I indulged my inner ‘I really need more picture books’ today and spent a while flicking through the treasures that adorn the shelves of my favourite bookshop. I may have become a bit too comfortable as I could feel stares from the various wee people as they edged near me and my collection of goodies. With looks varying from ‘why are you sitting there’ to ‘that’s my book so I will sniff loudly in your ear until you give me it’, I admitted defeat and prised my legs out of their criss-cross position and headed for the till.

I picked up more copies by my favourites as well as previously unread authors and for the first time ever, I actually bought a book I hadn’t read. I didn’t open the pages. I just loved the cover. The lure of the illustrations and the minimalistic colours were enough for me. I didn’t need to read it, I just knew it was going to be great. 

Little did I realise that I had bought a story I had read before.

Repetition, tension and resolution are what I consider key factors in creating a successful picture book story arc or formula. Wee people love to replay the same sounds over and over as they familiarise themselves with the story as they wonder what is going to happen next! Maybe they know a big cat that likes tea or a fish that can’t swim or in this particular case – they remember the day they lost their mum. All alone in the supermarket/street/deep dark wood…

I did some research and in the past 60 years there have been three stories of said angst that sell in their bucket loads time and time again. Three completely different authors telling their version in a different way but all relating back to the same anxious moment that every mum dreads…

…I’ve lost my child.

Four small words that can strike fear and terror into every parent and guardian the whole world over. One minute they are there, the next they have disappeared on an adventure that they have decided not to share with the one person they really should have told.

AreyoumymotherGoing back to the swinging 60’s, an era of white platform boots, mini skirts and Mary Quant, P.D Eastman’s story ‘Are You My Mother?’ was published for the first time.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and Julia Donaldson’s epic Monkey Puzzle hit our rhyming shores. A fantastic tale of anguish resolved very quickly by a hug from your own mum after a little jaunt through the forest. This is still my favourite picture book of all time (so far….I am always on the hunt for  a book that will take it’s place in my heart…it could be yours, so get writing!)Monkeypuzzle

And then today, I come across an other gem from the wonderful Chris Haughton. His take on what it feels like to lose your mum just for an instant or falling off a branch in his little owl’s case. haughton‘A Bit Lost’ is another delightful journey where all is well in the end and I breathe a sigh of relief, shed a few tears of joy and relax a bit knowing that the owl and owlet have been reunited at last…until he decides to fall off the branch again and his mum despairs once more.

I salute the three authors for making my day. I love all three of these books in different ways. They all tick the box that says ‘it’s going to be OK, I found you. Let’s go home and eat chocolate’.

There have been so many times I have come up with a premise for a story only to realise that someone got there 20 years before me and it’s just my subconscious playing tricks on me as childhood stories come flooding back to me. I have come to realise that the formula can be the same but it’s the road you take the reader on, the characters you build or eve the colours the illustrator uses that make your story unique. It’s your story, go and tell it.

Oh, and hold your mum’s hand extra tight so you don’t get lost. Can you do that for me?



  1. ‘Lost’ is such a big idea there’s room for loads of stories.
    Thanks for this Sarah – reminded me of a couple of ‘losty’ things…
    Losing number 2 son on Bournemouth Beach when he was two I can remember the terrible ten minutes he was missing feeling like ten years – but when we found him – sauntering along with the crowds along the prom he must have wondered what the fuss was about – he didn’t realise he was lost.
    A friend who as a kid would purposely try to get lost for an adventure. Don’t know how many times he actually succeeded – must have have got more and more difficult….

  2. A great post, Sarah, you inspire me to dip more deeply into those marvellous picture books. And yes, the theme of loss is absolutely basic and understood by even the youngest child. Some wee ones in a nursery in Poland (the school was English medium, so they had to leave their own language at the door, a huge loss for a four year old) responded to the Biff and Chipper books without words. The child character leaves her teddy on the bus. Oh, consternation! And what joy when the story ended happily. And all without words!

    1. Author

      Thanks Jenny, I have just read the opposite – a picture book with no pictures! Fantastic fun, I will bring it along to our next PB meetings.

  3. When you come up with the premise for a story and find someone beat you to it, tell it anyway. It’s a sure bet each person’s take on a tale will be unique. The further the story goes, the less like another it will become until perhaps the eventual outcome which would generally just be- A Happy Ever After.Whatever illustrations you use will make it even less like any book written previously.
    I read something the other day about there being millions of books on Amazon but only about 900.000 children’s books there (please don’t quote me, I know the % was small in comparison). There’s always room for another good picture book for children as I find out when I struggle to find ones for my grandson that we haven’t already got.
    xxx Massive Hugs Sarah xxx

    1. Author

      I totally agree, we all tell our tales in a different way which just makes the world a happier place.