Kate Pankhurst answers some questions about her new book Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet. Thank you to Kate, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, and Reading Time reviewer Maura Pierlot for this interview
Maura: Welcome, Kate. Can I start by asking what sparked the idea for the ‘Fantastically Great Women’ series?
Kate: A bit of a combination of inspiration points – I used Amelia Earhart as inspiration for a fictional explorer character I’d invented. The imagery around Amelia’s inspiring story is so iconic it drew me in, as did the tales of her adventures. It was a conversation with my agent who joined up the dots … Amelia Earhart, being a Pankhurst and the idea of a picture book exploring lots of different incredible women.
Maura: How and why did you choose the remarkable women featured in your latest release?
Kate: Coming up with a very long list of contenders, and whittling that down to a shorter list that will fit within the picture book, is tricky. We try to make the books as diverse and global as possible, featuring women with different talents and specialisms. That usually gives us our final line up.
Maura: The women in your book used their voices to protect the earth. What traits did they share, and how do young people find their voices?
Kate: All the women in the book made the most of their talents and interests, whether that was swimming with man-eating sharks, wondering about the extraordinary abilities of bees or being a curious scientist. Children can find their voice by following their talents and interests. Allowing them space to grow and take shape forms who we become as adults.
Maura: This book is the fourth title detailing the lives of extraordinary women. How many are planned for the series?
Kate: There are lots more stories to tell and we’ve decided to work on some titles that explore eight women per book with longer chapters about their amazing lives and experiences.
Maura: Why do boys and girls need to learn about trailblazing women?
Kate: There is so much inspiration in their stories. Elements of their struggles will be recognisable to our readers and if not, it’s great for them to learn that things were different for women in the past and to understand how things have evolved to the point we are at today.
Maura: How can earth-themed titles call children into action and inspire the next generation of environmental advocates?
Kate: I think inspiring a sense of wonder about the natural world and informing about it being our responsibility to protect the planet is very important. Getting children thinking and talking about the subject is key to action in the future (and now).
Maura: Non-fiction titles teach children about the world they live in. Why and how is this important for a child’s development, and should kids be reading more non-fiction?
Kate: I think children’s non-fiction does an excellent job of breaking down difficult subjects for young readers, making them accessible and intriguing. Going back to that idea of wonder about the world, I think this is SO important for the next generation. Asking questions and noticing the way the world works is such a big part of children finding their place in it.
Maura: Young people are our strength and our future. Why and how are inspirational non-fiction titles like yours important?
Kate: This is so true! I think any book that can fuel children’s self- confidence and curiosity about the way we live and how we can live better is important. The books we read as children make up a small but essential part of who we become as adults.
Maura: Where do you get the information and ideas for your books?
Kate: For the FGW books I get ideas for the range of women to include by chatting to people in different professions; they have lots of suggestions for women I won’t have come across before. Generally, by chatting to lots of people and making new connections. I find doodling is a great source of inspiration, I think doing something that is free and unconnected to finished book work helps me stay playful and to think of new ideas.
Maura: In a digital world of seemingly endless information, how do you stay focused when conducting research?
Kate: That is tricky, there is always an avenue you don’t need to be reading about when doing research, but knowing the full life story of each woman is just intriguing! I must confess I do get sucked into Twitter and Instagram while working. I read Matt Haigh’s Notes on a Nervous Planet and he said just pause for a second and ask yourself why you are pressing the home button on your phone … I do try and do that to stay focused/sane!
Maura: What are some of the challenges and joys of being an author-illustrator, particularly when illustrating your own work? Would you ever engage an illustrator for your story and why or why not?
Kate: The joys are getting to draw for a living, and to make lovely books that are enjoyed by children and families. Whenever I get stressed about deadlines, I try to remind myself that actually I am super lucky to do this as an actual job. The challenges are being a perfectionist (when it comes to my work) and the fact I can’t take three years to do a book; I’ve got to meet some deadlines! If I came up with an idea that I knew wasn’t suited to my drawing style I’d consider another illustrator working on it. I imagine it’d feel a bit weird as the words and illustrations usually come together when I am starting a new project.
Maura: Text/story first, or sketches/illustrations?
Kate: I trained as an illustrator so feel my skills come from that area. I always start with sketches, if I do it the other way around it’s never as playful. Also, if you have a character designed, it’s much easier to create their world in words and pictures.
Maura: Thanks, Kate – it’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and your incredible work, and best of luck with your next books!
Read Maura’s review of Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet