Monday, 20 January 2020

FIVE MYTHS ABOUT PICTURE BOOK TITLES – UNPICKED! by Clare Helen Welsh

Since I began writing for children, I’ve heard several myths about titles.

The first was just prior to my debut book being published. I’d phoned a book shop to enquire about events and on hearing the name of the story alone, the seller proceeded to tell me that my book would never sell. Apparently, the title would put parents off buying it, and children off reading it, too!


MYTH NUMBER 1: DO NOT INCLUDE WORDS CHILDREN WON’T UNDERSTAND


The seller had, and still has, a very valid point.  Your writing needs to be carefully matched to the age of your target readership. However, there is also an argument for using stories to explore and extend a child’s language and understanding of concepts. Indeed, it could even be the selling point. Baby 101’s series of books, including ‘Architecture for Babies’ and ‘Economics for Babies’ are good examples. 

I'm actually glad I stuck with my title. The picture book in question, ‘Aerodynamics of Biscuits,’ (illustrated by Sophia Touliatou) has been reprinted twice, turned into a theatre show and was runner up in the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. There’s also a brand new edition coming in 2020! My advice would always be to make sure your writing is appropriate for your age of reader, but if there’s an opportunity for more complex vocabulary to be embedded and explored, don’t be put off including it. 











I thought it might be interesting to unpick some further myths about titles.




MYTH NUMBER 2: KEEP IT SHORT, SNAPPY AND SUCCINT

It’s generally advised that your titles should be short, snappy and succinct. Shorter titles leave more room on the cover for bigger font. Also, since picture books tend to sell on concept, a title can act as a mini pitch, communicating the concept to readers and buyers. 

However, long titles can be memorable and distinctive. I love the title of Emma Perry’s debut picture book, illustrated by Sharon Davey. It’s a longer one, coming in at 8 words, but it communicates all the voice, character and concept I need to want to read it! (Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait until it publishes later in the year). Here’s another example that’s a whopping 10 words long!










Of course, if your picture book manuscript has an overly long title, it could suggest that story is too vague or too complicated. Interestingly in Time’s list of 100 best-selling children’s books, the average length of the picture book titles was 3-4 words long.



MYTH NUMBER 3: DO NOT USE CHARACTER NAMES 

Character names can be short, but the worry is that they give very little information about story. The risk is that you fail to hook your readers. If my story with Olivier Tallec, How Rude! had been named after the characters, Dot and Duck, you could argue it wouldn’t have been as strong a title. Titles are a promise to the reader; of humour, adventure or something else. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to sell your story. 
However, I do think it is possible to name books after characters, especially if the names give us a lot to go on. Take something like the Little Miss and Mr Men stories, for example. Similarly, titles like Supertato work because the characters have great names that are also the concept! If your character's name is the USP, why not use it?








MYTH NUMBER 4: WORD PLAY, RHYME AND ALLITERATION DON'T TRANSLATE

It can be tricky to translate puns, rhymes and phrases from English into other languages, which could be an argument to avoid them in titles. However, that’s not to say it can’t be done. 

Perhaps the title would work in enough English-speaking territories to make the project financially viable anyway? Or maybe the publisher would change the title to something else when any co-editions are translated?

Lucy Rowland talks more about this in her post for Picture Book Den, ‘What’s in a Title?’ Her story with Ben Mantle, ‘Little Red Reading Hood,’ relies on word play, but yet here it is translated into French! https://picturebookden.blogspot.com/2018/08/tips-for-titles-whats-in-name-by-lucy.html








MYTH NUMBER 5: YOU CAN’T USE A TITLE THAT’S ALREADY BEEN TAKEN
I had to seek some advice on this one! But I guess the bottom line is that books with the same titles do exist. However, you’d probably want to be as original as possible. If you did use a title that had already been published, you’d certainly want the subject of the texts to be suitably different to avoid confusion. You wouldn’t want to duplicate a title if it had been published recently, either.
It would also be important to check that the title wasn’t under copyright. Whilst I believe that, generally speaking, it isn’t possible to copyright a title since it is considered ‘a short slogan,’ some concepts and characters are copyrighted. You wouldn’t be able to include Rudolph, for example, without seeking the relevant permissions. More about this here.

