Monday 30 April 2018

Read it - again, and again, and AGAIN! by Jane Clarke

Do you or a family member have a favourite picture book, read so many times that everyone knows it by heart  - and can see the illustrations with his or her eyes shut?

Every night my 3 year old granddaughter requests

Wow! said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

Yep. EVERY NIGHT. You might be able to slip in another book as well, but this one has to be the last book before sleep. It’s reassuring and upbeat, with a sense of wonder - and my 10 month old granddaughter already loves it, too.

This is the one my 4 year old granddaughter in the USA currently requests most:

Llama llama red pyjama by Anna Dewdney

There are several picture books from my sons’ 1980s childhoods that I can visualise page by page because I was requested to read them again and again, and again. Top of the pile are:
Henry’s Busy Day by Rod Campbell - with the much-stroked (and snot-wiped-off) furry ending that makes you go aaah.

 Dogger by Shirley Hughes was another huge favourite:

My sons totally identified with Dave and his toy dog. It’s quite a long book, so after the umpteenth reading, I’d attempt to skip the odd page, or summarise. They always caught me out.

Going further back, I realise that I must’ve been the same when I was a child, because I can still recite the entire text of this book and see all the illustrations in my mind’s eye: 

Downy Duckling by W Perring and AJ Macgregor (first published 1942! The original got lost somewhere down the line, but I was able to find a new edition, yay!)

I remember the feeling of comfort and safety that this story gave me as a child, and finding it again is like a warm hug from the past. 
So what do all of these very different books have in common? I think it’s that they lull the child into his or her happy place. 
It might be too overt for today's tastes, but the ending to Downy Duckling nails it:

What picture books have you read again, and again, and AGAIN?

Jane's very happy to report that one of her four granddaughters is currently stuck on one of her books - Who Woke the Baby? illustrated by Charles Fuge - at one and a half she's too small to say why, but she clearly loves to roar at the lion and clap at the happy ending.

Monday 23 April 2018

Having Fun Making Stuff Up • Lynne Garner

At the end of last year I was lucky enough to attend a writers retreat at Folly Farm Centre. It's an annual event run for and by members of the Scattered Authors Society. It's located between Bath and Bristol and is a restored 18th century farmhouse, which is nestled in 250 acres of nature reserve with wildflower meadows and ancient woodlands.

View from my room
There is time allocated for writing, walking, socialising, eating and drinking. However, those who are attending also have the opportunity to share their knowledge. As the sessions are run by those attending they change every year. One of the sessions I attended this time was run by the fab Alex English. It was meant as a bit of fun but also to demonstrate that ideas don't have to be difficult to find.

Once we'd got over the shock that we'd be drawing I think it was fair to say all those who attended really enjoyed the session. So, what was this session?

Firstly, we were asked to fold a piece of A4 into 16 equal rectangles. We were then given a very limited time to write a name or character type in the top of the first box. The piece of paper was passed onto the next person who wrote a name or character type in the next box. This continued until each box had a name or character type. 

Then the drawing bit! 

We were given slightly longer to quickly sketch in the first box based on the name/character type at the top of that box, pass on to the next person who repeated the process. Until all 16 boxes were filled.

Steps one and two
The next step was to take a second piece of A4 paper and fold into four sections and choose one the the characters on the piece of paper we had in front of us. I chose Yak - he just 'spoke' to me. We were told to place our chosen character in the top left hand corner rectangle and create a scenario. The piece of paper was passed to someone else in the room (we could not be sitting next to one another) and that person had to create the second scene. This was repeated another two times, with the last person having to create the ending to our very short story.

I still 'love' Yak, so may use him in a future story  

As you can see it's an easy idea and generated a lot of fun and different characters. So, why not give it a go and see what you come up with.




Monday 16 April 2018

How to Help Children Deal with Fear - Chitra Soundar

While fear isn’t always a bad thing and it stops us from doing things that might harm us – like touching flames or approaching a tiger, all children as they understand the world around them go through fears.

Telling a child (or an adult) not to fear something is not going to fix the problem. But maintaining calm when a child is fearful, telling stories, singing to them will reduce the current and future anxiety associated with that specific fear.

In her article on WebMD, Annie Stuart points out that storms, sudden and loud noises are common childhood fears. And that is reiterated by this research that surveyed 1700 kids.

Dr Lagattuta quoted in the same article says that it takes the age of seven at least for children to be able to redirect their attention to something less fearful, to take their mind off things. So until then what children need is a deliberate redirection of their thoughts by adults and in my world that is storytelling.
In my latest book You’re SafeWith Me, little animals are afraid of the thunderstorm and its elements – wind, thunder, lightning, the river and darkness. The little animals are reassured by Mama Elephant calmly as she repeats “You’re Safe With Me” and at the same time, she distracts their thoughts into a happy place – she tells them why these elements are loud and how they are fascinating in their own way. The wind brings seeds from faraway places to make the forest, the lightning breaks into small stars.

That’s why the refrain in this story is important – it doesn’t reject the fears of the little animals. Mama Elephant acknowledges their fear and tries to deflect their worries into happy thoughts. That’s exactly what Pam Nicholson, a certified parenting educator says in her article here.
Lori Lite, a certified children's meditation facilitator quoted in this article says – to reassure young children and to reduce their worries, there is one simple technique – turn on a CD or a read a book.
Dr. Michele Borba too in her website recommends reading books about fears – bibliotherapy as professionals call it, will help deal with the worries.
Many of us in the book world know that books are a great way to address fears, have discussions with children about their worries. So I thought I'd list some books that deal with worries, fears and emotions that can be used when reassuring or distracting children from their fears.
Find a list of books that deal with fears, emotions of one’s own and others in this wonderful curated list at Empathy Lab -
And here is a long list of books (from US predominantly) that deal with fears and worries.
And finally here is a list of helpful articles on handling children’s fears that you might want to read:

Chitra Soundar is the author of over 30 books for children. Find out more about You’re Safe With Me and all her new books at and follow her on twitter @csoundar

Sunday 8 April 2018

The Last Wolf & Other Missing Animals • Mini Grey

Missing Animals: from Mini's intermittent blog, Sketching Weakly.

A few years ago an announcement came out in the news. According to the WWF Living Planet report, since the 1970s more than half of the wild vertebrate animals on Earth had quietly disappeared. Half of our animals are missing! – how could we have been so careless? And those were the big, visible animals. In a more recent study from Germany, 75% of flying insects - the insects on which everything else depends - were found to have vanished in 25 years. Things are quietly disappearing – why are they disappearing?


The story of The Last Wolf started with Red Riding Hood. I wondered: what if, instead of taking that basket of goodies to Granny, Red is in the woods because she wants to catch a wolf. But could she actually find a wolf? In England, wolves were probably extinct by 1500, and the last wolf in Scotland may have been killed in 1680. There were once wolves, lynxes and bears, but we’ve lost all our big predators now and become a land of more Wind in the Willows-sized animals. 
But walking in the woods can make you remember that the woods could once be dangerous places, where the unwary and unwise could get into trouble. It’s easy to be hidden in woods.

Wytham Woods

Near where I live in Oxford are the wonderful Wytham Woods, which have been studied for over 60 years and where you can walk around and see big old trees full of lumps and crevices, which are also fun to draw. When I was thinking about the story of The Last Wolf I liked walking in Wytham Woods and imagining a wolf was there, and drawing the big old trees. 
Big old tree at Lytham Woods

I collected my favourite picture book trees – which started with this illustration by Jenny Williams and below, from John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk illustrated by Sara Ogilvy.

Jenny Williams
John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk by Sara Ogilvy

Pinocchio by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clarke
These wonderful wolfish woods are from Emma Chichester Clarke and Michael Morpurgo’s Pinocchio. I kept these at hand for inspiration. Most of my previous picture books have been set indoors in the world of man-made things, so it was exciting to go venturing into the trees. 
Here are some sketchbook pages from when I was working out The Last Wolf. I wasn’t sure how to end the story. I did want to begin and end the story with the Good Old Days forest at the beginning and the shrunken woods eaten into by houses at the end, but my wise editor Joe Marriott at Penguin Random House helped me to find a more hopeful ending.

Sketch book pages. Mini Grey

Here’s the bit in the book where Red meets the Last Wolf. 

And now to….
This is all that was last seen of Vaucanson’s Duck.

It is thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 1879. The Duck was an extraordinarily life like automaton. It could quack and drink and eat duck-food, which it would then transform into duck-poo to the astonishment of everybody around. It looked like a living breathing bird. But the burnt remains of the Duck reveal the cogs and springs and cams which made this illusion of life happen.

In the usual human view of the world, it is divided into those that talk and those that don’t. This is very useful, because it means that those that talk can farm and eat those that don’t.
Rene Descartes
It is Rene Descartes I blame for this.  Descartes (1596 - 1650) maintained that animals cannot reason and do not feel pain; animals are living organic creatures, but they are automata, like mechanical robots. Descartes held that only humans are conscious, have minds and souls, can learn and have language and therefore only humans are deserving of compassion. 
He assumed animals were automata. But this is a big mix-up: automata – machines which create an illusion of inner life, but work by clockwork and cams - can only be made by humans. Only people make machines like this. Nature doesn’t work this way. In the animal world it seems feelings drive behaviour. Feelings give the impulse to act, and determine what that action might be. Feeling scared at a threat brings an impulse to run away. Feeling strong, brave or angry will make you act differently. If something behaves like it has an inner life – then, I argue – it probably does. If my dog behaves like it is scared, it is because it feels scared. If my dog is behaving like it is pleased to see me, then it must be because it feels pleased to see me (I hope!)  Rene Descartes drew up the drawbridge, made the world into Us and Them, human and non-human. The non-human can’t talk, so doesn’t have an inner life. And that means they can be owned, eaten and treated as slaves – all very economically useful. Only with the ideas of Charles Darwin did we start to see ourselves in the continuum of the tree of life, and take our place in the unfolding story of evolution.

Picture books are a fantastic direct line to empathy and imagination–– where else can you explore what it would feel like to be an egg or a biscuit or a spoon? 
But also the great thing about picture books is they are an arena where you can make anything you want happen. And one thing I’ve always wanted is to meet is an animal that could talk. But talking animals only really happen in books. The world of children’s books is crammed with talking animals – from Alice in Wonderland to Narnia to Philip Pullman’s daemons to Piers Torday’s Last Wild  – talking animals are rife. Books are windows and doors into experiencing being someone else and that someone may be an animal.

The legacy of Rene Descartes was to see animals as automata, giving an illusion of inner life, but not really having it. But automata are only possible because they are manmade – nothing in nature works this way. The inner lives of animals are worth imagining, what it must feel like to be them. Some animals end up being food. Would we be able to treat talking animals this way? It would seem a bit rude to eat someone who you could have a conversation with (see the Dish of the Day episode in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) But maybe it is even ruder to eat someone you don’t know at all. An anonymous meat could well have had a terrible life. Maybe it is worth asking the question: Meat - Who did it use to be?Packaging is powerful stuff. It would be useful if meat packets could tell us more about the life of whoever is in the packet, so we could choose the one who had a good life before they were meat. 
Meat: Who did it used to be? From Sketching Weakly

Red Riding Hood is a tale that came out of the terror of the forests – the ancient human struggle for survival against nature and predators. But things aren’t like this anymore – we’ve remade the landscape of our planet and its animals to support nearly 7 billion humans on Earth.  It could be time now to change our Us and Them thinking. It always used to have to be ‘Humans first’, because we were small and the Wild was vast. But now the vast majority – some say 98% -  of the mass of vertebrate land animals is us and our livestock. Could we give back a bit more space for the Rest of the World? We could include thinking about nature in everything we plan, and try putting a real value on our existing nature especially ancient woodlands. The amazing 4.6 billion year story of life on Earth – the complex long weaving of our life on Earth - is it OK to unravel and simplify this?

A Sunday Times headline: as it was...

and as it could be.

We can tackle this by framing everything we do in the context of nature, but also we have to step back a bit – leave more land unclaimed, leave the Antarctic Krill for the Antarctic animals. This needs regulation and legislation, otherwise a tragedy of the commons always happens. The National Planning Policy Statement of 2012 put ‘sustainable development’ (is that not an impossible thing?) at the heart of the planning system. 

Here’s my dictionaries definition of ‘sustainable’:

Sustainable adj 1 able to be sustained. 2 able to be maintained at a fixed level without exhausting natural resources or damaging the environment: sustainable development.

So – sustainable development means development at a level which can be continued indefinitely without environmental degradation. If you systematically convert unbuilt-on land into built-on land so the overall balance of land-use changes – this is not sustainable if carried on indefinitely even at a low level.
There’s a new draft National Planning Policy Statement out for consultation right now. We should make sure that putting space for Nature is at the heart of everything we plan.

Trees are multi-level, they make habitats more three dimensional. Trees seem especially important in cities. The challenge is: can we create our buildings in sympathy with trees, plan around big trees, be generous and build with enough space for big trees? Can we value big old trees as special individual entities – to be valued like national treasures, like St Paul’s Cathedral? A big old tree gives vastly more to us than a young sapling. They are not interchangeable. We have to factor in time, put a value on time so it is not affordable to cut down a big tree. It seems that Sheffield City Council’s destruction of their street trees at the moment is demonstrating exactly how not to do things. 

Winter trees in Grosvenor Square, London. Mini Grey

Plane trees in Grosvenor Square, London. Mini Grey

Chestnut tree near Iffley Lock, Oxford. Mini Grey
If you give animals space and habitat to live in they bounce back. Rewilding Yellowstone Park with wolves boosted the whole dimensions of biodiversity there, by returning a missing keystone species – changing the behaviour of their prey and enabling woodland to grow back. Pine martins, red kites, beavers are all coming back from the brink in the UK. Rewilding can make more for all of us by restoring a balance of predators and prey and a more complex natural world. Every little bit of wilderness helps.  

Here’s a useful cut-out-and-keep Wild Verges Award– if you see a particularly lovely roadside verge of cow parsley and wild flowers later in the year you could award it to the council concerned. Or give it to your own garden.
A nice bit of cow parsley in Regent's Park, London.

Mini Grey is the author and illustrator of "The Bad Bunnies Magic Show", "Biscuit Bear", "Hermelin", "Three By The Sea"  and the inimitable "Traction Man" amongst others. Mini lives in Oxford with her family and cat Bonzetta.
"The Last Wolf" is out now from Jonathan Cape

See more of Mini's work on her website here and Mini's blog Sketching Weakly.

Monday 2 April 2018

Bologna Children's Book Fair- 'Do's and Dont's' from those in the know!- by Lucy Rowland

I've just arrived back from my second trip to the Bologna Children's Book Fair. I'm totally exhausted but it was a fantastic few days! Pasta, Parmesan, Prosecco, Piazza Majiore, Parma Ham, Pizza and Picture Books!  What more could you ask for?

But arriving at the book fair can sometime feel a little overwhelming. Whether your a regular Bologna Book Fair goer or whether it's your very first time, the book fair is HUGE and there is such a lot to see and do.  Where do you start?  I asked for some top tips from those in the know.  Authors, Illustrators, Editors and even our previous Children's Laureate, Chris Riddell, gave me some of their Bologna 'Do's and Don'ts'.

 Benji Davies-Picture book writer and artist.    
DO- take some time to explore Bologna itself and not just the fair.  It's a beautiful city.
DON'T- feel too overwhelmed by the whole experience-take your time to enjoy it.

Paula Bowles-Illustrator
DO-bring a sketch book. Also bring a sandwich- the queues for the snack bars are long!
DON'T-rush around too much. There's a lot to see. Take your time!

Laura Roberts- Executive Editor, Illustrated Publishing, Bloomsbury

DO-wear comfortable shoes if you're walking around the fair all day!
DON'T - be afraid to talk to people. You never know who or what in children's publishing you might have in common.

Yuval Zommer-Author/Illustrator 
DO-at every opportunity, go into the courtyard and sit down with your sketch book.  Book lovers are good at posing naturally. There are big portfolios and big crowds! It's great for people-drawing.  You are spoilt for choice. It's not always easy to talk to the publishers. It can be hard to get a spot so you need to book ahead- it's much easier to draw people! And if you love books and you love people, well, you can't find a place that's more full of books and people! Also, DO pay attention on the plane- you can meet Frances Hardinge and she really does wear a hat!
DON'T-Take the early morning flight because once you're here it's absolutely all happening! It's not a quiet place to look around!

Lou Carter- Picture Book Author
DO- consider coming to the fair for 2 days so that it's not so overwhelming.  There is a lot to see!
DON'T-forget to check out the weather before you come- it can be quite changeable! (And do remember to bring a coat!)

Ben Mantle-Children's Author and Illustrator
DO-plan ahead.  There are lots of good talks and exhibitions at the fair. Another top tip- if you're an illustrator, you can buy an early bird discounted ticket so keep an eye out for that.
DON'T- arrive on the Monday morning.  Give yourself a chance to explore and settle in over the weekend.

Jessica Wickham-Events and Marketing
DO- make time to explore the rest of Bologna- it's beautiful!
DON'T- forget to pick up an exhibition map at the entrance so that you fully explore the fair- it's big!

Mark Chambers-Illustrator
DO- try to look at as much as you can and explore all the different areas of the fair.
DON'T - be afraid to go on to a stand and introduce yourself but don't put too much pressure on yourself either- just enjoy the experience.

Penny Morris- Associate Publisher- Macmillan Children's Books
DO- be open to everybody because you never know when an opportunity will come along.
DON'T- stay up too late every night.  Keep it to the last night!

Alice McKinley- Children's Illustrator. Alice has just completed her MA at the Cambridge School of Arts.
DO- make sure you bring lots of food and drink to the fair and stay hydrated!
DON'T- get too drunk at the Swine bar!

Greg Gormley-Picture book author
DO- use the toilets near to the entrance- they're less busy than the rest.
DON'T- feel you have to spend the entire day at the fair. It's huge and you'll crash and burn!

Tim Budgen -Children's Book Illustrator 
DO- bring your own packed lunch and water, and a big bag to stuff everything in! Also pick up lots of freebies!
DON'T - be too demanding and annoy the people on the front desks of publishing stands- they don't like it! :)

Lucy Rowland- Picture book author
My own thoughts...well, just the one really:
DO- go to Bologna! If you're wondering whether or not it is a worth while trip, I'd say, in my experience, YES it definitely is! It's not all about exposure and formal meetings with publishers but about meeting other creative people who love children's literature and children's illustration as much as you. It's about immersing yourself in the world of children's books.  It's about getting inspired, getting ideas, getting to know people (and getting a bit tipsy on Aperol Spritzes!)

And finally, from our previous Children's Laureate and Author/Illustrator extraodinaire, Chris Riddell  (who is shown in the photo christening the Macmillan's illustrator board at their 175th birthday celebrations) comes the following advice:

DO- go with the flow at the Bologna Book Fair
DON'T- over plan!

Have you been to the Bologna Children's Book Fair before? What are your Do's and Don'ts to make the most of the trip?

I was very excited this year to spot my new picture book with illustrator Kate Hindley, which was proudly displayed on the Nosy Crow Stand.  'The Knight Who Said No' is out on 5th April.