Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Christmas List of Picture Book Trivia by Moira Butterfield

To keep Mr Wolf from my door I’ve been compiling fact books this year, and writing history books, too, as well as creating board books and picture book material, and even writing poetry. So my bloggy Xmas present to you reflects my eclectic year. It’s a lucky dip of facts to be enjoyed with a seasonal glass (or mug) of something warming to hand. I may use it as my excuse to decant my home-made damson gin, just to see if it's ready for Santa.

Children have not changed so much over the centuries, it seems. Given the chance, they will let their imaginations take flight. Here's a description of children playing in medieval times, taken from an English sermon of the period:  

'with flowers...with sticks, and with small bits of wood, to build a chamber, buttery, and hall, to make a white horse of a wand, a sailing ship of broken bread, a burly spear from a ragwork stalk, and of a sedge a sword of war, a comely lady from cloth, and be right busy to deck it elegantly with flowers.'

 Stories exist as long as there is someone to tell them. In Anglo-Saxon England ordinary people could not read or write but they loved stories. Storytellers called 'scops' would travel from village to village to perform, accompanying their stirring adventure tales of heroes and monsters with a lyre, to add a bit of musical rhythm and atmosphere. The Anglo-Saxons also loved telling riddles, mostly full of filthy innuendo. Here’s a clean one:
When I am alive I do not speak.
Anyone can take me captive and cut off my head.
I do no harm to anyone unless they cut me first.
Then I make them cry!

 Here is the answer: 

If you are ever asked to write some unattributed work here's an idea from  Cynewulf, a monk from the 800s who was the first English author that we know of to write his own name on his work. He interwove symbols representing the letters of his name into the manuscripts of his religious poems. 
The earliest known children’s picture book, according to the internet,  is The Orbis Sensualium Pictus, or ‘The Picture World of the Senses’, published in 1658 and written by Czech educator John Comenius. On the title page he describes his book:  

‘The pictures of all the chief things that are in the world, and of men’s employment therein’. 

It opens with the sentence: ‘Come, boy, learn to be wise.’ You can read a translation and see the lovely woodcuts on the internet:

The earliest recorded lullaby is: ‘Lalla, lalla, lala, aut dormi, aut lacta’  - meaning lala, lalla, lalla, or lie down, or milk. It was set down in an Ancient Roman manuscript, as sung by a Roman nurse.
Online retailer Amazon made J.K. Rowling's ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ the world’s most expensive children’s book when it bought a copy at auction for £1.9 million. I wonder what they do with it. Do they read bits out at management meetings, I wonder? Is it trapped in a glass case, to keep it away from children? Oh the irony ... etc etc.

People are always claiming different historical meanings for children's nursery rhymes. The village of Kilmersdon near Bath, where I live, claims to be the home of the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill, for example. The story goes that a local unmarried girl got pregnant (presumably somewhere up the hill). Then her lover, Jack, was killed by a boulder that fell on him at the local quarry. Jill had the child but died and the child was raised as ‘Jill’s son’ (Gilson is a local surname). However, apparently this could all be nonsense and the rhyme could be to do with Charles the First slapping tax on a half-pint of ale (once called a 'jack’). It could be none of the above, frankly, but the village claims it, so there. You can walk up ‘Jack and Jill Hill’, tumble back down and then go and have a half in the local pub, so everyone’s happy. “Proper job,” as they say around these parts. 

Here's a photo of the front of our office. I share it as a co-operative with other freelancers, and this front window is kept permanently decorated with all sorts of toys and stuff by maestro cover designer and children's illustrator Steve Wells, for the delight of passing people.  This is his Xmas display. 

A Harvard professor and and Winchester University psychologist recently announced news of their researches analysing the thought processes of nursery-age children. They discovered that the children could easily distinguish between people pretending to be Father Christmas and the man himself, and have no difficulty still believing in the real deal whilst meeting impersonators. Welcome confirmation that small children don't take everything literally, are very aware and don't need every message, every 'moral', hammered home on every page as if they have no brain at all. (Oops, sorry. I am in danger of going off on an unrelated rant here. Pass the damson gin, would you?)

