Thursday, 14 May 2020

Top picks of the month for May!

As we look forward to the weekend - why not take a moment to look at our top picture books publishing this May:

 1. My First Book of Paris by Ingela P. Arrhenius

From the banks of the Seine to the top of the Eiffel Tower, there's so much to see in Paris! Visit lively neighbourhoods, famous museums and trendy bistros in this gorgeous picture book from Ingela P. Arrhenius. With striking illustrations of everything from iconic landmarks to the traditional French croissant, this is a stylish gift for any fan of the City of Light.

2. My Red Hat by Rachel Stubbs

Grandpa’s hat is full of dreams, secrets and stories and when it is handed down to a new owner, it can even spark new adventures. Explore all the possibilities that a treasured hand-me-down can bring and see how love is handed down with it. A tender tale about imagination, belonging and love between generations, perfect for reading as a family.

3. Hike by Pete Oswald

In the cool and quiet early light of morning, a father and child wake up. Today they’re going on a hike. Follow the duo into the mountains as they witness the magic of the wilderness, overcome challenges, and play a small role in the survival of the forest. By the time they return home, they feel alive – and closer than ever – as they document their hike and take their place in family history. A touching tribute to the bond between father and child.

4. Little Frida by Anthony Browne

The artwork of Frida Kahlo inspires former Children's Laureate and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal Anthony Browne in this beautiful and surreal picture book. Stunning illustrations tell the story of a lonely young girl who discovers the power of the imagination to set you free. A tribute to an iconic artist exploring themes of belonging, creativity and hope, this is an exquisite and touching picture book. 

5. Baby's First Encyclopedia by Ingela P. Arrhenius

With her trademark sense of whimsy and her bold, retro illustration, Ingela P. Arrhenius delights young children as well as design lovers, as she looks at the everyday world through imaginative common themes. Flowers, a new book and a freshly bathed baby all smell great, but a skunk, old fish bones and a baby in need of a change? Not so good! Whether up in the air, in the water or things to be found at Home Sweet Home, readers are invited to take a playful tour of the world around them to discover the way that things are alike, and how they are wonderfully unique.

Get your copies of our top picks of the month at your local bookshop! 

Thursday, 7 May 2020

My Red Hat by Rachel Stubbs - May Book of the Month

To celebrate the publication of our May Picture Book of the Month, My Red Hat, we've got a behind-the-scenes Q&A with author-illustrator, and winner of the Sebastian Walker Award for Illustration, Rachel Stubbs. 

1. What was your favourite picture book from when you were a child?

I loved The Elephant and the Bad Baby, by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs about a baby who has forgotten his manners and gallops down the road on an elephant - who wouldn’t want to do that?! Another favourite was New Blue Shoes by Eve Rice about a little girl who has a confidence crisis after buying some new shoes, something I can still relate to. The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord also totally captured me with its hilarious verse and imaginative drawings. 

2. What is the inspiration behind My Red Hat and/or Why did you choose a hat as the focus of the story?

I kept coming back to the image of a giant red hat in my sketchbook and loved its graphic shape and the different playful images I could make with it. It allowed me to experiment and have fun with colour and image-making without worrying about having to have a narrative or story to focus on, which I think was really important for me at that stage. I also loved how the size of the hat and its placement on the page could be used to alter the visual pace and sequencing of the images. In the end, it became a sort of character of its own, and I wrote a short piece of text inspired by those sketches, written in the voice of the hat to its owner - which gave me more of a structure to begin working with.

3. Are the characters in the book based on anyone personal to you?

Not intentionally, although the Grandpa character does look suspiciously like my Dad, who has a very lovely face to draw! 

4. What was your writing/illustrative process to the book? Did the writing come first or the pictures?

They kind of happened together. I came up with the original dummy book on my MA through a lot of visual play, but when it came to working on the idea with a publisher it was a bit like starting all over again as the basic structure needed a lot of work. I found it helped to start really small and made lots of very rough thumbnails on tiny ripped up pieces of paper. This made it a lot easier to discard ideas when they didn’t work and to see how the book would work as a whole. Once I finally had the structure down, I started on the final roughs, and then the final artwork. For the final art, I wanted to try and keep it as loose as I could - but this is always easier said than done! I used the linework from my final roughs whenever I could, cleaned them up in photoshop and combined them with layers of ink.

5. What is your workspace like?

I currently work from home in our spare room which feels quite luxurious, especially in London where space is so rare. It also has its downsides - I have to make sure I get out and see people so I don’t go completely mad! It worked well for this book as my son was so tiny, so it made working in the evenings easier if I needed to. I also love having a view of the trees.

6. What is your favourite thing to draw? 

I love drawing things from everyday life - particularly people, and their body language, expressions and outfits. I love going to our local parks and cafes to draw when I can, and experimenting with mark making and materials. Drawing from observation has also really helped my drawing from memory, and I find it fun to alternate between the two.

My Red Hat is available to purchase where all good books are bought. Why not also download our My Red Hat activity sheets, here

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The Best Place in the World by Petr Horacek

The wonderful Petr Horacek has written a special piece all about his favourite place to visit. Enjoy!

Every autumn I travel to the Czech Republic to spend a couple of weeks on my own in one of my favourite places in the world.

It is a cottage, which belongs to my friend David. He doesn’t live there; it is his holiday cottage and he lets me stay.

Meadows and woods surround the place. The cottage is right on the edge of the wood and has a small apple orchard with an amazing view over the countryside. To me, it is heaven. I spend time painting, walking through the woods and writing down ideas for picture books. 

I was born and grew up in the Czech Republic, but I have lived almost half of my life in England. When I am in the Czech Republic, I am closer to my friends from my childhood and I am missing my family back in England. During the rest of the year, it is usually the other way around.

Being on your own for a certain period of time, you may start thinking about lots of things. Thoughts about where I belong, and what and where is home can be one of them.

In fact, it is not the first time that the subject of belonging, friendship and identity comes into my stories. I think it is a theme, which we all can identify with. Coming home after being away for some time, the strange feeling in your stomach is something we all know very well and we know it from our childhood.

I must also admit that The Best Place in the World is also a book about pictures. Right from the beginning, when I started to write the story, I was looking forward to doing the illustrations. I could see in my head the hare running through the orchard, the fields, the woods and the hills I know so well. I wanted the book to be as visual as possible.

I was almost wishing that the book could be in a bigger format and have twice as many pages. I just wanted to paint, and I enjoyed doing it. In my work, I get inspired by materials I am using: from graphite, colour pencils, wax crayons and watercolours to acrylics. I use the technique of collage and I don’t use a computer. I like working with possible accidents. Before I stick all the pieces onto the paper, I arrange everything very carefully, but once you pick up all the bits to glue them on, you lose the exact marks, things get shifted and these are the moments I like. These small accidents and corrections bring another dimension to your work.

It is a well-known fact that behind every good book is a good publisher and team of good editors. I must say big thank you to Denise Johnstone Burt and Louise Jackson, who were helping and working with me on The Best Place in the World. I hope the readers will like to read the book as much as I liked working on it.

- Petr Horacek

The Best Place in the World is available where all good books are sold!

Monday, 4 May 2020

Jon Klassen's Hat trilogy brought to life!

What better way to pass some time indoors than to watch the lovely people over at The Little Angel Theatre bring to life the wonderful hat trilogy by our brilliant author-illustrator Jon Klassen.

It all begins with a bear desperate to find his lost hat. Click below to watch I Want My Hat Back:

Then why not follow a fish who has stolen a hat, and who is desperate to get away with it in This Is Not My Hat:

And finally, in just a few weeks time, make sure you tune in to get to know two turtles who find just one hat, but it looks good on both of them in We Found a Hat. If you can't wait that long, all three books are available as a boxset, AND they come with a gorgeous collectable print, perfect for framing. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The Tale of a Toothbrush by MG Leonard - Q&A and COMPETITION

To cheer up all our Picture Book Party readers on this fine Thursday, we thought we'd share with you all a behind-the-scenes Q&A with the one and only, M. G. Leonard - author of the brand new The Tale of a Toothbrush: A Story of Plastic in Our Oceans. Make sure to scroll down to download our Toothbrush activity sheets too! 

To make things even better, we even have a wonderful giveaway for you all to enter to be in with a chance to WIN a copy of The Tale of a Toothbrush and your very own bamboo toothbrush boxset from our friends over at Brushbox (more info below).

What inspired you to write The Tale of a Toothbrush?

I’ve been concerned with the pollution of the oceans since 2010, when I read an article about how the ocean as we imagine it doesn’t exist any longer because of the rubbish we’ve thrown into it. I have been noodling with story ideas on the subject for years, but the topic is so vast and so sad I couldn’t see how to approach it without writing something truly depressing, and I am not interested in writing that kind of a story. In 2018 I started working with Lauren St John, creating the movement Authors4Oceans, and became more determined to publish a story about the problem with plastic. This particular story came from a conversation I imagined taking place between an albatross – one of the birds worst affected by ocean pollution – and a toothbrush. I imagined the toothbrush telling the albatross the story of his life and from that sprang the idea for the picture book.

Why, out of all the millions of items of plastic, did you choose a Toothbrush as your protagonist?

It was an instinctive choice. My six-year-old son loves his toothbrush, and I wanted a plastic item that children could relate to, that could be a cheerful bright colour.

What was it like to see Daniel Rieley's illustrations for the first time?

Daniel’s illustrations are beautiful, and as this is my debut picture book, it was the first time I’d seen a story of mine brought to life with so much colour and texture. It was wonderful and surprisingly moving to see Sammy, and the other plastic items brought to life.

What are your top toothbrush re-use tips?

A toothbrush is a very useful item to keep beside your kitchen sink, for cleaning those hard to reach nooks and crannies. They are also brilliant at scrubbing at limescale in your sinks and toilet. Put one in your bike box, for use when cleaning your chain, and if you’re crafty, a toothbrush is a good addition to your artist’s pencil case to create texture. 

For all the kids staying at home, what can they be doing to still keep up their care for the environment?

This is a brilliant time to march around your house and look at the plastic items you use in each room. Make a list of the things that you find in each room, then try and think of a more environmentally friendly item that could replace it. 

For example, you can swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo toothbrush. Or you can swap your plastic containers of milk for delivery in glass bottles. Do you have plastic bottles of hand soap? Why not swap them for a bar of soap? 

Just one small change makes a difference. See how many changes you could make.

- MG Leonard

Make sure to download our The Tale of a Toothbrush activity sheets here

ENTER below to WIN your very own copy of The Tale of a Toothbrush: A Story of Plastic in our Oceans by M G Leonard and Daniel Rieley, and your very own bamboo toothbrush boxset from Brushbox, a new sustainable subscription box that really cares about you, others and the environment. It is the most sustainable and convenient way to getting a healthy mouth and a healthy planet!

"Your toothbrush needs replacing more often than you think (dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every 2 months) so you might as well do it in the most sustainable way possible. Our range of bamboo toothbrushes are 100% recyclable and biodegradable, helping combat the 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes that end up in our oceans and landfills every year - now there is something to smile about.

Not only are we helping to reduce the plastic waste in our everyday lives but we also promise that every toothbrush bought, we will donate one to a child in need and plant a tree on your behalf. That is our Buy 1, Give 1, Plant 1 promise."

***IMPORTANT: due to the current state of affairs, after the competition closes, the winner will be contacted but some prizes may not be delivered until the country-wide Stay Home period has ceased. COMPETITION CLOSES 27th April, midday***


Monday, 6 April 2020

Grow by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton

To celebrate the publication of Grow by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton, the lovely Nicola wrote a special piece all about DNA. Enjoy!

DNA Tales 

A Letter by Nicola Davies 

I was truly rubbish at genetics at university. Although I was doing a zoology degree I was almost innumerate so the maths involved in genetics just made my little brain hurt. But what I adored was the idea that a single cell could unfold, unfurl, unpack into a whole organism directed and coordinated by a strand of chemical beads.

It may seem completely mad to try and open up a subject as complex as genetics for very young children - but the manifestations of genetics are so much a part of their lives. For a start they grow, and they may see siblings grow from a blurry ultrasound picture into a beloved brother or sister. How many times as children are we told we are like, or not like some member of our family? I can remember vividly the absolute fascination of the identical twins in my school - they seemed like something totally magical. Everyday genetics doesn’t stop there. Long before we had the technology for GM we were selectively breeding plants and animals, manipulating the genetic instructions for building bodies to provide us with food, help and companionship.

Genes shape not only the ‘what’ of our bodies but the ‘how’ and ‘when’ too. One of the things I adore about zoology is the different ways in which species are adapted to their environment and that includes the choreography of development governed by genes. For example, a human new-born, is all head, but the legs are relatively tiny. That’s because human babies can rely on being carried about after birth so it makes sense for their heads to grow and their legs can catch up later. A new-born zebra however is obviously very ‘leggy’ because from birth the most important thing for a zebra to do, is run.

Genes don’t stop working at birth or when you reach maturity, they are at work all the time, governing the maintenance, running, and repair of every bit of you. Their ability to create a whole variety of immune cells which can keep ahead of the ever changing onslaughts from bacteria and viruses has been the driving force behind sex almost from the start of life: we simply can’t generate enough variety to fight infection on our own, so we need to mix our DNA with someone else’s.

TV crime dramas encourage us to think of each person’s DNA being absolutely unique to them. It’s true that some of your DNA is not like anyone else’s, but quite a bit of it is just like the DNA in a fish or even a pot plant. That’s because some of the basic features of your body, such as how your cells produce energy, are the same in most living things. These basic features evolved a really long time ago and the instructions for how to do them haven’t really changed, and have been passed down the millions of generations of living things. The DNA coding for more recently evolved features, such as your hands or the way your brain is put together, is unique to you although very similar to that of other human beings.

It would probably help us at the moment to remember that large parts of our DNA are derived from viruses, which have incorporated themselves into our long list of ‘instructions’. Some are there for their own ends, and some have been tamed by our genes to work in the service of our cells. Although the human genome project sequenced the whole of human DNA, that was really just the start. There are so many things we don’t yet understand such as, why are there so many repeats in our genome, identical sequences of code appearing again and again and making up to two thirds of the total. There are lots of theories about the reasons for this, but the one I like best is that these duplicates provide a folding map, so that the two meter long strand of our DNA can be neatly packed inside the nucleus of almost every cell in our bodies, a space far too small to see without a microscope.

DNA has many stories to tell us, about the long history of life on earth, and when and how the enormous variety of different living things alive today, and in the past, evolved. It can even tell us something about the history of our own species or even our own human families. But perhaps the most important message carried in our DNA is that all human life indeed all life is related, and that all our stories, whatever race, whatever nation or species to which we belong are written in the same language.

- Nicola Davies

Grow is available where all good books are sold!

Friday, 3 April 2020

April Book of the Month - Follow Me, Flo! by Jarvis

We’re off to somewhere new. So stick to me like glue. Follow me, Flo! Come on, let’s go! We’re sure to be there soon…

Flo is a very mischievous little duckling who has a penchant for wandering off…
She can't help it, her curiosity is always taking her off on new adventures! Luckily, Daddy Duck has a trick to make sure Flo stays by his side… he sings the FOLLOW SONG.

But on the way to visit Auntie Jenna's house, Flo decides to sing her OWN louder, higher version of the Follow Song ... with surprising and catastrophic results!

From the award-winning creator of Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth comes a hilarious and heartfelt daddy and daughter cautionary tale, sure to get all young readers laughing and singing. 

And boy, do we have the treat for all of our Picture Book Party readers, click the link below to watch a read-along of Follow Me, Flo! read by Jarvis himself! 

We also have our Follow Me, Flo! activity sheets. Simply click here.