Meet the Author: Sophy Henn
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading. This week…an interview with the author and illustrator Sophy Henn.
This July one of our picture books selections features a panda. One morning Pom Pom Panda wakes up on the wrong side of bed…and then nothing goes right! He can’t find his blanket Timmington and his baby brother is playing with his favorite toy— Harrumph! By the time Pom Pom arrives at the playground, he’s in a terrible mood. So when his friends ask if he wants to play, he yells at them to GO AWAY. But how will he really feel if they do? Pom Pom Panda is an adorable character in a giggle-inducing story certain to entertain (and cheer up) any child who wakes up with the grumps.
We spoke with the author and illustrator, Sophy Henn, in England where she told us how she started writing children’s books and what inspires her.
Elephant Books: You wrote your first children’s book “later in life”, what inspired you to undertake this big project and career change?
Sophy Henn: I have always worked in the creative industries, but it was reading books upon books upon books to my daughter when she was little that really inspired me to have a go. It took quite a while (years!) from admitting that I would like to try creating a picture book to actually creating one. I chickened out for a while and ran my own greetings card company, then I went back to school to validate my efforts! I still can’t believe my luck that I get to do this for my actual job now!
What’s your process in writing a children’s book…how does an idea generate and come to fruition for you?
I find that ideas can come from anywhere. Pom Pom Gets the Grumps came from a real life ‘moment’ and seeing the humour in it. Then it also occurred to me how those mood swings can come as a shock not just to parents but the to the child too, so I wanted to create something everyone could share and hopefully laugh along with, reassuring everyone they are not alone! Where Bear? came from a doodle of a lost white bear in a deep, dark wood and Pass It On came along because I decided I wanted to write an empowering, happy book for preschoolers, quite possibly a reaction to everything happening in the world at the time.
Pom Pom Panda gets the Grumps centers around a little panda’s feelings. Do you think parents can use the messages in this book to help their kids understand how to manage their own feelings?
I would love to think that is how it being used. I know a lot of families who now use the word Harrumph to defuse a potentially explosive moment. When you are little (preschool/early years) there is soooooo much to learn, you are constantly being in flung in new situations with new emotions coming at you. All of that is exhausting enough in itself, but then you also have to try and keep working out how to deal with each new situation and emotion, there’s so much to keep on top of! With Pom Pom I wanted to break those situations down so kids could see them from the outside, making them less daunting, maybe even funny. And it never hurts to be reminded as a parent that all of this is going on!
Your illustrations are beautiful — they have almost a mid-century modern feel. How would you describe your illustration style?
That’s great because I do love midcentury style and illustrations from that era, so I will take that as a compliment, thank you! I hand draw everything, I layer it all together on my computer, a bit like a digital silk screen, but I really don’t know how I would describe it! I do know I can’t draw any other way!
Does the writing come first or follow the drawing?
Both! Sometimes all the writing will come first and then I will create images and characters around it. Sometimes a character will pop into my head and then it is up to me to draw them, get to know them and then winkle out their story.
Many of your books include an animal character. Do you like using animals in your books and why?
I use animals a lot in my books for all kinds of reasons. I used a rabbit in my latest picture book because when I was drawing him I realised his ears were a great way to show emotion. Pom Pom is a little Panda as I loved the contrast of such a cute animal being so utterly furious, I thought it added to the comedy. And Where Bear had to be a big white bear for the story! But I do love to draw bears, I am not totally sure why though!
What do you most want your young readers to walk away with after reading your book(s)?
A friend of mine recently said my books are like little letters to my daughter when she was growing up, and she’s right. So I guess that means I want to reassure children through my stories, also empower them and ideally leave them saying “Again! Again”.
Did you love to read as a child and what would you most recommend to parents who want to develop a love of reading in their children?
I did love reading as a child as did my daughter, we were both read to at least once a day (I read to my daughter a lot as I was enjoying the books just much to be honest!) and I don’t think that is a coincidence. Read to you children as often as you can if you want them to love books, and it’s also such a lovely thing to do together.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges or opportunities you think there are to address?
I am not sure what the challenges you face in the US but in the UK the closure of public and school libraries is a huge challenge. Books are for everyone and to cut off access to those that can’t afford them is cruel and damaging. The facts and figures about reading from preschool up speak for themselves. Reading has such a massive, vital and positive impact on children lives, right up into adult hood, that to deny access to books is so counterproductive it makes me furious.
Who were your favorite authors or books when you were a child?
I loved the Milly Molly Mandy series by Joyce Lankester-Brisley and Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven was a huge favourite, I was forever longing for a mystery of my own to solve!
What’s the best thing about being a children’s book author?
Getting to create stories and then see children enjoying them is the absolute best. I love doing events and school visits and chatting to the children. Their honestly is sometimes brutal but when they like something you know they really like it and that’s who you are writing and drawing for so that feels pretty great.
Pom Pom is such a great character — it’s particularly fascinating to see so many expressions from his face. Any chance we’ll see Pom Pom in another book?
There are two other Pom Pom books in the series, Pom Pom the Champion and Pom Pom is Super, where we follow Pom Pom trying to work through some more new situations. I have a huge soft spot for Pom Pom, I love that he just keeps trying and learning and then getting a bit wrong and trying again. He is definitely one of the family so I would love to create even more Pom Pom books!
Sophy, thanks for sharing your thoughts on kids’ books and some insight into your work. We look forward to your next book!