Celia and Nonna. Children's Book Illustration by Kayleen West

Books that build in hard places.

Empowering others through imagination

Anyone can choose to encourage or build others in helpful ways but sometimes imagination is needed to harvest additional opportunities. Accompanying a servant’s heart is a mind that will seek to discover ideas that will influence positively often enhancing the life of others. Creative people have countless opportunities to invent in this area.

Have you ever opened a book and had one or more of these thoughts?

Wow, that’s life changing!
I learned something that will help me grow!
Now I understand ______ better and I’ll do __________ differently from now on!

I certainly have.

Valuable life lessons, no matter how minor they first appear, have potential for significant, positive transformation. Scattered between the pages of a good book we often find pearls of wisdom in unexpected places; dormant hope waiting for a reader to identify with, and embrace wholeheartedly.

When creating story in word or image I ask if and how someone will benefit from it. I prefer communally beneficial and emotionally uplifting assignments that give me creative freedoms to explore how I can contribute. I believe we live to serve one another. To inspire moments of happiness or ease the pain of another is the best way to use talents and time. Though romantic, I hold onto this conviction. I like to dream big!

How I translate this conviction in children’s books?

Illustration is a wonderful vehicle for transporting a child reader through the emotions of a story powerfully but safely. Invention surfaces when we can look past the obvious elements of a story and find potential macro stories within the original. We ask the question, how by invention, can this illustration enhance the reader’s transformational experience and entertain them?

Illustrating emotion in a particular way is the answer. Some strategies I have used are:

  • A touch of humour to lighten a particularly uncomfortable moment.
  • Controlling drama or excess tension by moderating the visual risk.
  • Illustrating humility to ensure character flaws are judged with compassion.
  • Capturing heroism through specific actions or appearance (empowering the character and reader)
  • Repeating images to emphasise important emotion.


In one of my most recent picture books my challenge was to guide the child reader through uncertainty, tackling a tough subject of change and adult challenges. I had to make the visual experience enjoyable, reassuring the reader through the story and end it with a sense of intimate peace.

Emotive imagery in Celia and Nonna

Celia and Nonna was the perfect canvas for emotive imagery. I needed to illustrate tension and emphasise particular emotions and actions to capture the story.

Celia and Nonna. Children's Book Illustration by Kayleen WestModerating tension: placement of characters, adding humour and humility

In the above illustration Nonna forgets she is cooking (adult error-imperfection). The spilling pot is the closest visual to the reader and creates immediate DANGER! Celia is placed near but far enough from the stove to be safe from burns. We still see her alarm as she signals the distracted adult. Should she look up, Nonna can still see the pot from where she sits making it less threatening.

Poor Nonna. I can relate to this myself. I have been known to do the same. Here’s one example! It was fish and vegetables before I killed it.11089039_10152901460174013_4050968061784294035_o

But I digress. Back to Celia and Nonna…

Near the spillage I placed teddy cakes they successfully baked on the previous page; a safe, comforting scene. One cake is broken/imperfect because Celia made an imperfect cake or perhaps has a naughty or impatient moment eating and extra ear or eye when Nonna wasn’t looking (child error-imperfection). This juxtaposed visual adds humility hopefully moderating uncertainty in Nonna’s perceived failings as a responsible (safe) adult. Hopefully children can consciously or subconsciously identify and bond with the elderly character through the comparisons


Repeating images to emphasise important emotion


Celia and Nonna. Alzheimer’s and dementia in picture book. Hospice.
On the first spread I emphasised the safest place for most children – the loving embrace of an important adult. Apart from abusive situations, this is a significant place of safety for children.

I repeated the symbol of the embrace between Nonna and Celia on this spread deliberately. Like the stove example, the foreground would be noticed by the reader. I place two birds in similar intimacy on the handrail. Inanimate objects were also used to mirror this; the two penguins on a cover of a picture book and Celia’s shoes positioned in a crossed fashion. The penguins are later mentioned and a perfect prop.

Celia is seen close contact with her grandmother in in the first few pages, concreting the sentiment from the beginning.

Body language speaks volumes

The embrace was deliberately introduced at the beginning and end for the child to safely enter and exit the story. Later illustrations show Celia busy drawing near her grandmother and Nonna’s new friends. Her comfort is also made evident by her body language. Celia is engaged and happily distracted.

Empowering a reader by capturing heroism, illustrating specific action or appearance

Celia embraces residential change by drawing pictures for Nonna; lovingly preserving Nonna’s favourite memories, nesting as they decorate the new walls and celebrating their relationship through particular images of the two together. Celia is empowered by contributing. During this she discovers their time together is what is most important. Don’t you love a good ending!?

Sensory experience

In the examples above I have demonstrated how illustrations can be an important sensory experience in children’s books. Illustrations can make or break a picture book. They stimulate emotion and are visually entertaining – arguably the most important part of a picture book story. And if an image is worth a thousand words, they need to be the right images. They can provide additional story, equally projecting the original imagined by the author.

I pray my illustrations speak to the heart, helps families and is a blessing to children and adults who contemplate them. It is my hope that stories like Celia and Nonna reach into homes and the hearts of children dealing with any form of change or helplessness. Victoria Lane’s story is not just a story about aged care or dementia; if you look further you will see our collaboration is so much more. I hope it softens any confronting challenge of growing old, apart, different, or any fear and sews a seed of empowerment and creative victory in every person who reads it – young or old.

World Dementia Month – September

A select group of Australian children’s authors and illustrators (myself included) have collaborated to showcase books about ageing and dementia for World Dementia Month. Each unique and beautifully illustrated story is based on personal experience and offers practical strategies to connect and share love with elderly grandparents even in difficult, changing, and confusing circumstances. You can read more HERE

World Dementia Month September - Books Encourage Children to Connect

Note to writers, Illustrators and All creative people…

Regardless of occupation I encourage you mine the hope and joy in your story or project. Look for the details that can translate that hope. It just might change the whole appearance of your next assignment!

Further reading: Explaining Dementia to Children

Carers Corner has an informative article on explaining dementia to children. This compliments what is written above adding more light on this subject.
You can read the article HERE

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #9
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Make these easy teddy cakes from my book.

In my new picture book I illustrated some teddy cakes that the character Nonna makes with Celia. I decided to recreate them in real life. I took a batch to Ivanhoe library where they were quickly gobbled up. I was told they were delicious  – I should have made more!

I am sharing the instructions here so educators and parents can enjoy this easy activity with their children. I don’t profess to be a cake decorator, my sister, Joy is the expert in that field I can honestly say this is an easy recipe.


  • Pretzels
  • Chocolate cup cakes
  • small light brown biscuits (I used Almond Florentines)
  • Pink Smarties
  • Small chocolate drops (or brown smarties)
  • Soft white vanilla Icing
  • Black writing icing

You will need:

  • piping bag
  • butter knife
  • a sink of soapy water
  • will power not to eat all the left-overs!

Gather all the ingredients:

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #2

Chocolate cup cakes. Make your own or buy them Chocolate chip is okay too.

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #3

Shop bought Almond Florentines where used for a “Italian Nonna” theme but some children don’t like the strong marzipan taste of these. You can use any light coloured biscuit this shape. These were approximately 2cm wide.

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #4

As I was making the cakes on a very tight time frame I used bought vanilla frosting in a small tub. The type that stays thick but soft.

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #5

Pink Smarties for the teddy’s noses and small chocolate cooking drops for eyes. Alternatively you can use the brown Smarties for eyes. Do what you will with the left-overs – yum!

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #1

Pretzels: we will loose a few to breakage but aim to break off the 2 sides like so. These will be our teddy’s ears. We will need enough for all our cakes.

When you have prepared your pretzel ears start assembling the nose. Spoon a good amount of icing into the piping bag and use to glue the pink Smarties to the florentines.

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #6

Using the black writing icing pipe the mouth on the florentines.

Then stick the whole florentine to the cup cakes, slightly offset, allowing room for the eyes on one side.

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #7

Making the eyes

Next, pipe a good amount of white icing onto the cupcake where the eyes will be. When we add the chocolate drop eyes the overflow will create part of the eye. Push each drop into the icing until almost touching the cake – but not quite!

Add a small amount of white icing to each end of the snapped off pretzel and push gently inot the cake until it grips. Ta-da!

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #8

Smile teddy!

Lat tip: If transporting your lovely teddy cakes, use a muffin tray so they don’t slip around. We don’t want teddy looking beat up, do we?!

Celia and Nonna Teddy Cakes recipe instructions Step #9

If you have some teddy cake pictures you would like to share here, I would love to see them.


Paul Collins and Kayleen West at Ford Street Publishing.

Snapshot: Publisher, Paul Collins

If you have been wondering about what my publishers are looking for this may be a bit of insight for you. Today on Fable Croft Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing), publisher of my newest title Celia and Nonna shares what he does and what he is looking for.

He gives an insight into picture books and how it is the concept that interests him more than the words. And how often the illustrations replace much of the text in the end.

Paul is an author of many titles too. You can read more here: FableCroft » Snapshot 2014: Paul Collins Ford Street Publishing.

I’ll try to spotlight my other publishers in time.

Judith Rossell will be launching Celia and Nonna later this month at Ivanhoe Library, 255 Upper Heidelberg Road, Ivanhoe. I would love to meet you! Click on image to enlarge.

Author and Illustrator Judith Rossell will be launching my newest book Celia and Nonna. You are all invited to join us.

Author and Illustrator Judith Rossell will be launching my newest book Celia and Nonna. You are all invited to join us.

Why Conferences are Important for Writers and Illustrators.

I could start and end by answering that conferences are incredibly FUN! This week attending the four day SCBWI Australia and New Zealand in Sydney was amazing. If we had any more fun it would be illegal. I’ve never laughed so much – my goodness – Susanne Gervey is a funny lady!


Susanne Gervey and myself. | Susanne leading the illustrators duel or should I say duet? | Deborah Abela

Deborah Abela wrote a hysterical ode to Suzanne borrowing the tune of 500 miles by the Proclaimers. It was hard to laugh and sing at the same time. The band was great – the people great – the conference GREAT!

The atmosphere was electric, like a flame on a dry turps rag – BOOF! The sessions where back-to-back, full of wisdom and covered an array of topics too numerous to document in one post. Check out the SCBWI blog and others and have a read. I’ll be back for the 2016 event for sure.

I learned a few tips on fine dining as well. Apparently you DON’T eat the paper covering the swordfish – it is NOT pastry! I must admit it tasted okay at first – well the soaked bit. It got a bit tough after the first bite though. Don’t laugh – I wasn’t the only one … ahem…Tania McCartney and others *wink*

Speaking of Tania, we caught up with a few of the #illo52weeks challenge members too. I also met up with some of the Wombat Book family.


Me, Coral Vass, Nicky Johnston, TaniaMcCartney, Christina Booth, Aura Parker52 week challenge members. | Roomies and good friends Nicky Johnston, Coral Vass and myself.

I also learned that if Bruce Whatley instructs you to draw his portrait with black cont’e in one hand and white in the other, ensuring you finish with an even amount of both, he means draw ONE portrait not TWO at once! Yep, there is always one in the crowd isn’t there? I had to be the only one trying to draw two portraits at once – but hey I did it! At breakfast the following morning, Bruce and I agreed that what I was really doing was paving the way to his next advanced lesson plan in left handed drawing. That is my excuse anyway and I am sticking to it.

But seriously, (if I have to) there are so many reasons for attending industry conferences. It is fantastic to connect on a genuine level with great people with the same passion for children’s books and with individual stories to tell. We all walk different paths and it is great to share.

Conferences are chocked full of valuable information, much of which you wouldn’t have access to any other way. In Sydney, the sessions were back-to-back. It was intense and a lot to take in but it was value for time away from family and work. I HIGHLY recommend it. Financing all the events is challenging but I do try to attend as many as I can. I appreciate their value and really enjoy my time there. What I learn inspires me to a new level every time.

Meredith Costain and Bruce Whatley

Meredith Costain and Bruce Whatley

On the final day of the conference I attended two Master Classes: Meredith Costain instructed on Hooks to Keep Readers Turning Pages. We focused on “Stellar opening sentences” and read examples.  Bruce Whatley’s Master Class, Advanced Techniques had us working with our left hand and developing fun ideas and expressive line.

I can’t tell you how valuable I found this day. I couldn’t wait until I got home, so I pulled one of my manuscripts up in the airport to work on. I needed to get those hooks and page turns documented and out of my head. Do you know what it is like when a gem of information makes something  click into place and you can see your work’s new potential? I feel like all of this will change my writing tremendously, transporting me to a more advanced level. Can you tell I am excited? I am re-writing EVERYTHING!

Meredith is a beautiful lady and generous in her teaching. I will be on a look out for her workshops in the future and truly recommend them. More details about this on SCBWI blog.

Bruce was just as awesome; a friendly man, talented, generous in information and a pleasure to get to know. His wife and partner in children’s books, Rosie and I spent time chatting on the dinner dance night and at breakfast. It was interesting hearing about their journey and how they work so wonderfully together. Bruce passed around his original work (pass me the drool bucket!) We picked his brains thoroughly – as you do. More details about this on SCBWI blog.

The publishers were wonderful; open and generous with their information and incredibly good sports. I often wonder what it would be like for them at these events. I don’t think I would like to be a publisher – people either jumping on you for attention because of your influence or avoiding you through fear. They are doing life with family and work just like us. I haven’t met a pretentious or unpleasant one yet.

We witnessed writers pitching to publishers; a real live example of what to do when pitching you manuscript-informative and helpful watching their examples.

SCBWI raised over $1400 for Room To Read through an illustrators auction. Illustrators Bruce Whatley and Stephen Axelsen went head-on in a friendly, fast paced and stressful public scribble to the end. The illustrations were auctioned off at the end. The audience in hysterics as the bids got more and more competitive and sneaky. There were dark horses popping up all over the room at the last minute.

Illustrators Showcase

This was my first time presenting a portfolio at the conference or anywhere! I was surprised to hear an unconfirmed report of over 50 industry professionals viewing the showcase. There were as many portfolios too. We were permitted to browse later over morning tea and the work was impressive. It was great to see what other illustrators submitted and the presentation of their business cards and postcards. I’ll share my portfolio on here later so you can see an example.

I could go on, but I won’t. I will post more on Bruce’s workshop with pics. It would interest the illustrators who visit my blog I am sure.


Victoria Lane and myself launching our new book Celia and Nonna in Sydney

No wait…I nearly forgot…HOW COULD I? …we launched our new book – Celia and Nonna! Author Corinne Fenton introduced the launch and made a short hand joke. I now know my name looks like duck chasing a fish. Victoria Lane spoke about her story and her journey and thanked everyone – a very exciting moment as a debut children’s author. I spoke about the child Celia in me and other children I worked with and introduced the dyslexic font.

Others who launched books were:

Meredith CostainThe Cuddliest Hug (Koala Books / Scholastic)
Jackie Hosking and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, —The Croc and the Platypus (Walker Books Australia)
Gabrielle Wang—Pearlie the Spy (Penguin)
Pamela Rushby—The Ratcatcher’s Daughter (HarperCollins)
Peter Taylor—illustrated by Nina Rycroft  (Five Mile Press)
Gabriel Evans—A New Pet (Five Mile Press)
Wendy Binks—10 Clumsy Emus (Scholastic) 

Peter Taylor inspecting one of Bruce's painitngs, one of the illustrations from the hall gallery and Tania and

Peter Taylor inspecting one of Bruce’s paintings, one of the illustrations from the hall gallery by Gavin Ryan and Kathryn Otoshi and Tania McCartney’s top 10 Getting into the Market tips

Even though I didn’t cover everything, you can see how conferences can be so important. Maybe I will see you at the next one?

Children's drawings for picture book Celia and Nonna. Grace and Nikkisha.

When children’s books are even more about the kids

Children’s books should be ALL about the kids, After all they ARE “children’s books” after all – right?

Creators can get caught up with the perception that it’s “their” book but the simple fact remains – it is ALL about the kids. The child reader is the one we get to bless with our new books – or is it just the reader? Celia became a quadruple blessing with a bonuses as the book unfolded. Let me explain…

The many child stars of Celia

There are five-in-one girls in my new children’s book book Celia and Nonna. Firstly there is the Celia in the author, Victoria Lane. The story is very much part of the little girt in her and reflects a special relationship to her. But when I created the character Celia 4 other little girls became involved.

First, let me introduce my star, Miss Shelby, child #2…

My cute child model for a new picture book Celia and Nonna. Shelby

Six year old Shelby was my adorable model for Celia. I needed a cooperative little girl for all the poses. In my mind the character Celia called for some tricky foreshortened poses within the page compositions. When I spotted Shelby on her mum’s Facebook page, I asked if I could visit and take photos and if she thought Shelby could pose. Could?…would?… Shelby was a dream to photograph! They say it is hard to work with kids and animals but Miss Shelby duplicated everything described. I would show her the dummy book thumbnails and demonstrated the pose and she mimicked it exactly. In 10 minutes we had ample posed photographs for the story. What a pro! Well done Miss Shelby – THANK YOU so much for being my Celia.

Child #3 who wanted to make picture books…

It was very easy to relate to Celia as she reminded me of the little girl I was. I love to make things for others. My mother encouraged us create our gifts – not buy them. I was taught the value of giving was not in what it costs but the heart’s intention. Nice one mum!

I identified created objects with items that would give others pleasure. I loved to wrap up little creations and pass them to friends and family. Navigating my world through my art and crafts was my way of making my world happier too and drawing was my favourite past time. When I felt unaccepted I found solace in drawing and paining as I could see improvement and words from others couldn’t take that away. Until I became a Christian that continued to be my comfort. It was pretty much the one thing I felt I could do well. I wanted to make children’s book back then but it wasn’t until 2009 I finally gave myself permission to take them plunge – and plunge I did!

My final 2 children, my two awesome artists, Nikkisha and Grace

Children's drawings for picture book Celia and Nonna. Grace and Nikkisha.

Children’s drawings for picture book Celia and Nonna. Grace and Nikkisha’s drawings are replicated in the page spreads.

Two more children were invited on board when an idea to include a real child’s drawings in the spreads. It was a childhood dream to create picture books so I thought I’d make a little publishing dream come true for someone else. My AWESOME publisher at Ford Street was happy and let me go ahead. He was brilliant to work with! I put a call out for children to draw something Celia would draw for her Nonna and got 2 drawings in time to use. Nikkisha (age 5) drew  lovely bees and flowers in her grandmother’s garden. You can see Nikkisha and her grandmother. Grace (age 7) drew the park with a tree, a car tyre swing, a bird and bee. Both drawings are wonderful.

I duplicated them in the pastel style of the books with a little editing (words removed and alterations to Celia and Nonna) but they are still very close to the originals. I wanted the girls to see they were still their drawings. I love your drawings girls! This element in the book was a lot of fun for me as an illustrator but it isn’t easy to duplicate the gorgeous art of children. Thank you for your contribution Grace and Nikkisha!

The children’s involvement was a highlight of creating this picture book. Positioning my mind to always be relating to the child reader, I can imagine and feel the excitement for these girls – LOVE IT!

Open Dyslexic Font in Children’s books

To top it off my publisher agreed to let me use open Dyslexic font in the book. I had come across the font in LinkedIn on a discussion thread and was eager to adopt it. If by using this font more children would enjoy the experience of reading books I was on board. My publisher felt the same. I told you he was awesome.

I don’t have family with dyslexia but I have a heart for literacy for all so whatever works I want to  adopt were possible. I have had some discussion with parents and specialist teachers who have said it does help many children – whoo hoo!

After already adopting the font I was told by a girl in her early twenties that she had only recently discovered she had dyslexia and had struggle for years to study as a result – how awful! Hopefully this is a small step to a better reading world in that area. Thanks again Ford Street!

Celia and Nonna. Picture books about grandparent and child.

Celia and Nonna can be purchase from this site (click image) or where all good books are sold.

Celia and Nonna is a significant and heart-warming picture book about the special bond between children and grandparents – and what happens when life changes. Grandparents ageing is a universal experience, yet it is rarely told in picture book form. In this story, young Celia finds a delightful and positive way to navigate this confusing time.

Children's illustration. Tortoise and the hare. Rockets - Let's get the party started. Toned sketchbook

I Think I Am In Love

I am in sketchbook heaven right now. I have wanted a toned sketchbook for a very long time and finally ordered a few from overseas. My American friends, you have all the goodies – It isn’t fair! I would love better access to some of the home-wares and art supplies you have. I found someone who would delivered here and a cheaper than the ones I have seen in art shops.

Children's illustration. Tortoise and the hare. Rockets - Let's get the party started. Toned sketchbook

Children’s illustration. Tortoise and the hare. Rockets – Let’s get the party started. Toned sketchbook

This is the first drawing in my new sketchbook. I love this paper! It isn’t that thick but is smooth and grey lead is easily removed repeatedly. The sepia and white pencils look great. It is a great base to colour digitally too. It will be difficult to go back to white paper for sketching now I have been spoiled. I can see why so many illustrators and animators use toned paper.

Here you will find a coloured one I did for a get well soon card illustration, and for #illo52weeks dots.

I have been having a lot of fun creatively this month. I launched a fun and educational video on creative drawing, Eye and Imagination, which evolved from the #illo52 week theme “eye”.

I have been dabbling in the Daily Doodle drawing challenge in my TV down time and produced a colouring page download.

Work is consistent. I am in the middle of the sketching stage for a ABC picture book for Xist Publishing; my newest project.

Along with the author Victoria Lane, I will be launching a picture book, Celia and Nonna with Ford Street at the SCBWI Sydney Conference and in Melbourne at end of August.

Celia and Nonna,. Picture book by Victoria Lane and Kayleen West

Celia and Nonna,. Picture book by Victoria Lane and Kayleen West

I have some work in progress images from Celia and Nonna. I will share something soon and talk about how a the book was put together.


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