Monday, 9 June 2014

Questions and Answers with Karenanne Knight, author of "The Picture Book Maker"

Dr Karenanne Knight - Author of "The Picture Book Maker" (IOE Press)
We've been wowed by Karenanne's fabulous book "The Picture Book Maker" in which she shares insights and exhaustive research into the processes involved in creating literature for children. Now let's find out a little bit more about the good lady herself as she takes up the hot seat under the "ReadItDaddy" spotlight. Take it away Karenanne!

ReadItDaddy: Hi Karenanne, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at The University of Falmouth

Dr Karenanne Knight: Oh for a life in books!!! From a very early age I've always loved books and picture books most of all. I empathise so vividly with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre 'I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures.  I mounted into the window-seat:  gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement'.

I initially trained as a primary school teacher which is where my passion for and love of children's book's really manifested itself. After many years teaching in the arts I decided to do an MA followed by a PhD in text and image (creative writing and illustration) which was the best decision I ever made. I was able to spend four wonderful years immersed in children's stories. I just adore the way the text and images play off each other depending on what the book is aiming to achieve. Sometimes we want the text to repeat what we see in the picture, if we are trying to engage a child in learning the alphabet for instance where the illustrations might all begin with 'A'. When we write and illustrate what I call Picture Story Books we are looking to develop the text and image in multiple ways with little repetition, so extending the story for the reader without repeating what we see in the picture or read through the words. Now I am able to work with wonderfully talented students in illustration and develop their skills through both my love of teaching and children's books but also that of the written word juxtaposed with the illustrations. I'm so lucky to lecture at Falmouth, it is a fabulous university, in a wonderful county and the staff whom I work with are always so supportive. The university has a real 'arts' vibe….

ReadItDaddy: We have thoroughly enjoyed "The Picture Book Maker" and it's full of brilliant advice. What made you decide to produce a book giving away so many secrets?

Dr Karenanne Knight: I'm not sure I consider them to be secrets really. The book is full of all the ideas, practices and exercises I come up with to keep extending my students knowledge and skills, and I love sharing these with them, so I thought why not put it into one book that also helps people who might not be lucky enough to attend university courses for whatever reason. My adult education students also enjoy working from the book. I think there is something in the book for everyone. My under and postgraduates can work through it alongside our lectures, adult education students use it at home to develop their skills alongside their classes, trainee teachers and educationalists who are using the book understand the skills and roles of the writer and illustrator and use this understanding to deliver stories to children in the classroom with added vigour and passion, and research students are able to pick out the necessary information that helps them develop arguments and discussion points within their investigations.

ReadItDaddy: Most author-illustrators often favour one particular aspect of what they do. Do you consider yourself more a writer or an illustrator (or do you like both equally?)

Dr Karenanne Knight: Do you know I get asked this all the time. It is another reason why I wrote and illustrated The Picture Book Maker. My PhD thesis discussed the roles of the writer of the picture book story and the illustrator who might illustrate their own work but often illustrates others work also. Being an illustrator, and having being part of a collaborative team and loan author illustrator or Picture Book Maker, I wanted to explore these roles further. The Picture Book Maker describes this. So I consider myself to be a Picture Book Maker, someone who sees and creates word and image together on the page. My sketch books are very much like this. Each page is full of words and images that equally develop the story I am working on. Finally, I must say I also feel like a story maker, as I see stories all around me, in the sky, in a busy, bustling town centre, on a country or river walk or looking out to sea. Whenever an aeroplane passes overhead I wonder where all those people are going, who they are going to meet and the stories they have to tell. However, I do have to stop my imagination going too far sometimes!!!! Stories don't really work if they are totally unbelievable.

ReadItDaddy: What do you think is the most common mistake people make when starting out on their quest to produce a children's book?

Dr Karenanne Knight: Characterisation! Characters are the basis of the story and if we don't get them right the setting or plot just won't work, no matter how strong these elements might be. Children identify with characters and laugh and cry with them. They soon spot a character that is transparent and lacks any sort of personality. Our characters have to be believable and have stories to tell. They need obstacles to overcome and goals to achieve. They must have a variety of personality traits and somehow we have to get this onto the page, through the text and/or the image when we write and illustrate children's stories, whether that character be human, animal or an inanimate object such as a candlestick which we can bring to life. This just makes me jump for joy, I love bringing inanimate objects to life by giving them a voice and a story to tell. Imagine the stories a kettle or car could tell for instance!

ReadItDaddy: We were quite interested in the sections of the book dealing with the rise of new methods of sharing stories with children (particularly story book apps and interactive stories). Any further thoughts on e-books and story apps?

Dr Karenanne Knight: Oh how exciting this is! E-books and story apps have really developed over the last few years and provide amazing graphics whilst taking a story in directions a paper book might never reach. For instance, the reader can change the direction of the plot on a story app, or might be particularly interested in a planet for instance. By creating artwork and text in a slightly different way the Picture Book Maker and artist or illustrator can develop that child's interest in space or the universe very quickly through that story app.

The physical nature of the paper book is though, also made for sharing. It has been said that children are losing the art of turning the page but I hope that there will always be a mix of paper books and electronic books as they are very different platforms for the reader to experience. Paper books can do things that the electronic book can't and vice versa, and I love the notion of an adult and child sharing a paper book at bedtime. However, as long as we think of the reader and their ultimate experience I feel both have a place.

Many young illustrators have wonderful abilities in terms of technology and use this to develop artwork for both the paper and electronic book and apps. I have a philosophy that life evolves and we either have to grasp it and move with it or be left behind. Hard and paperback books will always have a special place in my life, I have hundreds of them!…but I love looking at how technology is moving the storybook forward and particularly in the field of children's non-fiction, there is some brilliant work out there.

ReadItDaddy: This is a question we're often asked - and it's probably one of the toughest questions for us to answer. Which children's books do you consider as "essentials" for any parent looking for a great start for their children's book collection?

Dr Karenanne Knight:  I've been lucky to have had a love of books for as long as I can remember. So, I think that if a parent loves a book and has some emotion 'tied up' in it, then that will come through when they share it with their child. If the collection is built up on that basis alongside books the child chooses, then those children will have such a wealth of knowledge, understanding, emotion and interest on which to base the rest of their lives. That is how important I feel books (paper or electronic or apps!!!) are. So any collection should start with books you are passionate about, that speak to you, have a strong sense of plot or 'story', that are fun and have strong characters like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, the Tiger in The Tiger who Came to Tea, Sean in My Brother Sean, Orion in Orion and the Dark, the girl pirates in The Night Pirates, Henry in The Incredible Book Eating Boy and Pascal in Le Ballon Rouge. 

If you are asking me what my favourite books are in order to start a collection, then I would need to write another book to list them all! However, they would include, for so many different reasons and in no particular order Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner (fantastic illustrations and a text that moves around the page to tell the story), the Zoe and Beans series by Chloe and Mick Inkpen (fun! fun! fun!), any of Shaun Tan's books (there is so much to look at and find each time you read them) Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (an amazing portrayal about death and dying), The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb (reminds me of making paper dolls as a little girl), Oh Dear Geoffrey by Gemma O'Neill (A lovely tale about friendship), That Pesky Rat by Lauren Child ( text and image come together in this book beautifully), The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (I still have my copy from when I was little), Angelica Sprocket's Pockets by Quentin Blake (a wonderful exploration of what we might find in our pockets in rhyme), Window by Jeannie Baker (a wordless picture book about our changing environment), The Soggy Bear Stories by Philip Moran and Michael Foreman (always remind me of beautiful Cornwall), the Percy the Park Keeper series by Nick Butterworth (super stories with wonderful pull out posters), The Grace Stories by Mary Hoffman ( a story that encourages everyone to aspire to and achieve their dreams), We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury ( a fantastic example of how to use pace in storytelling), Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (scary but I always want to read this again and again), Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett (we're not afraid of the dark, are we?) and The Big, Big Sea by Martin Waddell and Jennifer Eachus ( a gentle and beautiful story about the relationship between a mother and daughter on a night time adventure to the beach). These are just a few of the books I love to read.

I have compiled a long, but no means exhaustive list of books that would make a great start for any book collection at the back of the Picture Book Maker, have a look and then just go for it, for a book collection at an early age is a lifetime collection for any age!

Please do take a look at Karenanne's Book, "The Picture Book Maker - The Art of the Children's Picture Book Writer and Illustrator" both in our review and on the IOE Press Web Page where you can also order a copy for a ridiculously reasonable price.
Do your local indie a favour - Buy through Hive
Also available at Waterstones
Also available at Amazon

If you live in London and you'd like the chance to meet Karen and attend a series of workshops based on the book, check out the Book and Kitchen website for an upcoming workshop event every monday starting on the 15 September till the 1st of December 2014.