Bookbug Author Spotlight: Lauren Child
Bookbug's Author Spotlight gives you the chance to learn more about the work of authors, illustrators, and publishers from the world of picture books. This month, bestselling author and illustrator Lauren Child talks to us about the world of Charlie and Lola, and in particular One Thing, which is her most recent picture book.
Why have you decided to return to the characters of Charlie and Lola after six years?
I actually wrote the story more than a decade ago and wanted to illustrate it for a long time. Because I’ve been doing my Ruby Redfort series for older children for the past few years, I’ve actually been missing doing illustration. It’s been lovely re-visiting the characters.
Can you tell us more about your new book, One Thing?
It’s really about how numbers shape everyday family life. Numbers are incredibly important to children – how many minutes, how many stickers, how many things – but they often experience them differently to adults. What’s the difference between three minutes and a squillion to a child? I think it’s quite arbitrary to small children.
Numbers are incredibly important to children – how many minutes, how many stickers, how many things – but they often experience them differently to adults
Why do you think the Charlie and Lola books and TV series have been so successful?
What people say to me (it’s hard for me to say myself because it sounds like I’m being arrogant!) is that children and parents love the stories because it’s centred around the relationship between brother and sister, and there are no adults intervening. And the books are also set in the 15-minute window in a day when everything is going well. You do get those perfect moments in the day and I wanted to write about those - sometimes with young children you forget that they exist!
Which of your books are you most proud of and why?
This is such a tricky question because you learn different things from each one. Clarice Bean That’s Me is very special to me because it was the picture book that taught me about the world of picture books. The Ruby Redford books I’m also very proud of because they are so complicated - I never thought I could write books with such intricate plots so it was satisfying when I realised I could. But I think if you made me pick, for emotional reasons I’d pick Clarice Bean.
What are your favourite children’s books from your own childhood and why?
- The Eighteenth Emergency by Betsy Byars, because it showed me that books can be funny and sad at the same time.
- The Shrinking of Treehorn by Edward Gorey and Florence Parry Heide. This book is just the perfect marriage of illustration and text. They work together to tell the story – you couldn’t have one without the other.
- Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (pictured), because she is just the most marvellous girl character. I love her.
What was the inspiration behind Charlie and Lola?
I was travelling with my Danish boyfriend through Denmark on a train and there was a child who kept asking her mum and dad all these questions all the time, and my boyfriend was translating for me.
She was an incredibly sweet-looking child and she looked very like Lola. She was just such a character and there was something about her, the way she was dressed and everything, and so I drew a picture of her and then I thought of a story that would work with that kind of character.
When I got home, I sketched a picture of her from memory and set about finding a story that suited her. My boyfriend had a younger sister called Sofie and, when I looked through family albums, I found she bore a resemblance to my pixie girl. So I drew on tales he told me about their childhood. While Sofie had adored him, he had found her intensely irritating, so she’d invented an imaginary “better brother” called Soren Lorensen. I named my character Lola, and Soren Lorensen became her invisible friend.
In those same family albums were pictures of my boyfriend in a T-shirt with different coloured sleeves and his name in flock. And so Charlie took shape. I’ve always been fascinated by how children talk: with my first book, Clarice Bean, I’d stopped trying to write in the way I’d been told to, and simply used the voice of a seven-year-old. This time, Lola’s voice came through to me very clearly and I borrowed from family memories of Sofie, who had her own jumbled words like “schooliform” for school uniform.
I realised that children are hardly alone in children’s books: grownups are always making an appearance.
Children have a world you can’t enter as an adult. In it, small things can be unexpectedly significant. When I was young, I used to find going to other people’s houses very difficult because I liked food done in a certain way. Pies were especially troubling because you never knew what was in them. It was dreadful when I was given liver or steak and kidney pie because, in that era, you had to finish whatever was on your plate. My big sister, who could be Charlie-ish on good days, would wait till no one was looking, take my meat, and hide it in her hankie. I wanted to pick up on these tiny things that adults barely notice but that children can get so hung up on.
Also, as a child, I’d often find myself alone with my friends or siblings, with no adult supervision. I realised that that rarely happens in children’s books: grownups are always making an appearance.
What was it like to see Charlie and Lola come to life on TV?
It was very exciting, a bit like that high you have when you see your first book published – I remember when my first book was published I walked into every single bookshop to see if it was there. You can never quite recapture that feeling. It's probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life and it was very, very stressful, and I was pleased when it all wrapped.
When I was a child I watched a lot of telly. I know it's frowned on but in fact it's really paid off. Obviously I'm a big fan of reading and looking at books, but I don't think all television is bad because I think what I got from it was an understanding of stories and characters and what draws you in. It led me to books as well because I wasn't a natural reader like my sister, but after I saw Little House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables I read every single one of those books.
For more informaion about the wonderful world of Lauren Child, visit her website at www.milkmonitor.com/home
If you'd like to explore the world of numbers further, check out our list of Books about Numbers and Counting.