Monday 18 December 2023

The Highlight of Our Writing Career - The Picture Book Den

It's that time of year when the Picture Book Den team get together and create a group post. 

This year we wanted to share with you a highlight of our writing career. We hope you enjoy and wish you all the best for this festive season and a fabulous 2024!

Moira Butterfield 

There have been highs and lows in my writing career and there still are. It's part of the gig. Sometimes it feels as though, with every book, I must restart from scratch. I forget that I have any kind of track record and  it feels like I am at the bottom of the mountain again. It's then that I need to bring out my precious gems to look at - those surprising and unasked-for nuggets of good feedback from everyday folk that I store in my memory. These may seem trivial but are, in fact, priceless to a writer - like magic fuel that can keep us going when our tanks seem empty. Here's a very precious one - When I moved to a new house I met my new neighbour. She asked what I did for a living, looked amazed and said 'You're the writer of my boy's favourite book. It's up in the attic now. We read it to him so many times!". Yes - I did feel old because the  boy in question was at 'big school' by then, but I also filled up with pride that I had done this. So make sure you pass on good feedback to your favourite authors. You'll be giving them a shiny career highlight! 

Pippa Goodhart

    Ah, so many highlights after all these years! Most of them courtesy of my You Choose picture books illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Nick and I collect images of the tattiest copies of those books, ones loved to literal bits! But there was also the young man who is now a professional ballet dancer because, his mother tells, aged seven he saw the image of the ballet dancers in You Choose and said, 'I want to do that'. And the Ukrainian refugee child totally absorbed in choosing his own life in a copy of You Choose. And more. But I'm going to choose a topical and current You Choose highlight.

    Nick and my new You Choose Christmas book has the two of us, large and gloriously attired, on its final spread -


We didn't manage the Elvis jumpsuit and Flamenco dress, but we did try to match the headwear when we did signing session for the book last weekend! 

Chitra Soundar

I'm a picture book writer at heart. My first picture book came out in India in 2010 and it was a masterclass in editing. With the editor's advice, I edited a 1000 word manuscript into a 100 word manuscript over a weekend and to my delight that picture book had an amazing run. Since then I've written over 20 picture books. The highlights are so many... My series of Farmer Falgu books (illustrated by Kanika Nair) brought me Indian and international recognition. Pattan's Pumpkin (illustrated by Frané Lessac) is such a hit with children, parents and teachers. Mummy-baby books I wrote for Lantana Publishing, illustrated by Poonam Mistry - You're Safe with Me (the first book in the series) was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal and You're Snug with Me got shortlisted too, which is a huge honour. 

But the most recent highlight I feel is my proudest moment, because even though I've been publishing with Walker Books, my first picture book with Walker Books (the giant of picture book publishing) will be out February 2024 titled It's Time to Hush and say Good Night, and has been the Editor's Pick at The Booksellers and already making waves. It is inspired by  traditional Indian lullabies and beautifully illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat which is fantastic as both of us are from Chennai, India. 

Lynne Garner

My writing career highlight is a rejection letter. I know that may sound odd but it's the only rejection I've received which was handwritten on a complement slip. In essence this rejection said, "The story isn't quite right for us, but I like your style so do you have anything else you are working on? If so, please send to me." 


I’d an idea I'd been mulling over but hadn't written. So, I got tapping and the very first draft of 'Bramble's Diary' was completed. I placed it to one side and allowed it to 'rest.' I then edited, 'rested' it and edited again. Finally, I felt happy enough to sent it off. The editor who had sent me the rejection came back with a very positive reply. And after six rewrites and a change of title 'A Book For Bramble' was published. 


Hence why this rejection is my chosen highlight. 

Natascha Biebow
The most surprising and heartwarming highlight of my career has been connecting with children and wonderful teachers and librarians all around the world doing virtual and in-person school visits. Surprising because I am essentially quite a shy person and even though I do a lot of public speaking in my role as Co-Regional Advisor of the SCBWI British Isles, when my book THE CRAYON MAN was published, I was daunted by the prospect of 'getting out there' to promote it. I applied for an SCBWI Marketing Grant, and put down an action plan on paper (and on this blog), which meant I would be accountable and have to come out from under my rock:

I was surprised when I was awarded the SCBWI grant, which enabled me to do a week of author visits in Pennsylvania and DC, including a farmers' market in Easton, PA, home of Crayola. 

