Monday 28 September 2020

Showing Off Our New Picture Books!

     Usually on Picture Book Den we don't directly promote our own books. We write blogs about some aspect of picture book writing, publishing or use. But 2020 is an extraordinary year. Publishing has been effected by the Covid 19 pandemic. Most books due to be published from March to August were delayed because shops were closed and warehouses struggling. Book distributor Bertrams went into administration, and a sad number of bookshops have ceased trading.

    But September brought hope. We are seeing a glorious, almost overwhelming, number of new books published all at once. There are over a thousand new titles in the UK this month! Many of those books will get lost in the crowd. So here we are going to wave around and celebrate our own new picture books!


'All Sorts', illustrated by Emily Rand and published by Flying Eye Books, is about how Frankie tries to sort out her world.

Frankie sorts her toys, the foods and clothes, flowers, trees, vehicles, animals, and then tries to sort people. Hardest of all is sorting herself ...

And a happy muddle of life provides the happy ending. After the recent blog on endpapers, I can't resist adding the front and back endpapers for this book, demonstrating some of Frankie's sorting!  ...

'You Choose Fairy Tales', illustrated by Nick Sharratt and published by Puffin, is the latest in the You Choose series of books which offer lots of choices to consider and talk about. This time the book has a shimmery golden cover, in keeping with its fairy tale theme!

Choose what appeals to you on each spread, and you can create a new fairy tale of your own. 

And, again, the endpapers aren't wasted!


'Poo! Is that you?' illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne and published by Macmillan Children's Book, is a non-fiction picture book about Lenny the ring-tailed lemur whose sunny, summer snooze is interrupted by something stinky.

Learn about sloths, stink birds and much more in this book, which cleverly interweaves facts throughout. It also contains an information page at the back of the book, with a photo of each animal.


'Wanda's Words Got Stuck'- illustrated by Paula Bowles and published by Nosy Crow.

Wanda the witch is so shy she can't talk at school. No matter how hard she tries, the words simply won't come out. But when another quiet little witch named Flo joins her class, it seems that Wanda's not the only one who gets nervous sometimes. Then disaster strikes at the school-wide magic contest. Will Wanda have the courage to shout out the magic words and save her new friend?

'Rapunzel to the Rescue'- illustrated by Katy Halford and published by Scholastic. 

What if Rapunzel saved the prince? In this terrific twist on a much-loved fairytale, a prince with magical hair is saved by a fiercely independent Rapunzel.

 'The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice'-  by AF Harrold and published by Bloomsbury.

 160 pages of poems and advice from AF Harrold and illustrated by me...featuring a lot of food, swearing parrots, bears in your cornflakes and the right number of tigers to have at your picnic. (None.)

How to avoid escaped giants....

an outbreak of tigers at a picnic...

and the perils of shiplofting. Hopefully there's something for everyone here. There's also an absolutely enormous index compiled by AF.

Garry Parsons

The Dinosaur That Pooped A Pirate 

By Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter, illustrated by Garry Parsons. Puffin.

More nonsense shenanigans from Danny and his friendly 'eat everything' dinosaur as they set sail in search of treasure, but will being swallowed by the jaws of the monstrous whale and the perils of skull island be too much for them?

Monday 14 September 2020

CHATTER MATTERS: Picture books featuring characters with SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Needs) by Lucy Rowland

During the school holidays, I noticed a few people tweeting to ask for recommendations of picture books that feature characters with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN).  Unfortunately, they weren’t always able to find exactly what they were looking for.

Children with SLCN are, I believe, quite under-represented within picture books and yet it is estimated that the prevalence of DLD (Developmental Language Disorder- where children have severe and persisting difficulties with their understanding and use of spoken language) is approximately 7.5% (Norbury et al. 2016).  Therefore, in each UK classroom, it is likely that there are, on average, two children who have DLD.   Usually there are also other children within the class who have communication needs as a result of different diagnoses e.g. ASD, Learning Difficulties, Down's Syndrome. 

Last week, ‘Wanda’s Words Got Stuck’ (written by me and illustrated Paula Bowles) was published by Nosy Crow.

As a Speech and Language Therapist, this book is very close to my heart.  It is dedicated to the brilliant NHS Speech and Language Therapy Team in Lewisham, where I used to work.  

'Wanda’s Words Got Stuck' isn’t about any one particular communication diagnosis.  Our little Wanda could have Selective Mutism? Or perhaps she has DLD and, therefore, has a reduced vocabulary, finds it hard to understand verbal information and struggles to express herself in sentences? She might have a Stammer- her words get stuck and don’t come out easily? Or perhaps she is just very anxious and feels shy about talking in class? 

Either way, I wanted to write about a character who finds talking tricky, who finds words sticky. And I wanted to write about how talking is not the only way to communicate and make friends. 

‘Some words are meant well but come out all wrong.

Some are important (and ever so long.)

Some words can be brave (even if they’re just small)

And sometimes you find you don’t need words at all’. 

I also knew that I wanted to write a blog post focusing on characters with SLCN in picture books but, I have to admit, that I couldn’t initially find very many! So I do have to say a big THANK YOU here to the twitter world and to everyone who responded to my call for help with their brilliant suggestions.  I haven't been able to include every single book here but thank you so much.  I really enjoyed researching them.

Talking is not my thing! by Rose Robbins

'The autistic sister in this sibling pair is non verbal, but she finds plenty of ways to communicate and have fun with her brother. Although she can't talk, this little girl understands everything, and has plenty to say, and lots of ideas. Through body language, drawing pictures, making gestures or using flash cards, she is able to contribute to their life together. Her brother and granny are able to understand her whether she needs help or is helping them!'

This is a lovely book highlighting alternative methods of communication. 

What the Jackdaw Saw- written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Nick Sharratt

'The jackdaw wants all his friends to come to his party, but when he calls out his invitation the animals just touch their heads. Why won't they answer? And what do their actions mean? Luckily a brown owl can help him with the puzzle!

This book about friendship and sign language was created by Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, with a group of deaf children in a workshop organized by the not-for-profit organisation Life & Deaf which helps deaf children to explore their identities through poetry, film, performance and art.'

The first time I read this book I knew I had to buy it.  I gave it to the Hearing Impairment Specialist in our Speech and Language Therapy Team. It's really great to see sign language being celebrated within a picture book.

Penguin- by Polly Dunbar

'This is the story of Ben, who couldn’t be more delighted to find a penguin friend inside his present. “Hello, Penguin!” he says. Penguin says nothing. Ben tickles Penguin, pulls his funniest face, puts on a happy hat, sings a silly song and does a dizzy dance ... but still Penguin says nothing. It isn’t until a passing lion intervenes that Penguin finally speaks – and, when he does, Ben discovers that some things are worth the wait. '

I love this picture book! It's a real classic and reminds me of some of the children I have worked with who can be so quiet and shy until you find the key (communication method, motivator, relationship or subject matter) that unlocks their voice!

I Talk like a River- written by Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith

'When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he'd like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father's ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.'

This book isn't out until September but it looks absolutely beautiful and I have heard very good things about it! I thought the illustrations by Sydney Smith in 'Town is by the Sea' were stunning and these look totally wonderful too.  It is so important that children who stutter are able to see themselves and their experiences represented within the books they read.

Another recommended picture book, featuring a character with a stutter, was 'A Boy and A Jaguar' written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Catia Chien.

Boy- written by Phil Cummings and illustrated by Shane Devries

'The king’s battles with the dragon were always mighty and loud. Boy lived in silence and couldn’t hear the fighting. But Boy could see the fear around him… and how everyone would be much happier without it.'

A picture book featuring a boy who is deaf.  Unfortunately, I was not able to source this book from my book seller in the UK, but a few different people recommended this one and highlighted it as good for exploring communication breakdown.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

'El Deafo is a funny, deeply honest graphic novel memoir for middle graders. It chronicles the author's hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with a powerful and very awkward hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. It gives her the ability to hear--sometimes things she shouldn't--but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her, Phonic Ear and all. Finally, she is able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become "El Deafo, Listener for All." And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she's longed for.' 

The Bear who Stared- by Duncan Beedie

'There once was a bear who liked to stare... and stare... and STARE.

Bear doesn't mean to be rude, he's just curious but too shy to say anything. But nobody likes being stared at and it soon gets Bear into trouble. Luckily a goggly-eyed frog helps Bear realise that sometimes a smile is all you need to turn a stare into a friendly hello.'

Perfect for children who have difficulties knowing how to initiate conversation and play.  Sometimes the children I worked with just needed a bit of support to know how to join in and make friends. 

