Monday 27 June 2022

Different perspectives by Jane Clarke

I’ve always loved picture books that show the same event or story from different perspectives, and/or empower the child ‘reader’ to feel as if they know more than the characters on the book. 

Here are a few of my favourites. They date back a while, but then again, so do I…

Rosie’s Walk written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins

Rosie the hen is completely oblivious to the dangerous fox stalking her, but the reader is in the know.

The Bottomley books by Peter Harris, illustrated by Doffy Weir

In Bottomley, Cattery, Bottomley the cat's account of what went on during his stay at the cattery doesn’t quite match that of the owners of the cattery and fellow guests.

The Doctor Xargle books by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross - in which Dr Xargle leads a class of small aliens to discover much about the habits of the strange creatures who live on Earth. Only Dr Xargle doesn’t get it quite right…

Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Hounds is still a family favourite

Different perspectives have crept into a quite a few of my own picture books. So I’m delighted that my newest about-to-be-published picture book also plays with perspective - on a subject dear to my heart. 

In A Small Person’s Guide to Grandmas, illustrated by Lucy Fleming, the small person’s views are not telling the whole story - something I hope will bring a smile to the face of a happily exhausted Grandma reading the book to their very own small person.

This week, Jane's a very happily exhausted grandma, as she has her rapidly-getting-larger small people, UK and USA varieties, all together for the first time since the pandemic.

Sunday 19 June 2022

Pride Month Picture Books, a celebration! - Garry Parsons

Pride Month is in full swing and this year the UK celebrates 50 years of the Pride movement. 
For the month of June, members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies celebrate their identities, accomplishments, and reflect on the struggle for equality.

Pride Month marks the police raid that prompted the Stonewall riots which in turn led to the establishment of LGBTQ+ rights. The raid took place during the early morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, a popular gathering place for young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. The LGBTQ+ community held a series of demonstrations to protest against the raid and called for the establishment of safe spaces for gay people, where they could congregate without fear of being arrested or becoming victims of violence. These riots served as a catalyst for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Since then, the LGBTQ+ community annually commemorates the years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing pursuit of equality in the form of a pride celebration, now widely observed with parties, parades, concerts, and other events that celebrate a diverse identity.

In the UK, the first official UK Pride Rally was held in London on July 1, 1972 (chosen as the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969) – so 2022 marks the 50th year of the Pride movement in Britain.

So what does this have to do with picture books? Well, we are all different to a greater or lesser degree and every day we meet people different from ourselves. It is vitally important that children get to read about all different types of people and families to promote an attitude of empathy and acceptance. Everyone should be able to see themselves represented in the books they read to support a positive environment for each of us so we can be free to be who we are.  

I've picked out some examples of brilliant picture books supporting diversity and asked some of the creators involved for their views on what Pride month means to them personally and why picture books are so important.

Nen And The Lonely Fisherman - Ian Eagleton & James Mayhew

James Mayhew is the illustrator of Nen and the Lonely Fisherman.

"For me, Pride month is both an opportunity to celebrate and feel part of an amazing, welcoming community and also a time to reflect on those who fought so hard for LGBTQ rights and how we must never take those rights for granted. The future relies on educating people and that's why I feel strongly that we need picture books to show children positive examples of different kinds of relationships. For too long the heteronormative 'happy ending' has reinforced the problem. Books like Nen and the Lonely Fisherman gently teach acceptance and empathy." - James Mayhew.

 Nen And The Lonely Fisherman - Ian Eagleton & James Mayhew

Forever Star - Gareth Peter & Judi Abbot

Gareth Peter is the author of Forever Star illustrated by Judi Abbot, a rhyming story about a same sex couple adopting a child.

"To me, Pride means family. We have a two daddy family and we have adopted two amazing boys. This was all possible because of Pride and all that the amazing LGBTQ plus community have done. So I will always be thankful and appreciative of Pride for allowing my dream to come true and become a dad. Pride should always be a colourful, accepting, tolerant and happy celebration and that's just like our family. Happy Pride everyone!" - Gareth Peter.

Harry Woodgate is the author and illustrator of Grandad's Camper. In this moving story, Grandad tells his granddaughter about the adventures he used to have with Gramps.