Finland is the country that use its libraries the most. On average a Finnish family borrows a hundred library books a year between them. This could be valuable evidence of what Santa does in summer.
So long as a new Norwegian children’s book passes quality control, Arts Council Norway automatically buys 1,550 copies to distribute to libraries. The authors make an extra-high royalties on these books. Renowned Norwegian writers and artists receive a guaranteed income and are eligible for one to five-year work grants.

No wonder Santa lives up north! I’m off! 

Until this morning Moira Butterfield was trying to work out how best to explain the British Iron Age to 7 yr-olds, was in the process of creating some pre-school board books for a major UK retailer, and was about to begin a series on children around the world. She also had a picture book in the works for 2015. However, she has just left to catch a plane to Norway, muttering about become one of Santa's in-house authors. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Ideas, Themes and Originality by Malachy Doyle

Where do you get your ideas from?  That’s one of the questions I’m most often asked. My imagination, I usually say.  Memories of childhood, I add.  Observation. Experience.

But ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.  A phrase overheard on the bus.  The person in front of you at the check-out.   A picture on a postcard someone sent you from Peru.  That silly/strange/funny thing you did/saw/heard/read/thought yesterday. 

An idea is just a starting point.  Starting points come from anywhere, and lead anywhere.  That’s the joy of creativity.

Folk tales are a great starting point, for example.  If a story’s survived, in all its many forms, for hundreds, thousands of years, then there’s something deep inside it that cuts to the quick of what it is to be human.  Something we can draw on to create a whole new story, a whole new world. 

It’s often said that there are only a limited number of themes, a limited range of plots that are appropriate for picture book.  That may or may not be so, but the joy of picture book is when the writer finds such a fresh, imaginative and engaging way of telling their story that where it stands in relation to anything that’s been written before becomes irrelevant.  It works. It simply works.

So, below, I've jotted down a few basic start points for stories. And then I’ve looked at some of my own picture books to see which of them might fit under each theme:

A puzzle that needs solving:  Who Did It?; Sleepy Pendoodle

Someone or something that’s lost and needs to be found: Charlie is My Darling; The Snuggle Sandwich; Teddybear Blue

The need to find 'home': Antonio on the Other Side of the World Getting Smaller; Big Pig

Triumph of the youngest / smallest: Too Noisy; Collywobble; Danny the Duck with no Quack; Digger and Lew.

Going on a journey / quest:  Little Chick and the Secret of Sleep; The Bold Boy; Blast Off!

Finding a friend: When a Zeeder Met a Xyder

A child’s relationship with a grandparent: Owen and the Mountain; The Dancing Tiger; Tad-cu’s Bobble Hat; Jody’s Beans; Granny Sarah and the Last Red Kite.  

Dealing with an odd/annoying member of the household: Albert and Sarah Jane

Helping, and making friends with, a monster: Hungry! Hungry! Hungry!
Having fun with folk tale: Peek-a-Book; Hen’s Cake; The Great Castle of Marshmangle; Una and the Seacloak.

Looked at that way, you can see that even just in my work certain themes recur over and over (I seem to have a thing about grandparents… and being the little one in a big family... oh, and mountains... and getting lost in the woods... )
In most if not all cases I didn't start with the theme - I more often started with a character, a picture in my head, a phrase that came to me out walking.... 

So yes, as Lynne said in the last post, try to avoid things that have been recently done to death - but don't panic if you think you story isn't 100% original - nothing is.  The trick is to find something fresh, something captivating to say with each new story.  And to tell it in your very own style, in your very own voice.  Then it doesn’t really matter how often the basic theme’s been used before, because it's your story now.  And it's a good one - I know it is.  

How about you?  Do your books/stories use any of these themes as a starting point?
Has anyone got any other recurring themes they’d like to offer up?  Or any killer one-offs? 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Importance Of Researching The Market - Lynne Garner

My latest funny story with a twist at the end 
Over the years I’ve attended writing courses and read a multitude of books all in the hopes of improving my writing and my chances of landing new publishing deals. Time and again I’ve read that if you’re serious about getting published (in any genre) you should research the market. I must admit I also suggest this to my students.

Researching means looking in shops to see what has recently been published, visiting the local library (if you’re lucky enough to still have one) and rummaging in the book box at your dentists or doctors. However this only gives you an idea of what an editor was looking for around two years ago. This is because it can take up to two years for a picture book to reach the shelves. I've heard of some books that have taken far longer than that.

So what is all the point of this research? Well it tells you what not to write.

At the moment it would appear wizards are so yesterday, vampires have been done to death and pirates are washed-up. So there is little point (if you want to see your work in print) in writing a book for an already saturated market. Thankfully when I was in the process of writing Bad Manners, Benji! (released February 2014) an editor had advised me that she was looking for a story that:
  • Had an element of humour
  • Was aimed at boys
  • Had a twist at the end
  • Was driven by strong characters 

Sadly I haven't received such helpful advice recently, so I've had to research what not to write and look for possible gaps in the market. One gap I think I've found is based on the changes happening in our education system. In the recent set of changes part of the curriculum states that children in year one and two should be “becoming very familiar with key stories, fairy stories and traditional tales …” Thankfully I have a couple of stories ready to go which might just fill this gap. 

However this doesn't tell me what the market will want once I've sent these off and I'm planning my next set of stories. So I'm going to take a chance and write a few stories just for me. If I like them and they pass the Picture Book Den Team critique red pen (one of the perks of being a member of such a fab group, we support one another by swapping manuscripts every so often) I may just take the plunge and send them to a publisher. With fingers crossed I may just be ahead of the game and write a story that fits the requirements of an ever changing market. 

Lynne Garner

My writing eCourses which starting January 2015:

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Magic of Christmas by Garry Parsons (Guest blog)

We’re delighted to welcome this month’s guest blogger, Garry Parsons, who is an award-winning picture book illustrator. Garry discusses capturing the essence of Christmas and make-believe, from the Toenail Fairy to Father Christmas.

My five year-old son believes in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy unequivocally 
and without question. 

from The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas by Peter Bently and Garry Parsons
He is yet to lose a tooth himself but I know when the time comes that he will take it on board wholeheartedly. I know this because aside from mentioning Father Christmas all year round he has also taken on the existence of the Toenail Fairy, invented by his parents to ease his aversion to having his toenails cut. For my part, the presence of the Toenail Fairy amounts to creeping into his room after dark with a head torch and nail clippers and hoping he doesn’t wake after the first ‘click’. The Toenail Fairy gives a Malteser per toenail, not cash, in case you were wondering, and being concerned not to stain the bed sheets with chocolate, leaves the Maltesers in a bowl next to the bed. But for my son, there is no reason to doubt that the Toenail Fairy exists.

from The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas by Peter Bently and Garry Parsons
I can’t remember the moment Father Christmas ceased to be real for me as a child, but I do remember the magic that surrounded him when I did believe. I’m sure having an elder brother accelerates Santa’s demise for younger siblings, but it’s my wish for my son that his belief in Father Christmas continues as long as possible. 

For that reason I will do what I can to gently perpetuate his presence. But what I’ve noticed as I’ve become older is that I’ve fallen back in love with the idea of magic myself. As if the mystery and magic of the world has had a resurgence inside me.

I often find myself rushing to the window to witness a rainbow or a pink sunset or an orange moon or adding up symbols I’ve seen as I walk down the street, piecing together moments or words or images which somehow start to shape some other language inside me, giving me a warm sense of wonder that some other world is operating just outside of the everyday normality that we are all so used to. As Freddie Mercury would say, “It’s a kinda magic.”

Rainbow over Reykjavik, Iceland

Each year my family spends two weeks in Iceland. My son and I were trying to recall just how many rainbows we saw on a certain day the year before and came to the agreement that whilst walking from the Hallgrímskirkja to Perlan in Reykjavik, a distance of 1.8km, we saw seven separate rainbows. My son has inherited my enthusiasm for ‘collecting’ rainbows and we like to think Iceland is the rainbow capital of the world. Without doubt, Iceland is a magical place, especially if you can travel, even a short distance, away from the main city. Its climate, strange landscapes, rapidly changing weather and dancing aurora give it a magic that gets under your skin.

Ice chunks at Jökulsárlón, glacial river lagoon, Iceland
This morning in Reykjavik we woke up to a blanket of snow outside. “Is it Christmas?” my son asked. “No,” I answered, “it’s October.” But in some ways he was right, the magic was there, just outside the window. So when I was invited to work on a Christmas picture book, I knew it was this elusive element that I wanted to attempt to capture, the Christmas spirit, the seasonal essence, the magic of Christmas, and to do so in acrylic. I had the challenge of depicting our beloved Father Christmas as a credible, caring, warm guardian of children. 

As well as wanting him to be witty and charming, I also needed him to have a little of the quality of magic about him. Consequently, Christmas in my studio stretched from September until early March.

from The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas by Peter Bently and Gary Parsons

So this year I’m excited. Not only have I had another chance to explore Iceland (and I have another son to share Iceland and Christmas with), but also my love for the notion of magic continues, be it rainbows or Santa, and somehow that convinces me that picture books really can do magic.  

Continuing the festive theme, Garry is also the illustrator of The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter and Daisy and the Trouble with Christmas by Kes Gray.

Garry Parsons is the award-winning illustrator of many books, including There's An Ouch In My Pouch by Jeanne Willis, the best selling The Dinosaur that Pooped... series by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter, George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy and Stephen Hawking and Billy’s Bucket by Kes Gray. Visit him at GarryParsons.co.uk. Follow him on twitter @icandrawdinos

The Tooth Fairy’s Christmas by Peter Bently and illustrated by Garry Parsons (Hodder Children’s Books).

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Ten signs that you’re a picture book writer by Jane Clarke

I didn't set out to be a picture book writer, I intended to write novels.  So for anyone else who is as confused as I was…

You know you’re a picture book writer if:

  • You seriously consider the point of view of talking animals.

From The Far Side by Gary Larson

  • Your story spends more time in your head than it does getting it down on paper.

One of Julia Woolf's fab sketches from my post on ideas composting

  • You see your story in pictures even though you’re not an illustrator. 
  • You can't resist planning it out in ten to twelve spreads.

This is how Knight Time looked before Jane Massey's wonderful illustrations

  • You automatically think 

  • You get more satisfaction crafting a story in 400 words than you do writing it in 4,000 or 40,000 words. 

  • You have lots of fun thinking of awful puns (often removed by editor) and adding layers that the adult reading it will enjoy as well as the child. 

From Gilbert the Great illustrated by Charles Fuge. The name of the boat references the Jaws films.

  • You spend ages agonising over a word.

  •  Steam comes out your ears when someone implies that writing a picture book is easy.

Grrr! Picture books require skill.

  • You're reading posts on The Picture Book Den!
Please add to the list in the comments.

Jane's currently working on a series of toddler board books for Penguin Random House, three picture books for Nosy Crow, and a series called Dr KittyCat for OUP.

Friday, 21 November 2014

True Story Picture Books (or Creative Non-Fiction: It’s All About the Story) by Juliet Clare Bell

Are you sitting comfortably?

I’m not.

I’m itching to get up and discover. I feel like a puppy who hasn’t quite worked out which way she wants to go first and is darting from one place to another, happily, but slightly barking…

I’ve got the bug back. After feeling uninspired for quite some time, I’m very very excited about writing picture books again. I feel like I’ve re-understood something I knew a while back when I was writing my chocolate book, but had kind of forgotten.

I’m writing this in National Non-fiction November, in praise of non-fiction -although I reckon the term ‘non-fiction’ has a dry, almost negative, feel about it. Almost as if it’s not something worthy of a term in its own right, just that it is not something else. It’s not fiction, which I as an author –and reader- love. But what I love about fiction is STORY. And the best non-fiction is exactly that. So I’m re-thinking how I think of it in my head: I write picture books and at the moment, the picture books that I’m really drawn to writing are true story picture books, which sounds more fun than non-something else (to me, at least).

So what’s the real difference?

Apart from the fact that the story is true, there isn’t a great difference –if you do it really well. A great true story picture book still makes the best use of language and rhythm, repetition and sometimes even rhyme. It still makes use of the form of the picture book –exciting readers by interesting use of page turns.

