Tag Archives: Illustration

Guest Post: Jamie Littler author and illustrator of Frostheart

We have a guest on the blog today! None other than the author of the brilliant fantasy adventure Frostheart, Jamie Littler, who was recently shortlisted for the Branford Boase Book Award along with his editor, Naomi Colthurst. Frostheart is his first published book as an author/illustrator. Described by The Bookseller as a “A rip-roaring action adventure, full of humour, heart and unforgettable characters”, it holds a well-deserved spot on the shortlist!

Jamie shares his top tips for writing today, with some brilliant insights into what’s important for anyone wanting to get into writing. Welcome to the blog Jamie!

“I was thrilled to be asked to write a guest post for the Book Activist and to share some of the tips that helped me to write my fantasy-adventure book, Frostheart.

It’s definitely the question I get asked the most: ‘Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into writing?’ Now, I could go on about making sure you read lots, (which is important!), or learning how to use proper grammar (which is always nice, I suppose), but those aren’t the things that really helped me to write my book. No, the biggest, most spectacularly important secret to writing a story is this: have fun. That’s it – that’s the secret! Thank you for reading, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Oh, you want an explanation?

Okay, here goes.

I’ve been an illustrator for ten years, but my dream was always to write my own stories as well as to draw them. And I tried and tried, but my stories were always turned down by the publishers. I could’ve made wallpaper out of all the rejection letters I received (and did – but believe me, it’s a very ugly room to be in). At first, the rejections were hard to hear. “You know that story you wrote, the one you worked really, really hard on? Yeah, well, it’s rubbish.” I mean, they were never quite so rude, but that was the general gist of it. And sadly, they were right. I still had a lot to learn, and there were many ways my writing needed to improve. But practice makes perfect.

So, I kept on trying. I wrote another story, and another. And another after that. Some will never leave my work-in-progress drawer (aka the bin), others I was super proud of, but they were never to be. Gradually, the rejections began to change in tone. They now said that the writing was fine, the idea was good, but something was still not clicking. I was banging my head against a wall, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be an author after all?

One day, I was talking to another author about my ideas. I asked which one they thought would give me the biggest chance of getting a publishing deal. They said it didn’t matter what they thought, I had to write the story that meant something to me. Deep down, they said, I knew which one I wanted to write. And it was then that it hit me. I’d been so desperate to get my story turned into a book, I’d been writing what I thought I should’ve been writing, instead of what I truly wanted to write. I’d been looking at what books were popular at the time; the kinds of books I should try to make. But those books meant something to the authors who wrote them, they didn’t mean anything to me.

I vowed to write a story that I would’ve wanted to read, the type of book that kept me turning the pages, something that filled me with excitement, that felt so enjoyable that it couldn’t possibly be considered actual work. I vowed to have fun, even if what I was writing wasn’t the most popular type of book at the time. And if a few other readers enjoyed it to, then all the better.

The next story I wrote became Frostheart, my first published book as an author/illustrator. Writing a story is personal. Try not to focus on what others say a good story should be. If you make something that you enjoy writing, it will shine through on the pages, and the readers will be whisked away by your passion and enthusiasm. They will fall in love with your characters, they will gasp at what happens to them, and they will stay up late to reach the last page. Grammar, spelling, all of that comes later. What’s important is that you’re writing the story you want to tell.

Oh, and try not to make wallpaper out of your rejection letters, it really isn’t a great look.”

With thanks to Jamie for his brilliant advice! Frostheart is published by Puffin Books. Find out more about the Branford Boase Book Award Shortlist here and visit the website here.

New Reviews: A plethora of picture books! Out now and coming soon.

Today on the blog, it’s a picture book kind of day! Picture books are always guaranteed to make you smile and tug at your heart strings. Especially these ones, which are out now or coming soon this summer and have been arriving through the post over the last few months. From unicorns to detective dogs, to finding friends and gorgeous celebrations of life and even washing your hands, these books have it covered! I’m delighted to share my thoughts on them with you and highly recommend adding them to your to be read list.

OUT NOW

I am Brown by Ashok Banker illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat is a delightful story about celebrating the skin you’re in. Beautifully drawn characters on every spread showing how wonderful life is and the variety of opportunities there are. Every page made me smile and I loved the celebration of culture from clothes to language to faiths bringing the wonder of the world to life. Published by Lantana this book is available now.

Don’t Call Me Grumpycorn by Sarah McIntyre sees Unicorn ready for his biggest adventure yet in another wonderful adventure for our favourite one-horned friend. This time Unicorn and friends are travelling to space but trouble brews as they start to argue about where to go – only the most fabulous planet will do! A great fun story about having patience and appreciating your friends, Grumpycorn will definitely brighten your day! Published by Scholastic this book is available now.

We’re Going on a Treasure Hunt by Martha Mumford illustrated by Laura Hughes is a gorgeously illustrated pirate adventure full of treasure and tropical creatures. Young readers will love the lift-the-flap hunt for coins but will have to watch-out for leaping dolphins, colourful parrots, scary sharks and naughty monkeys who keep getting in the way! Lots of fun to be had on this pirate adventure with a suitably summery tropical setting. Published by Bloomsbury this book is available now.

Rex the Rhinoceros Beetle by M.G Leonard, illustrated by Duncan Beedie stars Rex, a little beetle with a big heart! Rex is astounded by his friend Buster’s heroic deeds. He wishes he could be brave like Buster. However, when Rex and Buster are in grave peril, it’s Rex who saves the day and proves who the real hero is! Charming, colourful and with a great message about being honest and brave, this bug-filled book is a celebration of beetles everywhere! Published by Scholastic this book is available now.

JULY

Now Wash Your Hands by Matt Carr is a timely message teaching children the important of washing their hands. Doris the Doctorpus is here to help! She’s going to help the animals to learn how to wash their hands and understand all about where germs can be found and when you need to wash them away. A fun, rhyming narrative and bold lively illustrations help get this important message across and there’s even a hand-washing song at the end to help. Coming soon from Scholastic 2nd July (A 50p contribution from every copy sold will be donated to NHS Charities Together Covid 19 Urgent Appeal)

Say Hello, Say Goodbye by Cori Doerrfeld firmly establishes this award-winning author as someone who can create emotional resonance and understanding through stories even for the youngest of readers! This lovely story focuses on the difficulty of change and how difficult moments can often lead to positive experiences. Whether it be leaving home to start school, having your snowman melt, facing the death of a pet or having a best friend move away, there will always be a way to get through – and friends to help. Coming soon from Scallywag Press 2nd July.

Found You by Devon Holzwarth is the most beautiful debut picture book about making friends. Little Bird is on a mission: to help lonely children make new friends. Sami has just moved to a new country and is finding it hard to fit in; everything is strange. But Little Bird knows just how to help and Sami quickly discovers there are friends everywhere when you know where to look. Strikingly illustrated, with muted colours that have real depth, this story is utterly charming and will resonate with all who read it. We can all remember a time when we had to make new friends; if only we’d had Little Bird to help us! Delightful. Coming soon from Scholastic 2nd July.

Happy Lion Roars by Louisa Fatio illustrated by Roger Duvoisin features classic character The Happy Lion in a wonderful romance. When a beautiful lioness comes to town with a visiting circus, The Happy Lion pays her a visit and it is love at first sight!  But how will they get to stay together?  It is The Happy Lion’s friend, little Francois, who saves the day again. Like it’s predecessor, this book is utterly enchanting and evokes a timeless world of romance and friendship. I hope we see more of the Happy Lion! Coming soon from Scallywag Press 2nd July.

Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival is a delightful story about Meehsa, a little girl who loves to make things but isn’t very good at making friends. She doesn’t know quite what to do, what to say or when to say it. But one day she discovers that her creativity will help her to make friends and be more courageous than she imagined. A wonderful story about being brave, helping children understand the best way to make friends is to be yourself. Part of Tom Percvial’s Big Bright Feelings collection, this story will resonate with children of all ages. Coming soon from Bloomsbury 9th July.

AUGUST

That Dog written and illustrated by Emma Lazell features a crime caper with a dastardly dog napper and her rather inept accomplice who just can’t seem to dog-nap the right animal! A whole host of hilarious mistakes run through the narrative with a vibrant collection of all kinds of creatures leaping off the pages and a super clever detective dog. Highly enjoyable, this is one to read again and again with guaranteed laughs to be had. Coming soon from Pavilion Books 6th August.

Scruff by Alice Bowsher continues the dog theme with a story about a very scruffy dog who doesn’t want to be scruffy! His owner could do with a bit of a spruce up too, so that’s just what they do. And their efforts are rewarded in the best way – at the Dog Show, but perhaps not quite as you’d imagine! Striking illustrations and use of colour bring this simple narrative tale to life and a smile to your face. Coming soon from Cicada Books in August.

The Blue Giant by Katie Cottle is the follow up to the award-winning author/illustrator’s The Green Giant and turns our the attentions from the natural world to our seas. Meera and her mother’s day at the beach is interrupted by a very unexpected creature, made of water and sea plants, who takes them on a journey under water. A very timely, beautifully told story, with a simple narrative highlighting a very important message – the seas need our help. A great story to share and show young children what they can do to help. Coming soon from Pavilion Books 6th August.

All in all a lovely selection of books to share with your young readers! With thanks to Bloomsbury, Cicada Books, Pavilion Books, Scallywag Press, Scholastic and Lantana Publishing for sending me these books to review.

New review & Bookchat: Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher

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Taking Time by Jo Loring-Fisher from Lantana Publishing is an absolutely stunning book focusing on taking time to enjoy our world and the wonder of it all around us. ‘Time’ is something that perhaps we are all having to reevaluate at present and how we spend it is markedly different from even just a month ago. Whilst the UK publication of this book has been postponed until September (the US release goes ahead on 7th April), so relevant is this book right now I am very pleased to share my review and bookchat with author-illustrator Jo Loring-Fisher today.

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Taking Time is a beautiful poem set against the backdrop of stunning illustrations capturing just how much wonder there is in the world and encouraging us to notice it. From listening to birdsong, to watching a spider build it’s web; from staring into the eyes of someone you love to enjoying the love of your cat or dog – wonder can be found everywhere. Each spread is set in a different part of the world because no matter who or where you are, you can marvel at your surroundings, inspired by principles of mindfulness. It is a simple, calming read, evoking an idea I think we can all embrace at this difficult time. Taking Time is a book to cherish and one that inspires the reader to embrace life in all its beauty and simplicity.

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The good news is that Taking Time is available to buy direct from the publisher. I am so glad to have read it and I am equally glad to welcome Jo Loring-Fisher to the blog for a bookchat today. Welcome to the blog jo!

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What was the inspiration behind writing Taking Time? I wrote Taking Time when I was out walking the dog in my old home of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. I often write when I am walking, jotting ideas down on the Notes app on my phone, which I later email to myself. I was specifically writing a piece with Lantana Publishing in mind. I had just completed illustrating Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, for them and very much enjoyed working with them and I love their ethos. I was looking up at the trees watching birds and looking for inspiration, when the concept came to me. I knew I wanted the work to be multi-cultural and about the things that connect us as humans. We always hear about our cultural differences, but I feel there are so many more similarities than differences, between us. I like that a child in the UK could be as fascinated by a spider spinning its web, as a child in Nepal, or anywhere else, could. I didn’t start out with the intention of writing about mindfulness, it was my publisher Alice Curry, that saw this. I love that another person can see something in my work, and she was right!

How do you think it can be interpreted for everyday life, especially in the current circumstances? Although mindfulness is an innate skill in many ways, I think it has been lost because we are all under so much pressure and this, unfortunately, applies to children. Consciously bringing mindfulness to our attention in a simple way and accessible way, is important and this is my intention with Taking Time.

The circumstances in which we find ourselves right now, are quite frightening and uncertain. I like the idea that parents and carers can sit quietly with a child, look at each spread and pause to discuss the words and images and perhaps chat about how this relates to the child and children of the world. For example, what does it feel like when you bury your hand in your dog’s fur? I hope that it will do the same for the adults sharing the book as well. We all need a bit of that!

I think the skills of mindfulness are so lost to us that they can be hard to relearn, but they really are a life skill and I hope that the book will prove to be a gentle way to encourage this. When it gets a bit frenetic at home, and in the current circumstances this is going to be an issue, hopefully Taking Time will act as a guide and bring some peace. I think that there is plenty to discuss and relate to in each spread and this can spark conversations about different peoples and cultures across our wonderful world. I would love the book to be the basis of activities in the home or garden. A child could be asked to shut their eyes and try to remember their journey to school, for example. It could then be extended to an imagined place that can be described using all the senses. What does the place, real or imagined, smell like? What sounds can the child hear? What does it feel like under foot? It could be used as a springboard for art and crafts activities or an exploration in the garden or around the house. What object would the child bring with them, for example?

Do you practice mindfulness yourself and if so, how has it helped you and how do you believe it can help others? Those moments that make us stop and notice something outside of ourselves are so important. As a child, I was always the one to point out the spider spinning a web on the way to school, or a fern leaf unfurling and I am unchanged in that way. When I feel stressed or my mood is a bit low, taking a walk outside with my Spaniel, Flossie, always helps. I’m also interested in the idea of forest bathing. Immersing myself in the countryside, particularly the forest, can really help to give me clarity. Being still and becoming more and more aware of those gentle sounds around you, the wind in the tree, birds singing, the feel of a leaf as it brushes past your ear falling to the ground, are wonderful things to connect with. It isn’t quite so easy in the city, but any green space can be beneficial.

The poem encourages the reader to take in the wonder of the world and reminds us how precious life is – even in the small things – how do you think life will change following this period? I really hope that the world as a whole can learn from this experience. My hope is that we will rediscover a more contented and grounded way of life and one which doesn’t exploit the riches of the natural world, or the most vulnerable. I feel that things have been spinning out of control and that this could be a wake-up call, we need to slow down and live more lightly on this planet. I truly hope and pray that we learn from it and a change is brought about in individuals and communities.

Can you tell us a bit about your illustration process? Do the words or pictures come first? Sometimes an idea comes to me as words first and other times it’s images that take the lead. When I’m working the images out, I might jot down a very rough sketch. These are then turned into thumbnails-tiny illustrations that allow you to put together your ideas and help you to see how the spreads will work as a whole. Some images come to me very easily and remain pretty much unchanged, and other times I am unsure of how they will be until I work on them. It was like this with the Ecuador image, where I had a rough idea, but the finished image came to me as I was putting it together. I draw my characters and scan them in to the computer. I’ve made lots of textures using paint and printmaking, and I use them to collage over the drawings using Photoshop.

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What new projects are you working on and how will you be spending your time whilst required to stay at home? In the next few months I have two more books being published, one with Otter-Barry Books and another with Frances Lincoln, so I have been working very hard on them. I’d like to say I’m going to take it a bit easier, but I have new projects that I’m working on and that’s exciting. We have moved fairly recently, so I plan to tackle the garden over the coming months and create some beds to grow vegetables. We had a ready-made veg plot in our previous garden, so I’ve got used to the cycle of planting, picking and cooking the food I’ve grown, and I love it!

What would your top suggestions be to help parents and carers encourage their child’s creativity at home? I have four children, three of whom are adults now, and two pursuing careers in the creative industries. Books played a big role in their upbringing and I know they have been very inspired by this. I have taught art to children and adults, and what I have discovered time and time again, is the notion that each and every mark must be just right and just so and recognisable. I’ve overheard parents correcting their children while they’re drawing something and even take over from them. This creates fear and acts as a barrier to the creative process and really puts children off even trying to draw and very often this lasts into adulthood. I’d say leave children alone to experiment and have fun. Don’t worry if they make a mess (make sure there is lots of newspaper down) and don’t expect the drawing to look like an actual, real thing! Encourage and praise. Tissue paper ‘painting’ is fun, this involves laying pieces of tissue paper down on paper and painting water onto it. Once the paper has dried it can be removed and leaves beautiful, brightly coloured prints. Coloured pencils are also a less messy way for a child to enjoy image making. More than anything, praise children and don’t criticise what they have produced.

With thanks to Jo Loring-Fisher for participating in this bookchat! Find out more at www.joloringfisher.com and follow on Twitter: @JoLoringFisher

Author biography

As a child Jo’s favourite pastime was drawing and writing stories. She grew up in Sussex, close to Ashdown Forest where Winnie-the-pooh was written and felt that forest’s magic! Jo now lives in the beautiful city of Bath with my husband, and two younger daughters. The natural world inspires her greatly, but she also loves to people watch and living in a city gives her lots of opportunities to do just that! Jo says: “Being passionate about art and children’s books, it is wonderful to be able to spend my time combining the two. As a mum of four, I have spent many an hour sharing my love of books with my children and have witnessed the impact this has had on them.”

With thanks to Lantana Publishing for sending me this book to read and review.

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New review: Planet SOS by Marie G.Rhode

A brand new book published by What on Earth Books on 2nd April, brings to life the global environmental crisis for young eco-warriors in a whole new way! Planet SOS: 22 Modern Monsters Threatening Our Environment by Marie G.Rhode shines a light on the biggest issues facing the environment and what young readers can do to help!

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Amazing illustrations and high quality production make this a really stunning book to behold! Mythical monsters are given new names and used to represent some of the biggest threats to the planet such as the Smogosaurus, who fills the air with toxic fumes and the Trash Kong, who thrives on rubbish and waste and the Atmosdragon who is causing global warming.

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The good news is that young eco-heroes can help by learning about these threats and then taking action! Each spread focuses on one threat and has a Monster Card showing what we can do to beat it, from reducing our carbon footprint to eating vegetables! Fold-out guides and a world map along with a glossary, index and source notes keep young readers fully armed with knowledge about how to save the planet.  Imaginative and informative, Planet SOS is a fantastic book full of inspiration and practical ideas – a great addition to any boookshelf.

About the author
On finishing her architectural studies in Sweden, Marie G. Rohde entered a children’s books competition and began a new and unexpected chapter in her life. This book is the result of a lifelong interest in myths and environmental issues. Marie G. Rohde lives in Barcelona.

With thanks to What On Earth Books for sending me this book to read and review. 

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Book of the Month: Sock Story by C K Smouha illustrated by Eleonora Marton

book of the monthSock Story by C K Smouha and Eleonora Marton, is a delightfully funny and light-hearted tale of a pair of socks and what happens during their weekly visit to the washing machine! Published by Cicada Books to critical acclaim in hardback last September, Sock Story is available in paperback this month.

 

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Sock Story by C K Smouha and Eleonora Marton

It’s Phil and Dale’s favourite time of the week – the wash! But when the two socks get separated, Dale must face the prospect of life on his own…

You’ll never look at your odd socks in the same way after reading this story!  I have a bag of odd socks just in case the missing one turns up (which does occasionally happen believe it or not) and I’m definitely not going to get rid of them now….Sock Story brings laundry to life in a lively, humourous tale which is sure to delight young readers (and parents and carers too).

Phil and Dale are a pair of socks and whilst enjoying their usual wash-time acrobatics -attracting eye rolls from the other clothes in the wash with them – Phil gets stuck at the bottom of the machine and Dale is all alone.  Not even a friendly shirt can help him feel better and you can’t help but smile as Dale considers all he is good for now as an odd sock – being a sock puppet or a golf club cosy!

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Colourful, lively crayon illustrations capture the fun throughout, as Dale finally finds Phil – who no longer looks like he did before (as grown-ups will know, clothes can turn a different colour if left in the machine on the wrong wash..!). But Dale must remember all the wonderful things that really make them a pair as he and Phil enjoy the wash together again!  Sock Story is a really great way to spark a conversation on things we have in common, outside of the way we look and will provide lots of laughter at story time.

C K Smouha is the author of Iced Out – review here.

With thanks to Cicada Books for sending me this book to review.