Michael Whaite on Diggersaurs
What do you get if you cross dinosaurs with diggers? That's right - Diggersaurs!
Michael Whaite's debut picture book, Diggersaurs, is ideal for sharing aloud with children, with its fun rhyming story and rich, detailed illustrations. In this interview, Michael tells us more about the book and discusses the importance of books that appeal to both boys and girls.
You’ve just had your first book, Diggersaurs, published with Puffin. What route did you take to arrive at writing and illustrating your own picture book?
Engaging characters and interesting stories appeal to all children, regardless of gender
For many years I’ve worked in children’s television and I was originally developing Diggersaurs as an animated show. As I was working on the idea, I came up with the line - ‘Whatʼs bigger than a digger?ʼ I began to form bouncy rhymes that I thought might make a catchy theme tune. That eventually turned into a poem that formed the basis of the book.
Where did the inspiration for Diggersaurs come from?
Diggersaurs have always existed in my world. As a child growing up around tractors, diggers and other farm machinery, I was constantly comparing them to dinosaurs - they’re all large, loud, smelly and they make the earth move. My father and I gave them the nickname Diggersaurs - a little in-joke we shared for many years. As an adult commuting on the tram, I would pass an old junkyard every day and often catch a glimpse of a digger grappling cars. It looked exactly like a dinosaur eating its lunch. It was a constant reminder of childhood Diggersaurs and I resolved to draw them someday.
What are the main themes found in Diggersaurs?
The main theme of the book is the importance of teamwork. By working together, being constructive (and knocking down walls) we can accomplish great things. Also, children are naturally noisy - so let them join in with the sound effects!
What do you see as the benefits of moving away from gendered publishing for children?
I think forcing girls and boys down separate channels only serves to limit their future choices. Publishing a ‘Girl’s Book of Ponies’ isn’t just narrow thinking, it’s also rather patronising - not all girls like ponies! Books should inspire and open up a world of possibilities for everyone.
Are you encouraged by the progress you’ve seen in the publishing world in this area?
Gendered publishing is certainly a hot topic and there’s a lot of care and consideration being given to the issue by editors. I believe there’s been a significant sea change in this area and I think we’ll see this reflected in forthcoming titles. There are still a few negative tropes out there - bossy girls, scruffy boys, etc, but things seem to be moving in the right direction with many more progressive books being released. There’s a pretty good balance at the moment and it’s encouraging to see that a significant number of bestsellers don’t lean heavily on gender stereotypes.
While there are strong arguments against gendered publishing, it’s also said that publishers sell more books when they are targeted at a specific gender, and perhaps more children read, particularly boys. What do you think about this argument, and is there a way to solve this dilemma?
It’s all about choice. There’s nothing inherently wrong with traditionally girl- and boy-centric books, I just don’t think they need to be labelled and marketed to appeal to a specific gender. As a child, I was never put off reading a story if it featured a female protagonist. Alice in Wonderland and L. Frank Baum’s Oz books were firm favourites. I was just as tickled to read about the exploits of Minnie the Minx as Dennis the Menace. Engaging characters and interesting stories appeal to all children, regardless of gender.
What have you learned about children’s interests and reading behaviour from your daughter and the reading choices she makes?
My daughter has been interested in a wide range of subjects from an early age. We’ve read stories about fairies, mermaids, pirates, dinosaurs and space travel. There hasn’t been a particular pattern of interest and we haven’t limited her choices to one particular branch - she gets to play in the whole tree. Books are now a huge part of her life and she reads every day. She’s a happy, curious kid and I firmly believe her positive outlook is a direct result of a varied book diet. She’s currently into spooky stories and has developed an obsession with skeletons and bones. She’s either going to be a doctor, a paleontologist or a goth!
Diggersaurs by Michael Whaite is available now and published with Puffin.