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Giveaway of new Benji Davies picture book!

12th Mar 19

We're delighted to have three copies of Benji Davies's new picture book, Tad, to give away to three lucky members! The picture book is published by HarperCollinsChildrensBooks this month.

Benji Davies's Tad takes a fresh look at metamorphosis, growing up and being brave. In the picture book we meet Tad, the smallest of the small tadpoles, and watch the changes he and his siblings go through.

As his tadbrothers and tadsisters grow, change and, one by one, disappear, Tad wonders if the monster fish Big Blub is behind their disappearances? The ending, however, solves the mystery beautifully.

Comment, below, or email your school's details to:
to be entered into our draw for a free copy!

The competition will close on Friday 29th March and winners will be notified.

Here is the author and illustrator BENJI DAVIES talking about his new picture book, TAD:

Q: What drew you to creating a picture book featuring a tadpole becoming a frog, and how did you set out to make this story distinctive?

A: I remember being fascinated by the transformation of tadpoles into frogs when I was young. There is something so appealing about these tiny creatures that appear to grow from a small black dot inside the frogspawn underwater, and step by step become a jumping, kicking, air-breathing frog.

There seemed to be already be a story in that process, a story of growing up and becoming more able, more alive - leaving behind a vulnerable and contained world and entering a much bigger one. It seemed to me a parable for growing up. I also remember when I was young the desire to grow up, to be an adult and not be constrained by childhood. Of course, now I've grown up, I often feel the opposite!

The storytelling voice is what drove this story. I made a drawing a few years ago of a tadpole breaking the surface of the water to peep out into the world. I posted it on instagram and when I thought about what words to put with the image, they seemed to write themselves. "Tad was a frog. Well that's not quite true - he was almost a frog."

That got the ball rolling and a few days later these two short sentences were rolling around in my head again. The rest just seemed to flow and so I put down whenever I was doing and quickly wrote this story out on the notes app on my phone. The final story is edited down from that longer version.

Q: Tad is the smallest of lots of very small tadpoles - and the story follows how they all grow and change, but it's quite a perplexing process for Tad. Do you think that children find the idea of change quite a scary prospect?

A: I know that I did. I was always one of the smallest in my class, the smallest boy, until I went to secondary school. I was always aware of the next steps, growing up through school, new classes and moving up to 'bigger school' - and that I somehow needed adapt to that, so I guess I projected that into this story. You always put elements of autobiography into your writing even if you aren't aware of it.

Q: The story tackles our hidden fears - in this case, in the shape of a fish Big Blub, who lives in the murky depths of the pond. Why did you decide to show Big Blub rather than keeping him hidden?

A: If I had kept Big Blub completely hidden then he would have been scarier because you could mould him into any shape in your head and maybe that would be too much. By showing him I was able to soften his appearance, even make him a little bit cute or funny to look at. I think it's easier for children to relate to something they can see, and maybe helps them put this fear in a box they can deal with.

Q: How did you approach drawing the tadpoles and frogs - did it involve lots of staring into ponds...?

A: Internet searches are very handy and I collected together a few images that way, but overall I wanted the frogs to be a little bit fantastical, I was't trying to make them super realistic.

I tried to follow the true process of becoming a frog from a tadpole, but I didn't want it to be so scientific that I had no licence to play and experiment for dramatic effect. By making an imaginary species of frog, I had the freedom to dictate the world they live in.

Q: And how do you get the reader to focus on Tad when he / she is one of hundreds of tadpoles / frogs?

A: Using colour I was able to make Tad's eye a unique colour to make her stand out from the other frogs. I create the colours digitally - to be geeky about it, I selected a 100% yellow ink for Tad's eye because its the brightest colour you can make. I knew this would look really pure against all the other colours in the book as it would be the only place that 100% yellow was seen.

Big Blub's eye is also a close yellow to Tad's, slightly paler and a very slight touch of green - I wanted there to be a kind of connection between them using colour.

Q: Can you talk about the colour palette you've used, especially as most of the book takes place underwater? And then there's that final, gorgeous spread..

A: My concept for the colour felt pretty clear from the outset of writing the story. It should start in fairly monotone, to represent her contained sub-aqua world, and gradually build so that by the end we are confronted with a world of colour up above the water - as if all this stuff she has been missing under the water now fills her eyes with wonder and colour at the end.

It's important to remember your character's perceptive when illustrating a story, what do they see, and how do they see it. As I worked on the book I realised that I wanted to make the colours more interesting and vibrant from the start but without ruining this pay off at the end which was really important.

I chose rich turquoise and greens to represent the starting point under the water, heavily silhouetting Tad's black body and bright yellow eye. Big Blub's part of the pond is an inversion of this, being mainly black and dark background and Big Blub a sludgy green shape within.

Q: How have you created the images for this picture book, and is the illustration the hardest or longest part of the process?

A: For this book the easiest part was writing the story. It's the easiest book I have written, by which I mean the words flowed very quickly, which is unusual for my process.

The images I created on the computer. I use a graphic tablet and stylus and paint digitally in Photoshop. It's not vastly different from traditional drawing, except that I have more control over the final image and can edit the colour very easily.

It was a challenge for me in this book, in that all the other books I have both written and illustrated have been set in human worlds where the images represent everyday places, rooms, houses and landscapes with people in them, where I am able to dress the environment with props and objects - plant pots perhaps, or fireplaces, everyday detail. Whereas in this book I had to zoom in very close and blow things up.

It meant I was relying more on texture and light and colour than have I have done before - I couldn't just break things up with a vase or a picture on a wall - it's very elemental in that sense and the storytelling focus was very different. It perhaps makes it feels as if the style is different from my other books, but for me it is just a change in subject while the nature of the story has dictated the look of the work.

Q: What is your favourite item on your studio desk top? Closely followed by..?

A: Currently the mug of coffee that is fuelling this interview!

Also a wooden key fob I bought at The Ghibli Museum in Japan. It's a little character from the film My Neighbour Totoro - which is a great film if you've not seen it!

Q: Do you have any tactics for getting children drawing who think that they can't draw?

A: Working together on step-by-step drawings together is a great way to get children drawing. I often do this when I talk to children in schools or at book festivals.

It can give them the confidence to see that drawing is a process of gradually creating something by building controlled lines - there is no magic wand involved, even though it sometimes looks like it. It's taken me thousands and thousands of hours practice to become good at drawing, much like learning a language or playing a musical instrument.

The difference is that I absolutely loved to draw from early on and built on that bit by bit over many years.

So often adults will say to me "Oh but I can't draw- you can because you're talented". It's a myth we like to tell ourselves. Even though I tell them this they don't believe me! I strongly believe that anyone can draw.

Drawing is like any other learnt skill and is developed and nurtured with practice. It's important to tell children this and set that seed form a young age. It's actually applicable to so many aspects of life. Find something that you love and be passionate about it.

Even just witnessing a grown-up doing some drawing can have a dramatic effect on children. Teachers and parents should lead by example and get involved because children are great mimics.

Q: What are the best and worst things for you about working as an author / illustrator?

A: The best thing is getting to create an entire world and story, the characters within it - that is the most seductive thing about writing.

The worst thing is probably not being able to switch off. My head is on 24 hours a day! Even when - in fact especially when - I'm on a holiday, that's when my imagination seems to be most active with new ideas. I guess they need the breathing space, away for the every day graft of the work, to have the chance to bubble up.

Q: You were a film animator previously, are any of your projects coming to television?

A: I very much hope so. We have been talking with film people a lot over the past year or so and maybe, just maybe getting somewhere! But these things take a lot of time.

It's a huge ambition of mine to get my stories onto the screen and I'd love to be involved in that process.

Q: What are you working on now and how long does it take you to create a picture book from start to finish?

A: I'm just about to start the process of creating a new picture book which is in its very early stages. It will probably take me about a year from now for the full process.

In reality the ideas that I'm working on have been brewing in one form or another for several years before they become something that feels like "my next book". Developing that idea into a pencil dummy (a test version of the book in black and white drawing) then refining it and editing the text, and finally once that is all working, creating the artwork.

The artwork stage will take about four months or so towards the production deadline - that's when it goes off to the printers. All being well the book will then publish about six months after that.

On which note, I'd better get on with it!

Ellenbrook Primary School

Lucy McCarthy-Stott

We'd love to win a copy of "Tad" at Avenue Primary School, Meanley Road, Manor Park, London E12 6AR.

Mandy Abel

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