Friday, 22 April 2016

Can We Discuss Anything & Everything In Picture Books?

Hi all, and happy Friday everyone!

As some may know, last Wednesday I took part in a discussion panel on taboos in picture books, organised by the Children's Book Circle (www.childrensbookcircle.org.uk) at the Penguin Random House offices in London. Other members of the panel were Suzanne Carnell (chair), publisher for Two Hoots, a new illustrated imprint of Macmillan Children's Books; Laura Main Ellen, lead children's book seller and buyer at Waterstones Piccadilly, as well as picture book reviewer; Jessica Shephard, author and illustrator of Grandma, a gorgeous picture book that explores the effects of dementia from the eyes of a child; Imogen Russel Williams, arts journalist and critic, writing on trends in children’s and YA publishing for The Guardian, as well as editorial consultant; and Sarah Foot, author of Fragments and Fair Sex. She has written for Vogue, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

It was great to meet my fellow panelists, as well as to have such an active audience, who raised one question after the other. The discussion certainly reaffirmed my love for picture books! It also gave me a lot of food for thought, some of which I would like to share with you today.

Having been raised by two tolerant, open-minded parents with a rather no-nonsense approach to life and life's difficulties, who would drag one gorgeous picture book after the other into the house for us to enjoy, as well as me having written and illustrated Luna's Red Hat, a picture book that deals with the stigma of suicide, I came to this panel discussion with the mindset that, "yes, of course ALL topics are appropriate to discuss in picture books! Let's tackle all the issues right here, right now! Whooh, power to the picture book!"

Coming away from the discussion panel, I must admit, I have nuanced my mindset somewhat: Yes, all topics should be appropriate to discuss in picture books, as I still strongly believe that picture books are a magical yet powerful tool that create a safe environment in which children and parents can bond over exploring difficult topics together. However, whether they are, depends on a couple of things:
- Timing: as much one can't avoid children picking up on snippets of the news, is now the time to club young children around the head with picture books about Syrian child refugees/terrorism/war/etc.? Does society (and this includes children) perhaps need a bit of time to let current affairs sink in, to allow these topics to be 'taboos' for a while, until all of us collectively are ready to start making sense of these issues? Are there other ways to have these conversations with an anxious or a curious child?
- How the topic is executed: has the research been done properly? Have the right metaphors been used to soften the blow and to help young children identify with the main character and their conflict? What is the moral of the story? Are the story and the illustrations truly age-appropriate?

One of the questions that came up during the event was this one:

Who decides which topics are or aren't suitable for small children, and therefore, who carries the responsibility? 
It turns out that this isn't a question with a straight-forward answer, but let's have a go anyway: let's start with deciding upon a 'difficult topic' for a picture book, say, slavery. Hm, a storybook on slavery for young children! Tricky one, right? 
First of all, there is the author who comes up with the story. It's the author who carries out the background research, creates the conflict of the plot, and who develops the characters into the wonderful beings that both children and us adults are able to identify with. 
Then there is the illustrator. As picture books are a beautifully balanced creation in which both words and pictures convey the moral of the story together, the illustrator is equally responsible for executing the topic in a gentle yet captivating manner. 
Assuming that both author and illustrator have done their research and have taken feedback from professionals in said field into account, it will then go through a couple of 'gatekeepers': the commissioning editor of a publishers, the copy editor, the design team, the marketing team, and quite possibly a number of other departments, before the booksellers decide whether or not they want to sell the book in their shops. 
One would like to think that, after going through all of these stages, the picture book has been approved to be both age- as well as topic appropriate. Luckily, usually this is the case, but when it comes to conveying difficult messages to young readers through picture books, there is always another gatekeeper who gets the final say: the public/the parents.

I'll give you two examples of the public acting as 'gatekeepers'. I don't mean to point fingers, as these recent picture books were clearly written and illustrated with all the very best intentions, but unfortunately caused somewhat of a shock to the public:

A Birthday Cake for George Washington


A Fine Dessert 


Both picture books depict a parent and a child slave smiling as they are going about their chores, for which both books received negative feedback. If you are interested in more information about each of these books, please click on the following links:

Obviously, whatever I or anyone else says about difficult topics in picture books being appropriate does not matter in the end, as it is the parent or carer who knows their child's needs best, and who has the final say. Luckily, one does not have to exclude the other: I think it is important to cover all topics, including the more difficult ones, in picture books, to make sure there are books out there for those who need a tool or a good story to support them in their communication with their child. This, however, does not mean that there is no space for picture books that simply contain beautiful stories with magical illustrations to get lost in! Both are equally important to the bond between parent and child, and both equally to our collective culture. 

