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The inspiration behind Knowing the Score by Ros Roberts

When I was 4 years old, my Aunty Jen, who I adored, asked me to be her bridesmaid. I said no, emphatically no. No-one knew why. No-one could convince me to change my mind. It made no sense to my family. I loved to dress up, loved my aunty.

On the wedding day, my sister wore a beautiful, pink gown, carried a posy of flowers and everyone complimented her. I wasn’t jealous. I knew my decision was right. We got in the car to go home and I was mystified when my sister climbed in. You see, I truly believed at the age of four that if you were someone’s bridesmaid, you then had to go and live with them. I liked my parents and my bedroom, thank you very much.

The memories of that decision, that one moment when my sister got into the car are SO clear; the realization that I could, after all have worn that dress and walked down the aisle following my aunty. I had got it so wrong, but no one had ever thought of course, that I had that thought in my mind!

Ros and her family aged four

Readers of Knowing the Score will see moments of this bridesmaid story in the book. I am fascinated by memories; how we grasp at them, struggle to make the pieces fit. It’s like the feeling when you wake from a dream, madly scrabbling to remember what happened. Gemma has so much of this in her mind – fragments of memories of when she was a five-year-old bridesmaid at her uncle’s wedding, of things that have happened over the years with her mum and the family fall out. She can never quite make those memories fit together but she is determined to find out the truth and try to heal the rift.

Knowing the Score is about healing and forgiveness. It is about courage and determination. In her quest to reunite Gran, Uncle Joe and her Mum, Gemma has to dig deep, ask difficult questions and push to get answers. It is a story driven by this incredible 11-year-old, determined to bring her family back together.

About the time I sadly refused to be a bridesmaid, I also picked up a tennis racket. Tennis was played by all my family. Trips to Wimbledon, summers playing tournaments, winters driving miles to an indoor court – the best of memories.  I’ve played all my life and always wanted to set a book with a tennis background. I won’t ever be a Noel Streatfield but reading Tennis shoes when I was a teenage made me so unbelievably happy. Tennis is for everyone. If one child reads Gemma’s story and gives it a go, picks up a racket, then I will be truly thrilled. If not, maybe someone will rescue a cat and call him something crazy like Carrot Cake – either of those two things would make me a very happy writer indeed.

 

 

 

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The illustration process behind I Really, Really Need A Poo – Duncan Beedie

Whenever I start illustrating a new book, the process invariably starts with a discussion with the art director – in this case the highly talented Rebecca Essilifie. As this book was the third in the series, we were hitting the ground running in terms of its visual style, but initially we would have discussed colour palettes, layouts and the sense of action each page might require in the context of Karl’s text.

Firstly, to get an idea of the overall composition of each page, I rattle out some rough thumbnail storyboards. I’m not worrying too much about text placement here – although that is lurking at the back of my mind so that I’m not rejigging images too much in the later artwork stages. The storyboard helps give me and Rebecca a sense of the pacing of the visual story: when to use full bleed illustrations and when to break the story down into smaller vignettes, etc. Once we are happy with this, it’s on to the rough artwork.

As the name suggests, they are still just rough black and white sketches. But they are drawn to scale and this is when I liaise with Rebecca to finalise the text placement. I’m continually being reminded to leave some extra room to incorporate any longer translated text in international co-editions – something I always seem to forget!

Nailing down the layout as accurately as possible at the rough stage means that the colour art is essentially a case of tracing, with some inevitable adjustments. I worked as an animator for 15 years before switching to picture books and, as such, I became rather adept at drawing in what was then Adobe Flash (now Animate). To this day I find it the most proficient way to digitally draw my book illustrations, much to the disdain of more qualified artists. However, that’s just the first part of the process. I then export these flat colour files to Photoshop via Illustrator before adding texture and additional shading.

Et voila! A fully realised picture book illustration is then ready to be pored over, amended, tweaked and prodded before it hits the printing presses.

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The story behind Becoming Brave by Jennie Cashman Wilson

In my new picture book, “Becoming Brave,” I share a deeply personal journey about my own childhood and the impact of the pressures to conform. The story revolves around my transformation from a free-spirited, creative child into someone who felt the constant need to be ‘good’ in order to please the adults around me. This shift ultimately led me to abandon my true desires in favour of approval. Meanwhile on the other side of the world there was a boy who had fallen in love with the trumpet and would do anything to keep playing. The turning point in my life came when I met that grownup boy Abram, a jazz musician who showed me what I’d been missing. Following his passing three years later, I realised that I had nothing to lose and gradually started embracing my fears. It took nearly seven years for me to truly understand the concept that it was okay to fail, which is when I penned ‘Becoming Brave.’

Writing a picture book with the messages of love, loss, fear and courage was not my initial goal. It happened serendipitously. My journey towards ‘Becoming Brave’ started when I embarked on a two-week clowning course in 2019, where I got to embody the magic of embracing failure and learned how I could transform it into something else. Following on from this experience I began working through ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron and that led me to scribbling down my initial ‘Becoming Brave’ story. My words remained hidden in one of my journals for months, but eventually, I found them again. The decision to share my story was driven by my desire to encourage people, especially young children, to have confidence in themselves and their creative potential, even in the face of setbacks.

I first shared my story when I had the privilege of speaking to a thousand primary school children at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, sharing my experiences and those of Abram as part of their annual Generation Ladywood project. This project was close to my heart, as I had watched a whole year group grow from reception to Year 6, which was incredibly special. I wanted children to understand that being brave involves acknowledging fear and the possibility of failure, while also reassuring them that they would be okay. I aimed to convey that failure is not something to fear but rather an opportunity for growth and creativity. The message of ‘No Fear!’ became our annual chant, emphasising the importance of courage in the face of adversity and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to share my story with them first. As the story evolved into a children’s picture book, it felt important to emphasise the process of finding courage from within rather than pushing away fear, hence the title ‘Becoming Brave’.

I’m so grateful to Little Tiger for their commitment to bringing this story to life, especially Nikki, Isabel and Emma who were so passionate, patient and collaborative in their approach. Tomekah’s illustrations are beautiful, and it I feel very lucky that she agreed to take on this story as her first picture book. Thank you and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed making it.

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The inspiration behind Only This Beautiful Moment by Abdi Nazemian

I’m so honored that my novel ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT is being published in the UK and Commonwealth by Little Tiger for many reasons, not least of which is that when I was growing up, I never thought a book that’s both this Iranian and this queer would ever be published, let alone that I would write it. This is in many ways a book about coming out of the shadows. My family, like many immigrant families, hid the secrets of their trauma from me. And perhaps learning from their example, I spent too many years hiding my queerness from them and from the world. What I found in writing this book is a firm belief that while our trauma can be passed down from generation to generation, so can our joy, our love, our loyalty, our poetry.

ONLY THIS BEAUTIFUL MOMENT is about three generations of men in the same Iranian family. Each of the Jafarzadeh men – Moud, Saeed and Bobby – tells the story of a teenage journey between Los Angeles to Tehran or vice versa. Because the novel takes place in the 1930s, the 1970s, and present day, it allowed me to dig into the complex connective tissue of history, and how we’re always carrying our history within us. It also allowed me to depict intergenerational grace and forgiveness. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with western friends who wanted to cast my family and my culture as the villains of my story for not embracing my sexuality. My friends often spoke the language of American self-empowerment, which tells us that if someone doesn’t accept us as we are, we should bid them goodbye. I spoke the language of immigrant families, which taught me that family loyalty comes before everything else. I felt caught between two worlds for most of my life, and often still do, which is why I try so hard to unite those two worlds in my fiction. In bringing conflicting worlds and identities together on the page, I hope to inspire myself to keep bridge-building off the page, and to keep striving for unity and forgiveness in a world full of division and shame.

I hope readers of this novel will be similarly inspired, and that they see this novel as an invitation to engage in many of life’s biggest questions about where we are now and how we got here, and to come up with their own unique answers. And I also hope that readers who are interested in the novel’s depiction of political issues, such as anti-queer legislation and western intervention in the Middle East, come away with an appreciation for how issues they may view as purely political are deeply personal for families like the Jafarzadeh family. Just like Moud develops a deeper empathy for his father and grandfather by learning their stories, I hope this novel inspires readers to really take the time to get to know people’s histories, and develop a deeper empathy for others. We’re all carrying so much intergenerational joy, trauma, love, fear, loyalty, and only by recognizing our common humanity can we create the most beautiful moments.

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I Was Raised By Robots by Guy Bass

I come from a big family. Like, really big. My nuclear family consisted of my mum, dad and brother. Sure, that might not sound as colossal as your own set up, with your three sisters and six brothers and twelve dads. But I haven’t included the robots … and there were a lot of robots. Every time I opened a book or comic or turned on the TV or went to the cinema or let my imagination wander, there they were, waiting for me, ready to entertain, engage and inspire – androids, automatons, machines and mechanoids galore. I’m not sure whether I adopted the robots or the robots adopted me, but as far as I was concerned, those mechanical marvels were as much my family as my mushy, organic relatives.

My robot family looked nothing like my human family. They were considerably more metal, with blinking lights and whirring servos and wheels for feet. They also had much cooler names (which I’m definitely not listing just to increase the word count of this blog) – how could my organic kin hope to compete with ‘bots named Twiki, Zax, T-Bob, Nono, Marvin, Robby, Rosey, Johnny 5, 7-Zark-7, K9, H.A.L. 9000, H.E.R.B.I.E., F.L.U.F.F.I, C.H.I.P., B.U.G., S.A.M.A.N.T.H.A., V.I.N.C.E.N.T., Old B.O.B. (don’t ask me what any of their names stand for – families don’t ask), Machine Man, Robotman, The Iron Man/Giant, Vision, Ultron, Jocasta, The Human Torch, Red Tornado, Hewey, Dewey, Louie, Optimus Prime, Megatron, and, of course, R2-D2 and C-3PO?

My robot family was not an assortment of mindless machines, however; K9 and C-3PO were the sort of patronising, know-it-all uncles that tend to drive you up the wall. T-Bob and Nono were little brothers who, for some reason, had been programmed to be annoying at least 96% of the time. Vision and Jocasta were older siblings who were slightly distant and aloof, but So. Unbelievably. Cool. Optimus Prime was a very serious parent, always ready to dish out wisdom or drop a moral message, while Megatron was, let’s face it, a far more fun father figure, if you ignored all the global conquest and/or domination (which, looking back, probably set a bad example for an eight-year-old keen to make an impression upon the world.) Indeed, in every way that counted, my robot family was just as human as my human family, if not more so. The fact that they weren’t actually human made them even more relatable … even more human. The fact that a robot’s humanity must be learned and earned perhaps makes it even more profound. Plus, Megatron was a hoot at Christmas, always shouting “I’ll crush you with my bare hands, Earthlings!” whenever anyone had more than their fair share of pigs in blankets.

In my new book, SCRAP, robots are given the job of preparing the far-off planet of Somewhere 513 for the arrival of human colonists. But, when the robots decide they want to keep the world for themselves, humanity itself is outlawed. As the robots reject their programming to become more human, the colonists are banished. Now, one lonely, rejected robot finds himself tied to the humans’ fate, when he discovers two children, Paige and Gnat, are still stuck on the planet, and desperate to escape. As Scrap and the children find family ties bind them together, Scrap must decide whether to reawaken the best side of his own humanity.

So, here’s to my robot family, and robot families everywhere, always ready to teach us more about ourselves.

Even if they have wheels for feet.

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Q&A with Above and Below: Sea and Shore author, Harriet Evans


 

 

 

 

Above and Below is a unique split page and lift-the-flap book, can you explain how the book works?

The book showcases eight watery habitats from across the world, with facts about the creatures and plants that inhabit these places – or their geological features – on the left and Hannah Bailey’s beautiful illustrations on the right. Each artwork is divided into two using a split-page flap that allows the reader to delve further into these underwater worlds to discover what lies beneath the waves.

 What kinds of areas of the world do you cover in the book?

We journey all around the planet, taking in some of the magnificent marine life along the way! From the sandy shallows of the British coastline to the amazing mangrove forests of Asia and from colourful coral reefs to the darkest depths of the deep ocean, there should be something to capture every young nature-lover’s imagination!  

Did you have to do a lot of research the content in the book, how did you go about deciding which facts to cover?

I definitely did have to research the places – sadly my knowledge of habitats isn’t quite encyclopaedic just yet! I love finding stories in nature, so I was particularly drawn to the facts that helped me imagine the lives of the animals I was writing about or that challenged my expectations of these creatures. For example, did you know that seagulls stamp on the ground to imitate the sound of rainfall and trick worms out into the open where they can be quickly gobbled up? Or that plover birds build fake nests to draw predators away from their hatchlings?

How do you make the subjects you cover engaging for your readers?

 I tried to pick a mixture of different creatures – some that readers would know and enjoy spotting but also animals that they might not have encountered before like the opalescent nudibranch (great name!) or the Irrawaddy dolphin. Similarly, we took care to pick a variety of different locations so we could have a broad sweep of different animals, plants and geographic features.

What do you think of the look of the finished book, with illustrations by Hannah Bailey? Are there any spreads that stand out for you?

Hannah Bailey’s illustrations are completely gorgeous, so I was thrilled! She’s a master at adding small details that make the whole habitat come to life and was so skilled at the shifts of perspective that you need for the split-page novelty to work. I love all the spreads but the kelp forest one has a special place in my heart. Otters are one of my favourite animals and I think Hannah’s depiction of the harbour seal and leopard shark on this spread are beautiful too!

 

 

Other than some fascinating insights into our world, what would you like young readers to take from your book?

That our planet is a much weirder and more wonderful place than we often remember. Learning more about the Earth’s incredible habitats – some of which are on our doorstep – can encourage us to live more thoughtfully and be aware that we share this world and have a responsibility to protect it.

How do you think this book could be used in classrooms?

One of the things I love about this series is how it taps into your curiosity – what else could be hiding inside a habitat? What might come out at night or what lived there eons before? Perhaps teachers could give each child their own simple seascape picture and assign them different oceans to use as inspiration to draw and write about underwater worlds. Or maybe they could read the book in class together and each child could choose an animal or plant and research it further to present their findings to the class? For younger children, perhaps you could match the animals mentioned to their habitat. It could be a great way to think about how different creatures are adapted to where they live and the relationships that we all have with our homes.