Monday, 23 April 2018

Ten Quite Interesting Things About Ten in the Bed

This month, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale, we are delighted to welcome Penny to the Illustrationcupboard blog to tell us ten quite interesting things you probably didn't know about this much-loved classic... 


Words by Penny Dale:

The idea for Ten in the Bed actually crept up on me while I was working on something else.

I had always wondered about the Ten in the Bed song when I sung it as a child. Who was the little one? Why were the others being systematically ejected from the bed? Who were they? It still perplexed me, and I thought it would be interesting to try to answer the questions.

When developing ideas I found I was thinking of it like a film, and as well as making a storyboard which I always do, I worked it out with my editor in terms of, scenes, continuity, character action and resulting positions…

Keeping track of ten characters was tricky. I wanted the point of view to change on every page zooming in and out, having high (elephant) and low (mouse) points of view. I wanted a dark indoors at dusk, low firelight atmosphere, and a lead character that behaved like real child, with a parental presence hinted at by details, but not visible in the room during the action.

So that was the starting point.

Although the following 10 things are mostly about the illustrations - the blog piece is for the Illustration Cupboard Gallery after all - there’s one thing that is central to the text, which is the use of onomatopoeia. The main subjects for most of the pictures were the surprise ‘landings’, and the comic sounds that accompanied them. Children love a pause, and then a sound to go with a sudden action. So that’s where the text is focused. Also running underneath, throughout I hope, is the feeling, despite the calamities, of belonging to a gang, a group… a family.

Here follows ten quite interesting facts about making the book:

Much of the inspiration for Ten in the Bed came from film and animation. The book starts a bit like a film.

Sets the scene.

Zooms in to look through one of the windows.

Zooms in again to show everyone in the bed, and the story begins…


An illustrator friend noticed the action flowing right to left on early roughs.

"Might be good to flip everything so flow goes left to right? the direction you turn page?"

Where would we be without observant friends?


I made a plan to work out positions in the rooms and an extruded a 3D wire drawing so I could work out POV.s of walls, windows, doors and furniture. 

This is because I can imagine a scene once, but struggle to place everything when viewing it from another direction.


The child was based on a combination of my toddler daughter and a friend’s son. People have said the child reminds them of their daughter, others their son, which is great, because I wanted the child to be identified with by whoever happened to be reading the book.


Colour was inspired by early 20th century animated films, where there are particular dark reds, blues and golds, and even darker colours within shadows. I masked light areas and used a toothbrush to flick and stipple watercolour into the shadows. 


The publisher, Sebastian Walker sometimes strolled about the office, to see what was going on.

He approached in his quiet way during a final editorial meeting, where we were checking through the finished artwork, and said, ”My dear, do be careful not to make it too dark.” Thankfully he was looking at the very darkest illustration, on the top of the pile, and probably didn’t know the rest were already finished! 


This illustration is an example of unwitting homage and borrowing of ideas.(13 ,14) I know I loved the illustrations by E.H. Shepard, for A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the Pooh as a child. I still do. Here is evidence.


The quilt on the bed featured on nearly every page. I tried many plain and patchwork variations. None worked.

so I decided to design one from scratch. Then painted it onto a handkerchief, so I could see how pattern folded etc.


The house was based on one featured in ‘The Coalminer’s Daughter’ (film 1980) Dir. Michael Apted) and drawn while watching the film on TV.


While in the early stages, we realised we would need more than the usual 12 spreads of a picture book, to get everyone out… and then back into bed. The red rectangles here, from the storyboard show the plotting of an extra 2 spreads. And getting in again!

Ten in the Bed has sold nearly 2 million copies and has been heralded as one of the most popular picture books of recent decades. To celebrate its 30th Anniversary, Illustrationcupboard are currently hosting an exhibition of the original artwork, including entire matching series of working drawings and other reference material. See an artwork preview and discover more about the exhibition on our website.


We have three signed copies of Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale available to give away! To enter, just answer this question...

In Ten in the Bed by Penny Dale, who gets a ride in the potty?

To enter, just email your name, address and answer to with 'Penny Dale Competition' in the subject line before 1st May 2018. Good luck!