"Pride is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our LGBTQ+ friends, family and community, but more than anything I feel that it's a time to reflect on and campaign for the progress that still needs to be made, especially in the face of increasingly damaging legislation.
We know children's books are powerful tools for building empathy, kindness, confidence and emotional literacy, which is why it's so important that every child is able to access literature which is why it's so important that every child is able to access literature which reflects a diverse and inclusive range of identities, experiences and family setups." - Harry Woodgate.

Grandad's Camper - Harry Woodgate

Llama Glamarama - Simon James Green & Garry Parsons

Simon James Green is the author of Llama Glamarama, a story celebrating differences and of being true to yourself.

"One element of Pride is about being true to yourself, living your life fearlessly and boldly, and celebrating everything that makes you unique. I think that's something everyone should embrace, whatever their age and that's why it's so important to see that message in picture books" - Simon James Green.

For me, Pride month is an uplifting recognition of the strength of my identity and a validation that whatever family set up you have, a family is a family.
Here are a few more picture books worthy of your attention this June and in the months and years beyond.

The Pirate Mums - Jodie Lancet-Grant & Lydia Corey

The Pirate Mums - Jodie Lancet-Grant & Lydia Corey

Hello Sailor - Andre Sollie & Ingrid Godon

Hello Sailor - Andre Sollie & Ingrid Godon

We Are Family - Patricia Hegarty & Ryan Wheatcroft

Uncle Bobby's Wedding - Sarah S Brannen & Lucia Soto

Happy Pride Everyone!


Garry Parsons is an illustrator of children's books and the illustrator of My Daddies! also written by Gareth Peter. A picture book celebrating same-sex parents, shared story time and introducing children to the different kinds of family in the world today.

My thanks to James Mayhew, Gareth Peter, Harry Woodgate and Simon James Green for their heartfelt contributions.
Garry's work can be seen here
Follow Garry on twitter and instagram @icandrawdinos

Monday 13 June 2022

Checking roughs – a vital picture book author skill Moira Butterfield

I was inspired to write this blog after reading an interview with actor and writer Brett Goldstein, co-creator of the marvellous Ted Lasso TV series. He emphasised how important attention to detail was in his work. He also told the story of visiting the set of Sesame Street and being really impressed by the attention to detail that was evident as part of the team’s passion to make the work the best it could be. He even saw Elmo giving script notes! 

Elmo likes things to be just right, and so do I. 


It struck a chord with me because picture book authoring requires great attention to detail – especially non-fiction picture book work. There are checking stages the author will be asked to do and they require concentration, care and even a measure of diplomacy. It’s a vital part of being an author of illustrated books – a vital part of making good work. 


I‘m asked to check illustrator pencil roughs and then the colour work. I’m checking to ensure the illustrator has correctly interpreted the factual details of my text. The artist has invariably done a wonderful job and I take care to tell the editor so, whilst pointing out any things that need correcting. 


I’m not making purely subjective comments on the art but I point out factual errors - perhaps a beak is the wrong shape on a bird I’ve named or a creature is missing its tail, for example. I’m also checking for mismatches between the pictures and what is said in the text. So if I’ve mentioned, say, a particular creature and it hasn’t appeared as it should on the page. 


Occasionally, if the art is now in colour and it doesn’t affect the book, I might make a small text change to accommodate a new picture and make the work correct. Here are some examples of things I spotted in the last few days, just to show you the kind of detail I might point out.

There was no crab to spot. 

The coral cup needs a line to separate it from the tentacles. 

I changed the text here because Herefords weren't illustrated. 

The grass wasn't drooping like a mini arch. 


The writer should not point out errors with a heavy hand. You don’t want your reaction to sound like this: “Ha ha! Good for me! I found something!”. It ought to sound like this: “The illustrator has done a great job. I really appreciate the efforts made. Here are my comments. I hope they help. Do come back to me to discuss them if you would like.” 

Be this! 


It takes significant work time to do a thorough check on an illustrated non-fiction book. In fact it’s a good idea to check everything twice – and then even look again the next day if you have the schedule time and the book has lots of detail. 


Recently I had a spread up onscreen when a friend arrived and I explained what I was doing. “Oh kids won’t know it’s wrong,” she remarked, but they very well might and I certainly would. It does matter because attention to detail is a part of a writer’s creative passion, as Brett Goldstein pointed out. It’s necessary to make the book the best it can be, and that’s what I want for every book I write. 

Moira Butterfield is the author of many non-fiction picture books, most recently Maya's Walk, illustrated by Kim Geyer (Oxford University Press) and Grandma's Story, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (Walker Books). 

twitter @moiraworld 
instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor

Monday 6 June 2022

The (Lost) Spark of Back-and-Forth Collaboration? • by Natascha Biebow


Once acquired by a publisher, picture books are made by collaboration – a whole team behind the scenes, including the illustrator, the author, the editor, designer and production team works closely together to share their expertise and to build upon the creator's initial ideas. Once made, picture books look seamless: all those collaborative discussions are evident in the polished book. Now, there will be people championing it in the publisher’s marketing, sales, rights and publicity departments.


Many hands collaborate to make a picture book that shines

Sometimes, a collaboration is established in a particularly inspired author illustrator pairing that will go on to endure and delight countless young readers.


But what of the collaboration between the creative and the first point of contact – usually the editor at the publishing house? The kind that takes time and a special kind of eye to see the seed of something special and commercial and then time and effort to let it ‘cook’ till it shines. Is it a lost art?


In the US, recently several junior editors quit their roles citing being overworked and lack of proper recognition for their creative contributions to the business of making bestselling books. Increasingly we hear reports of submissions going unacknowledged in overflowing ‘slushpiles’ and overtasked editors. It stands to reason, then, that editors would want book proposals to arrive on their desks as polished projects that they can immediately envision in terms of potential. These they can effectively ‘run’ with as they pitch them in-house for acquisitions.


But what if . . .?


Editors once again had a bit of time and space to connect and collaborate back-and-forth, to nurture artists and authors at all levels of their career?


What if . . .?


Writers, editors, illustrators and art directors could meet in a kind of ‘writer’s room’ scenario like teams creating movie and TV series do?


What if . . . ?


Authors (and illustrators) with talent received encouragement and direction to work collaboratively with editors to help them take their ideas to the next level rather than just receiving no response or even an outright rejection to a project that has a seed of promise? Could it elicit a spark that later led to great works?


What if . . .  editors had more time and space . . .
to reach out, to nurture a spark,
to collaborate in a conversation . . .?

Writing letters may be a lost art, and emails are often at best short and business-oriented – everyone is so busy and short of time - but knowing that an editor is in your corner can mean the difference between being able to create the next big masterpiece or not.


Take for example the pivotal role legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom (1910–1988) played in bolstering Maurice Sendak at a key time in his early career, eventually leading him to believe in himself enough to go on to create the enduring classic Where the Wild Things Are.

When Sendak expressed his self-doubt in being able to stack up to the genius of Tolstoy and illustrate his work, Ursula wrote:


Sure, Tolstoy and Melville have a lot of furniture in their books and they also know a lot of facts (“where the mouth of a river is”) but that isn’t the only sort of genius, you know that. You are more of a poet in your writing, at least right now. Yes, Tolstoy is wonderful (his publisher asked me for a quote) but you can express as much emotion and “cohesion and purpose” in some of your drawings as there is in War and Peace. I mean that. You write and draw from the inside out — which is why I said poet.


You are growing and getting better all the time. I hope it was good for you to write me the thoughts that came to you. It was very good for me to read what you wrote, and to think about your letter.


You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy wasn’t Sendak, either. You have a vast and beautiful genius.” *



According to HarperCollins' website, 'Nordstrom had a simple philosophy regarding new authors. As one colleague said, “Anyone who called, anyone who got off the elevator, anyone who wrote in, could be seen and heard.” She always answered her own phone, and on hearing another ringing, would cry out, “Answer that! That might be the next Mark Twain.”'

Dear Genius The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom
Collected and Edited by Leonard S. Marcus

I wonder if some of our great children’s picture books would have even come to fruition and evolved in quite the same way without the space and support to experiment and collaborate with editors and art directors?


Having the


friendship and support of a

teacher and mentor and listener to

bolster creative confidence


sounds like a real gem in this day and age. That TRUST and FAITH! Hopefully it isn’t too elusive and the ways can be found to bring back that back-and-forth collaborative spirit in a new, and perhaps even better, guise? We can but dream . .  .


Thoughts on a postcard, please.



* letter excerpted from Dear Genius: The Letters of Urusla Nordstrom, Collected and Edited by Leonard S Marcus


Ursula Nordstrom was the editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row, who helped nurture many talented authors, such as Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, EB White, author of Charlotte’s Web, Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree, and Maurice Sendak, illustrator and author of Where the Wild Things Are.



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. Find out about her new picture book webinar courses! She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at