An awful lot of people think they can write a children’s book and a lot of awful children’s books get written, many of which, mercifully, never see the light of day. So what can you do to avoid the pitfalls? Are there any rules you have to follow? Well, yes and no. Obviously, what you need is an idea and flair, your own individual stamp that makes it your book and not something produced from a template, but there are also the basic rules of design as well as publishing conventions. It isn’t to say that you have to follow a formula slavishly, but if you’re going to break out of convention – in simple terms, what people expect from a particular genre – then you’d better have a very good idea of why you’re doing it. Innovation for its own sake or against type rarely works!
Three authors is a lot for one book, but what you get here is quite an academic trio who also have practical experience of design and illustration. The result is a book that’s absolutely solid on the ideas front, but also attractively presented and well-designed. The progression of the chapters mixes information on what you need to include for different age levels as well as ideas for character development and the nitty gritty of actually writing the words and creating the illustrations.
This is a very highly illustrated book and all the way through you’re looking at real pictures and layouts from real children’s books. The clever thing is that, because Bloomsbury is one of the foremost publishers in this field, all the usual copyright issues that this would involve are cut through at a stroke.
As well as the three authors and the publisher, there’s a fifth partner hidden away here too: Quarto Books. Quarto is a packager, which means that they conceive, design and produce books that are then sold to a publisher who puts their imprint on them and deals with the stock, sales and marketing. For very many years, Quarto have been at the forefront of illustrated book design and are very much leaders rather than followers. The Artist’s Bible series, which I’ve praised highly, is one of theirs. It’s very much down to their input that this book looks so good and is so easy to follow. What’s surprising, though, is the way in which this is so closely integrated with the Bloomsbury list and one can’t help feeling that there must have been quite a deal of symbiosis going on, because it really wouldn’t have worked with any other publisher.
I’ve had this hanging around for some time, trying to work out what to say about it. At the primal level, this is simple: it’s a superb book and if you’re in any way concerned with writing, illustrating or producing children’s books, you need to have a copy. The trouble is that, because it’s so very much an illustrated book in itself, it’s very hard to describe in words without killing it stone dead and I hope I’ve managed not to do that. This is not a field where there are a great many textbooks and this is very much the definitive one. It’ll be a long time before anything even remotely like it comes along, so you need to get your hands on it NOW.