I came to this job via the scenic route and my first picture book was published when I was 40. I could not believe my luck and envisaged a life of sitting at my desk, radio on, cup of tea in hand, writing and illustrating to my heart’s content. It was only in the run up to publication of said book that I was introduced to the idea of ‘events’. Not a confident public speaker I recoiled, only to be shoved out in front an intimate crowd of authors, illustrators, buyers and critics for my debut speech. Standing in front of my heroes, (Allan Ahlberg, Lauren Child, Jan Pienkowski) I was so nervous my kneecaps actually shook, but that couldn’t even begin to prepare me for school tours and festival events with my readership….actual children!
My first school event was in front of 900 secondary school children for something we have in the UK called World Book Day, for which I was the official illustrator. But nobody knew who I was as my first book hadn’t even been published and anyway it was for children much younger than the ones in the audience. To make matters worse I was following on from a fellow writer who also happens to be a professional actor, I didn’t stand a chance! But I did learn two very important things that have stood me in good stead ever since…have lots of slides to show everyone and I will never be a professional actor.
It stood to reason that having lots (and LOTS) of slides made perfect sense for me as I came to this job via illustration so communicating visually is something I am very comfortable with. As my public speaking was in its infancy, leaning into my comfort zone was a logical thing to do. And I realised that if everyone is looking at the screen they are not looking at you. RESULT!
And as for professional acting not being an avenue open to me, well this is perfectly true. BUT I realised that was OK, I shouldn’t try and be something I am not, that would only ever trip me over. I figured I should find my presentation style and enjoy it. Which I have, and I like to call it ‘Jolly Aunty’!
And having learned those important lessons and doing hundreds of events over the last few years I now feel far more confident about making my books come alive for children. And there are no books better for this than the lifesize and all kinds of books.
Nonfiction is an area I had never imagined I would work in. But when these books came along I could see the potential to bring the natural word into a child’s every day, whilst making it utterly relatable, something I think is essential in creating empathy for our planet and its many different inhabitants. I adored making these books, not least because it involved trips to the zoo and ice creams, but the challenge of making animals most children will never see in their natural habitat something they could make a real connection with via a book was thrilling. And the joy of being able to go toe-to-toe with a 5 year old boy about dinosaurs and not embarrass myself was a delightful bonus!
And I find the events for these books no less thrilling. Seeing kids eyes widen as we measure out a giant squid, getting them to try on polar bear paws and even see if they are as fast as a teeny, tiny bee hummingbird (spoilers – they never are, but don’t ever mind!) never gets old.
Alongside the factual, book based elements of the event I also like to share my process with children, no matter how old they are. Obviously I tailor the delivery to age group but I think understanding that as a professional author and illustrator I get stuck with ideas, that I go around in circles trying to sort my writing out, that sometimes the simplest thing can result in a breakthrough, including draw-alongs – one shape at a time – where everyone is pleased with what they have created are all extremely empowering messages for children, no matter what their age. Telling kids in no uncertain terms that books really are for everyone, that they really can be authors and/or illustrators too is so important in ensuring full representation in the books of future and there is nothing better than a kid running over after an event bursting with excitement to tell me about the book idea they are about to go and start IMMEDIATELY!
So, after a shaky start (literally) I now find sharing my work with children one of my favourite things to do. Once I had accepted that no two events would be the same and learned never to ask a rhetorical question, I have relaxed and enjoy the giddy ride. I must confess I am always slightly braced for the brutal honestly that can come my way, but deep down I love that too. When I am leading us all off on a bookish adventure and I know that every child is are really with me, it truly is the greatest feeling.
Award winning author and illustrator Sophy Henn lives and works in Sussex, England. She writes and illustrates children’s books in her studio, with a large cup of tea by her side, and can’t quite believe her luck. Where Bear?, her first book, was nominated for both the Kate Greenaway Medal and shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2015, and she has been thrilled to win various awards here and there since then. She creates picture books, board books, illustrated fiction, nonfiction and is about to embark on a middle grade novel. Sophy was also the World Book Day Illustrator for 2015 and 2016. Her latest nonfiction picture book, All Kinds of Animals, received a starred review from Kirkus. You can follow Sophy on Instagram or Twitter.
- This giveaway is for a copy of All Kinds of Animal Families and a 20-minute Skype/Zoom session with Sophy. Many thanks to Kane Miller for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of All Kinds of Animal Families, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, May 28th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, June 4th. You must have a United States or Canada mailing address to enter the giveaway.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.
- If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – HENN. Please respond to Stacey’s e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED.
Congratulations to Heather Morris whose commenter number was slected for this giveaway.