Barbara Nickel

About Text & Image & the Wonderful Gillian Newland

I set out initially wanting to write about Maurice Sendak, maybe a few ideas from a lecture that he gave – “Sources of Inspiration” – back in 1983. It had been many years since I read that lecture in preparation for a course I was to give on Writing Children’s Literature at UBC. Now I found myself, for reasons I won’t go into, at UBC again, in a carrel in Koerner Library, skimming the lecture and trying to write a blog post in 20 minutes, impossible task. On the first page is not, as you might expect, a reference to Where the Wild Things Are (that comes hilariously and brilliantly later), but a mention of Ezra Jack Keats. Which reminded me of The Snowy Day, which I had just a few days previously read three times over to a bunch of preschoolers at story time. One of my favourite parts – and theirs, too—is when Peter trails a stick in the snow and you can see the single new track beside his boot tracks.


From The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

The illustration pinpoints where he picks up the stick and begins to drag it along (you get the feeling he’s dawdling), but you don’t get the word “stick” until the page is turned. This is the true brilliance of an illustrated book – when pictures and text lean on each other to fill in the missing information. Remember Pat Hutchins’ magnificent Rosie’s Walk? No mention at all is made of the fox in the text, but there he is, under a dump of flour and chased by a hive of angry bees as Rosie (the hen, his prey) strolls blissfully on. The marriage of text and image in the hands of a single artist/writer like Sendak, Keats, Hutchins and Brett is of course ideal.

I’m often asked, when I tell people about my forthcoming picture book, if I’m drawing the pictures, too. I laugh. No, I tell them, you wouldn’t ever want to buy a book with any visual art by me! What many people don’t realize is that when a publisher accepts a picture book text (unless the author is one of the lucky handful who can successfully do both), they need to find a professional illustrator to do the rest. I’m thrilled with Red Deer Press’s choice for my forthcoming book, A Boy Asked the Wind – Gillian Newland. You can view her exquisite illustration of the wind churning the sea on this website. I’m so grateful to Gillian for generously giving me permission to feature it, since the cover image of the book isn’t yet available. I love the swell of the wave and the fish carried along and within it, the tiny details of froth and marbling on the sea’s surface that somehow also convey hugeness, and all of this super-realism juxtaposed with the hint of a magic wind in the background; this is no ordinary wind, no ordinary ocean.

And…speaking of oceans, who was it that said, “Twenty minutes is an ocean of time…”?


Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been selected as a finalist for the 2023/2024 Chocolate Lily Book Award. 

Barbara’s poem “Three-in-One,” originally published in Grain Magazine, has recently appeared in Best Canadian Poetry 2024  (Biblioasis) edited by Bardia Sinaee.

Check out Barbara’s 45-minute teaching video on Creating Believable Characters for the BC and Yukon Book Prizes’ In Class video library.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla was a finalist for the 2022 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla has been nominated for the 2023 Rocky Mountain Book Award (Alberta Young Readers Choice Award).

The Manitoba Young Readers Choice Awards (MYRCA) has nominated Dear Peter, Dear Ulla as a 2023 Northern Lights (Grades 7-9) finalist!

Essential Tremor reviewed in The Vancouver Sun. Read full review here.

Dear Peter, Dear Ulla is reviewed and “Highly Recommended” in CM (Canadian Review of Materials)! Read the full review here.

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