I hope these thoughts are useful when naming your texts! Don’t underestimate the impact of a great title. It can be the difference between someone picking up your book …and not. I’ve heard that picture books can and have sold on titles alone, if they’re that good. Contrary to the popular idiom ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ – we do! The title will be one of your most important selling points, so spend time getting it right.


Now it’s your turn!


Which are your favourite picture book titles and why?



Clare is a children's writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015, and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. She also writes for the early readers for Collins Big Cat and Maverick. www.clarehelenwelsh.com @ClareHelenWelsh

Monday, 13 January 2020

Ten Top Picture Book Writing Tips • Lynne Garner

I don't list the colours in the jumper,
the illustration shows us. 
I look back at my career and ask myself "how did I manage to get published?" I knew nothing about plot construction, creating characters children could relate to, how many pages a picture books contains etc. Yet I managed to become a published author. But if I knew then what I know now my journey would have been a shorter one. So, to reduce the length of your journey here are my top ten tips for writing a story an editor will hopefully want to publish.
  
One:
Read and learn from picture books. Look at how the story has been constructed, what types of words have been used, what words have been omitted thus allowing the illustrations to also tell the story. 

Two:
A picture book writer can learn a lot from studying poetry. I’m not suggesting write an entire book in rhyme but there are elements of poetry you can use to improve your story for example the rhythm of the words you choose use.  
 
I used long funny words and also repeated
phrases to create a rhythm.
Three:
Explore the use of words. Don’t be afraid to make up them up or use words that are long. For example, one of my nephews favourite picture books featured a T-rex. He loved it when it came to his turn to read the word and always shouted REX at the top of his voice, which was then followed by giggling.      


Four:
Listen to how children speak, what they talk about, the worries them etc. All of this can be used to fuel your work and ensure you’re writing stories children will enjoy and can relate to.

Five:
Break down your story into spreads and think of them as scenes in a play. Ask yourself is there something new happening on every page? Have you given the illustrator enough to work with? Does the new scene move the story forward? If the answer to any of these is no then you need to have a rethink.

Six:
Teasel and Brambles tell us how they feel
in their own words and by their actions.
Let your characters tell the story in their own words. Let them show the reader what they are feeling and thinking. 

Seven:
Everyone loves to laugh, so if appropriate include a little humour. Either use words or provide the illustrator with notes, so the humour can be shown in the illustrations. 

Eight:
Have a go at using the magic number three in your story. Have you ever read The Gruffalo? When the mouse is explaining what the Gruffalo looks like it’s always in threes. Also, there are three animals chasing the mouse. The snake, the fox and the owl. This isn’t new think about the three bears, the three pigs, the three billy goats. 

Nine:
As with any story think start, middle and end. If you've never heard of him then watch this video featuring Kurt Vonnegut about the shape of stories. 

  
Ten:
Lastly don't be afraid to break the rules. It worked for Pippa Goodhart in her 'You Choose' series of books. These books don't have a story but allow the child to choose from the bounty of options offered by the images in the book created by Nick Sharratt. 

I hope these tips help and good luck with your writing and if you have any other tips please share below or tweet us @picturebookden 

Monday, 6 January 2020

New Year Resolutions by Chitra Soundar


It's 2020, the start of a new decade. For the first post of the year, I wanted to start with celebrating the New Year.


A new decade and a new year not only brings on a new calendar, a new blank diary to write in but also new year resolutions. We all make them; we all break them. Some we forget, some we abandon and perhaps the hope is one of them will stick.

           In that context of making new resolutions, I’ve been looking at picture books that help children form good habits and break bad ones. Gone are the days when children’s books were didactic and full of rules and crazy consequences full of warnings. As this book of Victorian verse will attest to, children were told what not to do and the dire consequences of breaking rules.
            

Modern picture books especially those published in the last decade we have just bid goodbye to, has creative approaches to teaching children form good habits. A word of caution for all writers, I learnt early on in my writing career - keep it fun and be conscious of the creeping adult voice full of judgement.

Here are some examples of how to do that. 

In this book, Mo Willems highlights the universal angst of all parents and children – bedtime. Children want to have parties, read more stories, dance their night away while parents are tired and frustrated.
            How about eating habits? Some children won’t eat squishy tomatoes and others wouldn’t eat peas. Some won’t eat fruits and some wouldn’t touch an egg for any reason. Charlie has a wonderful idea to make Lola eat her tomato when she cries I will never not ever eat a tomato.

The third most important thing to a child - being active. Some children are readers, some are jumpers and some are holler-yollers. Often their activity levels are exact opposites to their parents. When parents want to rest, children want to play and vice versa. Isn't that a fantastic writing opportunity - in-built conflict and lot of relatable situations. 

However, if you wanted to introduce children to start off with a wonderful habit of doing yoga, here is a book that shows how to learn simple postures. Perhaps it’s a parent and child habit-forming book. Was yoga in your resolution for this year? I'm thinking of adding yoga to mine.

The trouble with telling children what to do is we don’t always follow our own rules. So we preach without practicing – go to bed early, no TV, eat your veg or don’t pick your nose. Children are observant. They know when parents break rules and that make children push that envelope of rebellion a bit more. Here is Daisy telling her mum, why giving advice is easy and following it might not be so.

As a picture book writer, these books inspire me to think about different things to write about. (Notice all the underlined phrases in this post.) Children struggle with forming habits as much as adults do. Sometimes it’s about being consistent, sometimes it’s in the follow-through. Are you inspired to write a fun story for children that introduces the concept of making habits – good ones and fun ones? Here is an inspiring activity to start you off.
Brian Moses introduced a classroom activity on 2nd Jan that children might love to do – maybe this will inspire you to write funny picture books about funny (or maybe even serious and important ) resolutions.
Did you make a resolution for the new year? Can you think of a funny one for adults and one for a young person? Here is my example:
Grown-up: I’ll go to bed before midnight - but it's always before midnight in some country, aint it?
Child: I’ll never eat a snail when its head is out. Ugh!



Add yours in the comments section or tweet it to us @picturebookden 


Chitra Soundar is an internationally published author of over 40 books for children. Her books have been published in the UK, US, India, Singapore and translated into German, French, Japanese and Thai. Her picture books have been included in the White Ravens Catalogue, IBBY International Books of USA, the prestigious Bank Street Bookstore lists and have been shortlisted for many awards. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Reflections • Team post

This is often a time of year when people reflect on the last twelve months and hopefully look forward to the next twelve. With this in mind the Picture Book Den team decided we would share picture books that have made us reflect or remember something or someone with fondness.

We hope you enjoy and wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.


Lynne Garner chooses I Will Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm



Anyone who knows me, knows I just love dogs. I admit I prefer larger dogs. You know those huge, soppy hounds who just want cuddles and when they drape themselves across you make your legs go dead. But I won't say no to a cuddle to those little ones who weigh almost nothing and give you the smallest doggy breath lick on the end of your nose.

Tasha with one of her
many found balls.

So, being a dog lover it's little wonder I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm manages to bring a tear to my eyes when I read it. I always remember and reflect on the dogs I've love and lost, these being our  Mitzi, Sally, Bonny, Jodi and Tasha. I remember with fondness their little quirks for example Jodi and her insistence on burying my underwear in the back garden (I hate to imagine what the neighbours thought) and Tasha with her ability to find a ball on our long walks in the local parks. And just like the family in the book I know I will always love each and every one of them, will always miss them but will also be lifted when I remember the adventures we enjoyed together.

Hoping your 2020 will provide you with many happy moments. 


Jane Clarke chooses Jill Murphy's Five Minutes Peace


This book takes me back to a time in my life when I totally identified with Mrs Large's struggle to get five minutes peace. When I read it to my then small sons, they didn't get it at all. Now they are dads, they do - and my four granddaughters who fail to understand the concept. As the years go on, life changes. Now, I just LOVE it when my peace is shattered!



