Monday 29 April 2019

Picture Books and the Five Ways to Wellbeing • Lynne Garner

If you've read any of my previous posts you'll be aware that I also teach for a living. I'm lucky that my job is slightly different to most teaching roles. I teach almost any age from four year olds to someone in the 80s or even 90s. I teach almost where from a school dining room to a church hall to a craft room in a garden centre. Part of my job entails encouraging my students to look after their wellbeing. To achieve this we use the five ways to wellbeing. These five ways are:

  • Connecting
  • Being active
  • Taking notice
  • Keep learning 
  • Giving 

Now I've talked about how picture books can be used as an educational tool in my posts Picture Books Aren't Just for Reading and Take a Picture Book and Add a Story Sack. However, in this post I've decided to explore how to use picture books to highlight the five ways of wellbeing. 

Firstly, I'll use one of my books. 

A Book For Bramble

Teasel the mouse has a best friend, Bramble the hedgehog. Bramble has gone into hibernation and Teasel is missing his friend very much. So he decides to create him a gift (giving) and writes him a book. In the book Teasel writes about all the fun things he does (being active), about the things that happen during winter (taking notice) and lastly when Bramble emerges from his long hibernation Teasel is waiting for him (re-connecting).    

The next book I'd like to suggest to use to explore the five ways to wellbeing is written by one of the Picture Book Den team, Chitra Soundar

It's the perfect day for flying a kite so Farmer Falgu and his daughter Ella load the cart with kites and they head to the fair grounds. On their way they meet Ahmed (the balloon man) and Pushpa (the fortune teller) who Farmer Falgu gives a lift to (connecting and giving). As they travel the kites and balloons are whisked away by a strong gust of wind. Some of the kites are blown high into the sky whilst others crash land. Farmer Falgu uses his skills (giving) to create a kite everyone is proud of.      

The next book I'd like to share is by another of the Picture Book Den team Pippa Goodhart

Publication date 31st May 2019

Daddy Frog is so in love with his tadpole (Baby Frog) that he decides to get her a gift (giving), which will show her how much he loves her. So, ignoring her plea to teach her to swim (missing the opportunity to connect) in goes in search of the perfect gift. Daddy Frog misses teaching Baby Frog important froggy things such as wriggle and swimming. But finally shows her how to leap and  also discovers just by being there and doing things together he can show her how much he loves her (re-connecting). 

Looking at connecting from another perspective can be achieved by sharing a book written by yet another 'denner,' Jane Clarke.

Although this book doesn't look at connecting in the way I've highlighted in the other books it is about connections and how we all connect to one another. How an act we do can affect not just the person/animal next to us but others who are nowhere near us. A lesson that is extremely important and links to one of the biggest issues of today, global warming and the degradation of the environment.     

Lastly I want to include these four books written by ex-denner, Moira Butterfield.

These books as a set would cover all of the five ways to wellbeing. For example just this single page from 'Everybody feels... Happy! could be used to talk about:
  • Connecting: spending time with family
  • Giving: being kind or helpful  
  • Taking notice: being aware everyone has feelings and we can have an impact on another person, both positive and negative
  • Keep learning: perhaps learning a new skill e.g. cooking
  • Giving: Not only makes the person receiving the gift feel good but also it provides the giver a lift too 
So next time you read a picture book or discover a new one think about the five ways to wellbeing and 'notice' how what you can pull out and 'give the gift' of 'learning' to the child or children in your life.

Finally if you have any books you feel would lend themselves to teaching the five ways to wellbeing please share them below in the comments.


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Monday 22 April 2019

Dioramas and 3D illustration in children’s picture books, by Paeony Lewis

For centuries, dolls’ houses have encouraged children’s imaginations and story telling. Toy farmyards, zoos, soldiers and train sets, even Playmobil and Lego, can also be used to create miniature imaginative worlds. Children’s television was once full of 3D models: Thomas the Tank, Fireman Sam, Clangers, etc. So I am surprised there aren’t more children’s fiction picture books that use dioramas and 3D illustration, and I thought I’d investigate.

