What a treat today to welcome children’s author Frances Tosdevin into The Reading Realm to talk about her gorgeous picture book THE BEAR AND HER BOOK, which is illustrated by Sophia O’Connor!
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your book, The Bear and her Book?
It’s the story of a book-loving bear, who decides to leave her mountain home in order to see the world. She only takes one thing with her— a special book: Bear’s Big Book of Being Wise. As she travels, she meets different creatures whose problems she helps to fix — with the assistance of her book, of course!
What inspired the story?
I wrote the story for a competition, which was being run by UCLan Publishing. The brief was to write a picture book for their foxy mascot, Finney. As I didn’t have anything that was suitable in my portfolio — and as the competition was about to close— I didn’t think I would be able to enter. But then a little voice in my head kept saying, “go on, have a go — you know you want to!” Once I’d decided to throw everything at it and write something, I quickly settled on it being a rhyming story with a gentle sing-song rhythm. There wasn’t really a conscious reason for either of those things— it’s just how the story started to form itself in my head. I knew I wanted to include a repeated refrain— although these can eat up your wordcount. But I do love a refrain! Because the competition was being run by a publisher, I wanted to make a love of books central to the story — and also to be key in framing the ending. So my story was initially about a book-loving fox! However, after the competition ended (I didn’t win but was short-listed), Hazel Holmes from UCLan Publishing got in touch to say that they loved the story and would like to publish it — but would I mind changing the main character away from a fox? I can’t really imagine my story having a fox, anymore! Swapping the main character from a male fox to a female bear just works so, so much better for my story. I shall always be grateful for Hazel’s vision!
How did you feel when you saw the illustrations and artwork for the first time?
Seeing Sophia’s character sketches was a really surreal moment. It is very humbling to see that someone has given life to your words, and so perfectly. This was my debut picture book, so every part of the journey was a first for me. It was a constant thrill to receive emails from the designer, Becky Chilcott, containing Sophia’s artwork. I think it’s the best bit about having a picture book in production!
The story has a beautiful lullaby feel to it. Was this the aim? What are your own memories of books and bed-time?
It wasn’t especially my aim to give the story a bedtime vibe; I think that perhaps that is just the consequence of my having settled on a sing-song rhythm with repeated elements in the text. So it was a happy accident, if you like! My own memories of books and bedtime are very distant! But I recall being read to every night by my mother — not necessarily picture books as such, but classics like Winnie the Pooh by A.A Milne and E.H Shepard and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and E.H. Shepard. I also soaked up repeat readings of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. I think that’s why I like writing in rhyme so much; it’s the rhythms that shine for me — and Stevenson’s poems were so incredibly rhythmic.
What children’s picture books have you enjoyed recently?
Oh my goodness, how long have you got, and how many miles of screen scrolling?! I am a frequent reader of picture books. Recent delights have included Scissorella by Clare Helen Welsh and Laura Barrett, The Grumpy Fairies by Bethan Stevens, I am NOT A Prince, by Rachel Davis and Beatrix Hatcher, The Moose Fairy by Steve Smallman, Violet’s Tempest by Ian Eagleton and Clara Anganuzzi, and One Camel Called Doug by Lu Fraser and Sarah Warburton. Well-known classics I love include Not Now, Bernard by David McKee, Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett and Vanessa Cabban, and The Hairy Toe retold and illustrated by Daniel Postgate. But I absolutely must mention my new favourite illustrated young fiction series: Rabbit and Bear, by Julian Gough and Jim Field. These books are so full of heart, and they’re laugh-out-loud funny! I’m so pleased I’ve found them!
Finally, can you describe The Bear and Her Book in three words?
Kindness, curiosity, book-loving!