Monday 30 March 2020

Online picture book events during lockdown by Juliet Clare Bell

Hello and welcome to the Picture Book Den in these very uncertain times. 

This post is here to point you in the direction of lots of wonderful picture book readings and activities to enjoy and engage with whilst you're at home (or at school). I had planned to check out what was available online for children, families and educators, and then post them up individually here... and then I found this, from our very own former Picture Book Denner, Jonathan Emmett, and Caryl Hart:

When I talked with Jonathan Emmett, award-winning picture book author and former Picture Book Denner, he said:

"The Picture Book Author Events Online facebook page is a spin-off from Caryl Hart's Author Events Online listing page... Although we set up the page with the intention of sharing book videos for children of all ages, after a couple of days it became apparent that so many authors and illustrators were planning to share videos it would be a full time job creating new posts and responding to messages...  so we agreed to limit the page to new videos and livestreams created by traditionally-published picture book creators. We’d like the page to be a one-stop-shop for stay-at-home families with picture book age children and hope that that it will inspire others to set up similar pages for other age groups such as middle grade and YA".

Jonathan asked Chris Haughton (author-illustrator of the amazing Oh No, George!) if he could make an image for the project, and he did!

                                                             (c) Chris Haughton (2020)
Caryl's page also tells you which events are coming up daily:

Be sure to check into:

Ed Vere's how to draw (every Wednesday and Friday)

Chris Haughton's weekly story time (Wednesdays at 5pm BST)

and many more, including Jonathan and Caryl's own weekly live sessions.

I'm not going to link to everything here because Jonathan and Caryl have done the hard work to put it together so please, please use their site. You won't be disappointed.

A few others well worth watching, include Mo Willems' daily doodles...



Draw along with Emily Gravett on Thursday April 2nd and Thursday April 9th at 11am BST

I'm in a very lucky position at the moment where I've got lots of books on the go and lots of deadlines with publishers so I'm trying to juggle working long hours with three children at home. What it means is that I will have missed some of the wonderful picture book events/resources that writers and illustrators have posted. Please do share your favourite online picture book resources for children (rather than writers in this instance), whether they are your own, or someone else's from online) and let's make it as easy as possible for children, wherever they are, to access all the wonderful picture book resources available online.

Sending love to everyone. Happy reading, listening and doing as you stay inside...

And to you all picture book writers and illustrators out there, Jonathan says that if [you're a traditionally published picture book author and/or illustrator and] you’d like your video to be shared on the page, you can contact him using the “Send Message" button under the page header, but please check that the video is eligible under their Sharing Policy first. (and make sure you've got permission to record yourself first. Here's some guidance from Caryl: 

(and in case anyone hasn't heard, to keep you going whilst you're inside, I'd highly recommend PE with Joe (Wicks) at 9am BST Monday -Friday -or watch a recording of them anytime. It's half an hour of exercising along with millions of people, all at the same time and it's great for morale. It's for children and adults, young and old, fit and not so fit. As a writer, I spend a lot of time sitting and although I am pretty sedentary, this has got me enjoying exercising in a way that almost nothing has in many years. We all need to keep our spirits up. Try it!)

Please help us and parents/families wanting to look at picture book readings/demonstrations/drawing sessions online by letting us know about your favourite (and/or your own!) online picture book videos and resources in the comments. Many thanks, and stay safe x

Monday 23 March 2020

DIALOGUE ONLY PICTURE BOOKS: The challenges, risks, pitfalls and how to overcome them By Clare Helen Welsh

To the untrained eye, dialogue only texts can come across as simple and sparse. After all, there’s no narration, no scene setting, no description or speech tags. Yet, telling a story just through one or more character’s words is no mean feat. Manuscripts still need action and high stakes to keeping young readers engaged, except you don’t have the luxury of narrated words to do it in.

Despite this, it’s a style of picture book lots of us aspire to publish. After all, there are many excellent examples of stories told exclusively through conversation and they make for really fun read alouds. I love acting out the roles of Dot and Duck when I take How Rude to school, library and festival events. The paired reading provides an opportunity for children to memorise and act out their parts, bringing books to life before children can read themselves, and after they can, too. As well as reading for pleasure, we also know that texts such as these support early literacy development, including comprehension and sequencing.

However, writers have many concerns about creating these kinds of text, especially if you are the author and not also the illustrator. So, what are the challenges, risks and pitfalls of writing a dialogue only picture book text, and how can we overcome so that our texts are well received by editors?


We know an emotional journey is an essential ingredient in picture books, and this is just as important in a dialogue only text, possibly even more so. Caring for the characters and finding out what happens to them will keep readers turning pages. I found excellent examples of authors and illustrators using dialogue and pictures to exaggerate and show emotion, keeping the stakes high and propelling the plot forwards. Without this, the risk is that your story ends up being repetitive scenes of talking heads and not much else.
Mo Willems - Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Viv Schwarz - There are Cats in this Book


Sitting alongside, emotion is tension. Without it we aren’t gripped and stories aren’t interesting or engaging. A plot about two characters enjoying a nice walk or two sharing a hat, would lack the conflict that makes a good hook. In a dialogue only text, ensuring you have a concept or characters with conflicting wants and needs is one way of creating immediate tension. Here is a humorous example from the ‘Already!’ series by Jory John and Benji Davies.

Jory John and Benji Davies - Goodnight Already


It seems, though, that the key isn’t having emotion and tension… rather, the timing of it.  A story told in dialogue only needs to use pace to capitalise on emotion and tension in order to build action and energy. As can be seen in Karl Newson and Mo Willem’s work, the emotion and tension are tracked carefully throughout the spreads, so that they build at the optimum time…
Karl Newson and Tony Ross - I am a Tiger

…escalating into a crisis…

Mo Willems - Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

…and end with a satisfying payoff.

Mo Willems - Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus


Once your arc is watertight, it will be important to give your story flow. What will stop the story feeling staccato and static? Will a parent need to point things out for the text to make sense? Examples of successful dialogue only books seem to have a clear structure in place. Indeed, the narrative is weaved into repetitive conversations embedded in a familiar and underlying structure.

Jon Klassen’s ‘I want my hat back’ and the ‘Oi!’ series by Kes Gray and Jim Field, have repetitive structures and refrains that make them easy to follow. A strong narrative flow or familiar structure can serve to hook readers, allowing them some grounding in world and plot. 

Jon Klassen - I want my hat back

Kes Gray and Jim Field - Oi Frog!

In dialogue only books, your characters’ conversations carry the story. Parents won’t want to point out who is talking. Therefore, character depth and personality have never been so important. It is worth bearing in mind that if you have more than one character, the talking’ doesn’t just have to be in just the words. Use the opportunity for dynamic body language and action to speak volumes about your character’s personality. I find Viv Schwarz a genius at character. On her blog, Viv talks about her process:

“I was developing the characters of Anna and Crocodile by letting them act out some of the ideas I had for the book on paper. I had no idea who they were yet. Anna had my haircut (it grew out gradually while I was working on the book) and the crocodile was a toy which Anna had told me was bought from IKEA ("when we got the wardrobes"). So, yes, that's how I work... I recommend it, it's really rewarding to see what these little made-up people come out with when you just let them run wild.”

If your dialogue-only text has a solid plot and plenty of character, you’ll want to know how to format it for submission. There are different ways to present a text before submission, although it is widely accepted that splitting a picture book into spreads can help hone pace and page turns. However, in a dialogue only text, it might be necessary to structure your words in a slightly easier format to ensure it's accessible as possible.  Here’s a section from when ‘How Rude’ was submitted. 


Clare Helen Welsh
Dot: Hello, Dot. Lovely to see you. SMASH! [Duck knocks the sugar to the floor]
Dot: How rude!
Duck: A tea party! Cool! Hang these up.
[Duck throws hat and scarf on the floor]
Dot: How rude! 

Clare Helen Welsh and Olivier Tallec - How Rude

As you can see, I used a script-style layout to make it easy and clear to read.  There’s no right or wrong way, as such. Other layout possibilities might suit your text better. For example, you may want to use colour-coding or your spreads might need additional art notes for clarification, so perhaps a grid or table format might be best. That said, I’d be wary of adding too many illustrations notes. Reading them can interrupt the flow and make a story hard to follow. Use them sparingly and where essential, as is recommended for standard picture book submissions. These aren’t meant to dictate scenes to the illustrator, rather help whoever is reading your text understand the narrative.

I hope this post goes to show that whilst there is a lot of skill in writing a dialogue only picture book, it is possible. Limiting a text to conversation, forces us to streamline the story and think carefully about emotion, tension, pace, voice and character. It also makes us think cinematically, which is a useful skill for picture book writers.The question is… ‘Are you up for the challenge?’

Clare is a children's writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her next picture book, How Selfish! publishes with Quarto in April 2020 and is illustrated by Olivier Tallec. She currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan @ClareHelenWelsh

Monday 16 March 2020

Bedtime Stories in Broad Daylight

As a picture book writer and a storyteller, I take my books into libraries, festival events and bookshops to tell stories. I don’t read from the book – I tell them like a story – sometimes with songs, but also with actions, sounds and interactivity.
Tales on Moon Lane with
Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip, illustrated by Kanika Nair

            Often the audience is a group of children ranging from 3 years to 7 years old. Often these events are in the middle of the day either right after breakfast (so the children have eaten) or after lunch (so the children have eaten). That time between naps and bedtime, the time between playtime and nappy change time. Understandably the children are not sleepy – they are raring to go and want to join in the fun.
            This is fantastic because if I tell the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, then the story is an adventure. It’s exciting to join Pattan as he journeys down the mountain.

