A huge thank you to Linda Ravin Lodding for taking the time to speak to us about her new book Hold That Thought, Milton! which is out now.
We’re very excited about the release of our new picture book ‘Hold That Thought, Milton!’ Tell us briefly, what is it all about?
It’s a book full of frog-hoppin' fun! Milton has a lot on his mind but the trouble is getting anyone to listen – and he has something very important to say! So when Milton loses his beloved frog, Burp, Milton takes matters into his own hands … which are turning slightly green and froggy. Hilarity ensues as Milton desperately races to find Burp. Ross Collins’ richly hued, quirky illustrations make the story explode off the page and children will have so much fun looking for Burp on every page (even I have a hard time finding him!). I guess you could say that it's a ribbeting tale!
‘Hold That Thought, Milton!’ is a funny story, and we think it is one that can be enjoyed by the whole family! What was your inspiration behind the story?
It is a real family-fun tale that I hope will be enjoyed by the whole family. In fact, the story was inspired by my family (minus the frog!).
When my daughter, Maja, was Milton’s age she also had a lot to say and share. Like Milton’s parents, we were busy parents and didn’t always have time to stop what we were doing and listen. So, I’d often say, “Hold that thought, Maja!” But, on one particular day, when I told Maja to “Hold that thought” I started to wonder (as a children’s book authors tend to do) – what would happen if she tried to hold her thought – but couldn’t? Maybe her head would get bigger, and bigger, and … well, you get the picture. So, on this day, while Maja continued to hold her thought, I ran to my computer and started to write this quirky story about Milton, his big thoughts and, well, the rest is history!
In the story, we are introduced to Milton’s pet frog, Burp. Did you used to have a pet like Milton when you were younger?
My early life as a pet-owner started with two pet snails, which quickly turned into many more snails. They lived in a plastic margarine tub on the windowsill in our kitchen, until one day they got knocked over and accidently vacuumed up. Then my sister and I got a turtle, it was actually her turtle since I proved myself to not be a very reliable pet-owner. My sister used to build block houses for the turtle and then I’d pretend to be a storm and knock everything over. That’s how I got my nickname ‘Stormy’.
Then we got two albino rabbits – I named mine Cookie. But one day Cookie escaped from her cage and disappeared into the woods behind our house. Fortunately, she reappeared a few days later, back in her cage. To this day I’m not sure how she found her way back. A few years later we got a black poodle that we named 'Ami' which means friend in French. I lived with Ami until I went away to college. She was a wonderful dog – in fact, I don’t think she realised she was a dog and not a person.
Throughout the book, Milton has something very important to say, but no one will listen to him. Why do you think that this is such an important topic?
Kids are so enthusiastic about the world around them – they question what they see, they wonder about the world and they are so authentic with their observations – it’s a real delight to listen to young children and see the world through their eyes. However, the reality of our hustle-bustle world is that parents don’t always have the time, or patience, to listen to their kids. Dinner has to be cooked, laundry put away, e-mails returned. Not having time to listen to our kids is not an intentional omission, it just reflects the nature of our lives – and those of our busy kids. But, if we can take the time to listen to our children, they will show us a beautiful, funny and wonderful world. In turn, children will feel that their voice is worthy of being heard – not to mention, if you spend some time listening to your children, you just may avoid a frog-related disaster!
You studied English at college, but then moved onto studying at a business school. What was it that made you decide to go back to writing?
I always loved to write – even before college. When I was in elementary school I wrote reams of poetry (and sent them in to high-brow literary journals and collected quite a stack of rejection letters). I also wrote short stories involving orphans, runaways and ballet. In High School, I wrote articles for our school’s newspaper. When I got to college I studied wonderful writers such as Eudora Welty, Evelyn Waugh, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James – but after college decided to pursue business and, today, work in marketing communications in the field of international development. Then life starting rolling on and I wrote less and less – but always with the hope that I’d one day find my way back to writing.
So how did that happen? It happened when I had the least amount of time -- when my daughter was born. Before she was even able roll-over on her own, I started to build her library. I bought her all the books I loved as a child – from Winnie-the-Pooh to Madeleine, Eloise to Dr. Seuss books. And, as I read to her, I fell in love with books all over again. Ideas for my own stories swarmed around my head like attention-seeking flies that wouldn’t quiet until I put pen to paper. So, I started to write – and found my way back to writing. I’m so glad that I did!
