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Making a picture book

“MENDING LUCILLE” – Creating a Picture Book – the process for the author

LATEST: “Mending Lucille” has
just WON the CRICHTON AWARD and is “Book of the Month” in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth – “Melbourne’s Child” parenting magazine has made “Mending Lucille” their book of the month. Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth editions of the paper have followed suit.

Creating a Winning Picture Book

My first picture book was released August 1, 2008 by Lothian/Hachette Livre.
It sold out the first print run in the first week,

was taken up by ASO and

within a fortnight
was listed as a recommended book for counseling & Biblio-therapy by the Monash Medical Centre’s Australian Centre for Grief Education in Victoria, and
was also recommended on a counseling site for parents/carers of children suffering loss or bereavement.

  • Interest was there from the first – Sarah Davis (illustrator) and I were invited to present at the SCWIBI International Conference, Sydney, February, 2008 – a huge honour for two relative unknowns in children’s books. We had the chance to listen and learn from/meet and talk with writers and illustrators of the calibre of Ellen Hopkins, Meredith Costain, Jackie Fench, Bruce Whatley, Susanne Gervay (a wonderful mentor), Chris Cheng, Felicity Pulman, Jeni Mawter, Diane Bates, Stephen Mooser and Peter Taylor and more… It also gave us the unrivalled opportunity to network with the leading publishers in Children’s literature – Chronicle Books, Hachette/Lothian, Harper Collins, PanMacmillan, Penguin, Random, Walker, plus educational publishers Teachers Toolkit and the publishing arm of the Australian National Museum.
  • Sarah and I gave a presentation on the story behind the book’s creation at the SCWBI International Conference, Sydney February 2008 [.http://www.scbwiaustralia.org/docs/conferences/Feb%202008%20Conference.pdf ] Below is the opening slide showing the original version and the final version of the text. Title Slide:








First version written in one sitting – started with the first line ‘A raging and roaring and rolling in the sky like a storm –’ the next line came immediately I committed the 1st to paper. It took under 15 minutes to finish the whole story.

Submitted to Lothian almost as an afterthought – they were looking for more humorous material.

Later submitted the 2nd version – more like a poem – this version wasn’t used.

The story behind the story – can’t be told in its entirety as it goes back generations and many folk affected are still alive. I was motivated to write by the pervading sense of loss and grief that hung, mist-like in the homes of relatives who had suffered terrible loss as children.



The story was to have been released pre the Hachette/Lothian merger.

Helen originally contracted Caroline Magerl to do the illustrations.

I very much like Caroline’s work. The example of her style envisaged for “Mending Lucille” was her utterly beautiful “Grandma’s Shoes”- see example:


After the takeover by Hachette, the pace quickened.
Caroline Magerl decided to devote herself more to her art and withdrew. [Love to know how that’s going.]

I was sent an example of Leith Walton’s work. Couldn’t find the picture the publisher sent, which was well executed. This is Leith’s submission for the ‘Book of Pi’ competition.

Hachette decided against Leith for this particular project and the hunt was on for another illustrator. [Wonder what he’s doing now.]

Jenny Gibson had submitted her portfolio, including the humorous illustrations for my education series, “Poetry Action for Classroom and Stage”. This is one of her humorous drawings.

Hachette decided against using her work for this project.

At this stage, I asked Helen if I could “have a go at finding an illustrator”. Helen gave me my head!



I Googled ‘illustrators’ specifying ‘pages from Australia’ – two sites came up worth checking. The SCBWI site was one.

two artists caught my attention – one on each site. I contacted the sites. Sarah Davis was the artist I found on the SCWBI site. Site Coordinator, Susanne Gervay, responded to my enquiry almost immediately and sent me Sarah’s contact details. Susanne has been enormously encouraging to both Sarah and I and subsequently invited us to present at the SCWBI International Conference, Sydney February 2008.

This is the picture that drew me to Sarah – it was so multilayered! [http://sarahdavisillustration.com/artwork/243867.html]


Rang Sarah and told her I had a contract with Lothian. Would she be interested in doing a couple of sketches for Helen? I couldn’t guarantee she would get the contract & I couldn’t pay her.

Sarah loved the ms and submitted sketches. [ I got first peak within 48 ours.]

•Helen Chamberlin, my wonderful, supportive editor at Lothian,  was wary, at my suggestion. Sarah was not a ‘known’ illustrator and pairing her with me, not exactly a ‘known’ myself was risky! I told Helen, ‘Sarah’s the one – just wait till you see the samples!’

Helen loved the samples – the rest is history!


Lucille, the ragdoll:


Sarah got underway with the illustrations, sending me updates – the two of us just gob smacked at how unified a vision we had of the book!

This is an early picture Sarah sent me. It visualised a key element in the story, one Hachette now felt should be changed. The dead bird:


The story was as originally written when Sarah started illustrating. At about the same time, Hachette took over Lothian.

I was told I must eliminate any reference to or hint of ‘death’ from the text.

This was no easy task as the dead bird symbol was one of the key elements to the story.

• Mending Lucille was a story that needed to be told. So many children have been and are being left without one of their central carers/parents and popular opinion was always that the children were not affected adversely. They were too young to be affected, it would wash over them, they would grow out of it, they were too young to remember or understand.

Re death/bereavement: It was generally felt children ‘got over it’, ‘they were too young to be aware of what was happening’. Death’s very finality allowed for recovery, for moving on, it gave a sense of closure.

Re loss/abandonment: Of more devastating proportions for a child, however, is the loss of a parent on going – a parent’s abandonment of the child. The general consensus was ‘it was better for the child than living in an unhappy home’ etc. There is no easy moving on from this type of loss because the parent is still alive somewhere…it is a profound loss, an inconsolable loss – it does not go away.



I had used the reference to ‘death’ in relation to the bird to gentle the story down – the fate of the mother was to be deliberately left ‘open’. Whether literally dead or gone from the child’s life, she was effectively ‘dead’ to the child I was not looking at pros and cons – not looking for reasons why – this was the child’s story, from her perspective.

Children are not generally told reasons and even if they are – they are too young to take them in – it is the loss that registers. The ‘unspeakable’ grieving – no one speaks to the child in a language he/she can understand about their loss till someone like Chrissie comes and starts to reach out to them at their level & so begin to console and mend the child.


I needed to find a way to still tell the story without compromise, but still meet the publisher’s requirements. I found a path through but fought for some of my more resonating text.

The drafted changes were run by Sarah – would this still fit with her vision of the whole? Yes, Sarah could see how it could be interpreted visually! YAY!



We both feel that what we now have, the final book, is a braver text, more controversial in ways, more honest! This is Sarah’s revised version of the bird and the rosebush:

It introduced the cage that is loss and grief…Sarah’s evocative illustration:

The bird becomes the spirit soaring! The end flaps:

“Mending Lucille”, Lothian, 2008, hardback, ISBN 978-0-7344-1033-7

To read the illustrator’s side of the story of “Mending Lucille” – go to:



22 responses to “Making a picture book

  1. Anonymous March 8, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Cool stuff –

  2. E. Star March 15, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    Спасибо грандиозное за предоставленную сообщение. Жрать рад разместить ее у себя на дневнике. Со, почитанием,

    Thanks are immense for that given communication. To gauge it is glad to place it in itself on the diary. By respect,

  3. Tom Bulger April 5, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Wonderful. Very interesting. Great thanks to JR Poulter and to my Cousin Margie for directing me to this site.

    • jrpoulter April 15, 2009 at 9:31 pm

      Hi Tom
      Thanks for your comments! 🙂
      Do check out Sarah’s website too – link to it through my blog.
      If are you interested in networking with children’s literature aficionados join up JacketFlap [free]!

  4. Lexus April 14, 2009 at 2:21 am

    Good site, admin.

  5. rollerfebaybe July 17, 2009 at 10:59 pm


    I like Your website. It is interesting. Do You have RSS so I can add to my favorites.
    Kee it UP.
    best regards

  6. Bill Bartmann September 10, 2009 at 9:32 am

    This site rocks!

  7. Tina Yao October 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    hi J.R.–What a great entry about this book project in all the stages.

    And thank you for writing about this difficult topic of grieving. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  8. Leith Walton November 25, 2009 at 3:09 am


    Im the Leith Walton who sent you some examples of Illustrations for your lovely story.
    Its wonderful to see how another artist interpreted you words I was really excited by the changes that the child was going through and how the doll could reflect them,

    Well I hope your having a lovely day


  9. Bernadette Weyker February 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm

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  10. blogg.no June 16, 2010 at 4:44 am

    realy good information

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  15. Anonymous January 24, 2013 at 4:37 am

    blog by the way!

  16. Pingback: lucinda gifford | Interview with Helen Chamberlin: A quiet voice

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