Archives for category: about writing

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March 3rd 2016 is World Book Day, and in schools and libraries across the country everyone is getting involved in the celebrations! To get kids reading, National Book Tokens have teamed up with publishers and booksellers to give everyone in school a free book of their choice. The £1 book token can be used in bookshops to buy any of the following excellent options, or you can use it to get £1 off another full-price book or audio book.

2016 book titles from the World Book Day website

The 2016 £1 book titles from the World Book Day website

On Thursday the 3rd, lots of people will also be dressing up as their favourite book character and donating funds to Book Aid International to send much-needed books to libraries in Africa. Over the past 60 years, Book Aid International has sent 31 million books to African countries. Here’s a great video they have created called The Journey of a Book which shows every stage, from the initial printing of a book to its arrival in African schools, libraries and universities.

Book-related activities are happening all this week, and lots of children’s authors like myself are visiting schools and libraries to share their stories. I had a great time on Tuesday visiting the P3 and P4 classes at Darnley Primary School. I brought Lewis, Harris and Skye for a fun puffin-themed writing workshop. The puffin toys got a great reception (lots of ooos and ahhhs) and the children enjoyed a sneak preview of Skye the Puffling.

puffin holiday plan

On Thursday I’ll be visiting Holy Cross Primary School, where authors and other interesting characters (such as North American hockey players and Scottish movie stars) are invited every World Book Day to share their favourite children’s book with a class. I’m going to read Gabrielle and Selena by Peter Desbarats, first published in 1968. The illustrations are in black and white and the text is quite long, so it’s very different from picture books you see nowadays. But the story is clever and very funny, so I’m sure the children will enjoy it!

A friend of mine works in a nursery, and she has invited me to come on Friday and read to the three- and four-year-olds she looks after. I’ll choose my simpler books, like One Potato, Clementine’s Smile and Never Bite a Tiger on the Nose to entertain the little ones. It’s lovely to have a chance to nurture a love of books with very small children. The sooner they discover the joys of reading a story, the better their chances of reading for pleasure when they grow up.

If you’re looking for ideas to celebrate books this year, what about making a book-based game, discovering a new author or illustrator, creating a picture of your favourite scene from a book, or acting it out for an audience? Time to get reading! Happy World Book Day!

Skye cover

When the main character of your picture book is a baby puffin who grows up, you’ve got a bit of a problem. Skye the puffling starts as a fluffy little grey thing and ends up looking just like her parents. This gradual transformation made it tricky for the illustrator, Jon Mitchell, who had to think about the children reading the book who might not recognise Skye from beginning to end. He must have done quite a bit of puffin research:

grey puffling

Photo ©Saeheimar, Iceland Monitor

After the grey fluffy stage, pufflings start to grow proper feathers and the fluff falls off. This process of molting lasts some time and makes them look rather odd. Perhaps it’s no surprise Jon decided not to show Skye in this in-between phase!

Before it becomes a fully-grown puffin, the ‘teenage’ puffling is a dark grey and white, and it hasn’t yet got its brightly coloured beak and feet. In time the black-and-white colouring becomes more pronounced and the oranges and blues start to appear.

puffin teen D Melville

Photo ©Dawn Melville (from http://www.Puffinpalooza.com)

My favourite illustration from Skye the Puffling is a sweet portrait of the teenage Skye, who is gradually turning black-and-white like her parents. Jon Mitchell used watercolours to great effect here:

baby puffin

Illustration ©Jon Mitchell, from Skye the Puffling.

You can see that fluffy grey pufflings look very different from their parents, and they are not unusual in that way. Lots of cute baby animals grow up with quite surprising results! Here is another baby bird who is not only a different colour from his mum and dad, but also quite a different shape:

Can you guess what kind of bird he is? You might be able to tell from two clues. One is his beak, which is starting to curve like his parents’ and has a slight pink tinge. The other is the fact that he is standing on one leg. Have you figured it out?

flamingo mum

He’s a flamingo! It will take another two or three years for his feathers to turn pink, as a result of the food he eats. His beak will continue to grow in a curve and will develop black markings at the tip. Look how much growing his little stumpy wings will have to do!

Here is another baby animal that looks quite different from his parents. He is covered in stripes and spots so as to blend in with his natural surroundings (a forest with dappled sunshine):

He is much smaller than his mum and comes from Brazil in South America. Do you know what he is?

He’s a tapir. When he gets bigger his stripes will disappear and he’ll turn a pale grey all over. Tapirs look a bit like pigs but are actually related to horses, donkeys and rhinos. There are several different types of tapir and some are black with a white back. A tapir like that is the star of a new children’s book called Mango & Bambang The Not a Pig by Polly Faber and illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. It looks like a lovely book and is part of a series, so Bambang the tapir has all sorts of interesting adventures!

Here is one more baby animal that looks quite different from his parents. You might be able to guess what he is by his colouring:

baby panda

Photo ©Smithsonian National Zoo

He is very tiny compared to what he will be when he grows up. He will also get a lot more fur, so he won’t look like a little fuzzy pink eraser forever. He doesn’t look very fierce yet, but one day those claws will be big and scary. Can you guess what he is?

panda and mum

Photo ©Toronto Zoo

He’s a panda bear! Perhaps you guessed because of his little black ears and the black circles on his eyes. In this picture with his mum you can see he has grown quite a bit, but he still has a long way to go. Pandas come from China but they can be found in zoos around the world. We have two pandas in the Edinburgh Zoo that were a gift from the Chinese government. The zoo’s website has a PandaCam where you can see what the pandas are doing. You can also watch the penguins and the spider monkeys. I am writing this late at night, so when I looked it was dark and quiet. I guess everyone was sleeping!

friendly puffins

I can’t remember now what first inspired me, about ten years ago, to write about a puffin. Perhaps it was a tin of oatcakes we had in the kitchen, with a charming image of two nuzzling puffins. Somehow a character emerged in my mind and a story started to develop. As it did, I decided to do some drawings so I could share the story with my children.

I imagined a puffin who was unhappy living by the sea, and who dreamed of doing something more exciting. What else might a puffin do for a living?

Lewis in goal

The puffin’s name was Lewis, and he came up with a few ideas. What about a football goalie?

puffin cowboy

Or a cowboy singing songs out on the range?

puffin driver

Lewis thought it would be fun to drive a bus. Or perhaps he could be an acrobat, or a mechanic, or a postman?

puffin plans

Lewis had a brother called Harris who was not very sympathetic. He was perfectly happy being a puffin on the open sea, and couldn’t understand why Lewis wanted a change. When Lewis thought up his best idea yet, Harris just laughed.

Harris laughing

“A circus clown?” squawked Harris. “You’re right – you would be perfect! You’re always tripping on your big feet and everyone laughs at you already.”

sad puffin

It was true that the other puffins made fun of Lewis. He really didn’t belong. But when he finally got to the circus…

pufin juggling

…he fit right in!

This was the kernel of my first puffin book, Lewis Clowns Around. If you know the book, you’ll know that a lot more happens to Lewis once he starts work as a circus clown.  It was the first children’s story I wrote, and for that reason it took a good deal of honing and reworking before it could be shared with publishers. Even then, it was another four years before it finally found a home at Floris Books. That’s why the most important quality a children’s author must have is patience!

It was all worth it in the end, as Lewis has since inspired two sequels, Harris the Hero and Skye the Puffling. And this year Lewis Clowns Around is getting a lovely new cover. Although I enjoyed doing the original line drawings of Lewis and Harris, I am very pleased that Gabby Grant and Jon Mitchell were chosen to illustrate the finished books.

And now I think it’s time I rummaged in the kitchen for more inspiration…

The 8th of October is National Poetry Day, and this year’s theme is Light. The first thing that came to my mind was Shel Silverstein’s poetry collection, A Light in the Attic.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Shel is one of my favourite poets, and he was a brilliant artist too. His crazy pen-and-ink cartoons complement the humour and quirkiness of his poetry perfectly. This particular collection has quite a few poems that use light imagery, including a fanciful one about catching the moon in a net:

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1981 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Another of his more thoughtful poems is from an earlier collection called Where the Sidewalk Ends. It features a “lovely silver prince of fishes” that you can imagine sparkling in the sunshine:

Copyright ©1974 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Copyright ©1974 by Evil Eye Music Inc.

Poetry plays a big part in my life as I write a lot of rhyming stories. It must be thanks to the influence of my favourite children’s books when I was a child, including all the Dr Seuss stories and the poems of AA Milne. I have been working on a new collection of poems following the lives of children around the world from first waking, through the day and ending at bedtime when the light goes out. Here is the second-last poem which features bedtime stories with Dad:

Copyright ©2015 Lynne Rickards.

Copyright ©2015 Lynne Rickards.

My two puffin picture books (Lewis Clowns Around and Harris the Hero) are about to become a trilogy! These are my best-loved rhyming stories about brothers Lewis and Harris, two puffins who couldn’t be more different. The third in the series, published by Floris Books, is all about the fluffy little baby puffin you can see on the last page of Harris the Hero. Her name is Skye and she has some pretty hair-raising adventures herself!

Skye cover

This third book has a new illustrator, Jon Mitchell, and I am delighted with the way he captures the fluffy little puffling and her parents Harris and Isla. You can find Skye the Puffling on my website now!

There are lots of ways to get involved in this year’s National Poetry Day. BBC Radio 4 is featuring poets and actors reading and talking about poetry all day, and the Guardian is calling for people to dedicate a poem to someone they love. Get poetic and get involved!

A few weeks ago I got an email from a publishing company in India called Grapevine. They had seen my portrait of Anne Frank (published on this blog) and wondered if I would allow them to use it on the cover of their edition of The Diary of a Young Girl. I was happy to accept!

The Grapevine India edition of Anne Frank's diary.

The Grapevine India edition of Anne Frank’s diary.

It was very exciting to receive a package some time later with five copies of the book. This is the first time my artwork has been used as a cover illustration, and it got me thinking about cover art more generally. What makes you pick up a book? Can you buy a book with a hideous cover? (I find that tough.) Have you ever bought a book just for its cover? In spite of the famous saying, it’s very hard not to judge a book by its cover!

A retelling of Helen Bannerman's classic tiger story, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

A retelling of Helen Bannerman’s classic tiger story, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

Here’s an example of an irresistible cover illustration, done by the talented illustrator and cover designer Fred Marcellino. Little Babaji is such an intriguing character, sitting proudly on that tiger, you just have to open the book and read!

Clearly that is the objective of every book cover. Some are more successful than others. With children’s books, we all have our favourite illustrators, but books for adults also have to grab the reader’s attention and have visual appeal. Designing a book cover is a very special talent!

One hundred classic Penguin book covers in a box shaped like a book!

One hundred classic Penguin book covers in a box shaped like a book!

Now it’s possible to own 100 book covers from a variety of classic publishers, just to appreciate the designs. They are printed on postcards and fill a box that looks like a big book. The first of these was Postcards from Penguin, with classic book covers from the 1940s through to the 1990s.

Ladybird boxOther collections have appeared in the same format since, including Postcards from Puffin (children’s books) and Postcards from Ladybird (1950s learning-to-read books). Faber and Pelican book covers can also be found in 100 postcard boxes, as well as Beatrix Potter illustrations and photos of famous authors. Clearly, cover art is very much appreciated these days!

This summer my daughter Anna found an unusual job illustrating a story about a mermaid, so her work will soon grace the cover of a book too! The mermaid and her friends are fed up with all the rubbish people are leaving on the beach, and the book is designed to teach children to keep the environment clean. Here’s a little sneak preview of the mermaid and her friends (otter, seagull, crab, seal and sandhopper among others):

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

The endpapers are also going to be beautiful, with a seaside theme:

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

Illustration ©Anna Rickards 2015.

The book will be published by An Lucht Lonrach in Scotland. You can visit their website for more information on the mermaid book.

Happy reading!