Monday, 5 June 2017

Fairy tale influences on picture book writing • Jane Clarke

I loved fairy tales when I was young, and still hear the echoes when I’m writing picture book texts -  especially the fairy tale detective twists I’m currently working on. Here’s what I've absorbed from them, with illustrations by Loretta Schauer from the first two books in the Sky Private Eye series:

Animals can talk and each character has a distinctive voice.
I can replay in my head over a half century later, my long-gone dad’s mock-scary growling of the big bad wolf!

A rhythm and a rhyme are fun for the reader (or listener) to join in with. The gingerbread boy run, run, runs as fast as he can, the billy goats gruff, trip-trap over a bridge, the wicked queen asks 'mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the first of them all?'.

There a lot of woofing to be done, too.

The rule of three makes for satisfying reading. Characters frequently appear in threes (Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Three Bears)  or say or do things three times (there queen gets three guesses at Rumpelstiltskin's name,  Goldilocks tries out 3 chairs and 3 beds and three bowls of porridge, the big bad wolf huffs and puffs and tries to blow down three houses each belonging to the thee pigs).

rule of three text in action.

There are moments of peril, but the ending is reassuring.

I remember fairy tales very fondly as part of my happy childhood. It was only much later that I realised that fairy tales were passed down orally through the generations before they were written down - and that a lot of Grimm's tales are in origin pretty grim! Call me a wimp, but I still prefer for the big bad wolf not to be exterminated.

It's great fun to play with new twists on fairytales, and I feel privileged to join the ranks of the picture book authors who have done this in so many different ways, including, of course Picture Book Den's Abie Longstaff whose Fairytale Hairdresser series is such a success.

As grandma of 3 granddaughters, Jane's aware that female characters in fairy stories can be a bit passive/on the lookout for a prince, so Sky Private Eye is a get up and go fairytale detective, ably assisted by her dog Snuffle. Their first two adventures are out now.
There are some Sky Private Eye activity sheets  to download free on the Picture Book Den downloads page, too!


  1. Genius to combine fairy tales and detective fiction!

    1. Thanks Pippa. Need to update my number of granddaughters since I wrote the post- number 4 arrived at the weekend!

  2. What a great idea!! I look forward to reading these books :) congrats on granddaughter number 4!

  3. As a child I too adored fairytales, Jane, and I usually sided with the wolf. On my 7th birthday I received a copy of 'British Fairy Tales' and the illustrations gripped me even more than the stories. Nowadays it's the history behind the tales that intrigues me the most and Maria Tatar has put together some excellent, highly readable annotated books of traditional fairy tales, with lots of examples of illustrations too, eg 'The Annotated Classic Fairytales' - Maria Tatar.
    Good luck with 'Sky Private Eye' (looks such fun) and all your grandchildren, Jane!

    1. Thanks Paeony - I'll look out for Maria Tatar's book, it sounds as if it will be full of inspiration. Yes, I know what you mean about siding with the wolf... :-)

  4. Lovely twists & turns in your new detective fairy tales. They look like such fun! And I love that Sky is female. Congratulations! I look forward to reading them.