Monday 16 December 2019

Reflections • Team post

This is often a time of year when people reflect on the last twelve months and hopefully look forward to the next twelve. With this in mind the Picture Book Den team decided we would share picture books that have made us reflect or remember something or someone with fondness.

We hope you enjoy and wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.

Lynne Garner chooses I Will Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Anyone who knows me, knows I just love dogs. I admit I prefer larger dogs. You know those huge, soppy hounds who just want cuddles and when they drape themselves across you make your legs go dead. But I won't say no to a cuddle to those little ones who weigh almost nothing and give you the smallest doggy breath lick on the end of your nose.

Tasha with one of her
many found balls.

So, being a dog lover it's little wonder I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm manages to bring a tear to my eyes when I read it. I always remember and reflect on the dogs I've love and lost, these being our  Mitzi, Sally, Bonny, Jodi and Tasha. I remember with fondness their little quirks for example Jodi and her insistence on burying my underwear in the back garden (I hate to imagine what the neighbours thought) and Tasha with her ability to find a ball on our long walks in the local parks. And just like the family in the book I know I will always love each and every one of them, will always miss them but will also be lifted when I remember the adventures we enjoyed together.

Hoping your 2020 will provide you with many happy moments. 

Jane Clarke chooses Jill Murphy's Five Minutes Peace

This book takes me back to a time in my life when I totally identified with Mrs Large's struggle to get five minutes peace. When I read it to my then small sons, they didn't get it at all. Now they are dads, they do - and my four granddaughters who fail to understand the concept. As the years go on, life changes. Now, I just LOVE it when my peace is shattered!

Warmest winter wishes. May 2020 be kind to you all. Jane x

Pippa Goodhart chooses Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham

When my three daughters were little we shared this book over and over again. From the opening, 'This is Mr Gumpy' onwards, we loved it as more and more animals ask if they can join Mr Gumpy in his boat. The answer is always, 'Yes, if ...' you don't squabble or muck about or tease or chase or, actually all sorts of small naughtinesses that children themselves might do in a boat. And of course the animals DO all do those things, the boat tips over, 'and into the water they fell.' Drama! But not catastrophe. They walk home over the field to Mr Gumpy's house where 'it's time for tea.' Perfect!

I've chosen this beautiful book both for the sentimental reason that it, with its battered spine and Sellotaped pages, brings back happy memories of when my children were 'children'. But also, of course, because wonderful John Burningham died this year ... but lives on for more and more children in his joyful books. 

Very best wishes to all as the year, and the decade, give way to fresh ones. Pippa

Chitra Soundar chose Ocean Meets Sky by Eric Fan and Terry Fan  

This summer I picked up this book from the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist. It's a beautiful story of a boy coming to terms with his grandfather's passing. It was such a calming book to read, but it was also a time to reflect on what's happened and what's yet to happen. 

The book has a magical quality to it because of both the words and the pictures. The images in the story inspired me to lay quiet and stare at the sky, watch cloud formations and understand how we are a small speck in this mighty universe. And there is a special place for all of us wherever our ocean will meet our sky. 

I wish you all a wonderful celebration reflecting on the past year and welcoming the new one. May you all always find the time to imagine and discover magic in the clouds and on the waves. Chitra

Mini Grey chooses The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane. 

Another one from the Kate Greenaway shortlist that totally deservedly won. A book that's made an enormous impact and helped everyone to recognise that we love and need nature. Let's  have this as a top priority in 2020.
The book I want to get my sticky hands on this Christmas is Planetarium, words by Raman Prinja  and incredible images by the wonderful Chris Wormell, printer and picture maker extraordinaire.

Image result for planetarium chris wormell

How brilliant to be able to take an entire universe out of your bookshelf whenever you need it. 

Clare Helen Welsh chooses the ‘Mr. Men’ and ‘Little Miss’ books by Roger Hargreaves.
At this time of year, families often get together and reminisce. In my case, the same old, embarrassing stories come out of the woodwork! Yes, I’m talking about the time I emptied talcum powder all over the bathroom and told my Nan, as white clouds billowed down the stairs, that I was making pastry!
A cheeky younger me! 
I now see much of this mischievousness reflected in my favourite childhood books, including Burglar Bill by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and ‘Peepo’ by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. I also have very fond memories of the ‘Mr. Men’ and ‘Little Miss’ Books by Roger Hargreaves

My Nan had a whole set of these books, and I would come back to them again and again and again. My favourite character? No, not Little Miss Trouble… Mr. Tickle, of course!
I wonder if, like me, you'll find a correlation between the tales of younger you and your favourite books? I suppose what isn’t clear, is whether I was influenced by the books I read, or whether mischievous me was drawn to mischievous books. I suspect it’s the latter!

