Meet the Author:
Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.
Meet our October Author of the Month, Karl Newson. Karl is the award-winning children’s author and behind this month’s Elephant Books pick, Snug as a Bug?. Keep reading to hear from Karl about his inspiration for a book about a brave little bug, the joy of a good plot twist, and the importance of sharing stories with all kids.
Snug as a Bug? is the story of a little bug who goes on the run after an unexpected visitor comes knocking at his door.
Snug as a Bug? tells the story of a small-but-mighty protagonist named Ronald, who unexpectedly traverses through all different landscapes, avoiding all sorts of hungry predators, while all he really wants to do is snuggle up to fall asleep. What inspired this tale of a cozy little bug on the run?
The idea for Snug as a Bug? came out of wanting to write a story about something really small. A lot of my stories are about animals, but they all tend to exist on a scale not too dissimilar from us humans, so I thought it’d be a fun challenge to write about a different scale, where spiders are big and leaves could be rafts!
Ronald encounters a whole cast of intimidating animals as he runs for safety—including a snake, a spider, a bird, and even a crocodile! How did you decide which animals to include as characters?
I wanted Ronald to face foes of every size and shape, at every turn, so I tried to mix up the kinds of animals he meets. I knew he was going to be eaten at some point, but I didn’t want that creature to be something that you might expect – nothing too ‘real’ – so I made it a crocodile to add a fictional distance to the moment. It meant Ronald’s escape was that much better too!
The humor and fast pace of Snug as a Bug? are sure to appeal to kids and parents alike. The story also includes a great lesson about the importance of resilience in the face of danger and the power of believing in yourself. What motivated you to share this message with your readers?
This is a message I’ve written about before in different ways (in I Am a Tiger, for instance, where the mouse says she is a tiger, despite coming face to face with a real tiger), but this time I snuck it inside the refrain that Ronald uses, like a mantra to get him through his challenging times and back home again. I guess, in a way, it is his version of Dorothy’s “There’s no place like home”. The message itself is my way of saying ‘just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t do big things’. The world can be a huge, scary place if you’re feeling small. I imagined it must be that x 100 if you are a bug! I hope anyone who might be feeling too small for the world will see themselves in Ronald’s slippers and believe that they can do big things. Just don’t upset your mum because then you will be in trouble! Heehee!
The cadence of Snug as a Bug? is an endearing and memorable aspect of the narrative—particularly Ronald’s mantra: “I’m snug as a bug in a rug, I am. As snug as a bug could be. There has never been a bug in THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD so happily snug as me!” Can you describe your creative process while writing this story?
The refrain sets up the whole plot really. I knew it could change to reflect Ronald’s surroundings and feelings and the plot came out of that idea: He begins snug, is disturbed, chased, chased, chased… eaten, fights back, goes home, gets snug, and is disturbed again. I like to end my stories on a twist with a giggle and Ronald’s mum allowed that to happen here. Once the plot was plotted it was just a case of filling in the gaps, and that’s where Ronald’s strong voice came along and wrote it for me. I love it when a story comes along like this!
Vibrant and action-packed illustrations by Alex Willmore bring life and added humor to Ronald’s journey. What was it like collaborating with Alex to create this picture book?
It was AMAZING to team up with Alex. We almost made a book together a few years ago and ever since then I‘ve been hoping to get another chance to collaborate, so when my publisher (Happy Yak) told me Alex was onboard to bring this story to life I was delighted. He brings heaps of humor and such strong characters to the story. The expressions and poses he captures on every page makes this book the cleverly scary-but-not-scary story that it is. I hope we get to make another one soon!
What is the best thing about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?
The best thing about being a children’s author is getting to write stories that I can share with children and adults all around the world. I first wanted to be an author all the way back in 2007, when my children were little and we read bedtime stories each night… I wanted to write a story for them that would become a book we could share together. Of course, I had to teach myself how to write stories first! And then I taught myself to illustrate them too, so I could look at a story from both sides and understand what makes it work. It took a long, long time! It was 10 years later that my first picture book was published, and since then, my stories have been translated into over 30 languages around the world. It is incredible to think that the stories I set out to write for my children are now enjoyed by so many other children too. It is the best thing!
Sadly, I don’t remember many books from when I was a child. I didn’t read much at all, which I regret hugely. But one story I do remember is The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson. A wonderful story about overcoming fear, and finding friends and a love of the dark, about a little owl called Plop.
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 it has to be the challenge of getting books into little hands. There are so many children who don’t own a single book. There are a million reasons for this, but if I could do anything it would be to gift more books to children, everywhere. In 2020 my picture book with Ross Collins I Am a Tiger was given to every 4 year old in England and Wales – over 700,000 copies! – by BookTrust as part of their ‘Time to Read’ programme. This programme was designed specifically to get books to those children and families who might not otherwise have one. The feedback I received from readers was joyous. Everyone should have the opportunity to read books but especially children. I’d welcome more initiatives like Booktrust’s ‘Time to Read’.
Do you have any upcoming books we can look forward to reading?
Next year I have a few books lined up for publication in the UK. Hopefully some of those will also be published in the US. It’s been a very busy last couple of years and I’ve been very lucky! Some of those books haven’t been announced yet, but the ones that have, are:
Watch Out! There’s a Monster Coming! The paperback edition. This is the story of a monster who’s hunting for something delicious to eat… could it be a child?! No! It’s a cake!
I Really Really Need a Poo The sequel to I Really Really Need a Wee and I Really Really Love You So This silly story features a bushbaby who is rather desperate for the toilet!
My fingers are crossed for lots more stories to come in the future!
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