Meet Dapo Adeola

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This week should have marked the launch of my debut picturebook ‘My Dad is a Grizzly Bear‘, illustrated by Dapo Adeola.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the book will now be published in May 2021 instead. Don’t worry, you can still preorder the book but in the meantime I am posting my interview with Dapo so you can get to know him ahead of our beartastic launch next year.

S: Hi, Dapo! Thank you so much for joining me here on my blog. Tell us a bit about how you got into children’s book illustration?

D: My journey here was a bit of a long winded one but I’ll try and sum it up for this in a few sentences. After failing a graphic design degree at uni and working in retail and sales for a bit I decided to take a chance and go part time at work and dedicate my spare time to teaching myself illustration and character design. Ten years, several online courses, art fairs, low paying commissions and social media posts later I found myself in an agent’s office pitching some designs I’d done for a picture book my friend Nathan and I were putting together. I signed with the agency, our book got taken to the Bologna Book Fair and everything went bananas and that’s the short version of how my career began. I had no intention of being at this point so soon but I decided to rise to the challenge and see how far this road takes me. So far, so good.

S: How did you get involved in the My Dad is Grizzly Bear project?

D: After deciding to go with Penguin/Puffin on my first picture book series it meant that several of the other publishers who’d made us an offer still wanted to work with me, so early the following year I found myself flooded with various texts from publishers for picture books they wanted me to illustrate. Amongst these were two texts from you! Let’s just say it was a wrap the minute I started reading them! Your texts were so witty and fun and warm at the same time, it was an absolute no brainer to me that this was the text I wanted to illustrate next. 

S: I’m so pleased you enjoyed the Grizzly Bear series. I’m thrilled with how the first book is looking and I can’t wait to see what you do with the second. What do you love illustrating the most?

D: My fave things to draw are children and (large) animals; I love the contrast in size when they’re both on a page together. Which also makes My Dad is a Grizzly Bear the perfect book for me. I’m a huge fan of imaginative texts too, texts that allow room for fantasy and inventiveness when drawing. I’m not so keen on very domestic stories to be honest.

S: As an illustrator who has worked with several writers now, do you have any advice for writers working with illustrators? 

D: Writers need to try and understand the illustration process and the parallels it has with their own process because illustrators are storytellers too. I’ve only been a professional illustrator for a short while, but I’ve been a storyteller all my adult life. And, as such, one of the first things I picked up on in this industry is that despite the evidence put forward in their work (especially when it comes to picture books), illustrators almost aren’t seen as storytellers in their own right. There’s a weird sort of space we’re supposed to occupy that lies somewhere between “magician” and “pencil for hire” as we’re expected to create almost on a whim and draw what we’re given text wise. This isn’t how it works in reality as a picture book takes 6-8 months on average for an illustrator to do, and longer if the text is a tricky one. Truly understanding that it’s a collaborative process involving two storytellers and being open to all the change that might come with that goes a long way towards getting the best work from your illustrators and ultimately the best book out of both of you.

Thank you so much to Dapo for joining me on my blog. We can’t wait for you to meet our grizzly bear and his family next year.

Dapo Adeola is an illustrator and designer who creates characters and images that challenge gender norms in a fun and upbeat way. He is the co-creator and illustrator of the upcoming Penguin Random House picture book series Look Up and illustrator of The Last Last Day of Summer. London born and bred but of Nigerian heritage, when he’s not busy cooking up new characters and adventures you can find him running illustration and character design workshops in and out of schools, to help highlight the possibilities of a career in illustration to inner-city children. You can follow Dapo Adeola’s work on Instagram.

The Book of Hopes

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I’m so honoured to be part of Katherine Rundell’s new collection of poems, stories and art called ‘The Book of Hopes: Words and Pictures to Comfort, Inspire and Entertain Children in Lockdown‘.

Completely free for all children and families, the extraordinary collection edited by Katherine Rundell, features stories, poems, essays and pictures and has contributions from more than 110 children’s writers and illustrators, including Lauren Child, Anthony Horowitz, Greg James and Chris Smith, Michael Morpurgo, Liz Pichon, Axel Scheffler, Francesca Simon, Jacqueline Wilson, Swapna Haddow – and Katherine herself.

You can read Katherine’s article and her inspiration behind the collection in The Guardian here.

Here is my poem from the collection:

You can have a go at writing your own ‘Me’ poem using this template.

The Book of Hopes collection, published by Bloomsbury, and hosted by the National Literacy Trust is dedicated to the doctors, nurses, carers, porters, cleaners and everyone currently working tirelessly in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Introducing the Ballet Bunnies

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I’m so pleased to be introducing you all to my brand new young fiction series ‘Ballet Bunnies‘.

Created in-house by the team at Oxford University Press Children’s Books and editor Debbie Sims, illustrated by the brilliant Binny Talib, designed by Sarah Darby and Holly Fulbrook and written by me, ‘Ballet Bunnies‘ follows Millie on her adventures at her ballet school where she meets four dancing bunnies. The stories are about friendship, kindness and finding your inner courage.

Binny Talib is a Sydney based illustrator who loves to create wallpaper, branding, childrens books, editorial, packaging and anything else she can draw all over. Binny’s illustration career has flowed on from a design background as an agency Art Director and Creative Director, she has an honours degree in Visual Communications. Her most recent books are ‘The Ladybird Big Book of Dead Things’, ‘Two Sides’, ‘Hark, it’s me Ruby Lee’ and ‘Origami Heart’. Binny was short listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary award and received an Honour from the Children’s Book Council for her book with Lisa Shananhan, ‘Hark it’s me Ruby Lee’.

Binny now works happily on beautiful Sydney harbour with other lovely creative folks drinking copious amounts of dandelion tea and is inspired by Jasper her rescue cat. 

This was the first time I got to work with Binny but I have been a huge fan of her work for a long time. I invited her on to my blog for a little interview so we could all get to know her better.

S: Hi Binny! Thank you so much for joining me here on my blog. Tell us a bit about how you got into children’s book illustration?

B: Hello! I Started out studying Architecture, and then studied Visual Communications, majoring in design, film and Illustration. When I graduated I was a designer for many years, and a Creative director, and I consistently included lots of illustrations in my design work. Eventually I started getting illustration work. This lead to getting an agent in New York, I was then lucky enough to get some book picture projects.

I had also done some illustration chapter books at home in Australia from publishers approaching me after seeing my portfolio.

S: How did you get involved in the Ballet Bunnies project?

My wonderful Agency, Bright came to me with the project. What’s not to love ballets doing ballet! 

S: What do you love illustrating the most?

I honestly love rabbits! But any cute animals in general. I love to anthropomorphise them and create little personalities.

S: What’s coming next from Binny Talib?

I have another wonderful fun book coming out with Ladybird in the UK (I can’t mention its name yet!) They have been a joy to work with. Also this year 

I have some exciting stationery projects. 

S: As an illustrator who has worked with many writers, do you have any advice for writers working with illustrators? 

It’s my favourite when the writer trusts the illustrator to create their vision. It’s such an honour to bring writers characters to life and create their world. I always get a bit nervous when I know the publisher is showing the writer my work for the first time, I always hope they are pleased with my interpretation.

Some authors notes may be helpful if the writing context is abstract, but I think it’s important to make them brief and not be too prescriptive as you want the illustrator to really run with all the amazing possibilities of turning your writing into visuals. It’s a good idea to know the process of working with an illustrator through the publisher before.

You can find out more about Binny and her books here.

We’ve just had our first review in for Ballet Bunnies: The New Class from V’s View from the Bookshelves and it’s gone down a storm! Have a read of the review here. Thank you, Veronica!

Whilst you wait for the book to arrive in your local bookshop and library, have a go at the Ballet Bunnies activities waiting for you in ‘Fun Stuff‘ area. See if you can make a matchbox bed for the little bunnies just like I did:

Writing Young Fiction Workshop with Stay-At-Home Lit Fest

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Thank you so much to everyone who joined the session. It was an absolute delight to spend an hour in the company of so many writers.

Here are the notes for my ‘Writing Young Fiction’ workshop with Stay-At-Home Lit Fest on Friday 10th April.

What is ‘Young Fiction’?

‘Young Fiction’, also known as ‘Junior Fiction’ or sometimes ‘Early Readers’ are the books aimed at 5 year olds to 8 year olds. They bridge the gap between picturebooks and middle grade fiction. These books can vary in length from 2000 to 20,000 words. Young Fiction also tends to be illustrated and can vary from full colour illustrations throughout to 100 or so black and white spot illustrations spread over 20,000 words.

What works well for this age group?

Fast-paced action that keeps the reader engaged works really well. These are books for newly-confident readers so you want them to engage and enjoy the experience – humour is a winner if you can get it right. But that’s not to say all books for this age group need to be loud and slapstick – children like variety so stick to a genre you are comfortable in.