Thankfully, as a grown up, I am much more sensible! 
Wishing you health, happiness and much mischief in 2020. Clare

Lucy Rowland chooses The Jolly Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

My sister and I used to LOVE The Jolly Postman.  Fairytale characters, a rhyming adventure, beautiful illustrations and, to top it all off, envelopes that you could open with real post inside!! We read it again and again.  Later, of course, I also discovered the magic of The Jolly Christmas Postman, and it was just as exciting, if not more! 

I love this time of year and I love Christmas, I always have. It's such a special time for me and I really enjoy thinking back to the Christmases we spent when I was young and the various Christmas traditions we had- the Christmas Eve party next door, the stockings hanging on the end of our beds, leaving out a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph....but this year I think is going to be my most special yet. 

In September, we welcomed our baby boy into the world and it is our first Christmas as a family of three. I can't wait to share these books (and many many more) with Benji as he grows and to create new memories and holiday traditions of our own. 

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and lots of love and happiness in 2020. Lucy x

Garry Parsons chooses Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna and 'Julian Is A Mermaid' by Jessica Love.

Fear is a universal problem that affects everyone at some point in their lives, children and adults alike. Fear overwhelming our lives can often lead to enormous suffering and terrible consequences. Francesca Sanna's book gives us an image of fear that cleverly and simply describes the polarities of its grip, on the one hand appearing as friend and protector and on the other as oppressor and tyrant. Sanna then shows us subtly how to deal with it. 

When I first read this book I was astounded. It's not only a poignant message for every human but it's beautifully illustrated. This book is a treasure and everyone should have a copy.

I am also choosing Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love. If you've had a tough day and you need to reconnect with what really matters in life then fall into this book for a dose of gentle acceptance and appreciation of human uniqueness. This book is about being free to be who you are, no matter who you are.

Merry Christmas!

Natascha Biebow chooses A Very Corgi Christmas by Sam Hay and Loretta Schauer.

This has been a momentous year for me: My picture book THE CRAYON MAN was published, I went on my first ever mini book tour, I was awarded the Stephen Mooser SCBWI Member of the Year Award 2019 and invited to the Palace to receive an MBE for services to children's authors and illustrators. When reflecting on this year, my ten year-old suggested this book. It's a heartwarming tale of the importance of family and friendship and how wishes can come true.

Belle, the littlest royal Corgi, wants to experience all the excitement of Christmas. But the hubbub of the big city is a little daunting for such a little dog – until she meets streetwise Pip, who takes her on a magical tour of all the sights.

It's such fun to see all the familiar London landmarks illustrated from a doggy point of view! I am not from London, of course, though I have probably lived here the longest. Despite being an immigrant. I like to think of it as my home. So, here's wishing you a festive holiday season at home or in a new adventurous place, and fun times with family and friends, near or far.

 And here's hoping all YOUR wishes will come true, too!

Juliet Clare Bell chooses books by Mary Murphy.

I think lots of us are in a very contemplative mood at the moment. And I’ve been thinking about the books that feel absolutely full of love at their core –without necessarily mentioning it, because as picture book creatives, we can do a lot to spread love, and we absolutely should. And with my eldest daughter turning sixteen just last week, I’ve been looking at some of the books and authors/illustrators that she loved as a young child.

(c) Mary Murphy Here Comes Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter 

And I keep coming back to Mary Murphy. Her pictures are joyful and her sparse text is perfect. I’ve only got the one book of hers at home now (which I bought second hand recently as I couldn’t find a new version) and it’s Here Comes Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter. It’s so simple, but it’s just a family (mostly a parent and child, who happen to be dogs) going through the year together. It’s always kind.

(c) Mary Murphy from Here Comes Spring and Summer and Autumn and Winter *

“In autumn we jump in hills of crunchy leaves,” doesn’t sound profound on its own, but it almost brings tears to my eyes when I think how much my then-two-year-old loved it when we borrowed it again and again from the library. And how we’d say it –and do it- when we saw hills of crunchy leaves. It’s still the first thing that springs to mind when I see piles of autumn leaves -said by my daughter and me, together, in happy, excited voices.

