Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Our April Author of the Month is a self described music-loving, star-gazing creative, who has always had a passion for design. How perfect is that description for a children’s book author and illustrator?
Neil Clark was born in East Yorkshire, England. His rural upbringing fueled his playful imagination and love of storytelling. In his book, Rusty the Squeaky Robot, we meet a friendly robot that is feeling down about the way he sounds. The other robots on Planet Robotone – Belle, Twango, Hoot and Boom-Bot help show Rusty that being a little bit different is the best way to be.
We hope you enjoy our interview with Neil and getting to know more about him and his wonderful book. Enjoy!
You have described yourself as a “music-loving, star-gazing creative, who has always had a passion for design”. How do these traits help you write and illustrate children’s books? How did you first come to write and illustrate children’s books?
I’ve always loved experimenting with sound to create music, and I’m a big fan of anything related to outer space! Together, these interests formed the basis for my first book, Rusty The Squeaky Robot. I was already an illustrator, but I became an author by complete accident. My friend had created an app that used image-recognition technology to read books in various languages. It was amazing! He wanted to test it on a brand new children’s book – one that incorporated sound. And so the idea for my first book was born!
What was the inspiration behind Rusty the Squeaky Robot? Is Rusty based off anyone you know?
The idea was to create a book that used sound and music to bring characters together. I guess there’s a bit a Rusty in everyone. We’ve all got insecurities, something about ourself that we’d like to change. I love the idea that everyone is a unique sound, but when we work together we create beautiful music. Growing up I always felt different from everyone else. The way I dressed, the hobbies I liked, the music I listened to. The world can be tough for kids. I learnt to embrace my differences and eventually thrived on being unique!
Your book has a great message about celebrating differences, but it’s also just a lot of fun. Young kids will love copying the sounds when they learn what kinds of noises these robots make. Could this be a story for music class?
It really could be! I’ve read the book to children before and used instruments as props. Like a triangle, a kazoo, a toy drum etc. At the end of the story everyone plays together and has a dance! What better way to learn how sounds can be layered to create something musical.
The illustrations are wonderful in the book – almost a retro look and feel. Is this intentional? How did you create them?
Thanks! As I mentioned, the first draft was created for my friend to use with his app, so time was fairly limited. I went for a style that consisted of simple geometric shapes and a limited but bold colour palette. I’m a big fan of Russian space travel posters from the 50s and 60s. I think some of that crept in to the styling for sure! Anything I create starts life as pencil scribbles in my sketchbook, but the final pieces usually created digital in Adobe Illustrator. I had so much fun piecing the robot characters together!
Rusty the Squeaky Robot is and uplifting story that encourages children to be positive and most importantly, be themselves. Do you have any “talking points” or suggestions for parents that might help create an interesting discussion after reading your book?
Reading Rusty definitely creates an opportunity to talk about how we’re all different, and that’s how it should be. It’s a chance for children to think about what makes them unique and why it’s important to embrace it. It’s also a chance for children to realise that just because someone looks or sounds different to them doesn’t mean you can’t be the best of friends. It’s that age-old message… ‘if we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place!’
Any thoughts about a follow up book with another adventure for Rusty and his new friends?
I’ve got a couple of ideas bubbling away, but since Rusty hit the shelves I’ve been so busy with other projects. I would love to revisit Rusty and co one day… watch this space!
What is the best part about being a children’s author?
It’s strange because I never planned on becoming a children’s author. It just happened! All I ever wanted growing up was to draw pictures for a living. After a lot of hard work I managed to make that happen… being a published author is the cherry on the cake! I’m so lucky. For children to look back in years to come, with fond memories of my books, would be a dream come true.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
There’s obvious challenges such as online devices and screen-time. It’s all about balance – physical books will always have their place in a child’s upbringing. There’s something so special, and irreplaceable, about the connection a book creates between a parent and child. I’m fairly new to the parent game. My daughter is 15 months, but already I can’t imagine not having books for her to engage with. Not all children will be big readers. I was always more about the pictures than the words, but my parents acknowledged this and encouraged picture books, comics, and writing my own stories. The world feels like it’s speeding up and stress among children is a real issue. Books create an opportunity to slow down, to learn, to connect and to escape!
Do you have any new books in the pipeline?
I’ve recently released a children’s fact book series called Clever Cogz. Cogz the robot dog and his sidekick mice, Nutty and Bolt, take the reader on a journey of discovery. I loved working on those books and am so proud with how they turned out! I’m currently illustrating a few new books including a great little board book called Evie & Juno Explore the Planets. More space adventure fun. Keep an eye out for that one this year!
Thanks to Neil for speaking with us and sharing some insights into his world as an author. We look forward to sharing “Rusty the Squeaky Robot” with our readers this month and seeing some of the books he has in the works!
As a special bonus for our readers, Neil as also provided a link to some downloadable coloring sheets from “Rusty the Squeaky Robot.” If you’re interested in learning more about Neil Clark, you can visit his website here.
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