Tag Archives: Picture books

BLOG TOUR: The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra

It’s DAY THREE of the blog tour for The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann and Padmacandra. I’m so pleased to share a guest post from illustrator Padmacandra with insight into the artwork from the story, as well as my thoughts on the book.

The Tale of the Whale is undoubtedly a stunning debut from both author and illustrator, telling the story of a child and whale journeying through the oceans. Their beautiful friendship captures the symbiotic relationship between humans, the sea and the creatures who live in it, and their discoveries show the extreme harm plastic is causing. A lyrical narrative combines with beautifully drawn scenes from under the waves and brings to life the reality of pollution. A brilliant book to support children’s understanding of environmental issues and show just why we need to act now to save our seas. Not only this, it’s a really beautiful book to read and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on award shortlists in months to come.

Welcome to the blog Padmacandra!

“Hello! I am Padmacandra, the illustrator of the Tale of the Whale. I am an ordained Buddhist which is why I have a funny name! Many people think this means the I should be wearing robes or have a bald head, but within my Order it means that I have made a commitment (with quite a long training process) to do everything in my life in the light of kindness and awareness, with the aim of waking up more and more to the truth of the interconnectedness of all life. I was delighted to be asked to illustrate The Tale of the Whale which speaks to this interconnectedness so lyrically and beautifully. Karen and I talked about the importance of the connection between the child and the whale and their friendship throughout the book, as well as connecting with the awesome beauty, joyfulness and depth of the ocean. It was so inspiring to research and make the images of all the ocean creatures, and their home, trying to communicate this beauty and connectedness.

One other detail about me is that I also work part time as a carer for the elderly, mostly living in for a week at a time. I enjoy the simplicity and practicality of the work: it can be such a straightforward way to be of service to others.  I have the privilege of often being alongside people when they are facing the challenges of old age – when they have stopped feeling the need to “put on a face”- which feels like a real meeting.  Perhaps also this flavour of joy in meeting comes across in the tale of the whale!

My Art Processes

I remember trying to learn Salsa some years ago and finding myself challenged by following step by step instructions. However, when the music started and I was in a group with other people dancing I found myself picking up some of the steps and moves by simply feeling my way. Likewise, with art I’ve found I seem to learn best by playing around and making mistakes. I also find it invaluable to look at the work of others that I admire. Not to copy, but to educate my eye. I find Instagram a good place for this.

I love to experiment with mark making.  This was very much encouraged on the Cambridge Art School MA, and I continue to do so.  I seem to have settled with oil pastels and wax crayons as a main medium, sometimes (as in The Tale of the Whale) combining these with monoprint textures (the monoprints are created by rolling ink and paint onto paper).  I usually create images by laying down lots of lovely colours in layers first. Then I will either create images by scratching away layers to reveal what is underneath, or I add lines and shades on top with more crayon, coloured pencil, and occasionally acrylic pens. Usually, it’s a combination of these!

The Tale of the Whale was a lovely text to illustrate, and particularly as it was my first book as illustrator – I felt in good hands with the designer Ness Wood, and editor Janice Thomson. It was obvious that Karen had really thought about the illustrations in a very skilled way when writing her text. One challenge was to render the underwater scenes as well as the scenes above water. In the end, the method of layering waxy crayons with soft oil pastels on top worked very well, and I combined monoprints with these digitally.

Bringing texture to images is important to me – especially for this older age group of 4 to 8-year-olds who are starting to have a subtler appreciation of it. I hope texture brings more psychological depth, interest and sensitivity to my images. It reflects the way that nature is.  Of course, it’s important to get the balance right between simplicity and complexity in an image – an area I find interesting to explore.”

The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann, illustrated by Padmacandra, out now in hardback (£12.99, Scallywag Press. Find out more at scallywagpress.com. With thanks to Scallywag Press for inviting me to host a stop on the blog tour. Don’t forget to follow the rest of the tour:

BLOG TOUR: What did the Tree See? by Charlotte Guillian, illustrated by Sam Usher

It’s a celebration of nature and history on the blog today! I’m delighted to share a guest post today on my stop of the blog tour for What did the tree see? by Charlotte Guillain and Sam Usher. When I first heard about this picture book I absolutely loved the idea of it. There is something wondrous about the mighty oak tree and the fact they have often lived for hundreds of years – what indeed have these majestic trees seen throughout history? What did the tree see? is a non-fiction picture book that captures exactly this premise through a charming lyrical narrative and wonderfully detailed illustrations. We see an oak tree grow from an acorn, to sapling to a fully grown tree. As it grows, it sees the land change before it, with villages turning to towns and the advent of industrialisation. It’s a lovely depiction of the oak tree and it’s importance in our heritage. There’s a wonderful spread charting the life cycle of an oak tree and a historical timeline tracking what happened in history over the course of a 1,000 years – oak trees can live for a long time! Published in partnership with The National Forest by Wellbeck Children’s, 10p of every book sold goes towards helping look after our forests. Today, we discover a day in the life of a picture book author with Charlotte Guillain and she shares are top tip for would-be writers. Welcome to the blog Charlotte!

“In many ways, I’ve been very lucky over the last year. When the pandemic hit us and the lockdowns started, my working life didn’t really change that much. Of course, I missed the opportunity to meet children in schools and at festivals, but the day-to-day job of writing went on pretty much as normal.

I write non-fiction, such as What Did the Tree See? (illustrated by Sam Usher), on my own but I also write picture books with my husband, Adam. We have a room like a box at the bottom of our tiny garden, which we call the Writing Den, and this is where we head every morning. With schools closing and the whole family having to work at home, we’ve never been more grateful for the extra space the Writing Den gives us. After switching on the computers and the heater and checking emails (and Twitter!), we usually start the day properly by going for a walk. We live just over the road from the Blenheim Palace estate, so we normally head there to breathe in the beautiful green scenery and wander among the wonderful mature trees that are scattered throughout the park. It was on one of these walks that I first had the idea for What Did the Tree See? I wanted to tell the story of an oak tree over the hundreds of years that it has been growing and show how much the world around it has changed. Walking in nature always works well for Adam and I to brainstorm new ideas, thrash out plots and solve writing problems.

After our walk, we head back to the Writing Den. I try to do any new writing in the morning, when I’m feeling fresh and energised from going out. On a good day, I’ll be totally immersed and only surface at lunchtime. When things are feeling harder, there will be more Twitter and tea breaks… After lunch I might continue with the new writing, or I might switch to editing projects that are already in progress, update our website, write publicity such as a blog post or deal with any emails that have arrived during the day.

On some days, we might have a virtual visit with a school anywhere in the world. This is always great fun and it’s so important to be reminded who our readers are, even if we can only see them on a screen. We also spend a lot of time recording videos for our YouTube channel. Lockdowns permitting, we might end our working day with another walk among the trees, discussing how much progress we’ve made on a manuscript and helping each other to solve any problems that may have arisen. My top tip for any would-be writers: Don’t spend too much time at your desk! Get out into the fresh air and hang out with some trees if you can. You’ll be amazed how much it helps!

What Did the Tree See? by Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Sam Usher (£12.99, Welbeck Children’s) available now.

With thanks to Wellbeck Children’s for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in the blog tour. Find out more on Twitter: @KidsWelbeck and @cguillain and check out the rest of the blog tour:

New review: The World Made a Rainbow by Michelle Robinson illustrated by Emily Hamilton

First published in September 2020 by Bloomsbury, with a proportion of proceeds for every sale going to Save the Children, The World Made a Rainbow is a delightful and moving story sharing a message of hope for young children and families – that is relevant for any day you might be feeling blue. Bestselling author Michelle Robinson was desperate to find a way to help small children navigate their way through the complex emotions caused by the lockdown. With charming illustrations from new talent Emily Hamilton, The World Made a Rainbow is the ideal picture book to share with all the family, giving them just the lift and spark of hope needed at this time.

I will happily admit, that as we live through another lockdown, and as life feels a bit like a never-ending hamster wheel, this story was just the encouragement I needed when I read it. Empathy and understanding pours from every page, as a little girl and her mum decide to make a rainbow to help everyone feel better about being stuck at home. Soon her Dad and her brother are helping too, bringing the family together as they create a symbol of hope for all and recall the happy times they have shared. Told with a rhyming narrative and bright and colourful illustrations, the story cleverly highlights all the things we might miss most whilst having to stay at home- family, friends, school days, going outside on adventures. And it reminds us that all those things are still there and will be there when this time comes to an end, and we will be able to make new memories, together.

Gemma Sherrington, Executive Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Save the
Children said: “The money raised from the sale of this heartwarming book will go towards supporting Save the Children’s programmes to help every child reach their full potential and to make sure they stay safe, healthy and learning.”

To explore the themes in the book with young children, you can use the activity pack to help with opportunities to think about the things that make you happy and colour your own rainbow.

As we approach #BookGivingDay 2021, I can’t think of a better book to gift a child (and their family) at this time – or any day when life isn’t quite where you want it to be.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sharing this title with me. Find out more at www.bloomsbury.com

GUEST POST: The Pocket Chaotic – the illustration process by Daniel Gray-Barnett

As spend another period of time living in very close quarters, it seems appropriate to share this post about the illustration process behind the delightful picture, The Pocket Chaotic by written by Ziggy Hanaor and illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. The story brings to life a delightful family of kangaroos, in a story of a journey towards independence – and how family life can make us feel like we’re living on-top of each other! Read my review of The Pocket Chaotic here.

Today, illustrator Daniel Gray Barnett shares insight into how he created the artwork for the story and his thoughts about the book. Welcome to the blog Daniel!

“When I was asked to work on Ziggy’s story, I (quite aptly) jumped for joy! I love drawing animals, and I love drawing families – getting to illustrate this particular one was something I was very excited about.

It’s a very funny, touching story that I think most people can relate to in one sense or another – whether it’s the parent-child connection that evolves as the child grows up and learns independence, or just the clash of personalities which often happens in families or relationships. Trying to maintain your own space in your life or home when you’re a neat, organised person and other people are a bit more chaotic is a common challenge. Maybe you’re the messy person with hoarding tendencies and your family just don’t understand the value of your treasure trove! Working on this project was a bit faster than previous picture book projects I’ve worked on – it was completed over a period of about 8-9 months. The sketching and storyboard phase took several months. I do all my sketching digitally in Photoshop, which helps me to be less precious about the process and keep things very loose! The editor had some ideas for how the spreads might work, which helped speed things up. Most of the storyboards have stayed fairly close to how I originally imagined, with some small tweaks.

In working on the illustrations, I was very inspired by the work of Ludwig Bemelmans (of Madeline fame), one of my favourite illustrators. In the past, I tend to work in quite limited colour palettes, but was also looking for the challenge of working in full colour – and non-digital colouring at that. Ludwig’s work helped me see a way of combining these methods into a cohesive book. I love how in Madeline he contrasts illustrations of limited colours with full colour illustrations, which seem to be mostly used for the outside world in the story. I borrowed the same approach for The Pocket Chaotic – when Alexander is inside Nancy’s pouch, those illustrations are shown in the limited black, white and egg-yolk yellow colours. When Alexander is in the outside world with his mum, those illustrations are shown in full colour.

After the storyboards were all given the go ahead, I spent a few weeks doing colour tests, playing around with inks, pencils and crayons to find that just right combination for the look of the story. I print out all of my sketches then use a light box for my inking process. I ink my linework and colours separately, just in case. I’d hate to have to redo an entire illustration because of one stray line! My illustrations are usually done in bits and pieces, before I scan everything in and layer it all in Photoshop. It feels like digital printmaking, in a way.

This project was a bit of an experiment for me. I used to work in only black ink and use the computer to do all my colouring, but on this book, I used a variety of coloured acrylic inks to do as much colouring as I could outside of the computer. I think there’s something wonderfully unpredictable, loose and warm about how it turned out. We decided to print the egg-yolk yellow in a special Pantone colour, which was saved for Alexander and Nancy and the pouch interior illustrations. It’s so terrifically bright!

It took about 4-5 months to finish all of the illustrations. I had a couple of speedbumps, trying to get my linework somewhere which had the loose energy I was looking for, but still a bit refined. Quite symbolic of the battle between Alexander and Nancy’s personalities, really. There were a few late nights but I’m really happy with how it all came together! Usually I have to wait about 9 months to see the finished product, but 2020 has been such an unusual year. It was only several months from our print deadline to seeing a completed copy. I’m so pleased with our book, I hope you all love it as much as Ziggy and I do!”

With thanks to Daniel for this fantastic guest post! The Pocket Chaotic is published by Cicada Books; find out more The Pocket Chaotic — Cicada Books.

New reviews: Wonderful children’s books for Christmas – and all year round!

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on some beautiful picture books written by brilliant authors and illustrators who have created stories that will capture the imagination and bring a smile to readers faces – young and old. These books would make lovely Christmas gifts to be enjoyed all year round!

Delightfully Different Fairy Tales written by Lynn Roberts Maloney and illustrated by David Roberts is a stunning treasury gift collection of these original and captivating takes on fairy tales we know and love. The series has sold nearly 60, 000 copies and delighted young readers (and many adult readers too) with brilliant portrayals of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, each set in a different historical period and showing these familiar characters in a totally different light! No longer the damsels in distress, our heroines are enterprising and resourceful and will inspire a new generation of young readers to be the the same. Spellbinding storytelling and stunning illustration unite to create a beautiful gift edition ideal to enjoy together and share as a family. Published in hardback by Pavilion, find out more David Roberts’ Delightfully Different Fairytales | Pavilion Books

The Pocket Chaotic written by Ziggy Hanaor and illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett brings to life a delightful family of kangaroos, in a story of a journey towards independence. Alexander lives in his mum’ pocket and despite his sister’s protestations that it’s time he moved into his own bedroom, he insists on staying! But as his Mum gets more and more chaotic, and fills her pocket with everything from her mobile phone to old sweet wrappers, Alexander finds there’s less and less space for him to snuggle. Maybe his sister is right?! Delightful illustrations bring the kangaroos to life and there’s a lovely lesson about the inevitability of growing up – but not being as scary as you think. A quirky tale to enjoy throughout the year! Published in hardback by Cicada Books, find out more The Pocket Chaotic — Cicada Books

The Tooth Fairy written by Samuel Langley-Swain and illustrated by David Ortu is a fantastic new series from The Royal Mint, bringing the Tooth Fairy tradition bang up to date! The series centres on twins Ollie and Grace who have just lost their first tooth. Their Grandpa reveals that for generations, tooth fairies and coin makers have been secretly working together from The Royal Mint, to make sure every child receive a shiny new coin for their tooth! Featuring a host of magical characters, the first two titles The Tooth Fairy and the Home of the Coin Makers and The Tooth Fairy and the Magical Journey are sure to delight the imaginations of young readers all year round! Published in paperback by The Royal Mint, find out more The Tooth Fairy | The Royal Mint

Music A Fold-Out Graphic History written by Nicolas O’Neill and Susan Hayes illustrated by Ruby Taylor is a simply gorgeous book celebrating the history of music, produced in association with The Royal Albert Hall. If ever we needed to celebrate our arts and heritage, it’s now and this books achieves this in spades! Showing how music has been a part of the way we live for thousands of years, children will discover music in prehistoric and ancient times, right up to music we know and love today. There’s a focus on the Royal Albert Hall of Fame and this book brilliantly reminds us why music is at the heart of culture and even has a playlist at the end so children can experience it for themselves. A wonderful book to share with incredible detail and fold out pages, this is a great gift for Christmas. Published in hardback by What on Earth Books, find out more Music – A Fold-Out Graphic History – What on Earth Publishing What On Earth? Books

The Three Wishes A Christmas Story by Alan Snow is a wonderful origin story of some of our most beloved Christmas traditions. If you’ve ever wondered how Santa Claus came to be, how he visits every child in one night, how his reindeer fly and why he wears a red coat, then this story is the answer! With beautiful illustrations and a tale that feels truly authentic, as if it had been passed down through generations, The Three Wishes is an original take on a story we love to imagine. A wonderful book to share with children this Christmas. Published in hardback by Pavilion Books, find out more The Three Wishes | Pavilion Books

With thanks to Cicada Books, Pavilion Books, The Royal Mint and What on Earth Books for sending me these books to review.