Tuesday 30 July 2013

Promise: This blog is full of treats!

By Moira Butterfield (greedy from a very young age, as you will see)
A blog should be a little treat to read in one’s day, I feel. Picture books are like that, too. They are a special pleasurable treat in a quiet shared space somewhere in a toddler’s day.
Perhaps that’s why picture books are themselves often peppered with treats – I’m thinking of the yummy kind (this greedy blogger’s favourite kind, in fact). Winnie the Pooh has his honey, of course, and Judith Kerr’s tiger who comes to tea hoovers up a deliciously interesting retro-looking spread..,.Mmm, so would I. When I was small, storybook teddy bears invariably had picnics and toys more often than not ended up having scrumptious birthday parties involving cake.
The best and most exciting food treat for me as a small child would be to go a café, like the little girl in ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ – and she got to go at nighttime, too! What luck for her that the tiger turned up and ate everything in the house. A trip to a café was a rare and exciting adventure for small me. I recall the feeling even now - A menu naming more dishes than I could imagine (what could ‘Welsh rarebit’ possibly be?). Sugar in tiny paper bags. Tomato sauce in a giant squashy plastic tomato. Oh joy!
What do today’s small children think of as treats, I wonder? Much the same things as I did, probably, albeit with a modern spin. A longed-for new toy, perhaps. Some small and beautiful natural object found on a walk and hidden in one’s pocket. An out-of-the-ordinary trip or a new delicious kind of food, eaten on holiday. Being tucked up in a warm freshly-made bed.
These are simple but powerful pleasures, and they still resonate with me.
Of course there are lots of great action-packed picture books with rollocking galloping stories, but the ones I love best are the ones deeply rooted in a small child’s world – a world where anything is possible (a tiger at the door perhaps) but there are also one or two of those wonderful treats that every child will recognise. In ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ Maurice Sendak put it perfectly with his classic ending:
“…his supper was waiting for him…and it was still hot.”
PS: Here is a treat just for you, and that's a promise. Cook this particularly pleasing flapjack, and eat it while it is still warm, preferably in some spot where you suspect teddies might very well have picnics when you are not looking.
200g (8oz) butter
150g (6oz) Golden Syrup – This is 6 tablespoons. Use a tablespoon warmed with hot water to make pouring easier.
150g (6oz) soft brown sugar
400g (16oz) rolled oats
A roughly 24cm (9.5”) square baking tray, greased – a swiss roll tin is ideal.
1.     Put the butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan and stand over a low heat until melted.
2.     Stir in the oats, mixing well.
3.     Spread into the tin and bake in a moderate oven (180°C, 350°F, Gas Mark 4) for 25-30 minutes (keep an eye on it after after 20 mins so it doesn’t burn – my new fan oven seems to knock 5 minutes off the cooking time).
4.     Leave it in the tin to cool for 5 minutes. Then use a sharp knife to gently mark it into pieces.
5.     If you are feeling sensible, remove it from the tin when cool. If you impatiently remove it while it’s still warm, it will crumble…but it will be extra delicious! So I say treat yourself, and so does my picnicking teddy.

Tuck in, teddy, while they're still warm. 

Thursday 25 July 2013

Summer on Picture Book Island by Malachy Doyle

6 a.m. Cat whinges at kitchen door. Writer goes down to feed it.  Also two more cats, and two dogs.  Writer watches the sun rise over the mountain, and thinks.

7.30 a.m.  Artist awakens.  Writer brings her a cup of tea.  Senior cat, waiting outside the bedroom door, goes in for a cuddle.

8 a.m.  Computer on.  Writer goes over the picture book he's been working on for the previous two days.  Changes ‘said’ to ‘asked’.  Removes ‘and’ at the start of a sentence.  Then smiles.  Brings Tea Two to artist.

9 a.m.  Writer lets out ducks and one-eyed rooster.  Two eggs.  Artist appears downstairs, in dressing gown.

10 a.m  Writer takes story up to the booley hut to read it out loud. Changes ‘And you!’ to ‘You are too!’  Changes ‘way down’ to ‘deep down’.  Realises the story is a distillation, in a strange sort of way, of his first published picture book and of three recent near-misses.  So he's actually been working on it for eighteen years...  

