Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen is one of our stand-out picture books of the year – moving, uplifting and hopeful. It’s a pleasure to welcome author Anne Booth into The Reading Realm to discuss how this beautiful book was created…
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your new book, which is illustrated by Robyn Wilson-Owen and called ‘Bloom’?
It’s about learning to see and to love what is in front of us, and how that seeing and loving helps us bloom.
I think the book will really encourage readers to look and appreciate the natural world around them. Do you think that, as a society, we have lost our connection with nature?
I think we probably have – I know that my dad grew up in the country and worked on farms, and knew all about animals and birds and plants in a way that I don’t, but I think that the hopeful thing to remember is that even if we feel we have lost our connection with nature, nature hasn’t lost its connection with us – we live in a world where even in cities, grass and weeds push up through pavements, birds sing and trees blossom. I think we have all become more aware of nature in lockdown and many people have fallen in love with it and want to reconnect and nurture it.
I noticed some subtle hints throughout the book which explain why the old man is so cross and angry. Were these always part of the storyline or were these details added by Robyn?
These details, which I really love – were added by Robyn, but I totally agree with them, and this links with question no 4.
What do you feel Robyn’s illustrations bring to the story? Can you describe your process of working together?
It was so interesting working with Robyn and Tiny Owl, and I think Robyn’s illustrations are beautiful and essential. Originally I did have in mind the man would be very angry and powerful, the type of powerful politician we sadly often see in the international news these days. When Robyn sent back her initial sketches, she had picked up my vision perfectly without me saying anything to her, and that is how she depicted him, but even though it was amazing telepathy on her part and this was exactly what I had in mind, the end result of words and pictures in preliminary sketch form seemed too angry and too political and too adult.
After talking to Anne, my agent, I realised that I didn’t want that, I wanted us to see he was greedy and selfish, but that the emphasis should be that he was also sad and vulnerable and needed love. We told Tiny Owl this, Robyn and Tiny Owl then talked, and Robyn went away and created the finished stunning illustrations, with not only a back story for the man, showing a childhood with a flower and that he hadn’t always been cross and angry, but also a wonderful back story for the girl, so that we see that she is receiving love in a close family, in a small flat full of blooms! I had said nothing about the girl’s family, and I think it really adds so much to the story and feels absolutely right. I also really believe that love comes from love, and that the love the little girl receives is what helps her give love to the flower and ultimately to the man.
Robyn said on Twitter she used what she learnt about creating the back story from a day she went on with the illustrator Pam Smy at The House of Illlustration. I love all the details she puts in. I was just so moved and blown away by her vision and her illustrations.
Robyn (and Tiny Owl, I presume) came up with the urban setting too – I said nothing about where the girl lives, and I think it is brilliant Robyn has put her and her family in a flat, contrasting with the man’s house. Robyn wanted the gardener to be a woman, and I got a bit worried that all the female characters were nice but the main male character was not, so to make sure that was countered a bit I added the brother into the story, and I wanted to show he was loving too, so I have him kindly giving the man a hankie when he is crying. As the setting was now urban, when I first saw the sketches without colour I also was a little worried about the finished book not being bright and happy enough, but I absolutely love the way Robyn has used colour, and the contrast makes the flower, and the flowers in the flat, stand out all the more, just as a little bit of love can brighten up the whole world.
I love the last joyful double spread in the garden – it absolutely goes perfectly with the words and the feeling I wanted to convey. I have never met Robyn but I am so glad Tiny Owl put us together. I think she is a brilliant artist and I feel that with her illustrations, even without talking directly to each other, we have made a beautiful book together!
I loved that in the book it is the children that teach the old man how to love again. What else do you think we can learn about life from children?
I think that they pay attention to details (like Robyn does in her illustrations!) and really look at the small things, and when we do that too, it helps us slow down and re-discover how amazing and wonderful the world is, and helps us enjoy the present moment.
I’m a big fan of Tiny Owl Publishing! What was it like working together? How excited were you to discover they would be publishing your story?
I’m a huge fan of Tiny Owl. I admire them so much. I love their vision and I find the picture books they produce to be so original and beautiful so I feel really honoured to be one of their authors. I love and am so proud of the fact that Bloom is part of ‘Hope in a Scary World’ series. It makes me so happy to work with people who so clearly want to use children’s books to help children. I have also found them lovely to work with personally, and I really appreciate the free resources and teachers’ notes and downloadable posters they have put on their website for use with ‘Bloom’ – that’s an author’s dream, to have so much post-publication support.
Are there any children’s books you’ve enjoyed reading this year or are looking forward to?
I’ve read so many gorgeous books so it is so hard to only mention a few. I’ve been buying and reading other Tiny Owl picture books, so I have really enjoyed ‘Felix, After the Rain,’ and ‘Paris Cat.’ I think ‘Mrs Noah’s Garden’ by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew (Graffeg) is beautiful. I went on a day course in collage with James Mayhew and I just love and admire what he does with it, and the story by Jackie Morris is lovely and is also about nurturing and love. I fell in love with two Book Island books: ‘The Garden of Inside-Outside’ by Chiara Mezzalama and Régis Lejonc, and I think ‘The Bird Within Me’ by Sara Lundberg is stunning and I know I will read it again and again. I loved ‘The Last Tree’ by Emily Haworth-Booth (no relation!) and I loved Jane Porter’s and Maisie Paradise Shearing’s ‘The Boy who Loved Everyone’ and I am so glad it has been shortlisted for the wonderful ‘Little Rebels’ Award. I am really looking forward to ‘Last’ by Nicola Davies, which is being published by Tiny Owl in September, and also I am so excited about Shirley Hughes’ new book ‘Dogger’s Christmas’!
Finally, can you describe Bloom in three words?
Oh dear – that’s so hard! I keep wanting to use four!
Love is beautiful.
Love begets love. (Bit formal I know!)
Love is everywhere.
Everyone needs love.
Love makes us grow. (four words!)
Love makes us bloom. (four words!)