Thursday 27 May 2021

Dance with Oti - Illustrator Q&A with Samara Hardy

Today we welcome Samara Hardy onto Picture Book Party to talk about illustrating her new picture book, Dance with Oti, written by Strictly Come Dancing star, Oti Mabuse.  

Can you tell us a little about your journey into illustration? 

I’ve always loved to draw so becoming an illustrator was always the most natural route for me to take in life. I never really considered anything else! After finishing A-Levels I did a foundation course in Art and Design, then studied Illustration at Falmouth University, which was an absolute dream! After I graduated I did various work placements within the homeware and greetings card industries, then took an in-house design position at a retailer.I never had a strong singular style, so the role suited me perfectly as it was so varied. I provided illustrations for everything from gift bags to paddling pools, and it gave me a great foundation for taking the leap into freelancing 3 years later. It was a scary step going from a secure salary to what felt like a world of uncertainty, but I haven’t looked back. 

I now work alongside my lovely agents at Plum Pudding, mainly on picture books, but I still like to dip my toe back into homewares and licensing from time to time as well!   

What is your working process?

I’m lucky enough to have a spare room which I’ve turned into my studio which is fantastic. It’s also turning into a bit of a greenhouse with the amount of plants I’m rapidly accumulating! I use Procreate for sketches and colouring but as I use a lot of layers, and Procreate can be quite limiting in this respect, I piece everything together in Photoshop afterwards. Being able to work on an Ipad has been great as it enables me to work wherever I want. I’m looking forward to traveling again to really make the most of this. Although the temptation to just work from bed some days is hard to resist! 

How did you begin illustrating Dance with Oti? 

I began by sketching out all the characters. Each child had a particular character trait to focus on which really helped me in making them unique and recognisable. Designing Mrs Oti was the biggest challenge as drawing a character based on a real-life person was something I’d never done before. It was definitely a bit nerve-wracking waiting for her approval!  

Once we had confirmed all the characters I made a start on the spreads themselves. These started off as small thumbnails before being neatened up into final roughs. Oti sent across some photos demonstrating each dance move which was super helpful. As learning the dance moves is such an integral part of the book, it was important to get them right!  

What was your favourite spread to illustrate? 

My favourite spread was probably the one where the bird comes flying into the room. It was a really fun one to do and I love how some of the kids are running away in horror and others are loving the excitement of it!  

What are your favourite picture books/illustrators? 

I have so many! I grew up captivated by the worlds created by Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake, but more recently I really admire the work of Kate Hindley, Paola Escobar, Emily Hughes and Alex T. Smith…and many more!  

Thank you, Samara, for giving an insight into your work on Dance with Oti. 

Download our Dance with Oti activity sheets here

                            Dance with Oti is available to purchase here

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Sean Taylor's Top Tips for writing a Picture Book

What makes a strong picture book text? There are no definitive answers. But Sean Taylor, author of How To Be Cooler than Cool, uses this little checklist to test the readiness of a developing text. 

Sean Taylor: "Sometimes a new story is strong in a number of areas, but not all. Checking through these 9 pointers can identify what needs to be worked on. And it can spark the ideas that a story needs, to evolve…"

1. Is there a character with whom young children will fall in love– preferably after one sentence?

2. Is there something about the story that will 'hook' readers in from the start?

3. Does the story have a page-turning quality as it progresses?

4. What does the main character want?

5. Is there an emotional journey, as well as a story journey? (It doesn’t matter what the emotion is.)

6. Is there visual variety for an illustrator?

7. Does everything happen across a short time-span? (Picture book stories very often describe a single day, or even less.)

8. Is the story truly young...truly for and about children under 6?

9. Is there some kind of ending uplift that will delight young readers? (There are many kinds: twists, jokes, echoes, questions, satisfying resolutions. Best of all, perhaps, none of those…but something no-one’s come up with before!)

Thank you to Sean for these top tips! 

Download our coooooooool activity sheets here.

“For the child worried about keeping up playground appearances, How to Be Cooler than Cool by Sean Taylor is a reminder that the coolest thing is to be yourself.” – The Telegraph

How to Be Cooler than Cool is available from all good booksellers. 

Thursday 20 May 2021

Ernest the Elephant - Q&A with Anthony Browne

We are delighted to welcome Anthony Browne onto Picture Book Party for a Q&A on Ernest the Elephant!

Ernest is a happy baby elephant. But when his curiosity gets the better of him, and he leaves the rest of his herd to explore the alluring and dangerous jungle, he becomes very lost indeed. Amongst the undergrowth, he meets a rude gorilla, a weary lion, an impolite hippo and an uncaring crocodile. Will anyone help Ernest find his way out of the jungle and home to his mum?

From the international phenomenon, Anthony Browne, comes a heartfelt, visually stunning picture book about finding help in unexpected places.

Q&A with Anthony Browne

What was the inspiration behind Ernest the Elephant?

The idea for this book came from a version of the story I first wrote and illustrated in 1975, before I’d ever been published - my first attempt at making a picture book. I vaguely remember a story that my parents would often read to me about an elephant who lost his way, and I can strongly recall the relief I felt every time he found his mum.

Original illustrations from the first version of Ernest the Elephant (1975)

I looked at the works of Brian Wildsmith and John Burningham and was influenced by their use of colour and also by 1960’s record covers. I submitted the dummy to the publisher Hamish Hamilton but I had no idea how picture books worked.

I was introduced to the editor Julia MacRae and, although she liked the story, she felt it wasn’t suitable for publication at that time, and so we developed another idea which became my first book, Through the Magic Mirror. Julia became my regular editor for the next 20 years, and she was extremely helpful in encouraging me to develop as an author and illustrator. 

Another original illustration of Ernest the Elephant (1975)

Tell us a little bit more about your process?

 I have recently moved house and am now working in the best studio I’ve ever had. It has a lot of light (North light which is the best light to work in), loads of space and a fantastic view. I work fairly regular hours, about 7 hours a day, but because it’s in my home, I can go and have a sneaky look at what I’ve been working on any time of the day or night.

When I have an idea for a book, the first thing I do is to make a storyboard which is a sequence of little rough drawings and words - a bit like a comic. It’s rather like planning to make a film where every picture represents a new scene. When I’m reasonably pleased with that, I make a dummy - a tiny version of the book, again roughly drawn and with a text which I know will change. After meeting and discussions with my editor, I then work on the full size finished paintings, mostly done in watercolour.

Do you have a favourite spread in the book?

I think I have 3 favourites - The scene where Ernest is fascinated by the jungle but  feels a little bit frightened, the crocodile (which is almost exactly the same as the crocodile I painted in the first version forty-odd years ago) and the last picture of Ernest and his mum walking away.
What was your favourite picture book when you were a child?

It was a book called Fudge in Toffeetown by Ken Reid, a comic album about some kind of elf who travels to a town where everything is made of sweets.
I loved sweets and later also loved Surrealism.

To find out how to be in with a chance of winning a copy of the book and this stunning print, click here!


A special thanks to our guest this week, Anthony Browne!
Ernest the Elephant is now available to buy from all good booksellers.

Monday 17 May 2021

Take Off Your Brave by Nadim illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail

 Take Off Your Brave
by Nadim (Age 4) and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail

Everybody has love.
Even baddies.

The poems in this book beautifully capture how a four-year-old sees the world – a world of rainbows, glitter and magical boxes; a world of nursery, hometime and cuddles with Mum. They make for joyful reading and, paired with a foreword from poet and teacher Kate Clanchy and wonderful pictures by Yasmeen Ismail, are an invitation for young readers to join in the fun... By turns funny and charming, gentle and zany, Take Off Your Brave shows that poetry is for everyone – no matter how little you are!

Click here to enter our Take Off Your Brave competition on Twitter:

You can also find our teachers' notes here!


Take Off Your Brave is now available to buy from all good booksellers.

Thursday 13 May 2021

How to Be Cooler than Cool - Q&A with Sean Taylor

“For the child worried about keeping up playground appearances, How to Be Cooler than Cool by Sean Taylor is a reminder that the coolest thing is to be yourself.” – The Telegraph

Sean Taylor reveals how he wrote his latest picture book How to Be Cooler than Cool, and talks about his collaboration with illustrator Jean Jullien. Their new story features some young friends in a playground – a cat, a cockatoo, and a pig. The three of them find a pair of sunglasses and get rather excited about how cool they’re going to be, when they wear them. But their efforts to be cool result in some seriously slapstick disasters. Then a tiny chick arrives. And she shows them that just being yourself is cooler than cool.

What was the seed of inspiration for How to Be Cooler than Cool?

There’s nearly always more than one seed. In fact, it’s when several seeds start growing that you feel an interesting story is on the way.

In this case, one seed was our younger son being given a pair of sunglasses. (Even though he was small, he knew they were supposed to make him cool!) Then I found myself imagining animals in sunglasses. That felt as if it could be fun for an illustrator. And a third seed was slapstick comedy – which I’ve always loved watching. It very often revolves around deadpan (you might say ‘cool’) actors like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd suddenly, and utterly, losing control. That was the seed which felt as if it could grow into some laughter!

How did you move on from these seeds?

I started scribbling. This is the first rough story plan I came up with…

What I’m doing here is seeing how the narrative might work, split across 14 double-page spreads. Finding out if a story is going to work in a picture book format is always an important early step.

If you can make any sense of my handwriting, you’ll see that the four characters in the final book are in this first vision of the story - cool cat, cockatoo, pig and chick. I’m just slightly surprised to find that my original plan also featured an elephant…and a cucumber!

Then you wrote the story, based on this rough plan?

Yes, a first draft. It wasn’t even a full first draft. But it had something I liked about it. And one day I was having a drink with a brilliant trio of listeners: my current editor at Walker Books, Maria Tunney, my former editor, David Lloyd, and the designer who would come to work on How to Be Cooler than Cool, Deirdre McDermott. I read them the first, unfinished manuscript. This is it below. (You can see I’m still playing around with titles…A SERIOUSLY COOL STORY…A REAL COOL STORY…SUCH A COOL STORY…)

Maria, David and Deirdre were all, in their different ways, very positive about these beginnings of a story. I happened to meet up with illustrator, Jean Jullien a few weeks later, and could feel him drawing the characters in his mind as I described them to him! So I was encouraged to keep going.

Did it take long to work that early draft into a finished book?

This is the file of notes, scribbles, drafts, editorial exchanges and evolving proofs that built up as we developed the book…

Picture book stories are very short, but that doesn’t mean they take a very short time to write!

How to Be Cooler than Cool found its form over three years (which isn’t an unusual timeframe for a picture book project.) And this bulky file of notes reminds me what a lot of invention, thought and trial and error went into the process of writing the story.

To be frank, the quantity of paper reveals that there was rather more ERROR than TRIAL. All that work ended up being distilled into a very simple narrative only 286 words long! A great deal fell by the wayside.

How does it feel being illustrated by Jean Jullien?

It’s special. I’m constantly revisiting Jean’s illustrations for our previous books - , Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise and I Want To Be In A Scary Story - because they’re very popular, and I’m always being asked to read them aloud.

I never grow remotely tired of either.

Jean’s illustrations are striking and engaging. He works in simple lines and flat colours. So how does he get so much life inside those two dimensions he uses? It’s absolutely there – character, emotion, movement, LIFE. I’m delighted that we’ve formed a partnership. And I hope that How to Be Cooler than Cool will put a little light into the corners of young readers’ eyes, in the way that our other two books have.

Thank you to Sean for joining us on Picture Book Party!

Download our coooooooool activity sheets here.

How to Be Cooler than Cool is available from all good booksellers. 

Monday 10 May 2021

Madame Badobedah - now out in paperback!

          Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O'Hara 

Have you seen a sneaky, crunchy-haired, ancient villain (with a suspicious tortoise) lurking around? If not, get ready, because Madame Badobedah is back, this time in paperback!

Take a look at our brand new animated trailer, featuring some of the great praise for Madame Badobedah:

Click here for our Madame Badobedah activity sheets and watch a reading from Sophie Dahl below:

Click here to read a behind-the-scenes piece with the illustrator of Madame Badobedah, Lauren O'Hara!

Madame Badobedah is available now in paperback at all good booksellers. Click here to order your copy. 

Thursday 6 May 2021

New May Picture Books Releases!

Check out a selection of our new releases for May below!

My Big Book of Outdoors
by Tim Hopgood
From vibrant springtime flowers to sweet fruits on summer trees, the falling of autumn leaves and snowdrops in winter, this bumper book of the four seasons is the perfect introduction to the big outdoors.

 Discover why birds fly south in winter, find animal footprints in the snow and learn to make the perfect snowflake; grow a sunflower, find a feather and make a daisy chain. Full of activities, poetry and fun facts to explore, it’s jam-packed with amazing things to see and do outdoors – the perfect gift for every season.

Ernest the Elephant
by Anthony Browne
Ernest is a happy baby elephant. But when his curiosity gets the better of him and he leaves the rest of his herd to explore the alluring and dangerous jungle, he becomes very lost indeed. Amongst the undergrowth, he meets a rude gorilla, a weary lion, an impolite hippo and an uncaring crocodile. Will anyone help Ernest find his way out of the jungle and home to his mum? From the international phenomenon, Anthony Browne, comes a heartfelt, visually stunning picture book, about finding help in unexpected places.

How to Be Cooler than Cool
by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien
Cat has found a pair of sunglasses. She thinks they are going to make her look COOL. “I’m not just any old cat at the playground," she says. "I’m a real cool cat, gliding backwards down the slide, looking cooler than cool ... WITH EXTRA COOL ON TOP!” She pops on the glasses … confidently struts forwards and – Meooaaaooow! – falls down the slide. Oh, how UNCOOL. Can Pig or Cockatoo do any better?

From the team behind Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise and I Want to Be in a Scary Story comes a glorious slapstick title that celebrates friendship, play and being yourself (no matter how goofy).

Click here for our How to be Cooler than Cool activity sheets!

Madame Badobedah
by Sophie Dahl and illustrated by Lauren O'Hara
Mabel lives with her parents in the Mermaid Hotel, by the sea. Mabel likes to keep an eye on the comings and goings of all the guests. Then one day a particularly in-ter-est-ing old lady comes to stay. There is something very suspicious about her, with her growly voice and her heavy trunks and her beady-eyed tortoise. And why does no one know her REAL name? There can only be one answer, Mabel decides ... this guest is a SUPERVILLAIN.

But even supervillains have a soft side, and as an unlikely friendship grows between the pair, their fantastical exploits take them well beyond the corridors of their seaside home.

Now out in paperback.

Click here for our Madame Badobedah activity sheets and watch Sophie Dahl's reading below:

Masters of Disguise
by Marc Martin
Now you see them, now you don’t. Cloaked in a riot of colour, pattern and texture are a dozen creatures – from chameleons and polar bears to Gaboon vipers and mimic octopuses – that have unique and impressive techniques for staying out of sight. As we travel around the planet, fact-packed pages for each of these twelve animals are interspersed with clever and beautifully illustrated search-and-find spreads that put readers’ newfound knowledge of each elusive creature and its ecosystem to the test.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
retold by Georghia Ellinas and illustrated by Jane Ray
William Shakespeare’s comedy about four lovers' mishaps in an enchanted forest is unforgettably re-imagined by Shakespeare’s Globe as a picture book for very young readers. With exquisite and detailed illustrations from the acclaimed artist Jane Ray, who has been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, this captivating retelling is a magical way to introduce children to one of the best-loved works of the world’s greatest playwright.

Don't Worry, Little Crab
by Chris Haughton
The Winner of the Indie Book Award 2020
In the rockpool above the sea, live two crabs: Very Big Crab and Little Crab. Today, they’re going for a dip in the sea. “This is going to be so great!” says Little Crab. But then Little Crab catches a first glimpse of the water... Oh. The waves! They're ENORMOUS. "Oh..." Will Little Crab be brave enough to go in?
Now out as a board book.

Check out our activity sheets and trailer below:



Watch Hollywood star, Tom Hardy, read Don't Worry, Little Crab on CBeebies Bedtime Stories below:

A Present For Rosy
by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Polly Noakes
Rosy and Rory are the unlikeliest of friends. They are as different as the sun and the rain. Rosy is a dainty, delicate little bird and Rory is a big, burly bear. They both love to explore together and between them, they always find the most wonderful things. One day, Rosy doesn't feel like leaving her nest and Rory can't understand why. They stop exploring together but Rory never stops looking for wonderful things to share with his friend ... until he finds the perfect thing. A sensitive and timely book about the importance of friendship.

Now out in paperback.

My Red Hat
by Rachel Stubbs
In Rachel Stubbs' gentle meditation on love and memory, a grandfather passes down to his grandchild the joyful anticipation of a life lived with wonder and openness ... and a very special hat. The hat is full of dreams, secrets and stories and 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.

Now out in paperback.

Click here for our My Red Hat activity sheets!


All of our May releases are now available from all good booksellers!