You’ve had an incredibly exciting life, living in various places across both America and Europe. Do you think that this has influenced your writing style at all?
That’s such an interesting question! I have been lucky to live in some of the world’s most beautiful, vibrant and culturally-rich cities and, because we have moved around a lot, my environment always feels fresh (which is another way of saying I’m always lost)!
In every country that I’ve lived in, I’ve tried to get to know the children’s literary culture. In Austria, for example, they can boast about Felix Salten who wrote Bambi. In the Netherlands, they are very proud of their Jip and Janneke series (by Annie Schmidt) as well as a series about Miffy, a white rabbit by Dick Bruna. I now live in Sweden and this is a country with a fertile children’s literary heritage. Pipi Longstocking comes from Sweden and the country is the birthplace of such literature greats as Elsa Beskow and Astrid Lindgren.
But, upon reflection, while the places I’ve lived have influenced my story ideas, I don’t think the places have influenced my writing style. I think my style is simply a part of my “Linda-ness” – as much a part of me as my curly hair.
Is there a particular place where you like to write? What is it about this spot that makes it an inspiring place to work?
While a story idea might first find it's way onto the back of a receipt or the back of my hand (you never know where you may be when inspiration strikes), eventually, when I do start to write, I’m usually at my desk, sitting behind my computer.
When we lived in Holland, my desk was in front of big glass doors leading out onto a balcony. In the summer, we spend time in our summer house which is in a small fishing village on the west coast of Sweden. When I’m there, I usually write in the 'great room' which used to serve as the neighborhood café. What my writing places have in common is a lot of natural light, a view of nature and a nearby sofa! I don’t listen to music when I write since I find that I end up singing with the music and the lyrics might end up in my story! But while I’m writing I’ll drink coffee or green tea, munch on apple dipped in peanut butter and try to get into my 'writing zone' which is a wonderful place to be – in any country!
What’s the best thing about writing children’s books?
There are so many great things about writing for children! But one of the best is having the amazing opportunity to share my stories with young readers – and to provide a vehicle for adults and children to share stories and time together. What a privilege to be able to do this!
Tell us one thing about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.
I’m afraid of frogs. But maybe if I had a frog like Burp, I’d change my mind.
Hold That Thought, Milton! is available now!
Find out more about Linda on her website.
Our Dino Supersaurus range is a fresh new series of super-powered activity books and gift sets primed to excite fans of dinosaurs across the UK, North America and Australia. Discover what it took for talented duo Tim Wesson and Nikalas Catlow to bring New Dino City to life with their awesome illustrative style…
It is clear that you had a lot of fun developing the Dino Supersaurus characters. Were there any particular characters or scenes that you liked illustrating the most? Why was that?
N: My best-loved character to draw is Terra because she can fly and wears cool goggles.
T: My best-loved character to draw is Steg because he’s the biggest and the strongest.
Why did you feel that this project was so well suited to you?
We felt the project suited our comic style, plus super-powered dinosaurs were on our list of characters we wanted to create!
Where did your inspiration for the characters come from?
We both love drawing dinosaurs and already knew a lot about the different species. We picked the ones we thought could be the good guys and the ones that would be evil criminals.
We love how detailed the New Dino City scenes are. There is so much to look at! How long did it take you to illustrate those really detailed pages?
The giant scenes in Stickersaurus were really hard to draw. Each one took a lot of head scratching and about a week to do. We got through loads of pencils!
Have you both always worked as illustrators? Were there any other career paths you might have chosen?
N: I wanted to be an astronaut, but I’m scared of heights so I decided not to be one.
T: I always wanted to draw, but if I had to do something else I would become a monk and study kung fu.
When did you both meet and start working together?
We lived around the corner from each other and found out that we were both good at drawing. We became friends and one day we invented a brilliant idea for a book. That’s where it all started!
If you lived so close to each other when you started working together, there must’ve been a lot of time for brainstorming and illustration sessions. Where have your best brainstorming sessions taken place? Do you have a best-loved place to work?
We used to meet at the café in a really big park. We would drink hot chocolate and eat lots of cake. The combination of these two things together gave us super brainstorming powers.
How has your illustration style evolved since you’ve been working together?
We both had slightly different styles that developed into one. We started using texture rubbings and scanned them in. They make great dinosaur skin!
