Monday 26 June 2023

The Raymond Briggs Exhibition, by Pippa Goodhart



I’ve just visited the Raymond Briggs retrospective exhibition currently (until 26th August ’23) running at Cambridge University Library. It’s free entry, and an absolute treat. I was told that I could photograph everything except the Snowman artwork which, in soft crayon, is more vulnerable than most of his work. So I’ll share just some of what I particularly enjoyed there.


            Raymond Briggs, who died last year, was the only child of milkman Ernest and housewife Ethel whose lives from courtship to death Raymond recorded in loving and humorous cartoon form. This was their reaction when their grammar school son decided to leave that school at fifteen to study art –

            The art school weren’t impressed with his idea of working on cartoons. Yet the cartoon style was to became the basis of his most famous books, from Snowman to Fungus The Bogeyman. 

    But Raymond Briggs could do classical style as well, and sublimely. Look at this from Gentleman Jim, an exhibit in the gallery where he is a cleaner –



Or this brilliant early line drawing of an ordinary spoon –

            Early illustration work was of the more traditional kind, before he had the self-belief, and/or the belief of publishers, to be more original and bold.



One of the fascinations of the exhibition is that we get to see Raymond Briggs’ working techniques. He tends to record the days, and even hours, spent on artwork in the margin. And he likes to get his pen flowing by squiggling in those margins before setting it to work on the picture! This is from When The Wind Blows –


            In early work he uses Tipex, seemingly not just to correct but (I’m no artist, so I’m guessing!) also to get some shadowing effect.

            And we read notes presumably written by his editor. I liked this one! –

            In his work we have a mix of picture books inspired by the children in his life – Ug, Bear, The Puddleman, for example – and the furious angry political books about the pointless destruction of war, nuclear or conventional. Briggs compares Tin-Pot Foreign General Galtieri and Old Iron Woman Margaret Thatcher to Punch and Judy as they played out the Falklands War with the lives of others in 1982. That book is illustrated with huge furious energy and clarity, and with searing brightness. You really need to see them for yourselves because reproductions in books or in photographs just don’t convey the power of their colours as well as their lines. 

            And there’s so much more. Go and see it if you can! Meanwhile,  ‘Goodnight’ from Father Christmas over Buckingham Palace. 



I’m off to read my two year old grandson The Elephant and the Bad Baby … although I’m with Raymond Briggs on questioning why the Baby is ‘bad’ for not saying ‘please’ whilst the Elephant is in no trouble for stealing things! 

Friday 16 June 2023

Caring fathers and devoted dads in picture books - Garry Parsons

No one is perfect at being a parent and nor would we want to be, but fathers in picture books, sometimes  seem to get a raw deal. 

Dads are often depicted as caricatures of dads, preoccupied with tasks in the shed, washing the car or tinkering under the bonnet. Sometimes shown as unkempt or dishevelled, they can appear absent minded, aloof or uncaring, preferring to fix things than parent directly. Sometimes they simply don't make an appearance at all. 

Equally, at the other end of the spectrum, Dads sometimes appear a stretch beyond the parent, as super humans, taking on over exaggerated super hero personas whilst still maintaining a sense that underneath they are buffoons.

So it’s a relief to see Dads being depicted as fathers who care and are parenting from a place of nurture. Dads who occupy an environment that is in or close to the home, where the child protagonists feel they are in safe hands, despite the challenges they face and the reader does too.

Don't Let Go! - Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

Just in time for Father's Day, here are few picture books where Dad takes centre stage and gets on with the job of parenting. 

These are fathers who feel fully rounded in their parenting, dads who are gentle and willing to listen and who are keen to impart wisdom to help their children grow, without being over the top superhuman, down trodden or saccharine.

Clare Helen Welsh recommended Eve Coy's 'Looking after William' to me. A revealing tale of home-life told from the perspective of the daughter where the roles are reversed and the little girl takes on the task of parenting her dad, William. 

The reader is witness to a father who is a fully engaged parent, quietly getting on with all the domestic duties required for looking after a young child and enjoying the playful moments too.

Looking After William - Eve Coy

Looking After William - Eve Coy

In Lawrence in the Fall by Matthew Farina and Doug Salt, Lawrence and his Papa go searching in the woods to collect things to show in school. During the story, Papa gently departs his knowledge of the forest and his wisdom of how the world works. In a tense moment when they become separated, Lawrence discovers a forest secret of his own. 

This is a tender story of the bond between father and son where the characters express how they feel and deal with subtle life moments. Beautifully illustrated scenes and characters that capture the tenderness and wild elements of the landscape.

