Meet the Author & Illustrator: Julia Patton

Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.

May 2020

Julia Patton is our May Author of the Month. Her creative journey began when she was very small after receiving an enormous cardboard box for her birthday overflowing with art materials from a dear aunt. She continued her creative pathway studying MA in Illustration from Edinburgh University where she discovered and fell in love with picture books, an intoxicating world where pictures and words collide.

Subscribers this month will meet Bartelby, a very long and lovable dachshund who lives in a bookstore. His three friends take him for walks through the city, but he is so long he doesn’t know what his own rear end is doing. He becomes embarrassed upon realizing the destruction he causes and vows to never leave the cozy bookstore again. His friends read books to discover a way to help him, coming up with a bright yellow sweater for Bartelby’s back end with a light and warning sign. At its core, The Very Very Very Long Dog is a story about friends helping friends.

We hope you enjoy our interview with Julia!

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You are an illustrator, designer, creative writer and teacher. Is that all???? How did you first come to write and illustrate children’s books?

Ever since I was small I’ve always loved creating, and I knew instinctively this was my journey. I undertook a BA in Textiles at The University Of Manchester which was very fine-art based, which is where I get my mixed-media tactile approach to illustration from. My interest in picture books came after I had two little boys of my own, and I instantly feel in love with ‘Words & Pictures’ I knew I had to return to study and gained my MA in illustration from the University of Edinburgh some time after. My first published picture book came out a year later. I’ve created over fifty books now, and just published my fourth authored and illustrated title whilst writing my fifth & sixth simultaneously for 2021.

What was the inspiration behind The Very Very Very Long Dog? Is Bartelby based on anyone or any dog you know?

Bartleby, Oh, Bartleby! was the original title before eventually becoming The Very Very Very Long Dog. It was inspired by this piece of political graffiti in Bologna, Italy which I spotted on my annual pilgrimage to The International Children’s Book Fair. At the very same moment a very stylish lady with a VERY VERY VERY scruffy looking awkward sausage dog walked by. She was oblivious to the chaos this loveable character was causing with the other pedestrians. It was hilarious. Inspiration is everywhere.

Bartelby’s backside creates problems wherever he goes, but thank goodness he has friends to help him. Friends helping friends is a lovely theme for a humorous children’s book. Do you have any “talking points” or suggestions for parents that might create an interesting discussion after reading your book?

The main point about this book was to very subtly suggest the idea that Bartleby’s friends wanted to help him, to help himself. That we love our friends not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. Bartleby’s bottom may cause chaos but he is unique and very special. I think celebrating our differences is a blessing. Hopefully we all know someone that’s a little bit different from us, don’t we?

The illustrations are wonderful in the book – especially the cover which will immediately captivate the attention of little ones. What illustration style did you use for The Very Very Very Long Dog?

This book, unbelievably, was created from the very first initial pencil sketches to the book you see now in only 3 weeks. It was an almost impossible schedule but what it did was force me to react and adapt my usual drawing style. I didn’t have enough time to perfect the pencils which I’d usually do 2/3/4 times more before finally colouring, so I just created the final colour onto my rough pencil drawings. Those first drawings were instinctive and less precious and ultimately have more expression and life in them. It’s now the way I create all my art work. Having an adaptive nature as a creative can sometimes lead to very happy accidents.

The Very Very Very Long Dog only has a few lines of text per page but it does have some more advanced word choices. Was this intentional?

Absolutely. I feel that our children are so smart, so instinctive and have a much greater comprehension of things than we give them credit for. I deliberately try and not talk down to my intended audience but instead create a place where new and exciting words can be shared together in fun, new contexts. From a very early age our children can understand the nuances of facial expressions and tones in voices. I’m trying to ultimately create a ‘wordless book’ where it’s up to the individual interpretation, crossing all language and culture barriers. My job as a successful illustrator is to ’show’ and not ’tell’ to let the audience unravel the meaning for themselves.

What is the best part about being a children’s author?

As an author and illustrator I’ve always believed it’s my privilege and responsibility to illuminate characters, suggesting the magical whilst interpreting the unspoken. It’s dream job. I write and illustrate books I’d loved to have had when I was a child. I love diagrams and gadgets and spotting tiny details hidden in the background when I re-read the book for the 20th time! Also ‘silly’ is greatly underrated. It’s my favourite thing ever!!

When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?

I’m constantly delighted by the direction that children’s literature is evolving. We are starting to explore traditionally challenging subject matters like death, celebrating differences, encouraging tolerance and self acceptance etc. Most of these themes were once considered taboo for small children. Picture books need to be windows for us to see into different worlds but also mirrors so we can see ourselves in too. I’m thrilled parents and children now have access to books on subjects such as war, politics, religion and human differences. The more conversations we have, the greater capacity for understanding and acceptance. Sharing a book with your child is still the most precious of moments and memories- advanced electronic devices can never replace this.

We hear you have a new book in the pipeline, The Fixer of Broken Things. We love the title. Can you tell us a little about it?

I’ve just published a book called Number 7 Evergreen Street but as you can imagine having a book launch in lockdown is impossible! So I’ve had to adapt so here’s a little book trailer for you. It’s a book about a little girl called Pea (as she’s very small and loves wearing the colour green) who involves all her family and friends to come together to save their home. It’s filled with hope, sunshine, diverse characters and heaps of love.

Now I’m right in the middle of The Fixer Of Broken Things. This is a very special story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time. It’s about a girl who’s brilliant at fixing anything. She’s the very best fixer there is. That is, one day she finds something that she just can’t fix. Something inside of her. She has to be super brave to speak up and ask for help. “Do not worry now we’ve spoken, we can easily fix what is broken” is the repeated spoken message. It’s a book that speaks gently of the effective power of speaking up and sharing ones problems as our mental heath has never been more important.

Thanks to Julia for speaking with us and sharing some insights into her world as an author and illustrator. We look forward to sharing “The Very Very Very Long Dog” with our readers this month and seeing some of the books she has in the works!

If you’re interested in learning more about Julia Patton, you can visit her website here. Additionally, Julia has kindly shared with us Bartleby bookmarks and an activity sheet that you and your child can download below. Thanks, Julia!

Click the images to download bookmark and activity sheet files.

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