Duncan Beedie's new book 'Oof makes an Ouch', which I bought for the purpose of writing this blog post, is also about communication and has a lovely section about some of the behaviours that we sometimes see when children don't yet have the right words to communicate their emotions. 

I go quiet by David Ouimet

'I Go Quiet is the exquisite story of an introverted girl, struggling to find her place in a noisy world. Through the power of books, creativity and imagination, she begins to see possibilities for herself beyond the present, to a future where her voice will finally be heard.'

A book for older readers, the words read 'When I speak, I'm not understood. So I go quiet.'  This reminds me so much of some of the children I worked with in a specialist Language Resource Base in London. It is vital that there are books like this highlighting the difficulties that some of these children face. 

For this blog post, I also explored picture books which use alien characters as a way of dealing with those feelings that children with SLCN often experience- of not understanding, of not being understood and of not belonging.  These books are also good for exploring other methods of communication.  For example, use of non-verbal communication such as gesture, body language and facial expression.  Some of the books that fall into this category are:  

Krong by Garry Parsons 

The Cow Who Fell to Earth by Nadia Shireen (which I also treated myself to as part of the research for this blog post and it's great!) 

Beegu by Alexis Deacon

Of course, picture books don't have to use alien characters to explore these themes.  Chatterbox Bear by Pippa Curnick is the tale of Gary the Bear who is a real chatterbox until he finds himself on an island full of birds, who don't speak 'Bear', and must learn to communicate in other ways. 

All the Ways to be Smart written by Davina Bell and illustrated by Allison Colpoys

'Celebrates the myriad ways for kids to be smart--being empathetic, artistic, athletic, and inquisitive.

A tender, funny, and exquisitely illustrated picture book celebrating all the unique and wonderful qualities that make children who they are.'

Whilst this book does not explicitly feature children with SLCN, I wanted to include it because it has SUCH a wonderful message.  The children I worked with often focused on what they struggled with, what they couldn't do.  Some of the most important work that their therapists and specialist teachers did was to support them to focus on and celebrate their individual strengths.  This book reads....

Smart is not just ticks and crosses,
smart is building boats from boxes.
Painting patterns, wheeling wagons,
being mermaids, riding dragons...

I really hope that the books discussed in this post can be shared and enjoyed with children who, for whatever reason, are struggling to find their voice. 

Please do comment below with any suggestions of books I have missed. I would love to find more picture books featuring characters with SLCN.  Thank you.

Wanda's Words Got Stuck

written by Lucy Rowland

illustrated by Paula Bowles

published by Nosy Crow.

Monday 7 September 2020

The life of a picture book by Jane Clarke

I recently received an email from my agent, saying several of my picture books are now out of print. This isn’t unusual - most picture books don't become classics - they will often have a small print run and a short life time in the shops and libraries.

But what is comforting is that a picture book’s life doesn’t end when it is no longer in print. Hopefully a family somewhere will treasure a copy and it will last a lifetime - or more.

W-aaa-y back in 1986, when my sons were celebrating their 1st and 3rd birthdays (in the same week), their Grandma and Grandpa brought them the gift of a bright, shiny new copy of (the now out of print)  Henry’s Busy Day written and illustrated by Rod Campbell. (Viking Kestrell 1984).

In my mind’s eye I can still see my mother sitting on the sofa between them, sharing it with them. It has very simple text and illustrations, but it’s full of warmth and affection. We read it to them time and time again.

 My sons first recognised words in it, so it helped them begin to understand and join in with the process of reading. It was so loved, it was impossible to part with it when the boys grew older.  It sat on a shelf for years, untouched, weathering the deaths of their grandparents and their father.

And then along came my sons’ children…

and now I get to read the same book to my 4 granddaughters, and they love it too.

I see from the back that the book cost £4.50, which was quite a lot in 1984 (in relative terms more than picture books cost today), but the memories it brings with it are priceless.

2 small birthday boys with their grandparents 1986

2  big boys with their partners, children (and me) pre-pandemic Xmas

Amazingly the ‘soft, furry coat’  advertised on the cover has survived all the love, though it does need freshening up occasionally with a bit of hand sanitiser. Well, don’t we all these days?

Jane hopes that someone, somewhere is treasuring a tatty old copy of one of her picture books.