Author Archives: Lynley

About Lynley

Lynley is the author/illustrator half of Slap Happy Larry.

Picturebooks and Auteur Picturebooks

Modern film critics set up an opposition between genre film and auteur film. Like children’s literature, film is a relatively young form of art which is now catching up with the other arts. Like children’s literature, film was not at first perceived by critics to be a serious art form. While most films are, of course, genre films, we can today see a growing amount of auteur films; we speak of Bergman films, Fellini films of Tarkovsky films without thinking about which genre these masters be. …

It would seem that we can similarly speak of genre children’s books and “auteur children’s books. The latter are becoming literary, sophisticated and complex. But there still is, and must always be, a vast number of genre or “epic” books. …

Evidently auteur books are still limited in number

Obviously, “literary” children’s literature puts greater demands on the reader. Today we see that many writers are not afraid to do that. At the same time we see that many are still convinced that children need happy endings.

- Maria Nikolajeva, in Children’s Literature Comes Of Age

Picturebooks and Age-Appropriateness

When I wrote The Artifacts I didn’t give a thought to the age of the reader. I just set out to make a picturebook. Of course, the publishing world can’t run properly unless books are connected to the right readers and when it came time to upload the app onto iTunes we had to decide what age the ideal reader would be. We guessed the category of 4+, because younger kids seemed to enjoy playing with the caterpillars. Older kids and adults would understand the themes. But once again we’re about to upload our next storyapp onto the store in the coming weeks, and I’m scratching my head about the age category thing because until the story’s out there, really out there, you don’t actually know how it’s going to be received.

I think Midnight Feast is darker than The Artifacts but it does include some slightly bizarre humour, so I’m not sure if that will override or counterbalance the dark ending, or possibly make it feel even worse.

Do picturebooks need an age category at all? (Excluding board books, of course, which are clearly for toddlers and babies.) To my mind, picturebooks are for everyone except for maybe adolescents, who self-identify as too old for kid-lit and are keen to identify as adults. Adults, especially adults with children and grandchildren, often revisit picturebooks and derive as much pleasure the second-time around.

The ideal picturebook must surely appeal to all ages. Yet it feels like hubris to announce that ‘this is for everyone!’ when we all know that no book can possibly be for everyone.

On picturebooks and ages, Maria Nikolajeva writes:

Even today in many countries children’s books carry age recommendations: “7 to 10 years”. The same practice in mainstream literature would seem ridiculous; no one would suggest recommending an adult novel “for men between the ages of 35 and 45.” These recommendations and genre markers, however, have arisen out of the common prejudice that “children” are a homogeneous group with homogeneous preferences, tastes, interests and previous knowledge.

- from Children’s Literature Comes Of Age (1996)

And that pretty much sums it up.

Picturebooks and Music

Listening to a folktale — or a children’s book — is more like listening to a musical piece than reading a modern novel. It is normal to listen to musical pieces more than once, under different circumstances, and performed by different musicians.

- Maria Nikolajeva, Children’s Literature Comes Of Age

The Giggle

Working on SFX for Midnight Feast. Here is some genuine, unedited giggling from our four-year-old.


Kidlit: difficult to pin down

Children’s literature is a place of great experimentation. Like children themselves, it can be hilariously playful and deeply serious. It isn’t content to sit on shelves and behave. It is inquisitive, exploratory – and difficult to categorise.

- David Almond, in The Telegraph

The Colour Of Sky

Why is the night sky turning red? from Discover Magazine

Watch As Clouds Convince You You’re Underwater from io9

Why Is The Sky Blue? from The Explainer

The illusion that lets you see ghosts of clouds, from io9

Sky comes in a wide variety of colours — it’s not blue nearly as often as we might think. Changing the colour of the sky is a great way to significantly alter the mood of an illustration. A blue sky is cheerful, a stormy sky foreboding, an orange sky indicates evening, or early morning, and a purple sky might convety a fantastical or magic world.

What if you change the colour of the sky after the rest of the artwork has been done? I read a hint lately in a digital art manual which suggested filling a top layer with the colour of your sky, then setting it to multiply blend mode. This will tint the landscape/cityscape or whatever to the appropriate hue, since the colour of the landscape is influenced by the colour of the sky above. I haven’t had a chance to put this to use, but I did try it out anyway on an illustration I’d already done, and I do believe it would be a good way to get the sky matching the landscape, if you end up with a hue which draws attention to itself, or in which the sky looks somehow separate from the land.

Pixar’s 22 Rules Of Storytelling

Here are 22 rules of storytelling, according to one artist who worked on the storyboards.

These guidelines make a lot of sense to me.

The one I’d query is Number 12.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

I see what she’s getting at. She’s urging writers and storyboarders to strive for originality rather than settle for the easy option. Thing is, maybe it IS your first idea that was the best. It’s just as likely to be the second, third, fourth or the fifth. There is no magic number for how many ideas you have to come up with before you’ve found the right one. When you know, you know.

Flip The Picture

Artists who work on canvas often recommend a large mirror in the studio, because when you see your work-in-progress in reverse, any flaws you didn’t see previously become immediately apparent. When working digitally there is often a keystroke you can use to flip the canvas both horizontally and vertically, and I am trying to get into the habit of doing this more frequently.

Have you ever been to the When You See It website? It’s possible to waste hours at websites like those. This one displays seemingly harmless pictures, until you keep looking and find something very odd in it.

I came across this picture this morning and honestly I couldn’t tell what was wrong with it. Can you?

Yet when the image is flipped, it becomes immediately apparent what’s wrong.

In case you’re not on a mobile device right now, here’s the same image upside down:


This sort of thing is unlikely to happen in a digital painting (compared to all the ways in which it’s possible to stuff up with Photoshop), but flipping comes in handy nonetheless.

In Artrage, press ‘h’ to flip horizontally and ‘v’ to flip vertically. The image stays that way for only as long as you’re holding your finger on the key, so it’s very easy and very handy.

Brevity Takes Time And Practice

I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.

- Blaise Pascal

Are Storyapps Inherently Metafictive?

Interactivity existed in picturebooks before digitization came along:

  • pop-outs
  • movables
  • scratch-and-sniff hot spots
  • mazes
  • choose-your-own-adventures
  • musical chips
  • flashing light-emitting diodes
  • fold-out flaps
  • holograms

In his book Reading Contemporary Picturebooks, David Lewis offers a brief list of some landmark examples of interactive printed picturebooks:


David Lewis also argues a case for interactions in picturebooks being inherently metafictive in that they inevitably bring readers out of the story itself:
Books such as these … foreground the nature of the book as an object, an artefact to be handled and manipulated as wella s read. They are thus metafictive to the extent that they tempt readers to withdraw attention from the story (which, it must be said, is often pretty slender) in order to look at, play with and admire the paper engineering. One of the characteristics of a well-told tale is that as we read it our awareness of the book in which it is written tends to fade away, but when the material fabric of the book has been doctored in such a way as to draw attention to itself, it is less easy to withdraw into that fictive, secondary world.
 Ultimately, Lewis considers interactive picturebooks as valid artifacts in their own right — a cross between books and toys:
Pop-ups and movables tend to produce a degree of unease amongst children’s book critics and scholars for they often do not seem to offer much in the way of a reading experience at all. For this reason they are sometimes considered to be more like toys than books, objects to play with rather than to read. There is some justice in this view, but it is far too simplistic for it tidies up too neatly something that, if we are honest, rather resists pigeonholing. We might better understand the world of the movable if we view it as a hybrid, a merging of two, otherwise incompatible artifacts: the toy and the picturebook.

I would argue instead that interactiions in picturebooks (whether printed or digital) come in various forms, and can be manipulated by careful developers to either pull readers out of the story or to draw them in deeper. Interactions are therefore not necessarily metafictive.

Related: some metafictional picturebooks from Book Riot