I can't wait to read this book...
(c) Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith
Sometimes you read a blog post that feels like it was written just for you. This is how I feel about Brainpickings’ The Best Children’s Books of 2015, which I read earlier today –three times in a row, just to make sure all the recommended books look as enticing as they did first (and then second) time round… (and yes, they did).
Apart from the first, and second-from-last book, on their list, I’d never even heard of any of these 2015 picture books. But if I were to write a Christmas list for myself, those nine books I’d not heard of until today now would be the nine things on my list. This is a time of year for sharing so I would love to share this blog post with you and all its beautiful books, it’s such a treat.
Read it, read it now! Aren’t they beautiful?
This is going to be a short post as I mostly just want to share some beautiful picture books with you through the Brainpickings’ blog and these aren’t the most readily available books to buy in the UK so you may not have seen some of them, either…
I would like, though, to say how they’ve struck a real chord with where I am at the moment in my writing and in my life. The last few years have been at times quite personally challenging, but I feel that the changes in our lives have awakened something in me that has been lying dormant for a long time. I feel more excited about writing than I have for a long time and I’ve found that what I’m writing and what I’m thinking about and planning on writing next is quite different from what I was writing before. And it is definitely more challenging. But not because I’ve decided to write things differently. I am more engaged with what’s going on in the community, locally and globally, and that’s what I’m thinking about so it’s seeping into what I write.
I doubt that the beautiful books on the Brainpickings list have come about by authors and author-illustrators deciding that they’re ‘going to write a challenging book’. I don’t expect that Olivier Tallec randomly decided that he would like to create a picture book that has echoes of a psychology experiment from the early seventies by Philip Zimbardo, and then went ahead and wrote Louis I, King of the Sheep. I suspect that he came up with a great story that he was telling in the best way he could, and that it contains an underlying truth because he's telling it right and not trying to moralise.
(c) Olivier Tallac (2015)
It doesn’t take much to draw parallels between the prison guard experiment where Zimbardo told some students they’d be prison guards and others that they’d be prisoners (with shocking consequences: see footage from the experiment here) and things that are happening throughout the world at the moment. Only last week I was talking with another writer about the very same experiment in relation to something that I’m writing at the moment. But although I’ve always been fascinated by this and Milgram's experiment (see Peter Gabriel's song, We Do What We're Told, written about the experiment, with chilling footage from the experiment -I was a developmental psychologist for years before I had children and started writing for children), it’s only now –with the current media manipulation in the UK at a terrifying level- that I’ve found it sneaking into elements of a story I’m writing.
I could talk about why I’m excited about each of those books, but I won’t as you can read about them for yourselves in the lovely blogpost. What I’ll end with, though, is the idea of being true to yourself as a writer. In Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess and Kris Di Giacomo (the one book on their 2015 list that I actually have), they quote E E Cummings:
(c) Mark Burgess and Kris di Giacomo (2015)
A writing friend once talked about working towards making your picture book undeniable. I think that we need to 'become who we really are' fully for that to happen. I feel like these writers have probably got there. I’m not there yet but that is what I’d like to work towards in 2016… So a toast to 2016: let it be the year where we become fully who we are (for those of us who are not quite there yet) and then write wholly as ourselves. And let’s support each other to have that courage. I think there are some incredible books waiting to be created… and in the current climate, these books are needed more than ever. Let’s get being… and writing, truly authentically…
To a more peaceful, safe and loving 2016...
Do you feel like you have become who you really are and that you are writing wholly as youtself? Do you have tips for others who aren't there yet? And if you're not there yet, what would help you get there?
Juliet Clare Bell's latest picture book, The Unstoppable Maggie McGee (illustrated by Dave Gray) has raised over £36,000 in book sales so far (all £6 goes to charity), for Birmingham Children's Hospital's Magnolia House Appeal. www.unstoppablemaggie.co.uk. Her next book: Two Brothers and a Chocolate Factory: The Remarkable Story of Richard and George Cadbury (illustrated by Jess Mikhail) is out in March, 2016. And she's very excited about the stories she's currently working on.