Category Archives: Books

“It needs more roaring”

My new picture book Pink Lion is published next month by Walker Books. This is the story of how it came into being…

Once a week I run an art class for under 5s. It’s a great joy to watch the creativity of young minds and fingers – and a constant source of inspiration to me. This was never more true than the week we made robots. After constructing our shiny cardboard creations, I asked the group what they thought the story might be about today. “A pink lion,” said one boy, without hesitation.

That was the spark that set me pondering, scribbling and scouring museums for stone lions (the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a particularly fine one in pink granite). Brainstorming pink things put flamingoes in my mind, and I liked the idea that a pink lion might be adopted by pink birds and live a happy life with jelly for tea every day. For some reason it seemed natural to call him Arnold.

This didn’t offer much drama, however, which is where the growling gang of yellow lions comes in, sending Arnold into a state of confusion about his identity. The story was shaping up, and I made a series of small dummy books with all sorts of endings – in one, Arnold raced round making cold drinks for the lazy lions, in another he went home to find the flamingoes had formed a stunt motorbike troupe.

I took the latest version on a camping trip to Wales, and one wet afternoon when there wasn’t much else to do I read it out to a friend’s little boy. His feedback was concise, and pinpointed the problem with dazzling accuracy – “It needs more roaring”. And that’s when the very nasty crocodile came in, putting flamingoes in peril and letting Arnold discover his inner roar.

The story was coming together – now for the artwork. “Make it look as if it took five minutes” said my editors at Walker Books. It took about two years to make it look as if it took five minutes. I tried every material under the sun – coloured pencil, collage, gouache, ink. None of the pinks felt right, and they seemed to clash with the yellows horribly. One day I was browsing a book about Picasso, and noticed ‘household emulsion’ in the list of materials he used. That’s when it clicked – I bought a sack of tester pots from Homebase, with delightful names like Yellow Submarine and Berry Smoothie. I applied them with the worst brushes I could find, added a scribble of pastel pencil, then pen and Indian Ink for the details – and finally I had something I was happy with.

Now the book is finished, and will be out in the shops in just four weeks. I’ll be visiting bookshops to do some storytelling and signing – and it’s the first time I will have done this without an author. So that I’ve got someone to travel with, I have made myself a pink velvet soft toy version of Arnold – he’s a proper luxury lion with THREE types of pink velvet from his inner ears to his paw pads, and raspberry mohair for his scribble cheeks. I’ve stitched little bags of baking beans into his paws, which gives him just the right amount of weight to be able to sit up on his own. We are looking forward to touring together! Although our family cat is rather jealous.

The amazing rainbow jaguar

I celebrated World Book Day 2017 by making a book with children at the Evelina Hospital School. This remarkable school caters for children who have to stay in hospital for a long time, and miss out on going to their regular school – it’s a lovely warm and friendly place with very small class sizes and lots of 1-1 teaching.

The project began with a morning on dialysis ward, where some of the children have been spending three days a week since they were born. Using a mix of drawing and collage, I helped the children create some beautiful rainforest creatures – my favourite is the rainbow jaguar, invented to represent all the undiscovered species in the rainforest. I also visited other wards, and spent a day in the classroom working with some children who were well themselves but had very sick siblings, so the whole family was living at the hospital. One little girl produced the fabulous treehouse below, complete with a family of five!

The work the children produced was wonderfully exciting and vibrant, and I have put it all together into a hand-bound book for the school to keep, use, and exhibit in their summer show. You can read the school’s report on the event here.

‘Wings!’ on tour

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To celebrate the launch of ‘Wings!’ by Paul Stewart, with collage illustrations by me (published by Otter Barry Books September 2016), I have been on a mini book tour.

A few weeks ago I made a penguin puppet, carefully matching the colours of Penguin in the book, right down to his flamingo-pink feet. Stop one was The Book Nook in Hove – a terrific local bookshop with cafe attached. Paul settled in the big leather armchair to read the story to an eager and sharp-eyed audience (who spotted lots of details in the pictures), after which I organised a craft activity where children made their own mini-stages with a dancing penguin – just like the opening pages of the story, where Penguin is enjoying the Grand Gathering of All the Birds.

Next we visited The Alligator’s Mouth bookshop in Richmond, Surrey – a lovely and well-stocked little gem. And if you missed both those events, don’t worry – we’ll be appearing again at Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill early next year – Monday February 13th, 10.30am. Do join us!  Many thanks to all three bookshops for hosting us.

Wings!

coversWings! is published on September 1 by Otter Barry Books, with words by best-selling author Paul Stewart and pictures by me. It’s the story of a penguin who wishes he could fly, tries all sorts of inventive ways to learn – and eventually, with the help of his friends, discovers his true element (published in Dutch too, by C. de Vries-Brouwers).

Paul Stewart’s warm and funny text was a dream to illustrate – though it was a little daunting working with someone known for collaborating with the multi-talented Chris Riddell. We met up just as I was starting work on the roughs, and I asked Paul what he had in mind for the Grand Gathering of All the Birds, at the start of the book. He said he was happy for me to choose. Soon after, conversation turned to music and we discovered we were both big fans of the End of the Road festival, and I had my answer – the Grand Gathering became a music festival for birds, with Swan on a Gibson semi-acoustic guitar and Eagle on penny whistle while Duck takes care of the circus skills area.

festival

All the pages are hand-made collage, and I’ve included some secret snippets of maps showing some of my favourite places, as well as some lovely mono-printed scraps leftover from a project I did last year with a school in Twickenham.

gower_JPI’ve also sneakily slipped in a few favourite places – when Penguin ‘flies’ with the help of his friends and some string, the background is the golden sands of Oxwich Bay in the Gower, south Wales.

mountainsAnd when he has his moment of despair, it’s against a backdrop of two mountains inspired (somewhat loosely) by Glydr Fawr and Glydr Fach in Snowdonia, north Wales.

swimmingMy favourite page to make was the one where Penguin finally ‘flies’ in the sea. I spent some time sketching the penguins in the glass-walled tank at Marwell Zoo to get a sense of the correct movement.

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Co9C8JFWgAA4dvJI love sewing, so it seemed natural once the book was finished to make Penguin into a puppet. Paul, Penguin and I will be appearing at The Book Nook in Hove on Saturday 24th September – there will be a story reading and a craft activity. Do come! We hope to add more bookshop dates in the autumn.

The Ones That Got Away

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A couple of years ago I developed a project for a publisher with a pair of books full of holes – Peepholes: Paws and Claws and Peepholes: Fins and Flippers. The idea was that the child reading would spot a tiny bit of an animal through a hole in the page, then turn over to see if they had guessed what it was correctly. It was great fun but a very very fiddly job getting the holes to appear in the right places – so that you could see just enough without it cutting into the image on the left-hand part of the spread.

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Despite the publisher’s enthusiasm, sadly when the books went to Frankfurt and Bologna they didn’t get any co-editions, and therefore became financially unsupportable (the holes add to the production costs). The word was that it was too sophisticated for a very young audience, yet too simple for older children. We even re-formatted it to be simpler and squarer, with fewer holes – but still the international buyers didn’t bite, and unfortunately the book wasn’t to be. But I’m still proud of the project, and I thought enough time has now passed to show some of the spreads from the book here. The yellow spread with the moose is an early version – the publisher said these animals were too ‘educational’ so I re-drew them in a less realistic way. Looking back though, I think I prefer this original version. I’m rather fond of the cheeky monkey playing the guitar.

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I was experimenting a lot with textures at the time – in the spreads shown here there’s some sawn timber, a view of the skyline in Berlin, gravestones in Hackney and windfall golden plums. Every picture tells a story! I do feel sad that this book never saw the light of day, but at least I did get paid. And I certainly learned a great deal from the experience – not least, that nothing is ever certain.

 

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Crayons, pom-poms and bananas – the launch is done!

Pencils, glue sticks and pom-poms have been thoroughly deployed in two launch events to mark the publication of This Rabbit, That Rabbit. Many thanks to Under The Greenwood Tree and Salt and Pepper for hosting the two events, which involved a colouring and collage activity overseen by the friendly giant velvet rabbit. Little pots of strawberries and bananas were the perfect accompaniment at Salt and Pepper, with cappucino for all the adults.

Lovely Sue and John at Salt and Pepper couldn’t bear to part with their window-display rabbit, so I’ve changed to message to read ‘signed copies available here’ and he will stay at the cafe for now. Now I’m off to my local library to give them a copy for their weekly ‘Rhyme Time’ sessions.

Publication day

Today is publication day for my Baby Walker board book, This Rabbit, That Rabbit. It’s the first book I have done that’s all my own pictures AND words (though there aren’t very many of them…) so it’s a thrilling moment. I had the idea for the book several years ago from watching our pet rabbits – they used to lie very flat with their feet stretched out behind them when they were feeling particularly contented. And one of them was slightly on the large side. More recently I dug the idea out again and came up with some words that sounded good together and which would give me an excuse to draw some funny pictures.

There’s a launch event today in Clapham and another tomorrow in Southfields – all the details are in the previous post, here.

A long-eared launch

Guests enjoying the nibbles at an exclusive launch party for my brand new baby book, This Rabbit, That Rabbit, published by Walker Books this Thursday.

Human guests are welcome to come along to two free, drop-in launch events this week: the first is at Under The Greenwood Tree, a lovely children’s bookshop in Clapham, from 10-11am on Thursday 7th November, and the second is on Friday 8th November at a delightful cafe in Southfields, Salt and Pepper – also from 10-11am.

I’ll be there to help under 5s make a rabbity souvenir to take home – all welcome! I’ll also be bringing my velvet rabbit character. Both venues sell delicious cofffee and cakes!

Under the Greenwood Tree is at 11 The Polygon, London SW4 0JG

Salt and Pepper is at 177 Replingham Road, London SW18 5LY

A bit of a bookshop

I’ve just had a bulk delivery of my new books – it’s lovely to see a big pile of them after all this time in the making. ‘This Rabbit, That Rabbit’ will be published on 7th November by Walker Books.

This is the official description: “This rabbit, that rabbit … fat rabbit, flat rabbit this is a book starring two fabulous rabbits. (And an armadillo!) This new title in the Baby Walker range uses simple word play to encourage early literacy and its tactile pages and humorous illustrations will start your child on a journey to a lifelong love of books.”

I’m having a little launch-style activity morning to celebrate at the Under The Greenwood Tree Bookshop in Clapham from 10-11 – rabbit-themed craft activities for under 5s, so do drop in if you are nearby.

Meanwhile Twit, the Orion early reader by Steve Cole, is out now and there is currently a crafty competition happening – Knit Twit! Details are on the Orion Facebook page, and you have until the end of October to make your own little blue owl. Good luck!

Owls out!

Today is publication day for ‘Twit’, written by Steve Cole and illustrated by me. It’s an early reader from Orion, and is a very funny story about three over-confident, bossy owls and their rather gullible little brother. A lovely way for beginner readers to build up their confidence.

Stop press: Those nice people at Orion have just launched a competition to Knit Twit – craft your own little blue owl, and send in a pic for a chance of winning a prize…all the details are here. Get busy as the closing date is the end of October!