Picture Book Snob
Which Nose for Witch? by David Crosby & Carolina Coroa: Review + Interview
David Crosby is a rising star of the picture book world. His debut, Pirates vs. Monsters, won the prestigious Bishop's Stortford Award in 2021, despite being up against books by well-established and even famous authors. His second story, the hilarious and heartwarming Halloween-themed tale Which Nose for Witch?, has just been published.
We were delighted to chat to David about his amazing books and how he creates them. Read our review of Which Nose for Witch? and learn what inspired this story. Discover David's tips for successful rhyming, what it's like to share a name with a celebrity and which nose he would choose for himself...
So, what's this story about?
As witches come of age, it's traditional for them to swap their 'baby nose' for a grown-up (and hideous) one. When it's time for Grizelda to choose hers from The Conk Boutique, she encounters a problem. Grizelda can't find anything suitable, but could the solution to her predicament be as plain as the nose on her face?
What can we learn?
Just because something is expected, doesn't mean it's right, and even if something hasn't been done before, that doesn’t make it impossible.
What makes this stand out? This is an entirely unique take on the typical witch tale, with a fabulously self-confident main character and a wonderful mother-daughter relationship at its heart.
About the illustrations... They're fantastic — so animated and amusing! There are lots of clever background details like mischievous mice, candle-lit mirrors and a witch-specific notice board which enrich Grizelda's world. I love the little star ornament on Grizelda's broomstick, the spider that's always suspended from her hair and how rustic her mother's wand is. The facial expressions and body language of the characters makes them and their interactions even more real and relatable.
Why we love it...
Grizelda encourages children to break the mould and resist the pressure to conform to the ideals of others. As girls are particularly vulnerable to cultural standards that dictate how their bodies should look, it's especially important to see a female character defy these. I think we've all been either Mum or Grizelda at different times in our lives! It's brilliant to see such a relatable scenario, despite the magical setting.
Why you need it... Grizelda is an excellent role model who isn't afraid to trust herself or stand by her convictions. I love how comfortable she is in her own skin. As children and parents are mirrored in its pages, Which Nose for Witch? will appeal to both. Although this book is ideal for reading as Halloween approaches, it's an empowering and entertaining story suitable for any time of the year.
Watch a trailer for Which Nose for Witch?:
Read our Q&A with author David Crosby...
Which Nose for Witch? is an interesting and highly original take on witches! How did you get the idea for this story and what do you hope children will take from it?
Everything came from the idea that all witches are born with your “average” nose and reach a day in their childhood when they get to choose their grown-up witch nose.
My original plan was for a high concept book with the title “A Witch’s Guide to Picking Your Nose” and I remember thinking it could be like a guide book – pick a nose shape, now choose how many warts and so on – and I could get in loads of funny words for “nose” such as “conk”, “schnozz”, “beak” and the like and then get some laughs from the apparent drawbacks of each choice. I imagined it looking a bit like Oi Frog with very comedic and vivid illustrations.
I also had rather grand thoughts that it could come with a reflective “hall of mirrors” type final page to give children and their grown-ups a laugh and even a face filter app where you can pick your own witch’s nose. Of course, those things cost fortunes so I remembered I’m not Julia Donaldson and put such thoughts from my mind!
Anyway, there was a flaw in my plan, which is that there are really only two or three archetypal shapes when it comes to witches’ noses – long and pointy, or hook-shaped, or a combination of those two – and I didn’t think I could stretch the idea far enough for a 12 spread plus picture book.
So, I ended up coming up with a proper “narrative” story instead in which we follow a young witch on the day she gets to choose her grown-up witch nose. Grizelda was born! As for what children will take from it, it’s not for me to decide and I always like to leave that to the reader but at heart I suppose it’s a story about self-confidence and not being afraid to stand your ground.
I love how confident, brave and self-assured Grizelda is. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, trust her instincts, go against tradition and do what she wants. Was this an important element of the story from the beginning or did it emerge as the plot developed?
Grizelda was always pretty feisty but I have to be honest and say those things you mention grew enormously as the plot developed. I owe a lot to my publisher, Maverick, for that. I initially wrote it as a funny book but Maverick saw potential in the premise for something a bit deeper and Kim Nye (the Managing Editor) encouraged me to really bring out Grizelda’s character and give it a strong theme.
