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?

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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.

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© 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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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Artwork © Korky Paul

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

Picture This: Karen George on becoming a published illustrator

karen_george_2013Karen George shares her journey to becoming a published illustrator, with a little help from Waterstones and Julia Donaldson…

In 2009, I won the Waterstones/Macmillan ‘Picture This’ competition, beating 900 hopeful unpublished illustrators to the top prize of illustrating Freddie and the Fairy for Julia Donaldson.

freddie and fairy 3The timing of the competition was perfect for me, my youngest son was about to start nursery and I was at the point of making decisions about work. After leaving the Royal College of Art, where I studied fine art, I eventually settled as a film set painter and muralist. It was during my time as a standby painter on films, which involved a lot of waiting around (of course ready to pounce like coiled spring when called for!) that I started drawing and jotting down ideas for stories to pass the time. I then entered into a long and continuing period of research into children’s picture books following the birth of my first son, who demanded three stories a night, every night. I spent these years scribbling, writing, cutting out and sticking; creating characters of my own that I hoped would catch a publisher’s eye. Some were extremely interested but not quite ready to take the final plunge, there had been many words of encouragement  but alas no contracts.

Billed as a ‘life changing’ prize, ‘Picture This’ came at a pivotal point, but it was a competition that I nearly didn’t enter…

The early hurdles

The first hurdle was that I first heard of the competition horribly close to the deadline. I wasn’t sure that it could be done in time, but dither over, I set to work.

Illustrating for Julia Donaldson and the other notable judges proved disastrously daunting, the weight of their pedigree made me produce some of the worst work I’ve ever done!

A day of despair followed, at my inability to manoeuvre a pencil, and a lost opportunity to enter the world I had so long wanted to be a part of… but I had invested too much over the years to completely waste such an opportunity, so I decided to use the Julia Donaldson text and an impending deadline to at least update my portfolio. I pushed all thoughts of Julia and the judges aside (sorry!) and set to work again. With VERY little time left I sketched, painted, cut and glued my way through several near sleepless nights. Exhausted, with only hours to spare, I finally delivered my finished artwork to Waterstones Kew Headquarters; excited by the three new character sketches, three animal sketches and  colour spread that would refresh my portfolio.

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The home straight

A week later, I was plunged into the deepest deep end. Amazingly I had been shortlisted down to the final six!

There then followed six weeks of intense drawing; night after night well into the small hours, the twelve required spreads drawn and re-drawn.

It was an extremely steep, but exhilarating, learning curve.

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And the winner is…

Standing alongside the other finalists on ‘judgment day’, the tension was unbearable; as we waited to hear which one of us had been successful.

On arrival we had been told that the jury was still out. A final decision had not been reached and there would be a slight delay before the announcement. We all chatted nervously.

Finally the moment arrived. Giving nothing away, Julia talked about each finalist and what she had liked about their work. It was lovely to hear and know that a great deal of thought had gone into the decision… but it was also excruciating!

At length came the words ‘and the winner is…’

Julia Donaldson’s books have always been a staple at bedtime for my sons. I had empathised with the Old Woman in A Squash and a Squeeze and had, at times, donated my clothes for the needs of my small children, feeling a little like The Smartest Giant in Town, but I had never dreamt that my name would appear alongside Julia Donaldson on the cover of a book. Indeed, it now appears alongside hers on two books!

The desire to scale down the size of my paint brush from a film set painter to become a published children’s illustrator has taken me on a long and sometimes frustrating journey. Winning ‘Picture This’ catapulted me, like a moment of fairytale magic, to illustrating for the Children’s Laureate and on… to become an author too, with my third book, Hugh Shampoo… all about a boy who will NOT wash his hair!

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Find out more about Karen and her work at  www.karengeorge.net

Hugh Shampoo is out on 4th April.

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Christopher Nibble: the greenest guinea pig in town

Author and illustrator Charlotte Middleton introduces the wonderful Christopher Nibble’s latest eco-adventure!

Coming up with an idea for the next Christopher Nibble story was a bit of a challenge.

We’ve already established that Christopher is a plucky, forward thinking and considerate guinea pig.  In his adventures so far he’s prevented the whole town of Dandeville from running out of their staple food – dandelions (Christopher Nibble).

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And in Christopher’s Caterpillars, he has learnt to nurture caterpillars, so that they can flourish and turn into magical butterflies, as they flutter right before our eyes out from Mr Rosetti’s café window.

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So what for the next tale of Christopher Nibble? So far Christopher’s world has been about the natural cycle of life. His home town Dandeville is a very green and harmonious world and Christopher likes to help keep it that way.

In the next story, then, Christopher would surely be encouraging the residents of Dandeville to help him in his next environmentally-friendly quest, whatever that might be…

It all boiled down in the end to the word ‘cycle’.  Christopher’s world is all about sustainability so ‘ recycling’  seemed to be the way forward  and what better way to propel this guinea pig into the next story book, than with a recycled bicycle!

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Now Christopher was well and truly on the road to his new adventure! In this story we revisit Mr Rosetti in his cafe and we meet some new characters along the way, as Christopher spots recycling opportunities all over town.  With the help of his sister and Posie his neighbour, they come up with some brilliant ideas and set to work turning old rubbish into something useful and wonderful!

The young guinea pigs have worked their magic again and ignited the interest of all the residents of Dandeville and hopefully some aspiring young readers too!

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Charlotte Middleton

At school, Charlotte loved drawing and would regularly illustrate her spelling and times tables test papers. She went on to study Graphic Art and Illustration at the Cambridge School of Art. Her first book, Tabitha’s Terrifically Tough Tooth, was published in 1998 and since then she has written and illustrated more than a dozen books. Her stories have been sold all over the world and Charlotte would love to be as well-travelled as her books one day.

www.charlottemiddleton.com

Christopher’s Bicycle is out now.

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Join Christopher in his other eco-adventures, Christopher Nibble and Christopher’s Caterpillars.

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Can carrots really help you to see in the dark?

Our lovely marketing manager Nicola Gray celebrates the publication of the paperback edition of Chickens Can’t See in the Dark by sharing a whole host of weird and wonderful chicken and carrot facts.

9780192756800_CHICKENS_CANT_SEE_DARK_CVR_JAN13This month we are celebrating the publication of Chickens Can’t See in the Dark in paperback, a fun story with the added bonus of encouraging kids to eat their carrots! It’s the tale of a plucky young chicken called Pippa and her quest to find the truth behind the Old Hens’ tale that chickens cannot see in the dark. Pippa stumbles upon the theory that carrots are the answer to her chicken conundrum and that a feast of carrots is all that is needed for night vision.

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 But can carrots help you to see in the dark?

It’s not just chickens who have believed that munching carrots have this beneficial side effect. During the Second World War, Britain’s Air Ministry spread the rumour that eating carrots helped their pilots to see Nazi bombers attacking at night. Although experiments had been conducted into carotene contained in carrots and night blindness, no enhancement of night vision was found. In fact, this rumour was used to cover the Royal Air Force’s latest radar equipment to prevent the Germans from finding out about their new technology.

The lie was so convincing that it spread amongst the English public who began to grow and eat more carrots to help them to navigate more easily during blackouts. So there we have it, it’s a myth.

Or is it? Carrots are known to contain lots of Vitamin A, an important vitamin for healthy vision, so there is an element of truth in Pippa’s carrot theory.

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Crazy carrot factoids

While we’re on the topic of carrots, I’ve got a few more facts up my sleeve to astonish and amaze:

  • Did you know that the world’s longest carrot measured 5.841 m (19 ft 1.96 in) and was grown by Joe Atherton, for the UK National Giant Vegetable Championship in Somerset?
  • Eating three carrots can give you enough energy to walk three miles. I’m not personally volunteering to try this one, if anyone else does please do let me know if it’s true.
  • Carrots can be found in colours other than orange. There are varieties in purple, white, yellow, and red.
  • The record for the largest amount of carrots peeled chopped in one minute is held by James Martin. He peeled and chopped 515 grams of carrots for a Children in Need special of Ready Steady Cook.
  • Off on a slight tangent, did you know that the fastest marathon dressed as a vegetable is 3 hr 09 min 21 sec and was achieved by Michael Neville dressed as a carrot at the Virgin London Marathon on 25 April 2010?

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Feathery facts

And for those of you who would like some enlightenment on our feathered friends, fear not, I also have a selection of top chicken facts:

  • The scientific name for a chicken is Gallus domesticus. The word chicken is of Germanic origin.
  • Believe it or not, according to one article, the chicken is the closest living relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex.
  • Chickens are not capable of sustained flight. Rubber chickens however are! A group of students in California sent a rubber chicken to an altitude of 120,000 ft to test the levels of radiation it would be exposed to.

It’s all well and good sharing these facts with you, but I now have an intense craving for carrot cake. I’m consoling myself that it must count as one of my five fruit and vegetable portions for the day. Or at least might help me see in the dark.

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Nicola picNicola Gray is Marketing Manager at OUP Children’s Books

 

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Chickens Can’t See in the Dark is out now in paperback, hardback and eBook format.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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