Lollies Blog Tour 2018: Rachel Bright makes squistory!

The Lollies are back and this year’s shortlist is nothing to laugh at! Wait. Let’s try that again. The Lollies are back and the books on this year’s shortlist are more uproarious than ever! That’s better. Moving on. Two in a Tepee is delighted to be championing Rachel Bright and Jim Field’s book The Squirrels Who Squabbled for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards 2018, organised by Scholastic and kidlit giant, Michael Rosen. The award aims to shine a light on and celebrate the very best and funniest books for children published in a given year. The most exciting thing about the award? Children’s votes decide the winner! The vote is open until December, so get reading! Here are the nominees for funniest picture book:
We were lucky enough to get the chance to chat with author, illustrator, and all around funny person, Rachel Bright about the making of The Squirrels Who Squabbled. Read on to find out which picture books make her laugh out loud:
fullsizeoutput_4e2aTiaT: Tell us a bit about how the idea for The Squirrels Who Squabbled came to you.
RB: You know, this is a bit like the 64-million-dollar question! All my stories come to me in different ways…and almost always at really inconvenient times (like 5am or when I’m in the bath!)…that’s why I always try and have a notebook somewhere to hand! The Squirrels Who Squabbled is my third book with Jim, so I could already imagine pictures (like a movie) in my head. I was looking at some of his drawings a few days earlier – and there was this really funny squirrel (in glasses) sitting on a swing. I think somewhere a little neuron connection happened in my brain but it wasn’t until a few days later when I was walking in the forest (I live in the middle of a pine forest – in a house – that sounded like I just lived in a tree or something!). Anyway, as I walked my dog Elvis through the forest, I began to hear the bouncing rhythm of Cyril and Bruce’s story in my head. The idea of them eyeing up the same pine cone already made me smile, so I got home as quick as I could (sorry Elvis – that’s my dog – you got a much shorter walk that day!!!)..and it all came tumbling out on the keyboard (sometimes I write longhand but this one went straight on my computer). Once the skeleton of any story is there – then you get a really nice bit of time where you get to polish it. I always read my stories out loud to myself MANY times, so I can really hear them. Every word has to earn its place. I always think if a word feels nice in your mouth to say them, it’ll feel good on your ear to hear them! After lots and lots of revisits, I had something I was really happy with…luckily Jim agreed! And the rest is squirrel history..or squistory!
TiaT: You and Jim Field have published a few books together — what is your collaboration process like — do you get together to talk through the book or do you each work separately?
RB: We’re pretty lucky in that we do get the chance to ping ideas back and forth and pitch things at each other. That’s actually a little bit rare sometimes with pairings and sometimes you never meet or speak to your collaborator at all through the process (it’s all masterminded by the publisher which can have its pros)…now that Jim and I have done a few books together and we have met a few times at events (Jim lives in Paris so often it’s Skype as well)…we sort of get each other’s rhythm. When I first saw his work on The Lion Inside – I knew some alchemy was happening…a chemistry where word and picture meet and do a little dance together – you just never know when that’s going to happen – it’s a bit like falling in love – something can look good on paper but not work at all in practice…and sometimes everything just feels…well…right. Jim’s got a great sense of humour – in his work and in general – and he just understands the humour in my words and then puts them through this wondrous kaleidoscope which magnifies it all…I am really looking forward to doing more books with him!
TiaT: As an illustrator yourself, what is it like to have someone else put pictures to your words?
RB: When I first decided to do some books where I would collaborate with other illustrators (my first 9 books were all self-illustrated), I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was beyond excited – I had more stories in my head than I had lifetime to illustrate – not to mention that my style wasn’t suited to all of them and I was really excited to see what someone else might do with them…but I was also a bit hesitant…I worried I might turn into this huge control freak and be all like ‘NO! That wasn’t how I imagined it!!’ whilst throwing things around my studio in a diva-artist type way. I needn’t have worried. When the proofs for ‘The Lion Inside’ landed on my desk, that thing happened where angels are singing in your head and the sunlight is making everything glow and you’re like, ‘YES!’…Since then, I’ve never looked back. It’s sort of like having two hats – I LOVE illustrating and authoring and then sometimes I take off that hat and put on my just-author hat…and that one feels great too!
TiaT: Why do you and Jim choose animals are your main characters?
RB: This is a story which has unfolded very organically. In my time I have written about humans, monsters, animals…you name it…but my first book with Jim was all about a Lion and a Mouse…and it almost felt like a contemporary fable…there’s something very universal and accessible about animal characters as you can relate to them no matter who you are or where you come from…after we did this book it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to explore more stories with animals – it means we can travel the world and put the stories in all these incredible settings and they can still feel totally relatable and funny and yet classic at the same time. Maybe we’ll write about other characters too someday too but for now, there is so much of the animal kingdom to explore we have plenty to be going on with! I’m an ideas-led person and these are the ones that have knocked on my head so far!
TiaT: What do you think makes a picture book funny?
RB: That’s a very good question! It can be so many different things but I think the funniest books blend playful language with silly ideas, a wonderful pace and visual humour too…so there are jokes to be had and smiles to be raised at every level. You need to really care about the characters so you can laugh with and at them. Often some of the best humour is in that magic space BETWEEN the words and the pictures – the pauses, the timing…often there’s something for the kids and the grown-ups so you can laugh on different levels. Somehow…you just know it when you read it! But always, always – it starts with a good idea and a funny premise…
TiaT: What is the funniest picture book you have ever read?
RB: Gosh…I have laughed at so many! I love loads of the Mo Willems book – in particular, ‘Don’t let that pigeon drive the bus’ and ‘Leonardo the terrible Monster’. I love Dr Suess (funny and profound) and Jon Klasson (I want my hat back) and more recently I really laughed at Andy Stanton’s new book ‘We’re going to the Volcano)…I can’t choose just one…it’s impossible!
TiaT: Which Lollies 2018 books (other than yours, of course!) are your own children voting for?
RB: Well, my daughters are pretty small – River has just turned 4 and Sky is only 9 months, but River is a voracious picture-book reader and she’s read ALL the books on the shortlist! I think her vote would probably go to ‘Oi Cat!’ but maybe that’s because Jim drew a picture in the front for her. She’s pretty pleased about that!

About Stephanie Cummings

Stephanie Cummings is a former BBC Journalist sharing her lifetime love of children's literature and illustration with her two young daughters -- and now with you, too, through Two in a Tepee. Stephanie has an academic background at the undergraduate level in literature and has master's degrees in both anthropology (material and visual culture) and design. She started her professional life in an art gallery and ended up producing radio programmes for BBC Radio 4, before deciding to become a stay at home mum. She lives with her handsome husband (who is sometimes invited into the tepee) in leafy north London.

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