Thursday, 26 February 2015

3D Review - How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel - Author Interview with Wendy Meddour

Wendy Meddour was brought up in Aberystwyth and spent many years teaching English at Oxford University. Her debut children’s book, A Hen in the Wardrobe, won the John C Laurence award for improving relations between the races and was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for an outstanding first novel. She went onto publish the bestselling & internationally acclaimed Wendy Quill series – and loves nothing better than writing rhyming picture books.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I’ve got lots. Something amazing happened when I read The Great Smile Robbery by Roger McGough, and Hunter Davies’ Flossie Teacake Strikes Back and Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry The Little Prince were pure magic. And my dad used to read me fairy tales and poetry every night, so I can blame him for quite a lot.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

I’m always amazed by the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh. And Alice in Wonderland is a joy. Oh, and Chris Riddell’s Ottoline books are things of great beauty.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

Children’s books are like extra-virgin olive oil: the finely squeezed bits that remain when all the rubbish has been thrown away. Children are the most exciting of all readers; they delight in honesty, imagination, and excitement - the refined stuff. So every word has to be there for a reason. This is what makes children’s books magic.

Wendy (centre) at the launch party of 'How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel' with her editor - Janetta Otter-Barry and illustrator Rebecca Ashdown. 

Why did you start writing for children?

When I was 33.

What made you want to write this book?

I’d like to say I wrote it because I wanted to help save our libraries – which I absolutely do!!! But that’s not exactly the reason I wrote it. No. The honest answer is this: I wanted to write it because I had heat stroke and my brain wouldn’t let me think about anything else. You see, I was burning up in the top floor of a city flat in the Algeria. It was 52 degrees outside and the flat was surrounded by forest fires. It was probably some sort of coping mechanism – but my mind began to imagine that I was Rapunzel – stuck in the tower – with no means of escape. I could barely breathe. ‘How the Library (not the Prince) saved Rapunzel’ started to flow – I couldn’t stop it. Books and writing had always helped me in a crisis. Books would save Rapunzel too!!!! (And whilst I was writing like a loon, a Prince didn’t show up. But an old Berber lady called ‘Zarfa’ did. She put some bags of frozen chick-peas on my head and down my top, put my feet in a bucket of ice-cold water, and gave me lemon juice with honey to drink.) Slowly, my temperature came down and I survived to tell the tale. Quite literally. I came home in one piece. Just. And Frances Lincoln decided to publish the book.

What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?

That there are no frontiers.

What is the biggest challenge in crafting a story with such a small word count?

Getting it right, I suppose. Making sure it’s refined enough. And in my case, funny. I do like a little bit of humour.

Why did you choose Rapunzel as character to work with?

I didn’t choose her. She chose me.

What are the challenges of using a well-established fairytale character?

I don’t know. I didn’t think there were any.

What is your favourite fairytale and why?

Not sure about this one. Fairy tales are wonderful, necessary, seductive things that do curious things with our imagination. They need to exist and most of them can send me into a trance. But they’re nearly always tinged with sadness. Or they end with a wedding and a prince! (Oh! Same thing. Hehehe). That’s why they need to be rewritten. With jolly, inspiring, heroine-centred endings. You know, like Rapunzel getting a job at the library and learning to play the bassoon!

‘So don’t just wait for your Prince to show
He might turn up but you never know.
Pop down to your library and borrow a book –
There’s SO MUCH to find out if only you look.

But don’t just sit and wait and stare …
When there’s more to life than growing your hair!’

3D Review - How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel - Illustrator Interview with Rebecca Ashdown

Rebecca was born in Chichester on the south coast and grew up right by the sea. She has always had a passion for making art. Now, after years of working as a graphic & motion designer, filmmaker and vector artist, she has returned to her first love; writing and illustrating children’s books.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I’m going to cheat here! Both ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle have always been firm favourites. I adored my first Richard Scarry book, which was a Christmas present, and I couldn’t possibly leave out The Mr Men!

I read a lot of fiction - ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ by Phillipa Pearce and other tales by Alan Garner and Ursula LeGuin. Living with a library at the end of my road really helped.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

Again, I could never choose one favourite but two of my picture book heroes are John Burningham and David McKee who both have a wonderful, witty perspective on childhood experience. I’m a big fan of Sara Fanelli, too. For older children, Eva Ibbotson is just magical and Patrick Ness is completely enthralling.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

I think that reading a good book inspires a feeling of belonging - a sort of empathy. We’re invited into a world and to experience it alongside real characters. We aren’t passive onlookers - reading is a two-way conversation. These adventures can be as exhilarating as a real life.

Did you always want to be an illustrator?

Yes! I still have a book of poems that I wrote and aged 9. They are all illustrated and bound, complete with decorative cover. I entered a lot of art competitions as a child, too, which was a great way to find out what other people thought about my pictures.

How did you become an illustrator?

I’ve always drawn a lot, ever since I was tiny. So, after a Foundation course, I trained in illustration up to Masters level. During my final year, I began working for BBC Education as an illustrator for their online educational games site. This led me into becoming a web and print designer for many years, then later into animation and filmmaking. But I never stopped drawing.

It was only after I’d had my own children and began reading the books I’d always loved, that my real passion was reignited. I was taken on by The Bright Agency in 2013, who expertly guided me into the world of publishing. It’s great to have experienced two very different career paths to get to this point.

What is it like visualising other people’s characters?

It’s great fun. It’s a bit like being a detective, with no right answer! Sometimes there are clues in the story, which suggest ideas for a character. Certain texts just throw up an immediate image and sometimes a publisher or author might have their own ideas or starting point. Either way, imagination always plays a big part. In many ways, fresh eyes make it a lot easier than working with a text I’ve written.

Can you please explain a bit about your process of illustration?

Well, every project is different. For me, there’s a lot of emphasis on the characters, as I want them to be believable. So, I think of them as puppets in a theatre and have certain questions as I draw them; how do they move, dance, sleep etc. Then I have to create the scenery, the props and so on, until it becomes a small stage; a little world.

Drawing is central. The more I draw something, the more familiar it becomes - which gives the line more energy and fun. I use a variety of media but I try to infuse the illustrations with as much spontaneity and life as I can, regardless of the final look and feel.

What is your favourite fairytale?

Tricky! I’m really fond of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. ‘The Little Match Girl’ is a favourite, although terribly sad. I’d recommend Angela Carter’s books to bigger children who prefer a darker fairy tale experience!

3D Review - Reviews - How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel – Wendy Meddour & Rebecca Ashdown

February sees both ’National Library Day’ (7th) and ‘National Tell a Fairy Tale Day’ (26th) so we at Space on the Bookshelf thought very hard, and decided to treat you to a 3D review which celebrates both Libraries and Fairytales. So here we start off our second 3D review for 2015, with a fantastic picture book, ‘How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel’ by Wendy Meddour and Rebecca Ashdown. Today we start with the reviews, and over the next few days, we’ll post the author and illustrator interviews.

Adult Review

To confess the title alone had me hooked; ‘How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel’, as I love both books and fairy tales, and it didn't disappoint. The cover is vibrant and fun, and it is refreshing to see Rapunzel depicted as being a red-head rather than the usual Disney-esk blonde. Instantly the cover draws you in to a fabulous fun tale that has subtle yet positive mortal messages, and like all good fairy tales warnings.

The books waves the tale of Rapunzel isolated on the sixteenth floor of a tower box who is lonely and unmotivated as
‘She had nowhere to go. She had nothing to prove.’ 

All her friends and family, are too busy to climb the stairs to the sixteenth floor to see her, and instead just call up to see if she is ok, but when she doesn’t respond go about their business. Even the appearance of a suitor bringing roses and chocolates can coax Rapunzel down,
‘With the wind in his hair and blowing his hooter, along came the prince on the back of his scooter’.

When Rapunzel’s friends and family come together concerned that;
‘without lunch or dinner, Rapunzel was starting to get a bit thinner.’
So they make the journey up the stair to visit her and deliver a letter that Rapunzel shakes of her gloomy disposition. With her new job and purpose,

 “She had somewhere to go. She had something to prove.” 
Rapunzel quickly becomes a beloved librarian, and becomes motivated taking inspiration from the many books she reads from the library.

‘How the Library (not the prince) Saved Rapunzel’, is a beautiful book with exquisite illustrations by Rebecca Ashdown, that are full of energy and work perfectly with Wendy Meddour’s story. I believe this book is a great teaching tool for children, showing them the virtue of libraries, plus giving the subtle ‘fairy-tale warning’ about the dangers of sitting around and losing your self-esteem.

However, I think the real strength and beauty of this book is the dealing with isolation and depression. Showing that sometimes when someone is isolated and down, that taking time out of a busy schedule to an extra step (or flight of steps) to visit them, and show your friendship can be very valuable.

Review by Hannah aged 6

Rapunzel lives on the sixteenth floor of a high rise block and when people come to visit her just sits there and does nothing. Even the prince doesn’t make any difference. However when some visitors come up the stairs to see her she found out that she has a new job at the library and EVERYTHING changes…

My favourite bit was when Rapunzel found out she had a job. I think you’d like this is you like the books ‘The Mummy Shop’ (by Abbie Longstaff and Lauren Beard) and ‘Mr Wolf and the Enormous Turnip’ (by Jan Fearnley). I also think people should read this book because it has an unexpected ending!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Diverse Reads - Review - My Basmati Bat Mitzvah By Paula J Freedman

In recent months there has been a lot of discussion about diversity within children’s literature (more specifically the lack of diversity within Children’s literature), with many reports promoting and listing culturally dives books. Paula J Freedman’s Middle Grade book ‘My Basmati Bat Mitzvah’ should definitely be added to any list of quality culturally diverse books.

‘My Basmati Bat Mitzvah’ is a delightful read, giving a glimpse into different cultures and the difficulties of belonging to more than one culture and religion. It centres on the life of twelve year old Tara who is preparing for her Bat Mitzvah. Her parents are both Jewish, her father from birth, where as her mother (who is an Indian immigrant to the USA) converted from Hinduism.

The book reads like a modern Judy Bloom giving you an authentic feeling insight into American childhood, expertly bringing the worries and anxieties of a girl struggling to come to terms with her beliefs as the date for Bat Mitzvah approaches. Tara faces all the usual tweenie/teenage problems; friendships, boys and all in addition to the more complex issue of God. Tara is overwhelmed by questions and doubts; does she believe? Does taking her Jewish Bat Mitzvah mean she is dishonouring her Hindu heritage? Is there a way to embrace both parts of her heritage and faiths?

As Tara tries to figure out the answers and navigates through the minefield of tweenie/teen dramas she endeavours to assert her individuality and gets locked in a battle with her mother as well as damaging the invaluable sari heirloom.

Paula, has created rich and beautifully descriptive window into two cultures plus exploring the difficulties of being mixed faith and ethnicity. Tara is an empathetic absorbing character that clearly shows that teenagers are alike no matter their cultural heritage. My Basmati Bat Mitzvah is fun and delightful read and is primarily a heart-warming tale.