DON’T SPILL THE MILK Ouagadougou launch

So DON’T SPILL THE MILK comes out today. It has both camels and giraffes in it. There’s only one country in the world where you can find both camels and giraffes in the wild occupying the same space – Niger.


I was happy to be launching DON’T SPILL THE MILK at the International School of Ouagadougou because (a) I have very warm memories of visiting ISO eighteen months ago and (b) I wrote the book just across the road from the school, in the SIM guesthouse.


The launch consisted of a few brief anecdotes and a lot of carrying bowls on heads…

“Steady, Penda whispered to herself, gently does it, girl.
Don’t wiggle, don’t wobble, don’t try to rush it, girl.”


“Don’t slip, don’t slide, girl, don’t fall over,
Don’t let a single droplet drop on the sand…”


“Walk tall, walk steady, eyes on the horizon, girl,
Don’t even think about spilling any milk…”


Thanks to Miss Angel for organizing the event, and to all Elementary staff and students at ISO for making the morning so enjoyable.

And, of course, a huge thank you to Christopher Corr, whose mindmeldingly colourful illustrations really make the book come alive.

West Africa’s Giraffes

West African Giraffes

I’ll never forget seeing West African giraffes for the first time. They are so pale and elegant and otherworldly.

Couldn’t resist including a giraffes spread in my forthcoming picture book Don’t Spill the Milk, gloriously illustrated by Chris Corr.

When I first saw the West African giraffes back in 2004 there were only about 150 left. Now, according to this heartwarming video, there are more than double that number. A real conservation success story – long may it continue.

Amanda Craig GOGGLE-EYED GOATS review

Amanda Craig reviews the Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr

Amanda Craig’s Easter recommendations in the Saturday Times contained a pleasing review of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Some lovely-sounding words in there. Ebullient, anybody? Rumbustious?


“Easter always brings a fine clutch of tales about chicks, pups, lambs and eggs. While the list of classic picture books remains small, good new ones are as welcome as spring. They need to withstand repeated rereading so don’t go for the obvious.

The Goggle-Eyed Goats (Andersen £10.99) is an ebullient tale by Stephen Davies and Christopher Corr. Old Al Haji Amadu lives in Mali with three wives, seven children and five extremely naughty goggle-eyed goats that munch, gobble and chew whatever they can find, which includes his wives’ clothes. Getting rid of the goats, classic embodiments of a child’s interest in food, becomes pressing. But the children protest and follow their father to market. The book’s rumbustious, rhythmical feel for language, packed with internal rhymes, makes it a pleasure to read aloud, and the colourful pictures of the Amadu family and their surroundings have the unselfconscious charm of primitive art. The ridiculously long-lashed goggle-eyed goats have a small surprise to spring on their exasperated owner. One of the best new picture books published this year, it should be read before the Easter Egg hunt, not after!”

The Goggle-Eyed Goats have launched!

Goggle-Eyed Goats by Stephen Davies and Christopher CorrSome of the most popular posts on this blog are from my blog series The Making of The Goggle-Eyed Goats. So I am pleased to announce that THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS hardback is now well and truly launched! A flash launch happened at the Rowley Gallery in Notting Hill last night. A less flash launch happened in the north of Burkina Faso yesterday lunchtime, where Charlie and I celebrated quietly with a plate of spaghetti at the auberge overlooking the lake. I had spent half the morning herding goats with my friend Abdulsalam, so I was in a very goaty (caprine? capricious?) mood. Radio/admin work has been quite full-on recently, so it was nice to get back to the bush and hear nothing but Abdulsalam’s gentle banter and the delicious sound of thirty goats munching pedal-pods.

Goat herding is not typically thought of as a good stress-reliever – people here talk of it as something of a nightmare assignment because goats are so wayward – but it’s very enjoyable when you know that the goats are not your own responsibility! I like carrying the long hooked staff and shaking down pods for the goats to rush in and chomp and listening to the kissy-clicky sounds of the real herders as they call their ruminants to order and stepping on a chilluki twig and feeling a thorn go right up through my sandal into my – no, wait, that bit I don’t like.

We’re having a proper Burkina launch for GOATS on 12 March in Ouagadougou, to be held at the International School of Ouagadougou. Reading, book-signing and goats-cheese-pizza-eating. If you can’t make the event, you can still pick up a copy of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS at Amazon or elsewhere.

You are invited to the London book launch of The Goggle-Eyed Goats with Christopher Corr

The Goggle-Eyed Goats will be launching in London (Andersen Press) and Paris (Gallimard Jeunesse) on World Book Day, 1 March 2012. The Burkina Faso launch will be a little bit later – probably 12 March – in Ouagadougou.

The London launch will be at Rowley Gallery in Notting Hill, starting at 6pm. Signed copies will be on sale as well as original artwork from the book, plus other pieces by Christopher Corr.

Be there or be a cross-eyed goat.

Goggle-Eyed Goats to Launch on World Book Day

Don’t Spill the Milk sneak preview

Christopher Corr is making good progress on the illustrations for DON’T SPILL THE MILK. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Don't Spill the Milk

The Great River Niger was dark and wide
Penda took a ride in a stinky fishing boat
Don’t shiver, don’t quiver, don’t fall in the river, girl,
Keep it on your head girl – milk don’t float!

DON’T SPILL THE MILK is the rap-inspired story of Penda, a young girl taking a calabash of milk to her goat-herding father. The journey is long and treacherous. Will Penda deliver the milk safely?

The Making of a Picture Book Part Five: Synergy

This is the last in this week’s blog series on how to write a picture book. Whether you are a published picture book author, an aspiring picture book author or a simply-curious, I hope that you have found one or two morsels of useful advice over the course of this series. I am no picture book expert – four written and only two of those accepted for publication – but I am passionate about the subject and eager to learn more. A good picture book is an object of beauty, a carousel of colour, a smorgasbord of delights and an excellent birthday present for a hard-to-buy-for niece.

Elmer the Elephant by David McKee

If you are still catching up, here are links to the previous articles: The Making of a Picture Book Part One: Plot, Part Two: Character, Part Three: Language and Part Four: Illustration. And today in Part Five we will be celebrating Synergy.

Synergy. Hmm. Don’t worry, I’m not going to assault you with strategic staircases, idea cascades, low-hanging fruit or similar management-speak monstrosities, but I do think that synergy is a meaningful word for describing the development of a picture book. Synergy is when the combined creative energies of several people enable a whole to be more than the sum of its parts.

In Wednesday’s post I made the idiotic assertion that that the success of WE’RE GOING ON A BEARHUNT was ‘all thanks to Michael Rosen’. No one picked me up on it, you’re all far too kind, but the statement was untrue. The original conception of the book may have been down to him, but the success of the book was due also to the fantastic illustrator Helen Oxenbury and to many other people, foremost of which would have been the Australia-born editor of the book Wendy Boase. Wendy was co-founder of Walker Books and remained editorial director until her death in 1999. She is a legend in her own right and is the Boase in the prestigious Branford-Boase award. This prize, which goes to a debut author and his/her editor, is in itself a celebration of synergy, an acknowledgement that the creation of great children’s books is a team sport.

Also involved in the creation of WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT were goodness knows how many designers, printers, publicists and assistants – not to mention something called a ‘repro house’ which designer Beccy Garrill describes in her fascinating comment on yesterday’s post. So if all the four-year olds in my social circle now chant ‘Swishy, swashy’ whenever they walk through long grass, it’s the fault not just of Michael Rosen but of a whole gang of literary and artistic wizards.

Here’s another example of synergy. Rona Selby editorial director extraordinaire at Andersen Press emailed me to say, ‘We like GOGGLE-EYED GOATS and we’d like to publish it, but the final spread needs more work – the story needs one final twist.’ Rona has edited enough picture books in her time to have acquired an unerring instinct for such things. If she says it needs a final twist, it does.

‘I need one final twist,’ I wailed that evening, weeping bitterly into my mushroom stroganoff. ‘I need one final twist and I don’t know where to find it.’
‘What about this?’ replied my wife Charlie. ‘Al Haji Amadu returns home from Mopti market and he turns to count the goggle-eyed goats, only to find that [censored by the Spoiler Police].’
‘Marry me,’ I said.

I consult Charlie now in all matters relating to final twists – and similes, which she is also very good at.

Synergy is like a good cheese or a good wine. It matures over time – that’s why authors become attached to a particular publishing house or form a long-lasting partnership with a particular illustrator. Daniel Kirk asked lots of librarians (not sure of the collective noun – a hush?) to name their favourite author/illustrator partnership. Here are their collected responses:

Allard / Marshall, Brown / Hurd, Clements / Selznick, Cronin / Bliss, Cronin / Lewin, Dahl / Blake, Estes / Slobodkin, Hest / Barton, Lester / Munsinger, Lewis / Kirk, London / Remkiewicz, Minarik / Sendak, Numeroff / Bond, O’Conner / Glasser, Palatini / Cole, Palatini / Egierlski, Palatine / Fine, Rylant / Stevenson, Scieszka / Smith, Slate / Wolff, Stewart / Small, Wick / Marzallo, Wilson/ Chapman, Yolen / Teague Yorinks / Egielski

I would want to add to that list two of my personal favourites: Willans/Searle and Willis/Ross. Do add your own favourites in the comments section below, but stick to author/illustrator partnerships. Save Starsky / Hutch for the Digital Spy forums.

Talking of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, you may remember that in Monday’s Plot article I was fumbling around trying to think of picture books which could be classed as ‘Tragic’ – characters that are undone by their own fatal flaw and end up meeting a sticky end. Well, it seems that Willis and Ross have thoroughly cornered the market for such stories – this book Sticky Ends came out just last week! Being of a morbid turn of mind, I can’t wait to get hold of a copy and read it to my daughter.

Sticky Ends by Jeane Willis and Tony Ross

Well, it’s time I brought this post – and this series – to its own sticky end. Writing things down really helps me to clarify my thoughts about a subject, so now I want nothing more than to rush off and write a picture book. I hope you feel inspired as well! Incidentally, if I were to do a sixth article in this series (which I’m not) I would write about Patience. I submitted THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS in July 2004. It will be published in March 2012. Always keep the faith.

The Making of a Picture Book Part Four: ILLUSTRATION

There has been some kind appreciation and enthusiastic tweeting in response to this ‘Making of a Picture Book’ blog series, so thank you very much. If the series has interested or entertained or provided new ideas then I am happy.

If you missed parts one, two and three, there’s still time to catch up:

The Making of a Picture Book Part One: Plot
The Making of a Picture Book Part Two: Character
The Making of a Picture Book Part Three: Language

And so we arrive at today’s instalment, The Making of a Picture Book Part Four: Illustration.

by Christopher Corr

I was delighted when I learned that Christopher Corr had agreed to illustrate THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Chris is an experienced illustrator with a distinctive technicolour style and a very well-travelled paintbox. He has illustrated picture books set in Madagascar, India, Mexico, Arabia and now Mali.

I asked Christopher Corr to write something for today’s post about his experience of illustrating THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS. Over to him…

I’m a Capricorn and share a deep empathy with the goat world.
The Goats’ story is set in Mali, a country I would like to visit. It’s a place I have seen in films and books and old National Geographics.
The astonishingly beautiful mud-made mosques!
The colourful markets, all those people in zingy colours carrying goods on their heads!

I love colour.
It has great power to excite and delight.
Mali is a colourful place and I wanted to show this.
The landscapes are hot and hilly. It’s arid and scrubby but never dull.

I wanted all the children to have personality and be individuals,
just like the goats!
Just like all of us!

I’m so glad everyone [and more] came back safely from Mopti market.

Thanks for these thoughts, Chris, and for infusing the pages of GOGGLE-EYED GOATS with so much colour and personality.

Mali is indeed a colourful place. The bright printed fabrics, the turbans and headscarves, the animal hides, the earth-red sahelian architecture – it all adds up to a fantastically vibrant setting.

Al Haji Amadou arrived in Mopti Market GOGGLE-EYED GOATS
Spread 7 of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS by Christopher Corr

Here is the usual process of getting a picture book illustrated.

1. The Ask and the Answer
When an editor at a children’s publishing house accepts a PB manuscript she will rack her brain for a good illustrator, someone who will be able to bring the text to life in an appropriate style. Rona Selby, editorial director at Andersen Press, had the idea of asking Chris to illustrate GOGGLE-EYED GOATS because of his varied experience of cross-cultural illustration. If anyone could capture the colour and vibrancy of Mopti market and other locations, it would be Chris. She asked. He said yes.

2. The character studies and roughs
Once contracts have been signed, an illustrator starts off by submitting character studies and roughs.

Character studies: Clearly everyone needs to be happy with the look of the main characters before the book can really start to take shape. Here is Chris’s character study for Al Haji Amadu’s three wives, Fama, Rama and Sama.

GOGGLE-EYED GOATS character study by Christopher Corr
by Christopher Corr, reproduced with permission

When I say that ‘everyone’ needs to be happy, I’m really talking about three people: the editor, the illustrator and the writer. The editor listens to the opinions of both illustrator and writer, but she has the final say on everything. In the case of THE GOGGLE-EYED GOATS, there was no direct discussion between myself and Chris at all. Everything went through our editor Rona. Chris sent character studies to Rona, who emailed them on to me. I sent comments to Rona, who passed them back to Chris, along with her own thoughts. It is an enjoyable process of creative collaboration and I found myself writing the oddest emails: ‘Should Al Haji’s wives have multi-coloured noses or plain?’ or ‘Loving Mopti market’ or ‘Eyes a bit gogglier, please!’ Some poor cryptographer at GCHQ is probably still analysing those emails, devising ever more complicated decryption algorithms in the hope of extracting their true meaning.

Roughs are what they sound like – rough sketches to give an idea of what the final illustrations will look like. Here is the rough sketch which Chris did for the Mopti market spread. It shows the position of each character on the page and gives an idea of the various background elements.

Mopti Market rough by Christopher Corr
by Christopher Corr, reproduced with permission

A note on the word ‘spread’. One spread = two pages facing each other. I read in the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook that most picture books comprise 32 pages. Take out the covers, the copyright and dedications page, the cutesy ‘This Book Belongs To’ fill-in-your-name page and the endpapers and you’re left with 24 pages, i.e. twelve spreads. 32 pages is not a cast iron rule – a perfunctory examination of our one year-old daughter’s bookshelf reveals lots of non-32-page books – but it is a good guide. So if you are writing a picture book for publication, write twelve spreads and indicate where the page-turns are.

3. The neat version
Once the characters and roughs have been approved, the illustrator has a few weeks or months to complete the neat version of each spread.

4. The design stage
Writer exits stage left pursued by a bear, book designer enters stage right. The Designer takes the completed illustrations and creates a beautiful book, slotting in the text (font choice is important here) and tweaking the colour balance. Colour balance! Can you tell I’m getting hazy about what happens at this point in the process? If you’re reading this, Beccy, could you comment on what else goes on at this stage?

5. The stampede
The book gets printed in vast quantities and sent to bookshops. The night before official publication day, hordes of excited toddlers pitch their tents outside Waterstones in Piccadilly, heedless of the biting wind and quivering with anticipation. When dawn breaks and those big black doors at last swing open, the toddlers charge inside, ululating wildly and knocking over enormous cardboard goat cut-outs in their eagerness to reach the 3+ shelves and grab an armful of glorious technicolour caprine hardbacks.

I fear I have missed out some important things, so please do comment below and put me right. We are coming in to land now. Tomorrow is the final instalment in this series: the Making of a Picture Book Part Five: Synergy.