Hello there! It’s been AGES since my last post – months and months in fact. I fell out of the blogging habit somewhere along the way and then it kind of felt pointless to try and get back to it. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to achieve and I didn’t really feel I had the time for it.
But then I realised the other day that regardless of goals and (un)available time and any sense of overarching purpose, I enjoy blogging. And I just plain old miss it. And I remembered that one of the things I loved most about it was creating a record to look back on. All the posts I wrote about my kids, and the poetry and short stories I shared are a genuine joy to me now (well ok, some of the latter make me cringe a bit now but still, it’s all part of the creative process!). If the last five years have been a whirlwind, this blog has been the resilient stone wall in the middle: solid, immovable and with memories safely nestled into all its nooks and crannies.
So I’m going to carry on writing here regardless of anything else. It’ll probably be at random intervals but that’s fine – shoving stuff into the wall feels like a worthwhile thing to keep doing. A dash of permanence in an unstable world. Or something.
Right, let’s catch up! I last wrote in November at which point I was in the middle of my 40th Birthday celebrations. I basically celebrated for three months solid. Drove my husband a bit mad: “I’m just going out for dinner/to the pub/off to London/on a spa weekend/having a dinner party” but he survived and I had an amazing time! Then it was Christmas which was as manic as ever with three kids and all the associated malarky. Oh, and a very busy time for Helena Handcart, my greeting card business.
I hit January with loads of plans which got a bit derailed when I got flu and had to spend quite a while in bed watching episodes of Teen Wolf on the iPad. Not as fun or relaxing as it sounds – I felt dreadful and small boys kept jumping on me. Recovering from that took a while ( I don’t recommend burst ear drums to anyone), but amidst it all – Drum roll please – I finally finished my illustration course! And I got a distinction! Woo hoo!
An early assignment from my course. I can’t attach a more recent illustration because my blog won’t let me upload any new images right now!
I now plan on illustrating some of my picture book manuscripts. I’ve already been re-reading them and making sure they’re ship shape. I’ve had a couple professionally edited and had positive feedback from literary agents so it’s pretty exciting to have reached the stage where I can have a crack at blending my writing and illustrating together!
Also over in the artistic corner, I’ve been loving designing cards for Helena Handcart. We’ve just printed a new range and are always working on new ideas and images.
I think that brings you just about up to date – oh wait, no record of the last few months could be complete without mentioning last week! We had crazy blizzards and 40mph winds and the schools were shut for three days as ‘The Beast from the East’ ran amok. We live on a hillside which is windy at the best of times so it got pretty intense! We had some great fun sledging when we managed to get out, but spent most of the time nestled inside trying to keep the house, and ourselves, warm. Wearing a dressing gown over my clothes is my new favourite thing.
I was going to add some relevant photos to this post (sledging, diploma certificate, some of my recent illustrations…) but my website won’t let me upload any. I’ve just spent the last hour reading about permissions codes and I can’t really make sense of it. So I’m just going to reuse some photos from previous posts while I attempt to sort it out. Grrr. Argh.
Anyway, I usually sign off my first post of the year with some kind of ‘Happy New Year’ message but we’re way past that. Happy rest of year though – here’s to spring!
I’m probably overstating things with the title of this post, but I’m approaching a big birthday and it’s bringing with it some big thoughts. Forty *gulp* – it feels significant, and sensible. Irresolutely grownup.
And I’m just not sure I’m ready for that.
I remember my dad turning forty when I was a child. In celebration, I bought him a plastic walking stick filled with smarties. I thought it was hilarious: “Haha, Daddy, you’re so old!” Looking back, I’m not sure what he thought of it and I’m also not sure how I’d feel if one of my sons gave me the same present now. Well, I’d eat the smarties, obviously but does forty count as old? Surely not, but neither does it count as young enough for that joke to be entirely devoid of bite (except where the smarties are concerned hehe – stop eye-rolling, I’m allowed to make terrible jokes at my age).
I’ve noticed recently how forty is spoken of as if it’s crossing some sort of frontier – like a cut off point for desirability and dynamism in our youth-obsessed culture. Of course that’s not actually the case: older people can be every bit as attractive and even if our energy levels are lower than they were in the full flush of youth, our wisdom more than makes up for that. Nevertheless, forty is a point when you quite possibly have more of your life behind you than in front of you and I’m definitely finding it’s making me pause and reflect.
Have I achieved enough? Am I good enough at what I do? Have I followed enough of my dreams? And if the answer to any of those is no, is there enough time left to change that?
I’ve spoken to quite a few people about this recently. Most understand. Some say, ‘Oh forty was nothing, wait till you get to fifty!” with others’ it’s, “thirty was so much worse!” Personally, I barely noticed turning thirty: my eldest son was five months old and I spent my birthday weekend in a ‘luxury eco lodge’ (oh yes) in Yorkshire with some of my best friends. It was all healthy outdoor walks, home cooked meals and woodburning stoves, and between us we had a baby, a toddler and a pregnancy. It may be my least raucous birthday ever. We were all fully settled down and engaged with the homemaking and family-building stage of life.
And that stage of life defined my thirties, really. I had my first child at twenty-nine and my third (and last) at thirty-five. My youngest started school a couple of months ago meaning my thirties almost perfectly encapsulated the pre-school years of parenting. Perhaps that’s why this birthday feels particularly significant. I’m bidding farewell to my thirties, a decade of babies and toddlers, of constant change and challenge, of passionate new maternal love and friendships forged amidst the fires of sleep deprivation and vomit and birth stories and ‘oh-my-god-I-haven’t-a-clue-what-I’m-doing-oh-phew-neither-do-you-let’s-just-figure-this-out-together-ness’.
Of course, I had other focuses during the last decade too, but children were at the heart of it. When they’re little it feels natural for that to be the case – they need you so entirely. And now… now things are starting to feel different. My kids will always be my focus but now they’re all at school there’s more room for other things to enter the frame. And that’s great but it’s also making me feel so nostalgic for all those moments of passion and purpose and awe. For the wonder of creating new life and the craziness of living through those early years of it. Could another decade of my life ever be that intense? Would I want it to be?
And now it’s hello forties decade of…what? Career building? House renovation? (it’s all sounding a bit too grown up) dream following? Of knuckling down and get on with achieving everything I ever wanted to because time is slipping through my fingers and I’m not getting it back?
All of those? Or none of those? Or perhaps it’s just time for some consolidation – for realising what I’ve got and what I’ve created and nurtured and spending time working on the bits that need attention and enjoying the good stuff that comes my way.
I’m lucky, I know that. Lucky to have what I have and even more, who I have in my life. I think it’s enough. More than enough.
Forty isn’t time for a midlife crisis at all is it? It’s time for a midlife celebration!
And as anyone who’s spent any time with me recently will know, I’m having plenty of those!
I haven’t joined in any linkies for ages but this is the last ever week of ‘The Prompt’ which is one of my favourite linkies of all – I used to join in with it loads back when I blogged more regularly. Sara’s weekly prompts have been a huge inspiration to me (in fact, the first picture book text I ever wrote came from one of them) so it felt right to join in this last one. The prompt this week was ‘ENOUGH’. Thanks Sara!
Just over a week ago I reached saturation point with social media. Particularly Facebook. I was suddenly totally sick of it – not just, ‘that’s enough now, thanks’, but more, ‘oh for God’s sake will everyone just SHUT UP!’
What’s on my mind? You don’t need to know, Facebook! MYOB.
This, of course, is my issue and not the fault of my Facebook friends. I wasn’t irritated by any one person or few people, just generally by the whole notion that we all share so much so often. And personally I’d had enough of being constantly aware of so many things that so many people were doing, or the thoughts they were having or the way they were feeling or the things that they, their kids, their dogs, cats, mice and ferrets were eating or drinking or dancing at any one moment. It felt like just too much input.
I’ll admit I’d been on Facebook far too often. If I’d just looked once a day it would have been fine, nice even to see what people were getting up to. But I’m not like that with it. I was checking my newsfeed all the time – like a nervous twitch, any spare moment – in the car waiting outside school, in a queue, while the kettle was boiling, on the loo… my phone would suddenly be in my hand and ‘click’ the hundreds of voices poured in. Sometimes I’d just glance, sometimes have a quick scroll but given the chance (in the evening) I could lose hours. The word ‘feed’ is far too accurate – it made me feel bloated and overloaded and sluggish. Like I’d gorged on something unhealthy. I had Facebook flab.
So I took a step back. Last week I buried the FB app in a seldom-visted backwater of my phone and I haven’t looked at my newsfeed for over a week now. I’ve still popped to my groups when notifications have arrived but that feels much more controlled – more like nibbling on crudités than overeating. I’ve also still been on Instagram and Twitter but they’ve never had the psychological pull that Facebook has (let’s call them the reasonably appealing yogurts of the metaphor) so I didn’t feel the need to avoid them entirely.
And how have I found it? Well, in the most part good because I really do experience social media as noise and I like a bit of silence. There have been (brief) moments when I’ve luxuriated in it this past week. Since I’ve always prioritised real world interactions over the online world anyway (as introverts go, I’m a bit of a social butterfly) I’ve not felt lacking in interaction, there’s just been less chatter in my head. I’ve been more able to hear myself think.
But… I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been odd. I feel a bit out of the loop – like I suddenly don’t know what my friends are doing or how they’re feeling about things. World events happen and I only know what a few people think about them. Things happen in people’s lives and I don’t have a clue. Or maybe nothing’s happened and I don’t have clue. The point is I don’t have a clue. And when you’re used to knowing things about a lot of people, that’s a weird feeling.
It’s made me realise though, that I don’t actually need to know. If it’s important then I’ll find out. If our friendship is important they’ll tell me the crucial stuff, as I will them. Even though social media has become a common way of making announcements, really, when relationships are genuine and when things are really important, we contact people personally. And the people who matter, matter regardless of what you know about what they’re doing or thinking on any particular day.
Behind the scenes this week, I’ve continued to connect with people, if anything slightly more than I would have done if they’d been popping up in my feed. And I know that as time goes by I’ll do that more and more: ‘I wonder how so and so is doing? I know – I’ll ask them!’ It’s a more genuine way to be a part of people’s lives really isn’t it? I’ve often thought that reading people’s status updates gives you a false sense of having communicated with them – that we’d make more personal effort if we didn’t have that tenuous connection.
Without social media we might know fewer people. But we also might properly connect with more.
So I’ll be staying away from my newsfeed for a while longer. At least.
Ah, the first day of term. With six weeks off, there’s plenty of time to get everything organised so that this day can start totally smoothly, right? With everything where it should be and everyone knowing exactly what to do and when? Yes?
drawing by my 4yo son that sums up the mood in our house this morning quite well!
“Where’s my jumper?”
“I can’t find my P.E kit!”
“Did you sort out dinner money for this term?”
“How much is it?.. and where’s the cheque book?”
“Argh, my school bag’s full of mould!”
“My trousers are too big!”
“My shoes are too small!”
“Seriously, where’s the cheque book?!”
“Has anyone seen my hairbrush?”
“Who ate all the shreddies?!”
“WHERE’S THE FLIPPING CHEQUE BOOK?!!”
“Why are you lying on the floor in just your pants?! We need to go in five minutes!!”
“Oh no, smallest boy was supposed to be collecting mementos of his summer in this small paper bag for the last six weeks! The bag’s empty!”
“Quick, COLLECT MEMENTOS!!!”
“Yes, that lego brick will do – It’s a memory! And that pebble!”
“Why do we have five cheque books here and NONE OF THEM HAVE ANY ACTUAL CHEQUES IN THEM?!!”
“Where’s my coat?”
“Who stole my trainers?”
“There’s a spider in my shoe!”
“RIGHT! Is everyone ready with teeth brushed and shoes on and have you all been to the loo and, wait, WHY ARE YOU STILL NOT WEARING ANY TROUSERS?!”
“Put these on, no they’re not scratchy they’re just new… ok, maybe they’re new and scratchy but you’ll stop noticing soon.”
“Ok, is everyone ready?! Finally? Because if we leave now we might just about not be late!”
“Quick, take a ‘Back to School’ photo!”
“I can’t, those two are already in the car and this one’s crying and anyway there’s no time for that.”
“Oh, just take it anyway, it’s ‘capturing a moment’ right? That’s what it’s all about!”
And that about sums things up. Kudos to any of you who managed a seamlessly-perfect first morning back. As you can see, we don’t fall into that category… but, hey, we made it to school on time.
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post about any aspect of parenthood but, well, it’s that time of year isn’t it? Today was the last day of term and marked a turning point – my youngest had his last morning at nursery before he starts proper school in September. And yes, I’m feeling all emotional about it. On Tuesday he had his ‘nursery graduation’ (these events seem to be the thing now) which involved the kids wearing caps and gowns and doing a little singing performance before being presented with a certificate. It was very cute and lovely but somehow didn’t really tug on my heart strings. I think it’s because I find that the most emotional moments are often the simplest. They sneak up without the bells and whistles of celebrations and ceremonies. Their power is not in the fanfare but in the stillness in its wake.
And so, this lunchtime, leaving the classroom where my youngest had been spending his mornings for the last year, I found myself dragging my heels. Most people had left – the hubbub of voices receded, the crush of parents chatting about holidays and of jostling youngsters waving paintings faded away. But I couldn’t quite leave. Dawdling, I took one more look around the empty walls usually festooned with colourful artwork, at the rows of little pegs without their clutter of coats and wellies, and the big tables swept clean of plasticine, paint and glue. And my eyes swam.
Because I wasn’t really seeing it at all – that emptiness, I mean. I was seeing my youngest bouncing into the class every morning and rushing up to greet his little friends, I was seeing my middle son grinning by the window as he waved me off, already clutching the lego he made a beeline for every morning. And I was looking back seven years to when my eldest began nursery, remembering how it felt to cross that threshold for the first time. I couldn’t believe I was about to leave for the last.
So I stalled, I hugged his (wonderful) teacher again, I fought back the tears and made plans to immediately head to the nearest soft play with a group of friends for a chat and a laugh and a little nostalgic wallow.
I’ll miss these afternoons together once my son starts school – not only my time with him but also the (mostly) weekly meet-ups with the group of mums of my son’s best friends. I didn’t even expect to make new friends third time around (having lost the super-keen ‘Ooh, who will be my friend?!’ edge I’d had when my eldest started school and even the more casual ‘Shall we be mates, then?’ vibe of round two) but my youngest, it turns out, is a sociable little thing with impeccable taste and his friends’ mums are lovely. We’ve had some good times this past year.
This isn’t an ending though, not really. The nursery class are all moving up to reception in September and it’s a mere one classroom away! I know my son will be happy and I’m not at all worried… so what am I getting all emotional about? Well, apart from the simple answer (that’s just how I’m wired, sentimental sap that I am), I think it’s because it’s really and truly the end of an era. All three of my boys have been through this particular rite of passage but third time around it has particular significance for me because this is also the last time. It’s not just the end of my four-year-old’s preschool years it’s the end of the preschool years for our family entirely. That’s it.
Of course this change is great in many ways. It means more freedom and space and time for me and a movement towards all three of our kids being more independent. Honestly, I think it will be fab.
But right now, I’m allowing myself a little wobble. My baby is growing up – ALL my babies are growing up – and sometimes that hurts. So tonight I’ll indulge myself. I’m going crack open the wine and the chocolate and reflect on the last ten years.
A decade of parenthood and three little school boys.
I’d like to introduce you to a new friend of mine – her name’s Helena:
Ok, she’s not strictly speaking a friend, she’s a business, but she’s an idea I dreamt up with one of my oldest friends last year and, as the months have gone by and we’ve plotted and planned to make her a reality, we’ve become rather fond of her. You see, Helena is a positive and determined sort of a character. Feisty and no-nonsense but with a heart as soft as melted butter. She’s focussed too, she knows what’s important to her – creativity and compassion – and she wants to use art to make a difference.
I’m still talking about her like she’s a person, aren’t I? Ok, let’s rewind…
I made no secret of how I felt about the world last year – the EU referendum with its climate of hate and the racism that the result seemed to legitimise, the horrendous terrorist attacks, Trump, the political and social situations in countries around the globe, even the celebrity death toll… it started to feel like we were all going to, well, hell in a handcart…
All this was the focus of many discussions with my best mate, Sus, on our monthly dinner dates in the Scottish borders. We live over a hundred miles apart (in Scotland and Northumberland) and there’s a little pub we go to – half way between our homes – that has, for the last six and a half years, been our retreat from all the other demands on our time. There we go to eat, chat, and put the world to rights. And, being illustrators, we often draw too. Not for work purposes, we just find that, in a funny kind of way, drawing makes us feel better about things.
The two of us outside the Bucchleugh Arms
Anyway, on one of those occasions while drawing and having a good old rant, we decided enough was enough. We were sick of feeling helpless amidst everything that was going on. We wanted to do something – even if it was only a very small thing – to make a positive difference. And we decided art could help us achieve that… and so the idea for Helena was born.
The small change range. These use my miniature drawings which are reproduced actual size on the cards. I love drawing things small!
So, to get back to introductions: Helena Handcart is a greetings card business that’s committed to doing some good. To that end, 50p of each and every card we sell is donated to grassroots charities devoted to causes close to our hearts. Sus and I design the cards, and they’re printed by a lovely company called Six Print who support the Woodland Trust project and use only carbon captured papers for the production of their greetings cards.
Some of our ‘All together now’ range of cards by Sus, pictured in front of the forth bridge where Sus lives!
We have two partner charities at the moment who are the fabulous Starcatchers who focus on improving the lives of the under fives through creative experiences, and Crisis Classroom who believe in empowerment through education of all refugees. Because they’re grassroots organisations, even tiny donations can make a difference to people’s lives and we’re thrilled that every time anyone buys one of our cards, we’re able to do just that.
I’d love you to visit our Etsy shop and take a look at all our cards. We’re working on more designs right now so the range will soon be expanded. In the future, I even hope to illustrate some of my limericks for cards – that should be fun!
Right, that’s the introductions over I think! You can find Helena Handcart on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – do pop over and say hi if you can. Or, as Helena would say:
Despite the storm in UK politics recently, I’ve held back from sharing my views on the blog and social media. I’m not quite sure why – last year I was pretty emotionally open about it all on here. I made it clear I was pro-remain and vehemently anti-Trump and believe me, my silence this time round hasn’t meant any lack of political passion this year either.
So I’ll be honest with you now – I was nothing short of THRILLED that Labour won more seats in the election last week. I feel it’s a huge step towards a more compassionate society – one where everyone matters and where vital services like the NHS are protected. I also think it’s a huge slap in the face to Theresa May’s hard Brexit and the way she was pursuing it and, as someone who values togetherness and collaboration, I think that is a very good thing.
I love all the talk about the youth standing up to be counted, the thought that our population is more engaged and politically active and the belief that the hate-soaked tabloids are losing their power over the electorate. That last thought alone is enough to make me dance in the streets. There is much in all of this to celebrate.
But, man alive, what about this proposed Tory coalition with the DUP?!!!! Their party is sickeningly homophobic, denies climate change, wants to teach creationism as scientific fact, reintroduce the death penalty and is not only anti- abortion but wants to criminalise any one who offers or seeks advice about it. It beggars belief. And even though I can’t honestly see any of these beliefs radically impacting on policy (I have more faith in our Conservative MP’s than to think they would back-track on gay marriage or our right to choose etc – I hope I’m right on that) I think to allow the balance of power to lie with the DUP gives such abhorrent views a dangerous legitimacy.
I also understand there are grave concerns in Northern Ireland about how this could unsettle the peace process there. I can’t pretend to have much of an understanding in this area (although I’ve been doing a bit of reading this weekend) but I’ve heard this alliance called dangerous and irresponsible. There are rumblings in the Conservative party’s own ranks let alone in wider parliament.
Personally, I’d question the extent to which a minority Tory government propped up by the DUP could be genuinely representative of the views of the British people. I may be a lefty myself but I’ve spoken to Conservative voting friends over the weekend and they’re appalled by the DUP’s views too. All told, the coalition feels desperate and unsafe. To many it doesn’t even feel legitimate.
So where does that leave us? What’s going to happen next? Will we have a new Prime Minister by the end of the week? A date for another general election by the end of the month? An entirely new government by the end of the year? Who knows?!
Anyway, I thought I would share this drawing I did. It’s about sticking together to face whatever life throws at you. Braving the storm no matter what. I think we’re going to need to.
It’s funny the twists and turns life takes. When I began this blog a few years ago it was with the dream of becoming a published author, yet this weekend when I finally found myself holding a novel bearing my name, it was as an illustrator!
As you can see in the photo, the book is The Mystery of The Disappearing Underpants by Nikki Young. It’s aimed at 8 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best friend James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. The premise immediately appealed to me because my brothers and I often pretended we were spies when we were kids and I loved the way the story started off light-hearted but ended up with a real mystery that’s genuinely exciting.
The book was released last week and on Saturday I went to the launch party! The journey down to Kent from up here in Northumberland was a bit of a trek – especially with a two and a half hour train delay which led to me arriving rather more than fashionably late – but it was worth every moment. The launch was brilliant with pink fizz, book signing, cupcakes with my illustrations on them and conversations with some really lovely people. I’m so impressed with Nikki for all the hard work she’s put into the book and really happy to have been able to work with her to add that little extra something.
I left the launch full of optimism, cupcakes and bubbles and, as if that wasn’t enough, then went immediately to London and met my oldest friend for a meal. A night away by myself is a rare treat indeed – with no kids tea or bedtime to have to think about, I was so giddy I could barely find my way to the restaurant, but I got there in the end and we had a wonderful evening. I then went to check-in to my hotel, was told I’d had a free room upgrade and found myself with this view:
Wow. It was a little louder and brighter than the moonlit fields of home but for the one night it was totally perfect! The next morning I had a leisurely breakfast (avocado and scrambled eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and not a child in sight – not my usual experience!) and then strolled off to meet my writing friends for lunch. And when I say ‘lunch’ I mean a six hour long food and drink fest where we utterly put the world to rights. Ah, bliss.
Finally, on the train home I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for years and had a really good catch up. It was the perfect end to my weekend way. I arrived home and was able to give my sons a copy of Nikki’s book each. My middle son was so excited he’s now cleared a shelf of his bookcase for “Books illustrated by Maddy Bennett (my mum)”. If that’s not a reason to keep on drawing in every spare moment, then I don’t know what is. I fully intend to make sure he ends up with some books written by me on that shelf too. One day.
You can find out more about The Mystery of the Disappearing underpants (and buy it!) here.
I have a new favourite drawing style – very, very small pencil sketches.
In case you’re reading this on a huge computer screen, that’s an averaged-sized pencil not some kind of super-massive thing.
I’ve been drawing tiny pictures for the last two weeks as part of The 100 Day Project – a yearly, free, global art project that runs for 100 days (no surprises there) and which this year started on April 4th. It’s open to everyone and it’s up to each individual to pick their particular creative project then do that each day and post the results on instagram with #The100DayProject hashtag.
Regular readers will know I love a creative challenge – #ShapeChallenge on Twitter really helped me with my drawing last year, as did my #THISislearning cartoons and #GuessTheFilm, all of which I shared on social media. I’ve done Camp NaNoWriMo in the past too and written everyday. There’s something really motivating about a challenge, I think!
This time, having the choice of any creative project I liked nearly froze me in the start gates, but then I thought if I’m going to do it every day (alongside everything else), it needs to be something I can do reasonably quickly. Drawing things very small works well in this way – each of the sketches takes me between 15 and 45 minutes (which for me is really fast!). I decided to draw ‘big’ things small so I could play with scale and also to try and focus me a little.
I’ve enjoyed the challenge even more than I thought I would, and have found it really beneficial. Drawing small is somehow less outfacing than taking on a large scale project, so I’ve felt able to try a range of different things: animals, buildings, people… pylons… Any drawing I do helps improve my skills; I definitely subscribe to the theory that practice is more important than innate ability.
TL – BR giraffes (on an average-sized paperclip), Jack introducing himself to the giant (having climbed the ladder rather than the beanstalk), pylons, and chocolate cake with BIG emotional significance)
Posting my work on social media has been really beneficial too; throwing my work out there helps with the self-doubt, and I can’t deny the positive feedback has been a real boost – who doesn’t like a bit of insta-love?!
TL – BR elephant, double decker bus (that perspective was so tricky!), me drawing under a tree (well, fantasy me – real me would have small children crawling on my head) and a dragon.
I’ve also really enjoyed scrolling the #The100DayProject hashtag and seeing what other people are getting up to. It’s inspirational and feels like a lovely community too. All in all, it’s been a massively positive experience.
You know the feeling you get when you’re involved in a particularly inspiring project? Something that’s not only fun, interesting and exciting but that bit special too?
I’ve had that feeling recently about an illustration project I’ve been working on. It’s called The Story of Me and is the brainchild of a friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher in Scotland.
Sus – or, as she is generally known by a classroom of children, Mrs Jeffries – is one my oldest friends and someone who never fails to amaze and inspire me. She’s not only a teacher and a mother of two, she also writes for the TES, sits on the boards of creative companies and is studying illustration. I don’t know what powers her (although I suspect creme eggs or party rings might play their part!) but to top it off she’s always full of amazing ideas. The Story of Me is no exception.
The idea is based on a study which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence. In other words, when you’re teaching kids to read, they’re more likely to remember words in stories about them.
Knowing how well children respond to images as well as words, Sus designed a project where the children in her class would work (remotely) alongside illustrators to create stories that they were the subject of. You can read more about the details and expected outcomes here but the basic idea was that the children would provide sentences for the illustrators to work with and by the end of the project, each child would have a short illustrated book about themselves which would help them learn and remember target words. A book that they’d co-created – how cool is that?!
I was one of the twenty illustrators who were a part of this project and I worked with six-year-old Cameron. He wrote a sentence or two a week for me to illustrate and the project evolved as it went along – I was never sure what Cameron would write or how I might respond and was often surprised… by both of us! There was something so lovely about illustrating for a specific child and feeling I was helping to create a story that meant something to him. I’ve heard from Sus that he loved what I did and that means loads to me.
Anyway, as the project draws to a close, I thought I’d share our little story:
I have to admit, when I got the first sentence I wasn’t sure how to illustrate it at all and figured all I could do was draw Cameron (I had a photo to work with). After that it became easier; the dragons came to me the moment I read his ‘dun dun duuuuuuuuun’ – I mean, clearly there was something exciting going on so… dragons!
I absolutely loved the way Cameron took the dragon idea and ran with it. Dragons playing hide and seek was loads of fun to draw (and apparently the whole class of kids enjoyed looking for them in the picture) and the idea of a dragon that would trick him with a drawing of itself was brilliant. He really gave them – and the whole story – personality!
The kids are all going to receive their final pictures and finished books after the Easter holidays. I’m looking forward to finding out what Cameron and his classmates think about them! It’s been a fab thing to be involved in!