Jackson Saves an Owl, an interview with writer Darren Garwood and illustrator Carl Osborne

Jackson Superhero might not be a real name, but it is a story about a real boy, and as the name suggests, Jackson is far from ordinary.

By day, a rare disease limits his ability to move freely, but at night he is far from grounded. When the sleeping hours come around, and weightlessness takes over, Jackson takes to the skies. He knows what it means to need the support of others, which is why when he hears a call for help, he is quickly there to lend a hand.

The first question we have to ask right off the bat is what do you mean when you say the ‘story is about a real boy’?

Darren Garwood: Well that’s an easy one to start with. The book is about a real boy, my son Jackson. As it says above, a rare disease limits his ability to freely move. So Jackson has something called Krabbe disease, which came on when he was around one. And yeah, it’s a leukodystrophy, so he lost all muscle function, basically. I mean, he really can’t do anything for himself. We can make him smile, and even though he can’t talk he can let us know when he’s happy or upset with his noises. Which, is actually a huge deal for us because that enables us to focus on making him happy.

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I watched the mini doc that Untold Books made about you and Jackson and it seems like a very tough situation, yet the book about Jackson is outrageously positive, where does all that positive energy come from?

Darren: On the one hand it is really tough, but at the same time when you have no choice you just have to get on with it and finding the positive, and highlighting the positive, is so important. But I think that’s true of life, not necessarily just our life. I wanted to write a book that tapped into everything positive about what we are trying to do for Jackson on a daily basis, but that would also really move readers, and inspire parents and children to always be the best versions of themselves. In many ways that sounds really big and challenging, but the story is really simple. But I genuinely believe whoever reads it will be in a better mood afterwards than they were before.

How did your son become the owl saving superhero that he is in the book? 

Darren: Well, as I said, he really can’t do anything physically. He basically sits in his bean bag all day and even though we have some ways to communicate we really have no way of knowing where Jackson is in all this. One day my wife asked me if I thought Jackson dreamed and I just didn’t know what to answer. The idea of him not dreaming just seemed so awful. So I decided that as I didn’t know whether he dreamed I wanted to help him and make sure he did dream. That’s when I realised that, yeah, your days may be limited, but at night when you dream you can be anything you want to be. So I started making up Jackson Superhero stories for him. I started with the owl story because owl’s are among his favourite animals. I always get a smile when I do the Twit Twoo sounds,

How many Jackson Superhero stories do you have?

Darren: Oh, don’t ask. Lots of them. Basically in his stories he goes around helping people and saving the day, the basics of being a superhero I guess. In one he saves Christmas, in another he saves the planet from pollution. But the first book, Jackson Saves an Owl is really where he hears somebody in trouble and as the book says, he flies out of the window as fast as a rocket, with flames coming from his socks and out of his pockets. He flies over trees and blocks of flats, and waves to his friends the local stray cats. Over parks and through the fair, into the zoo and, hello bear. And then at some point Jackson finds an owl who is stuck in a puddle and Jackson helps him out and sends him on his way. Basically he reaches into the puddle and pulls out the plug, then dries out the owl with a lovely big hug.

So we just got a taste of the fantastic rhyme in the book, were the stories originally in rhyme or did that come later?

Darren: They were in rhyme right from the beginning, but that’s not to say they were great from the beginning. The thing with rhyme, at least for me, is it gets better with each telling. Until it doesn’t and that’s when I normally right the stories down. But I drove our editor mad. I was still making changes the day it went to print.

Carl, as the illustrator of Jackson Saves an Owl, you decided to open up the story with an illustration of Jackson in his bean bag, pretty much as he is in real life. What was behind that decision?

Carl Osborne: Well, I have known Darren for years and I know Jackson and I just didn’t feel I could ignore the reality, to be honest. It sounds stupid when I say it, but I don’t think there’s always enough reality in children’s books. Many, many kids grow up in tough lives and books are a way to help with that. They are a way to say, you are not alone. Look at this little boy or girl and look how well they do. Roald Dhal did it well, not reality, or course, but more than once he killed off the parents on the first page.

That first illustration of Jackson sitting in his bean bag is quite sombre, which goes against the grain of what you expect from the opening page of a children’s book. Was that intentional?

Carl: I’m not sure it was intentional to be sombre, necessarily, but it was intentional to be very authentic and true about the real Jackson and how he spends his days. The book doesn’t dwell on Jackson’s situation, in an instant the book is just magical positivity, and I can call it that because I’m talking about Darren’s words and not my illustrations. But it also doesn’t brush Jackson’s reality under the carpet either, which is really important. I think more children’s books should focus on our differences in order to better prepare our children going forward.

How was it illustrating a real boy, did Jackson’s family have a lot of feedback?

Carl: There was a little bit of pressure, to be honest, but I presented Darren and his wife with a few different versions of how Jackson Superhero could look, and they took bits from this one and that one. But they helped with all kinds of things that I didn’t know about, choosing colours based on Jackson’s favourite teddy bear, also his hair. I needed some pointers on his hair style.

What are your dreams for the Jackson Superhero stories?

Darren: Well, we’re starting small and realistic. This first book is really about raising funds for medical equipment to help us better care for Jackson at home, so we don’t have to go back and forth to Great Ormand street every time we have a challenge. The publisher has been kind enough to give all the profits from the book to that. But just as I wanted Jackson to dream, of course we would love to see it as a series with more and more of the stories coming out. We are already working on the second book, but I really hope it doesn’t stop there.

We would like to thank Darren and Carl for answering our questions and wish them every success for Jackson Superhero. A truly inspiring book from a father, who is trying to make life better for his son. This interview moved me to tears and I hope motivates others to be the best they can be and support a good cause.

Jackson Saves an Owl, written by Darren Garwood, illustrated by Carl Osborne and published by Untold Books.

Flynn’s Window by Yeliz Hakki

What do you see when you look out the window?
I can see birds on a bird feeder in front of an old, dilapidated fence. But what if instead of a fence, I could see a glorious castle and instead of birds brave knights?
What if the view of the window changed every time you looked out of it? What would you see?

Flynn’s Window is a book about imagination. A lovely rhyming book about Flynn, the cat, who sits in his favourite spot by the window, and we get to learn about the weird and wonderful things he observes.

The illustrations beautifully support the rhymes. They are mainly black and white with a bright background colour that makes the images stand out more.

Definitely worth a read. My class of 6 year olds have loved this book ‘because it is funny’. We have used this book as a starting point for storytelling. Getting the children to talk about what they can see and what happens in their window.

Written and illustrated by Yeliz Hakki and published by Old King Cole Publishing.

 

 

 

The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson

The author of The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson, and the illustrator of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt , Helen Oxenbury, have teamed up to create this wonderful picture book.

Rabbit was hopping home on day when he heard a loud voice coming from inside his burrow. ‘I’m the Giant Jumperee and I’m as scary as can be!’

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Rabbit calls on his friends to help him but they are all scared away by the mysterious voice. But who IS the Giant Jumperee? It had us guessing every step along the way and captured our imagination.

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Julia Donaldson at her story telling best and Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations are simply gorgeous. We love this book already!

Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury and published by Puffin Books.

Myth Match

Now here is a book that has me really excited. So excited that my entire English planning for next term is based on and around this book. A flip book packed full of mythical and make-believe creatures.

Create your own beautifully illustrated Myth Match creature and find out its strength and looks with brilliantly matched descriptions. Flick through the pages to create more and more unique and fantastic beasts.

My favourite beast is the PhoeTinger (a mixture of a Phoenix and a Wolpertinger), a mythical creature with red, fiery wings, the head of a rabbit with antlers, which is a symbol of immortality and only comes out at night when the moon shines.

This book is guaranteed to grab the imagination of anyone who dares to opens it.

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Written and illustrated by Good Wives and Warriors and published by Laurence King Publishing.

The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle by David Litchfield

Now, we have been looking forward to this release for a little while and it was definitely worth the wait. The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle is the sequel to David Litchfield’s best-selling and award-winning book The Bear and the Piano.

Hector, a fiddle player, and his dog Hugo are best friends. When Hector retires, Hugo learns to play the fiddle. Soon after, his talent is spotted by a world-famous bear who offers him the chance to travel the world and play in front of thousands of people. A chance Hector had always dreamed of. Can Hector learn to swallow his pride and be happy for his friend Hugo? Or will jealousy destroy a once valued friendship? Set in lively New Orleans, this gorgeous picture book explores just how powerful friendship can be. The illustrations are warm and atmospheric and compliment the storyline beautifully.

A must-have book for keen readers. Definitely one of our new favourites!

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The Bear, the Piano, the Dog and the Fiddle, written by David Litchfield and published by Lincoln Children’s Books.

 

Dinosaur Adventures part 2 – An interview with illustrator Louise Forshaw

It’s always great to get the opportunity to ask authors and illustrators some questions. Especially when both, author and illustrator who worked on the same book, are happy to get involved.

So here is the second part to Dinosaur Adventures- from illustrator, Louise Forshaw’s point of view.

What do you like about illustrating books?

I absolutely love character designing, creating my own characters and giving them personality. It’s especially fun when the brief is vague about the characters, usually just a name and age and I get to decide what they look like, what they wear, etc. Coming up with a backstory for them is fun too (even if it’s just for me).

Also knowing that you’re working on something that children will read and enjoy or be inspired by is an amazing feeling. Seeing my 7 month old, Niece mesmerised by my illustrations is a joy to witness.

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When did you become an illustrator? How did you get into the profession?

I’ve always had an interest in animation and cartoons. Ever since I can remember, I would watch my favourite cartoons and draw them. I would copy illustrations from books and make my own comics too. But it wasn’t until I was a little older that I realised you could actually draw for a living!

I studied Illustration and Animation at Newcastle college but I found I didn’t enjoy the animating part of the course so much. I much preferred the creating characters and world building side of things. After I graduated, I started looking at other areas of Illustration and discovered the great world of Children’s Illustration. I’m actually surprised I hadn’t thought about this before – it’s perfect for me!

I wasn’t sure how to get started so I researched Illustration Agencies and came across the lovely Advocate Art. I sent them an email and they signed me up. They helped me work on my portfolio and after 6 months I illustrated my first book. It’s been almost 6 years since I signed with them and it’s been non-stop since.

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What’s your favourite dinosaur?

My favourite dinosaur is the Triceratops. But I like any dinosaur from the Ceratopsian family.

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If you could be a dinosaur, which would you be?

I think I would be my favourite dinosaur, the Triceratops was built for defence (just look at those cool horns) and would have been a tough rival for the T-Rex.

 

What do you like about dinosaurs?

I’m just fascinated by the fact they lived millions of years ago and predate humans. Just imagine a world filled with these huge, powerful (and sometimes very small) creatures. Over 700 different species of dinosaurs have been identified and named but I doubt we will ever really know how many there actually were. Also, everyone knows dinosaurs are cool!

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What was the first book you illustrated?

The first book I illustrated was a picture flat called Puppy Love, published in 2013. But my second was a pop-up Dinosaur Book published the following year – Yay, Dinosaurs!

 

Did you ever think about writing your own books and becoming an author?

Four board books I wrote and illustrated were published in 2016 but unfortunately have only been available in the US. However, I always have story ideas floating around (some might just involve dinosaurs) and would love to have the time to work on them more.

 

If you weren’t working as an illustrator, what would you do?

I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else. As a kid I would draw every day and that hasn’t really changed!

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I’d like to thank Louise and Fran for taking the time to answer our questions and am looking forward to more Dinosaur Adventures.

Dinosaur Adventures, illustrated by the fabulous Louise Forshaw, written by Fran Bromage and published by Miles Kelly Publishing.

Now available on:

https://www.mileskelly.net/products/vecociraptor-the-speedy-tale

https://www.mileskelly.net/products/dinosaur-adventures-5-book-bag

 

 

 

Dinosaur Adventures – an interview with Fran Bromage

It’s always fun when I come across a funny book with an important message and get the chance to ask the author a few questions. Well…not so much me asking the questions but the interested 7 and 8 year olds in my class.

This is what they wanted to find out:

Did you always want to be an author and how did you get into writing children’s books?

Yes, I always wanted to be an author and an editor.

I loved English at school and enjoyed writing little stories in my free time. I went to university to study journalism and publishing, and then joined BBC Magazines as a junior writer. I worked on lots of different children’s magazines there for many, many years until I joined Penguin Books as a Senior Editor, and then came to Miles Kelly in 2013.

Why did you choose to write about dinosaurs?

My son, who’s seven now, has loved dinosaurs since he was a baby. We have a ton of toy dinosaurs in our house, dinosaur duvet sets, a giant cardboard T rex head (don’t ask!) in our lounge and too many dino books and DVDs to count! I find dinosaurs just as fascinating as he does, and we love all their strange, mysterious names.

 

What’s your favourite dinosaur? 

Parasaurolophus! What an odd-looking dinosaur and did they use their crest to make that trumpeting noise for any other reason than scaring away predators? Did they actually talk to each other? My son and I also love that Granny can’t pronounce it!

 

When you were little, what was your favourite book?

I loved anything by Enid Blyton, and devoured C S Lewis’ books too. My absolute favourites were by Roald Dahl though – The BFG and The Witches especially.

 

What was the last book you read?

My son and I are just finishing Five Children and It (E Nesbit) and I’d forgotten how magical it is. Although the language comes across as quite old now, the idea of finding a sand fairy who grants wishes is timeless and some bits of it are really funny.

 

Have you written any other books? What were they about?

I wrote our Get Set Go Grammar books together with an educational consultant, and rewrote the eight fairy stories, which feature in our Get Set Go Reading Together series (helping children learn phonic sounds while listening to familiar stories). There are also two books about monsters sitting in my writing shed at home. I wrote them at university as part of my course, and really should revisit and edit them now.

 

How long does it take you to write a book?

The planning for a book takes the longest time. I like to have a plot structure in place before I start writing or I find I run out of ideas or don’t get to the end. The writing comes easily – the planning can take weeks or even months!

(I can already hear all the teachers shouting “Thank you so much for highlighting the importance of the planning stage!”)

Do you always finish your stories or do some of them end up in the rubbish? 

Lots of my stories haven’t worked out at all, but I never throw anything away. You never know when you can take one idea from a story that didn’t work and knit it into a new story. No idea is a bad idea, it just might not be in the right story!

 

If you could have a dinner party, which three guests would you invite (dead or alive, no limits here) and why would you choose them?

Sir David Attenborough because he’s my absolute hero, and probably my son and husband because they’d NEVER forgive me if I had dinner with Sir David and didn’t invite them!

 

We were also very lucky to get a ‘How to draw’ guide from Louise Forshaw, the fabulous illustrator of Dinosaur Adventures. Why not try drawing Vicky the Velociraptor at home?

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We all loved Velociraptor, a Speedy Tale, mostly because we often get ourselves into a bit of a pickle if we don’t take the time to stop and think about what we’re doing. A fantastic book that teaches us that rushing things without thinking them through is rarely a good idea.

The whole series of Adventure Dinosaurs in available in a bag including all four books, a puzzle and a colouring book. Perfect to keep little ones entertained over the summer holidays.

For a chance to win a Dinosaur Adventure bag, follow us on twitter @Magpie_That2 and retweet the blogtour image. Good luck!

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A BIG thank you to Fran for taking the time to answer our questions and to Louise for creating the ‘ How to draw’ guide.

Velociraptor, a Speedy Tale, written by Fran Bromage, illustrated by Louise Forshaw and published by MilesKelly Publishing.

https://www.mileskelly.net/products/vecociraptor-the-speedy-tale

https://www.mileskelly.net/products/dinosaur-adventures-5-book-bag

Luna and the Moon Rabbit, an interview with Camille Whitcher

My class was lucky to get a Q&A with Camille.  Read on to find out what my seven year olds wanted to know…

Where did you get the idea for the story from?

It’s based on the myth of the Rabbit in the Moon. Some people can see a man in the moon, others can see a rabbit.

Why is the story set in Japan?

Japan is one of the countries where the Rabbit in the Moon myth exists.  My mum is Japanese too so I thought it’d be nice to set it there.

Why did you choose a rabbit as the animal in the story?

Rabbits are awesome! They’re very interesting animals. They’re cute and seem vulnerable but they can also be strong and sometimes aggressive.

Which came first, the story or the pictures?

Definitely the pictures. I naturally think in pictures rather than words. I usually think of a nice picture I want to draw and then more picture ideas come from there, which then become a story.

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Have you always been fascinated by the moon?

Not particularly, but when I was a child some of my favourite TV programmes were based on the moon. Ask your teacher or another adult about “Button Moon” or the “Clangers” who lived on a planet that was just like our moon.

Have you ever looked through a telescope at the moon? If so, how did it make you feel?

What went through your head at the time?Yes, I have. It made me feel very small. I wondered whether one day it’ll be normal for humans to go and visit the moon, for a holiday or to live. I have also seen Jupiter through a telescope which is very impressive. I wouldn’t want to live there though – ask your teacher why!

Is this the first book you have published?

Yes, it is, and I hope to publish more one day.

Were you good at writing stories and drawing as a child?

I was pretty good at drawing as a child. I used to make up stories but I never really wrote them down. I much preferred drawing them. I don’t think it matters whether anyone is “good” at drawing or writing. If you enjoy it, you should do it. The more you do it, the better you’ll become.

What do you like about writing stories?

I have a lot of stories and other things in my head. If I write them down, it gives me room to think about even more!

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction books?

That’s a difficult question. I like non-fiction because I like learning about new things, but sometimes the things I learn about are scary because they’re real.

I like fiction because there are no rules, anything can happen. If you want to read about a boy whose feet are made of cheese, or a girl who has six tails, then you can go and find that book. If it doesn’t exist (I don’t think cheesy feet boy or six tail girl books exist!), then you can write it for others to read. If you can imagine it, it can be a story.

Did you study to become an artist? If so where did you study?

Yes, I did. I went to Cambridge School of Art and did a master’s degree that specialised in children’s book illustration.

How did you make the pictures -did you use paint, pencils or a computer?

I used Quink ink, which is supposed to really be just for writing, and I used watercolour paints, coloured pencils and some acrylic ink.

Do you have a pet?

Just imaginary ones at the moment! I’ve actually never had a pet before – not even a goldfish! I’d love to have a cat but I seem to be allergic to a lot of them. I also would like to have a rabbit or two, and maybe a dog. I also like guinea pigs!

If you weren’t working as an author/ illustrator, what would you do instead?

Hmmm, maybe I’d like to be a dressmaker. I like sewing, but I’m not very quick at making things.

Could we please get a picture of Camille’s workspace and some jottings?

You can have a picture of my workspace but please bear in mind Albert Einstein’s quote…“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”;-)

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Shahad: ” Miss, Camille’s desk is just as cluttered as yours!”

Gotta love the honesty and observation skills of children!

We would like to thank Camille for answering our questions and wish her good luck for her first book.

Luna and the Moon Rabbit written and illustrated by the wonderful Camille Whitcher and published by Scribblers, winner of the Stratford- Salariya Picture Book Prize, definitely worth a read.

 

What Do Animals Do All Day? by Wendy Hunt

We loved the first book ‘What Do Grown Ups Do All Day’ so it was no surprise that we love the animal version of the book just as much.

Embark on a journey through 14 different habitats and meet over a hundred different animals. On each page, we meet different animals, learn what they do all day and how they fit into the environment they live in. Beavers are described as architects, clownfish  as security guards and elephants as landscape gardeners- a great way to explain to children what animals do in the wild.

We especially enjoyed the ‘Tropical Island’ habitat and spotting the animals that live there.

If your littleone is interested in wildlife, they’ll love this book.

What Do Animals Do All Day, written by Wendy Hunt, illustrated by Muti and published by Wide Eyed Editions.

Look out, It’s a Dragon by Jonny Lambert

We love this book! The illustrations are fun and Saffi is simply the most lovable dragon in the world!

Saffi isn’t like other dragons. She is sweet and caring and doesn’t enjoy capturing princesses and crushing castles. So she decides to move to a more ‘suited’ neighbourhood. The only problem is, her new neighbours don’t quite believe that she is different to all the other fire-breathing, home squashing, lumbering beasts.

This heart-warming, funny story with its bold and beautiful illustrations is our new favourite bedtime story! A must read for young book worms.

Look Out, It’s a Dragon!, written and illustrated by Jonny Lambert and published by Little Tiger Group.

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