Opportunity Knocks

When I began writing this blog last month I said I would occasionally talk about my own picture books, as well as describing the picture books, both recent and ancient, that impress me. I wasn’t expecting to have any exciting news about my own work for a long time to come, but I was mistaken!

Yesterday I woke up to discover that I had been selected to receive a mentorship with one of my favourite American author/illustrators, Brian Lies. This is a dream come true. I applied for the mentorship through PBChat, thinking I’d be highly unlikely to get anywhere as the competition is US based and there must be a million aspiring US author/illustrators who’d be grasping at the chance. So it was a huge surprise to find I was a winner!

The little fellow in the picture at the top of the page is the one who earned me this privilege. His name is Elton and his story was inspired by my Canadian grandson, who at the time of my second visit to his home in the Rockies, BC, was very afraid of loud noises. Together we sat down and made up a story about a mule deer who had ultra sensitive hearing – which led him into all sorts of trouble! Elton eventually discovers that his ears can be extremely useful, once he knows how to use them.

I’m hoping Brian will help me to hone the story and pictures into something that will be acceptable to publishers. At the moment it’s in the raw state of early conception, and as the weeks of the mentorship go by I’ll be documenting its progress, both story and pictures.

I love the way Brian writes, and his drawings are exquisite. His book ‘The Rough Patch’ moved me to tears. So I know I will learn a lot from him, and I feel very fortunate. To sample the way he crafts his stories, listen to the two interviews that are posted on the home page of his website.

One of Brian Lies’ beautiful illustrations for ‘The Rough Patch’

I’m so grateful to Justin Colon, the inspiration behind PBChat. I’m now part of a whole new community of fellow mentees, and I’m determined to make the most of every moment of my mentorship.



As this is my brand new website (my old website was getting overloaded with diverse topics that have preoccupied me over the last 20 years), the focus in this blog is going to be on my first, current and future passion – picture books. I have always loved picture books, but I was never as serious about writing and illustrating them as I am now. Having worked as an illustrator, a poet and a printmaker, these occupations have helped me to appreciate the power of words and pictures more than ever before.

I will use this blog to create a library of my favourite picture books, past and present. I will analyse why I like them, what is uniquely special about them, and how they were created.

Just occasionally there will be some news about my own picture books, which I’m constantly working on.

For my first post, I’m going to mention a book that captured my heart a few weeks ago. I subscribe to a wonderful website called Brain Pickings, and this is where I discovered Pinnochio: the Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna.

This is an almost wordless picture book, something which publishers are often very afraid of publishing. They feel that parents and teachers need a story to narrate to the children, but I found this story very easy to narrate to my granddaughter – the pictures told me exactly what to say. They are watercolours, rendered in the brightest colours, using a seemingly effortless technique that evolves with the natural flow of the medium (you can see Alessandro working in this youtube video). The story is on one level just a series of adventures experienced by – a twig. But the beauty of the images somehow gives it greater depths; I compare it to listening to Beethoven’s pastoral symphony, if you can get the Disney images out of your head and concentrate on the power of the music instead. Because we don’t have a didactic narrative, Sanna’s pictures literally speak for themselves.

As to the meaning of this story, my granddaughter never asked me to explain. She simply absorbed the pictures, feeling the emotions that the images evoked, and empathising with the little stick creature. She didn’t know the Pinocchio story and had never seen the Disney version, even though she is totally up to date with the latest Disney epics.

I suggest you read the article in Brain Pickings and then buy the book for your child, someone else’s child, or yourself. You won’t regret it.