Tag Archives: illustrator

Aaron Blabey talks about his work

Aaron Blabey is my idol.  If there is one person in the world I wish I was it would be him.  He is one very talented guy who creates some of the funniest books for kids.  He can write and illustrate stories for all ages and in different forms, whether it’s picture books like Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas or novels for older readers like The Bad Guys.

I found this wonderful video on YouTube of Aaron Blabey talking about his work with the brilliant people at Story Box Library.  Watch it and find out about the magic behind Aaron’s stories.

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Laugh out loud with Aaron Blabey

If you need a good laugh all you need to do is read a book by Aaron Blabey.

Aaron Blabey has become one of my favourite author/illustrators this year.  Not only are his books incredibly funny, he is also really prolific.  By the end of this year Aaron would have published 6 books through Scholastic!  This year he has given us Pig the Fibber (a follow-up to Pig the Pug), Thelma the Unicorn, Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas, I Need a Hug (released this month), and two episodes of his brilliant series for younger readers, The Bad Guys.  Every one of these books is a winner in my eyes.  I love Aaron’s sense of humour, which appeals to kids and adults alike.  His picture books are perfect to read aloud and I have shared them with kids from Year 1 to Year 8 this year, with resounding success.

I hope that we have many more Aaron Blabey books to look forward to next year.  Here are my two favourites from Aaron this year.


Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas

This is the story of Brian (love the name!) a Piranha who should like meat but much prefers fruit and veges.  His friends aren’t happy and try to put him on the right track.  He tries to persuade them that ‘fruit is the best’ but they would rather eat feet, knees and bums.  This is a hilarious read that has kids and adults cracking up.  The idea of the story is great and it works really well.  There is so much expression in both the text and the illustrations.  Brian is just so happy being who he is but the other piranhas get really frustrated with him trying to get them to eat fruit and veges.   I also like Aaron’s extra added features in the front and back of the book that explain all about piranhas and bananas.  This is a picture book that will be read again and again.

The Bad Guys

This is my favourite series of 2015.  It’s perfect for kids from ages 7-12 and has all the things that make Aaron’s picture books so great – a unique story, laughs galore and great illustrations.  Episode 1 introduces us to the ‘Bad Guys’ of the story, Mr Wolf, Mr Shark, Mr Piranha and Mr Snake.  They’re always portrayed as the bad guys, with their shark teeth and nasty natures, but all they want to do is be good guys.  Mr Wolf gathers his friends together and they come up with a plan to become good guys.  Nothing seems to go as they planned though.  In Episode 2 the bad guys are trying to make good again so they come up with a new plan – rescue 10,000 chickens from a high-tech cage farm.  This time they’re joined by a new guy, Legs, a computer genius tarantula.  He’s a good guy with a bad reputation too so he wants to help out and do something good.

The Bad Guys books are short, chock-full of illustrations (sort of like a comic), and absolutely hilarious!  I chuckled my way through these first two episodes and I’ll eagerly await more escapades of The Bad Guys.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – James Foley


Bringing My Dead Bunny to life – James Foley



I have never owned a rabbit, let alone a zombified one, so when I began working on ‘My Dead Bunny’ I had no idea how to approach the character of Bunny Brad. I knew plenty about zombies, having watched all of the Walking Dead and the original Romero film Night of The Living Dead; but I didn’t know how to draw a decent rabbit (or, as this book required, an indecent one).

In addition, I wasn’t sure what illustration style would suit the book; in the first few pages I needed to show a live rabbit being electrocuted, then coming back as a zombie, and I needed to accomplish this without making the audience want to stop reading, close the book, and burn it immediately. As you would expect, it was a challenge bringing a dead bunny to life.

I always start a book by developing the main character. This inevitably involves experimenting with style at the same time. Once the main character design has settled, it informs the style of the whole book; everything else forms around it.

I read the first draft for ‘My Dead Bunny’ and was instantly hooked. Then I was perplexed. How would I draw Bunny Brad? I realised I needed to answer three questions:

  1. How ‘undead’ would he be? (i.e. would Bunny Brad still look relatively alive, or would he look obviously undead?)
  2. How much sentience would he have? (i.e. would Bunny Brad appear to be conscious of his actions and intentionally evil, or would he be acting out of unconscious zombie impulses?)
  3. How real would he look? (i.e. would Bunny Brad have realistic proportions, or would he appear more cartoony?)

I wrote these three questions down in my sketchbook, and tried a few drawings.


The brain worm was there from the start, as was the idea to have Bunny Brad appear at the narrator’s bedroom door casting a long shadow.  But that’s about all in these sketches that looks familiar.

At this point I realised I needed to look at reference photos of actual rabbits, so that I could clarify what features I needed to include. I soon found another challenge; how could I take a rabbit’s features and zombify them? Rabbits look very alert, anxious and cuddly, whereas zombies need to look slow, dim-witted and creepy. How could I draw a zombified rabbit and still have it seem like a rabbit?

I tried many many options over many many months. Here are some of those designs.


The publishers (god bless them) were very patient and supportive, rejecting options that were too cute and/or not strong enough. After many rejected character designs I was feeling very frustrated, so I sat on my studio floor with a big sheet of paper and a sharpie, and drew some ridiculous zombie rabbits that I thought the publisher would hate. ‘Let’s see what they think of these!’ I thought. I sent the sketches off with a devilish glint in my eye.

20140215-bunny sketches

The publisher emailed me back almost immediately. ‘We love them!’ they said. ‘More of these, please!’

I felt surprised, then relieved. The character had finally clicked, and so had the style. Bunny Brad shifted a bit from that sketch to the final version, but he was basically there, and the rest of the book flowed quite easily once he was in place.

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;  RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;
RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

It’s always the case that I spend at least half of the creative process experimenting and planning. Quite often there’s a point where it seems like it’s never going to work – that the character is never going to settle and the book won’t go anywhere. I’m so glad Bunny Brad eventually turned up! He’s been a heap of fun to work with (if a bit nibbly).

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley is available now from Walker Books Australia.  Grab a copy now from your library or bookshop.

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Filed under books, Guest Post, picture books, Seriously Spooky Month, Seriously Spooky Month 2015, spooky

Picture Book Nook: Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

Louise Yates creates picture books that combine two of my favourite things – dogs and books.  Louise introduced us to her book-loving Dog in Dog Loves Books, and then came Dog Loves Drawing.  Dog is cute, lovable, totally addicted to books and one talented wee pooch.  Dog shows how exciting and fun reading can be.  Louise’s latest book is Dog Loves Counting and it’s an absolutely terrific book.

Dog can’t get to sleep.  He loves books so much that he just can’t stop reading.  Dog tries counting sheep, but it’s not working – perhaps there are some other creatures he can count?  Soon Dog is off on an adventure, finding friends and numbers in unexpected places.

Dog Loves Counting is a cute, funny story in which Dog takes us on a journey inside a book to help him solve his problem.  Louise had me from the first page,

‘Dog loved books.  He loved reading them late into the night and didn’t like to leave them for long.’

You immediately relate to Dog and you want him to be your best friend.  When he can’t sleep he reaches for a book and hopes that it might help.  He discovers all sorts of creatures and makes some new friends within the covers of his book.  Not only that, it also helps him with his problem of not being able to sleep.  The text is simple, yet fun and I really like the way it flows over the page.  Louise has created a sense of anticipation of what creature will be on the next page and what there will be to count.

I love Louise’s illustrations, from the loveable Dog and his stacks of books, to the multicoloured Dodo, the Three-Toed Sloth, and the Five-Lined Skink.  Each of the pages made me laugh, but I especially like the picture of Dog in bed, surrounded by sheep with books in their mouths.  The way that Louise has incorporated the numbers into the story is really clever too and it makes the story more interactive for children.  Louise has also created some stunning endpapers too that add an extra surprise to the book and incorporate numbers, stars and the creatures from the story.

Louise’s Dog books aren’t just for kids, but also for book-lovers everywhere.  In her character Louise has perfectly captured how much I love books and what makes them so special.  Grab Dog Loves Counting and Louise’s other Dog books from your library or bookshop.

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Fast Five with Jenny Cooper

  • Why did I want to be an illustrator?
I never knew you could be an illustrator, but I always drew, at home, when I was young. Then I grew up and discovered that there was a whole world of picture books for children, and even though I had other jobs like teaching and advertising, I couldn’t help being drawn to children’s illustration, because I had spent so many thousands of hours, as a child, doing that sort of art. So in a way, I had no choice, it just happened naturally.
  • What is the best thing about being an illustrator?
The best thing is when you do a picture that you are really proud of. This doesn’t happen often, usually I am disappointed in my work. But just sometimes, maybe one picture out of 10, I do something that really surprises me, astonishes me and makes me think, how did I paint something that good? When that happens, it makes all the other, average, illustrations, worth it.
  • What is your favourite New Zealand Book?
The Year of the Shining Cuckoo by Joyce West. It is not in print now, I bought it second hand and read it once a year.
My favourite NZ picture books are  probably A Booming in the Night, by Helen Taylor, or Dragor, by Philip Webb
  • What do you love most about New Zealand?
New Zealand to me means freedom and space. I didn’t notice the  space and peace and quiet here until I had travelled in Europe, where the beaches are so full you don’t have room to put down a beach towel. And I can be in the mountains in an hour, if I want, or beside a beautiful clean alpine lake. And I love our relaxed and unfussy way of life, as Kiwis are basically trustworthy and trusting of other people, and I really hope it stays that way. Doors don’t always have to be locked, and a lost wallet will probably be returned, and if you want to live in an unusual way, up a mountain or on a boat, you are free to do it.
  • What do you love most about libraries?
If I go into a library for one book, I always come out with 5, there are so many interesting things to read about. But unlike the internet, where you are alone, libraries are always full of other people. Libraries are friendly, the people are helpful, and I always come out feeling I have spent my time well, and learned something. And of course, the books are free!
Jennifer Cooper is a children’s book illustrator with a background in graphic design.  Jenny has illustrated books for Melanie Drewery, Yvonne Morrison, Joy Cowley, and Jane Buxton, among many others.  Jenny’s most recent collaboration is with the Topp Twins for their version of There’s a Hole in My Bucket and Do Your Ears Hang Low?

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Filed under books, children, Illustrators, New Zealand, NZ Book Month 2013

Meet the wonderful Oliver Jeffers

I thought Oliver Jeffers was awesome before I saw this video, but now he’s just reached an all new level of awesomeness!  I’ve been a huge fan of Oliver since his first book was published and I’ve loved everything he’s created so far, from his own picture books to illustrations for other authors, such as John Boyne and David Almond.  His books are wonderful and it’s great to get this entertaining insight into his creative process.

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David Melling chats about Hugless Douglas

David Melling is one of my favourite picture book author/illustrators and I absolutely love Hugless Douglas.  He’s a cute character who children and adults love.  There’s even a very cool Hugless Douglas app, with the story read by the wonderful Alan Davies.

David has a great website (www.davidmelling.co.uk) where you can find out more about him and his work, and you can even buy some very reasonably-priced prints (I’ve got the Hugless Douglas one on my wall).  I’d love to have a giant Hugless Douglas costume like the one on his blog.  I’ll have to try and convince my library to buy one.

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This is Not My Hat Blog Tour – Interview with Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen is an incredibly talented author and illustrator from the US.  He writes and illustrates his own books, as well as illustrating others’ books.  The first book he wrote and illustrated, I Want My Hat Back, has won many awards, including a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honour Award.  His latest book, This is Not My Hat, is one of my favourite picture books of the year (you can read my review here).  Today I’m joined by Jon Klassen on his This is Not My Hat Blog Tour.  I asked Jon about his illustrations, his obsession with hats, and humour in his books.

How do you create your illustrations?

For I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat, I made the shapes of the plants and animals with black chinese ink and cut them out and scanned them into the computer and added color and detail to them afterwards. It’s a nice process because it lets you be loose and try a lot of things out and then choose your favorites and put them together in one illustration later.

Your illustrations have a very limited colour palette. Why do you choose these colours?

I don’t think I choose a limited palette on purpose, it’s just what I like, but for these stories it is useful because there are things that can get emphasized by strong color when it’s needed. Also I just like things to feel a little calm. I think you can get interesting stories that still feel like the colors aren’t firing on all cylinders all the time.

Both of your own stories (I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat) have focused on hats. What is your fascination with hats?

I try not to tie too much of myself into the books, but I do wear a hat a lot of the time. But I think, for these stories, hats are great because they are kind of unnecessary. The stories are about characters that want the hats badly, but not for any practical reason, so it becomes really emotional. Also, for younger readers, they are an easy thing to spot and a fun thing to see on a character who wants to put it on.

Your books feature subtle humour that children and adults love. How important is humour in picture books?

Thank you! I don’t think humor is totally necessary, but I think it’s hard to find a good picture book without it because the format sets up jokes so nicely with turning the page. It’s a great way to time a joke. Plus it’s hard to keep younger kids’ attention without either making them laugh or scaring them. I also think it’s a good sign when a story makes you laugh because it means other things are working well too, most of the time.

As well as an author and illustrator of picture books, what other hats do you wear?

I work on animated projects sometimes, though mostly as a concept or background illustrator, and sometimes I do editorial illustrations for newspapers and things. Last year I taught a class at Calarts, but those kids are too good.

Do you prefer writing and illustrating your own books or illustrating others’ books?

I like both. I think if you get an idea you like on your own, doing it all yourself is more exciting because you can really fine tune both sides of it, but I always really enjoy seeing the stuff that comes out of illustrating other people’s stories. Getting an assignment is always a different sort of challenge than just coming up with whatever you want, and you can dive into the illustrating right away.

Are you more of a big fish or a small fish?

It depends on the day, I guess, but if I’m honest, there are probably more small fish days than big fish days.

Thanks for joining me Jon!  Make sure you join Elizabeth O. Dulemba on her blog tomorrow for the next stop on Jon’s blog tour.



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