Wednesday 31 December 2014

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015 - Group Post

Can you believe it, The Picture Book Den is now three years old?

In order to celebrate our birthday and to usher in the New Year the team decided it would be fitting to share what we've achieved during 2014, what we hope to achieve and have planned for 2015. So here it is. We hope you enjoy.


Lynne Garner

Although 2014 was not my most constructive year for landing contracts I'm pleased with the fact they I had two books reach the shelves. The first was in February. It was the second picture book to feature Boris and Dog with their new friend Benji (Bad Manner Benjie!). My second book was completely different and was released in November. It is aimed at those who work with children in the early years sector and is called 'The Little Book of Print Making.' It was great fun to write, as I had to get my hands dirty to ensure the instructions were correct. So lots of messy 'play.' Sometimes this writing lark is a hard job.

Unfortunately I don't have any books due for release, however I intend to change that. I have a small library of manuscripts completed, which over the coming months I'll send out to publishers. I also have a few ideas for new stories and plan to start the process of plotting, writing, proofreading and editing in January. Once they've seen the red pen of the Picture Book Den critique team I'll send them on their way.

Jonathan Emmett

It’s slightly ironic that I joined Picture Book Den in 2014 as I’ve had no new picture books published this year, just new editions of previously published titles. However I have three (or possibly two and two-thirds) brand new picture books coming out in 2015.

The first of these is A Spot of Bother illustrated by my longtime collaborator Vanessa Cabban and published by Walker Books. This is a follow-up to The Pig’s Knickers and features the same cast of characters including the rather self-centred Pig. In this story Pig is horrified to discover that his spotless appearance has been spoiled by a cherry stain. His friends try to help, but the more they try to clean the spot, the bigger it gets.

This is the seventh book that Vanessa and I did together and I'm extremely sad to say that it will be our last as Vanessa passed away shortly before Christmas. She was a wonderful person, funny, mischievous and forthright, and a terrific illustrator to work with and I will miss her greatly.

Next up is The Clockwork Dragon. This book might only be described as two-thirds new because it’s a reworking of Tom’s Clockwork Dragon which was published in 2008. Unfortunately that book went out of print quite quickly but Oxford University Press decided that the story deserved a second chance and asked me to write a new draft which has been illustrated by Weasels and Nuts in Space creator Elys Dolan. Elys has a great flair for whimsical detail and, as well as completely reinventing the dragon, has populated the book’s illustrations with a supporting cast of wonderfully wacky characters. I've already written a second story featuring the book's young heroes Max and Lizzie so, if this book proves popular, they could be back with more clever clockwork contraptions.

And lastly, there’s Fast and Furry Racers: The Silver Serpent Cup, also published by Oxford University Press. This book is illustrated by Ed Eaves and the story was inspired by a set of souped-up vehicle models that Ed made several years ago for his college degree show. Ed sent me some photos of the models and suggested that they might plant the seed for a story – which they did. The Silver Serpent Cup is a rhyming story about a no-holds-barred race between a motley assortment of animals in an equally motley assortment of vehicles; cars, planes, boats, submarines – there’s even a tiger racing in a train. We’re hoping it will be the first of a series of Fast and Furry Racers books.

Abie Longstaff

2014 was really exciting for me. Two new Fairytale Hairdresser books came out:

The Fairytale Hairdresser and Snow White


The Fairytale Hairdresser and Father Christmas

as well as Just the Job for Dad.

 I did a loads of events, which was fun but exhausting!

and Lauren Beard and I won an award for The Mummy Shop :)

Here we are with the other winners

Next year there will be two more Fairytale Hairdresser books (The Little Mermaid, and The Sugar Plum Fairy) and a new picture book with Scholastic.

There will also be a brand new series, which I am really excited about. It's called The Magic Potions Shop and it's a chapter book about an apprentice who gets himself in all kinds of trouble learning to make potions (it was really fun to write!) There are 6 books in the series, so bring on 2015!

