though I’d not planned on doing it at all in that project) and the children involved loved doing it, I wanted to do it again for the project I was applying for. 


Our first picture book made with the children at Birmingham Children's Hospital


Pictures from inside the book, The Hungry Skinny Hairy Lion


More pictures from inside the book


So I said that Dave (the illustrator) and I would help the children and young people to come up with stories and characters and then we’d turn them into simply put together picture books for the children/young people involved. And then later on in the project (during the months whilst Dave would be illustrating our picture book), I would also put together compilations of stories and other writings from the families involved in the project (again, using lulu). 


Here's one we made with the older children from Edward's Trust, in October 2016: George and the Vault of Bananas


And here's a spread from the book


And another...


And here's The Hungry Crocodile which we made with the younger children...


and one of the more gruesome pictures from inside (but not the most gruesome)... But fear not, the naughty crocodile ends up spitting out the shark and becoming a vegetarian (thanks to Superhero Guinea Pig)...


If you’re thinking about doing a project anything like this and don’t know how to put books together, they’re pretty straightforward. I wrote a blog post on how to do it, which you can read here, and for the picture books, it’s even simpler as I’ve just used the photo album template and uploaded our illustrations as if they’re photos. If I can do it, then pretty much anyone can as I’m not massively technical –if you can use cut and paste and word, and you know how to upload pictures then you should be fine.

[6] Can you find organisations/charities/individuals that would agree with your answers above and want to champion the book, either during the research/writing process, or once it’s released?

I spoke with a bereavement counsellor at Edward’s Trust, a local child bereavement charity about the potential project and they were really enthusiastic. I also remained in touch with the person from Acorns, the children’s hospice who’d brought up the idea originally. And then someone else connected us up with Child Bereavement UK. All the charities were really interested in the project as they believed that there was a real need for the book. Whilst only one of them could put up some money towards the project, they all said they’d support it in various ways which were extremely helpful –putting on events, inviting families to participate, helping arrange meetings with individuals, families and groups, hosting the meetings, etc. And, critically, they all wanted to support the book once it came out. In addition, I met with other health professionals and people doing research into palliative care who agreed to support me (and meet with me) and to support the application. And I got librarians to support the application, too. 

There is a supporting document (that can be about five pages long) which you attach to your application and it can be anything you want it to be. I got quotes from librarians (about the need for such a book and about previous library events I’d done and saying that they’d like me to do launch events for this one) and bereavement professionals (talking about the need for the book and how they’d support it).

The Arts Council wants to fund projects that will reach a large audience –and which will actually happen. You need to convince them that you’re a good bet to make the project work, and that you can reach an audience who will really benefit from your work. Use all your contacts so that you can make the project reach as many (relevant) people as possible –which might include blogging on other writers’ sites, visiting people’s schools, libraries, etc.


[7] Can you articulate how this grant would help you as an artist in terms of your future as a writer or writer/illustrator?

After writing a book on a sensitive issue for the local children’s hospital and working with vulnerable people in and out of hospital, I was able to say that by doing another book tackling a sensitive issue and working with vulnerable people, Dave and I were creating a niche for ourselves as an author-illustrator team who were comfortable and keen to work in areas that some people would choose not to work in and create books that children who may feel they’re not reflected in books can really relate to. We have two other projects that we’re really keen to apply for funding after this one where there is a clear gap in the market but where traditional publishers are less likely to back financially. 

The Arts Council doesn’t want you to do a single project and then never work in the arts again. It wants to fund projects that will really help with your artistic career, so you need to show how gaining the grant and doing the project will help you.

[8] Can you frame the project in terms of art, even if the outcomes may well also be social ones? (The Arts Council is an arts organisation so you can’t just say ‘this project will improve mental health in this group of people’. It needs to address an artistic purpose, for example, providing a certain group of people with less access to the arts with relevant literature/art that they can engage in. Although the project may well have social benefits, the funding will be given where they see a genuine artistic purpose being met.)

If the book you want to write will be good art (as you would hope any book would be!) and can show that lots of people will get to read it, then you can frame that in terms of art. If you can show that the group of people who will benefit from it are people who may have less access to appropriate art, all the better. If you can also do some creative work with the people for whom your book is aimed (like a project making joint books with them where they get to create something that they can keep and you get to know them and are consequently better able to write your own authentic book as a result), then that is great, too. By spending time with young people who were bereaved or soon to be bereaved, or with young people with life limiting conditions, Dave and I are in a much stronger position to write and illustrate the most authentic book we can about child bereavement.   

[9] Can you come up with ways to promote your book so that it will have the widest (and most relevant) audience reasonably possible?

You are expected to put in a marketing budget for Arts Council projects, so work out from everyone you know what the best way to promote your book will be. I asked staff at bookshops where I’ve done events before if they’d be happy for me to do a launch there and they were. I arranged to do four or five different library events (and we discussed how we can target the advertising for the events so that the right people get access to the book). We will have a launch for each of the three charities involved in the project –and this is where charities are incredibly helpful because they will invite the people for whom the book will be most relevant. I’m going to do a blog tour of different blog sites –bereavement sites, teacher sites and writing sites to talk about the book and the subject. A lot of children’s writers, especially if you’re in organisations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) or the Society of Authors, will know lots of other writers with a collective wealth of knowledge about how to do events, blog, get your book seen by the most relevant people. Ask people questions. I asked loads of people loads of questions before sending off my application.

The application did require a lot of preparation since it was my first Arts Council application (it would be massively quicker to do another one now I’ve done one). I had to be pretty specific about what I’d do and when, but that’s been incredibly helpful now I’m actually managing the project. And it’s taught me a new way of working which I’ve found extremely helpful. Since part of the funding for a project like this is for project managing it, I had to break down where I was being an artist and where I was being a project manager for the application... 

...And I’ve found that it’s really affected how I work. Now, I am boss for about two hours a week where I work out what I need to get done the following week and write myself a weekly plan. And the rest of the week, I do as I am told (by boss me, on my plan), and I don’t have to make decisions. This might be really obvious to some writers/freelancers but it's taken me a long time to work out -an unexpected and happy consequence of writing the grant application


(my new way of working may be obvious to many, but to someone who struggles with organising her week, the realisation has been as joyful as finding an acorn when you weren't expecting one)

It frees up loads of thinking time for me to write in my head and to do what I really love to do –write books.



Have you ever applied for funding to write a book –either to the Arts Council or any other funding body? How have you found the process? Or do you have a book in mind that funding might be extremely useful for? It would be great to hear from you, below. And if you’re a writer in the States, are there equivalent bodies you can apply to? 

Thank you.

www.julietclarebell.com

Monday, 5 December 2016

Eyes-Only Advent Picture Book Quiz • Jonathan Emmett

December is here again! So, following on from last year's quiz I thought I'd test your picture book knowledge with another Advent-calendar-like picture book challenge.

When I first started out in children's books, I was illustrating as well as writing. One of the pieces of advice my first agent, Gina Pollinger, gave me at our very first meeting was to study the work of successful illustrators and – in particular – how they drew their characters' eyes. "It's important to get the eyes right," she told me, "if you don't, the character won't come alive and children will not believe in them." Although I never really made it as an illustrator, this is still an excellent piece of advice to any budding picture book illustrator.

So, for this year's quiz, how many of these classic picture book characters can you recognise from the eyes peeping out from the Christmas tree foliage below? Click on each image to reveal the answer. To make things a little more festive – there's a common theme to the even-numbered images.

1.


2.


3.


4.


5.


6.


7.


8. (No – this one is not Homer Simpson's nipples!)


9.



10.



How did you do?

10/10Eagle-eyed: Brilliant! You have 20/20 picture book vision.
7-9/10An attentive pupil: A good effort. You know your Blake from your Briggs.
4-6/10Not bad looking: But perhaps you should add some new reading glasses to your Christmas list.
1-3/10Blinking awful: Are you sure you had your own eyes open?



Follow the fiendishly funny exploits of evil-eyed ├╝ber-brat Bradley Bartleby in Jonathan Emmett's Christmas picture book, The Santa Trap, illustrated by Poly Bernatene and published by Macmillan Children's Books.

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.