Monday 31 December 2018

Q and A with illustrator, Paula Bowles

      Paula Bowles studied illlustration at Falmouth College of Arts.  She now lives in Bristol, where she has worked as an illustrator for over 10 years.  She is currently working on books with Nosy Crow and Simon & Schuster.  'Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat' (mine and Paula's first picture book together) was published by Nosy Crow this year. I am delighted that Paula has agreed to share some of her illustration wisdom with us and answer a few questions today.  Paula, welcome to the Picture Book Den!   

1)      We love hearing about people’s paths into publishing. You’ve worked as an illustrator for over 10 years now.  Can you tell us a bit about your journey?

I studied a 3-year Illustration degree at Falmouth College of Arts (now University College Falmouth). But, upon graduating in 2005, my portfolio was very different to what it is now! I phoned, wrote to and visited many different art directors and  started getting work in editorial publications, but I never quite felt quite happy doing this, and really wanted to illustrate children’s books (lesson: be true to yourself!)

So, I went back to my drawing board and developed a portfolio of watercolour children’s book work, then I visited the Bologna book fair in 2007, and met Mark Mills (who worked at Meadowside publisher at the time). He then set up an agency called Plum Pudding Illustration and asked if I wanted to join; I said yes and am still represented by them 11 years later!

Mark, and now Hannah, have supported and helped me to develop my portfolio during that time, which has now changed considerably since working for many years in watercolour. My taste developed over time in to something different, until watercolour didn’t quite do what I wanted to express. So, once again, I developed a new portfolio. This time, whilst retaining a pencil and paper feel, I use digital media which allows me to play with bright punchy colours; this is how I work now and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!

2)      You’ve had experience of writing and illustrating your own books as well as illustrating texts by other authors. Which projects do you generally prefer to work on?

      It’s hard to say which I prefer, I like doing both for different reasons! I really enjoy illustrating my own stories; I like the process of ‘discovering’ the story in a sketchbook, with words and pictures appearing together. But working on other authors stories is a dream too, because their writing is so different to mine, their stories are fresh and exciting. I feel I learn a lot from illustrating for other authors, and draw things I might not normally choose to draw! It’s also fun to have another person in the mix to celebrate and collaborate with when the book is published!

3)      If you are collaborating on a book, what is it about a text that makes you want to illustrate it? Was there anything in particular about ‘Sammy Claws, The Christmas Cat’ that made you want to take it on?

      I love a good story! If it starts conjuring images in my mind as I read it, or it makes me chuckle or think or bring out different emotions, I know that’s a good thing and a good reason to illustrate it. When Nosy Crow sent me Lucy Rowland’s ‘Sammy Claws’ text, I just LOVED the story and the rhyme, and the story was fun and exciting, plus I love drawing cats! (And, it was my first book with Nosy Crow - and I just love their books! I was over the moon to be invited onboard the Crow’s nest!)

4)      In the lead up to Christmas, you’ve been sharing all the different spreads from Sammy Claws.  Which was your favourite spread to work on? Which is your favourite now? And were there any that you found particularly difficult?

I think my favourite spread to work on was Spread 10, “Now, at a big castle (somewhere south of France)”. I like the composition flowing from left to right across the roof, all the snowy rooftops and turrets, as well as drawing all the different reindeer characters (I imagined Rudolph to be like a dog ‘pointing’, always alert and looking out for his boss, Santa, who I liked to imagine climbing the tall chimneys with climbing equipment!). I think that’s still my favourite spread, although it’s a close contender with Spread 4, the elves workshop, which was also probably the trickiest spread to do because of all the detail! Those elves took a long time to do, but they are good fun and I loved inventing the wrapping machine - the ‘i.WRAP.5000’!

5)      How you approach designing your characters? Do you read the text and automatically have an idea of what they look like or is there lots of trial and error?
      I usually go through a process of sketching ideas for each characters, and they do change a fair bit during this process. Although, I felt certain that Sammy Claws should be a silver tabby from the moment I read the text, although there was a moment he could have been ginger! I love this stage of character development, sort of ‘getting to know’ the characters

6)      Could you tell us a bit about your typical working day as an illustrator?
      I work from a shared studio which is a 30 min walk from my home. I usually arrive at the studio about 9.30am, make a cup of tea and settle down, answer emails, make a to-do list for the day, and catch up with my studio buddies. Then I put my headphones on and work until lunch, when I might pop out to the shops or, recently, I’ve joined’ so I might go and borrow a local dog for a lunch time walk! I usually stay at the studio until about 6 or 7, or later if there’s a deadline! Lately I’ve been working at least one day of the weekend too..because there’s just so much to get done… deadlines!! I definitely need to learn to take more breaks. 

7)      What is your top tip for budding illustrators who want to break into the publishing industry?
      Keep drawing and developing your work! Keep visiting bookshops and seeing what’s new and learn about the area of publishing you are interested in. Share and show your work with friends, and to publishing people - no one will know you exist unless you show your work/contact publishers/agents/network. You will need patience, persistence and passion.

8)      What is next on the horizon for you?
      I have a picture book called Superkitty being published with Simon & Schuster in Febuary 2019, written by my agent Hannah Whitty! And I’m currently working on my second book with Lucy Rowland and Nosy Crow, as well as my second book with Simon & Schuster.

And just because it’s Christmas:

Mulled wine or Eggnog?
Mulled Wine! (I have an aversion to eggs..)

Mince pie or Christmas pudding?
Mince pies (served hot with a dollop of brandy butter)

Cracker jokes or Cracker hats?
Cracker jokes.. love bad jokes!

Lazy Christmas morning lie-in or ‘up and opening presents at 6 am’?
When I was a child I would be up at 5am! Now I’m a lazy so-and-so and enjoy a lie in.

Lots of little presents or one VERY BIG one?
I prefer to give just one or two meaningful presents.

‘Christmas jumpers should be banned’ or ‘Is it even Christmas if you’re not wearing a Christmas jumper?’
Haha! I love a good bit of knitwear! But am not really a fan of comedy Christmas jumpers… I love fair-isle pattern knitwear (as you can maybe tell from some of the patterns in Sammy Claws the Christmas Cat! I want Santa’s socks…and a blanket made out of the end-papers!)

You can find out more about Paula's work here:
Agent: Plum Pudding Illustration
Twitter: @Paula_Bowles
Instagram: @PaulaBowles_Illustrator  

or visit her website 

Monday 24 December 2018

A feast of food! by the Picture Book Den

To celebrate the festivities, here's our choice of picture books that involve food, served with Seasons' Greetings from all of us at the Picture Book Den and wishing a very Happy New Year to all!

Jane Clarke

The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be used to talk about metamorphosis, and about greed, of course -  but at this time of year - wouldn’t it be great to eat everything you want, and turn into something exquisitely beautiful?!

Lucy Rowland

I loved this book when I was little!  The hungry cat eats one fish. The hungry cat eats two potatoes. The hungry cat eats three tomatoes...all the way up to ...The hungry cat eats ten watermelons!  At this point, rather unsurprisingly, the hungry cat feels sick! So....'Up come the ten watermelons! Up come the nine pizzas!.....all the way back down to 'Up comes the one fish!' and the hungry cat says....'Now I'm hungry again!'  
I'm not sure I ever learnt much about portion control from this book but I loved it all the same.  There is even an embarrassing video of me reading it to my little sister somewhere. 

Chitra Soundar

My choice of book to read this festive season, is from China. Although it's a bit early for Chinese New Year, it's a great story that's told in many cultures from Europe to Africa to Asia. It evokes memories of festivities, colour and feasts. Enjoy the holiday season! Written by Ying Chang Compestine, it's beautifully illustrated by Sebastia Serra. 

I nominate Shirley Hughes' 'Alfie's Christmas'. Because it shows the cosy chaotic sort of Christmas I am familiar with. 

Image result for alfie's christmas image

And it is the preparing of the food that is at least as much fun as the eating of it. Look at Dad and Alfie mixing what it tells them to in a recipe book, and then carefully cutting out Christmas tree shapes that we just know are going to be iced with silver baubles stuck on like Christmas tree lights. See Mum doing the messy job of stuffing the turkey whilst the cat looks on with longing!

Natascha Biebow

This book makes me smile every time. I came across it accidentally at the library and was so enamoured by Sid, a clever cat who manages to scoff down six delicious dinners in one day! More that this, though, I love the sense of community in the story. In this second adventure, when the six families on his street all decide to go on holiday at the same time, who will feed Sid? A cattery would not accommodate six dinners! So, Sid goes on the train to the Scottish Highlands, where the families have rented six cabins. He soon feels right at home - and, after an exciting day exploring and meeting the local wildlife, Sid is happy he has six or maybe even seven dinners to come home to! Sid's first adventure, Six Dinner Sid was a Smarties Award winner and features in the Daily Telegraph's top 50 children's books of all time. 

Garry Parsons

I've chosen "The Tea Party in the Woods" by Akiko Miyakoshi.

On a winter's day, Kikko rushes out of the house into the snow to chase after her father who has forgotten a pie he was meant to deliver to her grandmother. In her haste to follow him through the woods, Kikko stumbles and accidentally crushes Grandma's pie and then, by some strange circumstance, ends up being a guest in a house full of clothed animals. 

The spread that really excites me is the tea party at the long table with Kikko sitting at the head of the table looking a little shocked by the company. I love the mysterious feel of this book and the raw quality of the drawing.

The animals then contribute slices from various flans and tarts at the table to replace the pie that got ruined and Kikko continues on her way to Grandma.

This is definitely a feast I'd like to be a guest at!

Jonathan Emmett

My favourite food-themed picture book is In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. 

There are many picture books about dreams but, for me, this is the only one that come close to capturing the surreal, irrational, incongruous quality of a genuine dream – and it's beautifully illustrated to boot!

After being awoken by a mysterious noise in the night, Mickey falls through his bedroom floor into The Night Kitchen, a city-like landscape make up of giant packets, cartons and bottles.

There he meets three bakers (all of whom look like Oliver Hardy) who, with authentic dream-like logic, mistake Mickey for milk and proceed to mix him into the enormous cake they are baking.

Mickey eventually saves the day, the cake and himself by fashioning an aeroplane out of cake batter (I told you this was a surreal book) and flying off to fetch some actual milk.

Paeony Lewis

This time I simply can't resist including one of my old books, No More Biscuits! In the story, Florence eats all the biscuits, though she says Arnold ate some too (he's a toy monkey, but as we know, soft toys often get the blame for things). 

No More Biscuits! (No More Cookies! in the US)
by Paeony Lewis, illustrations Brita Granstrom
Florence tries to persuade Mum to give her just one more biscuit, but Mum is holding strong. It's a battle of wills, as used to happen in our house. 

The story ends with a compromise and they all make delicious 'Magic Monkey Bananas'. If only world problems could be solved with frozen bananas covered in chocolate and sprinkles. Wishing everyone a peaceful and joyous 2019.

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: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, 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 received an MBE for her services to children's book writers and illustrators. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Find her at

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
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My latest short story collection