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Word- Play, Image-Play

Posted By Alison D. Brumwell, 29 September 2019

We’re delighted to feature a guest blog by Ziggy Hanaor of independent publisher Cicada Books, which offers a personal insight into the topic of art and design in children’s books.

Visual literacy is a hot topic. It’s vital that we teach children how to read images and interpret them. In this crazy age of information, we are under constant visual bombardment, and if we aren’t equipped with the right tools, what chance do we stand of navigating our way through?

However, as an editor and publisher, my interest in visual literacy is less on the consumer level and more on the creator level. How can we create books that contain images that work with the text to enrich it? How can we make sure that the visual signifiers are all pointing clearly in the right direction? And then, how can we make those images add up to more than the sum of their parts, to create a story that can set children’s imaginations alight. 

I started my career as an editor of art and design books, only really moving into children’s publishing in the last two years. I pride myself on my understanding of visual communication. In the art and design world there are very strict rules that govern the ways in which typography, space, image and colour are used to create an impactful composition. A good designer (and indeed editor) will understand those rules so inherently that they can break them effortlessly but with clear purpose, subverting and challenging the way in which the design is read. The design that I love most is playful. The ads and posters that are imprinted on my mind are the ones like those of Bob Gill, in which words and images are combined in unexpected ways that delight and surprise. 

When I started working in children’s books I was slightly shocked to find a vast divide between the world of illustration and the world of design. A lot of the illustrators I work with operate in a completely instinctive way that can be extremely emotive and impactful, but completely anarchic.

My role as an editor then is to create a structure around the anarchy. I think of the text as ground plans for a building. I explain to the illustrator the size and shape of the building, where the doors and windows need to go and who is going to be the end user. I then wait to see what comes back. You want a slide going from the bedroom to the kitchen? Sure. You want to paint the walls purple? Sure! You want a glass floor in the bathroom? Hmm… maybe let’s rein that one back a bit.

The area of visual literacy that most interests me, is after you’ve taught your child the basic skills of how to read a picture (the emotional motivations, the plot points, the symbols and signifiers etc), how do you maintain their interest? How do you keep them coming back for more, even after they’re fluent readers? For me the answer is the playfulness that happens in the gaps between text and image. Where the thing that’s left unsaid is like a private joke between the writer, the image-maker and the reader, creating that marvellous intimacy that only ever really happens in children’s books and occasionally in a really good ad. I suppose, the thing I’m always aiming for is to create those Bob Gill moments of delight and surprise when the thing that you were expecting isn’t where it was supposed to be. 


Tags:  Illustration  Kate Greenaway  visual literacy 

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Interview with Jackie Morris - winner of the 2019 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

Posted By Jacob Hope, 25 September 2019
Updated: 25 September 2019

With nominations currently still open for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals (nominate by clicking here), we talk with 2019 winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, Jackie Morris about her work, the impact winning has had upon her and the extraordinary book that she and Robert MacFarlane created.


Kate Greenaway winner, ‘The Lost Words’ initially began as a chat with Emily Drabble about producing  a web slideshow of images to highlight words that had been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.  The words had fallen from common use and so were no included in the dictionary whose purpose OUP described as being ‘to reflect language as it is used, rather than seeking to prescribe certain words or word usages.’


Recognising the importance of the natural world, several authors, naturalists and broadcasters signed a letter composed by Laurence Rose, conservationist and editor of the Natural Light blog.  The letter cited the National Trust’s ‘Natural Childhood’ campaign stating


‘Every child should have the right to connect with nature.  To go exploring, sploshing, climbing, and rolling in the outdoors, creating memories that’ll last a lifetime.’


Among those who signed the letter were Margaret Atwood, Nicola Davies, Robert MacFarlane, Michael Morpurgo, Sir Andrew Motion and Jackie Morris.  Talking about the removal of the words, Jackie says ‘it highlighted the disconnect between language and nature and was a clear indication that something was wrong.’


Fearing that a slideshow of images would be there and then, like the words in the dictionary, disappear, Jackie began to think about a book and decided to write to co-signatory, Robert MacFarlane to see whether he might be willing to pen an introduction.  When the reply came back a couple of weeks later, the suggestion was to collaborate on something more than just an introduction.


We started knocking the idea back and forth between the two of us.’  Jackie was clear that she didn’t want children to be in it and wanted it to be wild.  ‘The idea of spells clicked in his mind.  The first one he wrote was the kingfisher and I painted it against a background of goldleaf’.  Taking it to the Hamish Hamilton offices, was the first  time Jackie met with Robert and she didn’t meet him again until the project was finished.  ‘Everything was done via e-mail, I’d send sketches, he would send spells to be spoken aloud.  It was the most collaborative piece of work of all of the things I’ve done.’


Jackie did not create roughs for any of the illustrations, submitting the artwork in batches.  Part of the collaborative process involved the work of designer Alison O’Toole.  Jackie describes finding ‘The Lost Words’ font as having been key, ‘I was conscious about legibility, but something about the space given to the words means that reluctant readers aren’t intimidated.  We’ve had feedback about how well reluctant readers have responded and how they love it and are not put off by the complexity of language because of the relationship with the pictures.’


Hamish Hamilton were extremely trusting and have supported the crowd-funding ideas where copies of the book have been gifted to local .  The book has caught the public imagination in an inspiring way.  The dynamism of the relationship between written and pictorial language has acted as a catalyst enabling creative responses that have crossed a variety of artistic boundaries with folk songs, exhibitions and even a performance at the 2019 proms.   


Talking about this year’s Kate Greenaway win, Jackie explains the impact it has had upon her career.  ‘After twenty-eight years working in children’s books, I have a big backlist.  For the first time ever there is a plan of my work being taken to Frankfurt Book Fair.’  Her Canadian publisher was also very excited on hearing the news.  ‘My work now has a connection with other books that have won and which I love.  It has given me a new confidence.’



Tags:  books  Kate Greenaway  libraries  nature  nominations  reading for pleasure 

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Stand Out Nominations for Outstanding Books - An Interview with CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Co-Ordinator Amy McKay

Posted By Jacob Hope, 19 September 2019
Updated: 19 September 2019
One of the most exciting times for the profession is the stage when nominations open for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals, the UK's oldest and most prestigious children's book awards award for an outstanding reading experience created respectively through writing and illustration. On the opening day of nominations, we are pleased to have the opportunity to speak with the award co-ordinator, Amy McKay, to glean exclusive behind the scenes insights.
Amy starts by discussing her job.  There are numerous duties the awards co-cordinator has, these include looking after the judges and ensuring they are organised and on track with the Herculian reading task they face.  There are also meeting sto organise as well as overseeing the nominations, communicating with regions about their choices days, checking eligibility and monitoring what has been published.  'It's a really busy point in the year,' Amy explains, 'but it's also one of the most exciting as this is when the process begins.'  
After pondering which part of the role she enjoys the most, Amy says, 'working closely with the judges is definitely one of the highlights, you see them grow in confidence across the two years and it's fascinating to hear their opinions and thoughts'. 
'It's so important that people nominate the books they are most passionate about,' Amy enthuses, 'without nominations and the profession's engagement, the awards would not exist.' What makes a good nomination?  Amy feels consideration of the criteria is key and that the books need to have an x-factor, something more than just enjoyment.  Nominations don't have to be massively long, Amy urges.  Statements are an integral part of the process and can be used in judging discussions to help widen debate and give insight to other viewpoints and experiences.  'It is passion that really shines through.'
The nominations lists provide a snapshot of contemporary publishing for children and young people and are valuable for all of the profession.  They can be useful for stock and collections providing insight into what other professionals consider as outstanding and presenting a curated list for selection.  It is something Amy uses herself to help with selecting for the bustling school library in Corby where she works.
This year has seen changes to the nomination's process with members of CILIP able to nominate only one per medal within a two week window, making it even more crucial to carefully consider the titles being put forward.   Amy gives some top tips for nominating:
  • Consider the criteria and how the books you put forward match these
  • Think carefully about all you've read and not just the latest titles as books are eligible for 2020 cycle from 1 September 2018 to 31 August 2019.  Amy mentions that she keeps a reading journal so that she does not overlook the books published in the first months of nominations.
  • Nominations don't have to be hugely long, strong nominations tend to be formed around the criteria headlines - plot, theme, characterisation and style for the Carnegie and aristic style, format, synergy of illustration and text and visual experience for the Kate Greenaway  - and are usually clear and concise.
  • Enjoy nominating as it is a real statement of belief in the work of illustrators, authors and publishers alike and acts as a flagship for the expertise of the profession
  • Use resources like publishers lists, CILIP's new 'Pen & Inc' magazine  to raise awareness to make sure that some of the titles by smaller independent publishers that might not have the same promotional budgets do not get overlooked.

Nominations are open now until Friday 27 September, visit to put forward your choices.



Tags:  Carnegie  Kate Greenaway  libraries  nominations  professional development  reading  reading for pleasure 

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Geiriau Diflanedig: Finding Lost Words in Welsh

Posted By Jacob Hope, 03 September 2019
Updated: 03 September 2019


Fighting the cause of lost words is a familiar effort in Wales where language itself is endangered. While both Welsh and English by today have equal status in the eyes of the law, over the past 150 years, we have seen the number of Welsh speakers decline from 90% of the population to only 19%. During the past sixty years or so, there have been many campaigns for the survival of Welsh, or Cymraeg as it is known in her own language. As well as official status, these campaigns have led to the restoration of original Welsh place names (and marking them with bilingual road signs), the right to be educated in Welsh and to have Welsh television and radio programmes. And things are certainly looking up, with the Welsh government recently setting itself the ambitious goal to double the number of Welsh speakers from half a million to a million by the year 2050.

This matters. Saving words and languages matters. It matters because they are more than just sounds. They are windows that enable us to see and understand the world about us. A bluebell and a dandelion may both be flowers, but without being called by their own names, they become somehow less visible, less important, more prone to be ignored ...  and eventually, more likely to vanish.

This is one of the reasons why I was so delighted to be asked to try to recast Rob Macfarlane’s spells into Welsh and project them against Jackie Morris’ extraordinarily beautiful artwork. Inspired by the original ideas, I took a deep breath and imagined my pencil into a magic wand. Together we were facing a task of great responsibility - to conjure the words of the world about us back from the brink of unbeing and place them in central sight!

Some of the challenges were obvious. If the way the three letters in the English ‘ivy’ grow to five in the Welsh ‘iorwg’ cause a conundrum, then what about how the four in ‘newt’ expand to ten over three words in ‘madfall y dŵr’?! Beyond their length, the names also sometimes focus on different characteristics. While the Welsh ‘clychau’r gog’ and the English ‘bluebell’ reveal the same ‘bell’/’cloch’ component, ‘blue’ is not reflected in the Welsh, but instead it recalls the ‘cuckoo’ that shares its May landscape. And if the regal status of ‘kingfisher’ is not evident in Welsh, here the colour blue, that’s missing from the bell flowers, is clear for, literally translated, this royal English fisherman is known in Welsh as ‘the blue of the water’s edge’.

As is the case in other languages such as French or German, in Welsh we have two ways of expressing knowing, enabling us to ‘know’ facts on the one hand, and places and people on the other in different ways. In our language we recognise that to know facts is somehow a more superficial undertaking than to know places and people; the former an act of mind and memory, the latter more an act of the heart and soul.

In working on these spell-songs, I have been allowed to meet the twenty words they conjure up and get to know what they represent beyond the mind and memory. They have become more than facts. They have become friends that need to be known by the heart and soul.

With the help of the craftsmanship and artistry of the design team at Graffeg, and the generous encouragement of Jackie and Rob, it has been a great joy to work on Geiriau Diflanedig. I can only hope that the readers will share some of this pleasure and that the Welsh version will play its part, along with its counterparts in the other languages, in calling back onto our tongues some endangered species of wondrous words.

To help ensure a copy of Geiriau Diflanedig reaches every primary school in Wales please visit:

Geiriau Diflanedig published on 10 October 2019

Grateful thanks to Mererid Hopwood for writing this guest blog.




 Attached Thumbnails:

Tags:  Kate Greenaway  Lost Words  Translation  Visual Literacy  Wales  Welsh 

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YLG National Conference Reading the Future - Early Bird Booking Extension until July 15th!

Posted By Susan U. Polchow, 05 July 2018


The Youth Libraries Group are delighted to be extending our Early Bird offer for the YLG National Conference 2018 “Reading the Future”.

Numerous people have expressed interest in attending but have stated that extra time would aid employer decisions. Professional development is a key part of maintaining knowledge and awareness offering a chance to engage with up to date research, changes in cultural context and current best practice. The deadline for the Early Bird offer has been extended until 15 July. We are keen to provide some rationale for attending conference, whether this be as a day delegate or on a full place.

• Conference this year is focused explicitly around reading - one of the six universal offers for libraries decided by the Society of Chief Librarians, policy and agenda setters for libraries across the United Kingdom
• Latest research from key organisations and agencies including BookTrust and the National Literacy Trust
• Networking opportunities with publishers and the opportunity to pitch for author visits, proof copies of books for reading groups
• *It is worth noting that average daily rates reported by the Society of Authors are between £400 and £500 for an author, this means one successful pitch for an author to a publisher - (which would also include the authors travel and accommodation), would more than recoup the entire cost of conference.  Conference gives direct access to a host of publishers and the opportunity to build strong partnerships.
• Showcase of forthcoming titles to aid programming and planning and receipt of publicity materials (tote bags, book marks, badges and more!), copies of new books at no charge
• Chance to share best practice with other professionals across the United Kingdom
• Key part of continuing professional development offered by the Youth Libraries Group, the special interest group for the Professional Body for librarian and information professionals
• Opportunity to showcase best practice from authority and to learn about existing best practice in other authorities and regions so as to replicate existing and proven frameworks for quality and cost-effective service delivery
• Engage with relevant creative provider - app producers, BBC, Gerry Andersen entertainment - to explore models of engagement and hooks to attract non-users
• Receive in-kind materials including book proofs, advanced reader copies, bookmarks, posters and other related point-of-sale
• Actively highlight role of  in supporting and maintaining awareness of the UK's oldest and most prestigious children's book awards, the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, the profession's flagship awards.
• Maintain links with the Youth Libraries Group, one of the leading training and development bodies for librarians working with children and young people in the United Kingdom

The Youth Libraries Group Conference is one of the real highlights on the children's book and reading calendar. Find out more and book your place at


Tags:  carnegie  children's books  conference  illustration  kate greenaway  reading  visual literacy  ylg 

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Reading the Future: It All Begins with Enid Blyton

Posted By Jacob Hope, 02 May 2018
Updated: 02 May 2018

The Youth Libraries Group annual conference is always a high point in the calendar, a chance to recharge creative energies and to connect with all manner of ideas and with individuals working in the field. Our theme this year is Reading the Future and aims to explore what it means to be a reader in the 21st Century, some of the opportunities and challenges that exist around this and the ways in which information, stories and imagination traverse different platforms and technologies.

Reading is a vital skill, an opportunity to find release from daily lives, to encounter and engage with news ways of thinking, to step into the past or to look forward into the future. Running beneath the conference’s main theme is a series of strands exploring key areas of interest. The capacity poetry holds for conveying feelings, emotion and acting as an access point for reading makes it a very worthwhile focal point. We are delighted to welcome CLiPPA winners Rachel Rooney and Joseph Coehlo as speakers as well as having the National Literacy Trust presenting research on the role reading poetry has on child literacy. 

With the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, we’re looking at representation and rights for women in literature for young people. Our distinguished guests include Sally Nicholls, author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do, David Roberts, author and illustrator of Suffragette and many more. This melds with another key for the conference, Enid Blyton. 2018 marks 50 years since the writer, voted by the public as the UK’s best loved author, passed away. It feels an apt time to reconsider her literary legacy and uncanny ability to captivate contemporary readers. We will also have our first ever Midnight Feast in celebration of her work!

In another first, we will also be hosting the inaugural Robert Westall Memorial Lecture. This will be led by Dr Kim Reynolds from Newcastle University and Paula Wride from Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children’s Book and will look at the indelible impact that twice winner of the Carnegie Medal Robert Westall’s work has made on the field. It feels massively exciting to be working with so many different agencies – BookTrust, Seven Stories, National Literacy Trust, Empathy Lab and more – to bring the latest research and findings and to enable networking opportunities that add value and increase reach.

it also feels apposite that this year’s conference is taking place in Manchester, one of the UK’s new UNESCO Cities of Literature and we’ll be holding a special dinner to celebrate the role of key children’s authors and illustrators from the city. The conference is uplifting, lively, vibrant and most of all inclusive. We look forward to welcoming public and school librarians alike, staff from school library services, people from the education sector and all with an interest in children’s books.

Do join us for what promises to be thought-provoking and enlivening conference and a chance to build change and critical mass around reading. To book your place please visit

We would love to know your best conference memory or the session you are most interested in attending!

Tags:  carnegie  conference  cpd  illustration  kate greenaway  poetry  reading  universaloffers  visual literacy  ylg 

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