What A Wonderful Song

Tim Hopgood, author and illustrator shares his love of Louis Armstrong’s world-famous song What a Wonderful World and takes us behind the scenes of making it into a picture book and getting it published.

One Father’s Day about five, six years ago my daughter gave me an old vinyl copy of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What A Wonderful World. Before we go any further, I feel I should point out that the song was not actually written by Armstrong, but such is the magic of his recording that people seem to assume the song is his! The words were actually written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss.

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I first heard the song when I was about six years old; it was played at school during assembly. It made a huge impression on me as a child, such a seemingly simple song, yet so powerful in that it goes straight to the heart with its message of hope and love. Listening to the recording once again, complete with vinyl crackles, I realized the song hadn’t lost any of its charm and it hadn’t dated, that’s the beauty of something so honest and simple. And there’s something about Armstrong’s gravelly voice that stops it being too sentimental, maybe that’s the reason his recording is the one everyone remembers.

So what’s the first song you’d want your new baby to hear? For me it has to be this song. It was for Chris Evans too. I remember he opened his afternoon show on Radio 2 with the song after his first son Noah was born. Wouldn’t it be amazing to capture the joy of that song, probably the most life-affirming song of all time and put it in a book?

trees_of_green

Think about it, the lyrics are so visual ‘I see trees of green, Red roses too’ it could work. And as a gift, what better gift book could there be than to give someone what is essentially a love letter to the world? A simple message of hope.

final_rough_swim_with_dolphins

When I first showed the roughs for the idea the initial reaction was that it was going to be too complicated to get permission to use the lyrics. I think I’m right in saying that there are three music companies which own the rights to the song, and they would all have to agree on the concept and the publishing terms. My editor at the time loved the idea, but from a publishing business point of view it wasn’t looking quite so wonderful. As a relative newcomer to the picture book market, having at the time only published two books, the chances of making the figures work looked unlikely. “One to put on the back burner” was the advice from my agent.

 

rough_trees_of_green

 

So that’s exactly what I did.  And then a few years later, I got a call from the commissioning editor at OUP, Peter Marley. Pete explained he was looking for gift book ideas and wondered if I’d be interested in working with him. I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference was between a picture book and a gift book, so he explained how gift books tended to have higher print production values than an ordinary picture book and that often they were based on classic titles that are given a new lease of life by a contemporary illustrator.

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I think it was the word CLASSIC that jumped out at me. Something made me think immediately about my ‘Wonderful World’ idea and so I mentioned to Pete that I did have something he might be interested in, not based on a classic title, but a classic song instead.

rough_I_think_to_myself

When I look at the original roughs now it’s surprising how little has actually changed, surprising in a good way. Others may look at the roughs and see just a few scribbly lines, but to me the content and composition is all there, the journey and the pace of it all is pretty close to the finished book. My roughs are VERY rough, but the essence of what’s happening on the page is there.

I’m not someone who likes to produce very detailed roughs and then colour them in as it were.  For me the process is all much more spontaneous than that with each finished spread influencing the next. And so much of my work is about colour that often it’s hard for people to imagine the power and impact a spread will have until colour is applied.

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So for example, my rough drawing for the horses spread, which is probably my favourite spread, doesn’t look that impressive, but in my head I knew it would work. The power of colour never ceases to amaze and excite me. So like the song itself, the composition is kept simple and direct.

p22_unpublishedI guess the main change to come out of the editorial process was the relationship between the boy and the bird. It’s much stronger in the final version, much more deliberate whereas in the original rough it is more incidental.

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I hope the book will introduce a whole new generation to the wonders of this song and that it will encourage parents and teachers to share its joy by singing to their little and not-so little ones. The project was a labour of love. A project that came about because all those involved at OUP wanted to make it happen as much as I did. It certainly wouldn’t have happened without them. I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason. Had the book happened earlier in my publishing career it wouldn’t be the book it is­­; by that I mean, it wouldn’t be quite so charming, quite so powerful, quite so wonderful. Thank you to everyone involved.­­­­ ­­­­­

 What a Wonderful World is out now.

What a Wonderful World

Tim

Tim worked for twenty years as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator before he began his career writing and drawing for children. He has a deep love of music, often he wears large headphones and blasts Miles Davis or Stevie Wonder while he paints and draws. He works mostly with Derwent sketching pencils, using digital layering methods to create his artworks. He now lives in North Yorkshire with his wife, two children and his cats.

Spawning a Little Frog

Tatyana Feeney is author and illustrator of a brilliant series of books that tackle everyday toddler troubles. From losing a favourite blanket (Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket) to likes and dislikes (Little Owl’s Orange Scarf), her simple story and minimalist artwork speaks volumes. Where did the idea for her new book Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble which deals with a new baby in the family come from?

9780192735546_LITTLE_FROGS_TADPOLE_TROUBLE_CVR_APR14I have quite a young family still – my oldest is seven, so inspiration for stories about young children is fairly abundant in my daily  life!

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble, which is my latest book, developed from having my own children and seeing the effect of a new sibling on the first child. I am sure there are some children who are delighted with new children arriving in the family, but many feel threatened or upset by the change in the family dynamic. My intention, by having nine new brothers and sisters was just an exaggeration of how the change feels to the first child. Of course, most families don’t go from one to ten overnight – but it could feel that way when a new baby arrives…

A regret I have is that I didn’t make Mommy and Daddy look a bit more stressed once the tadpoles arrived – they are quite relaxed for parents of 10!

Some things Little Frog likes to do

Some things Little Frog likes to do

When I start working on a new story, drawing the characters (a lot!), is the best way for me to get to know them. I think  about what they might do, or  wear, what they like, what they DO NOT like. I need to know lots of things about their personality to help get the story started. I have a few samples of drawings I did when I was working on Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble. Some of the pictures are just Little Frog doing things he likes, including listening to music and trying gymnastics. Not all of these ultimately went into the book, but they still give me an idea of who he is.

Little Frog was very upset about the new tadpoles and he ran away...

Little Frog was very upset about the new tadpoles and he ran away…

I have included a few other sketches. One is Little Frog running away from home…

 

...luckily he didn't get too far...

…luckily he didn’t get too far…

(well, to under the kitchen table) when he heard about the new siblings.

Some things Little Frog likes to do with the tadpoles - teaching them to skip

Some things Little Frog likes to do with the tadpoles – teaching them to skip

There are also some ideas of things he could do with the tadpoles once they got a bit bigger.

Playing leapfrog!

Playing leapfrog!

It is always  nice to play around with the characters like this, even when not all of the ideas make it into the finished book – it seems to give them more personality somehow.

 

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble is out now.

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feeney0062kpo2011_bwTatyana Feeney grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She studied History of Art at the University of North Carolina and Design at the Art Institute of Atlanta before getting a BA in Illustration for Children’s Publishing from NEWI in Wales.

She has illustrated several books with Irish publishers, including 3 in the Irish language. She has also done illustrations for websites and cards.

She lives in Trim, County Meath with her husband, two children and small dog.

 

 

Being Boris

Tim Warnes on the joy of illustrating the Boris books and his inspiration behind some of the characters.

© Tim Warnes 2013

© Tim Warnes 2013

I love working on the Boris books! They’re such great, warm-hearted stories, that working on Boris Gets Spots was like going back to an old pair of cosy slippers – comfy and relaxing! And I have to say I think Boris is rather an inspirational character. He’s gentle, kind and helpful. He gets his chance to really shine in Boris Saves the Show, when he’s the one who is fast enough and strong enough to rescue the preschool class, who have got stuck in the mud on their way to the summer performance.

_MG_0785One of the things that’s refreshing about the Boris books for me as an illustrator is having to create an authentic classroom setting, where much of the stories take place. At first this was quite daunting since I struggle with seeing, let alone drawing, perspective. (Is there such a condition where your brain can’t discern whether a line in a room is going up or down? If there is, I think I have it.) As a result much of the scenes are quite flat, almost like stage sets, with the characters coming on from the wings. Anyway, I took masses of photos of my sons’ primary school for the first book, and I’ve used these consistently for reference ever since to create a genuinely chaotic classroom feel, with lots of details. My best find had to be the drawings stuck onto the tadpole tank at school of a shark and puffer fish – you can spot them on the goldfish tank in Miss Cluck’s classroom in Boris Gets Spots.

© Tim Warnes 2013

© Tim Warnes 2013

In Boris Gets Spots we are introduced to Farmer Gander (who I modeled on a Chinese goose). He’s visiting Miss Cluck’s class with some of his produce – like a miniature mobile farmer’s market, obligingly pulled by Buttercup the cow! Does it seem odd to you that the cow retains her natural bovine qualities, whilst everyone else gets to wear clothes? Actually, now I think about it, all Miss Cluck usually wears is a pair of spectacles, although in this story she sensibly dons an apron and oven gloves when she bakes some treats for her poorly class, who have come down, one by one, with chicken pox! (I told my editor, Helen, that my youngest son called it ‘chitten pops’ when he caught it. She must have told Carrie because this phrase ended up in the final text!)

It's tricky painting mice this tiny, and children at readings always comment on how SMALL they are. The smallest brush I use is a 2/0 which is really, really thin.

It’s tricky painting mice this tiny, and children at readings always comment on how SMALL they are. The smallest brush I use is a 2/0 which is really, really thin.

 

Tim Warnes photoAward-winning illustrator Tim Warnes shares a studio at his home in the Dorset countryside with his wife, illustrator Jane Chapman. They have two young sons. Tim spends a lot of time helping at the village school and his careful observations can be seen in all the authentic details of an infant classroom and also in the way he has successfully captured the solicitous, motherly demeanour of Miss Cluck and the mannerisms of the little pupils in her care. Tim is best known for illustrating the Little Tiger and Santa books for Little Tiger Press. I Don’t Want to go to Bed! won the Nottinghamshire Children’s Book Award in 1996 and I Don’t want to have a Bath! won in 1997.

Find out more about Tim and his work at www.chapmanandwarnes.com

See more behind-the-scenes Boris stuff in the Boris photo album!

Boris Gets Spots is out now.

Boris Gets Spots

Too Small For My Big Bed – behind the scenes with Layn Marlow

Layn Marlow

I love the comparison that’s often made between picture books and theatre.  I’ve always felt shy about being on stage, but in illustrating picture books, I discovered I could be director, stage designer and a whole cast of actors, all from behind the scenes.  For my latest book, this analogy even helped me discover a new way of working.

A change of scenery

I’d already collaborated on six picture books with Amber Stewart as author.

Books by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow

Books by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow

                  

Each one saw a cast of small woodland animals, sensitively tackling subjects significant to young children: a duckling starting school, a rabbit losing her security blanket, a little mole learning to try new foods.

In each case, I approached the illustrations in the same way; using a dip pen, then fine brushes, to apply thin layers of acrylic paint onto smooth board.

Layn Marlow artwork

© Layn Marlow

I gave the rural scenes some botanical detail, which I hoped would draw the reader into the animal’s world.  It was all very green and pastoral – like the best bits of my early childhood.  But our seventh book left that familiar landscape behind…

New actors

Too Small For My Big Bed portrays a mother tiger’s tender relationship with her growing cub, Piper, as he struggles to overcome his nightly fear of being alone.

Too Small For My Big Bed UK hardback

Suddenly, I had an even smaller cast to work with, (two!), although of course, the actors were much bigger.

When developing any animal character, I usually start by sketching real animals. Then I try to modify and infuse their bodies with the more human expressions of the character in the story. (This often involves some acting in front of the mirror!)

© Layn Marlow

© Layn Marlow

Tigers are not easy to observe in real life, even in captivity, so I’m greatly indebted to the marvellous John Downer film, Tiger – Spy in the Jungle.

Tiger: Spy in the Jungle DVD cover

Tiger Spy in the Jungle. Director, John Downer. Narrator, David Attenborough. BBC, 2008. DVD

The narrator, David Attenborough, has described it as “the most intimate portrait of tigers ever seen”, which made it the perfect way for me to research mother and cub behaviour.

Setting the stage

The film also enabled me to see what the ‘jungle’ looks like. It was made in India’s Pench National Park, home to Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.  Having never travelled to India myself, I was surprised to see only limited greenery. In fact much of the Pench landscape looked just as Amber Stewart’s text describes – Golden Grasslands and Red Rock Ridges – colours more evocative of a tiger’s fiery coat.  I realized these warm hues would contrast well with the deep ultramarine blue of a night sky, and so my new palette was chosen.

 Too Small For My Big Bed palette

In the spotlight

In Too Small for my Big Bed, the close relationship between mother and cub takes centre stage.  This is what gives Piper the feeling of security he ultimately needs to find independence. I tried to echo this intimacy in the gestures of the tigers, but I also wanted to strengthen their presence in the compositions.  So, rather like applying stage make-up, I intensified the outlines of my pencil drawings by printing them with black ink onto watercolour paper.

© Layn Marlow

© Layn Marlow

Previously I’d dismissed watercolour as a pale and unforgiving medium. Now I found deep, rich inks to use, and learned to be slightly less respectful of the high quality paper.  I worked over the ink areas with coloured pencil, acrylic paint and even collage.

With the spotlight on the tigers, I really began to treat the landscape more like a stage set. I enjoyed creating rubbings of various textures and seeking out other collage materials from which to build the ‘scenery’.

Too Small For My Big Bed collage materials copy

Even though I’d long been aware of the theatrical analogy, somehow this time it felt to me like a real liberation.

A star performance

My favourite phrase in Amber Stewart’s text comes when we first see Piper fall asleep in his mum’s bed, ‘spread out like a small star’.

© Layn Marlow

© Layn Marlow

I’ve already found that children love to identify with Piper as a character. They feel rightly proud of how they’ve grown and of all they’ve learned to do.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing Amber Stewart’s little tiger to life, and in doing so; I think I may have grown a bit myself!

Children wearing tiger masks

Layn Marlow

Photo © Tom Greenwood

Born in Essex, Layn Marlow studied Art History at Reading University. She then worked in libraries, and lived in Belgium for some years with her young family, before returning to university to gain a first class degree in Illustration. She has been writing and illustrating picture books ever since.  Her books have won a number of awards, sold over a million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 20 languages. Layn is particularly inspired by the natural world, and now lives in Hampshire, where daily walks with her dog, Rufus, are essential.

Visit Layn’s website and Facebook page.

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Too Small for my Big Bed is out now in hardback. The paperback edition is out in August.

Wilbur’s nine lives

With his lovely new board books about to hit the shops, Winnie the Witch’s lovable cat Wilbur joins us to reflect on his best moments so far in his adventures with Winnie…

Wilbur

They say that cats have nine lives. Well it’s certainly true in my case! I can think of nine nail-biting (or should that be claw-biting?) moments in my life but here I am to tell the tail (sorry, tale)! It must have something to do with being a witch’s cat.

1. I remember the time when I was dozing on Winnie’s Flying Carpet, and the wretched thing whisked me out of the house and took me on a white-knuckle ride, ending up at a fun fair. Though it wasn’t much fun for me! Luckily Winnie came to the rescue. Now I’m always careful about where I cat nap!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

2. Then there was the rather embarrassing moment when I was impaled by a broomstick after a day with Winnie at the Seaside turned into a whale of a time (literally!). Ouch!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

3. And I’ll never forget the incident with Winnie’s New Computer. The shiny new mouse was so tempting but when I pounced on it – ooof! – I disappeared into thin air! If you want my advice, be very careful when it comes to new technology.

from_winnies_new_computer

Artwork © Korky Paul

4. Cheers of ‘Winnie Flies Again’ greeted us when Winnie took to the skies sporting a new pair of glasses. Now she could steer her broomstick without bumping into things. Before she got her eyes tested, things were rather different, and rather painful for me.

From_winnie_flies__again

Artwork © Korky Paul

5. Winnie’s Amazing Pumpkin was certainly awesome, especially when it turned into a helicopter. What was less amazing was the enormous caterpillar that scared the wits out of me on a giant beanstalk. I think oversized vegetables are overrated!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

6. I’ve always known that Winnie the Witch loves me, so being turned into a multi-coloured moggy and stranded at the top of a tall tree wasn’t my finest hour. But, you’ll be pleased to know, that particular story had a happy ending!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

7. Oh yes, on one occasion, an unexpected scaly visitor – Winnie’s Midnight Dragon – chased me onto the roof while his mother set my tail alight. Charming!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

8. There’s a day that I’ll always remember as Winnie’s Dinosaur Day. It started normally enough at the museum but before I knew it I was face to face with a prehistoric beast!

from_winnies_dinosaur_day

Artwork © Korky Paul

9. And finally, there was the time when I reluctantly joined Winnie in Space – we had broken rockets and naughty space rabbits to contend with . . .

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Artwork © Korky Paul

So you see, being a witch’s cat is never dull. But I love being Winnie’s pet and I wouldn’t swap my owner for the world!

Wilbur’s first concept board books are out in June, and are full of humour and wit!

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Artwork © Korky Paul

Pages from 273508_WILBUR_WORDS_INS_JUN13

Artwork © Korky Paul

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For more fun with Winnie the Witch and Wilbur, visit the Winnie the Witch website.

The story comes first: teaching playfully in picture books

Picture book author Ann Bonwill on the key to tackling preschool social issues in picture books (without need of a soapbox)

annWhen my editor, Helen, expressed interest in a sequel to I Don’t Want to be a Pea!, I was thrilled. I had come to love my characters, Hugo and Bella, and the chance to write about them again was exciting.

hugo and bella

Endpapers for I am not a Copycat!, featuring Hugo the hippo and Bella the bird

But while their first story had come to me rather easily, the second one did not follow that same path. I found it challenging to stay true to the characters, voice, and tone of the first book while simultaneously crafting an original storyline and adding enough new elements to make things interesting.

Helen and I agreed that there were two aspects we wanted to keep consistent in the books. The first was the technique of telling the story almost entirely through dialogue. This proved to be enjoyable, as I have a lot of fun hearing the voices of Hugo and Bella in my head. The second aspect was less enjoyable – the task of examining a preschool social issue and (I shudder to say it) teaching a lesson about it.

As the mother of a four year old, I am surrounded by preschool social issues. Observing my son playing with a friend generates a laundry list of social skills that he is beginning to negotiate – how to share, how to take turns, how to open a juice carton without squirting the other person. I had no end of options for social issues to examine, but what did I want to say about them? What lesson did I want to teach? Or, more to the point, did I want to teach a lesson at all?

Teaching a lesson is the kiss of death in picture books. If you’ve read aloud to a group of children and tried to hold their attention, you know that making an overt point must be avoided at all costs. Children need story, not lecture. After all, would you rather relax in the bath with a juicy novel or a self-help book? (Please ignore that I’m writing this in January, when we’re all optimistically leafing through the pages of self-help . . . think back instead to the hedonistic days of December when all you wanted to do was avoid yet another family gathering by escaping into the world of a book, preferably with chocolate close at hand.) Children are no different from us. If anything they need less didacticism in their books than we do, as they are force fed it all day long by a culture that attempts to civilize them at every turn.

That said, the reality is that all my favorite picture books teach a lesson, in that they impart some basic truth about life and give us an example of how (or how not) to respond to it. Even a book that appears to be wholly about fun is sending the message that it’s good to let your hair down now and then. I Don’t Want to be a Pea! certainly has something to take away. It is, at its heart, a story about compromise, about putting friendship first, about making yourself happy by making someone else happy. But I didn’t set out to write about compromise, and therein lies the difference.

Hugo and bella falling out

Spread from I Don’t Want to be a Pea!. Hugo and Bella can’t agree on what to wear to a fancy dress party

In my mind, the distinction between a didactic book and one with a message is that, with a message, the story comes first. The ‘lesson,’ if we need to call it that, grows out of the story in a way that isn’t forced and preachy, it just is. If the story doesn’t come first, we run the risk of losing our audience, losing the magic.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself trying to do just this – trying to craft a story around a moral rather than letting the story speak moralistically for itself. Usually when I write, the story drives me. The characters, tone, voice, and yes, message, evolve as I go. With the sequel, I already had the characters, tone, and voice, and I knew that I needed a similar type of message. Danger zone.

After abandoning a few drafts as hopelessly didactic, I returned to my rule. The story must come first. I stopped thinking about the issue I’d chosen to tackle (copycat behavior) and focused instead on the antics of a hippo and a bird at the swimming pool, doing synchronized swimming of all things. Writing dialogue helped immensely with this, as I was able stay in the moment through their playful language. I was back to my story.

hugo and bella synchronized swimming

Spread from I am not a Copycat!  

In the end, I am not a Copycat! does have a message. Sometimes it’s fun to be the same. Sometimes it’s fun to be different. Sometimes it’s just fun to make a splash. Oh, and don’t forget the chocolate.

ann
Ann Bonwill is the author of eight picture books, including Bug and Bear, Naughty Toes, I Don’t Want to be a Pea!, and I am not a Copycat!. She grew up in Maryland in the United States, surrounded by good books from her mother’s library and good food from her father’s kitchen. Books and food still bring a smile to her face, especially enchiladas with extra guacamole. She shares her life (but not her guacamole) with her husband, son, and crazy corgi dog.

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I am not a Copycat!, Ann Bonwill’s latest book, is out now, illustrated by the wonderful Simon Rickerty.

Hugo the hippo is annoyed about Bella the bird constantly copying what he does. But then, at the swimming pool, Hugo discovers that when his moves are perfectly copied by Bella, their friends are very impressed indeed . . .

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Hugo and Bella first appeared in I Don’t Want to be a Pea!, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2012, and chosen by Julia Donaldson as one of her favourite picture books of 2011.

Hugo and Bella are getting ready for a fancy dress party. Because they both want their own way, they can’t agree on a costume and they almost don’t go to the party at all. In this laugh-out-loud comedy of manners children will discover that compromise is what makes any friendship tick.

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