The beautiful Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown, 2011).

It still exploits the rule of threes…

Story has to be at the very heart of it.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin (Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet; Knopf; 2013)

And your heart has to be at the very heart of it too, when you’re writing it. Don’t write a true story picture book if the story doesn’t fire you up, first because your reader won’t love it, and also, because you’ve got to research and research takes time. Lots of time.

A close writer friend, Rebecca Colby, and I, were part of the Breaking into Nonfiction panel at the recent British SCBWI annual conference. Anita Loughrey blogged about the panel here.

Me on the far left, with Rebecca, next left at the Nonfiction Panel at the 2014 British SCBWI Annual Conference, Steve Rickard (Ransom), Sophie Thomson (Pearson) and Kersti Worsley (OUP).

It was loads of fun and we talked with lots of other writers and editors who were similarly fired up by the idea of beautifully crafted picture books that tell true stories. It feels like something really special is in the air… UK editors are certainly seemingly more interested now than before, but what’s changing?

I wrote about the market for creative non-fiction picture books in an earlier PBD blog post about the Cadbury book I was researching at the time. With the Common Core (adopted by almost all states in the US), 50% of texts for upper primary aged children in schools need to be informational, which means that publishers are taking on many more new true story picture books than ever before. And they’re winning prizes that have traditionally been won by fictional picture books.

And now in the UK, Nosy Crow has teamed up with the National Trust to produce children’s books that relate to National Trust properties. Although the UK market isn’t going to be as big as the US market (given their schools and library market in the light of the Common Core), I think that UK publishers are looking closely at what’s happening in the US market. It’s a really exciting time to be writing in this area.

So, what should you write about?

There are so many thousands of amazing stories out there, waiting to be told. It’s true of fiction ones, and it’s true of real life ones. What you need to do is be receptive to looking/listening out for them.
Here are some things you can do:

Talk to people

Talk to your family. What true stories did you love as a child? Growing up in our family of eight, we used to sit around for hours at the dinner table eating lots but talking even more. My parents were natural storytellers and loved telling, as well as reading, us stories. So I talked with my sister yesterday on the phone for over an hour and together we came up with over sixty ideas for true story picture books. Sixty (that’s this year’s PiBoIdMo sorted)… No wonder I’m on a crazy writing high today… My dad and his lovely new wife came up with a great idea for one, too, when we were chatting about it a few weeks ago. And today, I arranged to go on a really exciting research trip for one of these ideas in just two weeks’ time with another sister who feels similarly excited about the potential project. What a brilliant way to hang out with your favourite people and come up with great ideas/do research at the same time!

What true stories have captured your children's imaginations? What are they doing at school that’s really interesting? My ten-year-old came home from school earlier this week having seen half of a documentary about something (sorry –can’t say what, as I’ve nicked the idea for myself). They were going to watch the other half the next day. When she said to her teacher “I don’t think I can wait till tomorrow cos it’s too exciting!” her teacher said “Please don’t watch it at home [it was on Youtube]. I can’t wait to see all your faces when you see what happens!” So a topic that the children and teacher were all really excited about… Talk to your children (or other primary-aged children).

Talk to librarians and library staff.

They’re brilliant for knowing what people come in looking for and for saying what’s been covered before but not been done well. They’re also pretty fun people to hang out with (thanks to my lovely Kings Heath Library friend who I was out with last night, who told me about certain famous people who’d been written about lots but never in an exciting enough way.) Go on, you know you want to... Have fun and support your local libraries at the same time.

Given that the National Trust and Nosy Crow are now in partnership, have a look at different National Trust properties and land and think of what related stories are there to be told that really fire your imagination…

Watch telly, listen to radio programmes, read newspapers...

Check out the US Common Core -whether you're writing in the UK or the US or anywhere else.

I love stories and people. I want to understand better why people do the things they do (which is why I was a psychologist for so many years in my life-before-children). So for me, I’m fascinated by the person behind the invention/organisation/discovery...

Which inventions/organisations/discoveries fascinate you?

It could be the story behind the invention of the toilet... (Curse you, tiny toilet -I did actually have to look up 'how to draw a toilet' to get something even vaguely resembling one)

Or it could be a favourite organisation...

You can research them superficially and quickly to find which of them has a great real life story behind it. We came up with sixty ideas, seventeen of which I’m feeling really excited about. Those seventeen might result in my following up, perhaps, eight really seriously over the coming year. And mostly from brainstorming with a sister who I’d happily spend hours every day talking to about anything. This really is something you can have heaps of fun with.

Think about organisations behind the stories that you love. Is it possible that they could commission you to write a story for them? For my next book, More Than a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable Story of the Cadbury Brothers,

Richard and George Cadbury (c) Cadbury Archive

it was Bournville Village Trust that approached me (and Jess Mikhail, the illustrator) and commissioned us rather than the other way round, but I would absolutely approach an organisation now if I felt that I loved a story that related to them and could do it justice. And I’ve loved the whole social reform and philanthropy side of the Cadbury story so much that I’m really interested in writing more stories with that at its heart.

Finally, think about stories where someone has done something against the odds. Could you turn that into a story that children will love and be inspired by?

The biggest problem may be curbing your enthusiasm. Right now I feel a bit like the guy from The Fast Show, who thinks everything is "brilliant!"
And one brilliant thought leads to another… and another…

I’ve had loads of fun brainstorming ideas and now it’s time to do the superficial research on the ones I’m too excited about not to check out now. I’ve set myself a deadline for emailing a list and a summary of a number of ideas for true story picture books that I promised I’d send to an editor. So next week I’m going to be researching all week to whittle it down to a manageable number of ideas to work with for now.

To anyone thinking of writing true stories for children, and to those who are already doing it, good luck. There are SO many stories out there, I think there’s room for lots of us to tell the amazing stories that amaze us.

(There’s a brilliant facebook group that is dedicated to non-fiction picture books: Wownonficpic, and a great four-week online course run by Kristen Fulton).

Do you have any tips for coming up with great ideas for true story picture books? If you’re happy to share, we’d love to read them in the comments below.

Juliet Clare Bell is author of The Kite Princess (Barefoot Books, recently endorsed by Amnesty International) and Don’t Panic, Annika! (Piccadilly Press, recently featured on CBeebies). Her next picture book, More Than a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable Story of Richard and George Cadbury, was commissioned by Bournville Village Trust, and is currently being illustrated by Jess Mikhail. She has seriously got the bug for telling true stories in her favourite form, picture books.
Clare lives happily in Birmingham, UK, with her three children (always a source of inspiration for true life and fictional stories, and life in general), almost within sniffing distance of the chocolate factory which she’s written about. Which is brilliant…


National Non-Fiction November is the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual celebration of all things factual. Born out of National Non-Fiction Day, the brain child of Adam Lancaster during his years as Chair, the whole month now celebrates all those readers that have a passion for information and facts and attempts to bring non fiction celebration in line with those of fiction.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

MARVELLOUS MACHINES: Technology in picture book illustration • Jonathan Emmett

Understanding how it all fits together is no mean feat.
One of David Parkins's techtastic illustrations for Eileen Browne's story, No Problem.

I’m a bit of a technophile and several of my picture books, such as Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit and Tom’s Clockwork Dragon have a technological theme. I’d like to think that my enthusiasm for technology comes across in my writing, but the writing only tells half the story in a picture book, the other half being told by the illustrations.

Some of the fundamentally flawed bicycle
drawings from Rebecca Lawson’s study
To draw a machine or mechanism well, an illustrator has to understand how it’s put together and operates. This cognitive skill doesn’t always go hand in hand with artistic ability and is relatively uncommon, not just among illustrators, but among the population as a whole.

Cognitive psychologist Rebecca Lawson demonstrated this last point with a series of experiments in which subjects were asked to either draw or complete a drawing of a bicycle. The bicycle is a simple machine that most people will have been familiar with from an early age and even non-cyclists encounter them regularly. While many people may think that they understand how a bicycle is put together, Lawson’s experiments (which she later published as a paper) show that relatively few people are able to draw one from memory without making fundamental errors.

