Monday 29 July 2019

"Designing books is my life – I love it." • Ness Wood

Behind the scenes with acclaimed book designer, Ness Wood. In this guest blog post, Ness looks at the processes involved in designing Sam Boughton's debut picture book, The Extraordinary Gardener, which has recently been shortlisted for the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize.

The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton (Tate Publishing, 2018)
Hi! I am Ness Wood, a freelance book designer working for various publishers. Holly Tonks (then at Tate Publishing) contacted me to see if I wanted to work on Sam Boughton’s book. I knew Sam’s work as I collaborate with Cambridge School of Art, providing lectures and presenting the students work at the Bologna Book Fair. I love Sam’s illustration and I am aware of how hard she worked for her final show and, after it, continually developing her style to what it looks like today.

Holly sent me the text and I did initial layouts as a starting point. Prior to this, Sam and Holly had been working on the story and flow of the book.

I usually do a few examples of typefaces that I think could be used, to see how different styles of font ‘feel’ with the text and images – it’s is about complimenting the images and story; the typeface could be contrasting or it could be sympathetic to the style of illustration.

The editor and designer and author/illustrator come to an agreement about which to use and then Sam does roughs for the book. Sam had already roughed the book out, but after doing some tweaks to some of the spreads and pacing, she sends me the roughs digitally. I position them in InDesign, considering the text and the image placement in order to get balance across the spread. Some of the spreads may be double-page spreads and some may be singles or have vignettes – at this point the layout is still ‘up in the air.’

Sam Boughton's roughs, a double-page spread from The Extraordinary Gardener

There is lots of to-ing and fro-ing as a designer – sending layouts by pdf to the editor and then doing the amends and then consulting with Sam to see if she thinks certain layouts/amends to her original layouts will work. It is a collaborative process.

Another rough and early layout from inside Sam Boughton's The Extraordinary Gardener

After the roughs and layouts are okayed Sam starts the artwork. After Sam has done one piece of artwork, the Tate get a test proof done – this is a proof which will show Sam how all her colours will be reproduced when printed. As Sam works digitally this will show her what she needs to do to amend any of the colours in photoshop to achieve the colour she desires.

It is at this stage that I start doing cover designs – I have the roughs so I can use those in order to start some initial ideas. Covers are often needed early for catalogues/sale material.

I send cover ideas to Holly and she will discuss them with her team. Usually the editor will come back to me with feedback and then I will amend the ideas and they present them again. I will share them with Sam to see what she thinks and then we will discuss further.

Above and below are early versions of the cover design.

The design is tweaked until finally we have final cover, front and back (shown below)

Sam will have been doing the artwork for the insides. Her artwork is all done by hand using ink pastel and paint, which she then scans in and puts the elements together in photoshop. So when she has finished the illustrations, she will send it to me digitally, rather than as physical pieces of actual artwork, and I will position the files and then send a pdf with my comments to the editor. We will collate our comments and then send them to Sam. There may be some pieces of artwork Sam needs to amend, though hopefully not, as any issues should have been sorted out at the rough stage. No illustrator really wants to start amending artwork after they have finished the book, but it does happen. The cover is also finalised too at this stage and the type, colours and the back cover copy is also checked. The whole book is then once more checked over, for any typos or sentences that do not quite work or any images that have been cropped wrongly or need repositioning.

The book is then sent to be proofed and then usually the editor and illustrator and designer go through the proofs together. It is very exciting to see the proofs: Sam’s illustrations actually on paper.

No one book is the same, so other projects may have other stages, and more complex issues. Sam’s book is an amazing début and I am very proud to have worked on it.

Many thanks to Ness Wood for her great insight into the design process behind children's picture books. For more information on Ness, book design and illustration, including courses (via Orange Beak Studio), please visit:

The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton is one of six books by outstanding debut picture-book illustators, shortlisted for the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize.The winning book will be announced 11 Sept 2019.

