Five minutes with Emma Chichester Clark
Published on: 22 September 2014
Booktrust speaks to illustrator Emma Chichester Clark about her picture book Bears Don't Read, her love of books, reading aloud, and her recommended reads.
What was the inspiration behind Bears Don't Read?
I wanted to write about someone who was stuck and needed help to change their life and make it wonderful. When I started to draw George and placed him in different settings, he seemed to have a yearning look about him. He wasn't quite happy. He looked intelligent, but he needed something. I wanted him to be an extra large bear so I drew him standing next to a small girl to show how enormous he was, and then I realised she was going to be the person who transformed his world for him.
Did you love books, growing up?
I did love books. I loved being read to. My parents were both good at doing different voices for characters and either my father or my mother read to us every night before bed. I was taken to the local library at least once a week and borrowed piles of books. We lived in the middle of nowhere, so reading books and making little books of my own was what I did.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of reading?
Both my parents read all the time and expected my brother and sister and me to do the same. We had a grandmother who lived in Switzerland - she sent us all the Babar and Madeline books and I adored them. I loved reading books that came in series - The Little Grey Rabbit series by Alison Uttley came next, and The Borrowers by Mary Norton. I expect my mother chose these books for me but it was also the continuity- being able to go straight on to the next book, with characters that I already knew - that encouraged me.
The characters in Bears Don't Read also end up reading books and poems to each other- is that something you find important?
I love the idea of people reading to each other - I wish it happened more often. Maybe people are too embarrassed, or maybe we just don't think of it as a way to entertain ourselves. I had a friend who I used to read aloud with and it was the nicest way to spend time together. Now, as a treat, I go to bed with an audio book. Being read to is the greatest luxury, and one of the best shared experiences. I think it would be fun to have a Reading Aloud book club.
I wanted to show that the Chief of Police in Bears Don't Read had a soft and sensitive side so I made him read a love poem to do that. He was probably too shy to read it directly to Clementine's mother, so we see him reading it to George.
Are there any classic stories you'd love to illustrate?
I've been so lucky to have illustrated many of my favourites already, including Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio and a lot of fairytales by Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. There are still others though - I'd love to illustrate The Wizard of Oz.
If children have enjoyed Bears Don't Read what books would you recommend for them to try next?
There are so many... but here are a few, off the top of my head, because I love them:
The Stick by John Hegley, illustrated by Neal Layton,
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams,
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf,
Anything by William Steig - especially Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
Cockatoos by Quentin Blake.
The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
And two books for slightly older children:
The Bear Nobody Wanted by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tullane by Kate DiCamillo