Monday 25 February 2019

The Beauty of Burningham, by Pippa Goodhart

I began writing something pontificatious about the wonderful writing and pictures done by John Burningham. But then I thought that, actually, the main point of what I wanted to make was that through the best picture books young children get to meet and know intimately some really top class artwork. Most will probably never look so closely, and think about so deeply, any artwork ever again in their lives. So, to illustrate that point of beauty in books for young children, I've had fun picking out some of my favourite images from books by John Burningham, and I'm now going to shut up and let them speak for themselves ...

Already much missed, John Burningham 1936-2019

Monday 18 February 2019

My Quest for a Contract • Lynne Garner

My first picture book
My first picture book was published way back in 2007. I was lucky, it was my second submission to a picture book publisher. My first submission was rejected but the rejection letter they sent was the nicest I’ve received in the twenty odd years I’ve been writing. Although the editor didn’t like my story, she liked my writing style and ‘voice’ and asked if I had any other stories. I didn’t but I had an idea I’d been working on. After tweaking, adjusting and tinkering with it I sent it off. A few weeks later I received further positive feedback and although I had to rewrite the story six times ‘A Book for Bramble’ was eventually published.

Over the next few years the same publisher took a further three stories. During that period my editor moved on and the publisher was sold and purchased several times. This meant I no longer had direct access and have re-joined the thousands of picture book writers fighting for attention in a very competitive market. For a couple of years, I sent out the odd story here and there whilst I concentrated on my collection of short stories. But last year I decided it was going to be ‘my’ year and I was going to get a picture book contract. My plan had two parts to it.

My second picture book

Part one:
I decided I’d invest in my writing. I chose my five favourite stories and sent them to the Hilary Johnson Authors’ Advisory Service. Each story was reviewed and sent back with positive feedback and helpful advice. I reworked three of the stories and sent them back for a second review. A further tweak here and there and I had three stories that were the best I could possibly make them. Then came the research and submitting process and over a 12-month period each story was sent out to at least 13 publishers. 

Part two:
Whilst I waited (and there is a lot of waiting - often months), I researched agents and submitted to 11 agents. 

Sadly, all that work, and finger crossing came to nothing. I either didn't receive a response (not unusual) or received the 'thanks but no thanks' rejection.

My last picture book but first collaboration
At the beginning of this year I began to wonder if I should forget it. Perhaps I’d had my time. Maybe my best is no longer good enough. However, I love writing picture books. I have a library of stories that with a little help I could improve. I have a stock of ideas screaming to be written down. So, I’ve decided I’m going to give it another go and repeat the process. With fingers crossed I have a little more luck this year.

Picture book writers - I’d like to know your experiences. Is it me or is it that much harder than it was a decade or so ago?  

Writing this post and pressing publish must have woken up my muse. 5am this morning I woke up with an almost entire picture book story buzzing around my head. I've not written anything new for a few months, so I'm hoping this is a good sign and 2019 will be 'my' year to complete my quest and get the contract. 


Monday 11 February 2019

Illustrating Water in Children's Picture Books • Paeony Lewis

I adore staring out at the sea, but at this time of year in Norfolk (England) it's too cold to look for long at a grey North Sea (the lumps on the beach are seals, not afraid to bask in the frigid wind). So inside my warm home, I thought it would be intriguing to look at a few illustrations of sea and water in children's picture books, especially as I want to try illustrating the sea.

Looking harder at illustrations is always fun (in my opinion!), although sometimes I am stumped at how the artwork was created. For the first image, I'd never have known if the information hadn't been inside the book.

Excerpt from The Hidden Forest by Australian author and illustrator,
Jeannie Baker (UK: Walker Books, 2005)
The kelp was modelled with translucent artist's clay and the seawater is resin.

In The Hidden Forest I assume the lighting used in the photography mimics the natural reflection of light? However, sometimes simple paint can have the same impact, as seen below in Town is by the Sea.

From Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (UK: Walker Books, 2018)
This is the bright, blinding, shimmering sea.
Throughout the book there are many gorgeous, deceptively simple, atmospheric renderings of the sea.
It can be easy to forget how much artistic effort goes into good picture books. I discovered a video where illustrator, Sydney Smith, ponders the illustration of this award-winning book and I thought some of you would be interested in the detail, so here goes…

From childhood, Sydney was familiar with the coast and for the book he visited the mining town of Glace Bay on the eastern tip of Nova Scotia, Canada, to “feel the size of the sea”. He viewed exhibitions too and for the water he absorbed the expressive brushwork of Turner, and the French Impressionists.

From Town is by the Sea, another illustration of the sea by Sydney Smith.
The quiet sea.
Sidney’s principal tip on painting the sea is to decide on the type of sea. In the book there is the bright, blinding, shimmering sea, a choppy sea, a quiet sea, and a dark sea. Then Sidney suggests becoming the motion of the sea with your brush, “dance with your brush,” and don’t worry about detail because the sea is always moving. Be expressive.

Traditional watercolour is used for Town is by the Sea, along with Pentel brush pens and gouache paint (akin to watercolour mixed with chalk) used dry for the white frothy tips of the waves and the light. Sidney paints multiple versions of the sea double-page spreads, and then he keeps the one that seems to be going best. I suspect this is because although a lot of advance planning is needed, the watercolour is fluid and fast-drying, and so much depends on the specific brushstrokes.

Here is detail from the bright, shimmering illustration by Sydney Smith.
You can see the individual expressive brushstrokes
and the white gouache applied over the watercolour.
For the next illustrator, I could only find out that she includes collage in her illustrations. Victoria Semykina is a Russian artist, currently living in Italy. Looking at her picture book illustrations in The Real Boat, I suspect this new illustrator creates her own papers to use in collage (rather like Eric Carle, creator of The Hungry Caterpillar, fills drawers with his painted paper and tissue, ready to be collaged in future books).  In addition, it looks like Victoria overpaints with watercolour or gouache and draws with oil pastels, but I am only guessing and I am sure she  manipulates the 'collage' digitally. Does anybody know more? For me, it's Victoria's stylised, patterned illustrations that make this book .

From The Real Boat by Marina Aromshtam,
illustrated by Victoria Semykina (UK: Templar, 2017)

From The Real Boat, illustrated by Victoria Semkina

A close look at an excerpt of waves by Victoria Semykina
(and see Hokusai's wave later in this post - more inspiration?!)
Does Victoria scan the painted collaged paper and then layer digitally,
allowing some translucency?

The next book is also the first by a new illustrator, and his award-winning book amazed me as it was all done with simple crayon, which gives it a contemporary retro look. If you saw my feeble efforts with coloured crayons, you'd understand my admiration.  It's the narrative non-fiction children's picture book, Shackleton's Journey by young artist, William Grill. Here the white froth of the wave crests and light is simply white, uncrayoned paper.

From Shackleton's Journey by William Grill (UK: Flying Eye Books, 2014)
More from Shackleton's Journey by William Grill
Churning, great waves, and we know they are enormous from the size of the boat..
If you linger and stare at the illustration above, you'll see how there is 'simply' white blank paper separating blue directional lines of crayoned blue, but it's really effective. In an interview William says, “I try to work as loosely as I would in a sketch book… I’ll do it again and again until I’ve got it right, so it looks like I’ve just sketched it quickly.”

Even if you are a world-renowned illustrator, sometimes you discover an Achilles heel, and drawing churning water flummoxed French-born artist, Tomi Ungerer. In a video Tomi talks about Fog Island (then called Fog Man), and near the end discusses his path to solving the problem of the waves.

Tomi Ungerer, talking about Fog Island.

From Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer (UK: Phaidon Press, 2013)
Tomi explains how all his life (born 1931) he had a hard time drawing waves, despite during his later life living by the sea in Nova Scotia, and then on an Irish island. It was with the above illustration for Fog Island that Tomi developed a new technique. When he first attempted the waves Tomi was inspired by Hokusai's wave, but he was told his interpretation lacked movement and looked frozen.

Hokusai's wave
So Tomi Ungerer persevered and developed another technique. You might be able to see in the video image that Tomi uses semi-translucent transfer paper and he explains how green pastel was applied to the back of the transfer paper and pencil and gouache to the front, with extra, darker pastel where necessary. I was a little confused with the explanation, but that doesn't matter because what is inspiring is that an acclaimed artist experimented until the problem was solved, even though he was in his eighties. It was the same with the fog; Tomi assumed covering the drawing with light grey pastel would give the effect of fog, but discovered it wasn't that simple because real fog plays with perspective and he adapted that technique too.

Poignantly, whilst researching Tomi Ungerer, I discovered this maverick, acclaimed artist had died the day before, aged 87 years. My heart lurched.