My first book, Pirates vs. Monsters, barely changed from submission to final version but this one went through a lot of drafts and development. I had so much support from Kim and Juliet West at Maverick throughout. It was tough at times and it was a steep learning curve but I feel I really improved my writing as a result of Kim and Juliet’s challenge and guidance. Maverick are known for championing and supporting new authors and that reputation is well-deserved.
It must have been exciting to see Carolina’s illustrations for the first time! Were Grizelda and the various noses just as you’d imagined?
It was! Getting the illustrations back is always the most exciting part of the picture book process. They’re never exactly as you imagine them because obviously illustrators aren’t mind readers and can’t see inside your head! But make no mistake, illustrators are the magicians of the picture book world. I’m in awe of them. I don’t know how they do it. I absolutely loved Griz and her mum – they are adorable and have a cinematic quality. I think you can feel the love in their mother/daughter relationship in the illustrations and, judging by the feedback we’re getting, it’s really connecting with readers. Carolina went above and beyond with those noses – there were more than I could ever have possibly imagined!
Do you have a favourite spread from the book and if so, which is it and why?
Ah man why did you have to ask that? It’s too hard to choose! I’m torn between three. I love the one that ended up on the front cover, where Griz is holding the jar with a nose in it. I'm also fond of the final spread, with a very confident looking Griz on her broomstick in front of the parade of shops. And I really like the one where Griz and her mum first enter The Conk Boutique. They have that look of sheer wonder in their eyes; I love her mum’s expression in this one. Oh go on, it’s the one in The Conk Boutique then! That’s actually the one Carolina did as an initial sample too.
Which nose, if any, would you choose for yourself?
I think any nose would be better than my nose! It’s been bashed and bent in my footballing days by flying elbows! It’s funny because a strong nose is a bit of a family trait (some family members might say a curse ha!) so I’m quietly amused that I’ve ended up having this book about noses published. If I had to choose, I’d have to go for the pointy one with two warts on the end for pure comedy value. Although I do enjoy an ice cream, so I’d probably regret it come the summer!
Do you find it difficult to write in rhyme or does it come naturally to you?
I find it much easier to write in rhyme. Whenever I try to write in prose it feels like the story runs out of energy much more quickly. Whereas when I write in rhyme, I can keep that energy going or even inject more energy with a well-timed punchline or page turn.
Writing in rhyme does come more naturally to me, but something I’ve had to educate myself about since getting published is metre. I had no idea about that at all so I was lucky that my text for Pirates vs. Monsters came out pretty much bang on and only needed minimal edits. The real learning came with my text for Which Nose for Witch? which went through a lot of edits and saw me do a crash course in metre by watching the brilliant Renee LaTulippe videos on YouTube. Catherine Emmett has a great section on her website about this too.
Do your own children give you feedback on the story?
Yes! My son George is one of my best sources of advice. He’s just turned 10 but he grew up reading hundreds of picture books and he’s so well-versed in it all – set-up, escalation, crisis moment, twists, the lot. I’m plotting out a new story idea now and am at that frustrating stage where I’ve got blanks to fill and can’t seem to crack it. Me and George went out for a walk the other night (he loves a “night walk”) and he helped me thrash it out. He also imagines what the book covers would look like. It’s like having my own little story consultant!
My writing is a family affair to be honest. I always send my drafts round our family Messenger group and get loads of feedback and support from them. The ice cream moment in Which Nose for Witch? was my wife’s idea, and my sister helped me massively on some of the verses – especially the last one. I’ve got a lot to thank them for and included a little dedication in Which Nose for Witch?
Your debut, Pirates vs. Monsters, won the Bishop’s Stortford Picture Book Award against tough competition. How did that feel?
Staggering, to be honest. When I saw names like Julia Donaldson, Rob Biddulph, Tom Percival and Michelle Robinson on the shortlist and all the big-name publishers it’s safe to say I didn’t fancy our chances in the slightest. I’ve spent the last ten years in awe of these people and was extremely flattered just to be on the same list as them. At the time I said I felt like Carlisle United fans would feel if they’d just drawn Liverpool at Anfield in the FA Cup! So, to go and win it was completely unexpected and something I’ll never forget. One to tell the grandchildren about.
Pirates vs. Monsters was your first published book – is it also the first one you ever wrote?
Yes! I wrote Pirates vs. Monsters over the course of a few nights in late 2015. It was the first picture book I ever wrote but believe me, I had done a LOT of homework! I read many hundreds of picture books before I had a go at it myself. I sent it to one (yes one!) agent and she eventually got back with a rejection. So, I sulked for about 18 months then sent it to Maverick, as they were one only a tiny number of publishers accepting unsolicited submissions. I’m very glad I did.
I think having your first text published is probably pretty unusual so I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d fluked it. I also suffered from the infamous “impostor syndrome” that authors often mention but it made me determined to see if I could get a second book published. Thankfully that’s happened with Which Nose for Witch? When you’re starting out you worry you’ll never be published but then once you’re published, you worry you’ll never be published again!
What were your own favourite books as a child?
I’ve asked my mam for help with this one and she reminded me I loved The Three Little Pigs and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. We had the Ladybird ‘well-loved tales’ editions and those illustrations of the big billy goat absolutely terrified me but for that reason I can remember them very clearly. The quality of those editions was really something. I also loved pop-up books. I wasn’t a particularly keen reader as I got older but I did love Roald Dahl and still do.
What books did/do you enjoy reading with your own family?
My son is 10 now and he’s a great little reader so we don’t read together as often as we used to (sob!). I’d say Malamander and Gargantis by Thomas Taylor are our favourites of the last year or two. When he was younger, we would read picture books every night and I’d always make a point of reading out the names of the authors and illustrators. We particularly loved Mungo and the Dinosaur Island by Timothy Knapman and Adam Stower. Other favourites were The Shark in the Dark by Peter Bently and Ben Cort and Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever gotten from a child about one of your books?
I’m a classic introvert so I’ve only ever done one school visit, to Seaview Primary School in Seaham. Afterwards, as I was walking across the playground back to my car, a child leaned out of a classroom window and shouted “DAVID CROSBY… I LOVE YOUR BOOK!” That’s as rock star as it gets for a picture book author in his forties! I hope he didn’t get told off by his teacher!
Do you have any advice for aspiring children’s book authors? Were you given any advice which you found helpful? Or any that was really bad?
How long have we got? The first one is to read a lot of picture books. Obviously, if you’re a rhymer then focus on the rhyming ones and if you write in prose, focus on those. Pay particular attention to the debuts – these are the more recently acquired texts.
Study them closely – look at the titles, front covers, main characters, themes, how the story is structured and also the word counts and the style of the writing itself. I spent my pre-writing years actually typing out the texts from my favourite books in full to get a better feel for them and how they look on a screen without any illustrations.
The most common mistake I see from fellow rhymers is a lack of understanding about the importance of metre. Sadly, if your metre is off your text might be getting dismissed within the first few lines. Make sure it’s consistent from the off. If you can get that right you give yourself a far better chance. You don’t need an academic level understanding of it either, just a grasp of the basic principles, so don’t be daunted by technical descriptions like pentameter and tetrameter and the like.
I’m still learning myself but I do like helping other writers and recently posted a Twitter thread on this very subject!
What’s the funniest, strangest or most unexpected thing that’s happened to you since becoming an author (apart from a pandemic)?
Well, Waterstones Sunderland have just let me know this week that their first batch of Which Nose for Witch? has sold out and they’ve had people grabbing them from the window display! That was pretty unexpected.
But much stranger was when the Barnes & Noble website in America used a headshot of the famous musician David Crosby as their author image on their Pirates vs. Monsters listing! Sensing an opportunity, I tweeted David about it (we’re on first name terms now, even though we both get called “Croz” a lot). He responded, which rocketed the reach of my original tweet to about 50k. A surreal moment. One day he’ll be the second most famous David Crosby on the planet. MUHAHAHAHAHA.
Finally, I consider myself a picture book snob — is there anything you’re snobby about?
Ha! I grew up in an old pit village in the north-east of England (and still live there). Being snobby is not something we do in these parts! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of our questions, David, and to you and Maverick Publishing for sharing this brilliant book with us! Which Nose for Witch? was published on 28th September and is available everywhere books are sold. Be sure to get hold of Pirates vs. Monsters too and see for yourself what all the fuss is about!
Read more about how Pirates vs. Monsters came about here
Read our review of Pirates vs. Monsters by David Crosby and Lee Cosgrove