Jonathan Allen

Though not the most exciting year for me work wise, to say the least, my picture book 'Is That My Cat?' came out in Spring both here and in the US. My work seems to get simpler and bolder as I get older. Maybe I need better glasses ;-)

Next year sees the ten year birthday of Baby Owl! It was ten years ago that I took my idea (I'm Not Cute!) to see David Bennett at Boxer Books, (which also has its ten year birthday next year) and was told that he liked it, but I needed to make the drawings younger and softer. It was the start of a fruitful partnership, and a series of six "I'm Not" books over the years, (Cute, Scared, Sleepy, Santa, Ready and Reading) and several other titles. I now know what 'I'm Not Cute!' is in at least eight languages ;-) Well, I would if I could read Japanese or Chinese. .

Also, Boxer are publishing 'The Little Rabbit Who Liked to Say 'Moo!'' as a board book at some point in 2015, which is nice because it's a book that works very well with the very young.

So, I am looking forward positively to next year and whatever it brings. We are pretty certain to be moving house at some point, to get further out into the countryside. A big scary thing to do, but you have to keep having adventures in life otherwise a dull complacency can set in and before you know it you're old ;-)

Of course in 2015 I will no doubt think up a major best seller, become a millionaire and live happily ever after. . . Oh yes. . . Have a great new year won't you?

Pippa Goodhart

For me, 2014 saw new books in which text and pictures danced together, but which weren't strictly 'picture books'.  There were two new Winnie the Witch storybooks (published under the fake name of Laura Owen), illustrated in wonderfully wild fashion by Korky Paul ...

... and a Green Banana early reader book beautifully illustrated with clarity and humour by Amber Cassidy.

But there ARE new picture books by me on their way to publication, as well as more Winnie the Witch stories and early reader books.  I can tell you that there's one that is being illustrated at the moment by brilliant Sam Usher, and there are others that the publishers don't want talked about yet...  Watch and see.  
 Happy new year!

Jane Clarke

In 2014, I got lots of rejections as I do every year.  But I signed contracts for four new books, had fun doing author visits to lots of schools, became a grandma - yaaaay!  and turned 60 (not so yay!)

2015 looks very exciting - 10 books are due to be published, including two picture books and four toddler board books .  I'm hoping a new picture book series will get past the gatekeepers, and I've been invited on a school visit of a lifetime to China, and have another grandchild due in March. Life's not always a bed of roses, and I don't take any of this for granted.  I feel very privileged that I continue to earn a living from writing.  

Warmest Winter wishes and Happy New Year, Picturebookdenners!
May your year be full of good things (in between the rejections), too. 

Jane x

Malachy Doyle

2014 brought my first from Parragon Books (Peek-a -Book, with Rowan Martin); my first with my daughter Hannah and with Firefly Press (Pete and the Five-a-Side Vampires); and my 100th book (and first about death, sort of) Tad-cu's Bobble Hat, with Dorry Spikes.


2015 brings my second, third and possibly fourth from Parragon: The Nose that Knows, with Barroux; Sleepysaurus, with Hannah George; and Hide and Peek, with Rowan Martin again.
It also brings The Beast of Belfast, an illustrated storybook from Poolbeg Press, with Derry Dillon.
There are other pans in the fire, but we shall see.

2015 also promises my second grandchild, the wedding of my one-and-only son, and my very first venture east of Europe - a trek in the Himalayas.  Quite enough excitement for one year - and may you have an exciting one too!

Moira Butterfield

2014 - Where did it go? Was I in a timewarp, one of those films where someone returns home at the end, to find that only a minute has passed? I wrote what seemed like an unending line of books - about Anglo-Saxons and the Stone Age, about feelings, about the human body, about Halloween, about the weather....My first poetry for children will be published by Harper Collins in 2015, and hopefully my first picture book in a while - currently with the title 'I Saw A Shark'.  I've got board books coming out, too, with UK supermarket M & S.  It's all a bit of a mix and it's all very unpredictable. That's what it's like being a professional author for children.

Being a freelancer: I complain a lot when it's all a flurry, but when it's not, I start to worry.

Sorry I can't show you covers. I've left it too late to ask permission and the publishers have all gone away to their Christmas castles, where their butlers are now serving them their Xmas cocktails and lobster bites on golden sticks.

But I think it's OK to share one of the Harper Collins poems, which were written about weather.

Frost sneaks silently.
It weaves its white carpet
without even a whisper.

But if you touch it,
you can unlock its secret

Friday 26 December 2014

Looking at the ‘art’ in picture book illustrations - by Paeony Lewis

Hannah Höch Picture Book (The Green Box, 2012)
I’m going to be really naughty. As a writer I know that illustrations and narrative work together in picture books. However, for a change I’m going to ignore this and instead I’ll look at the illustrations in isolation.

Below you’ll discover lots of illustrations that have piqued my interest (scanned with my slightly dodgy scanner – apologies) . They’re from children’s picture books I've bought in 2014. There’s something about each illustration that has grabbed my attention from the point of view of a fledgling artist (very fledging – I’ve only just hatched). I admit it’s a personal list and my choices reflect the direction of my own art. Even so, perhaps I’ll inspire you to look again at illustrations.

Hannah Höch Picture Book (The Green Box, 2012)

My first choice is a little eccentric. It's a book produced in 1945 by the only woman in the German Dada art movement, Hannah Höch (1889-1979), and a pioneer in collage. Not even seen by the public until 1975, her children's picture book has been republished and as an adult I find her collages compelling and bursting with fun, although I ignore her whimsical rhymes.

Returning to 2014 and in Suzanne's Barton's The Dawn Chorus there's a subtle integration of paint and collage. What caught my eye was the use of collage in the leaves, feathers, musical notes and curling lines of song. 

 From The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton (Bloomsbury, 2014)

In another mixed media book, Just Right for Two, Rosalind Beardshaw uses collage in a similar way in the leaves, plants, trees, and even to divide between a few illustrations (good idea). Plus I like the teasing silhouette of the mouse - lovely visual foreshadowing. 

From Just Right for Two by Tracey Corderoy & Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow, 2013)

In The Haunted House, Kazuno Kohara produces simple mixed media images to eye-catching effect. I assume she has used black ink printing on orange paper and added tissue overlays. I love it, and the original story too.

Two images from The Haunted House by Kazuno Kohara (Macmillan, 2008)

The next book is the opposite of simplicity: Bear Hug by Katharine McEwen. I'm not an expert, but to me she appears to use harmonious colours in a similar tonal range to bring together detailed stylised images. Even though it's visually busy, I'm drawn to the illustrations and the snowflakes are a lovely touch. Plus I've been thinking about the portrayal of water in art and I find the wavering blue lines of the stream appealing (a Hockney influence?).

 From Bear Hug by Katharine McEwen (Templar Publishing, 2014)

Several illustrations  in Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown also use lines in an interesting stylised way to illustrate the movement of water. I particularly like the sketchy spirals of 'foam'.

From Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown (Macmillan, 2013)

Whilst in The Best Book in the World by Rilla, the movement of ocean waves is cleverly shown by the curve of the sea creatures. This book also has gorgeous bold endpapers - I'm a bit of an endpaper groupie!

Above image from The Best Book in the World by Rilla (Flying Eye Books, 2014)
Plus marvellous, dramatic endpapers below in the hardback edition

I can't resist showing one more example of water. This time it's from the huge A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna. Vertical broken white lines effectively simulate rain. 

Above and below, A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna (Tate Publishing, 2014) 
Other inventive ideas are found in the 'arty' A Lion in Paris and I adore the stylised map, collage, and tissue (?) overlay clouds which feature in the excerpt below of a 'lion's eye' view of Paris (I can't show the whole page because the picture book is almost A3 and won't fit on my scanner).

Another artistically innovative book is the Yes. Written by Sarah Bee and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. The main character is an orange blob creature called 'the Yes' who wants to escape 'the Nos'. I was transfixed by some of the almost semi-abstract illustrations that reflect the semi-abstract concepts of 'yes', 'no' and a place called 'Where'. Even with the huge blocks of colours, there is enough realism for the book to be easily understood by a child (and adult too - we're not always as visually literate as children!).

From the Yes by Sarah Bee & Satoshi Kitamura (Andersen Press, 2014)

A bold use of shape and colour is also seen in the contemporary, but more conventional Where Bear? by Sophy Henn. Strong contrast and simplicity bring alive the friendship between the bear and the boy. Plus the endearing endpapers of the hardback always make me grin. My only niggle in this book concerns the commas, or lack of them. I want to add a comma after the 'where' whenever I read lines such as: "Then where bear?" asked the boy. I even want to add a comma to the title! Anyway, I still adore this delightful book and I'm not supposed to be discussing the words. 

From Where Bear? by Sophy Henn (Puffin Books, 2014) with excerpt from hardback endpapers below

The use of white was particularly eye-catching in Where Bear?, whilst it's the traditional artist's red that is used in the painterly The Journey to draw our eye to key images in the beautiful illustrations (a red crayon, door, boat, air balloon and magic carpet). This is a wordless story by Aaron Becker and therefore being able to interpret the narrative of the paintings is essential - without the touches of red we might be confused.

From The Journey by Aaron Becker (Walker Books, 2014)

Red is also used in another book: Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy and Sue Heap. In this story it's obvious why red is important, although here it's used in a fun way to emphasise objects belonging to the little girl such as the teddy bear, hair clip, bag and flowers. The page below also illustrates the delightful use of vignettes to show actions and the passing of time in a restricted space. Plus I like the loose lines and flow of these drawings. Oh, and the endpapers have a red and white map of the route to Grandma - I'm a map groupie too!

Very Little Red Riding Hood by Heapy & Heap (David Fickling Books, 2013)

Another way to use colour to guide our interpretation of a story can be seen in The Wonder by Faye Hanson. Here, sephia tones indicate the everyday mundane world of the boy, and in contrast bright vivid colours are used for the boy's fantasy world. Below is an early glimpse of the fantasy world before full colour takes over entire pages.

From The Wonder by Faye Hanson (Templar Publishing, 2014)

The effective use of colour isn't always blatant, as I saw in an advance copy of Roo the Roaring Dinosaur by David Bedford and Mandy Stanley. For example, below we see the use of sunshine/beach colours and I think this provides a gentle surprise because it's not the visual palette we normally associate with dinosaur books. It adds a subtle, light freshness, especially when combined with a beach setting that's not typical of dinosaur illustrations.

From Roo the Roaring Dinosaur
by David Bedford & Mandy Stanley (Simon & Schuster, Jan 2015)

Finally, for total in-your-face dramatic use of colour, there's author/illustrator Chris Haughton. I adore his use of tones and colour contrast. His simple sophistication is so effective, though it would lose its impact if too many books looked similar. In the image below we see the creatures hiding in the forest - we  know they're hiding because they blend into the orange tones.

From A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton (Walker Books, 2011)

Phew, this has turned into a long blog post and I've only taken a superficial look at art in illustration. If you'd like to see a wide selection of images by illustrators of children's books from around the world then apart from visiting libraries and bookshops you could dip into Little Big Books (Gestalten, 2012) which is a great hardback reference book of 'arty' illustration, although disappointingly it doesn't give the medium for each image.

Maybe I've inspired you to look further at the 'art' in illustrations in children's books? Maybe not?! If you have any suggestions or observations then I'd love to hear them. Thanks!

Paeony Lewis

PS In this blog post I've deliberately not included members of the Picture Book Den even though they've produced some glorious books. Therefore please don't miss the next blog at the Den, which will look at members' forthcoming books for 2015.

Sunday 21 December 2014

The Story of Saint Nicholas, by Pippa Goodhart


Far away and long ago, a father and his three daughters lived in a big house with servants, fine furnishings and plentiful food.

 But the father lost his health and then his wealth.  The servants were sent away, and the three daughters had to do the cleaning and cooking and mending.  The house was sold, and so were their belongings.  They had to live in one rented room, and, for the first time in their lives, they were hungry.  The father told his daughters, “I wish you could marry strong young men who would be able to care for you better than I can, but I haven’t the money to pay for weddings.”

 The girls had to find food and fuel wherever they could for free.  The three girls went out into the winter wood.  The berries had been peck-picked away by birds, so there was no food to take.  All the girls found were some sticks on the ground, which they bound into bundles and carried home.

“At least we can have a fire and be warm,” they said.

 They lit the fire, and they hung their wet stockings to dry.  They went to bed, empty of food and almost empty of hope.

But a kind man called Nicholas had seen the girls searching the woods, and he knew of their father’s troubles.  Nicholas wanted to help, but he was shy and he was modest, so he decided to help them in secret. 

In the still darkness of mid-winter night, Nicholas came to their home, quietly carrying a present of gold.  He pushed at their door, but it was locked.  So Nicholas climbed up the house, and he tipped his present of gold into the house ……to fall spinning, spilling down the dark to chink and scatter and glint on the hearth below.  Some of the coins landed softly into the girls’ hanging stockings.   


In the morning the girls tried to pull on their stockings, and they found gold in the toes!  They found gold on the floor!  They wondered where in the world that gold could have come from. 

“It’s magic!” they said.

 The present of gold paid for the oldest daughter to marry into a comfortable home.    

 The following mid-winter, Nicholas came again in the night to pour a present of gold into the home where the father and two daughters lived.  So the second daughter was married. 

And the following mid-winter Nicholas came again with gold. 

 But this time the father wasn’t asleep.  He wanted to know how those presents of gold appeared in his daughters’ stockings each year, so he stayed awake to wait and watch. 

And he caught Nicholas! 

He thanked Nicholas for saving his daughters from hunger.   

“Shush!” said Nicholas.  “Don’t tell a soul.  This is our secret.”

 But it was such a wonderful secret that it soon burst out of the father!  At the wedding party for his youngest daughter the proud old father told the crowd how Nicholas had come and dropped mid-winter presents down the chimney for his girls. 
Every wedding guest took that story home with them.  They told friends and they told family … who all told their friends and families too.  The story spread out through the world and on through time.  It still lives so strongly, seventeen hundred years later, that it magically lives again every mid-winter night when Nicholas comes to me and he comes to you to put presents down our chimneys and into our stockings. 

But these days we call him Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, just Santa, or Father Christmas. 

Happy mid-winter's day (and night!).



Tuesday 16 December 2014

A Christmas List of Picture Book Trivia by Moira Butterfield

To keep Mr Wolf from my door I’ve been compiling fact books this year, and writing history books, too, as well as creating board books and picture book material, and even writing poetry. So my bloggy Xmas present to you reflects my eclectic year. It’s a lucky dip of facts to be enjoyed with a seasonal glass (or mug) of something warming to hand. I may use it as my excuse to decant my home-made damson gin, just to see if it's ready for Santa.

Children have not changed so much over the centuries, it seems. Given the chance, they will let their imaginations take flight. Here's a description of children playing in medieval times, taken from an English sermon of the period:  

'with flowers...with sticks, and with small bits of wood, to build a chamber, buttery, and hall, to make a white horse of a wand, a sailing ship of broken bread, a burly spear from a ragwork stalk, and of a sedge a sword of war, a comely lady from cloth, and be right busy to deck it elegantly with flowers.'

 Stories exist as long as there is someone to tell them. In Anglo-Saxon England ordinary people could not read or write but they loved stories. Storytellers called 'scops' would travel from village to village to perform, accompanying their stirring adventure tales of heroes and monsters with a lyre, to add a bit of musical rhythm and atmosphere. The Anglo-Saxons also loved telling riddles, mostly full of filthy innuendo. Here’s a clean one:
When I am alive I do not speak.
Anyone can take me captive and cut off my head.
I do no harm to anyone unless they cut me first.
Then I make them cry!

 Here is the answer: 

If you are ever asked to write some unattributed work here's an idea from  Cynewulf, a monk from the 800s who was the first English author that we know of to write his own name on his work. He interwove symbols representing the letters of his name into the manuscripts of his religious poems. 
The earliest known children’s picture book, according to the internet,  is The Orbis Sensualium Pictus, or ‘The Picture World of the Senses’, published in 1658 and written by Czech educator John Comenius. On the title page he describes his book:  

‘The pictures of all the chief things that are in the world, and of men’s employment therein’. 

It opens with the sentence: ‘Come, boy, learn to be wise.’ You can read a translation and see the lovely woodcuts on the internet:

The earliest recorded lullaby is: ‘Lalla, lalla, lala, aut dormi, aut lacta’  - meaning lala, lalla, lalla, or lie down, or milk. It was set down in an Ancient Roman manuscript, as sung by a Roman nurse.
Online retailer Amazon made J.K. Rowling's ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ the world’s most expensive children’s book when it bought a copy at auction for £1.9 million. I wonder what they do with it. Do they read bits out at management meetings, I wonder? Is it trapped in a glass case, to keep it away from children? Oh the irony ... etc etc.

People are always claiming different historical meanings for children's nursery rhymes. The village of Kilmersdon near Bath, where I live, claims to be the home of the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill, for example. The story goes that a local unmarried girl got pregnant (presumably somewhere up the hill). Then her lover, Jack, was killed by a boulder that fell on him at the local quarry. Jill had the child but died and the child was raised as ‘Jill’s son’ (Gilson is a local surname). However, apparently this could all be nonsense and the rhyme could be to do with Charles the First slapping tax on a half-pint of ale (once called a 'jack’). It could be none of the above, frankly, but the village claims it, so there. You can walk up ‘Jack and Jill Hill’, tumble back down and then go and have a half in the local pub, so everyone’s happy. “Proper job,” as they say around these parts. 

Here's a photo of the front of our office. I share it as a co-operative with other freelancers, and this front window is kept permanently decorated with all sorts of toys and stuff by maestro cover designer and children's illustrator Steve Wells, for the delight of passing people.  This is his Xmas display. 

A Harvard professor and and Winchester University psychologist recently announced news of their researches analysing the thought processes of nursery-age children. They discovered that the children could easily distinguish between people pretending to be Father Christmas and the man himself, and have no difficulty still believing in the real deal whilst meeting impersonators. Welcome confirmation that small children don't take everything literally, are very aware and don't need every message, every 'moral', hammered home on every page as if they have no brain at all. (Oops, sorry. I am in danger of going off on an unrelated rant here. Pass the damson gin, would you?)

Finland is the country that use its libraries the most. On average a Finnish family borrows a hundred library books a year between them. This could be valuable evidence of what Santa does in summer.
So long as a new Norwegian children’s book passes quality control, Arts Council Norway automatically buys 1,550 copies to distribute to libraries. The authors make an extra-high royalties on these books. Renowned Norwegian writers and artists receive a guaranteed income and are eligible for one to five-year work grants.

No wonder Santa lives up north! I’m off! 

Until this morning Moira Butterfield was trying to work out how best to explain the British Iron Age to 7 yr-olds, was in the process of creating some pre-school board books for a major UK retailer, and was about to begin a series on children around the world. She also had a picture book in the works for 2015. However, she has just left to catch a plane to Norway, muttering about become one of Santa's in-house authors.