From a dolls’ house exhibition (my own dolls’ house was nothing like this!).
Traditional illustrations create imaginary worlds, but there is something about a miniature 3D scene that draws me in and makes me smile. I am sure I’m not alone (am I?) and I wonder if some children could relate better to a photographic 3D image as it’s so similar to what they see on screens. Or is there a hidden reluctance amongst adults and publishers towards books that look more like television, unless they are already a television series? Alternatively, perhaps most 3D artists/illustrators already work with moving images for the screen, rather than books?

The television world of the Clangers
Another explanation for the scarcity of 3D models and dioramas in picture books might be that they are very time consuming to create and require photography and model making or papercraft skills, in addition to illustration. For example, Antje Damm, who has created several lovely diorama picture books, commented online: “I am not a very good photographer, and this was my main problem while creating this book.” Whilst Lauren Child used a professional photographer, Polly Borland, for her two delightful 3D diorama books, and the first, The Princess and the Pea, took almost two years to complete, compared to the usual three-six months for her picture books. When it came to her second 3D book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this time a set designer was also used, Emily Jenkins. Lauren Child comments on her website: “As much as I enjoyed designing and building sets and styling scenes, I must say I was relieved that this time it wasn’t my job.”

Whatever the reason for the scarcity of fiction picture books that use 3D dioramas, I thought I'd share some delightful examples. I'll begin with an appealing American one I’ve only just discovered, that is aimed at younger children: Hank Finds An Egg by Rebecca Dudley (with a name like Hank, I doubt I needed to mention it’s American!).

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley (Peter Pauper Press Inc, USA, 2013)
This was Rebecca's first picture book and as an architect she was familiar with working in 3D. It's wordless and the theme of kindness and perseverance shines through the simple-to-follow visual story about a monkey who tries to return an egg to a nest. Rebecca also trained in graphic design, and the uncluttered layout and quiet natural colour palette add to the book. There are many more images on Rebecca's blog.

From Hank Finds An Egg       Everything is handmade, including all those leaves, and then photographed. 
The same US publisher, Peter Pauper Press Inc, is behind a further 3D book, this time creating 3D paper-cut dioramas. Published in March 2019, I haven't yet seen Little Things by Nick Dyer, illustrated by Kelly Pousette. Years ago, the illustrator was given a book on paper cut and says she became fascinated by the process. She is particularly interested in the shadows and lighting that are possible from photographing the scenes.

Kelly Pousette in her studio (from Letstalkbooks blog post)

The next American 3D book is another I haven't seen, Viva Frida by Mexican-born illustrator Yuyi Morales. There are few words, though perhaps this should be classified loosely as non-fiction as it is about the creativity of artist, Frida Kahlo. This vibrant award-winning book appears to be Yuyi Morales' only book that uses 3D models, as her other books are traditionally illustrated. In this video she talks about how time consuming it was to create a book from models and scenes. Interestingly, like Lauren Child, Yuyi Morales used a photographer for her 3D scenes (Peter O'Shea).

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Book Press, USA, 2014)
Inside Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

Moving across the ocean to the UK, as mentioned earlier, Children's Laureate, Lauren Child, is behind two gorgeous 3D picture books. In the first, The Princess and the Pea, Lauren Child both wrote and created the scenes, ready to be photographed professionally by Polly Borland. The figures are painted 2D cut-outs and the backdrops are 3D dolls' house furniture or specially commissioned items. Many of the panelled rooms started life as cornflake packets. Not everything is to scale, as happens in a real doll's house, and Lauren Child feels this creates a stranger, more childlike world. In the book, she writes: "I love the paintings of Vermeer, his detail and the way he allows you a glimpse into someone else's world." This, and her passion for dolls' houses and use of collage in her books, must all inspire the dioramas in Lauren's quirky retelling of The Princess and the Pea.

