'Kids of all ages respond to pictures': why 600,000 babies will love diving into 1, 2, 3, Splosh!

Published on: 25 January 2018 Author: Emily Drabble

David Melling, creator of the brilliant Bookstart Baby book, 1, 2, 3, Splosh!, gives us an exclusive reading and tells us how pictures with personality can open up the magic of books to even the littlest children.

David Melling and Splosh cover image

David Melling’s counting book 1, 2 ,3, Splosh! is one of our new Bookstart Baby titles for 2018.

Every child in England receives a Bookstart Baby pack when they are aged 0 to 12 months, funded by Arts Council England. This means over 600,000 children will read 1, 2, 3, Splosh! (published by Hachette) over the next 12 months, in addition to DK's All About Me!, a diverse and inclusive title which encourages action and relates to key stages in a child's development. The packs also contain rhyme sheets and a booklet with tips and ideas for sharing stories with young children.

Publishers in the UK submit books to be considered for the Bookstart Baby pack, and the final books are selected by a panel of experts including booksellers, librarians, health and early years professionals.

Win a signed copy of 1, 2, 3, Splosh! and an original illustration

Read our news story announcing this year's Bookstart Baby and Treasure books

Find out more about Bookstart packs

Enjoy our exclusive video of David reading 1, 2, 3, Splosh!

David Melling tells us why he loves making books for the very young

Where do your ideas come from?

From the sketchbook. Honestly, it starts as simply as me asking myself: 'What would I like to draw?' I like drawing animals a lot, and that’s no surprise considering my books! What I do is choose a character, start drawing it. As I’m drawing the faces, characters and thoughts about the character start to emerge. Their personalities appear, words and phrases start to come and I make little notes by the picture.

Why do you write and illustrate books for babies and very little children?

I always consider myself an illustrator who writes. So although I enjoy writing very much it’s sort of secondary to my natural way of creating stories. I often draw stories in my sketchbook so I like the simplicity of that. And I always like to include as much in the background as possible.

1, 2, 3, Splosh! couldn’t be more simple as a counting book but I try to get as much action in the images as I can. I really like doing that. The simpler the book, the more option there is for that to happen.

I’m always keeping as much narrative going on in the background which parents and carers can talk about with the babies and children they are reading to. I also enjoy creating stories that can be a baby’s first introduction to the world of books.

What are the biggest challenges in creating books for the very young?

It is really the simplicity and things that look simple aren’t necessarily so. You have to pare back all the time. The drawing is a big part of it, it’s not unusual for me to draw a story and then add words after it. The drawing can come quite quickly for me and then the words can be more of a challenge.

For the very young, for me it’s about character, about engaging characters and something that’s appealing.

Even for the very young, emotions are still very important – perhaps more important, because very young children are still learning what they are – so it’s key that even very simple books can evoke or demonstrate that.

David Melling's sketchbook

Were you read to when you were a child?

We did read books together, but I don’t remember bedtime reading. I was one of four, the second last, and we were all very close together so bedtimes were busy. My mum was a book fanatic - always reading herself. I think that makes a difference, having a reader in the house. I grew up on a healthy diet of Asterix and Obelix. I loved books, always did and always have done.

Why do you think it’s so important for babies and very little children to read?

It’s all about the obvious pleasure you get from sharing time with your child reading a book, and the pleasure they get from looking at pictures. It’s a kind of visual literacy, kids of all ages respond to pictures. The earlier that starts the better.

Certainly as a parent reading you have a great time. But I could never read my books to my kids. I used to wince and think: 'Ah, that’s wrong, I shouldn’t have put that word in there.' I couldn’t switch off!

My son gave me the idea of Hugless Douglas, though. We were reading a bedtime story and he yawned, and gave me a hug. I said what a tired hug it was and we laughed about that. The next morning he gave me a wake-up hug, then a breakfast hug. All the different hugs was a running joke for a while, and it coincided that I was looking for a story idea for a bear in my sketchbook, and there it was: bear hugs!

Do you think about parents and carers reading out loud when you’re writing and illustrating your books?

I do when I’ve finished them, at proof stage. That’s when I start reading it, I can read it as many times as I can alone in a room but there’s nothing like reading it live in front of an audience for some of the errors to coming bouncing or even screaming out at you.

What do you think about Bookstart Baby?

Well I think what it’s trying to do is encourage children from day one to enjoy books and reading, and what’s not to like about that? I think the earlier the better. Even when you’re reading to babies on your lap, they’re engaging with you and they’re looking to turn the page. I did it with my children, they can’t understand the words you’re saying, as they’re only months old, but they turn the page and make noises.

It’s part of the bond you have with your child and your child has with you, but it’s centered around this book: this magical thing which is a book. They grow up with this wonderful device of imagination in front of them. Bookstart Baby is a wonderful thing to encourage reading.

What and who are your major influences?

I have this thing about sequential art, and a I think a bit of that rubbed off on my when I started working in animation studios when I left college. I think my main influences are Asterix and Obelix, Tom and Jerry and Laurel and Hardy! I’m definitely interested in doing a graphic novel to explore that more.

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The Bookstart packs

Get free books for your child

Bookstart is for every child. Explore our free Baby, Treasure and additional needs packs and find out how to get hold of yours.

Hugless Douglas books

More about Hugless Douglas

Get to know David Melling's Hugless Douglas, the lovable young brown bear eager to learn about the world - and find the perfect bear hug.

Storybooks and games

Have some fun

Read along together with our brilliant interactive storybooks and play counting, colouring and drawing games.