Monday, 17 December 2018

Gift-Wrapped Characters Christmas Quiz

When I was a child, part of the excitement of the run-up to Christmas was shaking, squeezing and even sniffing the gift-wrapped presents beneath our Christmas tree in an attempt to deduce what was inside. For this year's Christmas quiz, I've gift-wrapped 10 picture book characters. Since shaking, squeezing and sniffing are not options, you'll have to work out who they are from their outlines alone. How many can you identify?

Click on each image to reveal the answer











How did you do?

10All present and correct: Your picture book character recognition skills are exemplary!
7–9Gifted: You know your Seuss from your Scheffler.
4–6Some contents missing: Not bad, but perhaps you should add a few picture book classics to your Christmas list.
1–3A bad wrap: You need to brush up on your picture book knowledge.

After five years writing for Picture Book Den, this is my last post as a Den member (although I may return for the occasional guest post).  I've enjoyed being part of the team, but it's time for me to move on and focus on other commitments. Thanks to everyone at the Den for their support and friendship over the last few years and thanks to all the Den readers that have shared or commented on my posts.

Jonathan Emmett's delightfully dark Christmas picture book The Santa Trap, illustrated by Poly Bernatene, is available in a UK paperback print-on-demand edition from Hatchling Books and a US Hardback edition from Peachtree Publishers. 

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

Monday, 10 December 2018

Christmas Mash-Up! by Pippa Goodhart

Bookshops are currently bright with selections of wonderful children’s Christmas books. Many of those books are picture books, and nearly all are books with pictures. There’s a brief but intense selling window for such books, and competition for sales is stiff.


How best to compete amongst the glitter and beauty and fun of it all? The Nativity story is there in multiple forms, of course. So too are many stories about Santa and snowmen and elves and Christmas trees and nativity trees and presents. But there’s a new trend that I’ve noticed particularly because I’ve played a part in it. I’m calling it ‘the Christmas mash-up book.’ 
We all know some key trigger children’s book character and story types which have appeal – unicorns, diggers, monsters, fairies, dinosaurs, underpants, witches, fluffy bunnies and more – and now some of those characters have crossed what used to be an invisible boundary into Christmas. 

So, for instance, here we have dinosaurs mixing with Christmas fun in Timonthy Knapman and Sarah Warburton's Dinosaurs Go Christmas Shopping 

Image result for dinosaurs go shopping image

Fred Blunt pairs the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas, mixing originally religious festivals which have become more general to society. Easter Bunny is furious that Santa Claus has elves to do all the work of making the presents he gives whilst Bunny has to make the chocolate eggs himself. So Easter Bunny hatches a dastardly plan ….  But of course it all ends in a funnily big-hearted way.

I was asked to write a Christmas chapter book story about Winnie the Witch and her cat Wilbur. Mixing witches with Santa? Here’s James Brown’s new book, Jingle Spells

 Image result for jingle spells james brown image 
There’s even been a Winnie the Witch picture book done before. In this one Winnie gets to fly with Santa –
 Image result for winnie and wilbur meet santa image
So I had to think of a story that didn’t have Winnie flying with Santa on his sleigh. In my story (written under the fake name of Laura Owen), Winnie suddenly realises that if Santa delivers presents to everybody, there will still be one person still left out; Santa himself. That’s not fair! So in this Santa Surprise story Winnie and Wilbur try to deliver a Christmas surprise to Santa, with inevitable daft disasters that culminate in success of a kind they hadn’t thought of. Korky Paul has turned it all into a wonderfully wild and whacky visual story, showing that ‘picture books’ can overlap with chapter books.

Image result for winnie and wilbur santa surprise image

So, what would you like to see mashed-up with Christmas on the bookshelves next year?

And if anybody would like to give a child in need a wonderful book gift this year, do visit the Book Trust's website where you can donate -

Happy Christmas!   

Monday, 3 December 2018

The Habit of Libraries Matters • Natascha Biebow

I have been thinking about libraries.

Libraries are of course buildings that house stacks of books, periodicals, newspapers, computers – they are places that house INFORMATION in all its modern guises. If you’re lucky, they also have kind and knowledgeable librarians, who will give you advice and order books for you. They might also be really, good listeners!
From A Library Book For Bear by Bonnie Becker - such a friendly librarian!
My relationship with libraries was habit-forming from the outset. I can still remember the books I chose and read from our lower school library. In its reading corner, it had a huge, spectacular colourful papier-mâché elephant that gazed down kindly over our small selves. You could sit underneath it and chat or read. It was a friendly welcoming presence and a really good listener. 

The Elephant in the EARJ library
This was the place you could go and browse the open stacks to find the next treasure to read, do research for your school work, and where you could meet your friends at break or lunchtime. It felt like home because it had books and I loved books like friends.

In those pre-computer, pre-barcode days, remember how your library books each had a card that got stamped in and out with an inkpad? It seems incredibly old-fashioned now compared to the cool automated systems available now!

In high school, I often hung out at the library during lunch break and the librarian frequently had to tell me off for sneaking bites of my sandwich (“No eating in the library!") or laughing too loudly with my friends.

At university and in my early days working as a children’s book editor, the library was essential for inspiration, research and fact-checking. I was lucky enough to visit the British Library in its old reading room in the British Museum and pore over the stacks at the London Library. 
The magnificent old British Library Reading Room in Bloomsbury
Now, you can do a lot of this research from your desktop, but still, archives have to be housed somewhere, in a building, in a library. Recently for my book THE CRAYON MAN, I found it priceless to be able to research remotely using sources such as the online Library of Congress.

When I became a parent, our local library became the weekly destination for the sing and rhyme session. I re-learned all those nursery rhymes I’d forgotten, key for developing early literacy, and a looked forward to the respite of seeing other parents and toddlers.
 Rhyme time at the library
Now my son is older, going to the library has become a habit we can share – a regular trip to explore its shelves yields a pile of books to explore. We have a golden ticket!

We have nothing to lose. It’s free (well, paid for by our council tax), and if the book is not the right fit, we can exchange it for another. In my life, libraries are first and foremost a place that has a truly priceless treasure books I didn’t know I even needed to read!

Libraries are one of the oldest institutions of our society, but in many places in Britain, they are in trouble. 
Placards protesting against library closure
As funding is cut, many councils are either closing libraries or local volunteers are being drafted in to run them. In the case of the council where I live, the library is now run by a charitable social enterprise. The library is actually quite good still and we're incredibly lucky to have it within walking distance.

I went on a hunt to see if I could find some statistics about library usage among children. According to the data compiled by the DCMS Taking Part 2014/15 Annual Child Report in 2015, and reported by The Reading Agency:

• 68% of 5-10 year olds and 74% 11-15 year olds visited the library in the last year.
• 14% of 5-10 year olds and 29% of 11-15 year olds visited the library in the last week
• 35% of adults visited a public library in the last 12 months

It was also found that “libraries play a key role in providing books for children”.
From Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho
Interestingly, research by the Arts Council also showed evidence of “library users having higher life satisfaction, happiness and sense of purpose in life”. Library usage therefore goes beyond books and reading, but also impacts on mental health, social inclusion, community and increased well-being.
Reading books holds the key to our future, to creating imaginative solution-driven children, developing all-important empathy, and creating a happier, more equitable, diverse and peaceful world. And libraries, after all contain books – and books are friends!
Charlie and Lola in the library by Lauren Child
Want to know more?
The Reading Agency Library Facts Impact report here
You can read a very good argument for libraries and why reading matters by Chris Riddell and Neil Gaiman here and in pictures

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

Monday, 26 November 2018

A Good Q and A Session • Lynne Garner

For a while I’ve been struggling with my picture book writing, simply no ideas. Then typically three evolved within the same week. The ideas germinated because I asked myself a few questions. This has happened to me before. Many years ago whilst checking on a hibernating hedgehog I was looking after I asked myself “what do hedgehogs dream about?” The answers I came up with finally became my very first picture book A Book For Bramble.

This then made me wonder if other authors had had the same experience. Having asked myself this question I needed to know the answer. So, as I have direct access to the Picture Book Den team, I posed the question to them. It appears I’m not the only author to have had this experience and the following books are the results of questions these authors posed themselves.

In no particular order:

Neon Leon by Jane Clarke

Jane wondered what would happen if a chameleon couldn’t change colour. She’s aware the real answer would be that it’s likely it would’ve been eaten whilst small. But, this book shows what a little imagination can achieve when you ask yourself one of those random questions.

You Choose by Pippa Goodhart

In Pippa’s own words “after seeing my children’s enjoyment of catalogues of toys, catalogues of clothing, kitchen and garden equipment aimed at adults, I asked myself, ‘would it be possible to make a catalogue of the much bigger choices we make in life?’ Her answer was “Yes! Simply use that catalogue treatment of showing a mass of choices, but take it into the realms of fantasy a little by offering children a mix of realistic and over the top homes, food, friends, jobs, and so on.” This format has worked so well that Pippa has also written Just Imagine and You Choose in Space.

Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip by Chitra Soundar

Chitra asked herself the simple question “is silence better than noise?” Her answer, which is explored in her book is “noise is joyous.”

The Crayon Man by Natascha Biebow

After watching an episode of Sesame Street featuring how Crayola crayons are made with her son, Natascha found herself wondering who had invented them. So, she started digging for “story nuggets.” She used the archives at the Smithsonian Museum (Washington, DC), visited the Crayola factory and contacted the inventor’s family. All this research resulted in a non-fiction picture book that tells the story of Edwin Binney and his wonderful invention, the Crayola crayons.

So, it would appear I’m not the only author who has posed themselves a question and ended up with a book idea. So, the next time you’re suffering with writers block ask yourself a random question and see where the answers lead you.

Alternately if you’ve asked yourself a question and you need a few more imaginative answers then post them here. I’m sure between us we can help you create your next story.

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

My latest short story collection

Monday, 19 November 2018

Some not very serious life lessons from picture books by Jane Clarke

Last week, Book Trust tweeted

So, inspired by this thread, and with tongue firmly in cheek, here are some life lessons from  a few of my favourite old picture books. I’ve confined myself to sausages, elephants and poultry - but feel free to add anything in the comments at the end :-)

1. If you strut about with your beak in the air, you’ll miss a lot of exciting stuff.

2. Never underestimate the power of compromise, especially when arbitrated by a duck.

3.  Fake wings may be cool, but they won’t enable you to fly.

4.  Be nice to demanding house guests and treat yourself to sausages, chips and ice cream at a cafe after they leave.

5.  It's wise to keep sausages handy in case you need them to determine which end of an Earth Hound has the fangs, and which end has the waggler.

 Dr Xargle's book of Earth Hounds by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

6. Elephants are happiest when they don’t try to hide their true colours.

7. If there are four elephants in a bath, only three have fun.

Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy

8.   If you spend all day going rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta all down the road with an elephant, you will need to lie down at the end of it.

The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs

There are huge philosophical truths to be extrapolated from picture books and I recognise (somewhat guiltily) that the subject deserves a much more serious post than this. In the meantime, though, I hope you’ll leave a comment to let us know more life lessons (from the silly to the profound) you’ve learned from picture books.

Jane's just finished writing the Dr KittyCat series and is currently working on a third picture book to be illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, and the fourth book in the Al's Awesome Science series illustrated by James Brown.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Illustrating the night in children's picture books • Paeony Lewis

In 1914, Kay Neilson illustrated East of the Sun, West of the Moon
As the nights grow longer and darkness arrives too soon, my thoughts have turned to the illustration of night in children’s picture books. Looking through the books on my shelves, I’ve adored seeing how different illustrators have portrayed the night and moonlight.

I've discovered that the night can fill the page with grandeur, or be swallowed up by city lights. The moon may glow at the top of the page, or flickering stars are glimpsed through a window. Illustrator style dictates whether the illustrations are simple or detailed, and these images then reflect the mood of the story, which could be fun, cosy, awesome or scary. There is a colour choice to be made: black, grey, purple or blue, but which blue? Will there be moon shadows? Do artificial lights shine through the gloom? So many decisions and I'd love to find out about other books and hear the thoughts of illustrators, but for now, the moon is rising, here comes the night...

This is the only illustration I've seen where the words are inside a white moon.
The sky is inky black and filled with white stars. The moon's light shines on the swan
and I feel the white house helps hold the composition together.
From The Night Box box by Louise Greig, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont, 2017)

I assume this is a linocut, using only black ink?
There's no moon, although the shape of the hillside is reminiscent of the curve of the moon.
If the stars were taken away we'd still know it was night from the dense un-inked lines that shine like moonlight and the glowing windows of the houses.
From Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan (Templar, 2009)

Here we have no sky, moon or stars. Even the background is white. However, by using dark shadows on the sleepers and their meagre belongings we know it is dark, wherever they are sleeping.
From My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner (The Bucket List, 2017)

Snow and moonlight seem popular in children's picture books, and I can appreciate why - the whites and blues almost sing together.

My box of crayons no longer feels childish if this is what can be done with a couple of blue crayons and brilliant white paper (and a lot of skill!).
From Shackleton's Journey by William Gill (Flying Eye Books, 2014)
This time it's watercolour. The silent shadows of the forest contrast with the moonlight bouncing off  the snow.
From Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr (Philomet Books, 1987)

A different style of gentle watercolour. The cool colours of the snowy night contrast subtly with the warm colours of the bedroom. The blue of the night sky links with inside of the house through the poster on the wall.
From Crinkle, Crackle, Crack: It's Spring! by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Shelley (Holiday House, 2015)
Here, falling snow produces a haze of  night blue and snow white,
broken through by the complementary orange of the indoor light.
From The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore,
illustrated by Christian Birmingham (Harper Collins, 2007)

The illustrator must have had fun creating a 'broken' moon. Poor mole!
From Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett,
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban (New edition 2017, Walker Books)
A very different style, this time using an intriguing diorama. The night sky is grey, like the mood of poor, patient Goliath.
From Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2017 translated from German)

Interesting how the blue totally changes the illustration from day to night.
From This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins 2012)

The night sky doesn't have to be black or blue; purple works well too and fits the mysterious theme.
From Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith  (Templar, 2009)
Here's another purple night sky, this time in a simplified graphic style, that's still effective.
From Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen (Jonathan Cape 2011)
Many illustrators have fun with artificial light at night, and where there is ambiguity as to whether it's night or day, the white, yellow or orange artificial light confirms the darkness.

There's very little colour here, but we know it's night from bright yellow windows. We notice the lion because he is surrounded by white. This lion is also yellow, but it's a different yellow so we know he's not a strange looking lamp!
From How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens (Alison Green Books, 2012)
The lamp light glows and is accentuated by the yellow of the child's clothes. There are pronounced shadows too, and the Northern Lights shimmer around Black Rock, and there's a multitude of stars.
From The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd Stanton (Flying Eye 2017)
The bike lamp accentuates the darkness and is the same blue as the daytime sky on the opposite page.
From The Journey by Franseca Sanna (Flying Eye Books, 2016)
The yellow of the inside light transforms the illustration into the night.
From The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon Press, 2009)

The night is emphasised by the transluscent artificial yellow light from a house, boats, train and lighthouse. And there's natural yellow light too, from a firefly!
From Firefly Home by Jane Clarke and illustrated by Brita Teckentrup (Nosy Crow 2018)

The bright artificial lights bring out the gaiety of the ship at night.
Two illustrations from The Real Boat by Marina Aromshtam and illustrated by Victoria Semykina (Templar 2017)

Two night illustrations from the same book. Both use window light, but when thee mood changes the blue of the dark night also changes. In the first the cat is having fun, but not in the second where the darkness has turned grey.
From Mr Pusskins by Sam Lloyd (Orchard Books, 2007)

Another two illustrations. At the top are layers of blue with the blobs of light of the town similar to stars (or are they like holes, representing the mining beneath?). In the second illustration from the book the men are in the mines and the movement of the paint adds to the feeling of the heavy ground pressing down on them.
From Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Walker Books 2017)

Another symphony of blue layers (watercolour?). The shade of blue is cool, like the night.
From There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith (Two Hoots, 2016)

This time the moonlight is grey because of the fog. I've included the words on the left because the author likened the foggy moonlight to everything appearing dusted with flour.
From Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon Press reprint, 2013)

For a grey night, you don't get much greyer than this book. Even the sunset is muted, but so are the subdued lives of the creatures and it adds to the atmosphere of fun boredom.
From We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (Walker Books, 2016)

From a muted desert to New York City at night in shades of blue. It's not a neon explosion because our eyes are meant to focus on the people watching the screen ahead that's framed by an unusually starry night . Even the cabs don't have light from their headlamps as that would detract from the focus.
From Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum (Walker Studio, 2017)

Here's another example of a deliberate downplay of light. The room and lamp are muted to allow the moon outside the window to shine brighter than everything else.
From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)

This time the moon literally shines inside this school and the colour scheme has a quiet feel of night.
From Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye (Nosy Crow 2014)

Here the room is dark and blue, with all the focus on the children lit by the lamp.
From a collection, Dreams of Freedom (Amnesty International), with this illustration by Birgitta Sif (Frances Lincoln, 2015)
Time for a bit of diorama drama. Lightning looks good at night, especially above a tower!
From The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child and Polly Borland (Puffin, 2006)
Here, Moon, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup (Little Tiger Kids, 2017), displays the cut-out shapes of the phases of the moon as you progress through the book.

To finish, here is the deceptively simple final illustration from A River by Marc Martin  (Templar, 2015)
There are many, many more picture books that include the night, but I suspect I've already included too many! Anyway, I hope the night illustrations haven't made you too sleepy. I adore looking at the differences in method and style and wonder if Prussian Blue is the best cool blue for the night? All thoughts appreciated, thank you!

Paeony Lewis, children's author
List of my blog posts at the Picture Book Den.