And that library book introduced us to the wonderful world of Mary Murphy including I Like It When

(c) Mary Murphy

and How Kind (click on the links to see Youtube recordings of the books).

(c) Mary Murphy

I’d highly recommend them (but definitely get the picture book rather than the board book of I Like It When, or you’ll miss the last page (which is missed off the youtube reading link above but it says –'You’re wonderful'… (sob)…)

*See what I did with the photo? I got in a sneaky peek of the other book I nearly wrote about which my eldest also absolutely loved and I'd also urge you all to read: Scarlette Beane (by Karen Wallace and Jon Berkeley).

Peace and love to everyone this Christmas, and here’s hoping for an outpouring of love and kindness in 2020…

The Picture Book Den team will resume posts in the new year.

Monday 9 December 2019

The Bookshelf of Life: How our Reading Journey Shapes Our Writing • by Natascha Biebow

Stories are fluid, malleable creatures that shift with the teller, the listener and the place.

So what tales influence us? How does our journey and relationship with story influence the kind of reader we are, what kind of person, even, we become, and the kind of story we write, illustrate, edit and design?

I'd like to share with you a little about my bookshelf of life, in the hopes that it might encourage you to do the same. When I looked at it, I came away with a startling realization – books speak volumes about us . . . and our world views.

Today, there is a lot of talk about diversity, and the need to be inclusive, self-aware and open-minded in this challenging world in which we live. But equally, it can be frustrating the assumptions some people make when countenancing diversity. Diversity isn’t just the colour of the skin, gender or ethnicity. 

A selection of diverse picture books

Diversity runs much deeper than that. It is often unseen, complex, shaped by our experiences as children and adults, the places we’ve been (or not), our families, our interests and links to the outside world. All of us, we want to be seen, to be heard, to be respected for who we are, to be given opportunities and to be valued. We are all diverse in our own ways. And, if we can appreciate this, together we can be more. 

So here are some of the books that tell you a little bit about me, that perhaps you might not have known before. They are stories I heard and the stories I read by myself that opened windows and doors and eyes and ears. And now the stories I write:
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen from
Favourite Fairy Tales from Andersen
illustrated by Paul Durand (Hamlyn)
We didn’t have many picture books at home - possibly because we lived in Brazil, a non-English speaking country, and possibly because they were expensive and people just didn’t own such things? I had this beautiful anthology of Andersen Fairy tales and I made my mother read to me ‘The Little Match Girl’ even though it always made me cry. I’m not sure what my fascination with such a sad story was, but I see now that it is a story of light and hope for the little match girl warms her hands and her soul with images from her imagination.

My first grade teacher read CHARLOTTE’S WEB to us aloud. Every afternoon, the story would unfold. There is something gripping about being read to. Magical.
Charlotte's Web by EB White, illustrated by Garth Williams
My favourite place in the school was the library. There we had a giant papier-mache elephant in the central circular area, where the librarian read aloud after we chose our books during the weekly class visit. 
The Library where Reading became a joy and a habit

I particularly remember this book, a Chinese folktale:

I read books in Portuguese too. This one – the story about family and big dreams – stuck with me. The main character is a girl who longs to be powerful and heard like grown-ups, boys and writers. Her dreams come to life in a series of characters stuffed into her precious yellow bag, including this feisty rooster.
From A Bolsa Amarela by Lygia Bojunga

Along with books from the library, the ones I owned were precious gifts sent by my grandmother, who lived in England. I read everything: horse and ballet books, fantasy, Pippi Longstocking, Paddington bear . . .

As well as many pivotal American authors (I went to an American school, though no one in my family is American), like Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, who understood the ordinary child, the misfits, and captured the journey of figuring out who you are in this world. I still haven’t read the book about growing up with a disabled brother like mine; perhaps I need to write it someday.

But the books that I was most drawn to were those with true story narratives. The stories of real people - the pioneers, the country vet, early people, the girl who survived with a pack of wolves, the writer - these are the ones that I was fascinated by and re-read countless times.

As I’ve mentioned, we didn’t have many picture books at home. Here is one that we did have. I loved the detailed pictures and worlds. 
What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry

Later, much later, at university, I started to discover the genre, which in the late 80s/early 90s was going through a boom. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to edit and admire lots of picture books. Here are some of my favourites:

And even later, books that showed different kinds of families - ones that lived far-flung across the globe, and ones with disabled people in them and two mums and two dads.

