Picture Books

Raising a Child Who Loves to Read - Recommended Books

Babies and Toddlers

Say Goodnight by Helen Oxenbury

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

A good nursery rhyme book – with art work you love eg

Sally Go Round the Stars by Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy

Picturebooks

Oliver Jeffers – Lost and Found

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell

Julia Donaldson

I Say Ooh, You Say Aah by John Kane

The President’s Glasses by Peter Donnelly

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton (good for babies and toddlers also)

 A good fairy tale collection with your favourite tales and some of the more unusual ones. Fables and myths and legends also. Eg Yummy by Lucy Cousins

 

Early Readers – age 6+

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst

Rabbit and Bear by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Claude Books by Alex T Smith

Age 9+

Katherine Rundell

Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan

Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens

Eoin Colfer

Derek Landy

Judi Curtin

Anthony Horowitz

Dave Rudden

Tom Gates

Wimpy Kid

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend (new)

The Making of Mollie by Anna Carey

Teen/YA

Sarah Crossan

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson

Dave Rudden

Patrick Ness

And finally - Books for Tired Parents

That’s Not My Dinosaur etc – published by Usborne

Hug by Jez Alborough

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Books for Parents who want to know more

Mad About Books: Dubray Guide to Children’s Books

Bold Girls recommended reading guide from Children’s Books Ireland

What Publishers Want - Picturebooks

  Image by Alan O'Rourke

Image by Alan O'Rourke

Today I hosted a day in the dlr Lexicon Library all about picturebooks. It was the second in a series of events focused on different areas of writing for children and teenagers, called When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Or #ProperBook for short. The events were held in association with the wonderful Children's Books Ireland and this one also had the support of IBBY Ireland

Here is a roundup of the day. Thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who attended. The next #properbook day will focus on writing fiction for children and teenagers and will be held next spring.

Thanks to CBI and various attendees for the photos and Alan O'Rourke for his great #properbook graphic above.

First Valerie Coughlan and Lucinda Jacob talked about the visual narrative in picturebooks (how the pictures help tell the story), and rhyming versus prose picture books. Both agreed that all picturebooks need rhythm but not necessarily rhyme. Valerie quoted American picturebook critic Barbara Bader who said:

As an art form it [the picturebook] hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page.
On its own terms its possibilities are limitless.

Valerie shared some of her favourite picturebooks including Rosie's Walk and Where the Wild Things Are and recommended Illustrating  Children's Books by Martin Salisbury (see full book list below for details). 

Lucinda spoke about rhyming picturebooks and explained that the rhyme had to form a pattern, like a song. Her favourite picturebooks include Hairy Maclary and Each Peach, Pear Plum. 

Next up was our illustrators' panel: Michael Emberley, Mary Murphy and Chris Judge. They talked about the genesis of an idea, which was largely different for each book. Michael gets an idea first, then works on that idea, for Chris and Mary the character comes first. Once they have a character, they start working on the story.

They had some great advice for new writers:

Research - read modern picturebooks. Mary explained how important this is. She talked about her work, which mainly focuses on young children and has deceptively simple text and vibrant, beautifully designed artwork. 

 

Be yourself. Michael spoke with passion about being yourself on the page and not trying to be someone that you are not. He explained how publishers were pushing the costs (of producing a picturebook) 'downstream' towards the author. He said that these days you need to make your book as good as possible before sending it off to a publisher. The days of sending off an 'idea' or a rough, unfinished text are gone. (Interestingly on a later panel, Deirdre McDermott from Walker said she doesn't like to see artwork that is too finished, as there is no space for it to change and grow - see below for more from Deirdre.)

Chris talked about not giving up (it took him several years to get his first picturebook published). He also said to take your time and to produce something you are proud of - don't be in a rush to get published. 'It takes a long time to make a great book,' he said. 

The image below is of his Beast character. 

Jane O'Hanlon and Debbie  Thomas from IBBY spoke about their Silent Books exhibition which is in the Lexicon library until the 29th May. A matching set of the books are on the Italian island of Lampedusa where refugees from Africa and the Middle East often land on their way to Europe. The books are shared with the refugee children. Teachers and students from St Laurence College spoke about their recent trip to the island, which was a lovely addition to the day. It made me think about the importance of picturebooks as a form of communication as well as an art form. 

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick gave us a brilliant insight into the work of a picturebook maker, showing lots of her rough sketches, dummy books and even the colour chart she created for Owl Bat Bat Owl, her latest picturebook.

 Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

Marie-Louise shared her tips on one clever slide

So - the burning question - what are publishers looking for when it comes to picturebooks? Deirdre McDermott from Walker Books is interested in working with new Irish illustrators. She loves warm graphics - she mentioned Lucy Cousins and Mary Murphy in this regard. 'I want to feel the blood in their (the artists') veins. I want to feel they have a heartbeat.' She loves Chris Haughton's work for its sense of humour and she loves his brilliant use of colour.

Interestingly she's not looking for highly polished, finished work. She's looking for something different and exciting, and often finds her illustrators in unusual ways, not always though an agent. 

For picturebook texts Deirdre said she's looking for something that instantly grabs her attention: 'You read the first four sentences and it just gets you.' 

Emma Byrne from O'Brien Press is looking for Irish content and Irish creators. She says Ireland is a small market and she makes an effort to give Irish illustrators a chance. Like Deirdre, she doesn't use agents to find illustrators (although some do come this way). She looks at magazines - she mentioned Totally Dublin - flyers and posters for images that make her react. She's also looking for a sense of humour in the work and is drawn to unusual colour.

Tadhg MacDhonnagáin from Futa Fata is looking for narrative picturebooks for age 3 to 6. He's looking for books that are not based in Ireland but that have a strong story, with a main character that goes on a journey and changes. He's looking again for humour and for a writer with great enthusiasm. He would love to find an illustrator or picturebook maker who can speak Irish and can do events in schools and at festivals, but has yet to discover one

Margaret Anne Suggs from Illustrators Ireland gave this advice:

1/ Have something worth submitting.

2/ Do your research - look at what the publisher or agent likes and see if you are a fit.

3/ Follow the submission guidelines carefully.

And the publishers' pet hates? Letters addressed 'Dear Sir' (to Emma or Deirdre). 

Elaborate packages of artwork with no return address.

Rhyming picturebooks with no story. 

Margaret Anne said that illustrators are often told to write their own text. She described this as being bisexual. 'It doubles your chance of a date,' she said. 

Other information shared was:

Writers and illustrators rarely meet.

If you are a writer you do not need to find an illustrator. You submit your text without pictures. The editor will match your story with the right illustrator. Do not provide illustrations yourself (unless you are also an artist) or pay someone to illustrate your book. 

Don't put grown ups in your book if you can help it.

If you are an illustrator, apply to Illustrators Ireland who can help you with contracts and professional advice. 

Always get a contract if you are an illustrator and ask for royalties, not just a set fee (esp for picturebooks). 

Walker split the writer/illustrator royalty 50/50.

Illustrators' agents take 25 to 35% of a contract and literary agents 15 to 20% (for writers or illustrators).

It was a really enjoyable, informative day and thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes at the library and Artscope for their help. 

Watch out for the podcast of the day which I'll post here soon. 

I'll leave you with this list of recommended books about writing and illustrating picturebooks which I put together for the event. 

Books about Writing and Illustrating Picturebooks

Recommended by Sarah Webb

riting Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – especially good on how to write a rhyming picturebook and how to check your rhythm and rhyme. Highly recommended.

Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz – excellent book, well worth reading. Especially good on format.

Illustrating Children’s Books by Martin Salisbury – a must have for illustrators. Full colour hardback with lots about technique.

Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles – excellent book about the history of picturebooks, publishing, process + much more. Highly recommended.

100 Great Children’s Picture Books by Martin Salisbury – a gem – treat yourself!

How to Write a Children’s Picture Book by Andrea Shavick – a good beginner’s guide to writing picturebooks.

Writing Children’s Books for Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri – don’t let the title put you off, this is a useful, sensible book. Especially good on the different age groups and genres.

Sarah Webb mentors new and emerging writers and critiques picturebooks and novels for children. Contact me for details about how to book (now taking bookings for Sept)

 

Sarah Webb's Top 3 Tips - Writing Picturebooks

1/ Picturebooks are generally short – around 500 words – and are made up of 12 double page spreads. Make every word count and work on the text until it shines.

2/ You do not need to provide artwork. Concentrate on the text, don’t worry about illustrations. An editor’s job is to match text with the right artwork and they are gifted picturebook matchmakers.

3/ Read award winning and best-selling picturbooks. Study Julia Donaldson’s poetry – and it is poetry – every line is carefully worked out. Just because you can rhyme sat with hat doesn’t mean you can write a rhyming picturebook. The whole line has to sing. More about this in another blog soon.

Read Maurice Sendak. Read some of the best Irish picturebook talent: Yasmeen Ismail, Oliver Jeffers and Chris Haughton.

Coo over Helen Oxenbury’s babies and Mem Fox’s outstanding text in the modern classic, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.

Learn from the greats – and then get back to your own work.

Work at it and keep working at it until you crack it. Don’t give up!

I’ve been teaching creative writing for over 20 years now. Good writers with tenacity and grit, writers who are prepared to work hard at their craft, they are the ones who get published. Good luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah X

Mammoth March!

My Writer in Residence Diary for March 

March was a manic but wonderful month, full of book events and book fun. The picturebook art exhibition, A World of Colour featuring the work of Beatrice Alemagna and Chris Haughton -  images above - ran from 4th  February to the end of March and it was such a joy passing it daily on the way to my Writer in Residence room on the 5th floor. A world of colour it certainly was!

On 10th March I attended a conference about Mental Health and the Written Word in the Lexicon Studio which was most interesting and I also spoke on a panel called Happy Kids: Raising Children in the Digital Age with some experts in the area of children and safely online. The podcast is available here

I attended two talks by international writers for adults, Mohsin Hamid and George Saunders which were excellent (preview Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival events).

I took part in a World Book Day event for schools with Marita Conlon-McKenna and Chris Judge and my book clubs and writing clubs continued during the month. We had a very well attended Drop in Writing Clinic with over 15 young writers and also a clinic for adults writing for children which was also very well attended. Our teen creatives had workshops in Vlogging with Dave Lordan and Comic Books with Alan Nolan and on 1st April were visited by Dave Rudden who gave them tips for their Junior Cert which went down a treat!

I also continued with the Baby Book Clubs in Deansgrange library (last Tues of every month at 10am and Dalkey (31st March, 7, 21 + 28th April 10.30am), Kids Create Workshops in Stillorgan for age 7+ (next ones are 4th May + 15th June booking required with the library) and a writing workshop in Blackrock Library all about creating realistic characters.

The Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival also took place in March. I programmed the children's and school's events and the highlight for me was meeting two of my book heroes, Judith Kerr (The Tiger Who Came to Tea) and Beatrice Alemagna.

It was a fantastic five days of book fun and here are some of my favourite photos from the week. Enjoy! 

Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Jo Cotterill start the slide show from the festival - click on their image to see the other photos.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

A Girl Made of Books by Sarah Webb

I’m a big fan of Oliver Jeffers who is a Northern Irish designer, artist, writer and illustrator who is best known for his picture books. My favourite is an early book called Lost and Found about a boy and a lost penguin who become friends. His new book is called A Child of Books and it’s out in September. Written and illustrated by both Sam Winston and Oliver, it’s an ode to childhood books.

A Child Made of Books
A Child Made of Books

A Child of Books

Here’s the trailer, do check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_qoMY7mf8

 Inspired by this book, I thought I’d list some of the books that made ME:

busy busy world
busy busy world

1/ Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World

I loved this book and used to pour over the details in the pictures. It’s full of funny stories set all over the world, from Italy to Ireland, and I loved it so much I used to sleep with it under my pillow.

2/ Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson
Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

I took ballet classes for years and always dreamed of one day being a ballerina. It was not to be, but reading about ballet and watching ballet is the next best thing. I even wrote about ballet in Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze.

heidi
heidi

3/ Heidi by Johanna Spyri

How I wanted to live in the Swiss Alps with a kind grandfather after this story was read to me. It’s such a wonderful tale, of friendship, overcoming hardship and being yourself.

4/ Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Anne from Anne of Green Gables

Anne from Anne of Green Gables

I’ve always admired Anne ‘with an e’ – she’s one of my favourite characters of all time. I like to think we’d be kindred spirits if we ever met. She has such a fun, feisty and true nature. This book left a lasting impression on me as a young reader.

5/ Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

I re-read this every year to remind myself what it feels like to be thirteen. It’s over 40 years old now but is still as fresh and funny as the day it was published. I first read it as a teenager, adored her honesty and humour, and Judy has been one of my favourite writers ever since.

