Today we welcome children’s author Leisa Stewart-Sharpe into The Reading Realm to talk to Ian Eagleton about her new book WILD LIFE, which is illustrated by Helen Shoesmith!
Without giving too much away, can you tell us about your fabulous new book ‘Wild Life’?
Wild Life follows the adventures of the world’s best known and best loved naturalist – Sir David Attenborough! It’s a non-fiction picture book that works for all ages – easy to read aloud for little wild things and great for bigger wild things too, who are keen on conservation and learning more about Sir David’s extraordinary life so far.
How did you go about researching David Attenborough’s life? Was it a challenge condensing all his achievements down into one book?
It’s both a thrilling and daunting prospect to get the chance to write about your hero. I was already quite familiar with Sir David’s work and life given the books I write with BBC Earth featuring his shows. But I also took time to revisit his books, programmes and many interviews. He is a very gifted storyteller. It’s the longest I’ve ever taken to write the last line of a book – I didn’t want it to end.
Is there a favourite fact or story you learnt about David while creating this book?
His genuine joy at being pounced on by the mountain gorillas Poppy, Puck and Pablo in Rwanda all those years ago is just infectious. It was one of those incredible encounters to reminds us all that we share this planet with the most extraordinary wildlife. In fact, Sir David commented on the gorilla scene in the book and said it “conveys exactly the sort of paradisical feeling I experienced on that unforgettable encounter”. It’s an honour to bring experiences like this to life again in print.
How did you feel seeing Helen Shoesmith’s illustrations for the first time?
Helen’s a huge talent. She can do funny, she can do poignant, and boy did she capture David’s likeness beautifully!
Do you have a favourite page or illustration in the book that you can talk about?
As an Aussie, I’m a little biased here, because I adore the Great Barrier Reef. I grew up snorkelling on the reef and care very deeply about ensuring we protect this wonder from any further coral bleaching through rising temperatures. Being on a reef really is like travelling to an alien planet – the startling sounds of snapping shrimp and parrotfish crunching, the kaleidoscope of colours, and that feeling of being thrilled and terrified in equal measure . . . it’s a sensory experience that’s out of this world.
What do you hope young readers will take away from the book?
Hope. It’s always hope in everything I write. And I’d like them to feel reassured that incredible grown-ups like Sir David Attenborough are out there, tirelessly doing their bit to give a voice to nature. The future of our planet is not all on our young people’s shoulders – we ALL have a part to play.
What other children’s books are you enjoying at the moment?
I love books that draw from the natural world and give incredible creatures a starring role. Paddy Donnelly’s picture book ‘Dodo’s Are NOT Extinct!’ is so bold and funny. I’ve also just rediscovered my childhood favourite by Jeannie Baker ‘Where the Forest Meets the Sea’. I was 8 when it first came out. I think I must have borrowed it from the library a thousand times – her collage art and beautifully sparse text draws me in and takes me home.
Finally, can you describe ‘Wild Life’ in three words?
WILD, WONDERFUL and INSPIRING!