10.30 a.m. Writer takes three runner bean plants from the nursery on the balcony, and adds them to the teepee.  He adds two courgette plants to the raised bed where the surviving purple-sprouting broccoli live. (The snails love this bed, so he is not very hopeful of success, but neither he nor artist can be bothered digging a new patch).

11.a m.  Writer changes ‘they’ to ‘the bears’.  He adds ‘It’s hot out there!’  It is.  Hotter, for longer, than it has been in the six years he's lived on the island. 

11.30 a.m.  Artist is off to her print workshop.  Writer and dogs cadge a lift to the mountain.  No mud on the bog as they start their walk.  Amazing.

12.30 a.m.  There's cloud at the top.  The only cloud in the sky.  Writer doesn't mind.  He knows the view so well - down over the lake, out to the islands - that he can see it in his mind.  Hatches a plan to climb this mountain every birthday until he can no more.  Good plan.      

1 p.m. Mobile phone punctures his reverie.  (Writer was under strict instruction to keep it on, which he would never normally do on a walk)  Artist is heading home early.  Someone is coming to view her paintings. Writer abandons plan to climb second hill.

2.45 p.m  The someone admires house and paintings.  Leaves with one (painting, not house).  Artist is happy.  Writer is happy because artist is happy.  Dogs are happy chewing a shoe.

3 p.m. Artist, writer and dogs walk to the beach.   They swim.  The water is surprisingly warm.

4 p.m.  Artist and writer have siesta in writing hut.  Writing hut has many uses. 

5.30 p.m.  Writer changes ‘asked’ back to ‘said’.  Writer is now content.

6 p.m. Writer waters flowers and vegetables.  Most years the salt wind makes growing anything difficult, but this is a special year.  A very special year.       

7 p.m. Writer adds an illustration guide to the top of the story, and decides it's ready.  Story wings its way to agent.  Writer smiles.  Artist also smiles.

8 p.m. Writer and artist watch three episodes of The West Wing.  Writer and artist have never watched The West Wing before.  Aren't they the lucky couple?

11 p.m. As the light fades over the sea, writer takes dogs for nightwalk.  Writer remembers something.  He has a blog to write for the Picture Book Den.  It is due to be published the following morning...         

Malachy's picture book The Snuggle Sandwich, illustrated by Gwen Millward and published by Andersen Press, is now available in paperback.

Saturday 20 July 2013

Studying Children's Book Illustration by Julia Woolf

In May I finished my second semester on the part time MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge Anglia Ruskin University. I have to say that it is the best thing I have done for myself in years.

This is a very recent sketch developing a new approach.

I had heard of the MA sometime ago and knew that it was highly thought of by publishers. I was feeling stuck in a rut with the type of work I was getting and thought I should apply.The day after my interview I got an email offering me a place.I live in Kent and knew that once a week my journey to Cambridge would be a long haul. Even though I have to get up at 4.50am to attend the course and I spend most of my day there fighting extreme tiredness – I LOVE IT!

It’s made me passionate about my work again. It’s given me the time to work on my own projects again, producing the type of work that I want to do. I feel like I’ve been set free.

These two illustrations were done as part of a SCBWI Illustration Masterclass, but the influence of the MA inspired me to take my work in a slightly different direction and try a new approach. I still think it’s my ‘style’ – don’t like that word – but with a different technique.

 And as if by magic, I’ve started to get jobs that I love, (which have no connection to the course).

Five Black Cats – Caterpillar Books – written by Patricia Hegarty. I am now working on my 3rd book in this series and love working with them.

It’s given me the courage to turn down jobs that I’m not interested in, so I can concentrate on developing my own ideas. It’s changed my approach to my work, and it’s reignited my love for sketching again, which has such a vast impact on my illustrations. 

These sketches were done during the first semester of the MA where the project was observational sketching and we chose our own themes and I chose my family life.

 The course encourages you to experiment and tell your own stories and has made me realise that I am more capable that I thought.

These illustrations were done in the second semester where we had to do sequential image. These are from one of two projects that I did and in this project I decided to experiment a lot and these are just some examples of the different type approaches that I tried.

I can’t wait till September when the course starts again!


Monday 15 July 2013

You Gotta Be In It - Lynne Garner

Getting published is a bit of a lottery. If you're not in it you're not gonna win it. So in January I made the New Years resolution to write and send off one new picture book story per month. As with all New Years resolutions I was good for the first couple of months but my energy started to flag around April time. So a few weeks ago, in a bid to feel less guilty I decided to search my 'resting' stories to see if I had any I still believed in. I surprised myself and found five stories I felt might be worth sending out again, after the odd tweak.