From Lawrence in the Fall by Matthew Farina & Doug Salati

Ask Me by Bernard Weber and illustrated by Suzy Lee is a walk in the country taken by a father and his daughter. The little girl prompts her dad to ask questions so she can express all the things she likes in the world. Dad quietly participates and diligently asks all the questions she wants to answer herself, cleverly printed in different coloured type to distinguish the two voices and wonderfully illustrated.

Ask Me - Bernard Weber - Illustrated by Suzy Lee

Ask Me - Bernard Weber - Illustrated by Suzy Lee

In 'Don’t Let Go!' By Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross, a little girl wants to visit her daddy but to do that she needs his help to learn to ride her bike.  This is a story of an attentive, patient dad, teaching his daughter skills to prepare her for her life ahead through teaching her to ride her bike. As she becomes more confident at riding, it becomes apparent that it is dad who needs some comforting and it is she who is teaching him. Prepare to be moved by this affectionate father and daughter relationship.

Don’t Let Go! By Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross.

What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers is a story of a father and daughter setting out plans for their life together, building life skills, imparting knowledge to create memories and a home to keep them safe. A moving story of love and protection.

What We'll Build - Oliver Jeffers

Two picture books to make you laugh - Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig and Knuffle Bunny, a cautionary tale by Mo Willems, both firm favourites in our house and consistently funny. 

It's raining outside so Pete can't go outside to play. Pete's attentive dad decides to make him into a pizza instead and bake him on the sofa. A funny and warm story around the kindness of a tuned-in dad with paired-down but spot-on illustrations.

Pete's a Pizza - William Steig

Dad is competently in charge in Knuffle Bunny, doing some chores and caring for his daughter Trixie at the same time. He's doing a fine job of it until it all goes wrong at the laundromat. No superhero strategies here just human imperfections.

Knuffle Bunny - Mo Willems

So here's to celebrating the fully formed Dad in picture books, all year round! 

Happy Father's Day!


Garry Parsons is an award winning illustrator of children’s books and father to two boys and is the illustrator of My Daddies! By Gareth Peter, a story celebrating fatherhood through adoption.




Monday 12 June 2023

Writing pays badly. Does it matter? Moira Butterfield


I’ve been a full-time children’s writer for many years now. I first chose it as my path when my kids were small and I needed to be available as the parent at the nursery door, the school gate and the doctor’s etcetera. Once the children could look after themselves I took on lots more work and did a lot more ‘creative practise’ to learn my trade. Like a professional sportsperson or a musician I feel it necessary to put in a great deal of time and effort to do what I do well and to keep my standards high. 


Yet I am part of an increasingly rare full-time group. From 2022 figures published by the ALCS we know that overall author earnings are in steep decline, and now just 19% of writers are full-time. The average earnings of a fulltime author dropped by 60% in 16 years and is now £7000, under the minimum wage. This report was published in a year when UK publishing houses posted record overall profits. The report makes sorry reading (for more, there's a link to the survey at the bottom of this blog). 


I look at the prospects for young people starting out now and, given the cost of living and the cost of a place to live, I think that the idea of being a full-time author is pretty much going extinct. Starting out, I could never make that choice now. It seems you can only afford to spend time writing if you have another main job, a pension from a previous career or a high-earning partner who will support you.  


Meanwhile publishers say they want a more diverse writing world, with people from all sectors of life…Well there’s a massive elephant that’s filling the whole of the room here and it’s carrying a sign in its trunk – WRITING DOESN’T PAY ENOUGH FOR THAT TO HAPPEN. The money is not being shared round enough for anybody who is not well-off to consider it a main career option. 

The elephant that lives in big profitable publishing companies. 

In addition to writing, publishers now expect us to pay for our own book launches and book publicity efforts. For those who aren’t well-off it doesn’t seem possible. School visits might provide a main income for some but most people with young kids or another job simply couldn’t travel round the country, let alone wait for months for appearance payments.  


Recently we have had large conglomerate publishers sending round well-meaning diversity surveys to fill in, but no amount of bureaucratic box-ticking is going to help with this. 

Publishers need to acknowledge the elephant that stops so many people coming through their doors. It’s money. 


Share the profits out more fairly with creatives or writing becomes an exclusive hobby-world for the elite. 


Moira Butterfield has written many internationally-sold books for children and has been a full-time writer for over two decades. Her latest publications are The Secret Life of Oceans (Bloomsbury), Look What I Found On the Farm (Nosy Crow) and Does a Monkey Get Grumpy? (Bloomsbury) 


Moira Butterfield

twitter @moiraworld 

instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor


The link to the author earnings survey referenced above:






Monday 5 June 2023



In a bookshop last week, I bumped into two sisters. They’d recognised me after I’d visited their school during World Book Week. It was such a surprise since we were miles from home and all on holiday! There was much excitement from both parties, confirming to me the importance of school visits - getting into schools to reach and interact with readers.



But did you know, that in 2023 only one in five children said an author had visited their school, either online or in person?

A Twitter thread from the National Literacy Trust and this chance encounter prompted me to write about school visits for today’s Picture Book Den post. The National Literacy Trust researched the impact of author visits in schools (both online and in person). They found that children who attended author visits were more likely to enjoy reading and writing in their free time. I’m often asked about school visits - what should they be like, how to prepare for them, how to get them and do you have to be published to offer them? So, I thought this might be a good opportunity to champion school visits, and share a bit about how they can look.

You can read the full National Literacy Trust report here: Author visits in schools, and children and young people’s reading and writing engagement in 2023 | National Literacy Trust



School visits can in person or online. They can be with a whole school, with a key stage, with groups of classes or a single class… or a combination of all of these! The school that has booked the visit might have a purpose for your appearance in mind – to encourage reading for pleasure or to link with a curriculum topic - or your visit might be to celebrate the launch of your book. They can vary enormously, but this is good news! It means there is no set way they should be. If you play an instrument, why not make this part of your session? You might be confident drawing, at home with a puppet or prefer talking with slides… play to your strengths and what you feel comfortable with. It’s important for children to see there are lots of different kinds of authors, just like there are different kinds of people. And it's important that your school visit reflects you.

Whatever the theme of the day, I usually begin with some fun facts and photos about me and my books on a screen. Consider including things like; previous jobs, childhood photos, your writing inspiration, your writing space… it might feel boring to you, but it’ll be fun and different for them. If there’s no tech available, I do the same with props to keep the children’s attention.

In workshops, I always try to plan an activity that sees the children take away something physical, and something that can be expanded on in class should the teachers wish to do so. I also make a big effort to ensure the sessions are interactive and engaging, building in a strong hook so that children can’t wait to start and will remember the day for a long time afterwards. I tend to structure workshop sessions like this:

– Warmer

– Hook and shared activity

– Independent activity

– Share and tell

– Q&A/ Quiz

Here are some examples of the activities I’ve led in the past:

          making sunny-side specs

-          making lemur tail twisters (think tongue twisters written on tails!)

-          biscuit tin crime scene

    design and make a biscuit rocket

-     create your own story character

-     'creative compost' idea gathering workshop

-    create your own graphic novel

-    puppet making

Whatever you decide, it always nice to end a workshop with a show and tell session. It’s unlikely you’ll have had chance to speak to everyone individually, so asking them to talk with the person next to them, and then a few feeding back to the whole group, gets around this problem nicely. I use my story TV and microphone, for this! It’s a bit of encouragement to share ideas, plus, who doesn’t want to be on TV?!




It takes a lot of planning to ensure a school visit runs smoothly. This could include all or some of the following;

– communication with the school about logistics, payment and terms
– organising a book sale and liaising with a local bookshop
– making posters to advertise the event
– booking transport
– planning and resourcing

I also try to build children’s excitement and anticipation, by sending schools activities and material in advance. You might be the last author the children meet for some time – you might be the first or only author they meet! Something that works nicely is sending ahead a writing competition to be judged on the day. You might be able to think of something that links with your book or theme for the day.

I try to arrive around an hour before the event starts to set up and familiarise myself with my home for the day. It’s important for me to leave plenty of time because I often bring lots of resources that need unloading and because schools are busy places – you sometimes don’t know the finer details of where you’ll be based until you arrive and even then, plans can change. Also, if you’re going somewhere you haven’t been before, leave in some buffer time for traffic, delays, parking (or the lack of it) and getting lost! Better to have time to spare than be panicked, I think.

Giving children the opportunity to buy books can be lovely for all concerned. Some schools request a book signing, at the start or end of the day. If there’s a local bookshop to organise this, that’s great. If not, I set it up with a pre-order system so that I can source books from a seller locally to me. If your event is online, you might be able to liaise with a local bookseller and send signed/ dedicated bookplates.

After the event, I make sure to thank the staff for their help and hospitality, both in person and email. I usually follow up with a blog post and photo share, if I have been given to permission to take photos. This is something to check in advance.