After a lot of exploration, I remembered that I liked true stories. As I child, I was fascinated by National Geographic WORLD magazine. I dreamt of becoming a writer for National Geographic. I found my calling as a children’s book editor and writer – I can’t get away from cool facts. I challenge myself – and you – to learn at least one new fact a day. It’s fun! And the truth is often stranger than fiction.

National Geographic World Magazine, published by National Geographic
Like the story of this man, inventor Edwin Binney, who had a knack for listening and making what people needed and whose love of colour and nature

From The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno
led to the invention of Crayola crayons.

Whether the stories we read and tell are modern, mythical, magical, true or fictional – we want and need them to resonate, because then they ring true and, as such, they speak to us and our young readers. These are stories that inspire ideas, deal with fears, create a feeling of belonging, change preconceptions and so much more.    

Only you have YOUR pocket full of diverse stories, your individual beat. 

Trust it. Embrace the unknown, the strangeness. Sit with it. Discover your angels, your fears, your quirks. 


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 2 December 2019

An Interview with illustrator Anna Doherty, by Pippa Goodhart

I'm very proud to introduce illustrator Anna Doherty to the Picture Book Den. She illustrated by story 'Fair Shares' with wonderful colour and humour, clarity and beauty. Anna and I met this summer at the Edinburgh Book Festival, sharing doing an event based on 'Fair Shares'. She's lovely!
So I've asked her a few questions -

- Were you a child drawn (sorry!) to drawing?I loved all sorts of creative things as a child. We always had an art project on the go, whether it was making seasonal decorations, toilet roll binoculars, presents, Christmas cards, or cardboard houses and teeny clay food for our Sylvanian Families.
We had a stack of continuous paper – A4 sheets all joined together in a concertina – and I would make books and magazines out of them.
I liked drawing pictures from books I was reading, and making huge illustrations of me and my friends on magical adventures, but I also liked drawing from real life too, like plants or flowers we had in the house.

Anna's drawing, done aged five or six, of her parents', clearly very happy, wedding!

Little Anna, already painting, decorating an egg box.

- How did you train to become an illustrator? What is particular about illustration as an art form?I trained originally at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. I chose to go there because they had a foundation year where you could try out all the different art subjects before choosing which one to specialise in. I quickly discovered illustration was the one for me! We did a lot of quite varied projects, like ceramics, editorial work, screen printing, stage design, posters, which was amazing because we learnt illustration isn’t just one thing.
After I graduated, I decided I wanted to focus more on children’s books, so I went down to Cambridge School of Art and did a Children’s Book Illustration Masters.
That course set me up for the publishing world, and at the end we had a graduation show which lots of editors and art directors came to see, which is where I was lucky to meet my first publishers.
For me, the thing I love about illustration is that it’s so often narrative, and has a story to tell. I’ve loved books since I was very small, so illustrating them is a dream come true!

- Please tell us about your experience illustrating Fair Shares, illustrating somebody else’s story and words.Illustrating someone else’s text is exciting, because so often as an illustrator you are working at home alone, so it’s lovely to know someone else out there is sharing your experience.
Fair Shares was the first picture book which I’d illustrated someone else’s text rather than my own. Sometimes, illustrating a pre-existing text is more relaxing because the story is already there – but it can be challenging too, as I was very used to starting with character and building a plot around them rather than the other way around.

When I began to illustrate Fair Shares, Pippa had already more or less finished the text, so I had a clear outline of the story.
At the very beginning I was really nervous, always thinking, ‘what if this isn’t exactly what Pippa had in mind in this picture?’ so I loosened up by starting all the way from scratch and spending ages drawing bears and hares from real life, so I could learn the shape of the animals in different positions.

Once I’d drawn lots of bears and hares, they naturally began to turn into the characters who are in the book.
After I had the characters, I began layouts, thinking roughly how each page would be laid out.

I tried to have a mixture of full page and vignette, and of close up and far away illustrations, so that it’s interesting for the reader to look at. I drew ideas of what each page might look like very quickly and roughly, so there was lot of options, until I found the one that works best.
Then, it was time to draw the illustrations for real!
The very first page I drew was Bear reaching up high to try to grab some juicy pears. I originally drew it just to test out the colours and textures, but I liked it so much that it became a page in the book!

- What next for Anna Doherty, illustrator?!Lots, I hope! I’m working on some new idea nuggets at the moment, and I have the fourth book in my Fantastically Feminist series of non-fiction picture books about real life women coming out next year, which I’m very excited about!

Thank you, Anna. Maybe we’ll work together on other books in the future? I hope so!