23 November 2017


I've been having a great time getting to know the authors and illustrators in the UK, and especially in Scotland. So, I'm thrilled to have one of the most beloved creators of children's literature here today to talk about her latest, THE DRAGON'S HOARD. Say hello to Lari Don!

The Viking challenge!
by Lari Don

      I love a writing challenge. And taking on a horde of Vikings is probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced…
      I also love retelling traditional tales: finding new words to tell old stories for today’s young audiences.
      After retelling our favourite Scottish tales in Breaking the Spell, illustrator Cate James and I were looking for another themed collection to work on together. So over a late night cup of peppermint tea I mentioned my interest in Viking stories. Not god-filled Viking myths (though I love those too!) but Viking sagas, the stories the Vikings told about themselves and their ancestors.
      I’d been fascinated by Vikings ever since I read Roger Lancelyn Green’s Myths of the Norsemen as a child. But when I was in Orkney researching one of my novels, I discovered the Orkneyinga Saga, written in Iceland more than 500 years ago about the Viking earls of Orkney. And soon I was retelling one particular Orkneyinga episode - the story of Earl Sigurd’s duel with Maelbrigte - to audiences of school children. But I didn’t tell the story the way the ancient Orcadians had told it out loud or medieval Icelanders had written it down.
      Because this story was about a Viking invasion of Scotland being stopped by a brave chieftain of Moray, in a rather brutal way. And I was brought up in Moray, so when I considered a story about warriors invading the north of Scotland and battling against the men of Moray, I had fairly strong opinions about who were the real heroes. So I told it from the point of view of the invaded, not the invaders.
      But the story itself, whatever I thought about the rights and wrongs of it, was vivid, exciting, original and wonderful.
      And I told Cate, over that cup of cooling peppermint tea, that there were more Viking sagas, and that I suspected they contained lots more exciting and vivid stories, possibly even stories in which I could side with the Vikings.
      So, encouraged by Cate’s enthusiasm for drawing warriors, ships and monsters, I went searching for more Norse sagas. I found sagas about merchants, farmers, explorers, sagas about battles, ghosts and magic… And they were, as I’d expected, gloriously exciting stories.
      But they weren’t kind or gentle or fluffy stories. Not at all.
      I started reading as many Viking sagas as I could, marking any that I thought could be suitable for children. But I didn’t mark very many. Most of the stories were bathed in blood and driven by revenge.
      Because although I went into the project hoping to find stories where I could side with the Vikings rather than against them, it was soon clear that those who told and wrote down the sagas were proud of their ancestors’ violence and vendettas. That the Vikings’ reputation for brutality was entirely deserved and probably even deliberately enhanced by the stories they told.
      However, the stories were fantastic! (And I love a challenge…) So I kept looking. And I found: a polar bear, a zombie, a magical bird, a riddling god, a dragon…
      And I did, eventually, find a few stories which showed a gentler and more generous side of the Vikings, who were not just invaders and warriors, but also wordsmiths, farmers, parents.
      I also found more stories of invasion, including the amazing record of voyages across the Atlantic to land on the coast of North America. But, as a quine from Moray, I realised I had more in common with, and greater sympathy for, the original inhabitants and their bloody fate at the hands of the invaders, than I did with the Viking sailors.
      I loved researching these stories. I love the originality and vivid nature of the sagas. And I did meet a handful of Vikings that I admired : a pacifist earl, a berserker babysitter, a brave swan girl… But I haven’t substantially changed my view of Vikings as bloody invaders, who revelled in their violent reputation.
      So I hope that in choosing and reworking these stories for a young readership, I’ve shown the wonder of the Norse sagas, but I’ve also shown that Vikings aren’t just shiny muscly good-natured thunder gods in films. I hope I’ve reflected the glory of their oral culture and the achievements of their seafaring, but also reflected the darker side of their society and travels.
      I hope that children who are fascinated by Vikings will find lots to love in The Dragon’s Hoard, lots to discover and think about. But I also hope that they might find a little bit of compassion for those who met the Vikings for real, not just in stories…

      Lari Don is a children’s writer and storyteller. She was brought up in the North East of Scotland, and now lives in Edinburgh. Lari has written many collections of myths and legends, including Breaking The Spell (Frances Lincoln) and Girls Goddesses & Giants (Bloomsbury). She also writes adventure novels, including the Spellchasers trilogy (Floris Books) and picture books, including The Secret of the Kelpie (Floris Books). You can often find Lari on Twitter @LariDonWriter and there’s more info about her books and events on www.laridon.co.uk

21 November 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Thanks and giving

     Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and being grateful. So, take a moment to give thanks for the good things in your life. CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

20 November 2017

Edinburgh Christmas Village

Workers in Edinburgh have been busy lately...
putting together the annual Christmas Village.
It's fun watching it go up.

But it's even better when it opens.
And the tourists come pouring in.
I look forward to friends coming to visit. Maybe this year, we'll actually go ice-skating!
And ride the ferris wheel! Merry Christmas in Edinburgh!

19 November 2017

IRSCL Statement of Principles

I love this...The IRSCL, the International Research Society for Children's Literature, recently put out a Statement of Principles that I wholeheartedly agree with. Even better, they had children's lit folks from all over the world read the statement in their native languages to bring home the point - including the head of my Children's Literature program at the University of Glasgow, Evelyn Arizpe (originally from Mexico). Click her image to go see all of the videos and listen in your preferred language!
Here is the statement, which you can find at the IRSCL website:
IRSCL Press Release: Current Global Politics Limit Academic Freedom
Posted on November 14, 2017
      On Universal Children’s Day, November 20, 2017, the International Research Society for Children’s Literature, (IRSCL, www.irscl.com) issues a Statement of Principles, because it is worried about the ways in which contemporary geopolitics curtail academic freedom.
      This summer, IRSCL convened its 23rd biennial congress in Canada. More than 20 percent of the scholars whose papers were accepted were unable to attend Congress 2017, not only because of radical economic disparities in the world but also because of current restrictive travel policies and the “chill” caused by them.
      – IRSCL finds the current xenophobic situation worrying as it curtails academic freedom. The free flow of people and ideas across borders has to be defended anew, says Lies Wesseling, President of IRSCL.
      For this reason, IRSCL has issued a Statement of Principles, which explains why scholarship can flourish only in a world with open borders. The statement will be released in the format of a collection of videos featuring IRSCL members reading the statement in their native language (IRSCL 2017 Statement).
      – The statement is issued on November 20, Universal Children’s Day, to emphasize not only the importance of our research, but also of children’s literature’s potential to foster empathy, nurture creativity, and imagine a better world, says Lies Wesseling.

     IRSCL is an international scholarly organization dedicated to children’s and young adult literature with 360 members from 47 different countries worldwide. Every second year the organization arranges IRSCL Congress, the world’s most international congress within the research field.

16 November 2017

Cao Wenxuan's FEATHER

Sometimes I just want to show you a groovy book I've received, like today. I recently received a review copy of FEATHER written by the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award Winner Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award Winner Roger Mello, translated from Chinese by Chloe Garcia Roberts, for Elsewhere Editions, "a nonprofit children's press devoted to visionary picture books from around the world."
With a line-up like that, I can understand the money that obviously went into the physical design of this book. The protagonist of the story, a feather trying to find out which bird it belongs to, is divided between the pages and a cardboard flap built into the book.
The pages are of variable lengths depending on if they are meant to interact with the feather flap, or not (as towards the end). These are all very high-end design decisions.
The artwork is minimal, large shapes and simple lines. This spread is especially interesting—the birds are shown on vases rather than in a real-world setting as the text implies.
Both the author and illustrator did a write-up about what the story means to them, printed in the front of the book. As Cao says,
"...underlying this simple story of Feather pondering her questions are actually the core questions of human thought: Where do I come from? Where do I want to go? Who do I belong to? In fact, Feather's journey of riding the wind, her journey of questioning, is really the human journey of searching for a sense of belonging."
I don't think a book like this would sell to a US picture book publisher as it's more of an art book than a book for children, in my opinion. But it is interesting. Certainly, I find that international books tend to push the boundaries of what a picture book can be, as this one does.

15 November 2017

Sneak Peek at Christmas

The second-most-popular tourist time for Edinburgh is the Christmas and holiday season. It's well-earned. The town gets thoroughly decked out in twinkle lights and decorations. The Christmas Village will open. And Connie celebrated her birthday. We meet our friend every year at The Dome for cocktails to celebrate, and it has become our official kick-off to the holiday season. How could it not with a view down George Street like this?
And an interior decorated to the hilt.
It's one of the must-sees when visiting this time of year, and we'll be sure our friends Janice and Tom see it when they come over at the end of the month!
     And truly, this is only a sneak peek - I'll be snapping lots more photos to share with you! Especially of the new light structure at the end of George Street - that blue dome thing in the photo. I hear it's a globe and I haven't seen it up close yet...

14 November 2017

Coloring Page Tuesday - Winter Squashes

     Squashes aren't just for Jack-o-Lanterns. They make good eats all through the winter too! (And they're fun to look at.) CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

13 November 2017

Picture Hooks 2017

Last week I headed over the Water of Leith...
to the Museum of Modern Art to meet Vivian French for lunch and see the Picture Hooks Exhibit.
These are the lucky, beginning illustrators who worked with successful picture book mentors to up their crafts. For instance, lucky Hazel Dunn worked with the amazing Patrick Benson.
I loved seeing two of his original pieces - pen and ink and watercolor on colored paper - wow.
I loved the work mentee Anders Frang did especially with his mentor Steve Antony.

It was an absolute treat to see Helen Stephen's work up close and personal.

That street scene was done with watercolor, ink, and caran d'ache crayon.
     But the best part of all, in my opinion, is seeing the work-in-progress sketches. To get a behind the scenes glimpse at how these creators thought processes developed. Like these character studies by Frang.

The development of the main character from too old to a proper little girl in Kirsti Beautyman's work. She was chosen Picture Hooks Illustrator for 2017.

And the textile-inspired work of Hazel Dunn.

I wonder why the blue in Hlín Davidsdottir's work?
All in all, very cool, and wonderful to see it with my friend Viv!

12 November 2017


Have you seen this newest book written by Margaret Wise Brown? It's called GOOD DAY, GOOD NIGHT and is illustrated by Loren Long with an obvious nod to its mentor text, GOODNIGHT MOON. How many similarities can you pick out? Click the image to watch the trailer on YouTube.

11 November 2017

Scouting for a Night at the Museum

Last week, my PhD supervisor (Maureen Farrell) and I went to the Hunterian Museum on the University of Glasgow campus to scout out the space we'll occupy for the Fantasy Scotland: Night at the Museum! There, I saw the actual sorting chair
- actually known as the Blackstone Chair where award-winning PhD students get the honor of giving their VIVAs.
After the sorting chair, the first thing to greet you in the museum is the skeleton of NESSIE!
Our space will be in the back - completely transformed through the use of free and leftover art supplies - cross your fingers we can pull off something wonderful!
Afterwards, Maureen gave me a wee tour about.
Can you believe she was actually married HERE?
Wow. I'm truly lucky to be able to claim a part of this amazing campus!

10 November 2017

Friday Links List - 10 November 2017

From the NYT: Seeking a Voice, via a Bilingual M.F.A., in Writing and in Life

Children's book author/illustrator James Mayhew is offering a Master Class in Book Illustration at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh on 9 December

From Muddy Colors: Reference Manipulation - Pushing The Pose Or Portrait - LOVE these reference photos with their resulting illustrations!

From The Bookseller: 'Most Beautiful Book' shortlist reavealed

From Electric Lit: The Secret History of Cricket Magazine, the 'New Yorker for Children'

From The Scottish Book Trust: 8 Graphic Novels for Reluctant Readers

From The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards - the 2018 Nominations! Congratulations especially to Elizabeth Wein for The Pearl Theif!

09 November 2017

Ged Adamson's MOMMY, BABY AND ME

This adorable new picture book from Peter Pauper Press recently came onto my radar. It a new sibling story told in an adorable way, written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Ged Adamson, who stopped by to talk about his process. I think they have a winner here, so let's get to know Ged!

e: What is your creative process and medium, can you walk us through it?
My creative process varies. Sometimes I'll just be doodling away and something will stick out and trigger an idea. Other times, it won't involve drawing. It will be just thinking of stuff that might work as a story. Or I'll be watching a tv programme or something on the Internet and that will inspire me.
      I used to draw with ink but then I got into pencil. I much prefer it - you can erase things! The way I work once I've got to final art stage is to do colour and line separately. I'll draw the scene in pencil and then paint the colour and shadows on another piece of paper. Then I scan these into the computer and put everything together in Photoshop. This gives me control and flexibility. On the writing side, I will usually let the rough sketches suggest how the text will go. This constantly chops and changes. It often involves help from my editor. It's good to have that different viewpoint on the words.

e: I love your mix of watercolor and pencil drawings - how do you know when a piece is finished?
Thanks! I'm learning to accept that often, less is more. This is really important with picture books. Sometimes, it's when you take away a background element that you suddenly feel happy with an illustration and think "that's finished!"
      There's a spread in my next book Ava And The Rainbow (Who Stayed), where there's a load of people getting off buses. I wasn't happy with it until I took away the grass and the asphalt. It just suddenly all worked against white.
      In the same book I leave a lot of objects uncoloured, black and white. This wasn't laziness it's simply because I thought it looked better! Instead of filling in every building, sky and tree, I would just stop when I was happy with how everything looked.

e: What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
What makes an illustration magical? Well, for a start, it shouldn't look like it's trying to be magical! It has to have this quality because it's done by someone with a style that comes straight from their own personality. Rather than trying to be some other artist. I have to get a sense of the person behind the art. It's nice if it looks like somebody used paints or pencils or ink or crayons for at least some of the process. But it must have originality, humour and an ingredient of the past. Beatrice Alemagna, Oliver Jeffers, Lesley Barnes and Kevin Waldron are examples of artists that fit this description.
      I'm not a big fan of super detailed, slick artwork. It tends to leave me cold.
      There are so many professional people using tablets exclusively to do their art, that a lot of illustrations have all the lovely texture but no human quality. There tends to be a uniformity to these illustrations. Like people who've gone to the same plastic surgeon.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of Mommy, Baby, and Me?
Linda Marshall is the author so I think you’d have to ask her that one. She’s such an insightful and empathetic person. Not everyone can get into the mind of a dog! It wouldn’t surprise me if she’d experienced this situation in real life with one of her own animals. The poor dog’s confusion when his owners’ tempers are frayed due to lack of sleep. It’s heartbreaking - he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong.
      What’s great about dogs though is that even after that initial surprise of the new arrival, they soon join in with the parenting. Linda shows this really sweetly in the story.
e: What was your path to publication?
I always wanted to be a picture book author and illustrator - it was something at the back of my mind for a long time.
      I was working in music - composing for TV ads, trailers, stuff like that. I had this idea for a story, so when I wasn’t writing tunes for a job, I would work on the book.
      At the start, I was really clueless about putting together a simple story in the context of a picture book. So mine ended up super complicated and meandering. But I got fantastic advice from a couple of friends in the children’s book world. They showed me how I could edit the text right down and get rid of unnecessary scenes and characters.
      I knew I needed to get representation to have any hope of publication. I sent Elsie & The Vampire Hairdresser out to agents. Isy Atherton of Creative Authors came back saying she loved the story. She got me a deal with a New York publisher. It was so exciting!
      That was about five years ago and, thanks to Isy, I’m now doing this full time and I love it.
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I love it when I think I've come up with something good. You just get this feeling that a new idea might have potential. It doesn't always pan out like that afterwards but I just get a massive kick out of that moment when you suddenly think "hmm that's interesting". I spend most of my time doodling and thinking of ideas - when I'm not working on signed off jobs, that is - so the aim is to surprise myself with something.
      One of the challenging things for me is to make myself happy with my art style. I'm constantly pushing to improve the look of my illustrations. It's a slow process. I think things like Instagram are great because you're seeing lots of amazing illustrations and sketches by very talented people. It inspires you to try different stuff with your own work.
      I think it's dangerous when you're completely satisfied with how you do things. You have to be open to new processes.
      Writing is also something I find a challenge. It comes less naturally to me than the art. I don't mean the shape of the story or coming up with ideas - I just mean the actual writing of the text and making it flow and sound interesting. That feeling that I've got my own 'voice' as a picture book author is elusive. But maybe that's hard to judge from this side.
e: Is there something in particular about Mommy, Baby, and Me you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
I'd like people to come away with the idea that life is all about adapting to new situations and new ideas. And that we should always try to see things from the other person's viewpoint before we make a judgement - even if that person is a dog! Empathy is a great thing.
      In fact, I think the problems we face in the world at the moment are because a lot of people won't do these very things!
e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
In a few months, my next book Ava And The Rainbow (Who Stayed), comes out with Harper. I'm really excited about this one because it's the first time I've done something that's like a fairy tale. I'm proud of it and I think it's an original idea with hopefully lots of humour. Fingers crossed people like it!
      I've got a couple of new things I'm working on that I think could be really good. One of them, if it comes off, could very well be a dream project! It's a story that involves music. I would love to combine writing and illustrating a story with composing some music and maybe having the whole thing performed.
      I'm just finishing the follow up to Douglas, You Need Glasses! , which is called Douglas, You're A Genius! I've also done a second Shark Dog book, Shark Dog And The School Trip Rescue!


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