Monday 31 August 2020

Under the Covers - The unique story of the endpaper in picture books - Garry Parsons

Enthusiasts of picture books will be familiar with the delights that may lie hidden on the inside cover of a hardback book, but endpapers often go unnoticed and uncelebrated.  With the help of two renowned picture book designers, illustrator Garry Parsons takes a look at the humble endpaper and uncovers reasons to celebrate them.

Endpapers, also known as ends or endsheets, are the pages glued into the inside cover of a hardback book. The functional purpose of these pages is to hold the book’s interior to its cover and protect the insides of the book. But these pages can also be the source of creative visual delights. A home for maps, patterns and repeats, bold colours or graphic jokes. A space for information about its creators or a place to entice the book owner to add in their own name, the rare occasion when we are permitted to write inside a book.  Endpapers can set a scene,  form part of the book’s narrative or simply hint at what is to come.  So, despite their practicality, these pages can surprise and inspire.

Originally, the endpapers would be white and simply form part of the book’s physical structure, but by the 18thCentury patterns and swirls became popular through the process of marbling or marbleising. Made by floating colours onto a bath of gum or marbleising size, the pattern on the surface of the liquid can be transferred onto paper.

Techniques using combs with varing degrees of spaced teeth could be used to rake the colours on the surface into complicated-looking patterns and swirls. With names like ‘peacock’ and ‘bouquet’, the humble endpaper began a life of its own. 


Later, book-makers began experimenting with block printing techniques to add decoration to the end sheets and when book binding became mechanised in the 1830s, the decorative nature of endpapers changed again, becoming ornate with patterns and repeats of floral and animal motifs.


Block printed endpapers from Anton Michelitz 'Scrutinium Hypotheses Spirituum Animalium' 1782.

From a copy of Voltaire's Gospel of the Day 1772-3

Towards the end of the 19thCentury, endpapers became decorated with visual suggestions of the book’s subject matter with children’s picture books in the early 20th Century starting to use illustrations of the characters within the story or depictions of maps from the narrative.


The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm illustrated by Arthur Rackman 

Girl Scout Handbook 1938

Influences of the endpaper’s history echo in the repeats and patterns of our picture books today and allow an opportunity for extra artwork from the book’s illustrators and designers.


As an illustrator myself, I enjoy this additional space to be creative and the chance to collaborate with the book designer on what approach might work best. A chance to create an extra level of surprise that will enhance and lift the book a little further. Whilst considering an approach for the endpapers usually comes after the main body of a picture book is drawn up and layed out, the end paper design often feels like an added bonus to tie the whole book together, metaphorically as well as structurally.

In my view, each turn of the page in a picture book should give the reader something unexpected, a visual surprise each time, and the endpapers are no exception.

As a child I remember tracing my finger around the curves of the elephants on the endpapers of Jean De Brunhoff’s adventures of Babar or pouring over the fully rendered scenes of Rupert and his pals in the Daily Express’ Rupert Bear Annuals.

Jean De Brushoff 'The Story of Babar the Little Elephant' 1934

Rupert. The Daily Express Annual 1973 with endpaper illustrations by Bestall

So the endpapers to me feel like special creative places where designer and illustrator can merge ideas, where there are few rules and many choices, all held together by a rich tradition and a respected history. 


Sifting through the shelves of my collection of picture books, I have looked at the variety of ways they have been used and pulled out a view favourites. 

David Roberts has returned to marbling in his compelling retelling of the history of the Suffragette movement.


Endpapers from 'Suffragette, the Battle for Equality' by David Roberts 2018

While Millie Marotta’s endpapers in A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals and Coralie Bickford-Smith’s endsheets in The Worm and the Bird remind us of the repeated block printing process.

Endpapers from 'A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals' Millie Marotta 2019

Endpapers from 'The Worm And The Bird' Coralie Pickford-Smith 2017

Endpapers can introduce the reader to the characters they are about to meet. Often echoing past printing techniques, these can be monotone and follow the tradition of repetitive wallpaper patterns, as in these examples from Jon Klassen’s hilarious 'I Want My Hat Back' and the informatative ‘Wild Animals of the North' by Dieter Brown and Alastair Humphrey’s ‘Great Adventure’.


Endpapers from Jon Klaassen's 'I Want My Hat Back' 2012

Endpapers from Dieter Braun's 'Wild Animals of the North' 2016

Endpapers from Alastair Humphrey's 'Great Adventures' 2018

The tradition of the wallpaper pattern repeat is used by Lauren Child in ‘Who Wants to be a Poodle, I don’t,’ a book with an interior full of wallpaper-like patterned collages.


