Our Personal and Picture Book highlights of 2020

2020- What a challenging year it's been! I'm sure many of us will be glad to see the back of it and will welcome 2021 in with wide open arms! 

But we at Picture Book Den wanted to use our final post of this turbulent year to shine a light on some of the positives, some of the rays of sunshine that we've noticed amongst the darkness. 

We've chosen our personal and picture book highlights of 2020 and, as always, we would love to hear some of your highlights too. 

Lucy Rowland:

Picture book highlight: Rain Before Rainbows, written by Smriti Halls and illustrated by David Litchfield.

"Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun. Night before daybreak - a new day's begun".

This picture book is a perfect partnership of beautifully written, lyrical text and gorgeous illustrations and is all about finding optimism in the darkest of places. A perfect picture book for this year where rainbows have shone from so many people's windows as a sign of both hope and of our gratitude to all the key workers fighting this pandemic. 

Personal highlight: For me, 2020 has been about finding my feet as a mum and watching my tiny baby grow into a cheeky, playful one-year-old.  While lockdown was somewhat intense at times, (my husband was working 12 hour day and night shifts) I look back at it now as an incredible bonding opportunity for me and my son and I feel lucky we had this moment when the world stood still. 

Helen Welsh:

book highlight: While We Can’t Hug, written by Eoin McLaughlin and
illustrated by Polly Dunbar.

"They could not
touch. They could not hug. But they both knew that they were loved."

From Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar, the makers
of The Hug, this picture book is such an accessible and age
appropriate way to tackle the trials of our times. The characters in the story
find out that there are lots of ways of showing people they love them… while they can’t
hug. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and wonderfully simple. I’m certain this text will have helped many families in 2020,
particularly at the beginning of the year when social distancing was strange
and new to us all. It certainly helped me!

Personal highlight: My personal 2020 highlight has been working as a full-time author.
Leaving my much-loved teaching career has meant that I have had more time to
spend with my family and to immerse myself in the picture book world. Some of you
may know I’ve been running a seven week online picture book course for Write
Mentor, and I’ve managed to squeeze in five this year! It’s been wonderful
connecting and working with like-minded people and the wonderful writers that
join are a huge part of its success. I’m excited that I’ve also been asked to
be Write Mentor’s Picture Book Writer in Residence 2021. I’ll be creating video
and text-based content to support writers who love picture books as much as I
do. So, all in all, lots to be thankful for and lots to look forward to.

Pippa Goodhart:

Picture book highlight: Wow! It's Night-Time, written and illustrated by Tim Hopgood

This board book has gloriously beautiful pictures of life at night observed by the owl at a time when 'we are tucked up in bed'. Weather and creatures and stars are all felt and noticed, and as dawn arrives the owls fall asleep ... just as you hope your child will be after you've read the book. The back endpaper reveals that the book is also a counting one, and there are one mole, two foxes, three rabbits, four bats, and so on up to ten stars to spot and count. 

Personal highlight: The choice of book is a clue. Just as the world closed down, we had the joy of a new life in our family. Grandson Samuel lives not far away, and I'm able to give 'informal childcare', pram walking and lap jumping and gurning to elicit grins. And sharing his first book experiences. He is very much 2020's personal highlight. Workwise I've been lucky. School visits have gone, but online teaching writing for children via Cambridge University has grown hugely. I long for more time to do my own writing! Wishing everyone a happy end to this year, and blossoming into a better world next year.

Jane Clarke:

Picture book highlight: Wow! said the Owl, written and illustrated by Tim Hopgood

There seems to be a bit of a trend here, Pippa :-) This beautifully, but simply, illustrated book is all about Owl's joy and wonder at the natural world he sees when he stays awake all day. I've read it over and over and over to my four little granddaughters this year, (2 personally, and 2 in the States, via Skype). It's resonated with me every time, reminding me of the solace I've found in nature this year.

Personal Highlight: Well, it's been a teeth-gritting year, but (touch wood) loved ones have stayed afloat, and I've been able to keep myself relatively sane and busy with lots of walks and online yoga as well as writing.  My heart goes out to those of you who have not been so fortunate. My personal picture book highlight is seeing Lucy Fleming's illustrations begin to come in for  A Small Person's Guide to Grandmas – to be published by Walker Books – and being able to dedicate it to the fab 4 who inspired it.

Natascha Biebow:

Picture book highlight: Old Rock (is Not Boring), written and illustrated by Deb Pilutti

This year, I've attended a lot of nonfiction craft webinars and I'm on the lookout for books that will inspire my own writing. What struck me about this picture book was the voice and unique point of view. The story is told by the rock, an inanimate object, and it immediately draws readers into the (true-ish) story of his life. Is it boring? Well, rock seems to sit in the same place all day long and he never goes anywhere. Has he even seen the world?! Beware of assumptions, though! Young readers will be surprised and delighted by the quirky adventures rock has really had in his lifetime - because, of course, rocks are around for a really long time (some cool lessons in geology and history here!). Old Rock challenges his friends' expectations - we can't judge people by how they look, and indeed tell whether they are 'boring' or anything else just by looking. Like rock, we are all special and each have unique experiences. Plus, sometimes, it's just nice to stay in one place for a time and enjoy nature – not boring, just 'being'.

Personal Highlight: It's been a tough year to be creative, with so much unexpectedness, worryingness, juggling and far-awayness from family and friends. My personal highlight was winning the Irma Black Award, voted for by children all around the world, for my debut nonfiction THE CRAYON MAN: THE TRUE STORY OF THE INVENTION OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS in the Spring, and recording the acceptance speech in my garden with my son's help. I am reminded of the beauty of nature's colours, the wonder of our world and inspired to keep going by the children who need our stories. I have been lucky enough to do some virtual school visits and connect with family via techonology. It's kept me going, even as I try to write new stories.

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