As a couple had already been sent to the 'usual' publishers I felt it was worth undertaking a little research to find alternate publishers. So I spent a morning reading submission guidelines for picture book publishers. As I did my research I realised how demoralising the process could be. Around 50% of the publishers I found no longer take un-agented authors and suggested getting an agent (that's another post entirely).  Those who do accept un-solicited manuscripts stated:

  • They take one month to reply (note: this was just one publisher out of the many)
  • Expect to wait up to three months for a reply 
  • Don't expect to hear quickly they take up to six months
  • Will get back to you within three months but only if they like your work
  • Contact you only if they like your work - no time frame given

As I found suitable publishers I created a table and placed them in order of response time. By lunchtime I had five likely candidates, all of whom respond within three months. I then spent the afternoon emailing my five stories along with synopsis and covering letter. I didn't have to wait long for the first rejection, just 18 hours!

I may have already received my first rejection but I still have five chances (the rejected story has been sent out to another publisher) of winning that publishing lottery.

So whilst I wait with fingers crossed I'm going to work on a new title and send that out. Hopefully by January 2014 I might have fulfilled my New Years resolution and you never know even signed a new publishing contract.

Lynne Garner

I have three new distance learning courses commencing in September via Women On Writing:

Wednesday 10 July 2013

DARN-it -dipity by Jane Clarke

Now, I'm used to rejection ( link to den post ) but this time the response from my agent was exactly what I'd hoped for:

"…you've made something really special… This  (picture book text) feels like a perfect idea - it just slots into place."

Yay! Happy tail wagging dance with the dog. We could be on to a winner!

But …

An editor told my agent that my text had exactly the same theme as a picture book the publisher had already commissioned, adding

"This is beautifully written though – what a shame!"

Pause for deep sigh and wry smile...

Someone had beaten me to it - not for the first time and not, I'm sure, for the last time. Sometimes, topics and themes seem to be in the air, a zeitgeist that makes people think along the same lines simultaneously. Perhaps our ideas have been sparked by the same programme on TV, the same news story, cute picture or clip or post on Facebook - who knows?


Only if you get there first. And, of course, there's always hope that you will…

But if you don't, it's a case of DARN-it-dipity.

 Has it happened to you?

Jane's delighted to announce Nosy Crow's  serendipitous pairing of her latest picture book text Who woke the baby? with one of her favourite illustrators, Charles Fuge.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Getting children even more excited about reading and writing. Making and publishing books of children’s work: a step-by-step guide to making a book on lulu.com for teachers, librarians, authors and parents, by Juliet Clare Bell

I was at a great event yesterday The Tea Party: Refreshing the Curriculum (at the mac in Birmingham), where teachers came to meet artists and organisations that do creative projects in schools. I was talking about school visits and making books with the children. Here are some of the recent ones I’ve made...

The idea of making books of children’s work really captures the imaginations of teachers (as I witnessed yesterday), parents and, of course, children. After a great school visit where you’ve managed to get children inspired about writing, what better way to keep them interested than by turning them into authors themselves?


Making books for schools or for yourself has changed dramatically for the better in recent years. Print on demand means that you’re not charged anything from the publisher to make or publish a book and that they print out the exact number of books that have been ordered, each time someone orders. This is often a single copy. The copies usually cost you somewhere between £2.50 and £5.00 plus P&P depending on size (for example, a book for a one-form entry school with 210 pupils where every child had contributed cost just under £3 including P&P:)

This is very different from how things used to be where if you made a book for your school, you had to buy a huge number of books upfront and then try and sell them all.

The process of making a print-on-demand book is actually pretty simple. What takes time is getting familiar with it and if you’re making a school book, coordinating with the school and getting all the work in the right formats to use for your book. Each time I make a book with a school, I fine-tune the preparation checklist to give the school, and it’s getting easier each time (it used to take about a week, with all the to-ing and fro-ing. I’m on my seventh now and it’ll probably take about three days but I reckon in the end I'll be able to get it down to two -long- days...). For anyone who’s not made a book before and wants to, I thought I’d do a step-by-step guide so that you can learn from my mistakes and do it more quickly and efficiently.


