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.

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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


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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! 

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

Monday, 22 November 2021

Cat Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith

Today we're talking about Cat Problems, the new picture book from Jory John and Lane Smith, the creators of Penguin Problems and Giraffe Problems. This brand-new story is sure to tickle every feline fan and owner! 



Just like most cats, this cat lives an extremely comfortable life. But he has his problems, too...



The sunspot he's trying to bathe in just won't stop moving. 
The nosy neighbour squirrel just can't seem to mind its own business.


And don't even get him 
started on the hoover! It's an absolute menace! Will this cat ever find the silver lining?

A relatable tale for all cat owners! Cat Problems is available from all good booksellers; make sure to watch our purr-fect animation below:

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Sticky McStickStick by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Tony Ross

This month we celebrate the publication of Michael Rosen's Sticky McStickStick: The Friend Who Helped Me Walk Again, illustrated by Tony Ross.



After being admitted to hospital in 2020 with coronavirus, Michael Rosen had to learn to walk again. With the support of doctors and nurses and a walking stick he names "Sticky McStickstick", he manages to embark on the slow steps to recovery. 


This moving picture book from the former Children's Laureate, with illustrations from Tony Ross, tells a story of perseverance and hope, and is a testament to the importance of overcoming fear and learning to accept help.

Watch our video with Michael Rosen himself below, and hear him talk about his experiences as well as this brand new picture book:




Michael Rosen's Sticky McStickStick: The Friend Who Helped Me Walk Again is available to purchase here

New November Picture Book Releases

 Check out a selection of our new releases this November!

The Worst Sleepover in the World
by Sophie Dahl and illustrated by Luciano Lozano


Ramona is having her best friend Gracie to stay the night. It’s their first ever sleepover and she wants to make a den, read stories, dance like a wild thing, stay up all night and have a midnight feast. It'll be the BEST SLEEPOVER IN HISTORY. But nothing quite goes to plan. Will Gracie, Ramona and her little sister Ruby be able to solve their problems and still be friends in the morning?

Click here for The Worst Sleepover in the World activity sheets.


Frindleswylde
by Natalia & Lauren O'Hara


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.

Click here for our Q&A with Natalia & Lauren O'Hara.


Michael Rosen's Sticky McStickstick
by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Tony Ross


After being admitted to hospital in 2020 with coronavirus, Michael Rosen had to learn to walk again. With the support of doctors and nurses and a walking stick he names "Sticky McStickstick", he manages to embark on the slow steps to recovery. This moving picture book from the former Children's Laureate, with illustrations from Tony Ross, tells a story of perseverance and hope, and is a testament to the importance of overcoming fear and learning to accept help.


My Pet Goldfish
by 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.

Let's Save the Amazon
by Catherine Barr and illustrated by Jean Claude


Bursting with all kinds of life, the Amazon is one of the most incredible places on Earth. This richly illustrated picture book brings to life this extraordinary region for young children, exploring its tropical rainforest and scenic landscapes. It showcases the lush wildlife, diverse communities and life-saving medicines that can all be found there and therefore why it is so important that we act to protect this special part of the planet from the impact of climate change.

Cat Problems
by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith


Just like most cats, this cat lives an extremely comfortable life. But he has his problems, too...

The sun spot he's trying to bathe in just won't stop moving. The nosy neighbour squirrel just can't seem to mind its own business. And don't even get him started on the hoover! It's an absolute menace! Will this cat ever find the silver lining?

From picture book superstars Jory John and Lane Smith, the creators of Penguin Problems and Giraffe Problems, comes a brand-new, hilarious collaboration sure to tickle every feline fan and owner!


Super Duper Penguin Slide
by 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.

There's a Dodo on the Wedding Cake
by Wade Bradford and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes


Mr. Snore returns to the wacky Sharemore Hotel to play his violin at a fancy wedding. As he waits for the ceremony to begin, he notices a certain uninvited guest ogling the towering wedding cake. It’s hard to tell who’s a guest and who's a pest, but Mr. Snore is going to do his heroic best to save the cake from sure disaster!

Dogs Love Cars
by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Paul Meisel


From the yard to the park, from school to the market, from one end of the day to the next, dogs are full of joy. Ears flapping out the car window! Tug of war with a rope toy! Sprawling out on the sofa! Getting those “good dog” treats! Wherever they go, whatever they see, dogs love it all. But what do they love most? Guess! This delightfully chaotic book from Leda Schubert and Paul Meisel portrays dogs of all shapes and colours in a laugh-out-loud celebration of our very best friends.

The House by the Lake
by Sophie Dahl and illustrated by Luciano Lozano


"The incredible story of how a house was witness to German history" Telegraph

"An atmospheric and ultimately uplifting tale with delicate, ethereal images" The Financial Times

"A touching picturebook which shows children that large events can have repercussions even in small and unheralded places" Wall Street Journal

Thomas Harding first shared this remarkable story in his Costa-shortlisted biography The House by the Lake – now he has rendered it into a deeply moving picture book for young readers. On the outskirts of Berlin, a wooden cottage stands on the shore of a lake. Over the course of a century, this little house played host to a loving Jewish family, a renowned Nazi composer, wartime refugees and a Stasi informant; in that time, a world war came and went, and the Berlin Wall was built a stone's throw from the cottage's back door. With words that read like a haunting fairy tale, and magnificent illustrations by Britta Teckentrup, this is the astonishing true story of the house by the lake.

Click here to read out Q&A with Thomas Harding and click here for our Q&A with Britta Teckentrup.

Now out in paperback.

The Tale of the Valiant Ninja Frog
by Alaistair Chisholm and illustrated by Jez Tuya


Jamie and Abby are camping with Dad and they tell a bedtime story together. This story will star their favourites: a prince, a witch, a thief and some bears. "And the frog!" says Abby. This time there's a terrible giant who's stolen all the keys to the kingdom. No one can get into their homes! No one can start their horses! It's a real mess. Our heroes must sneak into the giant's castle and retrieve the keys. But when it comes to the crunch, only a tiny froggy hero, who's also a NINJA, can defeat the mighty giant!

Now out in paperback.

A Polar Bear in the Snow
by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Shawn Harris


Follow a magnificent polar bear through a fantastic world of snow and shockingly blue sea. Over the ice, through the water, past Arctic animals and even a human ... where is he going? What does he want? Acclaimed author Mac Barnett’s narration deftly balances suspense and emotion, as well as poignant, subtle themes, compelling us to follow the bear with each page turn. Artist Shawn Harris’s striking torn-paper illustrations layer white-on-white hues, with bolts of blue and an interplay of shadow and light, for a gorgeous view of a stark yet beautiful landscape. Simple and thought-provoking, illuminating and intriguing, this engaging picture book will have readers pondering the answer to its final question long after the polar bear has continued on his way.

Now out in paperback.

Ella's Night Lights
by Lucy Fleming


Ella has always dreamed of seeing the sunrise. But with her delicate gossamer wings, she can only come out at night. So, when the moon is high, she collects as many shimmering beams of light she can find – a twinkle from a star, the glow from a lamp post. With her light, she guides lost and lonely animals and finds friendship in Fox and Owl. And, together, Ella’s animal friends know just how to return her kindness...

A gentle, tender storybook about friendship and the power of kindness now out in paperback.

In the Half Room
by Carson Ellis


The half room is full of half things. A half chair, a half cat, even half shoes – all just as nice and weird and friendly as whole things. When half a knock comes on half a door, who in the world could it be? With her trademark touch of magic and whimsy, Caldecott Honor winner Carson Ellis explores halves and wholes in an ingenious and thought-provoking picture book. The lightly rhyming text is soothing yet spirited, revealing the many absurdities and possibilities to be discovered in this irresistibly fanciful home. Ink and gouache illustrations featuring wry detail and velvety textures conjure a dreamlike mood while leaving space for imagining. A celebration of the surreal and the serendipitous, and the beauty of the two together, this brilliant picture book will have readers seeing the joys of halves with whole new eyes.

Now out in paperback.


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

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Witch in Training - Q&A with illustrator Briony May Smith

Today we welcome Briony May Smith onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Witch in Training, written by Michelle Robinson!


 Betty is brewing her first-ever potion! And potions need ingredients – ingredients that can only be found in the WILD. So Betty, with her mum by her side, soars off into the magical, moonlight night to bravely gather her wicked and wonderful supplies: vampire fangs, fairy dust, werewolf whiskers, and more. The only problem is, she might have to come face-to-face with a few monsters – a few treacherous monsters! – along the way...


With rollicking read-aloud rhymes from Michelle Robinson and spellbinding art from Briony May Smith, this is a funny, edge-of-your-broomstick adventure for aspiring witches and wizards everywhere.

Q&A with Briony May Smith


Can you tell us more about your journey into illustration?
 
I always loved drawing and making up games and stories as a child, playing with my younger sister and brother. I never put the pencil down and decided to pursue illustration in the hopes of working in the children’s book world. I studied Illustration at Falmouth University and built up a portfolio of artwork. I have been very lucky to work with some of my favourite authors writing today, and Witch in Training was an exciting venture into books with a Halloween bent! Witch in Training is the second book I’ve illustrated with author Michelle Robinson. Our first book, Tooth Fairy in Training follows fairy sisters as the littlest sibling starts her first night as a tooth fairy.


How did you begin illustrating Witch in Training?

I started with the home and characters of Witch in Training. Betty and her mum go collecting ingredients for cauldron training - all the spooky, witchy, magical places a young potion maker might need to visit would be a fun exploration on each spread, but the start and finish are in their home. I used this as an opportunity to build a house best suited for witches, with broomstick parking, an adjoining potions room, and a witchy weathervane, all in one wonky stone and timber home. I experimented with a few character designs and settled on a traditional-looking witch green skin and a mane of purple hair, wanting to mirror the Tooth Fairy’s bright colours from mine and Michelle’s first collaboration. I had a lot of fun designing their clothing too.



What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Witch in Training?

I think my favourite spread to illustrate in the book was the opening spread. It was a lot of fun to introduce the world, the time of day, and Betty and her cat, Pumpkin Patch, to the reader, and play with the lighting and composition.


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

Growing up my three favourite picture books were:

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base

The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker

Portly’s Hat by Lucy Cousins

They are all very different - Base’s story is an intensely detailed and clever tale of a birthday party full of intrigue and puzzles, things to be found on every page and a code to break at the end. Cicely Mary Barker’s fairies are like a field guide to the fairy world and enriched our games based in fairyland. Portly’s Hat is extremely charming and funny and bold and like The Eleventh Hour, one that I have very fond memories of being read to us when we were little, giggling at the same parts that make me smile now.

These three are still my favourites and sit on my bookshelf in my studio.

As a grown-up, I’ve added some more favourites.

I saw My Little Hen by Alice and Martin Provensen at a friend’s house and ordered my own copy. I love chickens and straw hats and the two unite beautifully in this picture book. There are many books illustrated by Aurelia Fronty that I love, possibly my favourites are Fil de Fee (Fairy Threads) or Tristan e Iseo (Tristan snd Iseult) written by Beatrice Fontanel. I also love Helen Stephens’s work, her books have a beautiful bold palette and charm.

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A special thanks to our guest this week, Briony May Smith!
Witch in Training is now available from all good booksellers.

Witch in Training - Q&A with author Michelle Robinson

Today we welcome Michelle Robinson onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Witch in Training, illustrated by Briony May Smith!


 Betty is brewing her first-ever potion! And potions need ingredients – ingredients that can only be found in the WILD. So Betty, with her mum by her side, soars off into the magical, moonlight night to bravely gather her wicked and wonderful supplies: vampire fangs, fairy dust, werewolf whiskers, and more. The only problem is, she might have to come face-to-face with a few monsters – a few treacherous monsters! – along the way...

With rollicking read-aloud rhymes from Michelle Robinson and spellbinding art from Briony May Smith, this is a funny, edge-of-your-broomstick adventure for aspiring witches and wizards everywhere.

Q&A with Michelle Robinson

What was the inspiration behind writing Witch in Training?

I have always desperately wanted to be a witch. The late Jill Murphy has been one of my favourite writers and illustrators since I was young. I find Mildred Hubble, The Worst Witch, very relatable. As a child, I used to make my own ‘potions’ out of anything I could find in the kitchen, bathroom and garden. As a writer, I love the idea of spell books and I particularly like spells that rhyme. The idea of chanting words aloud, stirring a concoction of special ingredients and magicking something into being is just so appealing. It seems only natural that any young witch would need to learn the ropes along the way.

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

I try and write something most days, even if it’s just for fun. My favourite time to write is very early in the morning before the rest of my family are awake. I find my mind is still in dream mode. The birds are just finding their voices, I haven’t started worrying about any admin, chores or personal troubles, and I can write freely without my critical mind clicking into gear. I work anywhere I can sit comfortably, which is most often in an armchair or on the sofa. I find sitting at a desk makes writing feel like serious business. Of course, I take my work seriously, but I like to feel relaxed when I’m writing. I don’t actually own a desk or an office chair.
 
Can you tell us more about your journey into the world of childrens books? 

Writing is part of who I am. I have written pretty much every day for the last twenty-odd years. I get anxious and muddle-headed when life gets in the way of work. Before becoming a full-time author I spent ten years working as an advertising creative, writing copy and conceiving ads all day, every day, for very long hours. I hated it, but it was a good training ground for learning to accept criticism and how to identify strong ideas. I had always wanted to write for children, and I started to give it a try in every spare hour outside work. My first attempts weren’t great, but I stuck at it and put myself on some courses with the Arvon Foundation. Eventually, my stories improved and I was taken on by the Catchpole Agency, who I’m still delighted to be represented by.


What was it like seeing Brionys illustrations for the first time?

Briony’s work is so special it honestly feels like very real magic whenever I look at it. I know it must be very hard work to create illustrations of such a high standard, but Briony makes it look easy. Beautiful, charming pictures seem to flow from her fingertips. The light and dappled shade she creates wows me every time. I particularly love how her characters manage to have a dreamlike appeal while also being realistic. Briony is one of the finest illustrators the industry has. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be making books with her.
 
Do you have a favourite spread in the story?

Honestly: every single one of them. The house on the first page is so inviting, I want to move in. I particularly like how Briony included the characters from our previous book in one scene — I’ll let readers hunt that one out. If I was forced to pick, I adore the sea monster. The light filtering through the water and highlighting its scales is amazing, and I love how it shows Betty’s fearless character. I always try and make my writing as pithy as possible to leave more space for the art. It’s wonderful to have images like this to lose yourself in and feel awestruck by the moment.


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

Tough question! My favourites always seem to vanish from my brain whenever I’m asked. I love The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway, which has an absurd premise and is excellent fun to read aloud. Silly stories are truly wonderful and I wish they were as appreciated within the industry as they are by the families who devour them. I really love Fred Blunt’s work, like Lionel and Gnome. He has a brilliantly daft sense of humour and his drawings always make me laugh. His latest collaboration with Steve Webb, Cows Go Boo, is super funny too. And of course, I love Whatever Next! by Jill Murphy. My children have long since grown out of it, but I keep a copy on my shelf. If I ever want to remind myself what standard I’m aiming for, Jill’s work is right up there at the top. I’ll keep on trying!

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A special thanks to our guest this week, Michelle Robinson!
Witch in Training is now available from all good booksellers.