Welcome to Alphabet Soup

Logo by Paul Morton
Nick Cross writes:
When I took the decision at the end of last year to stop writing the Ten-Minute Blog Break, the obvious question was “What next?” The answer turned out to be the brand new weekly feature you’re reading right now, which glories in the name Alphabet Soup. But what (apart from a tasty and educational foodstuff) is Alphabet Soup? Well, read on and you’ll find out!

Most of the articles on Words & Pictures deal with either writing or illustrating, but very few focus on both. Alphabet Soup aims to fill that gap, looking at forms of children’s publishing where writing and illustration have equal importance – areas like highly illustrated chapter books, children’s comics, educational publishing or digital media. Alphabet Soup is about the intersection between words and pictures, a world in which presentation, design, layout and interactivity have their own impact on how a story is told. Traditionally, this area has been the exclusive domain of the publisher, but as technology and business processes evolve, so the tools to build these experiences come into the hands of ordinary creators like you and me.

A notable recent trend has been a rise in beautifully illustrated children’s books, with titles such as Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl series, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre’s Pugs of the Frozen North or the illustrated Harry Potter books published in beautiful editions with elaborate (and expensive) production values. Reacting to the rise of the e-book, publishers have focused on making these print books a beautiful artefact that children and adults will want to own. Illustrated non-fiction is particularly benefiting from this renaissance, with some gorgeous volumes coming onto the market.

Reeve and McIntyre are the perfect example of another modern trend – the writer and illustrator team. Where previously the publisher was the arbiter of which illustrator was paired with which writer, now creative people are getting together to collaborate on their own projects (although not all publishers approve, as this blog post by Nosy Crow’s Kate Wilson demonstrates). I have some form in this area, as I’ve recently teamed up with SCBWI illustrator Paul Morton to create a highly illustrated middle grade novel called Max Tastic’s Guide to Internet Stardom. That’s been a terrific creative experience, and you’ll probably hear more about it from Paul and me at some point in this column!

Another area that has been sadly absent from Words & Pictures is coverage of children’s comics and graphic novels, something I’m very pleased to remedy. Comics have been an important part of my life ever since I was a child. I would bound downstairs to the front door on a Saturday morning, chuck aside The Daily Mail (thus proving I had excellent taste even then) and grab my copy of Mickey Mouse Magazine. I would then ignore all forms of human communication for the next half hour while I read the publication from cover to cover. Naturally, I was heartbroken some months later when they stopped publishing it, but this proved to be a blessing in disguise because I switched to the awesome Whizzer and Chips! This British comic, along with The Beano, and IPC titles like Wow and Krazy, was to have a profound influence on my later writing style.

Digital media is also increasingly prevalent in children’s lives – both for good or ill. With the help of some top digital gurus, I’ll be looking at new developments in kids’ digital storytelling and the opportunities that these projects offer for writers and illustrators (as well as a whole host of new creative roles that digital publishing has spawned).

One major side effect of the rise of digital is an increasingly graphical approach to the world. My own employer (somewhat controversially) chose an emoji as “Word of the Year” last year, and you only have to look at the popularity of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat to see how images are transforming the way we communicate. Picture book writers have known for years that they cannot consider words entirely separately from the illustrations that accompany them, and perhaps this fact will come to sweep up the rest of us children’s writers in the years to come. Maybe then, we’ll have to change the name of this site to Words NEED Pictures!

OK, that’s enough philosophy - what can you look forward to over the next few weeks of Alphabet Soup?

I’ll be chatting to Jo Cotterill and Cathy Brett about their hot-off-the-press debut collaboration – the illustrated middle grade superhero novel Electrigirl.

Tommy Donbavand will be telling us what it’s like to have the coolest job in comics: writing for the Bash Street Kids.

A highly illustrated article by SCBWI author Tim Collins telling us about his long-term, long-distance collaboration with an illustrator he’s never met.

And much more to follow!

Thanks for joining me today and I hope to see you every week. Thanks also to Paul Morton for his illustrations and to Words & Pictures editor Nancy Saunders, who came up with the initial idea for this feature and then let me run riot with it!

I’m very happy to take feature ideas or offers of assistance, so please leave a comment below or find me on Facebook or Twitter.

My hope for Alphabet Soup is that it will challenge your preconceptions, champion the new and yet honour the traditional. While it may seem that television and the internet have transformed children’s media over the last 25 years, I watch my kids every Friday as they devour The Phoenix comic in exactly the same way I used to consume Whizzer and Chips. Plus ça change...


Nick Cross is an experienced word juggler, Undiscovered Voices winner and 2015 honours recipient of the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for fiction.

Nick's most recent children's short story Todd Tempest Investigates can be found in issue 11 of Stew Magazine. He also blogs regularly for Notes from the Slushpile.


  1. Sounds like a great new feature Nick, you've showcased some of my favorite books here. I look forward to reading your Alphabet Soup :)

  2. exciting stuff Nick, great debut feature.

  3. Alphabet soup - perfect for a chilly February morning. Lots like you have some great features lined up.

  4. Looking forward to this. It's definitely a big new trend for older kids.

  5. Great new feature ... my kids devour The Pheonix each weekend too!!

  6. I'll miss blog break but I shall let you off as this looks SO GREAT x

  7. I will enjoy this! Neelie

  8. Fantastic new series Nick - looking forward to reading it each week!

  9. Brilliant post Nick and your passion is contagious. Looking forward to reading and seeing more!

  10. Brilliant idea Nick!
    It would be great to make a connection with comics laureate Dave Gibbons?

    1. Now that is a good idea! Let me look into it...

  11. Thanks all for your kind words - I shall endeavour to keep this soup bubbling for many weeks to come!

  12. So fab to see this up and running Nick - brilliant stuff - and what a fantastic logo! Cheers Paul! I'm sure this is will prove to be just as popular as your Ten Minute Blog Break ;-)

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