Nothing better than seeing children engrossed in your book!

That same year, I visited my school as an author!
Recently, I was invited to the International School in Panama, which was extra special because I attended an international school, so have a real connection with third culture kids.

Through my school visits, I have loved meeting children and hearing their curious questions about working as an author, the invention of the Caryola crayons and living in England. And sometimes, the opportunity to do messy art and mix cool colours together:
A couple of months ago, an unexpected gift arrived in my postbox:

These children are very lucky to have such caring teachers and librarians, seeking out opportunities to connect with authors and enrich their students' learning by making connections around the world. I love seeing their creative drawings and curious minds at work!

Mini Grey

My career highlight is finally being able to make the book it had taken me ten years to work out – The Greatest Show on Earth. I’m so grateful to Joe Marriott, my editor, for saying “Yes, let’s make this book!” 

The process of making it was a highlight because I had to get to grips for the first time with proper non-fiction science content, and try and process millions of years of evolution into a story that’s digestible by any one, any age. 

I loved doing the research – and the gift was that I found out how much I didn’t know, and how much there is still to find out – there are more and more stories to tell about animal evolution and our own human evolution: all the animal ancestors we carry inside our vertebrate bodies -  our inner fish, tetrapods, synapsids, mammals, primates… 

Once the book was published, working out exactly how to perform the 4.6 million year story of Life on Earth –  which bits of the story to focus on, and how to make all that time visible and immersive – that was a whole lot of new stuff to find out. And collaborating with audiences - especially the brilliant enthusiastic mix of adults and children you find at festivals -  to build a picture of the story of life on Earth with puppets and timelines has been a fantastic experience. 

And here are a couple of bonus picture highlights:

In other highlights: here I'm opening John Hampden School library in June 2022 with help from the Queen who was still alive then (but this Queen is a cut-out one...)

In other highlights: here in July 2023 AF Harrold and me are at Booktastic Bedford. Our book - The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice had come out in 2020 lockdown, so it was great to finally get to be on stage together.

Juliet Clare Bell

I feel incredibly lucky to be a children's author and there have been lots of wonderful moments. Here are a few highlights...

When Don't Panic, Annika! (illustrated by Jennifer E Morris) was read on CBeebies as my children loved CBeebies -and the presenter who read it

When The Kite Princess (illustrated by Laura Kate Chapman) started being sold by Amnesty International UK. It came completely out of the blue and it was an organisation I'd done loads of campaigning with as a child, as a teenager in college, at university and beyond. And then I was invited to a local International Women's Day event with vulnerable women and asylum seekers. They called it Subversive Sewing and we used The Kite Princess story and drew and decorated our own kites and put words of freedom on the kites and displayed them. It was incredibly moving

When people told me how Benny's Hat (illustrated by Dave Gray) had helped them when a family member had died

When I read reviews of Luka and the Food Cloud (illustrated by Dave Gray) from parents saying that their children felt seen and understood for the first time ever after reading the book

But working with young children is probably the highest of the highlights. Facilitating creative work with young people with life-limiting conditions at a children's hospice, and with bereaved and pre-bereaved siblings, when we were doing research for Benny's Hat, was an absolute privilege, as was interviewing people with ARFID and parents of children with ARFID for Luka and the Food Cloud

Bumping into children that I've done author visits with at a later date, outside of school, is so lovely and often very funny. I absolutely loved meeting a whole class-load of children I'd done an author visit with a few months before -at a bus stop in central Birmingham! They all called out to me as I approached the bus stop and it was a party atmosphere -which carried on when we got on the same bus and I sat and chatted with them on the top deck until they got off at their school stop about twenty minutes later.

And finally, one of my absolute highlights was when a girl put her hand up in an assembly I was doing and asked, completely seriously, in hushed tones, in front of hundreds of other school children...