Endpapers from 'Who Wants to be a Poodle, I Don't' by Lauren Child 2009

I love the subtle and poetic ways of visual storytelling in the endpapers of 'The Tea Party in the Woods' and 'Lawrence in the Fall'.

These drawn objects taken from the narrative make curious collections, adding surprise and curiosity before reading the book and leaving a space for you to consider them after reading. 


Endpapers from 'The Tea Party in the Woods' by Akiko Miyakoshi 2010

Endpapers from 'Lawrence in the Fall' by Matthew Farina and illustrated by Doug Salati 2019

Endpapers are also traditionally the home of illustrated maps like these beautifully clever pages from Peter Sis in his picture book ‘Tibet, Through the Red Box’ and M. Sasek’s comical ‘This is the Way to the Moon’ children’s classic from 1963. 


Beautifully clever endpapers from 'Tibet Through the Red Box' by Peter Sis 1998

Endpapers from 'This is the Way to the Moon' by M Sasek 1963

Endsheets can be gloriously bold and abstract as in Eric Carle’s ‘From Head to Toe’ or wonderfully graphic in ‘Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey’.


Eric Carle's endpapers for 'From Head To Toe' 1997

Endpapers from 'Professor Astro Cat's Human Body Odyssey'  2018

And endpapers can also act as a space for holding information like the amusing and decorative ‘List of Reasons to Read this Book’ from ‘The Liszts’ or somewhere to assert your ownership in ‘Going to The Getty’ by Otto Siebold and Vivian Walsh.


From 'The Liszts' by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julia Sarda  2016

'Going to the Getty' illustrated by J.Otto Semibold and written by Vivian Walsh 1997

Akin to a clever title sequence from a loved movie or the surprise boldness of an inside lining of a good suit, endpapers in picture books can deliver clever, subtle, elegant and evocative messages and hold a special place for us enthusiasts. I asked two picture book designers and endpaper admirers, Ness Wood and Becky Chilcott, to share their thoughts on what makes a great end sheet and pick out a few of their all time favourites.


Ness Wood has chosen to share an example of endpapers being used as narrative, pure pattern and abstract.


'Sparkle and Spin' by Ann and Paul Rand

Sparkle and Spin by Ann and Paul Rand

I love the graphic quality of these gorgeous endpapers. Originally published in 1957, this timeless classic is such a fun carnival of colour.

The uneven quality of the stripes works so very well indeed.


Front endpapers from 'I'm Actually Really Grown Up Now' by Maisie Paradise Shearing

Back endpapers from 'I'm Actually Really Grown Up Now' by Maisie Paradise Shearing

I’m Actually Really Grown Up Now by Maisie Paradise Shearring

A great contemporary example of narrative endpapers - setting the scene at the beginning and having the family unit asleep on the ends.

Gorgeous use of colour and composition.


'Another' by Christian Robinson

Another by Christian Robinson

This wordless book is fun, fun, fun! A riot of ripped paper and texture, Robinson is the fabulous creator of these amazingly simple but gorgeous images.

The endpapers show the night sky in all its glory - which is what the little girl can see through her telescope at night. I have also included what is under the jacket- the amazingly brilliant red glory of kids playing - he makes it look so simple!


And here are Becky Chilcott’s choices.


I love the endpapers in a book – from a reader and designer’s point of view. It’s a chance to add something extra to the book that can be narrative, decorative or ideally both and I feel can be somewhere the illustrator can play more freely in terms of style and content. Of course on each book it really varies as to who creates and comes up with the ideas for them – it can either be the designer or illustrator and is more often than not a collaborative effort. 


I love the possibilities of coming up with ideas for endpapers along with choosing things like head and tail bands and cloth colours for the book’s binding – it’s like putting the final touches on a cake and adding the cherry on top. I think it’s just as important to pay attention to these details as it is the whole package that the reader experiences – not just the cover and story inside. By paying as much attention to these details, you can make their experience richer. 


As a reader, I love picking up a book for the first time, opening it up – and the endpapers are often the first thing you see. If they’re illustrated rather than a plain coloured paper, it feels more inviting and is a visual signpost to the contents within, leading you to a new world waiting to be explored . . .

Endpapers from John Burningham's 'Borka'

Borka by John Burningham

I adore this book – John’s illustrative style is so free and playful, I feel like the characters are about to flap off the page! The endpapers set up the story so simply and clearly here by indicating that Borka is different from the rest of her siblings and it makes you curious as to what happens to her in the rest of the book. The limited colour palette is gorgeous too – I wish I could hang this on my wall. 


Front endpapers from 'Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

Back endpapers from 'Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

These endpapers are stunning. I love that they reference the traditional nature of endpapers with a decorative pattern – but comprising of things that people are afraid of – combined with narrative elements from the story – showing Mouse, looking scared, leading us into the book holding a pencil, along with the torn paper instructions for the book and die-cut hole from the cover. I really like that the endpapers at the back reference the ones at the beginning with the same pattern but showing Mouse looking relaxed and happy in the nest of all the bits of paper that have been nibbled from the book. It finishes off the story perfectly.


Endpapers from Little Golden Books

Little Golden Books

The endpapers from the Little Golden Books series were designed to featured in each book in the series and showcase characters that can be found within the different books. I love the typography, pattern, colours and whimsy of them – they fill me with nostalgia and I like that they aren’t too perfect with the series logotype falling over some of the illustrations or getting too close to them, which is something I would probably never consider doing today! 




Ness Wood is a respected freelance book designer and co-founder of Orange Beak Studio, who offer one-to-one tutorials, mentoring, portfolio surgeries, workshops plus editorial advice for illustrators. or follow them on instagram.


Becky Chilcott is a freelance graphic designer and the curator of the events programme at the St Bride Library in London.


Garry Parsons is an illustrator of many picture books and an enthusiast of endpapers. You can see more of his work at

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Trying to get serious without getting preachy. A picture book on consent by Juliet Clare Bell



ASK FIRST, MONKEY! (Juliet Clare Bell and Abigail Tompkins, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020)

In June 2016, I wrote a blogpost for Picture Book Den about empathy in picture books. I felt compelled to write it in the wake of the Stanford Sexual Assault trial that had just been widely reported on, and what it had brought up for me in relation to my own experience many years before that. Garry Parsons from the 'Den has also written about empathy in an important recent post here, too and in it we can see his latest, glamorous new book 

                                   Llama Glamarama

Llama Glamorama (Simon James Green and Garry Parsons, Scholastic, 2020)


Back in the 2016 post I looked at about thirty picture books which were great for encouraging empathy in young children, but what I didn’t find was a single fictional picture book (looking like a typical picture book) that specifically looked at consent. There were lots of recommendations from other people in the comments about excellent picture books encouraging empathy but the only ones about consent were very educational and formal-looking. The final comment was from my agent: ‘Let’s discuss’. And we did (I was already plotting and scribbling).

Cut to four years later, and ASK FIRST, MONKEY! illustrated by Abigail Tompkins and published by Jessica Kingsley is here. It’s a book I was extremely keen to write (because I couldn’t find what I was looking for) but also extremely nervous. I’d love to hear from other writers and illustrators who are trying to create, or have created, picture books on tricky issues with the issues you faced, but in case it’s of help to anyone, here are the some of the issues I tried to grapple with…



Clare Helen Welsh posted here just last week about using animals as characters in picture books. It reminded me that this is my only published book to date that uses animals –and it’s for a very specific reason. Clare’s last point about using animals is that reason: safe spaces. Using animals as characters creates a little bit of distance for the child reader so that we can tackle tricky subjects in a gentler way.

                  (c) Juliet Clare Bell and Abigail Tompkins (Jessica Kingsley Publishing, 2020)

and whilst some like Monkey's tickles...

others don't:

(c) Juliet Clare Bell and Abigail Tompkins (Jessica Kingsley Publishing, 2020)

There are wonderful examples of using animals as characters, including one of my favourites

Debi Gliori’s beautiful No Matter What about love and death.


                                                                    (c) Debi Gliori

This doesn’t mean that we should always shy away from tackling big issues with human characters. In fact, I very deliberately used human characters in a book about death and dying (Benny's Hat, illustrated by Dave Gray)

                                           (c) Juliet Clare Bell and Dave Gray


but for the subject of consent, I knew I wanted to use animals and I was really inspired by Ed Vere and his books, like Grumpy Frog:


                                                                         (c) Ed Vere

and others in that style, like Morag Hood's I Am Bat:



(c) Morag Hood

and Steve Antony's Please Mr Panda:

(c) Steve Antony


Who is your book aimed at? If you’re genuinely trying to get a message across to a specific audience, it’s really important to honour that audience and create something that will appeal to them (and not just the people who will be reading the book to them). If there’s a really important point you want to get across, and you can do it with humour and compassion, a child may be more likely to take on board that message. If you're writing with a specific audience in mind, it doesn't mean that the book is not for other readers, too, but it really helps you focus on the best style for the story.