I put together these books because I think it’s a brilliant way to keep children excited about reading and writing. I don’t do it for the money. It’s time-consuming and I can’t charge what it really costs time-wise as schools wouldn’t be able to afford it. If more schools did it for themselves, that would be great. It would take a lot of time, but it could be an amazing project with the pupils. More children will get to hold their own books in their hands, so here’s that guide to save you some time...


[NB if you are doing this at your own school all the same things apply. It's the same if you're an author who's going back into school to supervise the making of the book in school with some of the children (I've done this, too, and it's even more exciting for the children to be part of the making process but it needs to be extremely well organised, and to do it all in one school day it would have to be a small book. Otherwise, you can do as much as you can during the day and then finish it at home afterwards.) And whether you're a teacher, author or parent doing this, think about what you want to go in to provide an exciting collection of work. I've done books with schools on one theme and ones with no theme. If you like themes, you could always try a different theme for each year to provide a broad range of entries, or use many different kinds of writing: stories, poems, diary entries, letters, newspaper reports, etc.]

This spread shows a diary entry, a letter and an acrostic poem to create more variety since all 200-plus entries in this book are on the same theme.

Preparation is crucial. You need to tell the school exactly what work they need to provide you with, in what format, and by what date. This will be the most time-consuming part of the process if you’re not precise as you’ll have to keep going back to them (or doing things like typing out lots of eligible stories as I did with one book and not being able to use certain pictures).

• Leave the school with a sheet with very specific instructions –with clear reasons for what you’re saying. Be really polite but say that this is what you need in order to put the book together.

Have they sent ALL the work? They need to check before they send you the work and let you know whose work is missing. Writing needs to be legible and whether on computer or handwritten, names must be spelt correctly.

• Ask for a copy of the class registers of the children involved. If possible, ask for an electronic copy so you don’t then have to retype the names when you’re making an index. You need the register for the index, but check first if the school wants you to use full names or first names only.

Ask the school to use Word if possible. Ask the teacher who’s sending the work over to send the children’s text as word documents, with the child’s name and year as the title, to make it quicker to put the book together. You will spend time doing reformatting if they send you OneNote files, and posters with words on usually don’t have enough contrast for the book which then means either retyping someone’s poster or contacting the school to redo it and resend it.

It’s black and white only inside the book. If you are having illustrations in the book, ask that the children use a thick pencil or black/dark-coloured pen to draw the outlines for best effect. Colour drawings -with clear outlines- will work inside the book. Light pencilling works less well.

This colour picture (which I love a lot) works well when it becomes black and white in the book...

No colour backgrounds. If people want to send over posters on the computer –and you’re ok about it- the background needs to be clear and the text needs to be black.

Scanning pictures. If the school is planning to give or send you illustrations for you to scan, decide on the maximum number you’re prepared to scan and let the school know.

Be organised. Make sure you have a system you understand for knowing exactly whose work you’ve already scanned/put into the template and whose you haven’t. (Sounds obvious –unless you’re me on my first attempt…)

Typed, handwritten or a mixture of entries? It’s lovely to have a few handwritten entries in a typed book to break up the text, but if you have all or almost all handwritten entries, the book will look very different from a professional, text only book. That may not matter at all, but some children may prefer to have a book that looks like the kind of book they'd see in a shop. All but one of the books I've done are predominantly (or wholly) typed. Whichever way you do it, it can look fantastic, but they do look very different so consider it carefully.

If the entries are handwritten, make sure the writing is clear, on non-lined paper if possible, and not written in a blunt pencil. If they’re writing on A4 –and you’re going to make an A5 book (all mine are)- they must make sure children write large enough (it will be shrunk considerably for the book) and leave enough space between lines, with large margins around the edges of the paper.

This is an entry from a book (which I've not got at home at the moment so I can't show in book form). It was written on A4. It is legible in the book but any smaller and it would have been very difficult to read.

Front cover. Who’s going to do the front cover? Have the school decide in advance. This can be full colour pictures, a photo or a poster done on computer. Make sure they provide you with the name/s of the artists, including any adults who supervised the project. Several of my front covers are photos of a wall-hanging made by the pupils with an outside artist.

[or if you're a teacher doing this at school, once you've collected all the work]

Scan any pictures that aren’t already scanned and crop them to remove as much blank background as possible.


Log onto lulu.com and sign up (it’s free)

Go to PUBLISH (top left hand corner) >Books >Start Publishing and choose whether you want to make paperback or hardback (I always make paperback books as it’s cheaper for the school).

It’ll ask you for a working title and author. You can change all this later so don’t worry what you write for now. And while you’re working on it, click on the keep it private box. You can change this later if you want others to have access to it.

For the format, size and paper quality, I always use standard paper, A5 with perfect bound stitching, with black and white inside.

On the next screen it gives you the choice to download a template at the top of the page. Click on it and then download the A5 template (or whatever size you choose). Once you’ve got your template downloaded, you work in Word and you don’t need to be logged into lulu.com until you’ve finished your template.


• Once you have your lulu word template, cut and paste all the work into the template. Note, the even numbered pages will be your left-hand pages. If you want your book to look like a traditionally published book, 11-point is a good font size to use.

• You may well have to crop the scanned images you’ve been sent in order to avoid lines around the edges (which don’t look good in the book). I’m not brilliant with technology so you’ll probably know better but I open my pictures up with Office 2010 then go to Picture >Crop and then press ok on the right hand side when I’ve cropped it, before copying and pasting it into the lulu template.

• Once the pictures are in the template, reduce them to fit (if you've not done this before, it looks huge to start with. Just reduce the size by dragging a corner of the picture towards the middle of the picture. It'll soon shrink).

You can use pictures in different ways. They can accompany a story:

work on their own:

or you can shrink illustrations and use them to separate the stories:

• Once you’ve put in all the children’s work into the template, write a foreword. It’s a great reminder to the children about your day together and it makes the book even more exciting for them. Include links that you think will be useful –your own website, too, if it’s relevant, to extend your link with the school after your visit.

• Make a title page on the first page (just the title and authors in the middle in bold looks good) and on the second page, leave it blank except for the bottom of the page where you put who’s done the cover art. Then have the foreword start on page 3.

• Once you’re done and are happy with the layout of the work, print out hard copies of the registers and go through your book online, writing the page number of each child’s work onto the hard copy. When it’s done (and you’ve checked all the work’s there), make your index at the end of the book. If you want to combine the classes, you can but the quickest way I’ve found is to have an index broken down by year group as you can then copy and paste in the registers (which have always been word tables in the schools I’ve used) and add in the relevant page numbers from the hard copy. Then remove the table outlines.


Once you’re happy with your template, log back onto lulu.com

Go onto my lulu and click on the link to revise your project and then press CHOOSE FILE to find your template, and press UPLOAD to upload it. (It may take a while to upload depending on how many pictures you’ve got in the template.)

Then click on Make Print-Ready File

Download and review your print-ready file -and check through it to make sure it looks ok. Press save and continue.

Then it’s onto the front cover and you upload the pictures you want before playing around with the layout of the cover (it’s all drag and drop and straightforward. You can have an image only front and back cover by clicking on themes, like this one:

This one uses a poster, featuring lots of mini-posters created on computer by each pupil in the class.

This one is a single picture cover using a black and white illustration.

And here's a single picture back cover...

Or you can try different layouts and click on background to change colour.

And this one uses a class photo...

When you've finished your cover, press preview and make print-ready cover

Make print-ready cover

Save and continue. After this, you can change access so you can give other people general access or direct access through a private website

Press Save and finish
Describe your project –save and finish
Set price if it’s going to be higher than cost
Review project
Save and finish. Woo hoo! You're done. Nearly...

• You can go back to it again and again after it’s uploaded and edit until happy with it.
• If you have enough time, it's worth ordering a single book first so you can see if there's anything you'd like to change. You can still make edits at this point.

Although it's a time-consuming process, I've always found myself inspired by the children's work and I love that each book turns out so differently. And for authors who know how great it is to feel your published book in your hands for the first time, just think how exciting it is for the children to hold their books for the first time. It's an honour to be part of that.

Have you made books with your school, or after a visit, or with your children? What’s worked really well? Do you have any tips you’d be prepared to share?

Thank you!

Juliet Clare Bell is the author of Don't Panic, Annika! (illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris, Piccadilly Press, 2011, UK; also in Dutch, Chinese and Slovenian), The Kite Princess (illustrated by Laura-Kate Chapman, narrated by Imelda Staunton, Barefoot Books, 2012, UK and US; also in Korean) and Pirate Picnic (illustrated by Mirella Mariani, Franklin Watts, 2012).