The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child,
photographs by Polly Borland (Puffin 2006)

Creating a scene, from The Princess and the Pea

Lauren Child's personal doll's house, that took thirty years to create.  More here.

From inside The Princess and the Pea

When Lauren Child and Polly Borland partnered again on their second 3D book, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, they decided to use dolls and teddy bears because Polly Borland's favourite book as a child was the American photographic picture book, The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright. Since it's publication in 1957, it has caused controversy because of the bear's worrying penchant for smacking, but it remains an iconic book and he published many others using the same realistic photographic 3D techniques.

From The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright (Houghton Mifflin 1998 reprint of 1957 original)

Again, Lauren Child twisted the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but this time she didn't personally produce the time-consuming hand-built sets, and instead passed this to Emily Jenkins. Polly Borland remained the photographer. The three bears and Goldilocks were created by doll-maker, John Wright, and Goldilocks stands 30cm tall. Personally, I adore studying the fantastical, intricate photographic 3D illustrations.

From inside Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child and many others (Puffin, 2008)

This photograph from the making of the book gives a sense of scale.
In reality the trees are young.
Another illustrator I really enjoy who produces dioramas is the German illustrator, Antje Damm. I've even bought one of her books that hasn't been translated into English, which is slightly daft as I don't read German - here it is (can anyone translate the title for me?!). Looking through a book when you can't read the language reminded me what it must be like to be a child faced with a mass of alien words, trying to create a story from just the images.

Like Rebecca Dudley, Antje Damm also studied architecture and therefore was proficient at visualising in 3D and making models. I first bought Antje Damm's Waiting for Goliath because of the interesting illustrations that were a mixture of stand-up 2D and 3D paper/card models, and the strong colour scheme. It looked different to the other books on the shop shelves.

Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2017)

From inside Waiting for Goliath

With a few changes, the model above was used to create the image in the book.
It's interesting what can be done with lighting and photography.
For more info see this blog.
The Visitor (Gecko Press, 2018) is probably Antje Damm's most well-known book in the UK. Here, all the story takes place in one ground-floor room and it is about loneliness and overcoming fears. Again, the book is in her distinctive 3D style and Antje uses variations in colour and lighting to show the development of the story. For the last scene she took the model outside because Antje wanted the warm light of the sun and enjoys experimenting.

Antje Damm experimenting with lighting the diorama.
From inside The Visitor by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2018)
A torch provides different lighting effects
Variations in lighting played a major role for another illustrator, Elly MacKay, when she created the diorama images for Maya. Canadian illustrator, Elly Mackay, worked with Indian-born author, Mahak Jain, to create a book that combines reality with the fantastical and a dreamworld. This wasn't Elly's first paper-cut, 3D book, but she said it proved the most challenging. Online, we are told she creates the illustrations by inking synthetic YUPO paper and cutting it into layers that are set up like a Victorian paper theatre, and then she plays with lights and filters to create atmosphere and photographs the scenes. There's a video here on the making of the book, including collaboration between the author and illustrator, which isn't often allowed to happen in publishing.

Maya by Mahak Jain and illustrated by Elly MacKay (Owlkids Books, 2016)

Elly MacKay creating Maya

The images above from the pages of Maya show how Elly MacKay utilised lighting and different techniques. She says the dreamworld uses only black and white, with shadows and fluid, dreamy lines and otherworldly lighting.  The real world is crisper, rigid and clearly three-dimensional.

There's more on the creation of Elly's award-winning 3D paper cut diorama books at her website. The image below is from her 2018 book Red Sky at Night, and shows the photography of a scene within one of her 'theatres'.

As I've been putting this blog post together, apart from appreciating how staggeringly time consuming the books are to create, I've come to realise how integral photography and lighting are to the images. Some illustrators use professional photographers, and others learn as they develop their skills. All the illustrators here say they use minimal post-production digital computer manipulation, if at all, and Rebecca Dudley says it might only be to remove a pin holding up a model.

Lauren Child deliberately mixes the sizes of objects, as you'd find in a doll's house, and not reality. I enjoy this as, for example in the delightfully quirky The Princess and the Pea, the juxtaposition of 2D paper figures and 3D miniature objects makes it clear this is an imaginary world. From a positive point of view, Antje Damm's dioramas are also clearly not real, which I like. For me, sterile perfection and seamless minaturisation would detract from the make believe of the storybook world because it leaves less psychological space for the reader's own imagination. Thus perversely, intricate perfection would be more unreal (maybe others disagree?).

Part of the charm of dioramas, whether paper-cut or models, is to feel you are stepping inside a world/theatre of the imagination, not reality. It's like discovering a fairy door on a tree in a wood. You know it's not real but your imagination takes you on a journey of joyous make believe. Now I want to create a 3D story about one of those doors, and where it leads!

Paeony Lewis
Please click for more of my blog posts at the Picture Book Den

Monday 15 April 2019

Getting Crafty, by Jane Clarke

Here are a few tried and tested examples of simple, not too messy, activities that might inspire you to create a craft to go with a picture book - one you’ve written or illustrated - or to go with a favourite book you read over and over again to your little one. Have fun!

You'll need to pre-cut coffee filters into the shape of a butterfly.

Provide enough washable felt pens for children to share and one pipe cleaner for every butterfly.
Encourage the children to use lots of colour - vaguely symmetrically.

Fold the pipe cleaner in half and twist onto the wings.
If you’re somewhere where you can do this (better not to attempt in a library), hold the coffee filter butterfly by it's pipe cleaner antennae and squirt with a light mist of water or dip for a moment in a shallow saucer of water. The colours will run together. Spread out on a kitchen towel to dry.

Inspired by Who woke the Baby, by Jane Clarke, illustrated by Charles Fuge 
CD Creature
A local charity shop lets me have their unsaleable CDs/DVDs (make sure the contents are not unsuitable for kids). 
As well as CDs, you’ll need:
Pre-cut ears/nose/paws/trunks/ tails/ monster/alien features (whatever relates to the picture book you’re reading) in card.
large googly eyes and glue sticks
Permanent black markers for facial features (only use under adult supervision! A washable pen won’t make a mark on a CD)

inspired by my friend Ruth who part manages the local Oxfam shop and wanted a use for unsaleable CDs and DVDs. We set up a table at local events and for a small donation to charity, kids can make their own.

Pre-cut card into the shape of a chameleon (this takes a while when you need large numbers!)

Make a 2 metre length of wool into a small ball of wool for each chameleon.
Googly eyes and glue sticks
Wrap the wool around the chameleon’s body, then stick on the eyes.

This chameleon is orange because it’s inspired by Neon Leon, by Jane Clarke, illustrated by BrittaTeckentrup

Other pre cut-out crafts I've done include
inspired by Sky Private Eye by Jane Clarke illustrated by Loretta Schafer
and Bats -great for anything halloween-related but very quick to do, so allow 2 or 3 per child so they can make a family. Google eyes and white pencils are a must, cheap star stickers a fun addition.

Of course, there are often activity sheets, too. Check out the Picture Book Denner's downloadable sheets - and enjoy getting crafty! 

Jane’s latest craft is a green-eyed tree frog inspired by her newest picture book, Leap Frog, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. 

Monday 8 April 2019

Meet the Relatives, by Mini Grey

Today’s post is about all things insect. So: grit your mandibles, flex your feelers and close your compound eyes, we’re going in…


Meeting the Insect Face

 In 1665 Robert Hooke published a perspective-changing book of pictures, Micrographia

Looking through a microscope he could see further than anyone ever could before, and he showed us this tiny world of everyday things made enormous and wonderful, with huge fold-out pages. People were amazed by Hooke’s book – Samuel Pepys stayed up all night marvelling at it.
The everyday pest is revealed as beautiful; the flea is ‘adorn’d with a curiously polish’d suit of sable Armour’ and ‘multitudes of sharp pinns, shap’d almost like Porcupine’s Quills.’ 

Hooke also draws the mind-boggling face of a fly. And we find the insect face is hard to love.
The face of a fly
 It doesn’t map that well onto the tetrapod look. It’s those mouthparts. The flea has at least a nice moustache - but then - HELP! - it has a pair of legs growing out of its chin. Segments, exoskeletons and too many legs are also not ideal for building our empathy with arthropods. 

It is basic human behaviour to feel disgust at insects – no doubt due to instincts of self-preservation against contagion. Lots of insect life cycles are frankly disturbing – especially the parasitic wasps. Most of human history has been a battle against innumerable critters out to infest you & contaminate YOUR FOOD. 

Here are some sketches of flies in my garden and young locusts and cockroaches at London Zoo.
But how does it feel to be an insect? Does it feel like something to be an insect? Some research seems to indicate that bees may experience different emotional states – emotions are useful for instigating behaviour – and it appears that dopamine plays a role in bee decision-making – as it does for us. It could be that emotions are essential for creating all behaviour so all animals that have behaviour are experiencing emotions – so life feels like something for all of them. 

No-one is a mindless automaton. 

As fellow organisms on the Great Tree of Life, insects and us are related, but our branching apart is very distant. The Last Common Ancestor of us & insects was something Pre-Pre-Cambrian, something that maybe lived between 600 and 700 million years ago, and we share with it the invention of bilateral symmetry.
a Kimberella
No-one has found that ancestor yet, 

so here is a Kimberella who might have been a bit similar, looking like a cross between a macaron, a sea-slug and a toasted cheese sandwich.

Picture Book Insects

So, who has crossed over the human-insect divide (that empathy chasm) and involved insects in their picture books? Here are a few of my favourites. Do tell me yours!


Ant & Bee

I remember having these little books when I was small. I found the small size and relatively large text quite exciting, especially as some words would be picked out in red. Here is Ant tucked up ill in bed.
Here are some incredible geometrical cakes from when Ant and Bee go shopping.


Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

from Tadpole's Promise
from Tadpole's Promise

Where water meets willow two creatures meet. Using the page fold to show the intersection of air and water, amphibian meets insect and both must metamorphose. 

I am so glad that, as a mammal, I do not have to undergo this sort of utter transformation. 



Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis

Insecty creatures find a shoot and tend it, building an extravagant plant house which gets beset by spider and bird, flowers and eventually wilts.  

from Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

from Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Character sketches by Carson Ellis
 Like tadpole’s promise, the cast of insects are caught in the cycles of nature and changing seasons, but these ones end with new beginnings and lots of new shoots sprouting. 

 The insect ones speak their own dialect but you can pick it up…I think they may be using bad language on this page:

from Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Here are some more beautiful insects: a buzzing meadow garden from Suzanne Barton’s Butterfly Dance,

from The Buttefly Dance by Suzanne Barton
a humming insect Soup Kitchen from Helen Cooper’s Delicious,
From Delicious by Helen Cooper
and the most friendly-and-engaging-ever critters here by Yuval Zommer.
artwork by Yuval Zommer

Garden Quest

On holiday on a Greek Island I found this magnificent beetle & handsome grasshopper.

What would they say to each other? What adventures could they have? 

I imagined them going on holiday to Mount Zakynthos, perhaps eating a large Greek Salad washed down with an unwise amount of Ouzo and then an ill-fated boat trip…

I wondered about a story for them; perhaps Grasshopper could be Don Quixote to Beetle’s Sancho Panza.  
Maybe a Quest that takes place all in one garden, with the tiny insects travelling from one end to the other, beset with adventures and dangers.
Garden Quest - from Mini's sketchbook
Garden Quest - from Mini's sketchbook
Well, as often happens, this didn’t really seem to work. 
But then I was asked to make some pieces for the John Radcliffe Hospital Audiology Department. The idea was to make something engaging and distracting for young patients, with lots of details to spot on repeat appointments. So I tried to turn Grasshopper and Beetle’s Garden Quest into a picture-story for a wall. I thought I could make panoramas of a garden world full of minibeasts to spot. Playing around with tracing paper I wanted to make something multi-layered.

It turned into three panoramas which really go from right to left down a garden (the opposite way to a book).
Grasshopper and Beetle find a label for El Dorado honey on the compost heap.
They take it back to their home in the grass then go in search of it,
discovering a honey picnic under the trees.
Critters under a broken pot
Grashopper and Beetle's meadow home

El Dorado honey attracting attention


Nowadays there is grim news about insects from lots of fronts. There has been widespread loss of pollinating insects across Britain in the last 40 years. Insects are also at risk from shrinking habitat ranges due to climate change. There are shifting baselines and clean windscreens.
Beetles at the Natural History Museum, Oxford

Are we pulling out the Jenga bricks from the web of life? The tower gets rickettier, but it still looks like a tower until…crash! – one too many bricks has gone. It seems so much minibeast life is unmeasured, unrecorded, unknown. And that’s the stuff on land – what about the invisible areas we don’t even think about – under the ground, under the sea – ploughing either of those up is wrecking a world that is already there.

So what is causing the disappearance of insects? 

The causes, it seems, are: habitat loss, pesticides and climate change. What can we do about this? We can share our world with the wildlife in it! We can protect habitats: someone already lives there! We can set aside agricultural land margins and park margins for wild plants, as in this new law in Bavaria.We can treasure what we already have and make more. Edges and hedges and big trees are particularly good habitats…verges, parks, motorway margins, front gardens – all are opportunities for an edge habitat.
We can make our edgelands into mini wildernesses, mini jungles. 

 This book, The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson, is about exactly that: the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet. It is published later in the year and I can’t wait to read it.  
The more minibeasts you know, the more you see, and the more you care about. 
With climate change we are in danger of a great global biodiversity simplification – losing specialists and gaining generalists. Climate change squeezes the range of animals as they migrate towards the climate they are used to – generally heading north then hitting the end of the range as they run out of habitat.

We can make it easier for creatures to move by increasing & joining habitats – all those edges we already mentioned. But the utterly brilliant thing is that increasing our nature by reforesting and rewilding is one of the most effective ways of reducing atmospheric CO2 - nature can be our climate-change crash mat  - but it’s also so much more – what an amazing win-win policy using more nature as a solution to our climate problems would be. Last week scientists and activists called for action on CO2 through natural climate solutions, through defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds and other crucial ecosystems. Here George Monbiot explains how to avert Climate catastrophe by rewilding.

We also can tackle the carbon dioxide in other ways: at the moment it is essentially free to put CO2 into our atmosphere. This is an enormous injustice and a robbery from young people and future inhabitants of earth. Putting a clear price on carbon would change this.


Meet the Relatives

In September last year, the House of Illustration ran a month’s challenge. It was linked to John Vernon Lord’s exhibition there.
(John Vernon Lord is of course the inventor and illustrator of that classic insect book The GIANT JAM SANDWICH!) 

In 2016 John had done a teeny drawing every day for the entire year and they were all on show. The challenge was to do a teeny (1 inch to 3cm) drawing a day for September. (Here are the winners.)

I particularly liked John’s insect drawings, I think partly because they’re life-sized. Here are his lovely beetle and fly.

by John Vernon Lord
by John Vernon Lord
I wondered about doing a month of 3cm square drawings of insects.

At the Natural History Museum at Tring there’s a wonderful collection of insects in cases. All have been impaled on a pin and labelled, in that classic insect-collecting way. Here are some of my sketches of the Tringsects.

I wondered: what if the label, instead of saying ‘Periplaneta Americana’, said ‘Uncle Bert’? Could the insects start to become individuals you could care about?

So here are Captain Peacock, Mrs Henderson, Priscilla, FV Heffenfurter and Matilda. 

And here are all the relatives.


Lastly, a few links...