In ASK FIRST, MONKEY! I was aiming the story at children who have not yet grasped, or not quite grasped, the concept of boundaries and consent (Monkey in this story). I wanted for these young people to find Monkey funny and relatable –and not to be judging him. Consent needs to be taught and Monkey hadn't been taught. He's still going to have fun after he starts practising consent -and so will the reader. And the fun will not be at anyone else's expense. I really hope that by using humour, young children will learn alongside Monkey and recognise themselves when he gets it wrong and not feel shamed by their own actions but see a new way of behaving.


I love picture books that manage to do things apparently simply. So often, they’re by author-illustrators

like David McKee's classic, Not Now, Bernard


(c) David McKee


and of course Ed Vere, Morag Hood, Steve Antony, above, and Mo Willems, etc.

I was really keen from the start for the book to be speech only. This makes it easy to act out (at school or at home), you get even more of a sense of character, perhaps, and it’s simple, with fewer words. Dan Santat pulls it off brilliantly with his The Cookie Fiasco:

                                                                       (c) Dan Santat

(you can watch it being acted out with all the voices, here)

But there’s a certain amount of pride involved in letting go of what you think would be funny and clever, versus what you think is right for the story. My original name for the book was

Tickletastic Funky McMonkey Does Not Want An Ice Cream!

I loved Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus



(c) Mo Willems

It was a really fun and funny title and I wanted my book to be fun and funny, and what better way than a funny, long title?

Well, clearly there was a better way. The ice cream element of the story was dropped very quickly after my agent, James Catchpole, thought it wasn’t relevant enough (I was disappointed for a few days but he had a good point). Funky was dropped when the publisher pointed out that Funky means smelly in American! McMonkey, well that was too similar to a fast food chain, it turned out… and so on. I even called one draft Tickles, Pies and Spinny Surprise (though the story changed again after that)... It took a long time to get to it simply being called Ask First, Monkey! It was simple and to the point but I fought against it (mostly with myself)–because of pride. Wasn’t that too obvious? Too in your face? Too preachy? Not funny? Fortunately other people who know the business better than I do were there to do their job. This book came from a very strong desire to help young children who don’t yet get boundaries and consent, get it, and to grow into adults who get it. And that can mean taking a strong dose of getting over yourself to get it into the hands of those you really want it to get into the hands of.  

Launching a book during summer 2020 is a strange (and often deflating) thing as many writers and illustrators know. I was looking forward to going into schools and doing lots of sessions with animal puppets (and singing?!) to look at consent and boundaries in a fun, and safe, way. There will be a song eventually but it’s been put back by a few months because it’s hard to travel and work with the singer-songwriter at the moment, which was disappointing, but it’s still going to happen. And I still hope to do some events with Abigail Tompkins, the illustrator who captured the expressions that were so critical to a speech only book so well. Consent is a subject very close to my heart and we’ll get there with all the accompanying visits/songs/events eventually.

But it’s not all bad –my daughter and her friend have been able to make a stop motion animation of the story, using toys we found on holiday in Orkney. Here’s the fruit of their labours:




 If you're having trouble accessing the video, please clink on this link:

ASK FIRST, MONKEY! stop motion animation

The book was written before the Me Too movement, but picked up by a publisher after. With the massive and very welcome emphasis on consent in the past few years, this means that there are now a few other picture books on consent either just coming out or soon to be out, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. 

Which picture books do you think work really well for dealing directly with a tricky topic? Please let us know in the comments section. Many thanks, Clare.

Juliet Clare Bell is a children’s author of more than thirty books already out or in press. In a former life (before children) she was a research developmental psychologist.



Monday 10 August 2020

Using Animal Characters in Picture Books by Clare Helen Welsh

Animal characters are hugely popular in picture books and there are many reasons why creators star them in their stories. But what are the pros and cons of using animal characters vs human characters and what do we need to know?

After being invited to talk about animals in picture books at a really fun #ukpbchat event, I put all my thoughts down in a post for Picture Book Den. And because I have a talent for making things more complicated than they need to be, I’ve arranged them in a suitable acrostic poem!