            But I’ve also written three beautifully illustrated bedtime stories. Stories shared by parents with their children with a comforting refrain. These are stories that are meant to be read when the child closes it eyes and is ready to be comforted and lulled into the safety of dreams.
Illustrated by Poonam Mistry,
it was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2019
Illustrated by Poonam Mistry,
it has been longlisted  for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2020
Illustrated by Poonam Mistry,
all 3 published by Lantana Publishing


How do I tell these three stories in the middle of a busy library or a festival in broad daylight when the children are definitely not sleepy? I had to adapt the performances to suit the venue, the timing and the level of interactivity the event organisers demand.
1.    The setting: I discuss the setting, the fauna and the flora of the region in these books. The first one is set in an Indian forest, the second one in the Arctic and the third one in the grasslands. I talk about these habitats, and who lives there, what grows there. Children love to contribute to these discussions. The first book You're Safe with Me has a number of unfamiliar animals and birds that fascinate children.
2.    Discuss the issues and the science discussed in each of the books before telling the story – the first one handles fear and water cycles, the second one about climate change and third one is about mutualism. I discuss these concepts with children – relate it to their own real life and then when I do tell the story, they can make the connections.
3.    Adding songs that are more interactive and noisy than bedtime ones. For example, to perform You’re Safe With Me, I’ve adapted “The wheels on the bus” to my own story – they know the rhyme, I teach them the words and soon we are singing together.
4.    We chant together – the refrain which is also the title appears at the end of each section of the story and the children join in. They are waiting for it and they love to say it with me.
5.    Activities - I always carry colouring sheets, puzzles, word searches all related to the book – so just in case older children have accompanied their younger siblings or a child is less happy to sit down and listen, they start working on the activities. Colouring has definitely opened the door older children to join in with the story.

6.    Workshop – Sometimes the group of children who have bought tickets to my event are all over seven. Armed with a sleepy bedtime book I suddenly face an eager crowd that is worried about being bored. 
When that happens I turn the session into a writing workshop. 
I go through the story with them and then we get on with the writing of their own stories or non-fiction projects.

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published author of over 40 books for children. Her picture books have been translated into German, French, Japanese and Thai and have been included in the White Ravens Catalogue and IBBY International Books of USA. 
You're Safe with Me was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2019 for Poonam Mistry's illustrations and their second book together You're Snug with Me has been longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2020. Find out more at and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.

Monday 9 March 2020

Ideas by Patricia Cleveland-Peck

During the course of 2020, we are inviting author Patricia Cleveland-Peck to share her thoughts on many aspects of being a picture book author.

On joining Sassies I was very pleased to discover Picture Book Den  and  have since spent many hours reading the valuable resource  of past blogs. One of the first I read was about that most frequently asked question - “Where do you get your ideas?”    It is one we all get a bit tired of answering, perhaps because as Stephen King put it, ‘we know we don’t know.’
Memories, dreams, poems, paintings, a snatch of conversation: it seems any of these can be a catalyst but it got me wondering if I could discern any sort of pattern in my own case.   I noticed that several times  it has been quite a tiny experience which provided the spark - although it developed and changed its clothes many times before reaching the page. In the case of You Can’t Take and Elephant on the Bus, it was just a sentence which I heard my granddaughter, aged about 3, say to my late husband. “Grandpops, you can’t take and elephant on the bus.” She said this in all seriousness but the result was the first of my silly Elephant picture books so brilliantly illustrated by David Tazzyman.

It can also simply be a glimpse of something. The Queen’s Spaghetti came about when I cooked some spaghetti. I like cooking but having been married to a restaurateur and chef who always did all things culinary  faster and better than me, I lacked experience and was a poor judge of quantities. Anyway on this occasion I cooked far, far too much of the pasta and as my husband, (like King Jim in the book) ‘didn’t like waste,’ I felt compelled to get rid of as much of the evidence as possible before he got home. This was something relatively easy  on a smallholding – and it took just a glimpse of our ducks waddling up the path with their beaks tied up with spaghetti for the picture book potential to strike me.
Another real event which resulted in a book occurred when our ginger cat, Joseph, kept going missing for a few days. This went on for quite a while and as he always came back in his own time we didn’t worry. One day however, a neighbour was visiting.
      “What are you doing with my cat Billy?” he asked, quite indignantly when he saw Joseph curled up asleep on one of our chairs.
      “No, no that’s our cat Joseph, we’ve had him for years,” we replied.
It turned out that the neighbour had taken him in as a stray - and so Joseph/Billy had been enjoying a double life with extra food and cuddles. Thus was born Freckle and Clyde, the story of two children who, unknowingly shared, or were owned, by the same cat.
Another even more bizarre happening which set me off was in fact something (mis) overheard. A while back my husband came home one day and told me that he had visited a woman who had told him, “not to go in the front room as there was an escaped German in there.” I knew my husband was interested in WW2 and immediately imagined a scenario in which this woman had kept a prisoner hostage since the war. Crazy, I know, especially as it turned out to be was an escaped gerbil she was talking about - but the seed was sown and the incarceration of a German prisoner for 30 years in a county house is the subject of my as yet unpublished story for older readers, The Monkey Room.