Readers at the age really invest in the characters so develop your character! Plots can be secondary to this. Your reader must be able to identify with someone in your story. Imagine your character and answer the following questions:

What is your character’s name?

Is your character a human? Or are they an animal? Perhaps they are neither. Perhaps they are from a completely different planet or universe.

How old are they?

What do they look like?

What is the world like that they live in?

Do they have any companions? And what is their relationship to them?

What is the one thing they wouldn’t want anyone to know about them?

What was the most interesting thing to happen to them yesterday?

They wake up, what is the first thing they think of?

If they were making a quick escape, what one thing would they grab before they left?

You should add to this list with your own questions and really get to know your characters.


Put yourself in the shoes of your character and ask yourself these two important questions:

What does your character want?

What is going to stopping them from getting it?

Punchy first lines and keeping your reader hooked

Dramatic first lines are what hook your reader. Don’t worry about backstory, just launch into the action if you can. Be bold and give your reader a reason to read on.

Dialogue is a great way to maintain the pace of the story and keep your reader engaged, especially for the younger age group. Eavesdrop on conversations, listen to the radio, watch the TV with a blindfold on and really listen to how dialogue works when people converse.

This is a super exciting age to write for and I love it. I hope you will too.

Good luck with your writing!

Swapna xx

Dave Pigeon in The Guardian

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It’s lovely to see Dave Pigeon mentioned in Lucy Mangan’s round up of books to keep kids entertained during lockdown.

Photo from @MrTRoach on Twitter

If you are at home and looking for something to do, do feel free to download the worksheets in my ‘Fun Stuff‘ section. I’ll be posting more activities over the next few weeks. And if you can send me pictures of your work, I’ll make sure your work goes up in the ‘Gallery‘.

Stay safe and lots of love,

Swapna x

Dave Pigeon (Royal Coo!) makes the Alligator’s Award longlist!

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I’m thrilled to announce that Dave Pigeon (Royal Coo!) has made the Alligator’s Award 2020 longlist! This brilliant award celebrates illustrated young fiction, the often unsung heroes that get children hooked on books for life. I couldn’t be more proud of Team Dave Pigeon and to be amongst so many brilliant books.

Hugest congratulations and jammy biscuits to everyone!

Torn Apart: The Partition of India, 1947

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I’m so proud to reveal the cover for my new book Torn Apart: The Partition of India, 1947, designed by Jamie Gregory and Two Dots Design Studio.

It’s October 1947 and two young boys find themselves thrown together during the dramatic changes of Partition. As the new India and Pakistan are born, can a friendship between these two children rise above the tensions between the two countries?…

Described as a thrilling and moving account of the largest movement of people in history, Torn Apart: The Partition of India, 1947 tells both sides of the story through the voices of children at the heart of Partition and publishes this August with Scholastic.

This was a very important story for me to write and I was thrilled when Elizabeth Scoggins and Charlie Wilson at Scholastic approached me with the project.

I was born in the UK but grew up aware of a historical tension between India and Pakistan that no one really defined for me as a child. Researching this story gave me a chance to delve deep into Indian history and answer questions that I had long been unable to ask. It wasn’t easy as I had to face some heartbreaking truths about this very gruesome and cruel time but I also discovered some of the most wonderful examples of humanity I had ever come across. There were beacons of hope shining through this dark time and in telling Ibrahim and Amar’s story I hope readers will see this.

I can’t wait for this book to be out in the world and I hope the friendship between Ibrahim and Amar shows that peace can triumph.

Happy World Book Day from New Zealand!

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It’s World Book Day and I wasn’t going to miss out on all the fun back in the UK so I was chuffed to be invited to speak to the Writing Extension group at Kaikorai Primary School, where I met with sixteen brilliant young writers.

We talked about planning stories and shared ideas on writing. And then we played a game of beat the buzzer and invented a story all about a witch before the pupils created brilliant foldover stories together.

I had an absolute blast and can’t wait to hear all the stories the pupils come up with. Thank you so much to Miss Ferguson for inviting me to join the Writing Extension group.

Happy World Book Day to all of you celebrating today. I have loved hearing all your messages about your Dave Pigeon adventures and I have been thrilled to see so many of you dressing up as Dave Pigeon characters to celebrate. Here are some of my favourite costumes from World Book Day 2020: