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Writing and Illustrating Stories by Bob Graham

This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors'/illustrators' texts with your students. 
This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors’/illustrators’ texts with your students.

I try to plan as little as possible, either in my life or my daily work writing and illustrating picture books as I have been doing since the publication of my book Pete and Roland back in 1981.

When home on a sick day from work I started penning a few words and pictures to a story happening in our house. It just seemed a good idea at the time, (and I can’t have been all that sick). It was certainly no career move, or anything like that.

A small parakeet had flown in exhausted over the back fence, our son Pete had put the bird in his hat; he called him Roland and Roland had a short but memorable stay with us. I had no ending in mind when I started but during the course of my making the pictures ….Roland flew out the window.

Well, of course there was my ending!

I took the small book that I made to the publisher William Collins, only because it was close to the bus stop on my way home from work, (you could do that sort of thing back then). To my great surprise they loved the book and published it, and the publisher said “can you do another story for us for next year?” And I replied, “I don’t think I can possibly think of another.”

And it is still going on pretty much like that 35 years later.

I have no formula for writing and illustrating stories. They start from a scrap of paper, a note, a memory, a certain look in a dog’s eye or a few words lying dormant in my notebook for many years. The pictures follow the words, or the words follow the pictures, or they appear at exactly the same time. The stories can start at the middle or the beginning or the end. It’s tricky to even know they have started. There is lots of looking out the window, lots of waiting. My advice might be to just turn the clock to the wall if you are going to make a picture book. Imagine me running

Workshops around that!

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Bob’s newest book.

My most recent book, How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, started with a picture. Many years back I had made a story around a small girl and her imaginary adventures. Despite many weeks work and some quite developed pictures it just wasn’t working and it joined lots of other things in my bottom drawer, a drawer that sometimes provides spare parts for later books; sometimes words, other times, pictures. There was a drawing of a polar bear in that failed book that still lodged in my memory. So there’s where I started! I had my polar bear and I asked myself, (as I think do many authors in constructing their stories,) “what happened next?” Or also “what happened before?”

candlewick 1-0When I added a rising sun behind my bear and her cubs my story had a trajectory of its own. I just followed the sun that was following the night and it then seemed inevitable that it, the rising sun, would finish up busting right through Coco’s window on the other side of the world.

And that event happened a long way from where I usually find my stories i.e. within arm’s reach of my desk down here in Australia.

Bob Graham is the author-illustrator of many extraordinary books for children, including How to Heal a Broken Wing and The Silver Button, about which School Library Journal said in a starred review, “Graham celebrates what can happen in a single moment and reminds readers to pause and observe.” Bob Graham lives in Australia.


  • This giveaway is for a copy How the Sun Got to Coco’s House.  Many thanks to Candlewick Press for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 6th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Candlewick Press will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – BOB GRAHAM. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. Moolabell’s commenter number was chosen so she’ll win a copy of Bob’s book.

37 thoughts on “Writing and Illustrating Stories by Bob Graham Leave a comment

  1. I love hearing all these stories! I almost wish we could have them on video too so we could show our kids the different styles of writing! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Good advice. I have a little story seed growing in my mind. I always wonder how writers of children’s books make it happen!


  3. Students will love the idea of digging around in their old writing and turning it into something new. Recycle or up-cycle an old idea. Thinking about how teachers could scan handwritten work for younger students into google docs so the following year they might expand on one of them.


  4. I am looking forward to getting familiar with Bob Graham’s books. His ideas in this post will be helpful to students as they go through the writing process.


  5. I love that the writing can truly be organic..not always a particular formula that we use each time, sometimes robbing our students of their creativity.


  6. Thanks for your writing inspiration Bob Graham! A Bus Called Heaven is a yearly hit in my 2nd grade classroom. We love Stella!


  7. I have loved this whole author spotlight series. The diversity of each person’s process has inspired me. Thank you, TWT.


  8. Some think the writing process is strictly linear, this post debunks that thought completely! I love all the ways Bob listed a story is created. Kids need to know this too.


  9. This flow of ideas from a spark– an image or fleeting moment — can be encouraged in writers workshop. Many people — students too– create this way. Glad to hear this as a model for students.


  10. We study How to Heal A Broken Wing during our illustration study. We focus on how Bob Graham uses color to convey emotion and how he shows the passage of time. My students also love “Lets Get A Pup” said Kate!


  11. I’ve learned so much from you already– namely that brilliance cannot be planned. I look forward to sharing your work with my students next school year!


  12. I wish that sort of thing happened to me when I was home on a sick day! This blog entry makes me think that it could!


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