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