Although that's it for today, I am very interested in continuing this discussion, and would love to hear your point of view, so please do get in touch via email (ei.smid@gmail.com), Facebook (Emmi Smid Illustration) or Twitter (@emmismid). Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 15 April 2016

"Luna's Red Hat" 1st Anniversary!

Sorry guys, I am ridiculously bad at keeping this blog updated - goal is to start doing so twice a month, let's see what happens!

So, here's the update on some of the things I have been getting on with:

- First of all, something I'd like to draw some extra attention to as this means a lot to me: "Luna's Red Hat" 1st Anniversary!!
It's been a year today since Luna first appeared on the shelves of bookshops (still feeling proud and blessed!), and I have since received beautiful, touching, personal messages and feedback from parents, children, teachers, therapists, and obviously from my forever supportive friends, family, and my wonderful publishers Jessica Kingsley Publishers. As a matter close to the heart, as well as from those who have been unfortunate to lose a loved one through suicide, I want to share with you how important it is to break the taboo around this topic: children need your support and empathy, and so do us adults! Reach out :)


Flyer for "Luna's Red Hat"

- Right, next: I've been asked by the Children's Book Circle to join a discussion panel on taboos in picture books (death, bullying, LGBT themes, religion, slavery, war, domestic violence, etc.) with "Luna's Red Hat", exploring where the line is (if there is one...?) when it comes to writing picture books. This will be on in London this Wednesday, 20th April 2016 at 6:30pm - 8:30pm, at the Penguin Random House offices, 80 Strand, WC2R 0RL. I'm very excited to join this important discussion (children are the future :D!), so please come along to share this with me! For more information, visit: http://childrensbookcircle.org.uk/

- I made 20 new greeting card designs and prints, which will be shown at May's Brighton & Hove Artists' Open Houses this year. You can find them at The Blue House (Hanover Trail) as well as on my Etsy Shop (SOON! - Updates to come.) 

- Me and the fab artists from Fabula Collective have set up a research project, so far going by the name "Story Cabinet". It'll be a long term project and it will eventually become a 3D narrative that involves a mixture of fairy tales, cautionary tales, mythical creatures, modern day issues and much more! For those who LOVE storytelling: keep your eyes peeled, this is going to be a treat for the eye & brain! 
We've also organised our lay out for the cabinet in which we will be showing some of our artwork and books at the Phoenix Book Arts Exhibition throughout the whole month of May this year. Come have a look at The Phoenix Gallery in Brighton! 
Other Fabula news: Hove Museum and Art Gallery have invited us to curate an exhibition showing our work, to which we obviously said yes! The exhibition won't be on for another 9-10 months, which gives us some time to plan our show and create new work. More info to come nearer the time!

- Last Wednesday 13th April I visited the London Book Fair, which blew my mind: ALL THE BOOKS! (Of course, books were to be expected, but still...). Here I met up with the wonderful Ms. Craane from The Bookstop Literary Agency, who's been supporting me throughout the making of "Bessi's Bees", a picturebook about the plight of bees and planting bee friendly flowers. Getting there, promise! I also met my boss to be from the Advocate Art Agency, with whom I'll be starting an internship from May-July, very excited!

Right, that's enough for today - hopefully see you back here in a week or two :) x



Tuesday, 19 January 2016

It is so totally winter.

First it was totally winter because I had no inspiration, which is just the effect winter can have on me. Short days, cold, rain, darkness, general sleepiness and slight boredom because playing outside is less attractive. And now it is totally winter because it is finally properly cold and crisp!! This is the better part of winter, also because the days are getting longer! (Yes, it being dark at 4.15pm instead of 4pm makes ALL the difference!) I love this part of winter, because March is in 6 weeks, which is exciting because in my head March equals spring, and spring equals new life, fresh colours and new inspiration, and that is what I live for.

I'm not saying I have been sitting on my bum doing nothing, being miserable and waiting for spring. Things may have been somewhat slow, but they have been festive and progressive! Here's a few paintings I did for my new book called Bessi's Bees, and a commission of a vase of flowers, which made life very colourful for a while :)













Saturday, 12 September 2015

Oh hi, yep, I'm still here!

Wow, I knew that it had been a while since my last update, but I didn't realise that it's been 5 months! Let's just all assume that it's because I have been very busy...

...I have been pretty busy, actually!

May's Open House at The Blue House, 'Luna's Red Hat' Book Launch, exhibition with Fabula Collective in Seoul, South Korea, working on the storyboard of 'Bessi's Bees' with my super supportive agent Ilse, making stamps like crazy (= new procrastination project, always very important to have at least one or two of those projects on the go ;)), moved into a dinky little cottage with Chris <3, summery trip to the Netherlands, AND:

I've been working on a new collection of t-shirts, prints, and canvas bags, called the #BeeHappyCollection! 10% of all the sales from this collection will go to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust: http://bumblebeeconservation.org/ <----- More information to come soooon!

Back to work. Just wanted to say hi for now!
Little sneaky peek into a sketch of the storyboard of Bessi's Bees

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Buzz buzz buzzz

Happy Buzzing Bees' Season!

I found a lovely lady called Ilse from the children's book agency www.bookstopliterary.com, who's going to help me get Bessi's Bees in the best possible shape ever to send off to publishers - very excited!

Some new sketches for Bessi's Bees!
















Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Letters to The Jungle

Very excited that our curly headed ginger monkey is coming back from the Sebangau National Park in a couple of days! He's been jumping around the humid swampy jungle in search for Red Langur Monkeys since the beginning of November 2014, but now the time has come to return home and embrace England's still rather chilly spring :)

Jungles don't have internet. (Yes, there are still places on this earth that don't have WiFi!!) So we've been sending letters old school style! It's been awesome, and decorating the envelopes has been wonderful procrastination inspiration. Here's a little overview:




Enough is enough though. Time for a fresh Procrastination Project!



















Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Jungle Boogie Big Time Baby!

WOOAAAH! I've just come back from a tour through Indonesia (and before that I was in the Netherlands celebrating Christmas with my family, hence the utter lack of updates recently). 
So much to tell - I don't know where to start!

Let's start with Sebangau National Park in Borneo, Kalimantan, where Chris researches Red Langur monkeys with the organisation Outrop: Orang Utan Tropical Peatland Project. I was fortunate enough to receive a permit, which meant that I was allowed to go to the Outrop research centre right in the middle of the swamp forest! When I say research centre, I mean a series of wooden huts on poles above the water, with boardwalks to connect the huts, see photo's below. Or as the people at Outrop call it: camp. Apart from all the jungle noises, it is the most beautiful, peaceful place on earth! Getting closer to nature than this is physically impossible :)

Outrop Research Centre

Outrop Research Centre
Chris took me on a couple of walks through the swamp forest to show me around and teach me all he has learnt about the forest so far. When I say walks, I mean plunges: wading through knee deep red/brown swamp water in 100% humidity in the rainy season - be prepared to get soaked. I loved every second of it! So many beautiful plant and tree species and amazing animals: wild bores, monitor lizards, gekko's, I heard gibbons and red langers, we saw macaques, loads of big colourful butterflies, and the best one of all: an adolescent female orang utan called Georgia! What a magical, breath taking moment to see such a big, gracious, wild animal hanging out in its natural habitat! <3

The International Union of Conservation and Nature has chosen 2015 as the Year of the Gibbon. To raise awareness for the plight of these unique primates a couple of Outrop researchers are writing a picture book about a little gibbon that loses his family because of the forest fires (real problem in this area!). And guess who they've asked to illustrate it :D?? Very honoured and excited - updates to come soon!

So many more jungle stories - come for a cuppa if you want to hear them!

After our jungle adventure me and Chris set off to go to the Gili Islands just off the coast from Lombok - what a stark contrast to go from the peaceful jungle noises to a paradise island with bars playing reggae! We spent a day chilling on the beach of Gili Meno and a day snorkelling and exploring Gili Air before we set off to Ubud, the cultural and artistic centre of Bali (remember, from Eat, Pray, Love ;)?) Here we visited the Sacred Monkey Forest, a gorgeous forest with massive fig trees and... more monkeys :D! We thought they were incredible adorable until one nipt Chris on the elbow and we had to go to a clinic to get Chris a rabies booster. Fun. It also turns out that they are difficult to draw, as they do NOT sit still:

Adult female macaque in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali

Baby + adolescent macaques, Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

Ubud has become a very busy, touristy place (still gorgeous though!) over the past decade or so, so we decided to go on day trips outside of Ubud: The Floating Temples, Rice Paddies, lakes, hills - there's a lot of beauty to be found on Bali! Due to the heath I couldn't be bothered to do as many drawings as I set out to do, but here are a couple of sketches:

Rice field in Ubud

The Balinese like their dragons

The rice paddies of Tegatalang

We haven't been completely lazy on our holiday though! Just before I set off to go to the jungle I received an email from The Bookstop, a children's picture book agency in California, who showed an interest in the bee book. I sent them the first draft of the manuscript and they provided feedback. Me and Chris sat down one evening to restructure the storyline and sent off the new draft. Waiting to hear back now, fingers crossed for Bessi and her bees!

Bessi dragging her trailer filled with bee friendly flowers
Back home in Brighton now, where things are still (surprise surprise!) grey and cold. That said - the Indonesian sun has warmed up my bones and spring is around the corner! Not long now and Chris will be home too - I am very proud of him! A lot to look forward to :)