Animals often come with pre-packaged personalities. For example, foxes are thought to be sly, bears live in caves, mice are small and eat cheese. When creating a picture book character these are useful because they can help a character feel familiar to a child. The advantage of this is that young children can open a book and quickly get a sense of the story. Picture book characters need to be relatable, so using archetypes can help.

However, the market is flooded with books that include foxes, bears, dogs, cats, rabbits, mice and wolves. I find there’s something exciting about subverting archetypes and turning these stereotypes on their head to create something new and more original.


(Note: It might be worth bearing in mind that there could be a very good reason why some animals do not feature highly as picture book characters! For example, pigs and hedgehogs might not have the global appeal publishers are looking for.)


Animals are cute, engaging, fascinating and lots of fun to read about! For these reasons, animal characters are a great place to start if you’re looking to write non-fiction picture books. This was how my foray into non-fiction began and I have now sold five non-fiction narrative texts about animals. They can be funny, poetic or anything in between. Here’s one of mine that came out most recently. It’s the first in a series with MacMillan, illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne.


Anthropomorphism is defined as the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to an animal or object and it’s a little bit marmite with publishers as far as I can gather. I’ve written picture books where the animals speak and wear clothes, and some where they do not. I have some where humans and animals talk to each other, and some where no one talks. There really is a huge range. It would be worth researching the kinds of books a publisher has on their list to see where they sit on the anthropomorphic scale. And do bear (Ha!) in mind that it can vary depending on what type of picture book you’re looking at.

For one of my non-fiction stories publishing in 2021, I was asked to tweak lines that anthropomorphised the animal protagonist, too much. On the other hand, Lenny is publishing with a different publisher and is a walking, talking ring-tailed lemur on holiday in South America! However, I do know that Nicola was asked to make the style realistic and she worked tirelessly on the setting to ensure authenticity, the reason being that biologically accurate books help children to learn and retain knowledge about the animals involved.


We’ve established that animal characters are instantly relatable and come with their own set of character traits that authors can use and subvert. ‘This Book has Alpacas and Bears’ by Emma Perry and Rikin Parekh is a great example of subverting the trope that bears make great book characters. Rikin’s illustrations are a suitable witty match for Emma’s text.  Jim Field and Kes Gray’s ‘Oi’ series and Mo Willem's Pigeon books are also packed with giggles!


Animals are easy to empathise with – everyone can see themselves in an animal character. The potential for animal characters is that all children can see themselves in books. That’s not to say they should be replacing diverse human characters. NOT AT ALL. We desperately need to see more diverse human characters in children’s stories and the industry appears to be slowly moving towards representing and celebrating different backgrounds. There's much more work to be done, but certainly one of the positives of animal characters is that they are inclusive.


Historically, animals are often referred to as masculine. It’s always worth looking at your characters to see which sexes they identify with. How many of your stories have female protagonists? Male? Are animal main characters more or less likely to be male? I made a little table of my published texts. The results were surprising!

Animal protagonist
Human protagonist
Female protagonist

Male protagonist


Androgynous (at point of submission)

These are published (or soon to be) titles. I’d hope that in my desktop files there are more books with female, animal protagonists. Michelle Robinson and Deborah Allright have created a great example of how to switch up stereotypes in She Rex! Also look out for Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Diane Ewen's, 'Never Show a T-Rex A Book,' which features a female dinosaur character.

Safe spaces:
A big positive of using animal main characters, is that creatives can use the distance between the child reader and protagonist to explore darker and more scary themes. In Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egneus’ new book for example, children learn what happens to our bodies when we die, prompting all kinds of conversations about life issues. Here’s the blurb:

‘In the frost-covered forest of early spring, fox is on a mission to find food for her three cubs. As they grow, she teaches them how to survive in the wild. Until one day, fox dies. Her body goes back to earth and grass and air, nourishing the world around her and bringing the forest to life. Death is not just an end, it's also a beginning.

This feels less hard-hitting than it would were the main character a human, of course. Animal protagonists are a way of creating distance, allowing creatives the freedom to tackle themes and issues that may be too confronting with human characters. This is the case for Donna David and Laura Watkin's picture, 'Oh no, Bobo!' which has a gentle message about consent. 

In summary, children’s books of all kinds have long contained animal characters and I can’t see that trend disappearing any time soon. Animals spark wonder in children and provide potential for beautiful, funny and engaging illustrations. But it is worth thinking carefully about the animal you choose, making sure they star in your story for all the right reasons. 

BIO: Clare is the author of over 30 books for children, that star both animal and human main characters. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. She currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan so watch this space. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh .