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Female characters – picture books

January 23, 2020

EILEEN BROWNE (guest post)

Female characters – picture books (work in progress)
Autumn 2019

After discovering that only one in three picture or baby books in the UK (and USA) has a female lead, (and only one in five with animal characters), I began compiling this list.

All books on the list are ‘a good read’, with either female protagonists, equal numbers of females & males or no gendered characters.

All are paperback fiction, unless otherwise stated. 

Books published in the last four years have the date in bold.

If titles are out of print, they can often be found in libraries or on line.

Until females and males are equally depicted in children’s media from birth onwards, there’s little chance of gender equality in adulthood.

 BAME (Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic) titles are indicated with an asterisk*.

© Eileen Browne 2016



Aargh, Spider! 2-7 yrs
Lydia Monks
97814 05210 447 – Egmont 2013 (2004)

Abracazebra 3-8 yrs
Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty
97814 07145 389 – Alison Green Books 2015

Ada Twist, Scientist * 4-8 yrs
Andrea Beaty & David Roberts
97814 19721 373 (hbk) – Abrams (USA) 2016

All Fall Down * 0-3 yrs
Helen Oxenbury
97814 06382 402 (board bk) – Walker Books 2018 (1987)

All Mine! 1-4 yrs
Zehra Hicks
97815 09817 757 (board bk) – Two Hoots 2016 (2015)

Alphonse, That Is Not OK To Do! 2-7 yrs
Daisy Hirst
97814 06373 134 – Walker Books 2017 (2016)

Alphonse, There’s Mud On The Ceiling 2-7 yrs
Daisy Hirst
97814 06374 759 (hbk) – Walker Books 2019 

Amazing Grace * 4-10 yrs
Mary Hoffman & Caroline Binch
97818 45077 495 – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2007 (1991)

Animal Boogie, The * 2-7 yrs
Debbie Harter
97818 46866 203 – Barefoot Books 2011 (2000) + CD rom:

Anna Hibiscus’ Song * 2-7 yrs
Atinuke & Lauren Tobia
97814 06338 416 – Walker Books 2012 

April Underhill, Tooth Fairy 3-8 yrs
Bob Graham
97814 06339 604 – Walker Books 2012

Azzi In Between * 6-11+ yrs
Sarah Garland
97818 47806 512 – Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2012 (graphic novel + non-fiction notes) Read more…

Taking a Moment

January 9, 2020


Illustrations by Shaney Hyde

It’s been a whirlwind six months of promoting my picture book Arabella and the Magic Pencil that was released in September 2019. I’ve been thinking about, talking about and obsessing about it for what seems like an eternity. From drafting a marketing plan to visiting bookstores and shipping review copies, I lost touch with how I ended up here in the first place. I actually got a bit sick of seeing my own face and the book I was so proud of splashed across social media. But in the quiet days after the holidays, in a fog of jet lag, I took a moment to sit down with the book I’d been shamelessly promoting to simply read it for myself.

First, I gazed at the cover and end pages. I traced Arabella’s steps as she waltzes in her whimsical world and noticed how Wish, a sweet little bird that was an invention of the illustrator, hops along the inside cover beckoning readers to follow.

Flipping through the pages, I giggled at the hidden details — Stephanie’s Story Tent, Arabella reading her own book and a banner advertising “Magic Happens” that I hadn’t actually noticed until now. And I couldn’t help but laugh at the flashy flamingoes who flamencoed as Word still insists that it’s not a word!

I remembered how feedback from my critique group changed a boring page turn to a dramatic moment with a well-placed ellipsis. Then I quietly observed Arabella as she stands with her back to me drawing with her magic pencil.

I marveled at my physical reaction to the change in color palette when Arabella realizes what she has done. I flipped back to the bright pages that conveyed her happy life and found myself searching for colors on the muted pages that follow.

Finally, I stared wide-eyed at Avery’s dinosaur — not the one that I imagined when I wrote the story, but the one the illustrator painted that just happens to be my favorite.

I find that I’ve been smiling the entire time I’ve been reading. Am I fan-girling myself? No, not really. This isn’t my book. It may be my story, but this thing in my hands has been created by many. People around the world now experience my words together with expressive artwork all wrapped up in a perfect package.

What once was just an foggy idea is now an actual book that will live on bookshelves and archives long after the marketing fervor has died down. It was nice to remember that I still love the story that I originally wrote so many years ago, even after reading it for the gazillionth time. And that seems like a pretty good reason to savor the moment.

via Taking a Moment — Stephanie Ward

What Agents Want

October 3, 2019


Jottings following the SCBWI Agents’ party 2019

I have listed below some of the points raised by the nine agents who were present.  As you will see, it was clear that different agents have different wish lists. It seems to me that the trick is to hit lucky, without knowing exactly who would like what!


 Different agents look at different parts of the submission. This can be:

  • The cover letter – to see if the agent warms to the author and could ‘get on with them’.
  • Synopsis – Some do NOT want to read the end!! Most DO.
  • The HOOK is vital for some.
  • A “Cracking Opening” of book = Vital
  • First 3 chapters. Because some go straight to the manuscript.
  • Don’t be self-deprecating in letter.
  • Do research on website about each agent – sometimes they need a change if have had a lot of one kind (g. One now has enough “funny”)
  • Cover letter should be short.
  • Even picture books and certainly MG can tackle big issues.
  • Voice is SO important.
  • Be concise and clear.
  • Why my voice is different from others – make it clear.
  • Give the setting.
  • Motivation of why wrote book. Why writing. Story behind the story.
  • Show you can be flexible when editing is asked for.
  • Timing is vital. . . g. if another publisher is publishing a book that is very similar. OR if there is a need for a change.

However, there are some things agents have in common. They all mentioned “be clear and concise”.  They recommended studying each agency’s submission guidelines really carefully.  Apparently sometimes a female agent receives a letter or an email prefaced by “Dear Sir!’

I liked the agents who said “Just send me your work. Sometimes I receive something I had never thought of and it turns out to be just exactly what inspires me to say YES.”

Good luck everyone!

Reading + Art at Keats Library

September 22, 2019


Bring the kids for a reading of the newly released picture book, Arabella and the Magic Pencil. Then, stay for an arts and crafts activity. We’ll be making magic pencils and designing paper dolls of Arabella and Avery. The event is free and will be held at Keats Community Library on the 28th of September from 1:30-2:15PM. See you there!

via Event: Reading + Art at Keats Library — Stephanie Ward

Booking Around the World – King’s Library Tower

August 24, 2019


The nearly impossible to photograph King’s Library Tower at the British Library

I love to travel and I love writing books, so whenever I’m in a new place, I seem to be looking for a bookstore (and a coffeeshop or restaurant, but that’s another post!). I’ve found some amazing places and bought lots of children’s books in languages I can’t read. So now, I’m on a mission to highlight all of the wonderful books, bookshops and bookish images that I have discovered on my travels.

Since I currently live in London, it’s fitting to start with a classic image from the British Library. The King’s Library Tower sits smack in the middle of the British Library. It spans six stories and is covered with glass making for a stunning spectacle from any angle. The books contained inside are actually the collection of King George III and include over 65,000 bound copies.

I’d highly recommend popping in the British Library for a peek of the King’s Library Tower when in London.

British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB

Malaika Rose Stanley obituary (Guardian)

August 6, 2019

JO BROADWOOD Fri 2 Aug 2019

Malaika Rose Stanley drew on her own experiences of motherhood in her books for children

My friend Malaika Rose Stanley, who has died of cancer aged 65, was a pioneering children’s author, educator and activist. Ros, as she was known to her family, was forthright, funny and fierce, and she made an important contribution to children’s fiction at a time when there were few black female writers being published.

Man Hunt, 1996, and below, Dad Alert, 1999, two of Malaika Rose Stanley’s series of books about Max’s search to find a man for his single mum

Her first book, Man Hunt, was published in 1996; Max is a mixed-race boy on a quest to find a man for his single mum. Told with humour and subtlety, it draws on Ros’s own experiences of motherhood and is laced with references to her local football team, Arsenal. At the same time it addresses serious themes and in particular celebrates a black child’s perspective on the world. Ros went on to establish herself as a popular and prolific author whose work ranged from picture books to pre-teen fiction.

The sequels following Max’s adventures, Operation X (1997) and Dad Alert (1999), were particularly popular, as was her series of “Spike” books, including Spike and Ali Enson (2010) and Spike in Space (2012). Dance Dreams (2013), about an aspiring ballerina, and Skin Deep (2016), the story of a young Brummie girl’s beauty contest ambitions, also found a wide readership

Ros was born in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Her white birth mother, Marina Stanley, had been detained under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act for being unmarried and pregnant by a black man and was immediately encouraged to give her baby up for adoption. After a series of short-term foster placements Ros was found a loving and stable home with foster carers, Fred and Jean, who she came to refer to as Mum and Dad.

Growing up in the 1960s as a mixed-race child in a mostly white suburb Ros was subject to the casual bigotry of the times, eloquently described in her 2016 memoir Loose Connections. It was not until she attended further education college that she began to explore her black identity. She recalled hearing the song Young, Gifted and Black on the radio for the first time as an epiphany. “My new afro was so much more than a fashion statement,” she wrote. “I was black and proud.”

Ros first trained as a teacher, at Dudley College of Education, which enabled her to indulge her love for travel. Fluent in German, she lived first in Zambia and then in Germany, returning to London only in her late 20s to settle and have children. She had already begun writing when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. The news prompted her to dedicate herself full-time to pursuing her dream of becoming a children’s author.

She was a founding member of Islington Writers for Children and the Black Women Writers Group and featured regularly as a speaker at British Council and Black History events and children’s literature festivals. Ros was also a regular visiting author in schools in Islington, north London.

Ros was modest about her courage and determination in overcoming the challenges of her childhood to live a full and adventurous life. She was surrounded with love from a close-knit community of family and friends, and is survived by her sons, Garikai and Danjuma, and grandson, Luca.

Link to the original article:

Handa’s Noisy Night

July 23, 2019

posted by JOHN O’LEARY

Former member and friend of IWFC Eileen Browne has a new book coming out in September. Some of us remember the early drafts of Handa’s Surprise, the book which can now be found in practically every school in the country.

The latest installment of the acclaimed Handa series is a warm, funny story about night time fears with a cast of nocturnal animals and an Kenyan setting.

The Walker Books website says the following:

When Handa has a sleepover with her friend Akeyo, the girls are allowed to spend the night in a little hut near the house. They’re excited to be on their own, but as they get ready for bed, Handa feels more and more nervous. She keeps hearing things – strange snorts, chitter chattering, a big thud. Akeyo says it’s only her noisy family, but on the opposite page the reader sees the nocturnal animals who are really making the noise – and while some of them are familiar, others are very peculiar-looking indeed! With rich, night-time illustrations, sound effects, and plenty of curious animals, Handa’s Noisy Night demands to be read aloud and shared – whether in the classroom or tucked up in bed at home.

We look forward to reading it in September.

For readers aged: 3+
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781406320015
Published: 05 Sep 2019

Malaika Rose Stanley

June 19, 2019


Malaika Rose Stanley (Ros)

1954 – 2019

We were deeply saddened by the death of Malaika Rose Stanley who was a prominent member of our group for many years. Some of our newer members will also also have met her when she returned to the group, albeit too briefly, in 2018.

Marion Rose gave a moving tribute to Ros at her funeral last week in which she said:

“Some of us first met Ros in a scruffy classroom in the Hornsey Road. It was a course  for writers who were ‘serious’ about publishing for children. Ros was very serious. Over the weeks we  also found that she was funny, and feisty, and very focused on things she cared about – such as her own search for a parent, and being the best that she could be as a single mum, for her two boys.

All of this is reflected in her writing, though we probably didn’t see it at the time. What we did see was her emerging skill as a story-teller, her empathy with and insight into people , and her determination to champion a black child’s place in the world, with all her considerable creative talent.”

Ros was a former teacher, a children’s author and, with the publication of Loose Connections, a debut memoirist.

Her children’s books have been described as topical, engaging and full of humour. Her first Amazon review describes Loose Connections as a ‘… wonderfully moving book… really well written, clear and simple but heartbreaking too.’

She was born in Birmingham and lived in London, near her grown-up sons, their partners – and her first grandson.


WHILE I AM SLEEPING Pearson Education



SKIN DEEP Tamarind




MAN HUNT Orchard Books

OPERATION X Orchard Books

DAD ALERT Orchard Books


5 Great Kidlit Podcasts

May 3, 2019


I’m late to the game when it comes to podcasts. But recently, I found a slew of entertaining and informative shows that have made me convert. Here are five podcasts that children’s book readers and writers should have a listen to.


The Happy Book: A Children’s Book Podcast with Tania McCartney

My latest discovery is a brand new podcast (now in Season 2) by Australian author, illustrator and all around fabulous kidlit creator, Tania McCartney. I love this podcast for so many reasons but it’s by far the most informative for those that are writing and/or illustrating children’s books. With 30+ years of experience, Tania McCartney tells it like it is (with a charming Australian accent) and with specific, relevant stories from many areas of the kidlit industry. A bit of the information is specific to Australia, but the large majority is relevant across borders so give it a go. Available on iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa and there’s a Facebook page too.


One More Page: A Podcast for Lovers of Kids’ Books






This is the podcast that got me into podcasts. It’s fun, funny and full of interviews with popular kidlit authors. But what sets it apart from others is that they actually talk to kids about kids books. Brilliant, right? And it’s hilarious. In its first year, One More Page was a Finalist in the Australian Podcast Awards. Well worth checking out. Available on iTunes, Castbox, Pocketcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio.


The Children’s Book Podcast with Matthew Winner





This might be the most comprehensive podcast about children’s books available. There are over 500 episodes and some with the most successful children’s authors in the world. Matthew Winner’s long-form interview style gives creators ample time to share their journeys. I’ve picked up some incredible wisdom by simply tuning in and tuning everything else out. Plus, Matthew’s sheer joy and gratitude about the world of children’s literature is infectious. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to this multi-award-winning, highly acclaimed series. Check out the website for all of the details.


So You Want to be a Writer

Practical advice for writers of any genre, Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait share their wealth of experience as writers and authors. Plus, there are interviews with a wide variety of authors. I search for relevant kidlit authors, but occasionally I’ll try an adult or non-fiction author and invariably learn something I can use in my own writing. With 275+ episodes, there is something for everyone. Available on iTunes, the Australian Writers’ Centre website or Stitcher Radio.


Middle Grade Mavens: The Podcast

A relative newcomer, this podcast specifically focuses on a middle grade books. Middle Grade Mavens reviews books, interviews publishers and authors working in this genre and discusses everything related to the genre. If you’re writing middle grade, check out this podcast for the most relevant and timely information about this wildly popular kidlit genre. Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and Radio Public.


I’d love to hear what you tune into, so please leave a comment with a link to your favorite kidlit podcasts.

Happy listening!

This post was first published in

Empathy in Children’s Literature

April 5, 2019


I have recently become aware that there is such a thing as an ‘Empathy Book List’. I looked at the list today and there are some excellent-sounding books. A while ago, I also read about someone sending her daughter to an ‘empathy session’. I’m not sure whether this is heart-warming or not. It probably is. . .

Clearly empathy is heart-warming but is it strange that such activities/book lists are necessary?

Perhaps the following comment by Empathy Lab UK explains the need for current attention being paid to empathy.

“There is a long list now of young people who have been persecuted in a way that would not have been possible until this century. It represents a failure of empathy, compounded by the impersonality of digital communications”
@PeterBazalgette #TweetwithEmpathy

I remember feeling empathy with the majority of characters I used to read about as a child. It seemed to be a necessary part of carrying on reading about a character – even, for example reading about cross young Mary in ‘The Secret Garden’. I felt very much for her and her reaction to her circumstances – the loss of her parents in India and being sent to a strange house in Yorkshire.

I also remember feeling greatly for Katy in ‘What Katy Did’. She had an accident and seriously hurt her back and had to strive to recover from this. The love/empathy of her grown-up Cousin Helen and her loving sister Clover helped her through the ordeal.

There are many books written today in the list by the Empathy Lab. There is even an Empathy Day.

“On Empathy Day on 12 June this year, lots of children, teachers,  librarians and authors shared empathy-boosting books and took part in a wide variety of activities around the country, including the hugely successful #ReadforEmpathy social media campaign.”

“Although Empathy Day is over for this year, our Read for Empathy Guide is still available, as is the 2018 book collection.” 

I have at last completed writing my first children’s novel. ‘Saving Willowfield’. (Please note: Looking for a publisher. . ) The main character Abigail cares so much for her twin brother Gabriel who is suffering from a serious disease of the hip (Perthes disease). I hope her love for her brother and her love of their grandparents’ farm come across and will move the children who read the story.

Here is UK Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell’s illustration and comment on empathy.

Another matter that requires empathy in my novel is the plight of farmers of small farms struggling to make ends meet. Abigail and Gabriel are desperate to think of a way to save their grandparents’ farm from having to be sold. It means so much to them. They love their grandparents and visiting the farm is a big part of their lives. I hope the reader will share the children’s concern and salute their persistence.

As long as it involves the reader enough, a fictional story about identifiable characters can bring care, concern and invoke feelings of empathy. It seems as if this is something urgently sought after in today’s digital technology and internet-obsessed society.

Originally posted in


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