Monday, 18 August 2014

Do Hardback Children's Picture Books Lack Something? by Paeony Lewis

This blog is all about endpapers in hardback children's picture books (though you might not guess this from the first part of the blog!).

I wonder if others are like me. If  I'm going to pay almost twice the price for a hardback, compared to a paperback, then I want something more than a durable cover and sturdy spine. I think many hardback children's picture books lack what I call ‘gorgeousness’. At home, I have an eclectic collection of books, and the old illustrated books often include an elusive 'gorgeousness' that makes me want to murmur, ‘my precious’. Before I look at contemporary hardback editions of children's picture books, here are some of my old books (for all ages) that include 'gorgeous' extras:

Who can resist the spines of these Victorian fairy tales on my book shelf?
And the gilt/foil-blocked covers too

I’ve always adored tissue paper.
It’s as though I’m unveiling a secret.

Maps want to be copied. (and scrawled on - I was young)
18th-century marbled endpapers want to be caressed.

Simple, attractive endpapers also add to a book, such as these by H M Brock

With the growth of digital media (ebooks, picture book apps, and who knows what amazingness is around the corner), I feel 'gorgeousness' is something that publishers should capitalise on if they want us to continue buying hard copies of good books - especially hardback children's picture books. I want more!

I’d better say quickly that I’m not suggesting more book jackets. They’re an utter pain. Is it logical to put flimsy jackets on children's picture books? They just get damaged by small hands (and mouths and feet and the dog and hamster) because books are meant to be read. Mind you, an embossed cover hiding beneath a book jacket can be a lovely surprise. Even so, please forget the book jackets, or am I alone in this?

Why, oh why, are there book jackets on hardback children's picture books?

A lovely embossed/impressed cover hiding beneath the fragile jacket

So nowadays, assuming a brilliant story and captivating illustration, what adds precious gorgeousness to hardback children's picture books? Of course we want quality paper, good colour reproduction and a binding that won’t fall apart. On top of these essentials there are optional attributes such as spot varnish, embossmen, restrained foil blocking (never glitter!), or simple and stylish contemporary design. Whatever is used, I think one thing is definitely necessary: LOVELY ENDPAPERS!

NOT boring plain endpapers, or standard publisher publicity images, what I adore are illustrated endpapers. And for those not sure what I'm ranting about, endpapers (or endpages/endleaves) are double pages with one side stuck to the inside of the front or back of hardback books. They help hold the binding together and for a little more explanation I've just discovered this blog link that includes a diagram.

I’m really pleased that all my picture books have illustrated endpapers (thank you, publishers and illustrators). But there are still lovely picture books out there that only have plain endpapers, which add nothing to the experience of holding and reading a book. I won’t name publishers or books! Instead I’m going to guilt them by showing some examples of contemporary endpaper gorgeousness. I don't claim these are the best examples of endpapers, but they can all be found on my book shelves.

No More Biscuits by Paeony Lewis, illus Brita Granstrom, (The Chicken House). I've found children enjoy looking at these endpages and pointing out their favourite biscuits.Mine are the jam sandwiches!
No More Yawning by Paeony Lewis, Illus by Brita Granstrom, (The Chicken House 2008). The childlike images on the endpages encourage children to draw their own dreams.
Endpages don't have to be elaborate. These two are cute and simple and vary slightly between the front and back of I'll Always Love You by Paeony Lewis, illus by Penny Ives, (Little Tiger Press)

Some endpages are purely decorative and reflect the style of illustration in the book.
The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton (Bloomsbury 2014)
The feather-like bark of trees at night appears throughout the book and  is echoed on the endpages of  Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illus by Patrick Benson (Walker Books)
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Walker Books 2012). The attractive seaweed endpapers may look like the illustrations inside  the book, but of course they're not precisely the same because that would be 'cheating'! 
Endpapers at the front and  back can reflect the beginning and end of the story.
As seen here in  Dinosaur Games by David Bedford, illus by Dankerleroux (Macmillan 2011)
The endpapers in Best Friends or Not? by Paeony Lewis, illus by Gaby Hansen (Piccadilly Press 2008) also reflect the story arc by showing the bears apart and then together at the end (friends again)

Whilst some endpapers contain tiny images that are fun to study. Here are lots of pepperpots from A Pipkin of Pepper by Helen Cooper (DoubleDay 2004)

And items from the antique store in Grandpa for Sale by Dotti Enderle and Vicki Sansum, illus by T Kyle Gentry (Flashlight 2007)

And here is a single lone image of a large city from Maude The Not-So-Noticeable  Shrimpton by Lauren Child, illus by Trisha Krauss (Puffin 2012)
These endpapers are an unusual delight. They contain the names of all the children who inspired  Quentin Blake to write and illustrate Un Bateau dans le Ciel (Rue du monde 2000) / Sailing Boat in the Sky (Red Fox 2003)

Here's a close up of the names. 

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins 2012) 
Have I persuaded some of you that illustrated endpapers add to a picture book? But what do illustrators think? I presume you’re not paid any extra to produce endpapers? If you’re given the opportunity to incorporate endpapers, do you relish it or sigh? Was the simplicity of the endpapers in that wonderful book This Moose Belongs to Me (Oliver Jeffers)  a conscious design decision or a ‘let’s do something quickly’ decision? Personally I think it was a design decision, and a good one. Endpapers don't have to be elaborate, though I feel they should reflect the book and not be blank unless this fits best with the rest of the design and isn't just a money-saving exercise.

You might mutter that because I write books I therefore notice things like endpapers, whilst the average book buyer or child doesn’t care. Maybe, though long ago, when I hadn’t thought about writing for children, I used to share the endpapers of Farmer Duck with my children. We would compare the seasons between the front and back images. They were an integral part of the book and reflected the social change on the farm. They added something extra.

Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell, illus by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books)
With my children we'd study the differences between the seasons.

Sadly, the inside covers of paperback picture books are usually blank and white as they’re constructed differently. Even so, if a hardback version has endpapers then the paperback edition often includes additional pages that reproduce the endpapers, so they can still be enjoyed, albeit sometimes they're truncated.

Unfortunately, because of page number constraints in paperback editions, sometimes the original hardback endpapers don’t survive. This might be a story-length  issue, or it might be something I really loathe in paperbacks: advertisements. I think that replacing the original rear endpaper with an advertisement for other books looks cheap and nasty. Does anyone else agree? Or do I need to get real to the financial and marketing implications? Mind you, has anyone ever purchased a book because they’d seen it advertised in the back of a children’s picture book (now you’re all going to say ‘yes’!). I’ll admit I look at books listed in the back of novels, but not in the back of picture books.

I wonder what others think of my plea for gorgeousness. Do you rarely buy hardbacks? Would you buy more hardbacks if they weren’t just sturdy versions of paperbacks?  In particular, do illustrated endpapers add enough gorgeousness to encourage potential buyers? Does it matter? Is it just adults and not children who care? Am I merely a book snob and asking too much of publishers, illustrators and book buyers?

Paeony Lewis

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The House Of Illustration, by Pippa Goodhart

After twelve years of planning and fund-raising and touring exhibitions, the permanent House Of Illustration is now open in Granary Square just behind Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations, and it’s a joy. 

The House of Illustration’s job is to celebrate and preserve and encourage illustration of all kinds, but with Quentin Blake as its leading light, children’s picture books and children’s fiction are of course going to feature strongly.  That is especially true just now as the opening exhibition – ‘Inside Stories’ - is specifically showcasing Qunentin Blake’s archive of work, together with explanations as to how each illustrating project worked. 

It’s fascinating from a children’s author’s point of view.  We see Quentin Blake’s own picture book writing in draft form.  Here’s just one example, taken from The Dancing Frog –

“Tell me another story about our family,” said Harriet.

The name ‘Harriet’ has then been replaced with ‘Jo’.  Read that line out loud with the alternative names, and it’s clear that Jo is the one that sets the rhythm right for reading out loud.
We see the email that Michael Rosen sent to his publisher, proposing his very particular and personal Sad book:
'hi c
today I wrote this: I thought you might be interested?'
... and then, in the text of the email, there is more or less the whole final text just written down, apparently in one day, simple and almost casual, but utterly, devastatingly, true about how he feels about the death of his son.  It's a reminder that children respond, as anyone should, to honesty and truth.

On display are developing artwork for Boy In A Dress, Danny, Champion Of The World, The BFG, The Wild Washerwomen, Captain Najork And His Hired Sportsmen, and wonderful Clown, all looking that bit brighter and more textured than they do in print.  I love the early sketches and scribbly storyboards.  Wonderful to see how design of a spread can animate the story action as, for example, poor Clown is flung from a series of throwing-sequence images on the left page, swooping up towards a window in a tall building on the righthand side page.  That story sweeps forward with a momentum and drama that keeps us turning pages, and there’s not a word of text in sight.  Of course picture books are primarily about pictures, and there’s a message for us authors in one of the comments from Quentin Blake in which he wants to  ‘…celebrate the way a writer who knows how to write picture books can give the artist good opportunities.’  He's referring to John Yeoman.

This particular exhibition runs until November 2nd.  But see the House Of Illustration website for up to date information –

The House of Illustration is small, but its ambitions and potential are large.  Do go and enjoy it. 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Why you should talk to other children's authors

Moira Butterfield 

A few years ago, when I’d just turned freelance, I went to a meet-up for authors and would-be-authors. It was a general local event for anyone, and there I was quickly cornered by a strangely aggressive chap who demanded to know how much money I made. That experience put me off meeting other authors for a while, which is a shame because in hindsight I realize he wasn’t even an author. He was one of those types who fancied being one because he thought he could get rich quick.
Still, lacking confidence and coming from a distinctly untouchy-feelie office environment myself, I shrunk from mixing with other writers.
Then I was asked to a local coffee meeting. I don’t remember why I decided to go, but I think I was probably feeling somewhat isolated. There I met some friendly folk who told me about a nationwide online children’s author group I could join. Well...It was online, so maybe I could. I could stay quiet or I could just log off if it wasn’t for me.
Luckily I found a very supportive community. The authors there didn’t necessarily do the same kind of work as me but they were all writers and they led writer’s lives. I began to ask questions and get helpful answers, such as how to use Twitter or what to charge for a school visit.
Eventually I met up with some of the authors in the group. I was nervous. I do a lot of work-for-hire projects in between trying to write my own material. How would that go down? I don’t have an agent. Would that be perceived as odd?
No. It was OK. I found friendly supportive people prepared to share creative experiences. They’ve helped me to think about my own work and I’ve been encouraged to move forward and to write in different ways. Some of us even set up this blog. Amazing! Now I can talk to authors every day if I want to. 
I’ve also found myself being supportive, and that’s been a surprisingly big plus because it turns out that helping others leads to increased personal self-confidence and feelings of worth (a secret of life that I definitely did not learn in pressurized offices!).  
I’ve even found myself sending messages to people I’ve never met because they are going through difficult times, and though I don’t know the details (I don’t have to) I do know how very hard it is to work when life is tough, and I can say: “I understand. It's OK to take time out. Your creativity won't go away.”
The other day I met a new group of children's writers near my home, and beforehand I felt that nervousness again, unsure who they’d be or what they would think of someone who might be working on a picture book one day and a history book or a first reader on another day. It turned out they were friendly, fun and wanted to hear from me.
I still have those insecure feelings but I’ve found so much in common with other children’s authors. I’ve found lots of people who think rather like me.
So I’d recommend meeting up with other children’s authors near you, and they don’t all have to be picture book authors. They could be writing all sorts of things for all sorts of projects, but the point is they ARE writing. Shoot the breeze, enjoy a coffee and know that you’re not alone in your working life.  
Currently I'm working on both history books and picture books. I have books coming out about the Anglo-Saxons this week, aimed at schools. In the meantime I continue writing my own novel series for 8+, which I hope to finish by the 22nd Century. I definitely need a coffee! 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

DON'T DO IT! - how NOT to write a picture book by Malachy Doyle

 1. Don’t think it’s easy. You need to have lived. You need to have read (lots and lots).  You need to have something to say. You need to have developed a voice, a style, an ease of telling…

2. Don’t over-write it. Write the story, then cut, cut, cut! Every word needs to need to be there, and the fewer the better (preferably under 500). Prune the beginning, cut to the quick, then chop, rebuild, chop, rebuild, chop, chop, chop till it’s perfect.  

 3. Don’t describe stuff. Just tell the story – the speech and the action. The illustrator will add colour to your world, and depth to your characters and their story. 

5. Don’t illustrate it, unless you’re an illustrator (and a very good one, at that).

6. Don’t ask someone else to illustrate it for you, either. The publisher will find the right person.

7. Don’t tell the illustrator how to do their job. You wouldn’t want them telling you how to write it.

 9. Don’t rhyme, unless the story steadfastly refuses to be told any other way. And unless you’re a brilliant rhymester, with perfect scansion.

10. Don’t lose touch with children. You’re writing for the young people of now and of the future. You need to know, understand and very much like them.    

11. Don’t skimp on the reading aloud. Rhythm, and a delightful ease in the telling, are key - and only reading your story aloud many many times will show if it’s perfect.

12. Don’t just write a story. Write one that needs to be told, with something real and true of yourself in it. Write with heart, from somewhere deep inside you. Write something that truly affects and enchants the reader / listener - something that matters.

13. Don’t make it too easy for your main character. Get them into trouble. Then more trouble. Then, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse...

14. Don’t think it’s easy. (Didn't I say that somewhere before?) Only the best is good enough for children. The best words in the best places, the best characters in the best stories… 

15. Don't expect to make a fortune. Or even a decent living. Do it because you have to.  Do it because you have stories inside you demanding to be told. Write because you're a writer.

16. And don’t send a story out till it’s finished. A picture book may take months, even years, and hundreds of drafts, to get right. Ask it every question, look at it from every angle, till you’re completely satisfied with it. And then…


(with thanks to James and Celia Catchpole, Martin Waddell, Mem Fox and everyone else along the way…)

Malachy’s latest picture book is called Peek-a-Book, and it’s illustrated by Rowan Martin and published by Parragon Books on August 8.

His storybook Pete and the Five-a-Side Vampires is published by Firefly Press on September 18 - and the most exciting thing about this one, for Malachy, is that it’s illustrated by his daughter Hannah!  Whoopy-doo!  

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Think Globally As You Write - Lynne Garner

For the last couple of years I've taught a variety of writing courses including two eCourses on writing picture books (How To Write A Children's Picture Book and Five Picture Books In Five Weeks). So some time ago when a friend asked if it was ok to pass my details on to a local aspiring picture book author I said it would be fine. A few days later he called and opened the conversation by telling me he’d written loads of stories and wanted to get them published. He asked if any of my courses would be suitable. I went through the syllabus and asked if he felt it was what he needed. “I’m not sure,” he responded.

Silent groan!

So I asked if he knew how the publishing industry worked. “Well, um… no,” was the reply.  “Then if nothing else you’ll gain a better understanding of what books make it to market and why. You can then edit your stories to suit the market, giving you a better chance.”  “Oh I know my books will sell because my wife and kids love them," was his reply.
Silent groan!

I told him it doesn’t mean they would be suitable for today’s market. To make my point I told him about my mistake when submitting my first story. The story included three celebrations, these being: Easter, Guys Fawkes Night and Halloween. I continued I’d been extremely lucky that the editor who read my story liked it. She took the time to write the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received. She pointed out that in order to sell globally I would have to think globally. Not everyone follows a Christian faith, so would not celebrate Easter. Only England celebrates a foiled plot to blow up their government, so would never have heard of Guy Fawkes Night. Finally she pointed out that not everyone celebrates Halloween and some even find it offensive. She finished by saying that if I could make a few changes she’d be pleased to read my story again. I made the changes, re-submitted and that story became 'A Book For Bramble.' 

“Oh, but I’d only submit to an English publisher,” was the reply.

Silent groan!

I continued that gone are the days publishers only publish in their own country. In order to make a book viable the rights would be sold worldwide. My books have travelled as far as America, Australia, Indonesia, Korea and my publisher has recently sold the Hebrew rights of one of my books.

“Oh, so you’re saying I may have to change my stories slightly.”

Silent groan!

I finished by stating that unfortunately today you have to realise we are creating a product. To get that product onto the market (published) you have to think about what the client (the publisher needs) and this product is an item that must have global appeal. So today when writing my books I always have this in mind. So if you want to give your story the best chance think global appeal.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Challenging Content in Picture Books by Emma O'Donovan

This month's guest blogger, Emma O'Donovan, discusses the potential for challenging, sometimes controversial picture books. Emma has spent the past ten years in the world of children's books, first as a children's bookseller and now as a publishing marketing manager. She may be found at The Book Sniffer.

As we bound head long into a new and magnificent golden age of illustrated picture books, I feel it’s time to take a moment to reflect on the role of challenging and controversial picture books in a world in which children are increasingly exposed to sensitive information. From the dark depths of Grimm’s fairy tales to an egg-laying mummy, dogs' bottoms, ‘boobs’, and the grim reaper, it seems there are few restrictions in terms of what is deemed acceptable content for the very youngest of readers

Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch 
Historically the picture books available to young readers were thoroughly smattered with terrifying bone chilling characters (the mere mention of Struwwelpeter strikes fear into the hearts of many adults I know). Back then they were actively used by parents as a tool  to instill good manners, etiquette and a good moral standing in the young. Although perhaps some of the methods depicted in Struwwelpeter were slightly harsh.

Image from Struwweelpeter

It is probably fair to say that as a general rule, in anticipation of the impact on international sales, publishers tend to avoid content which may be considered controversial. It is well documented that tolerance for challenging picture books appears to be extremely risky, particularly so in the US markets.
With the picture book market beginning to flourish again perhaps now is the perfect time for publishers to create interesting and challenging picture books; for parents to trust with complete confidence the decisions made by the books creators; and for authors and illustrators to be given new freedom to experiment with new themes. It is certainly evident that picture books are becoming increasingly experimental in terms of design and the complexity of the stories within them. 

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

During a recent acceptance speech at the Greenaway Awards, Winner Jon Klassen reminisced about how his initial concept for This is Not My Hat was much darker than the one which was eventually published, dipping its toe into the dark and murky underworld of underwater gang culture, only to be rebuffed by his US publisher for being too dark. It turns out they created an award-winner so in this case perhaps it was a good call and after all it is a marvellous book and *spoiler alert* the hero still in fact dies at the end so it's not entirely sanitised and sugar coated.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

It seems to me that nowadays one of the best things about using picture books as an educational and emotional support mechanism is the propensity for readers to absorb information at their own pace whilst promoting further discussion. So often children are bombarded with information from all angles with no capacity for information filtration, but at least with a picture book they can relate an imagined scenario with their own and re-read to reinforce understanding.

It’s hard to believe that one of the most recent pioneers, legendary Babette Cole, created her magnificent picture books over 30 years ago! Babette illustrated books with confidence, engaging storytelling and side splitting comedy incorporating gender equality, sex education, puberty, death and same sex marriage in the most charming of ways, with a great majority of readers not even realising they were what are referred to as ‘issue driven’. Surely that magical picture book recipe can be replicated and re-invented.

Mummy Never Told Me by Babette Cole

I wonder if exploring challenging subjects that are enveloped in a safe and familiar picture book (probably shared with a grown-up you are very fond of) is actually the best place to do so.; and there we have yet another reason why pictures books are an invaluable and essential first step in the development of the next generation of marvellous book loving adults.

I’d love to hear what you think
Should picture books remain a sacred space for the pure innocent enjoyment of story and escapism and imagination?
Who holds responsibility for what our children are exposed to?
Which books have tackled challenging issues unsuccessfully?
Should books tackling ‘issues’ proactively advertise their content on the cover for added parental reassurance?
Does humour play an important role in broaching certain subjects with young readers?
It'll be great to discuss this further in the comments section below or on ‘The Twitter’ (please tweet me @maybeswabey with your thoughts #challengingpicturebooks).

Finally, some recommendations
In my previous incarnation as a children’s bookseller, I regularly recommended trusted classics to broach difficult subjects. There really is a wealth of brilliant picture books, covering all manner of subjects from dementia to late breast feeding and divorce. Here are some which I would confidently recommend (and a few suggestions from my dear knowledgeable friends on Twitter).  

Mum and Dad Glue by Kes Grey & Lee Wildish
Duck Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch  
Grandpa by John Burningham
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier & Kaatje Vermeire
Sad Book by Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake
Grandma by Jessica Sheperd
Really and Truly by Emilie Rivard & Anne-Claire Delisle
Other / Bottoms 
The Great Dog Bottom Swap by Peter Bently & May Matsuoka
The Yes by Sarah Bee & Satoshi Kitamura
Elmer and the Big Bird by David McKee
Leave me Alone by Kes Gray & Lee Wildish
Is it Because? by Tony Ross  
Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine & Ed Eaves
Ant and the Big Bad Bully Goat by Andrew Fusek Peters & Anna Wadham
Don’t Laugh At Me by Steve Seskin
Trouble at the Dinosaur Cafe by Brian Moses & Garry Parsons


Thank you to this month's guest blogger,
Emma O'Donovan,
who may be found at
The Book Sniffer

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Using a picture book to help inspire children's stories by Jane Clarke

Like many picture book writers, I make a lot of visits to nurseries and schools, and I often use a  picture book as the basis of a workshop to inspire children to come up with their own stories. 

I've recently been working in parallel with poet Chrissie Gittins in Sandown Primary school, helping children to create their own stories and poems to exhibit for the Tell me a Story festival that took place this week in Deal, Kent, sponsored by the Astor Theatre. 

I used different picture books  to inspire work from all the year groups in the school, but for this post, I'll stick with Reception. That's Reception in the UK system  - they're a year younger than Reception in the USA. At this end of the school year, some are just beginning to write a word or two, but mostly they record their ideas in drawings – and they all love the idea of being authors and illustrators.

First, I read one of the Gilbert stories and we admired the wonderful illustrations by Charles Fuge, with the children identifying lots of sea creatures and getting ideas for what other things might be under the sea.

Then I introduced the idea of the class having a submarine adventure. I put a simple submarine shape made from paper tablecloth and sugar paper on the carpet and talked them through getting into the submarine. We set off  (making chugging propeller noises) on our exciting journey…

The children each drew a porthole to show their ideas  (real and surreal) about what they might see on their journey.

This time, the portholes were paper circles I'd cut out in advance for the children to draw on, but  if there's more time and more adults around, like this session in Herne Bay library

a sticky session with paper plates and craft materials is fun.

The children put their portholes on the submarine and I told the story (complete with joining-in  sound effects) of the class journey, pacing the exciting bits - a giant sea monster tentacle slaps agains the porthole…aargh!  
with the quieter aaaah moments of seeing, for example  the mermaids walking their dogfish and shoals of rainbow and sparkly starfish, fallen from the skies.

Each child then recorded their own submarine adventure in words and/or pictures in their Captain's Log - a small pre-made book.

We all had lots of fun.

Thanks and congratulations to the young  authors and illustrators for their fabulous imaginations and work, and to their teachers and parents for permission to the pictures .

Please feel free to to use and adapt the idea.