What’s the best tip you’ve learnt from one another?
N: I learnt from Tim that if you eat slowly, you get less cake and have fewer ideas.
T: I learnt from Nikalas how to draw people.
Tell us one thing about yourselves that people might be surprised to learn?
N: I can’t draw horses or dogs very well.
T: Sometimes I wear underwear over my trousers.
A huge thank you to Tim and Nikalas for taking the time to speak to us!
A huge thank you to Elizabeth Dale for taking the time to speak to us about her new book The Carrot Cake Catastrophe, which is out now!
Tell us briefly what The Carrot Cake Catastrophe is all about.
Jenny’s grandad has come to babysit her on her mummy’s birthday. Jenny really wants to make her mummy a really special surprise present and together she and Grandad make a Carrot Cake. But Grandad’s glasses get messed up and Jenny’s not that good at reading, and somehow all the wrong ingredients are added…
We’re sure that many people will be able to recall memories of baking with parents/grandparents in their childhood! What was your inspiration behind the story?
Whilst I have happy memories of baking with my own mum, this book was actually inspired by baking with my own children!
Did you used to enjoy baking when you were younger?
Yes! I loved baking, but knowing I was going to eat the cakes afterwards was a bonus!
Have you ever had any baking catastrophes? What happened?
Yes! When baking with my daughters on one disastrous occasion, not only did one of them drink some of the egg whites that were supposed to go into a meringue, thinking that they were juice from tinned peaches, but when using sweetener instead of sugar in a crumble, she added the same weight of sweetener as sugar – and sweetener is about 20 times lighter than sugar. It would have been FAR too sweet!
What would you say has been your best baking achievement?
A birthday cake for one of my daughters – it was a beach scene with brown sugar for the sand and maltesers for rocks and lovely blue butter-icing for the waves, with jelly fish etc. A gingerbread house comes second best, I think.
We hear that you have a degree in physics! Fascinating! What inspired you to make the move into writing stories as a career?
I found that working in a lab meant that I was so removed from everyday life. I just wanted to do something fun that linked me to people more. When I had my first daughter and I was at home on maternity leave I finally felt I could try taking the plunge into a career I knew I would love but where I couldn’t be sure that I’d actually earn any money!
You used to write shorts stories for adults and teenagers in magazines, but then began writing children’s books. What was it about writing books for children that was so appealing for you?
Oh, I just love children’s books, they’re such fun! It was only when I had my own children that I was reminded just how lovely they are. It's so much more satisfying writing a book that can be read over and over and last forever, rather than stories for magazines that are probably thrown out once they are read. Plus, what can be more wonderful than possibly being part of introducing children to the amazing world of books and hopefully instilling a love of books that will last them all their lives? Oh and then there are the wonderful illustrations that amazing artists create that make my books so pretty – thank you so much Gemma Raynor for making The Carrot Cake Catastrophe look so beautiful!
Do you think that having children of your own influenced your writing style?
Yes, very much so! They helped me to see the world through their eyes and I quickly learned what they loved to read about and what made them laugh!
You have had over 1600 stories published all over the world! Are there any places in particular where you like to work, or feel most inspired?
I am inspired by the mountains and the sea. I love to sit gazing at them and think. But I couldn’t write there – it would be far too distracting! I love to write, sitting on a settee with a warm lap-top on my knee in my lovely study with big windows that look out over my peaceful garden.
Tell us one thing about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.
One of my daughters, Katie, the one who is gazing in wonder at The Gingerbread House, is also a children’s writer!
The Carrot Cake Catastrophe is available in the UK and Australia now!
Find out more about Elizabeth on her website.
A huge thank you to Doreen Marts for taking the time to create this wonderfully artistic Q&A and 'How To Draw Pinkabella' page.
(Huge thanks to Ailsa Cullen from our Children's Publishing team for letting us have an exclusive look into her day-to-day life at Parragon!)
How long have you been working at Parragon Books? Have you always had the position of Children’s Book Designer?
I have worked for Parragon since I graduated (about 6 years ago now – yipes!!). I was thrilled when I started at Parragon as an assistant designer helping the designers in the children’s team and learning the ropes, and then when I became a fully fledged designer working on innovative, exciting new titles.
How did you get into being a Children’s Book Designer? Has it always been a chosen career choice for you?
Yes, definitely! I studied illustration at university, specialising in children’s publishing. All the hard work was worth it and helped me get the junior level role at Parragon after I graduated. Making up my own stories and books was something I loved as a child so I count myself as really lucky to be able to work as a children’s book designer!
What does a typical day in the life of a book designer look like?
A children’s book designer’s day at Parragon is really varied – it’s great because we work on lots of different types of projects so each day is always different. A typical day usually starts with a cup of tea and the chime from my emails loading. I check through them carefully – there could be a sample from an illustrator or something I need to action straight away. Receiving emails from illustrators with artwork attached is the best part of my day! I am working on a new series at the moment with beautiful, handmade artwork, so every email leaves me feeling really excited about the new books I am working on.
Part of the job is also working closely with our production team, checking proofs, setting up finishes, such as glitter or shiny foil for the cover, setting up guidelines for shaped books and approving advanced copies of the new books before they reach the stores. It’s really important to make sure a cover is as eyecatching as possible. Most of the time the proofs look great so I can happily hand them over to my editor for editorial checks.
I have been creating designs and layouts for the exciting series of books with handmade artwork that I mentioned above. There are four in the launch of the series, so the majority of my time at the moment is spent creating art briefs and designs for this series, to help tell the stories with the artwork. It’s really important that all the books look consistent and everybody involved is happy with the result. I keep in touch with the illustrator to make sure she feels supported and guided throughout the whole process. Below is a sneak peek at one of the scenes that the illustrator has crafted for the series. Each tiny piece of furniture is painstakingly created completely by hand. Such talent!
We work on multiple projects at a time so I might have to pause on this series to work on my other titles – I might check in on how other artists are doing, create layouts for covers, select fonts to compliment the design and artwork and just generally check that my other books are running smoothly. Sometimes we don’t need new illustrations for a book so I might spend some time sourcing photography and finalising my own book designs.
We also hold regular meetings with the other designers and editors so we know what we are all working on and can help each other out.
Talk us through the process you go through when designing a book.
I usually start sketching out small thumbnails to get an idea of the layout of the book – this is how the design takes shape. I have to ensure all the artwork and text fits with the format so that it works when it becomes a final book. After briefing the artist, I chat over ideas we have together and the artist and I work as a team from very early sketches through to final colour. It’s a really exciting process and each book has a very different journey through to final production.
What do you love best about being a Children’s Book Designer?
My specialty is picture books – which I adore because I love working with illustrators. I really enjoy developing the characters and supporting the illustrator with layouts and suggestions to get the story across to all audiences. I love being a part of creating engaging, fun books for children and parents to enjoy together!
Where does your inspiration come from? At the office? Group brainstorming?
I work really closely with the editors in the Children’s team, and a lot of my inspiration comes from the story text. I find that from the story text I can picture the design, layouts and look of the book before I even commission artwork from an illustrator, which can really help develop the overall feel of the book from a very early stage. It’s very much a collaborative and creative process between a book designer and editor at Parragon.
What advice would you give to any young people who would like to work in a similar role?
Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way! At Parragon we regularly attend graduate design and illustration shows so it’s a really great chance to chat to people in the publishing industry directly and showcase yourself and your work. These shows are bursting at the seams with talent and I am always on the lookout for the best in new illustration for our children’s books. It’s worth tailoring your portfolio with a steer towards children’s publishing, if that is something you are interested in, so that your artwork stands out.
And finally, which is your most memorable book that you’ve designed?
There are so many! Here are a few most memorable to me...
...and here is a sneak peek of a new picture book cover that I am currently working on, due to be published later in 2014!
Celebrate the holidays with Parragon’s vibrant and varied range of books and gift sets. Whether you’re looking for a cupcake kit for a budding baker, a fun desk accessory for a colleague, or even a present for the pet in your life, Parragon’s range of holiday gifts are sure to deliver a smile!
Cookbooks for Beginners and Baking Delights
Our range of Love Food cookbooks make great gifts for budding chefs. Whether you’re looking for a gift for a novice, for someone who knows their way around a kitchen, or for a baking fanatic, we have a wonderful selection to inspire all!
Maybe you know someone who loves nothing more than to fire up the barbeque on a hot day? The Burger box set comes with a fun and quirky comic book style recipe book and a burger press! This set is bursting with flavour and is guaranteed to ignite passion in an already enthusiastic burger lover! Our Love Food cookbook Cook with Confidence is a perfect gift for those who find cooking a bit daunting! This helpful set comes complete with an informative DVD and a beautiful step-by-step cookbook. We also have an amazing collection of cookbooks for the budding baker. With baking being as popular as ever, you can't go wrong with our Love Food cookbook, Make, Bake, Cupcake! Containing chapters such as 'Cocktails and Mocktails', and 'Feisty Flavours', this innovative, fun cookbook will make sure that baking will never be dull!
From Snuggle Bedtime Fun For Babies and Toddlers, To Fabulous 'Create and Play' Sets for Boys and Girls
We have a huge array of gifts perfect for all ages. For babies and toddlers, our Little Learners collection is full of imaginative designs, stimulating textures and softly appealing pictures to grow your child’s curiosity and imagination. For little boys and girls, encourage their creativity with our range of fun 'create and play' box sets and inspire a love of reading with our heart-warming picture book and soft toy gift sets!
Super Stocking Gifts, and Even Presents for Furry Family Members!
Stocking gifts are the perfect way to add a little extra cheer to someone's Christmas day, and here at Parragon we have a wonderul selection to choose from! Do you know someone who is looking for the perfect man? They need look no further! With our My Right and My Hero mini tin sets, they can create the man of their dreams! Our Crazy Combat Catapult set is a perfect present to get the whole family involved, there's lots of fun to be had! Oh and let's not forget that furry companion in your family! Ensure that they're treated during the festive season with our Santa Paws box set, complete with a recipe book full of delicious treat and even a Santa hat for your doggy friend!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Parragon Books!
Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up, have a party, eat sweet treats and have fun; but sometimes planning the perfect scare-tastic party can become stressful. Here at Parragon, we’ve put together a few creative and fun ideas to make your party have the extra fright-factor! So whether you want to add a little extra decoration to your house, or keep your little ones entertained, we’re here to help!
Looking for a quick and effective way to decorate your party? Our easy ‘7-step origami bat’ is a perfect spooky prop to add a bit of extra scare to your party! Whether you hang them from the ceiling or place them on the dining room table, these blood-sucking creatures are sure to make an impact.
The Gruesome Facts
Our gruesome facts from ‘Monsters, Zombies, Vampires’ are sure to make your party guests squeal! Why not write each fact down and give one to each guest as they enter the party? It’s the perfect way to get your guests in a spook-tacular mood!
Monster Match Activities
Trying keep little ones entertained can be tough on Halloween, especially once the ‘trick or treat’-ing is over! Why not print out our Monster Match Activity page so your children can sit down and work out which monsters look the same! (It’s a great way to give yourself a break too).
Looking for more Halloween activities and ideas? Make sure you keep checking our social media channels this week to plan the perfect Halloween party! You can also find some of our best Halloween recipes on our Love Food blog, here: (UK | AUS | US)
We'd like to say a big thank you to Sarah Hammond and Laura Hughes for providing this fascinating insight into the story behind Mine! We hope that you enjoy finding out a bit more about Sarah and Laura, and where their inspiration for Mine! came from.
So Sarah and Laura, tell us briefly what Mine! is all about.
Mine! is a story about two little girls, Kitty and Lea, who have very different ideas about imaginative play. Kitty has her own café rules (‘tea for Teddy in the tall cup’) but Lea is more spontaneous and creative (‘let’s have a dancing competition!’). The two friends clash but ultimately learn to appreciate and accommodate their differences: they learn to share. The story is about them discovering how to accept their differences and find a way of having fun together.
The character Kitty has a great personality! What was your inspiration for her?
S: The setting for the story was, I am sure, a direct result from spending many happy hours playing cafés with my (then) five year old niece. We wrote menus. We created pretend dishes. We took it in turn to be café ladies and customers. Below is a picture of our kitchen/café! Kitty grew quite naturally from this experience, and popped out the page with very clear ideas about how she wanted to run her own café with her toys.
L: From reading Sarah’s text I imagined Kitty to be a very neat and well presented character so I gave her plaits, a hairband and a smart blue dress. To contrast with Lea who is more vibrant and energetic, I tried to keep a limited palette for her character and clothes that match. I worked on the sketches simultaneously so they inspired each other.
What was the best thing about working with each other?
S: Laura interpreted my story so well! I was astonished that a couple of the spreads almost mirrored the images in my head, especially when Kitty has had enough and huddles with her toys in her tent. I love the facial expressions of the characters and toys, and the way the café comes to life.
L: It was really great to work closely with the author of the book during the artwork process. Sarah had some great feedback on my illustrations and it was nice to hear that I had captured what was in her head visually.
Are there any particular places that you like to work, or places that really inspire you?
S: I often start story-dreaming, pen and notebook in hand, while sitting on the bed; somehow it helps me be more flexible and imaginative. Edits and rewrites often happen in front of a desk, although I was lucky to have wonderfully inspiring views out the window from the study when I wrote Mine!
L: I mostly work from my studio in Hackney, London, but I often work at home too. Being at home is great because I get to spend time with my cat and we also have have 2 chickens in our garden and lots of birds and squirrels that visit us too! I love animals and find them really inspiring so it’s nice to be surrounded by so much wildlife.
What would you say is the best thing about illustrating/writing books for children?
S: I’m a real bookworm and this hobby merges almost seamlessly with my job. There is something wonderful about creating characters and stories and whole worlds in your mind, and then communicating your creation to readers. I love the open-mindedness of children – they have no problem in taking leaps of imagination.
L: My best-loved thing about illustrating for children is developing loveable characters for the reader to get to know. I love thinking about where they would live, their friends and what they enjoy doing in their spare time!
We noticed that you have both spent time either studying, or living, in Bath, UK. With our UK head office being based in Bath, we’d love to hear if you think living in Bath has influenced your writing, or illustrative style at all?
S: Yes! Bath had a huge influence on my writing as I did my MA in 'Writing for Young People' at Bath Spa University. It was a magical year when I allowed myself the time to write full-time, and wallowed in the excellent creative support from the course. The whole city is inspiring for a writer – both in terms of obvious literary resources (brilliant bookshops, book clubs, writing circles, the annual Bath Children’s Literary Festival) and also the way the architecture, landscape and atmosphere of Bath seeps into you and encourages creativity and daydreams.
L: I was born in Bath and lived there until I went to University so Bath was a big influence on me growing up. My Dad used to help organise local art fairs so I always had an interest in fine art and painting – something that still remains with me until this day.
Tell us one thing about you that people might be surprised to learn?
S: I typed my first novel on a computer without an ‘h’ key. My cat clawed it out of the keyboard in protest at my disappearance on holiday (she wasn’t abandoned, just left at home with a cat sitter).
L: I nearly became a Forensic Scientist.
What were your best-loved children’s books when you were little? What was so special about them?
S: There are loads of books that I loved dearly as a child. Two of my all-time favourites were:
The Tale of Peter Rabbit - I wore my first copy out from enthusiastic overuse and I still have the replacement copy which looks rather dog-eared. I loved the animal characters created by Beatrix Potter – they are so accessible and intriguing to a child.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was another favourite as I grew older. Who isn’t seduced by Narnia, the world behind the wardrobe? It was one of my childish fantasies that hidden magical realms were just around the corner if you looked hard enough.
L: When I was small I really enjoyed books by Richard Scarry. I especially loved his big detailed scenes and I would spend a long time looking at the page and inventing my own stories and scenarios.
Kitty enjoys playing café’s and making up imaginary worlds. Can you remember any best-loved games/imaginary worlds that you liked to explore in your childhood?
S: I can’t really remember any favourite childhood games that weren’t based (at least in part) in an imaginary world! One of the most memorable games was to play Magic Kingdoms with my oldest friend – we would divide the playroom into kingdoms, write spellbooks and drape ourselves in sheets to become wizards/royalty/ghosts in turn, and launch into endless adventures and quests.
L: Like Kitty, I often used to line up my toys and play café’, making ‘tea’ out of mud in the garden!
We then spoke to Sarah to find out more about her dramatic career change, transatlantic travel, and of course, her first ever picture book Mine!
You used to work as a solicitor, what made you decide to begin creative writing?
I always wanted to write for young people. I attended a couple of creative writing courses when I worked as a solicitor, although my job was too demanding to sink into the writing of a story for very long. One day I decided to take the plunge and do an MA degree in 'Writing for Young People' as a special treat to myself and I have never looked back.
This is your first picture book. What have you found to be the most exciting part of creating Mine!?
The moment I saw Laura’s drawings I was over-the-moon. Her characterization and story-telling are fantastic and bring my little story to life beautifully. The clue is in the name ‘picture book’ – her illustrations made my story complete.
You split your time living between the UK and in Chicago. How do you think your transatlantic travel affects your writing?
Writing is a wonderful job for many reasons, not least because it is so flexible: I can do it anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and my imagination. Travelling is also excellent because being an ‘outsider’ gives you a different perspective on life and culture. The opposite is also true though: I have also learned how similar people are despite superficial differences and the lines that have been drawn across a map.
A key theme throughout Mine! is the importance of sharing. Being the eldest, did you ever go through a stage of being territorial about toys with your siblings?
It has been said that I once sat on my little red wooden trike in the middle of the playroom, gathered my toys around me and refused to share them with my friends. But I‘m sure that can’t be right - surely just a rumour!
We also spoke to Laura about her evolving illustrative style, working on Mine! and her love for cats!
How did you first get into the children’s book world? Did you study illustration?
I studied illustration at Kingston University, UK, and after graduating worked mainly on editorial illustration. When I joined the wonderful Bright Agency (who represent me) I got a lot of work in greetings cards but I always wanted to get into children’s books so I worked very hard on my children’s book portfolio. My first publishing job was with Oxford University Press about 4 years ago and I have been working on books ever since.
Did you ever get stuck on how to illustrate a particular scene or character in Mine!? How did you move past that?
The hardest scene to illustrate was probably the first spread. The interaction between the characters, the toys and the tea set are the main focus in the story so we decided to keep background detail to a minimum. It was hard to retain the space around the characters while trying to set the scene but all the important items are there like the tent, the picnic basket and the table so hopefully it works.
What is your best-loved page in Mine!?
I love the page where Kitty and Lea have made friends and they are in the tent having an indoor picnic. It’s a happy scene and it was great fun to illustrate all the different toys enjoying the food.
How would you say your style evolved throughout your time working as an illustrator?
My work has become a lot brighter and clearer but I always try and retain the energy in my artwork. I think it’s very important to constantly challenge myself and see where I can push my style and so I’m always looking at how I can make my work better.
Your ‘Drawing Claws’ Tumblr is great! What made you decide on sketching a different cat every day? Are cats your best-loved animals to draw?
Cats are definitely my favourite animals to draw! I create a lot of feline characters and so I thought it would be a good idea to put them all in one place. It’s great to be able to document quick sketches that could turn into new stories and books one day.
Thank you to both Sarah and Laura, for taking the time to talk to us about their experiences of creating Mine!
Find out more about Sarah on her website, or follow her on Twitter: @SarahHammond9
To see more of Laura's wonderful illustrations, take a look at her website, or follow her on Twitter: @inkylaur
As we end 2012, we’re all feeling quite festive around the Parragon offices! Our UK office recently took an ice skating trip, we’re all celebrating with our own holiday parties, and we’ve worked hard to get our holiday shopping done. (Check out some of our festive pictures from around town in Bath & New York on our Pinterest board here.)
Still, this is the week we’re finding ourselves in last-minute preparation for the New Year and (for those of us who celebrate) the Christmas holiday. We’ve rounded up a few of our top recipes for the holiday along with some easy papercraft ideas in case you – like us – need some inspiration right about now.
Looking for a great decoration that transcends holiday specifics? Festive paper ornaments can traverse the seasons, depending on the color schemes used. Be it Christmas, winter, summer (for our Australian readers!), or New Year’s, you can use a variety of techniques to make simple buntings, garlands, or hanging ornaments. Use a simple triangle pattern, patterned paper or cloth, and string to make your own bunting, or create a garland out of paper curls!
You will need:
- Thick Card or Poster Board
- Green Paper
- Thin White Card or Construction Paper
- Sticky Tape
- Felt Tip Pens
1) Draw a large circle on the thick card and a smaller circle inside. Cut out the large circle. Use a sharp pencil to make a hole in the small circle. Push your scissors through and cut out the inner circle, making a card ring.
2) Cut out candy canes from thin white card. Decorate them with a stripy pattern, using ribbon, crayons, sequins and felt-tip pens.
3) Snip leaf shapes from green paper and curl around a pencil before sticking to your wreath.
4) Fold the ribbon into a loop at the top to hang your wreath. Tape the ends neatly in place on the back.
Tip – To make the rings, trace around a dinner plate for the outer circle and a cereal bowl for the inner circle.
Cranberry Jelly: The Perfect Gift
Still looking for a last minute gift idea for hosts, parties, or family? Whip up our cranberry jam (US recipe | metric recipe) and download our holiday gift labels, and you’ll have an impressive and delicious treat to give or serve.
For many of us, the holiday season revolves around baking: pies, cakes, strudels, and cookies have all emerged from Parragon employee kitchens since mid-November, and we’re still going strong. A few of our best cookie recipes are true classics. We recommend iced sugar cookies for a sweet treat that anyone is sure to love. Here’s a recipe adapted from our Christmas Cookies book! (US|UK)
- 225g / 8oz / i cup butter, softened
- 140g / 5oz / 3/4 cup caster or superfine sugar
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 280g / 10oz plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 200g / 7oz / 1 3/4 cups icing (confectioners') sugar
- 1-2 tbsp warm water
- food coloring
- sugar sprinkles and other desired decorations
1) Place the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Halve the dough, shape into balls, wrap in clingfilm/plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes
2) Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5. Line two large baking sheets with baking paper
3) Unwrap the dough and roll out between two sheets of baking paper to about 3mm thick. Cut out cookies with a star-shaped cutter and place them on the prepared baking sheets, spaced well apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
4) To decorate, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in enough warm water until it is the consistency of thick cream. Divide the icing among 3-4 bowls and add a few drops of your chosen food colorings to each. Leave the cookies on the racks and spread the different colored icings over them to the edges. Arrange decorations on top and leave to set.
*The cookies photographed here were made using this recipe, but to adapt for the holiday season, a snowflake design was piped onto each cookie with white icing sugar.
The holiday season provides a great reason to introduce new books to children. Especially for those reluctant readers, the excitement of the season – Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa and other holidays, the promise of a break from school, or upcoming travel - may just be enough to lure them to the page.
Disney recently launched its fantastic new Winnie the Pooh Storytelling Academy, an online resource offering tips, tricks and guidance designed to help modern parents create shared family story-time experiences. With ideas for storytelling at home, when you’re away from home, and when you’re on the go, this is a wonderful resource that could prove particularly helpful for making the most of storytime this holiday season.
One nice idea that we recently stumbled across on Pinterest is organizing your own ‘Christmas Picture Book Advent’. 24 Christmas stories are wrapped up and numbered 1 to 24. Each night, a book is unwrapped and read together as a bedtime story. This idea can even work if you prefer reading digitally. Instead of wrapping up a physical book, simply wrap up a picture of the book cover! With the great range of enhanced eBooks now available, this option could make the experience of reading even more enjoyable for little ones!
To give you a helping hand, we’ve selected some of our best holiday reads below.
The festive period is a great opportunity to revisit some of the classic reads you may have loved yourself when you were young. Available both in print format and eBook format with enhanced read-along audio, the below traditional Christmas tales are sure to delight children, parents and grandparents alike!
A Christmas Carol
Get in the holiday spirit with the classic read-along story of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, retold in the form of a rhyming children's story with the spirit of the Charles Dickens classic. This picture book features beautiful illustrations and is perfect for family reading.
A Letter to Santa
Children will love this enchanting picture book, which follows the journey a young boy's letter to Santa Claus and delves into the secret world of Santa’s workshop. With fun rhyming text and beautifully-crafted illustrations, this is sure to become a popular read at Christmas time!
More Christmas Reads:
Muddypaws’ First Christmas!
Christmas is an exciting time for Ben and his lovable but mischievous dog Muddypaws! Any family with a pet will appreciate the trials and joys of Christmas together, and kids will love the adventures of Muddypaws in this spirited holiday tale.
Disney Christmas Storybook Collection
Enjoy the magic of Christmas with your Disney and Disney•Pixar friends! This festive collection features eight heartwarming Christmas tales from Winnie the Pooh, Lady and the Tramp, Monsters, Inc., Bambi, Dumbo, 101 Dalmations, Pinocchio and WALL•E.
Fairy Tale Classics:
This month marks 200 years since the first publication of the Grimms' Fairy Tales classic ‘Children’s and Household Tales’. Since then, these stories have been retold and retranslated countless times and have become treasured classics for families across the world. With so many to choose from, these beautifully illustrated books will keep children entertained for hours!
We hope that your holiday season is filled with joy, laughter, and wonderful books to read together!