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.

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My latest short story collection

Monday 19 November 2018

Some not very serious life lessons from picture books by Jane Clarke

Last week, Book Trust tweeted

So, inspired by this thread, and with tongue firmly in cheek, here are some life lessons from  a few of my favourite old picture books. I’ve confined myself to sausages, elephants and poultry - but feel free to add anything in the comments at the end :-)

1. If you strut about with your beak in the air, you’ll miss a lot of exciting stuff.

2. Never underestimate the power of compromise, especially when arbitrated by a duck.

3.  Fake wings may be cool, but they won’t enable you to fly.

4.  Be nice to demanding house guests and treat yourself to sausages, chips and ice cream at a cafe after they leave.

5.  It's wise to keep sausages handy in case you need them to determine which end of an Earth Hound has the fangs, and which end has the waggler.

 Dr Xargle's book of Earth Hounds by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

6. Elephants are happiest when they don’t try to hide their true colours.

7. If there are four elephants in a bath, only three have fun.

Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy

8.   If you spend all day going rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta all down the road with an elephant, you will need to lie down at the end of it.

The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs

There are huge philosophical truths to be extrapolated from picture books and I recognise (somewhat guiltily) that the subject deserves a much more serious post than this. In the meantime, though, I hope you’ll leave a comment to let us know more life lessons (from the silly to the profound) you’ve learned from picture books.

Jane's just finished writing the Dr KittyCat series and is currently working on a third picture book to be illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, and the fourth book in the Al's Awesome Science series illustrated by James Brown.

Monday 12 November 2018

Illustrating the night in children's picture books • Paeony Lewis

In 1914, Kay Neilson illustrated East of the Sun, West of the Moon
As the nights grow longer and darkness arrives too soon, my thoughts have turned to the illustration of night in children’s picture books. Looking through the books on my shelves, I’ve adored seeing how different illustrators have portrayed the night and moonlight.

I've discovered that the night can fill the page with grandeur, or be swallowed up by city lights. The moon may glow at the top of the page, or flickering stars are glimpsed through a window. Illustrator style dictates whether the illustrations are simple or detailed, and these images then reflect the mood of the story, which could be fun, cosy, awesome or scary. There is a colour choice to be made: black, grey, purple or blue, but which blue? Will there be moon shadows? Do artificial lights shine through the gloom? So many decisions and I'd love to find out about other books and hear the thoughts of illustrators, but for now, the moon is rising, here comes the night...

This is the only illustration I've seen where the words are inside a white moon.
The sky is inky black and filled with white stars. The moon's light shines on the swan
and I feel the white house helps hold the composition together.
From The Night Box box by Louise Greig, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont, 2017)

I assume this is a linocut, using only black ink?
There's no moon, although the shape of the hillside is reminiscent of the curve of the moon.
If the stars were taken away we'd still know it was night from the dense un-inked lines that shine like moonlight and the glowing windows of the houses.
From Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan (Templar, 2009)

Here we have no sky, moon or stars. Even the background is white. However, by using dark shadows on the sleepers and their meagre belongings we know it is dark, wherever they are sleeping.
From My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner (The Bucket List, 2017)

Snow and moonlight seem popular in children's picture books, and I can appreciate why - the whites and blues almost sing together.

My box of crayons no longer feels childish if this is what can be done with a couple of blue crayons and brilliant white paper (and a lot of skill!).
From Shackleton's Journey by William Gill (Flying Eye Books, 2014)
This time it's watercolour. The silent shadows of the forest contrast with the moonlight bouncing off  the snow.
From Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr (Philomet Books, 1987)

A different style of gentle watercolour. The cool colours of the snowy night contrast subtly with the warm colours of the bedroom. The blue of the night sky links with inside of the house through the poster on the wall.
From Crinkle, Crackle, Crack: It's Spring! by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Shelley (Holiday House, 2015)
Here, falling snow produces a haze of  night blue and snow white,
broken through by the complementary orange of the indoor light.
From The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore,
illustrated by Christian Birmingham (Harper Collins, 2007)

The illustrator must have had fun creating a 'broken' moon. Poor mole!
From Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett,
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban (New edition 2017, Walker Books)
A very different style, this time using an intriguing diorama. The night sky is grey, like the mood of poor, patient Goliath.
From Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2017 translated from German)

Interesting how the blue totally changes the illustration from day to night.
From This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins 2012)

The night sky doesn't have to be black or blue; purple works well too and fits the mysterious theme.
From Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith  (Templar, 2009)
Here's another purple night sky, this time in a simplified graphic style, that's still effective.
From Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen (Jonathan Cape 2011)
Many illustrators have fun with artificial light at night, and where there is ambiguity as to whether it's night or day, the white, yellow or orange artificial light confirms the darkness.

There's very little colour here, but we know it's night from bright yellow windows. We notice the lion because he is surrounded by white. This lion is also yellow, but it's a different yellow so we know he's not a strange looking lamp!
From How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens (Alison Green Books, 2012)
The lamp light glows and is accentuated by the yellow of the child's clothes. There are pronounced shadows too, and the Northern Lights shimmer around Black Rock, and there's a multitude of stars.
From The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd Stanton (Flying Eye 2017)
The bike lamp accentuates the darkness and is the same blue as the daytime sky on the opposite page.
From The Journey by Franseca Sanna (Flying Eye Books, 2016)
The yellow of the inside light transforms the illustration into the night.
From The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon Press, 2009)

The night is emphasised by the transluscent artificial yellow light from a house, boats, train and lighthouse. And there's natural yellow light too, from a firefly!
From Firefly Home by Jane Clarke and illustrated by Brita Teckentrup (Nosy Crow 2018)

The bright artificial lights bring out the gaiety of the ship at night.
Two illustrations from The Real Boat by Marina Aromshtam and illustrated by Victoria Semykina (Templar 2017)

Two night illustrations from the same book. Both use window light, but when the mood changes, the blue of the dark night also changes. In the first the cat is having fun, but not in the second where the darkness has turned grey.
From Mr Pusskins by Sam Lloyd (Orchard Books, 2007)

Another two illustrations. At the top are layers of blue with the blobs of light of the town similar to stars (or are they like holes, representing the mining beneath?). In the second illustration from the book the men are in the mines and the movement of the paint adds to the feeling of the heavy ground pressing down on them.
From Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Walker Books 2017)

Another symphony of blue layers (watercolour?). The shade of blue is cool, like the night.
From There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith (Two Hoots, 2016)

This time the moonlight is grey because of the fog. I've included the words on the left because the author likened the foggy moonlight to everything appearing dusted with flour.
From Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon Press reprint, 2013)

For a grey night, you don't get much greyer than this book. Even the sunset is muted, but so are the subdued lives of the creatures and it adds to the atmosphere of fun boredom.
From We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (Walker Books, 2016)

From a muted desert to New York City at night in shades of blue. It's not a neon explosion because our eyes are meant to focus on the people watching the screen ahead that's framed by an unusually starry night . Even the cabs don't have light from their headlamps as that would detract from the focus.
From Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum (Walker Studio, 2017)

Here's another example of a deliberate downplay of light. The room and lamp are muted to allow the moon outside the window to shine brighter than everything else.
From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)

This time the moon literally shines inside this school and the colour scheme has a quiet feel of night.
From Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye (Nosy Crow 2014)

Here the room is dark and blue, with all the focus on the children lit by the lamp.
From a collection, Dreams of Freedom (Amnesty International), with this illustration by Birgitta Sif (Frances Lincoln, 2015)
Time for a bit of diorama drama. Lightning looks good at night, especially above a tower!
From The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child and Polly Borland (Puffin, 2006)
Here, Moon, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup (Little Tiger Kids, 2017), displays the cut-out shapes of the phases of the moon as you progress through the book.

To finish, here is the deceptively simple final illustration from A River by Marc Martin  (Templar, 2015)
There are many, many more picture books that include the night, but I suspect I've already included too many! Anyway, I hope the night illustrations haven't made you too sleepy. I adore looking at the differences in method and style and wonder if Prussian Blue is the best cool blue for the night? All thoughts appreciated, thank you!

Paeony Lewis, children's author
List of my blog posts at the Picture Book Den.