Monday 22 July 2019

Interview with Augusta Kirkwood, by Pippa Goodhart

I am hugely proud to introduce debut picture book illustrator Augusta Kirkwood. Especially proud since her debut picture book, 'Daddy Frog and the Moon' was written by me. It's lovely that its been published fifty years after the first landing of man on the moon ... which I remember, but Augusta is too young to! 

Alan Windram of Little Door Books Little Door Books likes to use new illustrators for Little Door's picture books, and I think the result looks absolutely beautiful.  So I asked Augusta how she created that beauty ...

How did you become an illustrator?

Growing up I always loved drawing and storytelling and was encouraged to be creative and interested in everything. I seemed to have a flare for art which I kept developing and experimenting with. After the wonderful Bridge House Art course in Ullapool I studied Illustration at the Edinburgh College of Art where I truly explored the form and art of children’s picture books. I have very fond memories of picture books from my childhood so felt a real purpose in creating stories and illustrations to engage and comfort children. My first picture book with Pippa Goodhart is Daddy Frog and the Moon published by Little Door Books. I was very fortunate that my work was found and selected from my degree show and I am extremely thankful to all involved who gave me this amazing opportunity.

What are your thoughts when faced with a text to illustrate? How do you make the story yours as well as the writer’s?

When faced with a text I find it best to separate the story out into the set amount of pages to help visualise the book from the very beginning stages of creation. This helps shape the pace of the story and allows me to see how I want the illustrations to differ and flow from page to page. It is a privilege to work with another’s story as it is really inspiring to bring a writer’s words to life with your illustrations and collaborate on the book in ways that are exciting and sometimes unexpected.

Like with any collaboration there is an essence of each individual in the final outcome, and it is that partnership which makes them pretty special. To make the story mine as well, I found it fun to add in a little extra storyline that was not mentioned in the text. In Daddy Frog and the Moon I had fun creating a little sub-storyline with two snails who pop up throughout the book. As the illustrator, how you interpret the characters and setting really shapes the book so it is important to find the perfect match for the text.

Can you tell us what your process is in creating your wonderful illustrations?

My process is rather lengthy and has many different stages to it. I begin with sketching ideas for characters and the setting, getting my inspiration observation. photos, books and documentaries. I like to figure out how the characters look and move at this stage, taking moments from the story. 

I then read the story many times, roughly sketching small scenes that come to mind and understanding where the important moments sit in the book. I then create a storyboard that determines where the illustrations and text sit on the page and how the story flows across those pages.

Once I have all that in place I then start creating the illustrations. I have developed a style and process which combines a variety of drawing techniques. I create my illustrations by digitally collaging hand drawn and painted elements, with relief and mono-printed textures. What I love about this process is the flexibility and the trial and error that comes with it. 

It can be really exciting when through experimenting you get an illustration that is not what you expected and often far better than you had planned. My illustration is a refreshing mixture of tactile creating and digital manipulation that keeps the creative process interesting for me.

Have you other books that you’re working on now? Are you tempted to write your own texts, or do you prefer to work with other writers?

I am currently mulling over ideas and figuring out what I want to work on next. I have a few picture books I made whilst studying that I would like to revisit and polish up and apply all that I have learnt since. I also have other little projects I am planning, like another illustrated alphabet!

Having worked with an author on Daddy Frog and the Moon I would be delighted to work with another as I loved the collaboration and support you get by working in a partnership. I am still so excited about our new book and cannot wait to see where it takes me!

So, all you publishers out there, take note!

Monday 15 July 2019

Building Kids’ Bookshelves - Just One (More) Book At a Time • by Natascha Biebow

I have this image stuck in my mind: just one book on a lonely bookshelf, occupying pride of place.

A precious resource.

The key to so many things, among them MAGIC. Yes, the magic of reading, the magic of another world, the magic of access, the magic of fun.

I grew up in a non-English speaking place, so books were treasured gifts from family living in England.

I loved reading, and I loved books. My school had a library also. More windows.

