Two in a Tepee

Exploring the power of picture books with…Emma Yarlett

Pablo Picasso once said, “Everything you can imagine is real.” This is one of the guiding principals of award-winning author/illustrator Emma Yarlett’s work — helpful to know when you consider her stories centre around: siblings who accidentally break the moon, then replace it with glowing cheese, a boy who literally befriends the Dark, a little girl so full of imagination that she wills a pet wooly mammoth (and a huge amount of other fantastic creatures) into being, and a book-eating monster. We were lucky enough to get the author of Sidney, Stella and the Moon, Orion and the Dark, Poppy Pickle, and Nibbles the Book Monster talking about one of the first books to really unleash her own vast imagination.

Emma Yarlett is the second interview in our series jointly featured on Two in a Tepee and the KidLit TV website. I am talking to Two in a Tepee’s very favourite children’s picture book authors and illustrators about the picture books and characters that have had the strongest impact on their lives. Together we are going to explore the power of picture books to grab hold of a person in childhood and potentially play a role in shaping his/her life path — oh, and learn about some of the most talented authors/illustrators in the business along the way. Here’s Emma:

TiaT: Thanks for joining us, Emma. Can you remember a specific picture book from childhood that really grabbed your interest? 

EY: There is one book that immediately jumps to mind as having had a huge impact on me as a child. It’s called I Want My Potty and is by Tony Ross. Now… it might not strike you as the most highbrow of books, but I have a really strong memory of it that relates directly to my journey of becoming an author/illustrator….

I am the daughter of a primary school teacher. In fact, my mum taught at the very school I was a pupil at — she even taught the third year class next door to my third year class! This led to many fun experiences of school with my mum, both in and out of the school day. Once the clock hit 3.30pm, all the other kids would head to the playground where they were picked up by their parents and went home. I, however, wandered to the classroom next door and played, whilst my mum finished up (marking, etc.) before we headed home. This meant I had access to the WHOLE classroom out of hours… I used to spend ages drawing on the chalkboards and whiteboards, ringing other classrooms on the class intercom, and generally being a bit of a nuisance… but I also used to spend a great deal of time reading the classroom books and getting to know them by heart.

As quite an arty kid, I enjoyed reading the children’s picture books in particular. I loved them so much, that one day, I decided I would draw my very own version of one of them… and you guessed it! It was I Want My Potty! by Tony Ross. I spent hours after school, day after day, drawing Tony Ross’ illustrations until I had my very own ‘Emma’ copy of the book, complete with shaky handwriting and wobbly pictures. It took forever, but I loved every minute of drawing it out. I think somewhere in my seven-year-old brain, something twigged for me in that moment, as I found something I truly loved to do.

TiaT: What was it about I Want My Potty that captured you?

EY: What really captured me about Tony Ross’s illustrations and story was the wilfulness of the little girl, and the expressive and charismatic use of lines and colour that portray and capture her so beautifully. Tony Ross also beautifully characterised a great deal of other characters in the book and used some really striking and interesting layouts that I liked. As a young reader, I also really liked that the text was simply written and was at the bottom of each page.

TiaT: Are there specific images or lines you can remember?

EY: I really remember the front cover of the book as being one of my favourites. Even from a very early age, I found the relationship between the words and pictures extraordinary — the way the title of the book and the illustration and the name of the author all worked together in a beautiful, balanced way… It really intrigues me as to how anyone could create a page where all the elements of pictures and words hung so well together.

TiaT: Did someone introduce you to the book or was it your own discovery? 

EY: I think I introduced myself to the book and the character. I don’t think we had the book at home, so being able to read books I didn’t have at home and really drink them in on my own in the classroom was a real novelty. Weirdly, I still don’t think I own a copy of this book! (TiaT: We will send you a copy, Emma!)

TiaT: Do you think I Want My Potty ultimately impacted your personal style as an author/illustrator?

EY: Without having looked at the book for a number of years, I would not have said that Tony Ross’s authorial or illustrative style had an impact on my style… however, after having a look at the book once more online, and watching a lovely, ten minute reading from a YouTube lady, I would say that it perhaps has influenced me in a way I hadn’t anticipated! Looking at the page layouts (in particular the repeated ones of the main character) I can see some really strong resemblances with my third book Poppy Pickle! It is really bizarre but really interesting to think that I could have retained so much from a book I loved as a child but haven’t seen in years!

TiaT: Emma, is there a picture book you have seen recently that you would recommend to young readers?

EY: There’s a book which I’ve finally just bought, and the art has truly blown my socks off. It’s called The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty and is written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. I love to create the art for my books by hand and so does Beatrice — but her expressive and intricate use of materials is just so wonderful, free and inspiring! I would strongly recommend it to budding artists!

TiaT: Ok, Emma. Tell us. What are you working on at the moment?

EY: I’m working on lots and lots at the moment! I’m just finishing up my fifth book which is the sequel to Nibbles the Book Monster. It’s called Nibbles the Dinosaur Guide and will be published internationally in September 2017 by Little Tiger Press. I am also working on some books collaboratively with an author… but I can’t quite tell you about them yet! I’m sorry!

TiaT: Fair enough. We do, of course, hope you will spill the beans in due course! Thank you so much for taking the time to explore the power of picture books with us and good luck with Nibbles’ 2017 CILIP Greenaway Medal Nomination.