Warmest winter wishes. May 2020 be kind to you all. Jane x

Pippa Goodhart chooses Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham


When my three daughters were little we shared this book over and over again. From the opening, 'This is Mr Gumpy' onwards, we loved it as more and more animals ask if they can join Mr Gumpy in his boat. The answer is always, 'Yes, if ...' you don't squabble or muck about or tease or chase or, actually all sorts of small naughtinesses that children themselves might do in a boat. And of course the animals DO all do those things, the boat tips over, 'and into the water they fell.' Drama! But not catastrophe. They walk home over the field to Mr Gumpy's house where 'it's time for tea.' Perfect!



I've chosen this beautiful book both for the sentimental reason that it, with its battered spine and Sellotaped pages, brings back happy memories of when my children were 'children'. But also, of course, because wonderful John Burningham died this year ... but lives on for more and more children in his joyful books. 

Very best wishes to all as the year, and the decade, give way to fresh ones. Pippa


Chitra Soundar chose Ocean Meets Sky by Eric Fan and Terry Fan  



This summer I picked up this book from the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist. It's a beautiful story of a boy coming to terms with his grandfather's passing. It was such a calming book to read, but it was also a time to reflect on what's happened and what's yet to happen. 


The book has a magical quality to it because of both the words and the pictures. The images in the story inspired me to lay quiet and stare at the sky, watch cloud formations and understand how we are a small speck in this mighty universe. And there is a special place for all of us wherever our ocean will meet our sky. 


I wish you all a wonderful celebration reflecting on the past year and welcoming the new one. May you all always find the time to imagine and discover magic in the clouds and on the waves. Chitra



Mini Grey chooses The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane. 


Another one from the Kate Greenaway shortlist that totally deservedly won. A book that's made an enormous impact and helped everyone to recognise that we love and need nature. Let's  have this as a top priority in 2020.
The book I want to get my sticky hands on this Christmas is Planetarium, words by Raman Prinja  and incredible images by the wonderful Chris Wormell, printer and picture maker extraordinaire.

Image result for planetarium chris wormell

How brilliant to be able to take an entire universe out of your bookshelf whenever you need it. 


Clare Helen Welsh chooses the ‘Mr. Men’ and ‘Little Miss’ books by Roger Hargreaves.
At this time of year, families often get together and reminisce. In my case, the same old, embarrassing stories come out of the woodwork! Yes, I’m talking about the time I emptied talcum powder all over the bathroom and told my Nan, as white clouds billowed down the stairs, that I was making pastry!
A cheeky younger me! 
I now see much of this mischievousness reflected in my favourite childhood books, including Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and ‘Peepo’ by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. I also have very fond memories of the ‘Mr. Men’ and ‘Little Miss’ Books by Roger Hargreaves
.

My Nan had a whole set of these books, and I would come back to them again and again and again. My favourite character? No, not Little Miss Trouble… Mr. Tickle, of course!
I wonder if, like me, you'll find a correlation between the tales of younger you and your favourite books? I suppose what isn’t clear, is whether I was influenced by the books I read, or whether mischievous me was drawn to mischievous books. I suspect it’s the latter!




 
Thankfully, as a grown up, I am much more sensible! 
Wishing you health, happiness and much mischief in 2020. Clare

Lucy Rowland chooses The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.


My sister and I used to LOVE The Jolly Postman.  Fairytale characters, a rhyming adventure, beautiful illustrations and, to top it all off, envelopes that you could open with real post inside!! We read it again and again.  Later, of course, I also discovered the magic of The Jolly Christmas Postman, and it was just as exciting, if not more! 



I love this time of year and I love Christmas, I always have. It's such a special time for me and I really enjoy thinking back to the Christmases we spent when I was young and the various Christmas traditions we had- the Christmas Eve party next door, the stockings hanging on the end of our beds, leaving out a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph....but this year I think is going to be my most special yet. 

In September, we welcomed our baby boy into the world and it is our first Christmas as a family of three. I can't wait to share these books (and many many more) with Benji as he grows and to create new memories and holiday traditions of our own. 

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and lots of love and happiness in 2020. Lucy x


Garry Parsons chooses Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna and 'Julian Is A Mermaid' by Jessica Love.



Fear is a universal problem that affects everyone at some point in their lives, children and adults alike. Fear overwhelming our lives can often lead to enormous suffering and terrible consequences. Francesca Sanna's book gives us an image of fear that cleverly and simply describes the polarities of its grip, on the one hand appearing as friend and protector and on the other as oppressor and tyrant. Sanna then shows us subtly how to deal with it. 

When I first read this book I was astounded. It's not only a poignant message for every human but it's beautifully illustrated. This book is a treasure and everyone should have a copy.



I am also choosing Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love. If you've had a tough day and you need to reconnect with what really matters in life then fall into this book for a dose of gentle acceptance and appreciation of human uniqueness. This book is about being free to be who you are, no matter who you are.

Merry Christmas!

Natascha Biebow chooses A Very Corgi Christmas by Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer.

This has been a momentous year for me: My picture book THE CRAYON MAN was published, I went on my first ever mini book tour, I was awarded the Stephen Mooser SCBWI Member of the Year Award 2019 and invited to the Palace to receive an MBE for services to children's authors and illustrators. When reflecting on this year, my ten year-old suggested this book. It's a heartwarming tale of the importance of family and friendship and how wishes can come true.

Belle, the littlest royal Corgi, wants to experience all the excitement of Christmas. But the hubbub of the big city is a little daunting for such a little dog – until she meets streetwise Pip, who takes her on a magical tour of all the sights.


It's such fun to see all the familiar London landmarks illustrated from a doggy point of view! I am not from London, of course, though I have probably lived here the longest. Despite being an immigrant. I like to think of it as my home. So, here's wishing you a festive holiday season at home or in a new adventurous place, and fun times with family and friends, near or far.

 And here's hoping all YOUR wishes will come true, too!


Juliet Clare Bell chooses books by Mary Murphy.

I think lots of us are in a very contemplative mood at the moment. And I’ve been thinking about the books that feel absolutely full of love at their core –without necessarily mentioning it, because as picture book creatives, we can do a lot to spread love, and we absolutely should. And with my eldest daughter turning sixteen just last week, I’ve been looking at some of the books and authors/illustrators that she loved as a young child.


(c) Mary Murphy Here Comes Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter 

And I keep coming back to Mary Murphy. Her pictures are joyful and her sparse text is perfect. I’ve only got the one book of hers at home now (which I bought second hand recently as I couldn’t find a new version) and it’s Here Comes Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter. It’s so simple, but it’s just a family (mostly a parent and child, who happen to be dogs) going through the year together. It’s always kind.


(c) Mary Murphy from Here Comes Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter *

“In autumn we jump in hills of crunchy leaves,” doesn’t sound profound on its own, but it almost brings tears to my eyes when I think how much my then-two-year-old loved it when we borrowed it again and again from the library. And how we’d say it –and do it- when we saw hills of crunchy leaves. It’s still the first thing that springs to mind when I see piles of autumn leaves -said by my daughter and me, together, in happy, excited voices.

And that library book introduced us to the wonderful world of Mary Murphy including I Like It When

(c) Mary Murphy

and How Kind (click on the links to see Youtube recordings of the books).

(c) Mary Murphy

I’d highly recommend them (but definitely get the picture book rather than the board book of I Like It When, or you’ll miss the last page (which is missed off the youtube reading link above but it says –'You’re wonderful'… (sob)…)


*See what I did with the photo? I got in a sneaky peek of the other book I nearly wrote about which my eldest also absolutely loved and I'd also urge you all to read: Scarlette Beane (by Karen Wallace and Jon Berkeley).

Peace and love to everyone this Christmas, and here’s hoping for an outpouring of love and kindness in 2020…



The Picture Book Den team will resume posts in the new year.