Showing posts with label picture books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label picture books. Show all posts

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Seeing Sense by Jake Hope, reviewed by Dawn Finch


First the blurb...

The burgeoning field of visual literacy can be universally understood across a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, regardless of traditional literacy levels. A key tool for navigating digital devices, there is often an antipathy surrounding visual literacy borne out of stigma and at times, intimidation. At a point when funding for public libraries in the UK is in decline, Powerful Pictures will include new research and bring together best practice from different organisations and institutions from a national and global perspective. This book will showcase the role of visual literacy as a tool for promoting reading, helping to raise understanding and awareness among librarians and education practitioners and promoting aspiration and achievement among the children and young people they work with.

I would not normally use my space here to review books, especially not academic books that are ostensibly pitched to information and educational professionals, but after reading this book it felt essential to me to share it with an audience of authors.

As writers and illustrators, the concept of visual literacy is not new to us, but it is often difficult to put into words why it is so important to our work. The idea that readers (both developing and established) use visuals to interpret stories and understand them is ingrained in what we do, but to fully understand visual literacy as a distinct concept takes a deeper examination, and this is exactly what Hope has done with Seeing Sense.

Elements of visual literacy are all around us (think signposts and pictographic instructions) but when we expand our understanding of that we, as authors, can begin to incorporate a greater level of visual communication in our work that breaks down the barriers of language and culture. For both established and new illustrators and writers, Hope’s book lays out the concept of visual literacy in a way that is not only approachable but useful and fascinating.

So many big names in the world of children’s books have contributed to this book with both anecdotes and tips that it feels like taking advice directly from the very best people in the business. From the foreword by Philip Pullman to dozens of illustrators and writers representing almost every field of children’s books you’d care to mention! Hope is hugely knowledgeable (with a masters in children's literature and over two decades working in the field) and has worked with everyone who matters in children’s books and literacy. Many of us know Hope and have worked with him and you can recognise him and his passion for literacy in this book. He has a writing style that draws you in and never feels patronising or alienating.

The chapters of this book cover everything from what exactly we mean when we’re talking about visual literacy, to a brilliantly handy guide to terminology, and on through use and application via a series of case studies that put the subject into context. Children’s authors will find chapters on reader development, insights into the processes that shape visual narratives, and the importance of visual representation to build inclusivity particularly relevant. Everything here is directly useful to the work of the children’s illustrator and writer. The chapter examining the structure and processes of the big awards for children’s book illustration is also a must-read for anyone working in the field.

Hope wrote this book as “a tool for libraries, learning and reader development”, but with my author hat on I can’t help feeling that this really is an essential book for the bookshelves of anyone engaged in the process of producing books for young readers.

Yes, on the surface it is expensive, as are most academic books. At £39.95 this does feel like an eyewatering price right now, but as this one is absolutely for your work it can fit into the deductible category as being relevant to your trading activities. I feel that this would be a hugely useful addition to your reference shelves as it would not only give you a greater understanding of visual literacy, but it could better sculpt how you use it and even give your work more power and deeper meaning.

Dawn Finch is an author and librarian and the current chair of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG) and a trustee of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Seeing Sense by Jake Hope is published by Facet Publishing – the publishing arm of CILIP

£39.95 to non-members (£31.96 for members)

This book is an unbiased, unsponsored review and represents the reviewer’s honest personal opinions. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Why picture books are all about the pictures – Lari Don

I’m not an artist. I’m a writer, and my passion is for words. But when I write a picture book, I know that my words can never be as important as the pictures, for creating the overall feel of the book, or even for telling the story. It is after all, a picture book, not a word book!

Which means that the role of an author writing a story for a picture book is very different from the role of an author writing a novel.

When I’m drafting a novel, my aim is to put pictures - of the characters, the chases, the magic, the monsters - into my readers’ heads. But when I’m drafting a picture book text, I know that the story will be brought to life by the skill of an illustrator, so my words have a different function.

One of my responsibilities as a writer of picture books is to create opportunities for wonderful illustrations. When I write a picture book, I weigh up the plot not just from the point of view of the characters and the readers, but also with the aim of offering the illustrator plenty of chances to create original, magical and dramatic pictures.

For example, when I started writing The Treasure Of The Loch Ness Monster, I wanted to give the artist scope to create as full a world for Nessie as possible. That meant not only pictures of the shores and surface of Loch Ness, but also at least one underwater scene. So I searched for plot ideas that took the characters and therefore the readers down into the depths of Loch Ness. I didn’t know what the illustrator Natasa Ilincic would draw for that scene, but I did know that I had to write a plot which gave her the chance to explore it.

One of the strengths of a picture book is that it’s not just the writers’ story. A picture book (unless it is created by one of those amazingly talented people who can write AND draw) is created by two people’s imaginations. The world of a picture book is not just the writer’s world, it is the illustrator’s world too: a shared world that has been enhanced and deepened by both our imaginations. When the illustrator is someone as talented and wise and deeply immersed in folklore and history as Natasa, then the illustrations bring a huge amount to the story’s world.

I love being surprised by someone else’s vision of the story. In this book, the treasure chamber that Natasa imagined under Castle Urquhart took my breath away. I’d imagined a small dark room containing not much more than the treasure necessary for the plot, but Natasa drew a huge arched chamber filled with fascinating objects from legend and history. I see something new everything I look at it! And that’s the joy of writing picture books. I knew what I needed the room to contain for the characters and the narrative, and Natasa drew that perfectly, but then she added her own magic, her own vision, and she made the story so much stronger.

And that’s why the pictures are the heart of a picture book!

Lari Don’s most recent book is The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster, published by Floris Books. Lari has written more than 30 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers.
Lari’s website 
Lari’s own blog 
Lari on Twitter 
Lari on Facebook 
Lari is on Instagram as LariDonWriter

Friday, 30 March 2018

Picture books are teamwork, all the way to the launch - Lari Don

I usually launch books on my own. (Well, with the help of all the lovely people at my publishers and a cheerful audience of family and friends. But it’s usually me standing up at the front on my own…)

However, last night I launched a book as part of a team.

I stood up beside illustrator Natasa Ilincic, and while I read the story of The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster, she did live-drawing of Nessie.

And it was great fun!

I only had to do half the work of keeping the (very wide age range) audience entertained, and I found out a lot more about how an illustrator does their job!

As Nata and I chatted about how I wrote the story and how she drew the pictures, I discovered how many sketches she draws for one spread, how she makes a illustration look action-packed and dramatic, how she makes sure her characters’ faces and characteristics stay consistent through the whole book, and how she showed emotion on a monster's face.

I found it fascinating, and the reaction of the kids in the audience suggested they found it fascinating too!

I’ve always thought of writing a picture book as teamwork – the author, the editor, the art designer and the illustrator – but it turns out that the best picture book launches are team efforts too!

I hope to do lots more events with the wonderfully talented Nata and her beautiful Nessie!  

Thanks to Waterstones in Princes St in Edinburgh for hosting the launch, to all the wonderful staff at Floris Books for organising it, and to whoever baked the little Nessie cakes…

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers. 
Lari is on Instagram as LariDonWriter

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The benefits of wordless picture books Hilary Hawkes

I used to work with preschool and foundation stage children. It was a contrast to the solitude needed for writing!  But in many ways the two situations complemented and inspired each other – spending part of my time in the often noisy, energetic, fun and always fascinating world of small children and other times on my own writing.

My favourite area of classrooms was, of course, the book or story corner. All but one of the early years classrooms I worked in valued and understood the importance of books and sharing stories. (The one that didn’t might make another blog post one day!) I eventually made pre-literacy, learning and developing through stories the basis for small group work with children who needed extra input and support.

Credit: GraphicsRF/shutterstock with permission

That stage before children begin to work out how written words work and how to read is so vital. What they gain from books begins long before they can actually read themselves. Sitting side by side or snuggling up together to look at a book benefits children in so many ways: enhancing their cognitive, social,  emotional and language skills just by sharing, listening and talking together.
Credit: szefei/shutterstock with permission

Wordless picture books are wonderful for this nurturing of skills: they boost imagination, creativity, observation and understanding – especially with children who have special needs. You can personalise or make a story fulfil the unique needs of an individual child if you can modify and steer it to some extent. 

The wordless picture book story can amble along at the child’s pace. Or it can be a quick story, or a long one. And how exciting that it can even be many different stories all from the same illustrations.

I found children who couldn’t read loved being able to take over the book and tell the story from the pictures themselves. Children do this with books with words too, of course, but where there is no print, just pictures, many seemed to do this with extra confidence and joy. The difference with wordless picture books is that you don’t read a story together you discover one together.

Asking questions, based on the pictures, character expressions or actions etc about how a character might be feeling, why they might have done something can help children who find expressing or controlling emotions understand themselves and others a little better too.
I might be someone who absolutely cannot draw or illustrate, but I love the popularity of wordless picture books and their increasing use. They create wonderful bonding and learning experiences for all children as parent and child, grandparent and child, carer and child, or teacher and child share together.

If you have any favourites, tips for using them or experiences with books without words I’d love it if you could share them in the comments below.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Writing Picture Books – Heather Dyer

I'm a freelance developmental editor of children's books, so I see a lot of picture books written by beginners. They are (wisely) seeking feedback before they submit their work to editors and agents.

Here are things I most often suggest:
CUT! CUT! CUT! Editing is usually about taking words out. Often the first verse or first few lines can be cut as they’re preamble to the story ‘proper’. Don’t describe anything that can be illustrated. Don’t include too much dialogue or character reflection. Show things happening in short order, briefly, and keep the language simple. Any words that aren’t serving the storyline need to be removed – they’re padding, and they slow your story down. 

Rhyming verses can be nice, but they’re difficult to translate, and publishers often depend on foreign sales to cover the cost of producing these expensive picture books. Narrative prose is easier to sell abroad.

Unless you’re a professional illustrator, don’t attempt to draw illustrations or have an illustrator friend do them for you. 

A publisher will want to have a say in the style, content and layout of illustrations, and if they want to commission your story they will find an illustrator for you. You may be asked for your opinion – but the illustrator will be given the creative freedom to come up with their own designs.

However, if there’s something in your story that needs to be illustrated because it’s crucial to the storyline – but hasn’t been mentioned in the text – then you can write a short note to the illustrator, describing what needs to be shown.

Although the illustrations and layout won’t be up to you, as author, it is very useful to distribute the text of your story across the ‘imagined’ pages of a finished picture book. This can help show you where you have too much text relating to one page or scene. It can also show you how often the ‘scene’ needs changing, since each page should contain an illustration that’s sufficiently different to the pages before and after (except where you want a double-page spread). You'll see what I mean once you start paginating your text and imagining what might appear on the corresponding page.

How many pages in a picture book? Usually 24, 32 or 40. It's always a number that’s divisible by 8, for printing reasons. The first and last pages are usually front matter or end pages, so you could think about starting your story on page 4 or 5.

You don’t need to submit this plan, just put the imaginary page number above each section of text in your manuscript. This will help the editor or agent ‘visualize’ how the story will unfold across the pages of a finished book.

For a brilliant example of how concise a picture book can be, and how the text works in tandem with the illustrations, check out Jon Klassen’s wonderful This is Not My Hat. Here’s a book that’s beautiful in its simplicity and in which the text and illustrations rely upon each other, Despite it's simplicity, it contains an ambiguous message that makes even adults think twice.

Here, the little fish is speaking. The little fish has stolen the big fish's hat, and thinks s/he's got away with it. But s/he has been spotted by the crab.

Note the lovely contradiction here between the text and the illustrations! This example demonstrates how little needs to be said in the text - and how much the illustrations can add.

In a picture book, the text and the illustrations work in tandem to tell the story. So, although you don't have to be an illustrator to write a children's book, it does help to think about how the text might work alongside the illustrations.

An author might be consulted on the illustrations, but they won't be able to dictate to the illustrator. It can feel scary relinquishing control, but it can also be wonderful to see how much atmosphere, humour and characterisation an illustrator can add to your story. It's like seeing your story come to life.

Good luck!

Heather Dyer, Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow

Monday, 7 August 2017

A Thousand Words - #favekidsbookart by Dawn Finch

Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Today is #favekidsbookart day and so I thought I would share a few of the illustrators who defined books for me as a child. It was an absolute joy to see that illustrator James Mayhew was sharing lots of his favourite book art on social media, and that he was kicking off the hashtag #favekidsbookart today (7th August), and this got me thinking about the art that I most remembered from the books I read as a child.

I thought about the wonder that is Ezra Jack Keats Snowy Day. This book still makes me want to make snow angels, and I had no idea how important this book was until I became an adult. I had no idea as a child that this was the first children’s picture book to feature a non-caricatured black child who was just going about their business, playing in the snow. To me it was the book that made me want a red coat with a pointy hood, and it made me go to bed every winter night praying for snow. It's not only an important book, it's a beautiful one too.

I also thought about the Dr Seuss stable of books and in particular those with the wonderful illustrations of PD Eastman. I was so hooked (pun intended) on Fish out of Water (written by Helen Palmer) that I even named my cat Otto. Eastman’s friendly and charming style became an integral part of the making the Dr Seuss brand instantly recognisable. My favourite Dr Seuss books were the ones with Eastman’s illustrations, a fact I only realised this week.

When I began thinking about my favourite children’s book illustrators and cover artists, I began to realise just how huge that impact was on my life. When I became a parent myself I instinctively reached out for many familiar illustrated books to share with my own child. Sharing the wonder of EH Shepard’s gorgeous Pooh illustrations, for example, made me recapture the innocence and joy of being a child all over again.
Katie and the Dinosaurs by James Mayhew -
Oh how my daughter longed to be Katie!

My daughter grew up with both of us discovering a whole new world of illustrators. We shared the captivating worlds of James Mayhew, Shirley Hughes, Jackie Morris, Anthony Browne, Michael Foreman, Janet Ahlberg, PJ Lynch, Chris Riddell, Axel Scheffler and so so many more. As a children’s librarian the extraordinary illustrators working in the world of children’s books provided me with treasure with every new box opened.
A glorious polar bear from Jackie Morris from her book
Something About A Bear

With this vast abundance of hugely talented illustrators, I wanted to see if I could pick just one. One illustrator who stayed in my thoughts from childhood and who had a profound impact on my life and, after much mental wrestling, it came to me that there really was one who fitted the bill perfectly.

That illustrator is Charles Keeping.
One of Charles Keeping's illustrations
from Kevin Crossley-Holland's retelling
of Beowulf

As a young reader I was given a copy of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Silver Branch. This is a wonderful book, and it set me on the path to read almost all of Sutcliffe’s work, but the illustrations inside and on the cover really brought the story home for me. I began to look for other books with Keeping’s illustrations in and, as a result, discovered writers like Henry Treece and Leon Garfield. On each visit to the library I continued to keep an eye open for Keeping’s illustrations and even as a sulky teen he drew me to poetry like Alfred Noye’s The Highwayman (for which Keeping won his second Greenaway Medal) and to the superb adaptation of Beowulf by Kevin Crossley-Holland. In turn his illustrations also drew me towards illustrators like Victor Ambrus, and to the work of more great writers. The images and the art were the hook that pulled me into deeper waters.

One of Chris Priestley's
illustrations from Anything
That Isn't This.

I still search for illustrations in this style, and it makes me think how important illustrations are to young readers, and not just in picture books. Illustrations in longer chapter books are an essential draw that engage younger readers, but this also works for us older readers too. How many of us love a beautifully illustrated edition of a book? I would dearly love to see a resurgence of illustration in books for young (and old!) adults too. I would like to see many more books like Chris Priestley’s excellent YA novel, Anything That Isn’t This. The Gothic and atmospheric pen and ink drawings vividly support the text and enhance the reading experience. Illustrations of this quality in longer texts draw us in and enfold us in the prose. They are more than just supportive to the text, they breath extra life into it.

And so, for this first #favekidsbookart day, I would like to dedicate this post to Charles Keeping and offer thanks for the legacy that he left. His illustrations were not only pictures worth a thousand words, but tens of thousands.

Charles Keeping illustration from Charles Noyes' The Highwayman

Detail from Charles Keeping's illustration for Charles Noye's The Highwayman

Dawn Finch is a children's author and librarian, and past president of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. She is also a member of the Society of Authors'
Children's Writers and Illustrators Committee.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Whose book is this anyway? Lari Don

This month, I’ve been working with editorial notes on two different books – a novel and a picture book - and I’ve noticed slight differences in how I’m responding to those notes.

Obviously with any editorial notes, there’s the immediate emotional punch of ‘oh no, she doesn’t like it, it doesn’t work, she didn’t understand it, my story is RUINED!’ Then reality kicks in and I remember that the book always works in the end, and that editors are A Good Thing.

So I settle down and consider every single comment, suggestion and request, and work out how to respond, ie how much to change, how much to compromise, how much to defend the story as it stands.

And I’ve realised that, while equally open to every comment, I do seem to have a different attitude depending on whether we’re working on a novel or a picture book.

A novel feels like my vision, my story. So I will usually be happy to tweak, and often, if I agree, I will make major changes, but if I disagree, I will instead explain why I'd prefer not to change the direction of the story.

However, a picture book never feels like just my story, it feels like a team effort with the editor, illustrator and designer. So I’m much more likely to throw out a cherished sentence or scene in a picture book, much more likely to change direction entirely, in order to create the text that will support the best possible pictures.

I don’t want to give the impression (particularly not to my editors!) that I ignore editorial advice in novels or that I don’t feel passionate about the words in my picture books, just that I seem to approach them with a slightly different attitude. The novel is my story, and I’m happy to take advice about the best way to tell it, but the picture book is OUR story, and my words are only one part of that. So, my response to notes is based on that difference.

Whatever age group or genre I’m writing for, it’s always a bracing combination of illuminating, positive and painful to see my still soft and malleable draft story through someone else’s critical eyes. But it’s always worth doing!

I genuinely believe that books are BETTER when they have been worked on together by a talented editor and a confident writer.

However, I’ve realised this spring that even though I will weigh up each comment carefully, I clearly lean slightly more towards accepting the suggestions when redrafting a picture book, and slightly more towards proving my case for the original idea when redrafting a novel.

I wonder if any other writers feel that they respond differently to editorial notes depending on the story, the project, or even (!) the editor?

Right. Back to those notes and my responses...

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers.