As a new part of my ‘For the Love of Books’ project, I will be speaking to a number of children’s authors, who have written some of the most loved children’s stories.
For my first interview I have been speaking to the very creative and talented wordsmith, Giles Andreae. You may recognise some of his iconic works such as the ‘Giraffes can’t dance’, ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ and ‘The Lion Who Wanted to Love’. The reason I wanted to start this series with Giles in particular, is because both of my boys adore his books. In fact because of ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, Oliver can name a number of different animals and make the animal noises to accompany them.
Interestingly, although Giles is much loved for his children’s literature, he actually started his career by writing and illustrating the greeting cards ‘Purple Ronnie’. In fact the beginnings of his venture into children’s literature originated from a Purple Ronnie project. Giles would create ‘Purple Ronnie’ calendars with different themes, such as sport or travel. But one year he decided to work on the theme of animals, something the publishers said didn’t work with ‘Purple Ronnie’ because it was more childlike. This led Giles to send it to a children’s publisher, where it was published into what we now know as the much loved children’s book ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.
- Why do you feel it is so important to read with children?
It’s comforting to children to be sharing and enjoying the same thing as their parent. It’s nice to have that comfort, complete engagement and commitment from the parent. I did used to read my books to my children, but by no means exclusively. We enjoyed a number of books, Banana by Ed Veer is a good one as it only has two words, which encourages parents to use their imagination. Children already have a vivid imagination, but it seems to be squashed out of us adults.
- Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my inspiration from general life, but it can be around a moral point or life lesson as well. I think funny stories about animals can help children to relate to the story, Chimpanzees of Happy Town for example is one about personal growth and freedom of expression. I wrote children’s books before having children, but I find that now I have children I do write around their interests, pirates and dinosaurs comes from having boys. I can also take things they say and make something funny out of that.
- A few of your books, The Lion Who Wanted to Love and Giraffes Can’t Dance particularly touch on how everybody is different and how being a loving, kind person is extremely important. Is this an important message to you?
Absolutely. There tends to be pressure on children, whether heavy or light to try and make them conform to a certain way. That can be from parents, peers or school but I think children should be allowed to develop their own interests, where they aren’t necessarily expected to conform to a certain set of ideals. I find there is a lot of competition in a professional sense and I think more children should be encouraged to do the things that they love to do, opposed to ending up working in a job they hate.
- Your books are incredibly good for teaching rhythm, is this something you focus on when writing your books?
Rhythm is fun and bouncy, I actually find it a natural way to write. Children find rhythm easy as they almost know what to expect and that helps them to think they are reading. Some adults find reading aloud a difficult thing to do, so rhythm suggests how the adult should read.
- Do you have much of an input with the illustrations?
The wording and the illustrations for my books always go together really well, but aside from actually choosing the illustrator I have very little input from then on. I think you have to trust in the people that are working with you. They wouldn’t have become so established in their field without being good at what they do. I’m more of a wordsmith, so instead of trying to dabble with the illustrations, I put a lot of trust in the illustrator and the art director. The finished, final product is the coming together of different skills, in fact when the illustrations come back, I always think wow this is great.
- The illustrations for The Lion Who Wanted to Love are a lot more rounded compared to Giraffes Can’t Dance, whose illustrations are a lot more structured. Was this an intentional move to appeal to an older audience?
Not really, we chose David (Wojtowycz) for Rumble in the Jungle and Commotion in the Ocean which worked, but although he did also illustrate The Lion Who Wanted to Love, the publishers wanted to distinguish between the narrative stories and the poems by the illustrators. When it came to Giraffes Can’t Dance, we had a few different people send their work to us, but Guy (Parker – Rees) sent what is now basically the front cover, with the fantastic drawing of the giraffe in the air and we thought wow, this is the one. It just worked.
- Giraffes Can’t Dance made its way to the theatre could you tell me a bit about that?
It’s quite common for best-selling books to be made into theatre productions, all it takes is for someone at the theatre company to love the book and then support it coming to the stage. This was another example of letting people do what they do best. The more I do this, the more I realise that people who work in specialist things, such as illustrators and theatre directors, are specialist at them because they are good at what they do. I didn’t know much about the performance until the dress rehearsal and I loved it. I enjoy trusting people to go out and make their own version of something from just raw material.
- What do you have planned for the future?
I’m always writing new books, I’m working on a dozen or so at the moment. I’m actually currently working on a book with Guy (Parker – Rees), on what is something of a companion book in the same style as Giraffes Can’t Dance. I’m also writing one that is a part of the ‘I love you’ series, this one is called ‘I love you Grandad’. I’m writing one about nits and I’m also currently working on a 52 part TV series about Captain Flinn and the Pirate dinosaurs. To be honest though, 80% of my time is actually working on Happy Jackson, which started off as Happy Jackson stationary. It was selling well, so it’s interesting to see how that can go onto other things. At the moment I’m working on designing a range of confectionaries and toiletries. I’m learning all about fragrances at the moment, such as how the bottle shape, packaging and wording help to create a piece of communication to join something you have done to other people. I think it is good to always be learning new things, it keeps us happy and engaged.
If you would like to be featured in the ‘Getting to know’ series, please contact me through my contact page.