Another acclaimed, award-winning artist, Leo Lionni (also now departed), used a very different technique for water. I've only just discovered Swimmy by Leo Lionni, and it is now a new favourite, despite being first published in 1963. I first heard of this book through reading Eric Cale and Lane Smith praising the book and it has been recently reissued in the UK. Leo was an artist/graphic designer who didn't start producing children's books until his fifties.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni (UK: Andersen Press, 2015)
The cover is shown large so you can see the texture of the water.
I gather Leo Lionni used a variety of mediums and for this book he used different stamps and printing, wax resist and plastic wrap (clingfilm) on diluted blue tempera paint. It gives such a feeling of loose, liquid, spontaneity. And the seaweed made me grin: he printed it using the ornamental edge of a napkin or doily. Maybe it is a little messy, but there is an innovative joy to the images and it oozes wetness!

From Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Perhaps some of my enthusiasm for Swimmy comes from the fact I've been experimenting with illustrating water on my course and only a week before seeing this book I'd been playing with watercolour and clingfilm. Snap! OK, I know I'm only a beginner, but as has been seen, all the professional illustrators experiment too.

Paeony Lewis, having fun, experimenting.
And finally, here are a few more examples of water from different children's picture book illustrators. I know how the first was produced (expressive linocuts), but can you guess how the others were created (and do let me know!).

Extreme close up showing the linocut printing in The Little Black Fish,
illustrated by Farshid Mesghali, first published in Iran in 1967,
UK: Tiny Owl Publishing, 2015

Detail from Bear Hug by Katharine McEwen (UK: Templar, 2014)
Excerpt from Roo the Roaring Dinosaur: Best Playday Ever!
by David Bedford, illustrated by Mandy Stanley (UK: Simon & Schuster, 2016)
Excerpt from The Journey by Francesca Sanna (UK: Flying Eye Books, 2016)
Excerpt from The Crocodile Who Didn't Like Water
by Gemma Merino (UK: Macmillan, 2013)
Close up from A River by Marc Martin (UK: Templar, 2016)
Close up from There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith (UK: Two Hoots, 2016)
If you have any thoughts on illustrating water, or know of any great illustration examples, do share. Thanks!
 Paeony Lewis

Monday 4 February 2019

The Perils of Being a Toy, by Mini Grey

Toy underwater - from Mini's sketchbook
It’s not easy being a toy. You get mired in adventures out of your depths, dressed in outfits you never chose, and left in unlikely places by your forgetful owners. Toys are our avatars. They are mostly (happily) silent unless their owners voice for them. Children can’t help being animators – it happens to the first things that are picked up – they get brought to life. 

Anything can be a Toy

Mini's baby book from C1967

In my baby book, my mum records that when I was three I talked a lot about two persons called ‘Gully’ and ‘Linda’. My mum never knew who they were, though they were often up to stuff. But I know. They were my hands. 
Those yellow pages fingers

 You know that thing where you can get your index and middle fingers to stride around like a pair of legs? Well that was Gully & Linda – I can’t remember who was right and who was left. They were possibly married. They used to do a lot of striding around on long car journeys.

Anything can be a toy. In the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood a few years ago I found this:
Shoe Doll

It was someone’s doll once. What it also was, was the sole of a shoe.

Sometimes the most eloquent toys are the most basic – where imagination has had to do most of the animating. And the most disappointing of toys can be the ones who try to say and do too much. Here is Scrubbing Brush, who is basic...

Scrubbing Brish carrying Lunch
 and Turbodog, who says way too much.

Turbodog - the most useless robotic dog there is...

both from Traction Man Meets Turbodog
Children’s books are the theatre for toys to come to life, where toys really can have adventures. And I love books about toys having adventures.

So here are my Top Five Perils of Being a Picture Book Toy. 


It’s the big worry about being a toy. Not being able to regenerate unless someone repairs you can leave you in quite a mess. But the conundrum is: that falling apart makes you REAL. Let’s go first to That Rabbit Belongs To Emily Brown.

by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

Here is Emily Brown’s rabbit Stanley in a terrible state after his kidnapping by the naughty queen:
Something wrong with Stanley...from That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton
After she has rescued Stanley, the wise Emily Brown gives that Queen a recipe for making a Real Toy:
You take that horrid brand new teddy bear and you play with him all day. Sleep with him at night. Hold him very tight and be sure to have lots of adventures. And then maybe one day you will wake up with a real toy of your own.”
From That Rabbit belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

So falling apart can be part of the process of Becoming Real.

For more on becoming real, we’ll have to go to The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams with magical pictures by William Nicholson.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and pictures by William Nicholson

 Pondering over a toy’s life in the Nursery, the Skin Horse offers the Velveteen Rabbit this definition of real:
“Real isn’t how you’re made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you…Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
There are many ways toys can fall apart: one is unravelling.

I Was Made For You by David Lucas
In I Was Made For You by David Lucas a home-made knitted cat is destined to be a Christmas present but wakes up with the need to discover the answer to the biggest questions - not just what he is but why he is. The little toy goes in search of an answer to the big Why, but snags his wool on a rusty nail and unravels before our eyes until he is ‘just a long loose thread shivering in the wind’. 

From I Was Made For You by David Lucas

He is precariously close to not being at all, but is found and wound by Daisy & her Mum, who reknits him into his shape again.

Loved To Bits by Teresa Heapy and Katie Cleminson

Toys can be tested to destruction. In Loved to Bits by Teresa Heapy and Katie Cleminson, the toy here is Stripy Ted who bravely loses body parts while engaged in adventures with his owner. 
Stripy Ted gallantly loses an ear (“Still got the best one – never fear!” he says cheerfully), an eye, and eventually both legs and both arms becoming only a ball and head.

But his owner prefers him in his brave unmended state. 
From Loved To Bits by Teresa Heapy and Katie Cleminson
So how much of yourself can you lose and still be you?

You can come unstuffed, but you can also be remade.
Tatty Ratty by Helen Cooper

I think Tatty Ratty, by Helen Cooper, is perhaps a story about being remade, so that old loved tired lost Tatty Ratty can become new again, dusted with sugar & floating down from the moon.

Lost probably on the bus just before the story begins, Tatty Ratty is only seen in the journey of adventures back home that Molly and her Mum and Dad dream up for him. Tatty Ratty is always getting closer, and always getting a bit remade – feeding himself up on porridge to get restuffed, falling in the sea to become washed, being dusted with sugar on the moon for a touch of sparkle. 
Finally the family are ready to track Tatty Ratty down at the Kingdom of Bunny. There could be a difficult moment here, when Molly spots the shelf of similar white bunnies with buttons who are all pretty much Tatty Ratty clones. 

From Tatty Ratty by Helen Cooper
But Tatty Ratty’s imagined journey home has somehow prepared Molly to find the right one.


A perennial peril of being a toy due to their hapless, absent-minded and easily distracted owners, being Lost can happen anywhere. 

Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen and Joel Stewart

In Red Ted and the Lost Things, Red Ted finds himself in a Lost Property Office having been left on a train, and along with a toy crocodile decides to pluckily find his own way home. I love seeing the little toys bravely navigate the confusing streets of the full-size world.

From Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen and Joel Stewart
 A nonchalant cheese-loving cat comes along for the ride. Red Ted is small but resourceful and the crocodile shows his teeth, seeing off a colossal dachshund. For the small toys the journey home is an epic struggle. Finally Red Ted is reunited with Stevie who makes everything right and has superpowers of understanding when it comes to toys and cats.

From Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen and Joel Stewart


These fates are too awful to think about  - and they all do happen in the films Toy Story 1, 2 or 3 (EVERYTHING that can happen to toys happens in Toy Story somewhere.) Actually they are so awful I couldn't find picture book toys that get treated this way (any suggestions?), so here I'm resorting to a story of pure imagination...

The Story of the Bad Mump Mump

The real Mump Mump
Underwater Fantasy Mump Mump
When my son Herbie was 6 months old he was given this monkey. It was a good one – long legs, squashy round body, perfect bedtime companion. It wasn’t till a year later that we found out from Herbie that the monkey’s name was Mump Mump. 

So all was well. 

One day I was idly wandering round the toy department of Fenwick’s on Bond Street and I discovered an entire bin of Mump Mumps, probably on special offer. Ooh! - I thought - I could buy a spare Mump Mump! Just in case. We’d never ever have a lost or destroyed Mump Mump crisis! 

Reader, I nearly did it. But I didn’t. 

On the bus home I realised the full horror of what I could have done. Imagine the life of the Other Mump Mump. 

Consigned to a cupboard – (as your existence must always be a secret to the child you are meant to be for) - you watch - (probably through a chink in the cupboard door) -  as your child talks and plays and sleeps with the other hated Mump Mump. 
In your cupboard over the long years you plot out ways to despatch your rival Mump Mump. Maybe the day comes when the blow finally falls and the other Mump Mump is left on a beach or dropped off a ferry or mysteriously set on fire and at last you can take your rightful place at the heart of your child’s world. 
But no – the long years in the cupboard will have taken their toll and you will be somehow poisoned and bitter inside.

Maybe not the best picture book material. 

But with 'given away' I'm going to mention Dogger here.
From Dogger by Shirley Hughes
Dogger by Shirley Hughes
Dogger is lost and found and nearly lost again.Dogger's owner is Dave. Dogger isn't actually given away, he is lost then ends up on a toy stall at the school fete - but we see the loved toy ending up on a table with a '5p' label hanging on them. Dogger is perilously close to going home with another child. Some ingenious bargaining by Dave's sister Bella saves the day.

PERIL FOUR: The hard-working life of a toy which may include having to take the blame...
It Was You, Blue Kangaroo! by Emma Chichester Clark

Picture book toys often have to work hard for their owners. Blue Kangaroo, being a quiet sort, doesn't point out the unfairness of being repeatedly incriminated for his owner Lily's mishaps.
Eventually Lily's mum puts Blue Kangaroo on a high shelf and Lily has to go to bed without him.
The page I love (I think it’s the shadow that makes it so exciting) is this page of blues as Blue Kangaroo jumps down from the bookcase where he’s been banished with an idea about how to put things right.
From It Was You, Blue Kangaroo! by Emma Chichester Clark
Here is a collection of toys (and an actual cat) grouped round our son Herbie when he was fairly new. When he was very little it always seemed important that he be surrounded by a sort of glow from his stuffed guardians. 
The guardians of Baby Herbie's Kingdom

In While You are Sleeping by Alexis Deacon, the bedside toys are hard at work every night, protecting, checking, scaring bad dreams away, tending their child. There's a gathering of guardians around the bedside. Alexis Deacon's warm pastel pictures conjure up a mysterious dark tender night-time world.
While You Are Sleeping by Alexis Deacon

From While You Are Sleeping by Alexis Deacon

From While You Are Sleeping by Alexis Deacon

Being a toy is a serious business, a life or death struggle, a battle.
There are rules to being a picture book toy. Your owner will know you are alive but this is something they believe without seeing. You generally don’t come to life in front of them. It might freak them out. You don’t come to life around any humans (except maybe strange slightly magical ones.) You can only wander about when no people are watching you. Animals can probably see you and sometimes even understand/talk to you.
From Red Ted and the Lost Things by Michael Rosen and Joel Stewart
When I was making Toys in Space I had a picture in my mind of a group of toys being left on the grass in the garden overnight for the first time. They’d see the stars and wonder what they were. 

From Toys in Space by Mini
What else would happen? I badly wanted them to be abducted by an alien. However I wanted also to be brutally realistic, so the story of Toys in Space was my way for having Toys simultaneously abducted by aliens and not abducted by aliens. 

To get through a night out in the garden, they tell a story (which is where the beaming up comes in) until at last dawn happens and the sun comes out and they know they will be found.


The Unspoken Tragedy in every toy’s life – is that its owner will grow up, the end of childhood. 

On the final page of The House at Pooh Corner, Christopher Robin says:

“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”

Pooh thought for a while.

“How old shall I be then?”


Pooh nodded.

“I promise,” he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite -” he stopped and tried again – “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?"

 The fate of a toy is to not grow, not change except to get worn and torn and be the victim of entropy, while your owner grows and changes and inevitably always grows up. But a toy is also potentially immortal if it doesn’t get too distressed, which its owner never is. So our toys have the potential to outlive us. 
In Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood live a huge collection of toys
Lost in the Toy Museum by David Lucas
who have outlasted their owners. In David Lucas’s Lost in the Toy Museum Bunting the Cat and the collection of historic toys romp their way through a game of hide and seek in the Museum.
From Lost in the Toy Museum by David Lucas


Toy Names very often seem to have to state the bleeding obvious…so we have Red Ted, Stripy Ted, Blue Bear….

Blue Bear
Here is my Blue Bear who sits on my shelf in an encouraging way... But I always feel that Blue Bear is only a breath away from getting up and stumping off and having adventures of his own.

And perhaps one day he will.

Mini Grey makes picture books, and some of them have been about toys having adventures.
For more about lost toys, here's the tale of a lost whale on Sketching Weakly, Mini's sketch-blog.  
PS - Have you a favourite Picture Book toy that I've missed? Do let me know!