Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Owls Are Cool - Guest Blog Post from Timothy Knapman

Oscar is an owl; a COOL owl. And cool owls DO NOT fly – they RUN. ZOOOOOOOOOM! So when snowy owl Reggie comes along, swooping and swooshing through the sky, Oscar’s not impressed at all. But when Reggie crashes into a tree, Oscar discovers that maybe they are not so different from one another after all…

A funny and heartwarming story about how being different is cool. It introduces the burrowing owl and their spectacular legs and beautiful burrows to small children.

Guest blog post from Timothy Knapman 

Timothy Knapman here, hello! I’d like to tell you a bit about my new book, Owls Are Cool, which is illustrated by the mighty Jason Cockcroft.

Ideas for picture books can come from anywhere, but it’s often something visual. I talked to a friend about stories, and she showed me a picture of a burrowing owl. There was something proud but vulnerable in the owl’s face, and at once, I could hear a voice in my head that seemed to fit him. Getting a fix on your main character is a good start, but you still need a story. Stories aren’t just a string of events that happen for no reason, they’re like a machine in which each moving part works in harmony with the rest, and they need a motor to drive them. That motor is usually a problem that the main character has to solve. So I needed a problem to power my story. I wondered what this proud animal would feel if he saw an owl that could fly – admiration, yes, but underneath it also loss as he watched something he couldn’t do. How was he going to deal with that? That’s when I knew I had a story.

 Research is an integral part of the process of writing picture books. If I’m writing about a particular animal, I’ll read as much about them as I can before I start. It’s an excellent way to get ideas, and I think stories feel richer if they include a few particular, telling details. But I’m not bound by the facts when I tell my stories because – and this is a big secret, so don’t let it get around – picture books about animals aren’t really about animals.

Take my new book; its hero is a burrowing owl who admires/envies, and then makes friends with, a flying owl. Does that sort of thing happen in the wild? I have no idea. Because I’m not really writing about animals at all, I’m writing about how a friendship begins. The heart of my story – the hero’s mixture of admiration, showing off, and vulnerability – comes not from any biology textbook about burrowing owls but from my memory of trying to make friends when I was a little boy. 

 Writing a picture book is like writing a song. Like songs, picture books can’t go on very long; they need some kind of quirk or novelty that hooks you, and, most of all, they have to be something you’re going to want to hear over and over again (young readers love repetition). I’ve been lucky enough to write a few songs and even luckier to have written them with some very talented composers, and it’s in the collaboration that song- and picture book-writing are most alike. I don’t try to do everything in my lyrics – lyrics are not poetry, they are not meant to stand on their own; music carries at least half of the song’s meaning – and it’s the same with illustrations, such as Jason Cockcroft's glorious images for our new book. I would never tell Jason what to draw; I have no fixed ideas about what my characters and their world look like, as long as they fit the story. I want to be surprised. And the result is always far better than I was expecting – a book that sings.

 This is a picture of my desk, where I’ve written many books, including my latest. I’ve given up trying to keep it tidy because I realised recently that the chaos is good for work. Yes, I know I have to dig under piles of papers to find a pen that works, and I’ll be snatching time where I can to read five books on wildly different subjects all at the same time, but the sense of urgency – of so many deadlines, and so little time – is a great spur to get working. If you have too much time to think about a project, you often find yourself thinking about it and not writing it. And I’m lucky enough to work on a great variety of different projects. Going from a picture book to a non-fiction book to an opera adaptation to a musical means that if I get stuck on one thing, there’s always somewhere else to go. And the answer to a problem in project A often presents itself after I’ve given up and gone over to work on project C. During the first lockdown, I had no deadlines, a nice tidy desk and time to read widely for pleasure. And I didn’t write a single usable word.


A special thanks to our guest this week, Timothy Knapman!
Owls Are Cool is now available from all good booksellers.

Thursday, 13 January 2022

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith

I Talk Like a River
by Jordan Scott and illustrated by Sydney Smith

After a day of being unable to speak when asked, and of being stared at, a boy and his father go to the river for some quiet time. "It's just a bad speech day," says Dad. But the boy can't stop thinking about all the eyes watching his lips twisting and twirling. When his father points to the river bubbling, churning, whirling and crashing, the boy finds a way to think about how he speaks. Even the river stutters. Like him. "I talk like a river," he says.
Now available in paperback!

Click here to read our Q&A with Jordan Scott.
Also from Sydney Smith:

Footpath Flowers
by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith

In this wordless, beautifully illustrated picture book from award-winning poet JonArno Lawson, a little girl collects wild flowers while her distracted father pays her – and their surroundings – little attention. Each flower the little girl gathers becomes a gift for a person or animal, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter. An ode to the importance of small things, small people and small gestures, Footpath Flowers is a quiet but powerful testament to the joy that children can find in ordinary things and the mutual value of giving.

Small in the City
by Sydney Smith


Being small can be overwhelming in a city. People don't see you. The loud sounds of the sirens and cyclists can be scary. And the streets are so busy it can make your brain feel like there's too much stuff in it. But if you know where to find good hiding places, warm dryer vents that blow out hot steam that smells like summer, music to listen to or friends to say hi to, there can be comfort in the city, too. We follow our little protagonist, who knows all about what it's like to be small in the city, as he gives his best advice for surviving there. As we turn the pages, Sydney Smith's masterful storytelling allows us to glimpse exactly who this advice is for, leading us to a powerful, heart-rending realization...

Town is by the Sea
by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith


Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Footpath Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig. This beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of mining history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a mining town will enthral children and move adult readers, as a young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather's grave after lunch and comes home to a cosy dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea.


Available to buy from all good booksellers.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

I Am Hungry by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Robert Starling

I am Hungry
by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Robert Starling

Look out, this squirrel is HUNGRY. So hungry it could eat boiled rice, chocolate mice, a gingerbread man ... even a frying pan! Is there anything it WON'T eat?

A rollicking ride of increasing absurdity and imagination, this hilarious picture book captures the occasional outlandishness of toddler moods. Based on the popular poem from A Great Big Cuddle, I Am Hungry is a terrific read-aloud from the master of rhyme, Michael Rosen, coupled with brilliantly bold illustration from Robert Starling.

I am Angry
by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Robert Starling

This kitten may look cute and cuddly, but better beware: they're angry. Really angry. Angry, angry, angry! And this isn't any old "angry". This is a jump-up-and-down, roll-on-the-ground kind of angry. This is a spider-scaring, tiger-scaring kind of angry. This is a burst-balloon-ing, SQUASH-THE-MOON-ING kind of angry...

As surreal as things may get, this is also the kind of angry that parents of toddlers will recognize – a bad mood that comes out of nowhere, escalates wildly, then disappears as suddenly as it arrived. 

Based on the popular poem from A Great Big CuddleI Am Angry combines Michael Rosen's brilliant rhymes and anarchic imagination, Robert Starling's perfect knack for character and a reassuring message: anger may feel overpowering, but it doesn't last forever.


I Am Hungry and I Am Angry are now available from all good booksellers!

Thursday, 6 January 2022

New January Picture Book Releases

Kick off the new year right with a selection of our January releases below! 

Baby, Sleepy Baby
by Atinuke and illustrated by Angela Brooksbank

Baby, sleepy baby, I'll sing down the stars
Till they dance right into your room.

A beautiful and lyrical book that celebrates the warmth and tenderness of wrapping baby in night-time's embrace. Based on a Nigerian lullaby sung to Atinuke by her father, this story delights in the magical moments shared with a whole family and their baby at bedtime.

Isabelle and the Crooks
by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Chris Mould

Isabelle Crook is a very good little girl who would never dream of breaking the law. Her family, on the other hand, are the stealthiest, most cunning burglars around! Can Isabelle ever feel like one of the gang – a true Crook – while staying true to herself? Irreverent and adventurous, this picture book comedy sees everyone tip-toeing about at night and is brought to life by Chris Mould's expressive, gloriously detailed illustrations.

The Think Ups
by Claire Alexander

It's a rainy day, and Anna and Kiki are stuck indoors, wondering what to play next. Suddenly, Kiki has an idea for a new game. "All you have to do," she explains, "is think up a Think-Up, and it will appear!" And she thinks up … BUNNIES! Then they conjure up the most marvellous, magnificent MOOSE! And octopi! And nine HUNGRY koalas! Hmm … is it possible to UN-think a Think-Up? With half-cut pages that make for funny surprises at every turn, this is a fresh celebration of imaginary play for the youngest of children.

I am Hungry
by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Robert Starling

Look out, this squirrel is HUNGRY. So hungry it could eat boiled rice, chocolate mice, a gingerbread man ... even a frying pan! Is there anything it WON'T eat?

A rollicking ride of increasing absurdity and imagination, this hilarious picture book captures the occasional outlandishness of toddler moods. Based on the popular poem from A Great Big Cuddle, I Am Hungry is a terrific read-aloud from the master of rhyme, Michael Rosen, coupled with brilliantly bold illustration from Robert Starling.

Tales from the Inner City
by Shaun Tan

Where can we live if not in each other's shadow?

World-renowned artist Shaun Tan applies his extraordinary talent to a reflection on the nature of humans and animals and our urban co-existence. From animals as disparate as crocodiles, tigers, bees and whales, this is a dark and surreal exploration of the perennial love we feel and destruction we inflict – and shows how animals, whether domestic, feral or really wild, can save us, and how we are entwined, for better or for worse. Tales from the Inner City is a truly masterly work, bearing all of Shaun Tan's trademark wit and poignancy in both its prose and exquisite illustrations.

Lion Lullaby
by Kate Banks and illustrated by Lauren Tobia

The sun begins to set on the savannah, and ten little lions must find their way home before dark. One by one, lion cubs emerge from trees, past bouncing monkeys and braying zebras. They cross a stream, watch a herd of thundering wildebeest, and explore the darkening beauty of the landscape. As the moon rises, ten little lion cubs curl up together just in time for bedtime, under their mothers' watch in a space that is cosy and warm. Kate Banks's gorgeously melodic text, paired with Lauren Tobia's charming illustrations, create a lullaby to ensure the sweetest of dreams.

Anthony and the Gargoyle
by Jo Ellen Bogart and illustrated by Maja Kastelic

Anthony wakes up one morning to find his favourite rock has cracked open – and it's hollow! He discovers a strange-looking hatchling inside, and the two become fast friends. When Anthony asks his mother where the rock came from, she shows him photos from their trip to Paris, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, with familiar-looking forms perched on top. Could Anthony's new friend be a gargoyle?

This magical wordless story is brought to life in stunning, silent, hand-painted panels and is a touching tale of true friendship and letting go.

Owls Are Cool
by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft

Oscar is an owl, a COOL owl. And cool owls DO NOT fly – they RUN. ZOOOOOOOOOM! So when snowy owl Reggie comes along, swooping and swooshing through the sky, Oscar's not impressed at all. But when Reggie crashes into a tree, Oscar discovers that maybe they are not so different from one another after all…

A funny and heartwarming story about how being different is cool. It introduces the burrowing owl and their spectacular legs and beautiful burrows to small children.

by Nicole Godwin and illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

What happens when a jellyfish falls in love with a plastic bag she mistakes for a jelly-boy? Jelly-Boy is different. He is big and strong. And not as wobbly as the other Jelly-Boys. By the time Jelly-Girl discovers the dangerous truth about her new friend, it may already be too late.

This is an inventive approach to tackling a conservation issue that is plaguing our world: too much plastic in the ocean. Told in a kid-friendly and humorous way, this is a story with the potential to encourage dialogue around an important issue.

Some Dinosaurs Are Small
by Charlotte Voake

Some dinosaurs are small, and some dinosaurs are BIG. Some dinosaurs have tiny teeth for munching leaves, and some dinosaurs have pointy teeth for munching … OTHER dinosaurs! UH-OH. Some dinosaurs need to RUN!

In pure pantomime spirit, children will want to cry out, "He's behind you!" in this bright, bold and thrilling picture book from one of the most acclaimed contemporary children's bookmakers, Charlotte Voake.
Now out in paperback.

All of our January releases are now available from all good booksellers.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Super Duper Penguin Slide - Q&A with Leonie Lord

The penguin family are off on an adventure! Travelling by bus, train, and even by cable car, the persistent pals keep on going through rain or shine, sleet or snow. Finally, they soar through the wispy clouds and – yes, there it is! – their long-awaited destination is ahead, atop a frosty, snow-capped mountain…

A playful, happy read-aloud, which features a jolly family of big and little penguins and all the noisy modes of transport that little ones love.

Q&A with Leonie Lord

What was the inspiration behind Super Duper Penguin Slide?

It was a combination of two things… wildlife documentaries in which penguins would have to overcome insurmountable geographical problems in their own charming penguin way, and a battery-powered toy in which little penguins would climb an escalator and slide down a wiggly slide. You couldn't really play with it; you'd just watch it until the batteries ran out, or someone would throw it against a wall. It was strangely compelling. I also wanted to do something fun! Wouldn't you like to be a penguin on a penguin slide?

 Can you tell more about your journey into children's books? 

I grew up in a creative household. I loved drawing; I would mainly draw cats, my teddies or Wonder Woman. I did a Graphic Design degree at Central St Martins, but children's book illustration was never on the cards. After graduating, I worked as an editorial illustrator. My first picture book commission came out of the blue (The Dirty Great Dinosaur by Martin Waddell). At that time, I had a toddler and was pregnant; I was terrified that I would fail. Oddly being a mum gave me room to rethink my career and be much more productive with my time. After my third book, I joined up with literary agents The Catchpoles, who have been hugely instrumental with my writing. As I failed my GCSE English, I still find this quite remarkable. I almost enjoy writing as much as the illustration (almost).

How did you begin writing and illustrating Super Duper Penguin Slide?

It started with a cover design and a title. The slide was going to be the final hurrah to the story, and I knew that there would be an escalator in it. I wrote a lot of different versions and made dummy books. The story needed so much chipping away at. One version was where the penguins struggled to the top of the slide only to find it was shut! I'm not sure what was going through my head at that point! Eventually, the theme that emerged was perseverance, and like the penguins, I got there in the end.  As you can see, my design for the cover hadn't changed very much from the first dummy.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your process?

I will always start with the characters. I need to know how they are going to look before anything else. It gives me a kind of friendly reassurance once they are finalised, then I can have a clear run with the rest. I draw something a lot, even if I know the first drawing I will use. I use smooth layout paper and a lightbox, and chunky clutch pencils. I work at two desks, one for drawing and one for the computer. I have my own lovely workroom overlooking the garden. I'm not a great multitasker; if a book is going well, I live on tea and biscuits and forget to pick the kids up.

 What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Super Duper Penguin Slide?

I think it was the spread where the Penguins set off up the escalator. The thought of penguins on an escalator really makes me chuckle. Getting the scale right was quite tricky; I wanted the station set to feel vast and for the penguins to look like they were going up and up. Adding tall trees helped to give a vertical feeling to the space. There are some other little animal characters, too, which are always fun to do. But visually, I love the first and final spreads on the rocks best.

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent?

Every Christmas, I would get unusual books from a good friend of my parents who was an author. Amongst these books was a hefty version of ETA Hoffmann's The Nutcracker, with pages on pages of awe-inspiring illustrations by Maurice Sendak. An 11-year-old me thought it was the most gorgeous book, I still do.

Another book from my childhood is The Little Train by Graham Greene and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. Ardizzone's world is one of summer mornings, men waving hats and sleepy branch lines. The illustrations are so evocative you can almost taste the air. There's an illustration of The Little Train rusting in a siding which makes my heartache. There is no face on this engine, no rolling eyes. But together, Greene and Ardizzone create an adventurous little train with a soul.

A favourite book from my boy's childhood is Emily Brown and the Thing by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton. Such a clever and funny story for reluctant bed timers. Neal Layton's artwork is so fresh and energetic; it's like the art just landed as the page turned.


A special thanks to our guest this week, Leonie Lord!
Super Duper Penguin Slide is now available from all good booksellers.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Frindleswylde - Q&A with Natalia & Lauren O'Hara

Can you feel a tremble in the wind? The sun grows pale. The wild things hide. Frindleswylde is coming!

When the mysterious boy Frindleswylde enters Cora and Grandma's house in the woods, he steals the light from their lantern. Without it, Grandma will not be able to return home after work in the dark. Cora is determined to get the light back, but first, she must follow Frindleswylde down a hole in the pond that leads to his magical frozen kingdom, where he sets her three Impossible Tasks. Reminiscent of The Snow Queen, beautifully written and sumptuously illustrated, Frindleswylde is a classic in the making.

Q&A with Natalia & Lauren O'Hara

Can you tell us about your writing and illustrating process?

Lauren: Natalia comes up with the idea and begins her research. At the same time, we start a Pinterest board and pin reference together – it's kind of a visual conversation that lets us find the atmosphere and world.

While she's drafting, I work on characters and decide what materials to use. As she's redrafting, I'm usually doing final art. We've been told that we work more like a single author-illustrator than a duo, with our work evolving in tandem.

What was the inspiration for Frindleswylde?
Natalia: The story was inspired by a frosty, regal little boy Lauren painted in 2019 for fun. She posted him on Instagram, and I called right away to say I wanted to write a book about him. She said, "That's the Snow Queen".

Do you have a favourite spread in the story?

Lauren: The Queen of Winter spread. There's the little blue-and-white image of Cora tossing away a nut on the left and the Queen in her full regalia on the right. It's beautiful and eerie and turns the plot in an unexpected way.

Can you tell us about your journey into the world of children's books? 

Natalia: It started when I was six and Lauren was three. If anyone asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would say I wanted to write books, and Lauren would add that she'd draw the pictures. It took us a while to get started ­– Lauren was 27, and I was 30 – due to self-doubt. But that actually gave us the subject for our first book, Hortense and the Shadow. We found it hard getting signed, but once we had an agent (Angharad Kowal-Stannus), our first book was immediately picked up by Penguin. Lauren came to Walker Books a few years ago to do Sophie Dahl's Madame Badobedah and liked the creativity and freedom here so much that I followed her.

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent? 

Lauren: As children, we loved Andersen's Tales illustrated by Jiří Trnka and a 1970s Naomi Lewis and Errol le Cain version of The Snow Queen. Both those books were big influences on Frindleswylde – they have a dreamy, enchanted quality and embrace the innocence and darkness in Andersen.
Some more recent favourites are Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Carson Ellis's Du Iz Tak, and Jessica Love's Julian is a Mermaid


A special thanks to our guests this week, Natalia & Lauren O'Hara!
Frindleswylde is now available from all good booksellers.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

My Pet Goldfish - Q&A with Catherine Rayner

"Catherine Rayner has a marvellous gift for capturing the souls of animals in a few, rich washes of colour." Daily Telegraph

My Pet Goldfish is a delightful picture book with facts by the Greenaway Medal-winning author-illustrator Catherine Rayner. The child narrating this story has been given their first-ever pet: a tiny fish with shimmering scales and bright beady eyes… Their very own goldfish! Sitting alongside the gentle narrative and dynamic illustrations, the subtext introduces facts about goldfish and their care – some gentle, some funny, some fascinating – making this a perfect choice for first-time owners.

Q&A with Catherine Rayner

What was the inspiration behind writing My Pet Goldfish?

I absolutely love fish, and I've had an aquarium since I was very little. In this story, 'Richard' is named after my real goldfish, and he's full of character. I adore watching all kinds of fish swimming around, and I find it very therapeutic painting them too. I really wanted to create not only a beautiful storybook but also an educational book that could help dispel some of the myths that exist about goldfish and how to look after them. They are not simply a pet to be put in a bowl and forgotten about - they are beautiful animals with totally fascinating characteristics that can live for a very long time.

They are also wonderful, engaging pets, and I felt it was important to help people appreciate just how special they really are. Making this book was an absolute pleasure, from the research all the way through to painting the water endpapers! I've already had a lot of emails from people saying they had no idea how fascinating fish could be!

Can you tell us about your process?

My writing and illustrating process change slightly with every single book that I make. I'm often asked about my method, and I can firmly say that I don't really have one. I quite like this because it makes each book a new adventure with its own timescales and rhythm of work. 

With My Pet Goldfish, I wanted to make the book for the reasons above, and also because I love Richard, the fish, and I felt goldfish are often overlooked as simple, easy, sometimes boring pets. I started drawing and painting Richard quite a few years ago, and the more I studied him, the more I noticed his personal quirks and habits. That led me to research goldfish, and I leant so much that I wanted to share!

I had illustrated one non-fiction book with Walker books called Hello, Horse which was written by Viv French - all about my own horse called Shannon. When I was asked if I had any other ideas, I suggested that Richard would very much like his own book and the team at Walker rather liked the idea too! 

I showed them the paintings I had already made of him and gave them a loose outline of a story which I then developed alongside lots of fishy facts I'd uncovered during my research. I could only use the 'child-friendly' facts as this is a picture book, but it was great fun deciding which ones to use and what to illustrate. 

Once I had completed the text, I started to make rough layout drawings for each spread in the book. Once I was happy with the design, I started painting. Painting fish (I discovered) is just as relaxing as watching them. I LOVED all the colourful ink bottles hanging around in my studio while I was working on it. Usually, I use a lot of brown, green and grey and these vibrant inks was an absolute delight to work with. All of the elements of the artwork were painted and then scanned into my computer and worked on further. I visited lots of local ponds, aquariums and specialist fish centres where I could speak to the staff and find out as much as I could about them as well as sit and draw them and take pictures. But my visits were really about absorbing their movement into my mind so I could go home and make lively looking fish and water paintings.  

Do you have a favourite Goldfish fact?

I think it's a fascinating fact that goldfish can see more colours than humans! I try and imagine the wonderful 'extra' colours they can enjoy! However, my favourite fact is that scientists believe fish can remember things for FIVE months! Isn't that incredible as most people believe a goldfish memory only lasts a couple of seconds? I think five months is far longer than I can remember most things!

Can you tell us more about your journey into the world of children's books?  

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember! I've always found drawing therapeutic, and I've always loved books (I was the child who secretly loved it when it rained as it meant you could stay indoors and draw). I used to draw our pets, we had a sausage dog called Wilfred, and he was featured in most of my pictures.

The first book I ever wrote, illustrated and made was about him being naughty. My mum still has it. I was about four. I think I knew then I wanted to be an author and illustrator. After school, I studied at Leeds College art and the Edinburgh Collect of Art, specialising in illustration. In my final year, I made a book that went on to be published, and this started my career! That book was called Augustus and his Smile. I have since made a further 20 books with various publishers and also had the privilege of illustrating some wonderful authors words too. I'm making this all sound very straightforward and easy - which I can assure you it wasn't. But I still can't believe I get to do my dream job every day and that children all over the world read my books. I still have to pinch myself sometimes!

Do you have a favourite spread in the book? 

For this book, yes, I do have a favourite, and it's on page 20/21. It's a close up of a group of fish, and I love the different colours, textures, sizes and individual characters all swimming together. I really, really enjoyed painting this page! 

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent? 

Ohhh, that's such a tough question as there are just SO many I could mention here. Jon Classen's The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse is definitely up there as I think it's just so clever, and my five year old adores it. His enthusiasm has rubbed off on me and made me love it even more!

When I think of books from my childhood, Judith Kerr's Mog books immediately come into my mind with happy memories of my parents reading them with me. Now I'm a parent too, I really enjoy sharing John Burningham's Borka with my children, and it's one they ask for again and again!

Finally, given the subject of my book, I simply have to mention Brian Wildsmith's Fishes. His books have inspired me so much, especially when I was starting out as an illustrator. His use of texture, colour and movement is just magical! 


A special thanks to our guest this week, Catherine Rayner!
My Pet Goldfish is available from all good booksellers.