Tag Archives: writing a picture book

guest post by sophy henn! elements of an A+ picture book: Henri’s Walk to Paris

IMG_0455Remember when I did a post on Where Bear? and dissected how it made such a perfect picture book? Well now, its creator (and all around lovely, talented, generous person), Sophy Henn, is back to look at a classic picture book and tell us what makes it A+ from an illustrator’s perspective. I’m so delighted to have her take!


Over to Sophy!






I have bounced around  from book to book trying to settle on one to talk about for this, my very first guest blog post ever! I truly love picture books, and still can’t believe I am lucky enough to work in the industry. I have to confess to avoiding current picture books as much as possible. There are so many utterly beautiful books out there, it can be a bit intimidating!



HENRI 1So when choosing a book to talk about, I looked to the classics, then to my book shelf, then wildly around various book shops and then back to my book shelf. I narrowed it down to two, then changed that two a few times, and after a quick round of eeny meeny miney mo, here we have my choice for discussion…

Henri’s Walk to Paris
. Illustrated by Saul Bass, Story by Leonore Klein (first published 1962; republished 2012).





A bold and sparse cover can be such a delight when seeking out a book amidst the jam packed jostle of the picture book shelves. Henri‘s Walk to Paris certainly has that clean graphic quality of many of Bass’s film posters, but gives us enough information to draw us in.


HENRI 2(click image(s) to enlarge)

The cover, endpapers and title page work together to create the opening credits of the story, like one of Bass’  film title sequences, with the same simple shapes, heavy text and strong sense of movement.




The opening spread  warms us up to Henri’s interest in things outside his immediate existence.. Henri is an inquisitive and curious child, gobbling up all this praise of Paris, so of course…who wouldn’t want to live there?


But his pink feet poking out at the bottom of the huge book he’s reading give us a visual clue as to where all this information will lead!



It is the second spread that really lays the foundations of Henri, our main character, and of the book’s visual language.  He has big ideas but also strong roots and through the simplest of shapes and the clearest of copy, we understand this immediately.

It is already apparent that this book has a clear narrative and strong, direct imagery, but there is much left to our imagination, lots of space to fill in the gaps. What does Henri look like? What do Henri’s friends look like? What does anyone look like? (Marvelously we tend to only see people’s feet through the book – another nod to walking.)


I really enjoy picture books that leave room for the reader to invent and explore, and this is a wonderful and quite extreme example of that. Though the images in Henri’s Walk to Paris reflect the text, it’s the boldness of the layouts that give the images their punch. Which brings me to…



Henri is from the small town of Reboul and is rather excited by Paris with its hustle and bustle. When telling his friends of their differences, the simple but utterly effective layouts convey this completely, in a visual language a child would clearly understand, well traveled or not!





So, back to The Walk.  Henri decides he really must visit this Paris, so, as any practical child would, he packs a lunch and leaves.



Klein acknowledges a child’s solution  to a problem in often the most direct way with this part of the story line. Something I am in complete agreement with.



Through a wonderful striped spread (again very reminiscent of Bass’s animated film credits), we see how Henri is unwittingly about-turned, and starts walking back the way he came, none the wiser.



How deliciously empowering for a child to now watch the rest of the story unfold in on the secret that our lead character is blissfully unaware of.


So now Henri, who has been moving consistently from left to right in our story is now moving from right to left. Sometimes the simplest visual clues are the most effective.



And as Henri passes through familiar and sometimes identical spreads from the beginning of the book we know we are coming ‘home,’  though through a clever  and literal twist Henri does not. Even when he sees familiar feet! How satisfying to come full circle, even if our protagonist doesn’t realise!

Bass’s use of type in his final spread leaves us in no doubt as to the theme of this book: Home! What does home really mean? Family, friends, a sense of familiarity and good soup on the stove mean home to Henri, and who wouldn’t be happy with that?


There is a directness to Klein’s writing that I really love; her clarity matches Bass’s . They both seem to distil what they want to convey down to the minimum and as someone who also likes to do that (advertising background again!) there is always the risk the book will appear too sparse, cold even. But by putting home, with the love and comfort that represents, at the heart of this book we have a wonderfully warm story with a gentle humour that bounces between the words and the text,  succinctly reminding us (like another foot-focused story), there’s no place like home!


Thank you Sophy, for your willingness to guest blog and to offer so many wonderful insights into what makes this picture book tick! What an honor to have you here. 


Sophy’s next book, POM POM GETS THE GRUMPS will be out in the U.S. in December and is out in the UK now!

the power of illustrations to tell the story



Both of these picture books were created by the team of Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo. Both are awesome examples of a picture book text that is enhanced, illuminated, imbued with irony and humor by illustrations. They are quite a team indeed.

(See also Andrea Beaty and David Roberts for another wonderful author/illustrator  collaborating pair.)


BRIEF THIEF by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2013).

It’s so irreverent. It mentions poo, which kids get a huge kick out of. It’s about a chameleon and a common problem everyone can relate to. No more toilet paper!

So what does Leon the chameleon use instead?

“These old underpants here will do the trick!”


(click image(s) to enlarge)


He figures nobody cares about those old underpants with holes in them anymore.

But then, he hears a voice:

“Hey! Who do you think you are?”

It identifies itself as Leon’s conscience. It makes Leon feel pretty badl about using those abandoned underpants for his business.


So Leon washes the underpants and puts them back where he found them.

And that’s that. Except, only through pictures, the reader finds out it wasn’t Leon’s conscience after all! We find out who those underpants belonged to! Then, last and best, we see where that owner wears them! And it’s not what you’d expect.

Oh no, those aren’t dirty old underpants with holes. Oh no! They’re…







…bunny’s superhero mask!!

Hahahaha. Priceless, right?? And it’s only accomplished through visuals. That’s where the success and surprise of the joke lies.


Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 4.59.35 PM



THE DAY I LOST MY SUPERPOWERS, also by Michaël Escoffier and Kris Di Giacomo (2014). 

This one depends on the visual story throughout. If you were to read just the text, you might think this little girl really does have superpowers. After all, she says she does so matter of factly you just might believe her. I would.



It’s only through pictures we see on the page that we know where those superpowers come from:

She flies because her father throws her in the air.

She makes things disappear by eating them (when those things are cupcakes).

She goes through walls by poking a sock puppet through a hole. And so on.







The power and enjoyment of the story depends on the reader seeing the truth about the narrator’s “powers.” If we were told in text, it wouldn’t be as satisfying.


And this is the beauty of picture books, a form that puts words and pictures together so they can mingle and tell stories and surprise us.


For another, older example of a picture book whose illustrations tell a different story than the text, see Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin.



Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books for images!