Tuesday 21 October 2014

We are absolutely over the moon today to hear that the following 14 Walker books have been nominated for the 2015  Kate Greenaway medal!

Becker, Aaron. Quest

Burningham, John. The Way To The Zoo

Carlin, Laura (illustrator) Davies, Nicola (author) The Promise

Deacon, Alexis (illustrator) Hoban, Russell (author). Jim's Lion

Ering, Timothy Basil. The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger

Graham, Bob. Vanilla Ice Cream

Haughton, Chris. Shh! We Have A Plan

Higgins, John & Olivent, Marc (illustrator) Sedgwick, Marcus & Sedgwick, Julian (author) Dark Satanic Mills

Horacek, Petr. The Mouse Who Ate The Moon

Kay, Jim (illustrator) Various (author) The Great War: An Anthology of Stories 
Inspired by Objects from the First World War

Lamb, Rosy. Paul Meets Bernadette

Moore, Inga. Captain Cat

Sif, Birgitta. Frances Dean who loved to dance and dance

Sutton, Emily (illustrator) Davies, Nicola (author) Tiny: The Invisible World of Microbes

Congratulations to our wonderful illustrators! Take a look at the nominations here.

Our favourite Animal Stories

This year we had over 600 entries to our children’s story writing competition in collaboration with Mumsnet and Gransnet, and we are delighted to be publishing the ten winning stories in The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories. This beautifully illustrated gift book by parents, for parents, includes the winning stories chosen by a panel of judges, including Anthony Browne, Miriam González Durántez, Lucy Mangan and Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet.  To celebrate, we asked some of our authors and illustrators to share their favourite animal stories with us:

Jez Alborough
"I choose Owl Babies. This simple tale of a Mum and her babies is one of the oldest stories on the planet but, as the song goes: ‘it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’ and Waddell and Benson do it to perfection."

Petr Horacek

"I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen is a very funny book. It’s one of the books that everybody, children or adults love. The illustrations are simple and bold. The whole book is beautifully produced, published by Walker Books.  The story is about a bear who has lost his hat. He asks all the animals, including a rabbit with a red hat, if they have seen his…red hat. None of the animals have seen it, not even the rabbit with ….a red hat. I love the dialogue between the bear and animals. It is so well written and so funny. The bear then remembers where he saw the hat last time and he goes to fetch it. Later on a squirrel asks the bear if he has seen the rabbit, but the bear…. hasn’t seen the rabbit. Ehm, why should he? The bear loves his red hat.

Simon James
My favourite picturebook involving animals is George and Martha, by James Marshall, a series of books, each with five of the shortest stories you will ever find. (I think it is best to buy the complete edition with all the books in one volume, as in the photograph). Having made books myself for more than twenty years, I remain fascinated by what makes a great picturebook, it's far from obvious. 

With George and Martha however, I am looking at something exquisite. With the most perfectly paired-down, minimum of words and the most  wonderfully imperfect drawings, James Marshall has created a series of superbly realised moments between two hippos who happen to be neighbours and best friends. Through a genius for wry humour, he depicts all the foibles, misunderstandings and enduring warmth that can occur in any relationship between two people. It is never cloying or cutsey, but told with real observation for character. As with all the best picturebooks it is deceptively simple and wise with rich insights to be found for anyone of any age. All this book requires is two people to sit down and share together, preferably out loud. 

I have many hundreds of picturebooks on my shelves, but this book sits on my shelf of favourites, I could have chosen 'Flix' by Tomi Ungerer, or 'Dr De Soto' by William Steig, or even, 'Clarence goes Out West and meets a Purple Horse' by Jean Ekman Adams. I hesitated for a tiny moment whilst choosing, but in the end, there is no book quite like 'George and Martha'.

Michael Foreman

"I found it difficult to decide on my favourite animal story so I tried to think of my favourite animal (besides our family cat, Tex.)  Then I decided to suggest Why the Animals Came to Town because it has many, many different animals from all over the world all coming down one little boy's street, asking for his help."

Nick Sharratt

I am a Bunny by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry. I was read this book when I was a toddler and loved it dearly, one reason being that the bunny in the story was called Nicholas, just like me. It's a very simple tale of a rabbit experiencing the four seasons but the illustrations are quite extraordinary in their power to evoke the sensations of being out in the rain, snow, wind or sun and it's hard to think of a more comforting image than the final one of Nicholas, so cosy in his hollow tree home.

Friday 3 October 2014

The Secrets Behind ‘Seen and Not Heard’ by Katie May Green

Children should be seen and not heard!

Do you know this saying? It’s what adults said to their children in the olden days, to make them be quiet and behave. Imagine how you’d feel if this was said to you every day. “Children should be seen and not heard!” Would you want to be sweet and good, and well-behaved? Or would you want to go wild and RUN RIOT?!! Perhaps you’d find a way of going wild in secret.

If you read my book, ‘Seen and Not Heard,’ you’ll see how the children of Shiverhawk Hall secretly found lots of wild mischief, fun and freedom.

The idea for the book started to emerge in January 2012. I was visiting an art museum and I found myself staring at a very old, very grand portrait of four little sisters. Here it is:

Look at the girl second in from the right. Now look again, for a little bit longer….

There’s something slightly mischievous about the expression on her face, isn’t there? Is she trying to tell you something, do you think? Maybe she’s trying to say, “You may think I’m as good as gold, dressed up in this uncomfortable gown, holding this bunch of grapes as still as I can, looking my very sweetest… but as soon as you are gone, I am going to eat all this fancy fruit, run around with my sisters and swing on this big curtain!”

Well, those were the sorts of thoughts I had as I looked at the painting. I knew that at night time, when no-one was around, those little girls wouldn’t stay still in their frame for a moment longer!

Another painting I saw at the art museum was this Victorian portrait of a little girl:

Doesn’t she look dainty and delicate? What do you think she was really like? I wonder how long that pretty hat (called a ‘mob cap’) stayed on her head when she wasn’t sitting still for a portrait…

If you haven’t guessed already, this little girl was the inspiration for one of the characters in my book: Lily Pinksweet! Below is an early drawing of Lily, next to the final drawing which appears in the book. 

I must have decided along the way to get rid of the mob cap. I think it was because I wanted Lily’s ringlets to bounce and twizzle as wildly as possible when she was running around Shiverhawk Hall (when no-one was around, of course).

A couple of months after my trip to the museum, I went to another interesting place. It was a very old house called Benthall Hall, in Shropshire. Here it is:

A bit spooky, isn’t it? My ‘Shiverhawk Hall’ was inspired by this wonderful house.
Under the eaves on the top floor of Benthall Hall is a nursery, where generations of Benthall children would have gone to bed, had lessons, and played quietly with their dolls and teddy bears. When I visited, the nursery wasn’t open to the public, but a member of staff kindly let me have a peek. My favourite thing about the room was a lovely old rocking horse.

Here are some of the children who lived at Benthall Hall long ago. Don’t they look sweet, and good?

I think the girl at the bottom is dying to get out of her frame. She looks a bit weary.

I visited a few other museums, houses and galleries while I was making the book, and made sketches of children in portraits from various eras, thinking hard about the poses they tended to be in, and looking closely at the details of their costumes. I collected all of my pictures together and put the pictures on to pinboards, to have in front of me while I worked. Like this one:

After lots of drawing and thinking, my cast of characters emerged: eight children, a dog, a cat and three white mice. I made a sheet of character studies (below); this was very helpful to have in front of me when working out the drawings for the book. I didn’t want to forget what each child looked like!

The story for Seen and Not Heard took a while to get right. I made lots of tiny drawings, called ‘thumbnails,’ and I scrawled ideas for text around these. I worked out a sequence for the thumbnails to go in, and then made a rough version of a book, called a ‘dummy book’. I made several dummy books before I felt the story worked properly. You can see some of the dummy books in the picture above.

At one early stage in the ideas process there was a governess character (who would have taught the children in their nursery). You can see her on the right hand side of the photo above. However I soon decided that I didn’t want any adults in the story… But adults do have a background presence in the book, in their own grand portraits on the walls of Shiverhawk Hall. And here’s what the Shiverhawk children thought of those portraits: 

All of the artwork in the book is drawn in pencil, with a little bit of charcoal here and there. In the photo below you can see some of the drawings, in my studio. You can also see some essential studio equipment: an angle-poise lamp, a cup of tea, baby wipes and loo roll to clean my grubby hands (which are often black from pencil and charcoal), and large clear plastic bags to keep finished artwork protected from tea spillages!

When the pencil drawings were finished, they were scanned and then I coloured them up digitally, using Photoshop. I had tried out colouring the pictures in watercolour paint, pencil crayon and pastel, but decided that digital colour was the right method for this project. Here is a photo of one of the illustrations half-way through drawing… and next to it, finished:
So there you go… I have revealed some of the secrets and ideas behind ‘Seen and Not Heard.’ It was lots of fun, but hard work too, with many early starts and late nights. Sometimes, late at night, when I was drawing and tired, I am sure the characters winked and whispered to me!

And as for those twins, the De Villechild girls… 
Well… their secrets stay secret.

Seen and not Heard is available from all good booksellers.
Have a go at drawing your own mischievous self portrait with this free downloadable activity sheet.

The paintings in the art museum I mentioned were ‘The Daughters of Sir Matthew Decker, Bart.’ painted in 1718 by Jan van Meyer, and ‘Cherry Ripe,’ painted in 1879 by John Everett Millais. You can see them at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Thursday 2 October 2014

The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories

This year we had over 600 entries to our children’s story writing competition in collaboration with Mumsnet and Gransnet. Today we are delighted to be publishing the ten winning stories in The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories, a beautifully illustrated gift book by parents, for parents, chosen by a panel of judges, including Anthony Browne, Miriam González Durántez, Lucy Mangan and Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet. 

Three of the winning authors share their experiences with us in an exclusive post for Picture Book Party:

Jo Tiddy, author of Atuki and Serai

I always wanted a goat. As a child growing up in Africa, I would stare out of the window on long car journeys and see small totos with their little herds, by the roadside. That’s what I wanted to be doing, not going to school. I begged and begged, but Mum was adamant. No way was I going to be a goat girl. In the intervening years I have moved continents. I have acquired dogs, cats, children and a husband, not necessarily in that order. I have been a town planner, a conservation officer, a school dinner lady, and latterly a bookshop worker. Still no goat though.

The Mumsnet/Walker Books competition was a light bulb moment for me. I love stories, I love writing them and I love telling them, particularly to children. There is something magical about holding the attention of a class of wriggling five years olds for a few moments. Here was an opportunity to bring my goat to life.

Serai, the goat, is the one I wanted as a child. Atuki, the girl, is who I wanted to be. Together they have adventures and face danger, and learn together. Important things, like bravery and courage and kindness. All children aspire to these virtues, and if a story can help them overcome their own fears and worries then all the better. 

So I wrote a story and sent if off.

When I heard I had been shortlisted I was ecstatic, more so when I heard I’d made the final ten. Much squeaking ensued. Daisy, my editor, was most helpful, suggesting places where the story could be tightened up, explaining how to strengthen the theme and refrain. Martha Anne, the illustrator, has done a fantastic job of interpreting Atuki and Serai. It’s as if she’s been delving into my childhood memories, seeing the pictures that I wrote on the page, picking up the bright fabric and patterns that I recall of African life and translating them perfectly. Her pictures tell the story itself.

Thanks to Mumsnet and Walker Books I now have my very own goat, and I am so thrilled.

Eilidh Mackay, author of The Winged Lion

When I spotted the Mumsnet and Walker Books children's story competition online, I was very excited. After a year of health problems which had left me virtually housebound, I had recently started writing for fun again. I spent ages planning, writing and polishing my entry and, when I was finally happy with it, sent it off. 

A couple of days before the competition's closing date, I was caught up in the usual hectic bedtime routine with my three young children when an idea popped into my head. I scribbled down the bare bones of it (while trying to keep my notebook dry as the kids splashed most of the bathwater over the floor – bad mummy!). Late that night and into the next day I wrote – then I submitted it.

My second story was inspired by my oldest daughter, Gabriela, (now aged eight) and her friend Sofia – in fact, I used their names for the two main characters in The Tale of the Winged Lion. The girls now live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean – Gabriela here in the Outer Hebrides and Sofia in New Jersey, USA. Sofia's mum, Janine, and I formed a close friendship during the girls' first year when we both lived in Glasgow and have kept in touch ever since. The story is a magical fairy tale, with references to the beautiful island where my family have made our home. 

Of course, it was the second story which made the shortlist, then – wonder of wonders – was one of the winning ten stories to be published in a beautifully bound anthology of animal stories. That's right, published! Me! More to the point, my story had been read by the three respected judges – Lucy Mangan, Miriam González Durántez and former Children's Laureate Anthony Browne – and they liked it.

I was beyond delighted when I heard the news that I'd won – as was Gabriela, who was chuffed to bits that she would feature in a real book (she's such a bookworm!). Then followed editing, through which I was expertly guided by the (very patient) Daisy from Walker Books. Daisy made this easy for me, explaining everything as we went along through various email exchanges. When we were both happy that my story was the best it could be, we came to my favourite part of the process – seeing The Tale of the Winged Lion brought to life by Kate Alizadeh's wonderful illustrations. Kate listened to my ideas, making changes where I asked, including Gabriela's blonde hair and Sofia's dark locks! Kate's artistic style really suits my whimsical story – a great pairing from Walker! 

So I am about to be a published author. Christmas is sorted this year – signed copies for all! This recognition of my writing has energised me and I continue to write for both children and adults – I'm currently working on a novel set here in the Outer Hebrides. And as for the other story I entered – well, there's always work to be done when you're writing!

Susannah O’Brien, author of Captain Yuri

Last Christmas, I was 15 weeks pregnant and had spent most of the previous three months feeling queasy whilst running around after my lovely, lively toddler. When I heard about the competition I thought it sounded like it might be a fun thing to do, and I wrote the story over a couple of lunchtimes whilst Felix was napping. I told my husband that if I won we could use the money to buy a double buggy!

I was thrilled to be shortlisted. I read Lucy Mangan in The Guardian every week, and it was very exciting to think that she would now be reading my work. The news of the win came during a difficult few weeks as we were moving house, and it was lovely to have a bit of good news amidst the chaos of packing boxes. Seeing my words put to illustrations was brilliant; It was so interesting to see how the artist had interpreted my story of the little hamster astronaut.

I am very excited to see the book published. I re-read the story recently and was reminded of the fact that I had given our hero’s gentle and quiet sidekick the name Ted. This is the very name we have given our new baby. He is quite gentle, he is certainly not quiet, but he does seem to like his (prize-winning) double buggy!

Be the first to get your hands on a copy of The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories, available fro all good booksellers.