Having established how rare this ability is, here are 10 techtastic picture book illustrators who excel at drawing machines.

You can see every nut, bolt and washer in David Parkins’s wonderful illustrations for No Problem, written by Eileen Browne. This book is one of my all-time favourite picture books about technology and was a huge bedtime favourite of my son’s.

The extraordinary Chris Riddell seems to excel at drawing everything and technology is no exception. The robots that inhabit Wendel’s Workshop demonstrate how technically detailed illustrations can also be brimming with character.

Mark Oliver, who created Monster’s - An Owner’s Guide with me, cites his engineer father as an inspiration for much of his work. Mark once told me that the key to illustrating technology well is that, “it has to look like it could actually work.”

Jonny Duddle’s The King of Space is full of superbly drawn spaceships and robots. Rex, the book’s anti-hero, lives on a farm which may be why the huge “warbot” he constructs looks like it’s made from tractor parts.

Ted Dewan’s re-telling of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice replaces magic with technology, and the work-shy human apprentice with an equally work-shy robot.

Although some of Callum’s creations in Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit are huge, Ben Mantle’s brilliantly detailed illustrations make it clear that they are constructed from pieces that a child could handle and assemble on his own.

William Bee’s illustrations for And the Train Goes are packed with the sort of wonderful technical detail that’s rarely found in picture books for the very young.

While cross sections are more commonly found in non-fiction, Steve Cox’s design for the crocodile submarine in our picture book The Treasure of Captain Claw was so stunning that publisher Orchard gave Steve this huge gatefold to show it off. Click here to see a much larger version in Steve's Flickr album.

No list of techtastic illustrators is complete, without the grandaddy of them all, Heath RobinsonThis illustration is from Railway Ribaldry, published for the centenary of the Great Western Railway in 1935.

And finally, I couldn’t resist sneaking in an illustration from The Clockwork Dragon (a reworking of Tom’s Clockwork Dragon), my forthcoming picture book with Elys Dolan. Elys is a self-confessed armour nut, and this certainly shows in her splendid illustrations of the eponymous dragon, which is made from recycled arms and armour.

Do you have a favourite picture book featuring marvellous machinery that I haven’t mentioned? If so, tell us about it in the comment box below.

Jonathan Emmett's most recent techtastic picture book is Callum’s Incredible Construction Kit, illustrated by Ben Mantle and published by Egmont.

Find out more about Jonathan and his books at his Scribble Street web site or his blogYou can also follow Jonathan on twitter @scribblestreet.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Curse of Busy-ness by Abie Longstaff

It's coming up to Christmas season. The shops are full of decorations, the ads are on the telly and the kids are behaving extra well just in case Santa's making a list and checking it twice.

I do love Christmas. I'm one of those people who gets ridiculously excited about the whole thing. I love seeing my family and consuming my weight in cheese. I'd happily have a glass of mulled wine with a mince pie any time of year.

But...for me the run up to Christmas is often filled with a growing sense of panic.

This time of year I suffer from the curse of busy-ness. It seems like there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done and every task is done at full speed.

Like many authors I have extra events to do or attend. I also have a Christmas book out which needs promoting. I have my day job, and my kids...and the Australian Christmas cards that need writing and posting...and every other reason to dash around like a headless chicken.

Only - the other day, because I was so busy, I didn't notice a good friend of mine was ill. I'd let my rushing around get in the way of something really important.

As picture book writers we need space to dream, and time to do it. As I run madly from one job to the next, scribbling on the train to make up lost time, I'm starting not to enjoy my creative work. I've been curtailing my day-dreaming time, cramming it between tasks. That's not the way to write. Worse; I've been neglecting my friends.

So my well-before-new-year's resolution is to slooooow down.

I've found some lovely bird song to listen to (it's tropical to remind me of growing up in Hong Kong):
I'm focusing on enjoying the journey; gazing out of the window instead of editing a book.

I'm going for a walk by the sea as often as I can.

I'm meeting up with my good friend next week.

And I found this lovely video of a craftsman who knows how to take time to make his creations perfect:

Wishing you all strength and TIME to cope with the pre-Christmas season,


(My new book is The Fairytale Hairdresser and Father Christmas)