Meet the Author & Illustrator: Susanna Moores
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Blieka is a cute, floppy-eared bunny that just received a new present: A Big Red Ball! It goes everywhere with Blieka, but what happens when a friend asks to borrow it? The response, “It’s not yours, it’s MINE!” Does this sound familiar?
Susanna Moores tackles the idea of sharing and friendship in her debut picture book, It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine!. As both the author and illustrator, Susanna is able to bring Blieka and his feelings to life. You can actually “see” how hard it is to share with her wonderful illustrations.
We hope you enjoy learning more about this charming story.
You started your career as a photographer, but went back to school and graduated with a Masters in Children’s book illustration from Anglia Ruskin School of Arts in Cambridge. What drove this change?
I loved photography and still do but I missed drawing and found myself longing to return to it. My arts training was in a number of disciplines but putting pencil to paper had always been a core part of my work before discovering photography.
I think at one point I did a bit of soul searching and felt that although I loved photography there was something missing from the process and it didn’t give me quite as much joy as drawing. I looked back to my first interest in art when I was a child, before I had any training or tutoring in the arts and I tried to find the essence of my interest. I realised that what was enjoyable for me, was writing and illustrating stories.
When I was very young, I used to make lots of little books in my school holidays, often about my pet rabbit or meeting dolphins on great adventures under the sea. I needed to have a big leap of faith at that time to believe that something I adored doing as a child was possible to do as an adult for a career. It meant I needed to find a lot of courage to change direction and fate seemed to be on my side when I discovered the wonderful master’s course at Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge.
I just happened to be living in the sleepy village of Grantchester, a little way down a winding country road and was working part time in retail to cover the bills. It was a tough time back then and I realised that I did not have a strong drawing portfolio and knew this would be key to showing the tutors on the course how much I wanted this change in direction.
Over the next few months, I created little drawings and ideas on the back of scrap bits of paper and card whilst on the shop floor and in fitting rooms and gathered them in my pocket to put in a sketchbook when I got home. On weekends, I would visit galleries and draw in the garden to seek inspiration and jot down ideas. Thank goodness the tutors saw my enthusiasm and I remember my time on the course being a real turning point in my life.
It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine! is your debut Picture Book and you are both the author and illustrator. What was the inspiration for this cute story?
Ideas for Stories can come from such strange places and this one came about when my husband and I were battling over the last chocolate biscuit! It occurred to me that neither of us had learned all that much about sharing despite being grown adults and that it could prove to be a fun story concept for a children’s book!
I am forever grateful to Neil Burden and the team at Child’s Play for seeing the potential in the story and helping me to develop and publish it so the book could reach a wider audience.
I wanted the story to be for young children, so the message needed to be clear, concise and easy to absorb. I decided that a big red ball would be a great symbol for a toy that a child could play with and enjoy alone but was particularly fun to play with another. All the other toys at the end of the story were also toys that reflected being even more fun to share so I thought quite a bit about ones that could impart that message. I also wanted to reassure children that the ball would always be Blieka’s, and that sharing would never change that, so the very last picture is of him taking a nap with his favourite toy.
Blieka is a yellow bunny that is thrilled with a new present, a big red ball, but Blieka is less thrilled with the idea of sharing. So much so that when friends ask to borrow the ball, Blieka says, “it’s not yours, it’s mine! These words run across two pages in white shaky letters on a red background. We see this as a perfect chance to have the child say the refrain aloud with the adult. Was finding ways to engage with the child part of your plan in writing the book?
Absolutely! I think one of the most wonderful parts of read aloud stories, particularly picture books, is the shared experience between the adult and the child. I want my stories to be enjoyable to read aloud and to have a flow so they can be read many times over.
It was really important to me that the main characters frustration gradually grew until it all came to a head with an outburst, and that it mirrored children’s everyday experiences, because when you are small, there are so many tricky things you have to learn, and it is so hard to regulate emotions. I wanted to empathize with the reader and acknowledge that, when adults ask you to share it is actually really difficult and there is a struggle there, but I also wanted to emphasize that sharing can be a really positive thing and can be a lot of fun too!
Since you are both the author and illustrator of It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine!, did the story come first or did you create Blieka and then decide on a tale?
Blieka and his personality came first. The book came about after playing around with lots of different story concepts whilst on my Masters course. My previous book concept had been about some extremely cheeky mice and I did a lot of studies of mice at the time at London Zoo to observe their busy and mischievous nature.
I think the main character Blieka’s gestures and movements are very similar to those mice and although the approach to the imagery in my first book concept was different, the essence of the two were quite similar. Blieka’s bunny appearance was a little nod to my childhood stories of bunny rabbits and one of the spreads in the book where Blieka is lying hugging the ball was directly inspired from a drawing I created of my pet rabbit as a child.
I wanted to develop a character that was fun, cheeky, occasionally vulnerable and had struggles, but was able to overcome them without being too moralistic. A character that had a well-rounded personality and a human side to them rather than being too simplistic.
I played around with the character at first on the pages of my sketchbook, then added some limited palette colour washes. I wanted the book to have warm colours to reflect the cosy nature of cuddling up to read a book. At the same time, I was thinking about ideas for a story, I wanted to come up with something that children would really identify with and have experienced the same struggles Blieka was expressing in the story.
Incidentally, Blieka’s name originated from Bleeker Street, New York after a trip there around the time I was creating the character and although I loved the sound of the street name, I played around with the spelling!
We loved the pencil-wash illustrations! When Blieka finally decides to share the ball, there is a succession of illustrations that show the struggle on the bunny’s face. Fortunately, each interaction seems to get easier and easier. Was this intentional?
Yes, I think its really important that the illustrations compliment and enhance the text and I wanted to make it quite light-hearted too so hopefully that comes across on the page. It’s that slow acceptance that perhaps it might be a good thing to share that I wanted to convey.
While It’s Not Yours, It’s Mine! is a simple story on the surface, the larger idea of sharing is an important lesson for all children. What do you hope your young readers will take away from Blieka? Anything else?
Although the text is simple it proved surprisingly difficult to convey the message that I wanted, without big blocks of text. I suppose that is where the marriage of the text with the illustrations come in to add that extra layer of understanding for the reader.
I think I just wanted to acknowledge how hard it is to learn the lessons that adults can sometimes take for granted, and that often things can be a bit of a struggle before you can see the benefits to sharing, but I wanted to make sure it was a really positive book and they could embrace the central message that sharing can actually be enjoyable and a way to experience new things that others are willing to offer to share too.
What is the best part about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
The best aspect of being a children’s author is fulfilling the ambitions I had as a little girl and being able to let my imagination run wild, dreaming up new stories and being able to draw and paint at my little desk and often on the floor and in the garden, there’s not a lot of jobs out there like that! All the amazing people I have met since this change of career has also been wonderful, I have formed such a strong connection with lots of my fellow writers and illustrators and it has proved to be an amazing experience to finally be able to share thoughts and ideas with other like-minded people.
The stand out authors for me are quite different in some ways but I particularly enjoyed reading books as a child with an element of fun and wit in the narrative.
As a very young child I could often be found at the end of the garden with my beloved soft toys dreaming of a time they would one day spring to life and so, Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne captured my imagination. Milne’s writing was so funny, clever and warm hearted, he had an amazing instinct for connecting with his young readers and his stories transported me into Christopher Robin’s world in the 100 Acre wood with all his toy friends and the adventures they had. I also loved his wonderful collection of poems in the book ‘Now we are six’ and still recite some of them to myself.
The Author I particularly loved as I got a little older was Roald Dahl and I remember devouring his books and hiding away in my room, reading them many times over. I particularly loved Matilda and the Twits. I was transported by Dahl’s amazing ability to describe the environments his characters inhabited, the unexpected twists in plotlines, the wildly inventive names he dreamt up and how his characters were often delightfully villainous and the tales were deliciously lacking in sentiment.
When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?
I think a big aspect to start with is making sure children have as much access to the widest range of books possible. The book that excites and delights one child will not be the same for another and being motivated to read and listen is the biggest challenge parents, carers and teachers face. Having a huge variety of books at a child’s disposal can be expensive. As a parent myself I use a combination of sources to keep my young son interested. We buy books from shops, online and often from charity shops. We have books home from school too, but the library is such an important and often forgotten part of access to books and is not being used enough as a resource, and so the libraries themselves are at constant risk of closure. Digital books have their place in the world but with so much screen time for children these days, we as a family use good old-fashioned books at bedtime.
The other big aspect to reading, is finding time to read with your child. This can often be the biggest stumbling block, as there is so much distraction in everyday life that can get in the way, but if a parent or carer can find the time to read just a few books a day with their child, it will make a real difference not only in their academic abilities but it’s a wonderful way to forget all the noise and distraction of the world and it can be the best part of the day when cuddled up with your child, sharing a beautiful picture book. I am never happier than when I see my son all settled in while I try out silly voices and share the joy of reading adventures together.
Do you have anything in the pipeline that we can look forward to reading?
Well, My son is currently completely obsessed with starfish, so I think if I want to stay popular in our household then a story about them definitely needs to be on the cards! Luckily, I agree with my son that starfish are wonderful and I can’t wait to get started on the project! There are also fireless dragons, giraffes, and crazy birds in egg races whirling around my mind and on the page at the moment, so now the kids are back at school and my desk is cleared there will be no stopping me!
Thanks to Susanna Moores for sharing more about the thinking behind her work. We look forward to seeing her next titles on starfish, dragons, giraffes, or whatever else sparks her imagination!
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