Today is the last day on the Mini Monsters blog tour and we’re thrilled to have Caryl Hart join us in #TheRealm to discuss her new children’s book Mini Monsters: Can I Play?
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book ‘Mini Monsters: Can I Play?’?
Mini Monsters – Can I Play? takes place in a pre-school setting and is about the experiences of four little monsters, Sparkle, Scout, Arthur and Tiny. In this story, Sparkle is doing a magic show with Arthur, but when Scout tries to join in, Sparkle is not happy. Feeling left out, Scout retreats to the playhouse. Arthur soon comes to comfort him – leaving Sparkle by herself. Can Sparkle play on her own, or will she work out a way to get everyone playing together?
The book is illustrated by Tony Neal – can you describe how you worked together and what you feel his illustrations bring to the story?
Authors and illustrators generally have very little direct contact during the creation of a book, which sounds really weird, but I think it’s a way to enable both creators to feel that they are free to come up with their own interpretation of the characters and story line. So I will generally work with an editor, and the illustrator will work with a designer. For this new series, I had a lot of discussions with my editor at Simon and Schuster to talk about my vision for the characters, how they might look and what their personalities were, then my editor would convey this to the designer and through to Tony. I get to see rough drawings, text layouts and artwork at every stage of the book’s production, and send my comments on these to my editor who passes them on to the rest of the team.
The first thing I saw of the Mini Monsters were some rough character sketches that Tony did, and there was a bit of too-ing and fro-ing to get these just right!
Once the characters were finalised, Tony created rough drawings of each spread (double page) which I then gave feedback on.
I’m totally in love with the design and colour scheme of this book – Tony has used the colour palette really cleverly, and there are loads of super cute monstery details in the setting and environment the characters more around in. Tony has also included patterned backgrounds on some spreads which highlight the characters’ moods and emotions, which I think is really effective and endearing.
What inspired you to write this book?
A few years ago, my family and I became huge fans of the Channel 4 series The Secret Life of Five Year Olds, and it was these programmes that really inspired me to create this series. It took a long time and many, many rewrites to develop the characters’ personalities and voices but I’m really pleased with the way they have turned out.
Do you feel enough attention and regard is given to play in our educational settings?
No! I absolutely believe that very young children learn best through play. While some children respond well to more formal learning from the age of five or six, I do feel that for many, the transition to sitting at a table and learning to read and write comes far too early. Children of 5-7 years old are expected to know grammatical terms that even I don’t know, which seems crazy! Teachers are under so much pressure to tick government-prescribed boxes that the needs of individual children can be lost and children can feel like they are failing before they have even really got going in the school system.
I do feel, though, that play-based preschool and reception provision can provide a vital step towards helping young children to socialise and learn to navigate relationships and expectations outside the home. This really what the Mini Monsters series is about. It’s about learning to get along with other people and coping with all the emotional challenges that this can bring.
Do you have any favourite memories of playing with friends or a favourite game from when you were a child?
I do remember going to nursery school and learning about road safety with The Tufty Club. We had a pretend to be pedestrians and cars which was fun. I also loved playing The Farmer’s in his Den and always wanted to be the little dog!
Before I started nursery, my mum told me not to worry if I got tired because they had a little bed that I could have a lie down in. I was desperate to try it out so on my first day, I pretended to be sleepy, only to be told that I could push two hard plastic chairs together and sleep on those! I was bitterly disappointed and was rather cross with my mum for having told me what seemed like an untruth. She insists that they did once have a little bed so I guess they must have got rid of it before I had a chance to try it out. I can only have been three years old at the time.
What children’s books are you looking forward to reading this year?
I have actually just ordered a load of really OLD children’s books as a result of reading Clare Pollard’s Fierce Bad Rabbits, which is a history of children’s literature. So I’m looking forward to reading or re-reading, among others:
One Snowy Day by Ezra Keats
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
Hurrah for Mary Mouse by Enid Blyton
Burglar Bill by Allan Ahlberg
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
And.. also Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake which I read years ago and loved, but never go around to buying!
What’s next in store for the Mini Monsters?
Tony is currently illustrating Book 2, which is due out in Spring 2021. If the series goes well, we’re really hoping to be able to create more, but we’ll just have to wait and see how well books one and two go!
Finally, can you describe ‘Mini Monsters: Can I Play?’ in three words?
Adorable preschool drama!