So probably we writers get our ideas wherever we can, the trick is recognising and snatching them as they flit past.

My name is Patricia Cleveland-Peck and I write picture book texts. When my own children were little I wrote about 14 children’s books but gradually drifted into writing for adults as they grew up. It was when I had a granddaughter that I returned to the wonderful world of picture books. It was her remark, “You can’t take an elephant on the Bus,” which resulted in my book of the same name. For more details visit my website 

Monday 2 March 2020

To Be or Not to Be an Author? • by Natascha Biebow

Children are curious – they ask me
This question has got me thinking about this vocation
that is being an author:


What's not to like? You get to do something you LOVE 💖

Tell stories all day long.

When the story is flowing, time passes in a jiffy. I feel like I'm in a kind of time warp. When I'm in the midst of researching a new non-fiction picture book, I get really excited by all the interesting new facts I'm learning and have to remind myself where I started and what my end goal is, otherwise I might get stuck down a rabbit warren of (irrelevant) information . . .

Notes for my books have lots of questions

Getting to meet children and seeing them excited about stories too is a lot of FUN too.

Doing messy art with them is EVEN MORE FUN!
Messy artwork with Y3 & Y4 at AJS, London - looking at Nature and mixing colours like Edwin Binney

And so is drawing with children –– and grown-ups.


Having an excuse to make an awesome cake (and eat it) to celebrate your book, plus wear a silly hat is . . .

The most challenging cake I've ever made. Inspired by The Icing Artist.


But being a children’s author is also HARD WORK. Making books requires countless revisions, plus the time it takes to make the final picture book often spans years.

When the story is NOT flowing – or someone else has already pipped you to the post and published ‘your’ story – writing is very TIRING.

(Where’s the duvet?!)

Authors have to be resilient and be prepared to take on board feedback from their peers, their agent, and their book’s editorial team (editor, illustrator, designer, publicist) gracefully and constructively (even though sometimes you want to throw a pillow). Authors need to be prepared to listen and persevere.

Another edit? I thought the book was finished . . .

When I finally finish writing a book, waiting for someone to say they love it as much as I do is very hard. Waiting for a book deal is . . . yes, TIRING.

Getting rejections builds a thick outer skin, but it’s also . . . you got it, TIRING.

Authors are constantly having to come up with new ideas and try to put out our very best work, which is great when it’s flowing, but not so easy when it’s not.

Once published, authors are expected to promote their book. Being on the road for author visits to schools and bookshops far from home can be . . . TIRING.

Cupcakes help.

So, it’s about even – FUN vs. TIRING.
But then look at COOL:
Visiting interesting places for 'research' (like inside the Crayola crayon factory). (Amazing!)
Crayola's HQ in Easton, PA
Crayola crayon labels from inside the factory!
Unpacking a box of advanced copies of your book with your name on it. (Oooh, goody!)
Walking into a bookshop and seeing your book on the playbill  . . . (Wow, who me?!)
and being an actual, really actually published author with your name on the front of a book displayed in your uni bookshop . . .

Receiving unexpected and thoughtful gifts from fellow artists:
Tara Moon handmade me this amazing giant box of Crayolas exactly
like the one from she'd kept her childhood, complete with 'worn' crayons!

Meeting readers who are soooo excited to see you and think you are . . . COOL (!), then creating stuff together. AMAZING!
Drawing with all 8 colours
Drawing together in a whole School Assembly in VA
Signing books at your old school for a new generation of readers. Wow! 
At the lower school library EARJ, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

And for me, making unexpected connections through my book . . .  Here's a story I'd like to share with you: 
But best of all is . . .

Seeing readers reading your book in unexpected places.
This girl couldn't wait to read the book --
right near the Easton Farmer's Market where she bought it.

I’d say on balance

I count myself very lucky (even if I can’t yet make a living doing it).

Happy World Book Day! 

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