Monday, 19 March 2018

Picture Books to Share on an Allotment by Cath Jones

Anyone who knows me will agree that I’m BONKERS about growing vegetables and BONKERS about picture books. It’s not a huge surprise then that my debut picture book, 
Bonkers About Beetroot, is about a group of animals who decide to grow a giant beetroot.

Spring is my favourite time of year in the garden. The growing season is just beginning; the greenhouse is filling up with seed trays and seeds are bursting into life. Right now, thousands of people are heading for their allotments! But if you’ve got children along to help, sometimes it can be tricky to engage them in gardening activities, particularly for extended periods. 
My top tip for keeping kids happy on an allotment is to take the right picture books with you. So when they have had enough of digging holes and they don’t really want to help tidy up they won’t be bored!

I used to manage a community allotment and naturally the project’s focus was on children. At the end of every gardening session I shared picture book stories with the young gardeners. I tracked down lots of books that featured vegetables or gardening as their main theme. My picture book collection grew and grew, much like our vegetables. And of course it was growing beetroot with the children that inspired my story about a BONKERS beetroot eating zebra! I now volunteer on a local community allotment with a family group and get to share my own picture book with them.

I’m sure there are many vegetable themed and gardening related picture books that I have not discovered yet. But I do have a few firm favourites which I hope you will enjoy while doing a bit of gardening with the kids. For some reason the ones I like the most all feature carrots. And yes, I do have an idea for my own carrot related story...

In no particular order, picture books that I think work really well on allotments are: 

The Giant Carrot by Allan Manham and Penny Dann. I love sharing this one down on the plot. It’s a great one for getting the kids to join in with.
Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson. This has always been hugely popular. The text is perfect and it’s beautifully illustrated too. 

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. This one is great for sharing one to one. It’s a bit scary! It has really fabulous illustration inspired by Hitchcock films.

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! By Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. This a delightful story that shows the central character growing carrots and harvesting them as well as defending them! It’s great for joining in with and very funny.

Pattan’s Pumpkin by Chitra Soundar and Frane Lessac. This is a great choice if you are having a competition to see who can grow the biggest pumpkin. The text is so lovely; it’s a joy to read aloud.

If you are looking for stories that deal in particular with growing food then the following are ideal: Grow Your Own by Esther Hall.

Growing Good by Bernard Ashley and Anne Wilson 

and Dominic Grows Sweetcorn by Mandy Ross and Alison Bartlett. 

My own Bonkers About Beetroot is also good for showing how to grow seeds. 

There are many more titles I could suggest but right now I’m heading off to my greenhouse. I’ve got some beetroot seeds to deal with!

Wishing you a great growing season and I hope the kids in your life will feel inspired by all these wonderful picture books. If I have missed out a book you particularly love to read down on the plot, please do share in the comments section.

Cath Jones is the author of quirky picture book Bonkers About Beetroot and lots of early and reluctant readers. She also writes junior and middle grade fiction. Her whole life has been about books: as a librarian, teacher, editor, community gardener (vegetable story-time anyone?), and now an author she has always aimed to inspire a love of stories. She loves sharing her stories with children of all ages in libraries, bookshops, schools and especially on allotments. 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Who Chooses The Books? By Pippa Goodhart

I buy lots of picture books.  My children are now in their twenties, and I don't yet have grandchildren, so I buy picture books for me.  I buy ones I just want to enjoy for myself, but I also buy books with thoughts of using them as examples when I teach classes of adults about writing children's books.

I love the clever, super-charged, thrill and danger of picture books such as Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat.  I'm moved to sadness and joy by books such as Jo Empson's Rabbityness.  I love the gentle beauty and humour of wordless book Wave by Suzy Lee.

But, looking at my books, I wondered which of them the young child me would have chosen.  We're all individual as children just as we're individual as adults.  But I know that child me was also different from adult me.  So I went through the books, thinking about what would have appealed or not when I was of core picture book audience age.  I picked out two books.

I would have hugely enjoyed Oi Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field for its wonderfully logical silliness and humour, and the way it plays with language.

But I know that the book I would have gone back to again and again on my own after a parent had first read it to me would have been Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown.  Why?  Because it is beautiful.  But, more than that, because Mr Tiger goes through emotions that I would have recognised as he copes with feeling an odd one out, testing freedoms, then coming to a happy compromise that lets him both be himself and fit into society.  It's a story I would have thought about a lot, and probably made up extension stories of my own in my head about.  I care about Mr Tiger, and would have done so then.

I would also have enjoyed having a go at copying those wonderful blocky pictures.

So what modern picture book would the child you have particularly enjoyed, and why?

Monday, 5 March 2018

My 10 Step Marketing Plan • by Natascha Biebow

So, after years of tinkering and not giving up, I’m super excited that I have finally got a new book coming out in Spring 2019. THE CRAYON MAN is a narrative non-fiction picture book about the invention of the Crayola crayon. 

It is a colourful jaunt into the invention of one of America’s signature childhood toys: In 1903, a man’s innovative invention appeared in homes in a bright green box – the Crayola crayons. In a world where children are given crayons almost as soon as they are born, where the smell of crayons is more recognizable than coffee and peanut butter, I wondered: what must it have been like to live at a time when crayons were a novelty?  

Original box of 8 launched in 1903. Image from

Oooh, I'm so excited. 

Last September, I went to the SCBWI Author Bootcamp to learn about how to market my book. I came away with lots of practical advice and a list in my notebook. But since then I have, well, hidden under my rock. I figured I had bags of time still. 
Then last week my publisher sent me a marketing questionnaire. 

Hmm, maybe I should crawl out from under my rock . . . 
. . . and think about starting to do some, erm, Marketing.

It’s one of those words that, for me, is like when my mum used to announce something I didn't like to eat for dinner, like fried liver with apples. It made my stomach clench in anticipation.

When I got the questionnaire, I decided to see if I could come up with a marketing plan. And, um, maybe you can help?

1. Hide under my rock.

No, actually the Bootcamp list says: don't forget to work on the next book. Yes! I can do that. I’ve been researching and writing some more non-fiction picture books, because I want to keep up the momentum and actually get to have coffee and cake with my lovely new editor at some point soon. 
But that's not really MARKETING . . . Right. The Bootcamp notes. 

2. Blog. I like writing. Yes, I can do those. Blogs are my friend. I blog here and I have a new blog for the SCBWI’s Words & Pictures online magazine:
To do: Write a couple of blog posts about topics like how the book came about, a glimpse behind the scenes, and perhaps even with some updates on this plan. What else?

3. Website: I’ve already used to build one of those for my coaching and mentoring service. So, I grab and start building an author website. But, what should it have on it? It’s a darned blank page!

I want to crawl back under my rock. No, come on, I coach myself. Chunk it down. Bring it back to writing.

Maybe I could share:

-       some quirky info about me Like this:
     Whenever I go anywhere, I always have a book (or usually books) in my bag -- IN CASE. I think my greatest fear is being stuck somewhere without a book . . .

             . . . (and chocolate)!

-       the book cover (can’t wait to see that!), a blurb with THE CRAYON MAN hook and links to bookshops

-       tips for readers and teachers about using the book in the classroom (I coach writers and illustrators, and I’m a Montessori teacher so that should be do-able), and maybe some useful non-fiction links and activity sheets.

-       some info about school visits

-       link to my blogs

Better get writing then and oooh, maybe do some colouring.  

But when? I'm supposed to be writing a new book (and working to earn a living).

4. Create some freebies: postcards/bookmarks? Or someone suggested a fun rubberised stamp saying “I met an author today”. Design and print.

5. Dream up and plan a school visit gig: hmmm, this one sounds a tad big and overwhelming. How to start? Oooh, I know, PROPS! I could buy some rearlly, cool stationery, like: 

-       Slates and slate pencils

-       Coloured chalk

-       Lovely colourful Crayola crayons . . .

But I can't just colour with an assembly of 200 kids. The notes say I need a PRESENTATION. I need to brainstorm and plan out my visit. (Maybe I can work on this while walking the dog?!)

I need some ideas. I know: go and watch some seasoned authors perform.

Mo O'Hara enthralling school children.
I wonder if I can come up with a party trick like Kes Gray did at my son's school where he flicked playing cards and biscuits across the school hall? Hmmm . . . 

Practise my presentation performance in front of a mirror. (I guess all those years of drama club in high school may come in useful. Who knew?!) Next, find a guinea pig school to let me try it out. And maybe . . .  book some school visits for when the book comes out?

6. Connect with reviewers, librarians and booksellers. Go into local bookshops and introduce myself. Leave postcards. Make new friends. Make a list of everyone I know so I can tell them about the book. For this one, I have to be brave and network. (That rock is looking quite tempting again right now).

7. Create an author profile on and and. And on Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Facebook etc. Maybe I can re-purpose some of the writing from building my website?

8. You Tube is big. Maybe I should make a book trailer. I can get my 8 year-old son to help me since he’s keen to be a photographer/videographer.  

9. Get on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram . . .

Um, here is where things go pear-shaped. I don’t like social media. What to do? Hire a coach?

10. Organize a launch – check in with the publisher, but also maybe do a blog tour?

Ouf, such a long list! How do busy authors have time for all this stuff? I think it’s time to go hide under my rock again. And take a long nap. At least till next Monday.

Have you got a book marketing tip? I’d love to swap and share!

Natascha Biebow Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of The Crayon Man (coming in 2019), Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. She runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Check out her Cook Up a Picture Book courses!