In case you’re interested, a few years ago I wrote a post for My Book Corner with even more detail about my school visits. You can read that post here: A Guide to Author Visits by Clare Helen Welsh - My Book Corner]


It’s a great idea to have your contact and event details on a website or on social media, showcasing what you can offer, including a price list. If you need advice on pricing, have a look at the Society of Author guidelines: Fees for author school visits - The Society of Authors

Think about what makes you and your visits special. I travel by authormobile, so I try to share photos of this because it’s different. Author, Cara Matheson, takes her cockapoo, Scout!

As well as photos, you could also share testimonials from your events to help get the word out. If you’re a published author or illustrator looking to do more events, you could also try contacting organisations such as Authors Aloud, Authors Abroad, Contact An Author, Reading Rocks, National Literacy Trust .







I am keen to dispel the myth that only published writers and illustrators can do school visits. I know firsthand how inspiring it can be for children to see the journey as opposed to just the finished product. Any creative with a passion for what they do should feel able to share that if they want to.

Sarah Dollar is a writer and poet looking for representation and a home for her picture book manuscripts. I asked her to share her school visit experiences:




“Mildred’ is an (as yet) unpublished character I created with my son, Hugo, in mind. He has severe food allergies and Mildred suffers from hayfever. My thinking was that it would open the door to meaningful conversations about allergies that might lead to more understanding amongst his peers.

When Allergy Awareness Week came round, I saw an opportunity to sidestep the gate-keepers and seek my own reward. I’m not an overly confident person, but I suffer flashes of over-the-top enthusiasm. I collared his teacher, “I don’t know if you have anything planned for Allergy Awareness Week yet, but I’d be happy to read a story to the kids in Hugo’s class?”. To my surprise, and vague horror, she jumped on it! Before I’d left the playground she had given me a day, a time and four classes to present to! Gulp!

I watched many Youtube videos, such as Joseph Coelho’s Poetry Prompts. I sought advice: wear something bright, take props, be prepared to be silly.  I practised taking questions (from anyone willing to play along) and read the story out loud - a LOT! I was nervous and met with a whispered chorus of ‘It’s Hugo’s mum!’, but the teacher introduced me as a writer. The children were excited.

My nerves settled quickly. I got a few children to help make Mildred’s soup concoction in a giant pan with imaginary ingredients. They laughed in all the right places. They engaged! Having repeated the session with another three class groups, I left the school - brimming. I floated out to the car park and stashed my props.

I did sessions for a nursery down the road and when poetry day rolled around I was approached by another local school. The kids enjoyed it. And I loved it. I may only have a few school visits under my belt, but the reaction from the children I've met has left me in no doubt - this is where my future lies.”


What an inspiration, Sarah is! I hope her experiences inspire you and give you permission to contact a school or bookshop or library for storytelling, if you wish. It doesn’t have to be pre-published or even published story. Why not take along a selection of your favourite books to share?

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah and her visits, she’ll be featured in Write Mentor’s Final Word newsletter very soon. You can sign up for that here: Home - WriteMentor - for all writers of children's fiction (



If visiting a school has already been on your radar, I really hope this article and the National Literary Trust research have inspired you to take the plunge. In case you’re still unsure, have a read of these testimonials. School visits really do make a difference!


“The workshop was amazing! The children were engaged from start to finish. Such a great way to get such young children to believe in themselves as writers! The children haven’t stopped talking about where they are going to travel in their rocket!”


“The boys in Year 6 were so very proud of their writing and shared it first thing with their teacher the following day who was blown away. Thank you again, it was a wonderful afternoon.”


“All children were totally engaged and enthralled throughout the workshop. Clare was fantastic with the children, bringing plenty of props to excite and provoke creativity from the group. The children were well guided and fully involved throughout the session.”




Sarah was born in London and grew up in Devon, where she lives now with her partner and their three (very) energetic children. She writes short stories, picture books, chapter books, poems and even cryptic crossword clues! She was longlisted for the 2021 Stratford Salariya Picture Book Prize and was included in the finalists' showcase for Mindy Weiss’s Picture Book Party. Both pieces have since been published. You will find her writing in places such as The Dirigible Balloon and Parakeet and Paperbound Magazine. She has also contributed to the spoken word event Book Jive Live. Find her on Twitter @SarahLCDollar.


Clare Helen Welsh is a children's writer from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny, sometimes lyrical and everything in between! Her latest picture book is called 'Sunny Side Up,' illustrated by Ana Sandfelippo and published by Little Tiger Press. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh . Clare is represented by Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary.