Monday 20 December 2021

Family Time! by the Denners

This time of year, everyone is thinking of family. With this in mind, the Picture Book Denners have each chosen a favourite picture book featuring a family - and we all send our warmest wishes to you and yours. Please feel free to add you favourites in the comments.

Five Minutes' Peace by Jill Murphy (chosen by Jane Clarke)

When my sons were small, I often read them Jill Murphy's picture books about the Large family. This one is my own personal favourite. At that time, I strongly identified with Mrs Large's attempts to find five minutes peace - ending in hilarity as her youngsters gate-crash her attempt to have a peaceful soak in the bath. My sons didn't understand it at all - why should Mum need five minutes on her own? Now they have young children of their own, they finally get it!

 After 2 years apart and far too much peaceful time on her own, Jane finally made it to the USA, and is very grateful to be able to spend time with her youngest son and his family there - but even a grandma still needs the occasional 5 minutes' peace.

Welcome To Our World, written by Moira Butterfield, illustrated by Harriet Lynas, chosen by Pippa Goodhart

This is a glorious celebration of everyone in the world being part of the great world family of 7 billion people. With 64 pages of fun, looking at different manners and languages, food, schools, birthday traditions, games, toys, music, presents and more, we see quite how much variety there is amongst us, and yet what a lot we have in common. What happens in other countries when children lose a tooth? In Sri Lanka you throw your tooth onto the roof and ask a squirrel to bring you a new one. How can you be polite in different cultures? In Japan you slurp your noodles to show appreciation of the food! Maps to study, games to try, words to master, this book gives a taste of quite how interesting our big world family is. This is a family that we're all part of.

Wishing my family (that's you all!) a very happy Christmas indeed. 

Mr Bear Babysits by Debi Gliori (chosen by Natascha Biebow)

Debi Gliori is a master at capturing in words and pictures the nuances of family dynamics, especially in her Mr Bear series, now sadly out of print. I so admire how she manages to imbue her characters with a warmth and depth that is true to human nature – every one of us trying our best, but fallible at the same time. I chose Mr Bear Babysits because I love the children’s humorous antics as they try it on with poor inexperienced Mr Bear when he steps in last-minute to babysit for the Grizzle Bears while Mrs Bear stays home to try to settle their own grizzly baby. I can just imagine what this family would be like at Christmas time! I especially love the ending where Mr Bear offers Mrs Bear a cup of blueberry tea and a break from the crying baby with such love and kindness. And the final image of both Mr Bear and tiny baby tired out, asleep, is so heartwarming.

From Mr Bear Babysits by Debi Gliori

This is what family is to me – being there for each other through the ups and downs, and loving each other warts and all. Being far from family more often that not is a tough gig, especially during the holidays. Wishing you all a joyous season and thank you for supporting our blog!

My Daddies by Gareth Peter and Garry Parsons (chosen by Clare Helen Welsh)

This bouncy, read aloud rhyming text encapsulates what family is to me. Adventure, creativity, imagination - including dragons, dinosaurs, space - then settling at home at the end of a long day for a cosy bedtime. 

It's a heartwarming book inspired by Gareth's and Garry's experiences of both separately being in a same sex couple and adopted two young boys. In an effort to represent diverse families and their situation, they created this book and filled it with love for all children to enjoy. You can certainly tell that it comes from a personal and authentic place. 

My Daddies, which has been illustrated by our very own picture book denner - Garry Parsons- is the first book published in the UK to be written and illustrated by same-sex couples. You can read more about their wonderful book and how it came to be, here.  My Daddies! An interview with Gareth Peter and Garry Parsons | Young Writers

The Happy Hocky Family and The Happy Hocky Family moves to the Country! by Lane Smith (chosen by Garry Parsons)


Meet the six members of the Hockey family - Mr, Hocky, Mrs Hocky, Henry, Holly and Baby Hocky, Newton the dog and occasionally Cousin Stinky.  


Follow the haphazard Hocky household as they stumble through the chores of daily life.  Written in a dead-pan fashion similar to the Dick and Jane books and illustrated in a paired back graphic style, this is a funny, silly picture book with short sharp jokes on each page and lots of laughs. You both love and pity the family at the same time as they make a mess of the laundry and lose their teeth on toffee apples. 


The Happy Hocky Family was first published in 1993 and its sequel, The Happy Hocky Family moves to the Country! came 10 years later in 2003, but was well worth the wait as it is equally as funny, if not funnier. Fed up with the city, the family move to the country for a more peaceful existence but have to learn the hard way that the countryside is very different form the city.

Read these books aloud with all the family!

 Croc and Bird by Alexis Deacon (chosen by Mini Grey)

Croc and bird hatch side by side, and, without parents and not knowing any better, they bring each other up and discover how to be in the world together and grow big together. 


Here they are practising flying and lying like logs, basking on warm rocks, and fluffing up to keep warm.

 But when they encounter a lake full of crocodiles and a forest full of birds, they realise they are not related after all.

Crocodile swims off to be with the crocodiles, and Bird flies off to be with the birds,

But their Croc & Bird ways of being don't fit with their new families. Crocodiles aren't supposed to sing or build nests, and birds aren't supposed to hunt buffalos or fly at night.

When neither of them can sleep, Bird finds Crocodile perched in a tree, and they realise they are each other's family, even if they happen to be different species.

I think this book is about how sometimes you can forge your own unconventional family, that family can be a feeling of belonging together.

No Matter What by Debi Gliori (chosen by Juliet Clare Bell)

                                                                     (c) Debi Gliori

I've chosen Debi Gliori's beautiful No Matter What, which encapsulates parental unconditional love.

                                                                        (c) Debi Gliori

Love bursts out of every page where Small is in a bad mood and thinks that no one loves him. Large reassures Small throughout -however outrageous a 'what if...?' suggestion Small makes (what if he turned into a bug, or a crocodile, for example?

This book was a favourite with my children and lots of their cousins when they were little. In fact, when my mum died, we put the book in the grave with her (and bought more copies) as she'd loved reading it with so many of her fifteen grandchildren. And Debi actually wrote me something utterly beautiful about unconditional love between mothers and children that we nearly, but couldn't quite, read out at the funeral as it was so poignant. You can tell that this book has been written and illustrated from the heart.

                                                                          (c) Debi Gliori

It's such a beautiful book to read, and Large is a parent so could be a mother or a father. I know fathers who absolutely assume Large is a father, and I've always assumed Large is a mother. I think this makes it even more relatable to whoever is reading it (similarly with Small).

 I'd recommend it for everyone, any time of year.

Have a wonderful, peaceful holiday x

PS You need to read the UK picture book edition (not the board book, and not the US edition -which removes all references to death although the fact that Large says that love, like starlight, never dies, is key to it all)

Monday 6 December 2021

REJECTION! How to Find the Upside and Create Even Better Work by Natascha Biebow


You’ve all heard them – the stories of how famous authors got hundreds of rejections before they got their book deal (and maybe even got rich).


And you’ve probably heard all the usual advice about how to deal with rejection:

- listen to feedback – join a critique group, cogitate those nuggets that a ‘nice’ rejection letter wings back to you and be prepared to revise.

- take a break and do something different; put your manuscript away for a while so that you can look at it again with fresh eyes.

- practise your craft – bum on seat, keep learning from other writers and take a course or do some mentoring if you can.

- listen to your gut – you know your story and sometimes you have to go right back to the beginning to find it.

- shelve your book; work on another project; always keep trying something new.


And . . . here’s the biggie:

Have courage and patience. Develop a thick skin!

Sounds easy on paper, right? But . . . 

. . .  rejections are hurtful. They sting. They seem like they are a failing on our part, as if they were a measure of our success and worth as authors. Rejections feel like something we should perhaps brush under the carpet. It’s much nicer to talk about good news . . . or the weather.

Even though they are so numerous and common – an everyday part of making it as a writer, really – we find it hard to TALK OPENLY about rejections.

But rejection is actually so commonplace that it should be a NORMAL part of being a writer, or indeed any creative. What if it were ‘normal’ to be rejected, something to be EXPECTED and that we shared more openly?

Rejection is, after all, really a bi-product of learning our craft – it means we’re taking risks and innovating!

If we never failed, we wouldn’t learn what we were good at. It would be difficult to keep improving and produce the best possible work. And, given that we’re creating for young readers, this is means we should be constantly stretching ourselves to make books that are worthy of our audience.

In her book THE REJECTION THAT CHANGED MY LIFE, Jessica Bacal shares some tips for reframing rejection that I’ve found helpful:

- Taking a leaf out of Professor Patricia Linville’s theory of ‘self-complexity’, which is the “phenomenon of having more than one ’self-aspect’, or definition of ourselves”, Bacal suggests considering rejection as just ONE part of your life, and instead focusing on other parts of your life about which you feel positive.

To do this, you can make a list of the things that you CAN do well. For fun, I had a go making a list of all the things I am good at that I wouldn’t put in my cover letter:

Bacal also suggests looking to psychologist Dr Kristin Neff’s theory of ‘self-compassion’ for inspiration. It has three parts:

1. First, acknowledge rejection – allow yourself to feel the pain of rejection and process all the emotions you need to feel.

2. Talk to yourself about the rejection as you would a friend and do something to make yourself feel better. Watch something funny, eat a cookie, binge watch your favourite TV show, share a laugh. Be compassionate towards yourself. Be KIND!
3. THEN normalize the rejection as part of a universal experience – we all experience rejections in life. Yes, make it normal. And, here’s the key:

If you can be part of a group connected in your suffering, this can really help! Having a writing community, such as SCBWI, can be key to helping you to deal with and move past rejection.

This rang true for me, certainly!

If rejection is the new normal for working writers, it will help us to build the emotional stamina to continue to create even better work. If we practise being rejected by failing often, it becomes easier to push ourselves to keep creating and becomes less crushing each time we get a ‘no’.  


In the words of novelist Barabara Kingsolver:


This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”


It’s important keep rejection in proportion.

Celebrating small wins and being kind is definitely helpful. But I’ve also begun to consider that maybe rejection can actually help me become more creative, because it means I’m constantly having to pivot, re-consider my work, and think outside the box.


Rejection is not some scary THING out there. It’s just an ordinary, normal part of being a writer. It just means NO, not this and not yet.


YOU have the power to make it into a YES by being prepared to work at your craft. No one said being a writer was easy. Still, I am visualizing that YES!


Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at

Monday 29 November 2021

Picture Book Horror! By Pippa Goodhart

I recently bought a very beautiful new picture book by Kate Read. It’s called One Fox, and it also has a strapline under that title; A Counting Book Thriller. That’s exactly what it is. 

We count up from the ‘One famished fox’ to ‘Two sly eyes’, ‘Three plump hens’, ‘Four padding paws’, and on as the tension mounts between predator and prey; simple, exciting, and thrilling. 


Then comes the moment of crisis. Really dark menace!


But of course all is not lost. 

A great colourful rush of ‘one hundred angry hens’ turn the tables on the now ‘one frightened fox’ who is seen running away. A wonderful book! 


Other picture books also deal with characters in mortal danger. There’s even a ‘best seller’ board book that does this for very young children. 

In Ellen Stoll Walsh’s Mouse Count a hungry snake goes looking for dinner, taking mouse after mouse, and popping them into a jar until, ‘Ten mice are enough. Now I am going to eat you up, little, warm, and tasty,’ said the snake. But of course the mice are clever, and trick their way to freedom. Phew!


            In both those stories, the intended victims get away, and the predator is left hungry. 

            But another way to play horror to be fun rather than harrowing is to put the child reader in control. In Ed Emberley’s Go Away, Big Green Monster!, the text, and the child turning the pages, create a monster, brilliantly using layering of die-cut pages.


It builds and builds until we have the whole scary monster facing us. But the child who created the monster can then reverse that process, telling the monster to ‘Go away’, and reducing its features one by one as we continue the page turning. By the end the monster is gone, and the text shouts, ‘GO AWAY, Big Green Monster!’ turn the page ‘and DON’T COME BACK! Until I say so.’ So it leaves with a new little thrill of possibility, but still under our command!

But what about Jon Klassen’s powerfully simple picture books, This Is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back, which give us the evidence and let us come to the conclusion that murder has actually been committed, albeit with strong reason? It is left to the child audience to join the dots and decide what has really happened, and then talk and think and talk some more about exactly what has occurred off-stage, and whether or not it was justified. When I first say I Want My Hat Back I thought it too worryingly scary to offer to a young child. But I was wrong. Most young children LOVE the thrill of it! 


            So, is there a line over which picture books should not step when serving up thriller stories? I think that all these examples show that the thrill is fun for children, just so long as we are in very clearly story territory, with characters who aren’t human. Such books are safe and fun places to play with the scary. Even for the very youngest children.  

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Down at the Picture Book Corner Shop with Mini Grey

I love all things shop: I’ve always wanted to have a dolls house shop. I also love all things packaging: packets, boxes, cans and paper bags. There’s joy in the selling of cakes and books (those are the only things I’ve ever sold). I love toy cash registers. And in your shop you can transform the value of a scrap of paper by it having a picture on it – that’s magic. 

 A shop window is like a theatre, lit up and glowing, beckoning on a dark winter afternoon. I remember as a child looking out for the magical lit up scenes of the Selfridges Christmas Windows, as we drove through London to my Grandparents in Kent. 

Over October this year I thought I’d do the Inktober Challenge (which is: draw a picture every day, preferably in ink, you can use the Inktober Prompt word list if you like.) 

I used the wordlist, and Quink ink (and bleach usually) and put my daily Quinktobers up on Twitter.

Some of the Quinktobers

Eventually a nice person said “Are you going to sell these, Mini?” And I thought it would be fun to do an almost-giveaway, so I put them up for grabs at a small price to cover the time. And it all worked fine and they were all sold and it was fun. But….the time spent doing admin, taking payments (often by Paypal), trimming, mounting, wrapping, addressing, making stickers, going to the post box… was unbelievable! 

My previous attempts to have a shop never really got properly started because book illustration deadlines always came up, and the shop-plans got pushed to the back of the queue. (But I think I was also a bit nervous of the commitment.) Maybe I could find better, easier to run and more time-efficient ways of having a shop.

So for this post, I thought I’d ask some (fantastic!) picture book makers who are successful virtual-shop-owners for their insights into running an online illustrator shop. 

I asked them how their shop got started, how they manage time spent running their shop, whether they’ve had any surprise best-sellers, and if they have any DOs or DON’Ts for those thinking about having a shop.


Dapo Adeola is the wonderful illustrator of Look Up (winner of the Waterstones picture book prize 2020) and Clean Up (with Nathan Bryon) and of the fabulous We're Going to Find a Monster (written by Malorie Blackman), and is Writer-Illustrator in residence at Booktrust

We were both on the panel at the SCWBII Picture Book Weekend in September, when Dapo described how his shop had been amazingly successful – which is what sparked this investigation, really.

From 'Look Up' by Dapo Adeola and Nathan Bryon

Dapo says “My shop got started back in 2013. It just made sense to have somewhere people can easily buy things from me and BigCartel was a simple choice because of how easy it is to use. Other platforms were a tad too complicated for what I needed at the time.”

Song of the Wild print from Dapo's shop

About managing time spent on the shop, Dapo comments: “Because the shop isn’t my main source of income, I only open it once every other month for a week or so. That’s enough time for folks to place their orders and once it’s closed I then have time to process and ship orders undisturbed. This has had the bonus effect of creating a buzz of exclusivity around my Merch as it’s not available all year round.

Dapo's BLM print

My best seller wasn’t a surprise as it somewhat capitalised on what was happening in the world at the time. I made a BLM print to raise money for various charities in 2020. I raised over £10K in less than a week. Aside from that, anything Look Up/Rocket related tends to sell very very well.” 

(Rocket is the space-obsessed lovable main character in Look Up.)

Clean Up Gift Bundle from Dapo's shop

Sarah McIntyre is the author/illustrator of many beautiful and hilarious picture books, and one half of the remarkable double act that is Reeves and McIntyre. The books of this extraordinary duo include Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space, and more recently The Legend of Kevin (the roly poly flying pony.) 

In lockdown, Kevin went on his own bookshop tour of the UK. Here are some of Sarah's Kevin Visit pictures, which are lovely bookshop portraits.

Kevin visits Max Minerva's Bookshop
Kevin visits the Alligator's Mouth Bookshop

Sarah’s shop also started in lockdown. She says: “I had an unexpected gap in my book schedule when a painting sabbatical to Nepal that I'd planned fell through. I started painting standalone pictures and selling them on Twitter. But when I started printing the paintings up as cards and prints, I could see I needed a more orderly way of taking people's payment details and keeping records. I went with Big Cartel because the system's very clean and straightforward; I started with a free account, then went to a paid account when I had more items to sell.” 

One of Sarah's Adventure Mice postcards
How does Sarah manage time spent running the shop?

She says:  “It's tricky, I had to close the shop when I got caught up in book deadlines. My husband Stuart was helping me run it on Fridays, the day we'd send out shipments, but I was hand-addressing envelopes and that took a lot of time. We recently opened for one pre-Christmas week and sold out of all the Christmas cards very quickly. The shop's closed for now, but we're hoping to reopen it in the spring and possibly expand it.”

Sarah's surprise best seller
Sarah’s surprise best seller was also a topical image-of-the-moment: “When there was that stuck container ship in the Suez, I painted a tiny version of it with mice, on a container ship full of cheese. I guess it was just very timely!”

Chris Mould is the awesome illustrator of The Iron Man and Animal Farm, and also Matt Haig's Christmas books, The Truth Pixie, and much more. On Twitter I've noticed Chris seems to have supernatural speed-painting powers, with the ability to produce landscapes out of nowhere.

Chris at work on an Iron Man mural up in a cherrypicker...

 I’d also noticed Chris’s shop popping up on Twitter. 

 How did it get started?

Chris: “Our youngest daughter actually set up the Etsy account. I’d wanted to try some sort of retailing option and wasn’t sure how to get started and so she did it one day in between doing other things. She’s very clever, I’m lucky. I believe it’s relatively easy, though. It’s definitely easy to manage once it’s up and running."

The Kiss - print from Chris's shop

"Adding new listings, dispatching sales etc. is all very easy and the accounting is simple and pain free. They pay once a week into your account and they take a minimal amount from you. My wife works for me now. It’s made life easier for both of us. She does admin, accounting, manages most of my schools events and spends a lot of her time focussing on the shop, so I’m lucky I don’t have to think about finding the time for it. Although I do produce a lot of work specifically for the shop, when I can."

Skeletal Decor - from Chris's shop


Any bestsellers?

Chris: "I wouldn’t say I have any surprise best sellers but I think it’s worth saying that it’s definitely unpredictable. You can never guess how it will go and what people will like the most. I try to get a feel from social media if I’m going to do a new print or buy in and sell a certain book, but you can never really tell what will be popular.” 

From Chris's shop: Dreams of Dickens

And now for our Illustrator-Shop-owners’ DOs and DON’Ts – what to spend time on, and what to avoid.

From The Iron Man illustrated by Chris Mould

From Chris:  “DO…get yourself prepared for what you’ll need for the whole process of selling. It’s one thing sussing out Etsy software and getting to grips with adding all your sales items. But if you’re not prepared with things like bubble wrap, card, the correct envelopes, packaging, etc. you’ll find yourself in a spin. Especially if you suddenly find you’re selling more than you thought you would. It can be very time consuming.

DO…think about and look after your customers. People often come back to us and that’s a great compliment. And we’ve met so many lovely people online and in real life, through the shop. It can be very fulfilling in that way.

And … DON’T… plan to sell anything that means you’re spending an absolute fortune and unlikely to see any reasonable return on. For example, if you decided on T shirts and went out and had a design printed on every size available, you’d probably end up with boxes full of certain sizes hanging around forever.

DON’T…trip yourself up by ordering anything that might cause you storage problems. For example something like large sheets of gift wrap that need to be kept flat (unless you know you have the space and correct conditions for it).

Rocket by Dapo Adeola
From Dapo:  “DON’T try to pander to people if you can avoid it. It’s a slippery slope to producing work you might not enjoy. Be realistic about whether this counts as a main source of income or not and act accordingly.

DO take notes on what other artists are doing with their Merch (merchandise). This has helped me know what bits of my work translate well into Merch and which bits don’t. As a rule I don’t create “for” the shop, I only make Merch out of work I’m already doing for my books. That way I’m not working two jobs unknowingly.”

From Don't Call Me Grumpycorn by Sarah McIntyre
And from Sarah: “Be very careful about selling to Europe right now; if you do, put a warning to potential buyers. I notice that, post-Brexit, my customers are now getting hit with big customs charges at their end. And be careful about not undercharging for postage; you'd be surprised how much it costs to send a print to the USA.”

So there we have it – consider starting small. Assemble all the kit you'll need - especially for packaging. Choose your online platform. Maybe feel free to respond to current trends and events - if there's an opportunity. And if you can, have a partner who can help!

Thank you all to all three brilliant picture book makers for their insights and super-practical advice.

 Sarah’s latest books are the colourful space adventure Don't Call me Grumpycorn and more unicorn fun in Kevin vs The Unicorns. Sarah’s shop is closed till spring at the moment, but can usually be found at:

Hey You! is Dapo's debut book as author, and look out for the wonderful We're Going To Find The Monster! with Malorie Blackman. You can find Dapo’s shop at:

 Don’t miss Chris’s version of Animal Farm, just fantastically illustrated. Visit Chris’s shop on Etsy at:



 Mini's latest published book-involvement is The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, with AF Harrold.  Her BlogSite is at Sketching Weakly.