I still have these books. They are friends. When I was old enough, I filched from my parents’ bookshelves as well. 

But for many, the reality is very different. 

In 2018, in the UK, the National Literacy Trust surveyed 44,097 children aged 8-18. It worryingly concluded that 1 in 11 children and young people in the UK don’t own have a book of their own at home. 

The same survey also revealed unsurprisingly that “the more books a child owns, the more likely they are to do well at school and be happy with their lives.

It is well documented that reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, and that reading is key to developing empathy. Picture books (and all books!) matter.

There are some great initiatives to bring books into households:

Booktrust’s Bookstart – which gives free books to every child in England and Wales at two key stages before school, as well as free packs for children with additional needs.  

World Book Day –  where each child receives a £1 book token towards a book – is a registered charity on a mission to give every child and young person a book of their own. Published figures state that WBD reaches 15 million children and young people in 45,000 schools every year.

With every book donated, there is a greater chance of a child discovering their love of reading and gaining access to a brighter future. 

But, clearly, there is more to be done.

Even if children have one book on their shelves, they should be entitled to more. Access to books through free school and public libraries is something that will benefit everyone’s future.

This week, Cressida Cowell took over the mantel of Children’s Laureate from Lauren Child, with an ambitious ten-point charter:

In her impassioned speech at the launch event, Cowell talked about the magic of books and reading for fun. She promised to do more to lobby for access to books, school libraries and author and illustrator visits.

And she promised to LISTEN to what children are saying about books and reading and needing to address our planet’s climate emergency.   

School children support Cressida Cowell's laureate launch speech

Cowell admits that it’s a huge list, but she’s committed and she has the laureateship behind her.

But is there something I could do to contribute, I wondered?

I thought about this again . . .

And I remembered: on my author tour this Spring to promote THE CRAYON MAN, I met a teacher and librarian who shared with me the order form for my book that went home with the children. On it, in addition to the possibility of ordering my book to be signed when I came to the school, parents and carers could also choose to buy a book for another child, one who might perhaps not have access to such a thing. And people did!

At another school, the PTA purchased a book for the library and a copy to give out as reward for children who had achieved something noteworthy at school. I know some authors and illustrators, if they're able, sometimes donate a copy of their book to the school library.

If, for every author/illustrator visit we did, even one child got a book who might not otherwise have one, just think how many more books might be on that bookshelf?


Natascha Biebow,
MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor
Natascha is the author of The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. She is currently working on more non-fiction and a series of young fiction. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Find her at

Monday 8 July 2019

Tips on writing picture book non-fiction • Moira Butterfield

Moira Butterfield was one of our Picture Book Den co-founders, and has recently been writing lots of highly-illustrated non-fiction for age 4+. Her book Welcome to Our World (Nosy Crow)was an international bestseller in 2018. Her new book Home Sweet Home (Red Shed, Egmont)came out at the end of June 2019. In 2020/2021 she will have picture book non-fiction published by Nosy Crow, Walker Books and Quarto. 

What is picture book non-fiction? 
Picture book non-fiction uses the medium of the illustrated picture book to explore real life. It might be for ages 4+, or pitched slightly older at 6+ (as is Home Sweet Home). The text will be paired with the work of an imaginative picture book illustrator. 

Moira’s new book – Home Sweet Home. 

The text needs to be a great out-loud read 
Picture book non-fiction text needs to exhibit the same writing skillsets as a storybook. As it is likely to be a shared reading experience between adults and children, the author needs to think hard about the way the book will hold up as a ‘together’ read. Just as you would do with a story, read your work out loud regularly as you write. That way you can catch anything that doesn’t flow well, is long-winded or confusing.

The text might be poetic or caption-based 
Some non-fiction picture book text is lyrical – using the features of poetry to explore a subject. By contrast, some non-fiction texts use an introduction and short caption facts (as per Home Sweet Home). For instance, lyrical non-fiction about a butterfly might read more like a poem about a butterfly, whereas in a caption-based text you might want to explain – step-by-step - the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. It should still sound great out loud (and with its meaning as clear as a bell), but it’s not laid out as poetry. 

I myself have written both these styles and I’m happy to mix them up in the same book. I think it makes for a good varied read.

This poem comes from the beginning of ‘Everybody Feels Angry’ 
(QED, illustrated by Holly Sterling). 
The book contains a mixture of material exploring a child’s feelings. 

Here’s a snippet from a Home Sweet Home spread.
It shows an introduction and caption.

Be hyper-aware of the needs of your age-group 
Be very careful to ensure your text caters to the age-group you’re aiming at. Will they be interested/able to connect with what you are saying and the way you are saying it? For example, a 4 year-old might prefer the poetry approach as a way of accessing a subject. A 6+ year-old might prefer longer content with more caption facts. 

The text should have a sense of wonder 
Most importantly the language of a non-fiction book should impart a sense of wonder in its subject. That’s why picture book non-fiction is such a great genre. We’re getting the chance to spark a child’s interest in the amazing world around them. 

The opening spread of Home Sweet Home, illustrated by Clair Rossiter
and written to get children interested in life around the world.

Page length varies 
Picture book non-fiction may not always follow a 12-spread pattern. I have written for 48pp and longer recently. In fact a publisher has just suggested that I write with no page numbers in mind, which I think is a great idea. The designer will then work on the text to see what comes out. That’s pretty radical and has given me the impetus to be very creative without stricture! 

Children need to feel involved 
A non-fiction picture book text should, in my opinion, connect to the lives of the children who read it. So, for example, Home SweetHomelooks at homes around the world and in history, but with reference to a child’s own experience. I am giving them surprising and (I hope) fascinating facts but making sure I link the information to what they know.  In fact, in this case I decided to ask the reader questions as they move through the book – to get them actively connecting themselves to the things they are learning. 

First example of including questions -
taken from
 Home Sweet Home.

Second example of including questions -
taken from
 Home Sweet Home.

The text needs heart 
Above all, a picture book non-fiction text needs heart, just as a story does. Are you passionate about it? What’s the reason you chose a particular subject? If you have something important to say, then your feeling is more likely to shine through in your work. 

Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Protests over picture books: LGBT+ inclusion by Juliet Clare Bell

Many people will have read about the protests outside two primary schools in Birmingham recently, with protesters arguing against the reading and discussing of certain picture books at certain ages in school.

This is very close to home -literally- and I'm a member of SEEDS (Supporting the Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools), which was set up in the wake of the protests. At Birmingham Pride this year, we marched alongside people from the Muslim LGBT+ community and for the first time, the parade was led by prominent Muslim LGBT+ members Khakan Qureshi and Saima Razzaq, and also Andrew Moffat, who created the No Outsiders Programme. The joyful nature of the parade felt a long way from the protests and felt like a massive celebration of the wonderful diversity of Birmingham, and of teaching of acceptance and love. Very different was the meeting soon after in a highly charged setting with our local MP (who has, controversially, backed the protesters, directly at odds with his own party). As a picture book author and local parent, I’d like to talk about some of the books that are being read in the schools in the light of the protests.

No Outsiders Programme 

Created by Andrew Moffat, deputy head at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, No Outsiders is a programme followed in some primary schools, using 35 picture books (five each year from Reception through to Year 6) to help open up discussions about inclusion and equality, alongside all the many other books the children will be reading/have read to them. Here are the picture books deemed controversial by some:

Mommy, Mama and Me (Leslea Newman and Carol Thompson),

                                                           (c) Carol Thompson (2009)

King and King (Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland)

                                                                (c) Stern Nijland (2002)

And Tango Makes Three (Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole)

                                                           (c) Henry Cole (2015)

and My Princess Boy (Cheryl Kilodavis and Suzanne DeSimone).

                                                         (c) Suzanne DeSimone (2011)

In addition to these four books whose main characters/families are in same sex relationships or who do not conform to gender norms, there are two others about families in general which include mention (and pictures) of same sex couples in families alongside many other non LGBT+ families:

The Family Book by Todd Parr (used with Reception children)

                                                                 (c) Todd Parr (2010)

                                                                 (c) Todd Parr (2010)

“Some families have two mums or two dads. Some families have one parent instead of two.”
                                                                 (c) Todd Parr (2010)

And The Great Big Book of Families, by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith (used with Year 2 children)

                                                               (c) Ros Asquith (2015)

The book talks about lots of different families before moving on to different homes, holidays, food etc. It’s a beautiful, inclusive book.

"Some children have two mummies or two daddies.  And some are adopted or fostered."
                                                               (c) Ros Asquith (2015)

But back to the four books that have caused the most controversy. As with so many books for young children, these are about relationships and love. It seems almost absurd to mention it but because of all the misinformation, it’s worth stating that they are in no way whatsoever about sex.

Mommy, Mama and Me (read in Reception, with five- and six-year olds) is about a loving family unit with two parents doing ordinary, everyday things with their child. 

                                                            (c) Carol Thompson (2009)

“Mommy gently combs my hair. Mama rocks me in her chair”
                                                           (c) Carol Thompson (2009)

“Mommy packs a yummy snack.  Mama rides me on her back.”
                                                         (c) Carol Thompson (2009)

At the end of the simple story, Mommy and Mama kiss the child good night.

That is all. It’s like many other lovely picture books for young children about the important adults in their life.

King and King (Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland is read in Year 4 (with eight- and nine- year-olds).

                                                             (c) Stern Nijland (2002)

It’s a fairy tale about a prince whose mother, the Queen, is trying to marry him off to a princess. He’s not interested in any of the princesses she’s lined up for him. Instead, he falls in love with the brother of one of the princesses, and as with many fairy tales: "it was love at first sight":

                                                               (c) Stern Nijland (2002)

and the two princes marry instead.

In year 5 (where the children are nine- and ten- years old), And Tango Makes Three is introduced.

                                                               (c) Henry Cole (2015)

This is the true story of two male penguins in Central Park Zoo who paired up and eventually (after trying to incubate a stone)

                                                               (c) Henry Cole (2015)

were given an egg that needed looking after. They incubated the egg, which hatched successfully and they brought up the baby penguin as their own.

In Year 6, the final year of primary school, where the children are ten and eleven years old, they read (alongside the other books in the No Outsiders programme, and countless other books)

Suzanne DeSimone (2011)

My Princess Boy
This is another story of love and acceptance, written by a mother about her son who likes to wear dresses and who is completely loved exactly as he is.

Suzanne DeSimone (2011)

These are the books that have proved so controversial (you can see the full No Outsiders reading list here:)         No Outsiders book list

As with the other books on the list (including our own 'Denner's You Choose -Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt, Elmer -David McKee and Red Rockets and Rainbow Jelly -Sue Heap and Nick Sharratt), these books are about acceptance and love, saying that it's ok to be you, showing children that different people like different things.

These books cover protected characteristics in the Equalities Act 2010. It is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their gender, or gender reassignment, or race or religion, and (with the shocking exception of Northern Ireland) same sex marriage is legal here and holds equal weight in law with marriage between a man and a woman. This is not controversial subject matter for this country. These books are merely reflecting reality and ensuring, for example, that the many children of two mums can see themselves in a book, and those children without two mums can see that a slightly different family set up is still in many ways similar to their own. 

We need to encourage empathy in children, and picture books that reflect the wonderful diversity of the place we live in are crucial. Children need to see themselves and their families, and they need to see other families that are different from their own, in picture books. This includes children of different ethnicities, with disabilities, and families and children from the LGBT+ community. One protected characteristic does not over-ride another. All these characteristics are protected. We don't get to say one should be more protected than another. Our job -and the legal duty of schools- is to protect them all. What better way than introducing them in attractive picture books that are engaging and welcoming?

And yet we are witnessing some very uncomfortable scenes, far removed from the loving and accepting nature of these books...

Anderton Park School (one of our local schools) currently has an exclusion zone around it so that children and staff are not intimidated and/or frightened by the protesters who were standing outside at the end of the school day, chanting. Having been banned from outside the school, the protesters are now protesting slightly further away outside the exclusion zone, though on some days their shouting can still be heard near the school. When a group of us from SEEDS went to our local MP’s surgery to talk with him about his views on the age-appropriateness of these picture books, the police were out in force to ensure our safety. This was at an MP surgery session –to talk about the picture books mentioned above. These are books about acceptance and love. 

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the head teacher, said last week at a meeting on Defending Equality, that this protest has “at times, crushed my soul”. She said how she loves that it is her duty as head teacher, to foster relationships between those people with protected characteristics (under the Equalities Act 2010) and those without, and that equality is woven “into everything we do”, and that although the ongoing protest “has broken our hearts… we are not broken because Anderton Park is built on equality”.  Anderton Park School doesn’t follow the No Outsiders programme. They use many hundreds of books throughout school including some of the same books mentioned above (Mommy, Mama and Me; My Princess Boy, and And Tango Makes Three). She said at the meeting that they didn’t have consultation with the parents about using those specific books in school because they are doing nothing different from what they are always doing –teaching acceptance and equality.

There has been so much misinformation about the books being used in schools. I do not want to write too much about the protesters as I do think that the story has been manipulated by the media to make it look like it’s a more generalised problem than it is. The vast majority of schools are not experiencing these problems -including the vast majority of schools in Birmingham. But It is really worth watching the statement made by Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England, who was brought in to try and mediate between Anderton Park School and the protesters:

Nazir Afzal's comments on the protests (scroll down on his site for his excellent video statement. It should be essential viewing)

In the Defending Equality meeting last week, MP for the nearby constituency of Birmingham, Yardley, Jess Phillips, talked about her concern and upset about the misrepresentation in the press of these protests. Although she was filmed challenging the main protester (who is not actually a parent of anyone at the school), she wanted to point out that in her own nearby constituency with approximately 40% of constituents of Bangladeshi- and Pakistani- origin, not a single person has mentioned it to her. This is simply not the fight that is most important to most people, she said, and she hates that it has been portrayed as such in the media.

Many Muslims in the UK have experienced an increase in Islamophobia and general racism in recent years and are feeling vulnerable. Many people in the LGBT+ community are also feeling vulnerable at the moment. Those who are LGBT+ within the Muslim community are some of the most vulnerable of all. We are living in very uncertain times politically. If people felt less marginalised, there would be easier dialogue and discussions and considerably less likelihood of outside parties managing to spread misinformation (as discussed by Nazir Afzal, above). Let’s work together –as writers, humans, parents, neighbours, teachers, citizens to ensure that we don’t choose one protected characteristic over another -that we fight racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, discrimination against those with disabilities together. As picture book writers, let us keep writing books that encourage empathy, with diverse characters so that everyone can feel seen. Publishers, let us see more diverse writers and illustrators being published and greater authentic diversity in our picture books. Let's be less defensive and more willing to have difficult conversations, accept that we will make mistakes along the way as we learn, and allow others to make mistakes and learn from them, too, as we try to celebrate diversity in all its richness. But one thing is clear: showing diversity in books should not be a debate. And nor should sharing those books with young children. It should be our duty.

Would reading more diverse books have helped you as a child? If you're happy to say how, please do comment in the comments section, below. And if you have any other thoughts, please share them. Many thanks.

Juliet Clare Bell is a picture book author, whose next picture book (which she will be able to announce soon) is due for release in 2020. Her experience of doing author visits in schools in this area has been overwhelmingly positive and still believes that this is solvable. Love, ultimately, will win.

Please feel free to comment, below. Many thanks.