Is your hair magic?

Clare Helen Welsh

This year, I was invited to speak at the SCBWI Conference in Manchester. I ran a session called Playing with Ideas, helping picture book authors and illustrators embrace the unexpected and find confidence as creatives.

I always enjoy the SCBWI-BI conferences. I've been every year  since 2013! It's fantastic to meet with new and old friends and to soak up the creative energy from the faculty . It's my professional development to myself - a highlight of my writing year.

But this year was extra special. 

I vividly remember my first conference. I remember the sessions I went to, I remember getting books signed by Catherine Rayner and watching Dave Cousins win the Crystal Kite Award. I remember looking around and thinking what a super tribe of people I'd found and wouldn't it be amazing to be published one day.

Fast forward almost ten years to the day since I first started writing, I am reflecting on just how much I have achieved. The 2023 SCBWI conference was a marker in my writing career, as well as a highlight. An opportunity to look back and reflect on everything I am proud of, how much I have learned and the people I've met on the way.

Monday 4 December 2023

Recycling A Christmas Folktale, by Pippa Goodhart

            There is a folktale Christmas story that’s well known in the Ukraine and Russia, Germany, Poland, Norway, Denmark and Finland, but was new to me when I met it as a bookseller in the 1980s.




            This The Cobweb Christmas version of the story has old German Tante trying to make her home clean for Christmas, sweeping out the spiders. She brings a tree in, and decorates it with cookies for the local children to have on Christmas Eve before Christkindel comes in the night to fill the toes of their shoes. She’s asleep when Christkindel passes by and sees spiderswanting to go in and see the special tree. He opens the door to let them scuttle in.


The spiders cover Tante’s tree in webs, but Christkindel touches the webs and turns them all to gold and silver; a reward for Tante’s kindness to the children. 



            That book is no longer in print, but there are other versions of this story that take the story in quite different directions. The Spider Who Saved Christmas by Raymond Arroyo has a golden back spider weaving a great veil of web over the entrance to a cave where Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus hide as they flee from King Herod. As baby boys are slaughtered outside the cave by Roman soldiers ‘with blood streaked swords’, Jesus is saved because the sunlit sparkling web hides the Holy family from the soldiers. Other versions combine those ideas by having Christ himself visiting a poor home and blessing cobwebs on trees, giving wealth. That idea of spider silk turned into gold and silver is, apparently, is the origin of tinsel on Christmas trees.

            Stories in which spiders bring good luck go further back to pre-Christian times. And of course Christmas trees originated in more pagan ideas, only becoming part of our familiar Christmas traditions from C19th. This is a story adapted and adopted countless times over time and space. And now I’ve written my version of it. 

            Old Bear in my Christmas Cobwebs story is really me at heart, remembering how magical Christmas was as a child. We never saw the decorated tree with lights switched on until Christmas morning, and even then only after breakfast had been eaten, the kitchen floor swept, and we all stood in height order to open the door … and, da daa! There it was. 


Like me, Old Bear is the one preparing a tree and decorating it for others now. She wants it all to be magical for the friends she invites. But she doesn’t want the spiders making her house untidy. 

Not wanting to miss out, as Old Bear sleeps, the spiders come to look at the decorated tree. ‘In the moonlight, they span and swung and spiddled, scuttling and exploring and weaving and winding wondrous webs.’ So, when Old Bear wakes up and looks at her tree, its ‘drippily draped in droopy grey cobwebs.’ Her friends are on their way, and she’s not happy …

… But you can easily guess what’s going to happen when the sun comes out! Old Bear gets some surprise Christmas magic after all, and thanks her spiddly spider friends. 


Ema Malyauka from the Netherlands has brought Christmas Cobwebs to wonderful visual life, and I love the feeling of stories linking countries and peoples at Christmas. The spiders and spider web Christmas tree decorations that have been traditional in Ukraine for so long, are beginning to appear in other Christmas trees, too, including the one in Nick Sharratt and my new You Choose Christmas book.

How many other folktales can you spot being referenced in the decorations on this tree?



Wishing you all some Christmas magic, maybe from where you least expect it!