Baa Baa Pink Sheep is an exciting new book for young children, with a twist at the end. So how did it all happen?

Our granddaughter, Ella Joan Penn (she insists on using her full name), was just two when she came up with something that inspired this book. It was, and still is, our custom to sing nursery rhymes to pass the time on car journeys. We would do part of a song and Ella would fill in the gaps.

“Baa baa…” we offered. “Purple sheep,” she replied. The child was clearly bored with the conventional. “Have you any…?” we continued, slightly taken aback.

“Pyjamas,” she supplied. Things weren't going according to plan. Along with “orange” and “carpet”, this must be amongst those words for which there is no rhyme. After being invited to try again, she next suggested “paper”. This too failed to inspire a halfway sensible follow-up. The third offering – “spots” – was the clincher.

After this episode, we looked up variously coloured sheep on the internet and found images of animals that had been spray-painted by farmers, along with a version of “pink sheep” that also featured spots. By now, having explored more ideas, we had different plans for our pink sheep. We also discovered that a number of education authorities and nurseries had banned “black sheep” as racist. Some places had substituted “rainbow sheep”, after which the words returned to the familiar.

With thirteen new verses written, I set about illustrating. My husband came up with the basic sheep shape and it was he who suggested the cut-in format of the pictures' borders. Stephen also produced the book's front and back covers. Ideas for further verses continued to flow, and I suppose there are a few more colours we might have used – silver, gold, maroon, violet, cream etc… By the way, “Whoever heard of a beige sheep?” Most sheep are!

On every visit, Ella was keen to assess progress on the artwork and was generally enthusiastic but demanded that I paint in eyes. The initial attempt at complying, using white, produced what looked like a demented Shaun The Sheep. The next few tries, using a more authentic brown, resulted in creatures that seemed menacing or drugged or both. The eyes were painted out.

Having sorted the colours (with one important exception) into alphabetical order, we enlisted the help of a friend, who scanned the images, did other clever and mysterious things with a computer and, unasked, went on to produce for us a prototype book. Seeing our work in this form was a strangely emotional experience, and we will always be grateful to Peter Wilson for his efforts at a crucial stage of the project. It made us realize that it might be worth getting the book published, if only to protect the idea, and we approached York Printing Services accordingly.

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