Category Archives: Picture book

Take Away the A

When your aunt becomes an ant. It does make a difference, does it not?

Here is a new – sort of – ABC picture book, which brings home the importance of letters. All the letters. Michaël Escoffier has written this very clever collection of letters, with little ‘poems’ for each missing letter and how it affects things. ‘Without the A the beast is best.’ How about that?

Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo, Take Away the A

It looks so simple. But the more you read and think, you realise there’s a lot of planning behind all this. ‘Jam I am.’

Weird and lovely illustrations for this ‘alphabeast of a book’ by Kris Di Giacomo.

And without the W I am a mere Bookitch. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Arabel’s Raven

I’m so old I have actually experienced the period in which Joan Aiken’s little book is set. And that’s really quite nice, because I almost felt that it was so lovely that it was all fiction. But it truly was that idyllic once upon a time. (Wasn’t it?)

The kind of time when ravens come and sort your life out. Become your pet, and generally cause mayhem. (Why do ravens feature in fiction more than other birds?) When there were actual unions for people who work, odd – but kind – policemen and children could be independent, thinking creatures.

Joan Aiken and Quentin Blake, Arabel's Raven

Arabel is a very young girl, whose taxi-driver dad brings home Mortimer one late night. Well, he didn’t know it was Mortimer (but Arabel could tell when she saw him that he was a Mortimer), and he was so tired he forgot all about the bird. I believe the bird might have been a wee bit tipsy, due to some unorthodox reviving done by Arabel’s dad.

Anyway, this short book is about more than slightly drunk birds in taxis. It’s a crime story, because someone is going round stealing stuff, and it’s not Mortimer. If anyone can solve the mystery it’s Arabel, who is able to walk all the way where she needs to go on just the one pavement and not cross any roads because small girls aren’t allowed to on their own.

The stool

I have a little stool. It’s only a pine Ikea stool, which has a past as a car and a train and all sorts of things, and is now rather dirty and worn. One day I will paint it or stain it and make it look as good as new again.

Because I need it. I’m short, and many things I need in my room or around the house are a little further north than is comfortable. So to have an ex-train which is easy to carry where it is needed, is excellent.

Except, my room also has far too few surfaces on which to put the incoming books. The ordinary sized books will find themselves reshelved to some temporary place fairly quickly. After all, if I left them on the bed I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

But those picture books… They are large and heavy and when a few of them get together, they are larger and heavier still. They are also harder to put somewhere else when sleep beckons. So they go and sit on the little stool, which handily stands just there, and has the necessary surface on which to put large books.

This means I no longer have that useful tool the stool to get me closer to all those other things I need.

I wonder if two stools would be the answer?

Book’s in the post

When those lovely picture books arrive, the postman will huff and puff until he somehow gets rid of the book. Usually not through the hole in the door, which is better suited to bills and love letters.

So I think it’s a great idea to shrink the picture book a little, until it will go in the post like almost everything else.

Debi Gliori’s The Tobermory Cat has been turned into a postal book. What that means is that the formerly normal sized picture book now looks more like an over-enthusiastic greetings card. You write the address on the cover. You add a message (You’d better enjoy this book!) and stick a stamp on, and post. And it will fit the openings of both the red postbox on the corner of the street, as well as the lucky recipient’s front door or roadside letterbox.

It is a little smaller. Quite a bit smaller, in fact. But somehow you don’t notice, because the book looks just as nice as the original. It’s just as easy to read. And if you have a dozen nieces and nephews or grandchildren; just get the same number of books and post away.

Debi Gliori, The Tobermory Cat

(If someone could advise what I should do, I’d be most grateful. 1) Keep the sweet little thing. 2) Send it to some nice child somewhere.)

The 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist

FREE TO USE - Scottish Children’s Book Awards shortlist is announced.

It’s Scottish shortlist time again. Scottish Book Trust have announced the shortlisted books for the 2016 awards, and here they are:

Bookbug Readers (3-7 years)

Never Tickle a Tiger by Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant
Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit Book Burglar by Emily MacKenzie
Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock and Ali Pye

Younger Readers (8-11 years)

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross Mackenzie
The Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island: The Lost Children by Gillian Philip
The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird

Older Readers (12-16 years)

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
The Piper by Danny Weston (the pseudonym of Philip Caveney)
Trouble on Cable Street by Joan Lingard

Over the next five months, children in Scotland will be reading the three shortlisted books in their age category and voting for their favourite. The three winning books will be announced at a special award ceremony on 2 March 2016.

As always, let the best books win! Especially the Bookwitch favourites. Although that could be difficult, as I have read and liked more than one in some cases.

It’s easier if the authors are dead

On that cheerful note Chris Riddell and his illustrator pals Chris Haughton and Oliver (but Chris for the day) Jeffers ended a humorous – as well as sold out – Sunday morning talk about drawing pretty pictures. The Haughton Chris was saying he finds it hard to make pictures for someone else’s words, whereas the Riddell Chris went so far as to say he prefers other authors to be dead. If he’s going to illustrate their words, that is. Apparently he’s doing stuff to Lewis Carroll at the moment. (Maybe he didn’t mean it?)

I was so tired I even forgot to switch off my mobile phone, but luckily a good event like this will perk you up. A lot of people had crawled out of bed for it, including some of the Chrises’ peers, including the Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer. I suppose he wanted to check out his UK counterpart, or to see how his illustrator Oliver ‘Chris’ Jeffers performed.

It seems they had already covered the most interesting topics in the yurt, but there was the odd snippet left worth hearing. They sort of interviewed each other, with the Riddell Chris taking the lead. (Well, he is the eldest.) The place to get ideas is in the shower or when making dinner, not sitting at your desk. The Haughton Chris has a rug project, and it now appears all illustrators want to make rugs.

Oliver got his idea for The Great Paper Caper while watching an episode of Columbo, which the Riddell Chris felt explained his coat. As for himself he often begins with the number of pages in his sketchbook. He has a naughty drawer where failed ideas marinate until they can be used. Oliver’s alphabet book came from two bad ideas, that worked when mixed together.

Chris Haughton

The Haughton Chris once had an idea about scale, which didn’t work at all, but which will be out as a book next year, with the title Goodnight Everyone. Riddell’s Goth Girl was based on one bad pun, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes.’ (I reckon you need to read the books to get it.)

They love their editors! The editors adjust the words they have written and make their books good. Oliver’s advice on quality is to trust your own ability. He is his own audience, and only wants to do what he himself likes. Chris Haughton wants everything to be as simple as possible, and keeps reducing until he gets there. Chris Riddell learned from David Lloyd that if you can’t read it aloud, then it is no good. These days he has a very useful daughter, who is quick to judge his work.

A young man in the audience wanted to know how to draw eyes, so all three showed us their eyes. Oliver Jeffers said you only need two dots. Chris R mentioned a ‘talking cockroach with manga eyes’ and Chris H is so ambidextrous he could barely decide which hand to use to hold his ‘great lump of lead.’

Asked how to deal with procrastination and to scare one member of the audience into getting on with it, Oliver told her she’d soon be dead. Chris H had talked about plans for a children’s book for so long, that in the end all he could do was buy a ticket to Bologna and then make sure he had something to show when he got there. Chris R told us about his first meeting with Klaus Flugge’s eyebrows, which caused him to pretend he’d left his story at home, allowing him just one night to write his first book.

So, paint yourself into a corner.

The three listed some of their illustrator heroes, and how you can’t really come up with anything new. You can only try and do the same, but better and prettier.

Oliver’s parents didn’t insist he get a proper job, for which he’s grateful. He and Chris H both work in places where there are many other likeminded people who can inspire and support. And Chris R has his daughter.

Chris Riddell, Chris Haughton and Oliver Jeffers

The father of a six-week-old baby, Oliver is starting to work shorter hours, when before he would do 12 hours seven days a week. You have to relax sometimes, in order to be creative. On the other hand, Chris Riddell relaxes by drawing every day, or he gets fidgety. He has a sketchpad in his pocket all the time. Chris Haughton works quite randomly, and he has those rugs, as well as sketchpads where he collects his ‘best of,’ and words and thinks ahead. Oliver has been known to stare at old notes, not understanding what he’d been thinking when he wrote it.

And here is where they came to the conclusion that dead authors are easier to work with than live ones.

The Girl Who Did Blog Tours

Today I welcome Marnie Riches, as she writes about what she writes about. 

From Middle Grade to Murder: a children’s writer’s descent into depravity

As an avid reader of middle grade fiction at the time I wanted a complete career change, writing for children seemed the obvious thing to do. I understood children because I owned two and had once been one myself. I knew quite a few words. Great. More to the point, as my children were toddlers at the time, I decided that ideally, since I could paint as well, I should be creating picture books. Perfect! So, I knocked up a 32 page dummy of a story about a selfish, lazy hippo, called Billy the Messy Hippo. It was a didactic, overly long story, where Billy got his comeuppance for being a shitehawk to the other toys.


Billy Bathroom

Really, I wanted to punch Billy on the nose for spilling his drinks and bullying teddy. Maybe a spell locked in the freezer would cool him down. Or maybe I could disembowel him and throw his plushie stuffing in the bin. OK. Perhaps this short format wasn’t working for me. And the illustrations took weeks and weeks to do – it just wasn’t practical. There were better illustrators out there, anyway. I laid my picture book aspirations to rest (no bludgeoning or shallow graves were required).

Next, I wrote a middle grade novel about a girl called Zeeba, who goes on the hunt for aliens, sighted above the hills in Huddersfield. She got roped into a high octane world of spies, subterfuge and gangsters. There were some menacing, corrupt policemen and a disembowelled cow.

Er, whoops.

There were more children’s novels – the first six books in the Time Hunters series for 7+, published by HarperCollins under the pseudonym Chris Blake. Lots of fighting and peril in them, of course. Plus a puzzle to be solved.

Everything I had written for children included a high concept mystery, a great deal of tension, thrills a-plenty and violence. But I felt my nasty narrative was stunted by the age-banding. Perhaps I needed to try something else…

So, having developed the sparing, highly visual style of a children’s writer, I started to pen a crime novel for grown-ups. The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die was the first novel in a gritty, gripping, often violent Euro-noir series, featuring a young criminologist called Georgina McKenzie. In writing these books (I’m currently working on book 3 – The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows), I feel like I’m home. Everything fits. My writing style is still very akin to that used by Young Adult authors – I use very little exposition. Each chapter contains a distinct, often visual scene. I try to keep my dialogue snappy and realistic. But importantly, I am now able to make people have sex, drink heavily, smoke drugs, commit criminal offences, be utterly unpleasant to one another and, yes, disembowel other people. I think I’ve found my literary calling.

Marnie Riches, The Girl Who Broke the Rules

The Girl Who Broke the Rules is the second instalment in the series. In this book, I feel I’ve really got into my stride with my characters. It’s a story, seemingly about the brutal murders of sex workers, that flits between the red light district of Amsterdam and the strip-clubs of Soho. I wanted to explore themes of parent/child relationships, sexuality and the abuse of vulnerable migrants. I hope readers will see shades of Nesbø, Larsson and Thomas Harris in there, since these three are my biggest influences.

The question remains, however, as to whether I regret trading middle grade for murder? The answer is no. Because I will still continue to write children’s novels when my adult fiction deadlines allow. For, although a warped, adult imagination lurks behind my terribly boring, respectable middle-aged exterior, there is still a part of me that laughs at fart jokes and wants to tell utterly daft, touching stories about discovering the world through a child’s eyes; making sense of their relationships with adults and peers.

In fact, I predict I might well be working on a high concept children’s thriller before the year is out and maybe, just maybe, there won’t be a single disembowelling!

(Respectable middle-aged exterior?? She’s got pink hair!)