6/ The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

And pretty much all Enid Blyton’s books! I read my through them and adored their ‘Englishness’.

7/ New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingley

New Patches for Old
New Patches for Old

New Patches for Old

This book was a real eye opener and I’ve never forgotten it. Patricia or ‘Patches’ is an English girl who has moved to Australia with her family. She has to deal with making new friends, adapting to a new life and growing up. Her new life isn’t always easy, but she deals with everything that is thrown at her with good humour and honesty. I was about twelve when I read this book and it was the first time I’d come across a girl getting her period for the first time in any book – and I was so grateful that someone had written about this (I was anxious about the whole thing, as many teens were in those days as it wasn’t talked about much – things are a lot more open now, thank goodness), a subject that is also dealt with in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Both these books inspired me to write Ask Amy Green: Summer Secrets. Amy gets her period during her summer holidays and rings her aunt, Clover (who is 17 and also her great friend) to ask for advice.

Often people say there were no teenage books in the 1970s but there were - including this one. I’m so glad I read it, it really did make a difference to my life.

These are some of the books that made me. What books made YOU? I’d love to know!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Hearts Books website.

Picture Books: To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme?

Some of My Picture Book Collection
Some of My Picture Book Collection

I was doing some intense thinking about picture books last night. My writing class asked me why I'm not keen on rhyming picture books and I didn't have a coherent answer for them. But I do now!

When I got home I read dozens of rhyming and non rhyming pictures books. Every month I am sent review copies of all the new titles (and proofs or early reading copies) by the various Irish and UK publishers, and I read ALL the picture books and as many of the novels as I can. So I get a great overview of what's going on in the world of children's books. (Aside - when I was the children's book buyer at Waterstone's and then Eason's I saw the covers and titles of up to 8k children's books a year. Booksellers are a font of knowledge when it comes to children's books, trends, titles, covers etc. I'm proud to say I still work with booksellers, as a consultant with Dubray Books.)

So what conclusion did I come to after my late night read? A large number of rhyming picture books are all about concept (love, ABC, 123, colour) and it's hard to get emotion and conflict into even the best of them.Yes, yes I know Julia Donaldson manages to pack her books with emotion (and others do too - Madeline, Millions of Cats, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes etc) but she is one in a million. Non-rhyming picture books are all about story, character and emotion.

Spread from Owl Babies
Spread from Owl Babies
monster mamma
monster mamma

I like books that squeeze my heart, books full of emotion and power. Owl Babies, Where the Wild Things Are, Lost and Found, The Heart and the Bottle, Monster Mama (see below for details).

I hate insipid, badly rhyming picture books about loving your mummy (who is also a teddy dressed in human clothing). Managing to make the last words on each line rhyme does not magically turn a writer into a poet. The whole line has to sing.

And for the record here are my all time top 10 favourite picture books (not the best books, or the ones that have won the most awards, the ones I love the most). Books I could not live without:

1/ Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Is there a better picture book?

2/ Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Love it - and it has my name in it!

3/ Lost and Found - Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers
Oliver Jeffers

Oliver is exceptional. One of the greatest picture book talents Ireland has ever produced.

4/ Busy Busy World - Richard Scarry

My childhood is embedded in this book.

5/ The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont, illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Loved it as a child, love it now.

6/ The Red Tree -  Shaun Tan

From The Red Tree
From The Red Tree

The illustrations make me shiver, they're so good. I also love Rules of Summer. All his work in fact.

7/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Incredible book about a mother and her son, bullying and the power of love.

8/ Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes

Best writer for toddlers ever. Her domestic scenes sing with love.

9/ Peter's Chair - Ezra Jack Keats

Exceptional picture book from 1967 about sibling rivalry. I was read it first when my sister was born and it's stayed with me all that time.

10/ Fighting it out for the last slot - I can't choose. There so many amazing picture book makers. Jon Klassen is my pick for today. I Want My Hat Back. But I also adore Dr Suess (who doesn't?), although may of his books are more illustrated books than picture books (maybe Richard Scarry's too?). A topic for another day. And for pure illustration, Lizbeth Zwerger all the way. Journey by Aaron Becker is pretty special too (wordless picture book). So many pretty books ...

A Spread from Journey
A Spread from Journey

Better get back to the writing! I'll leave you with this: award winning picture book maker, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick talking a lot of sense about picture books that rhyme:

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Picture This! Why I Love Picture Books (and Shaun Tan)

If I say ‘picture books’ what do you think of? Stories about bears who can’t sleep and hares who love each other ‘to the moon and back’? Books about caterpillars turning into butterflies, and families going on bear hunts? Books for young children in other words. Most people think children ‘grow out’ of picture books, that they are too simple for children who can read. Well, I’m in my 40s and I still adore picture books. I read them with my children yes, (age 11 and 8) but I also read them for myself. Some of the greatest art out there is sandwiched between the covers of picture books, plus they’re beautifully written, with not a word out of place. Haiku for aliens someone once described them as, and they were right.

I’ve always loved art and as a child I was lucky to have a dad who brought me to art galleries. After school I went on to study History of Art (with English) at Trinity College, Dublin, where I spent hours in the library pouring over the pages of the glossy art books. I also studied picture books – I was obsessed with Maurice Sendak (and still am). I’d like to share some of my favourite picture books with you and explain why I love them so much.

1/ Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

A Spread from Where the Wild Things Are
A Spread from Where the Wild Things Are

A Spread from Where the Wild Things Are

One of the most famous picture books of all. Originally published in 1963, at the time adults thought it a disturbing book. They thought the monsters would terrify children. But they underestimated youngsters, who recognised (and still recognise) the humour and mischief in the beasts. I bought  a hardback copy of this book for my son, Sam, when he was born. I was a children’s bookseller in Waterstone’s  and I loved reading this one aloud at story time. It’s so beautifully written, the words just flow off the page.  It really has stood the test of time and the artwork still looks fresh and original 50 years on. A true classic.

Monster Mama cover
Monster Mama cover

2/ Monster Mama by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

An Interior from Monster Mama
An Interior from Monster Mama

An Interior from Monster Mama

I was a single mum for many years and I loved curling up and reading picture books with my son. This one is all about a mum who is a ‘monster’ and fights off the bullies who threaten her son. It’s about maternal love and the illustrations are highly coloured and very unusual.  It’s a book full of powerful emotion and reading it always reminds me how strongly I felt and still feel about my son (who is now 20!).

red-tree
red-tree

3/ The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

An Interior from The Red Tree
An Interior from The Red Tree

An Interior from The Red Tree

The Last Page of The Red Tree
The Last Page of The Red Tree

The Last Page of The Red Tree

I’m a huge fan of Shaun Tan’s work. He’s an extraordinary writer and visionary artist and I urge you to seek him out. His books are for all ages, especially The Arrival, which is more graphic novel than picture book. But my favourite is his ode to hope and renewal, The Red Tree. It’s a simple story about a girl with red hair who is having a rough time. On each page there’s a tiny red leaf, and at the end of the book, the leaves have become a bright, shining tree. The text is beautifully written but it’s the illustrations that really blow you away. Everyone has days (or weeks or even months) where they feel tired and down and lonely, and I find this book – and its message of hope and its inspirational artwork – so reassuring. Nothing ever seems as bad after reading it. His latest book, Rules of Summer is also pretty special.

Here’s some of the text of The Red Tree: ‘Sometimes the day beings with nothing to look forward to

And things go from bad to worse/Darkness over comes you/Nobody understands . . .

But suddenly there it is

Right in front of you/bright and vivid

Quietly waiting/just as you imagined it would be.’

More of Shaun Tan's Work
More of Shaun Tan's Work

More of Shaun Tan's Work

Shaun Tan's Latest Book
Shaun Tan's Latest Book

Shaun Tan's Latest Book

owl babies
owl babies
marshall arm
marshall arm
lost and found
lost and found

To find out more about  Shaun's work see: www.shauntan.net  I also love Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (as it has 3 little owls – and my children used to re-name the owls with their own names and the dark, atmospheric artwork by Patrick Benson is superb); Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh (a book celebrating difference with stunning illustrations); and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (which has a strong friendship theme and the most wonderful rowing boat illustration – there’s a whale gliding underneath it). And I also adore the work of Lizbeth Zwerger for her quirky imagination and her use of colour + line.

The Work of Lizbeth Zwerger
The Work of Lizbeth Zwerger

The Work of Lizbeth Zwerger

What’s your favourite picture book and why? I’d love to know.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog: www.girlsheartbooks.com