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Jul 112012
 

An interview with first time children’s author and illustrator Luke Carr

 

An interview with a new children's book author Luke Carr - he illustrated, wrote and published the book himself

I met Luke mid way round the Tough Mudder course covered in mud and dressed as Luigi from Mario Brothers. It wasn’t until a month later as I discovered that not only is he a very talented illustrator, but he’s also just written and self-published a children’s book!

Luke’s book, Eric the Dragon (remember your manners), has been illustrated and written by himself from scratch.

I caught up with Luke on a Skype video call earlier this week and asked him a few questions about his book, how he came up with the idea (and why) and how he went about getting it printed and into the hands of parents at a local school open day.

Luke is 20 something, lean and obviously goes to the gym regularly. The view of his office/room that the Skype video call gives me shows a large-ish room with the same Ikea furniture that I have and walls covered in drawings and scribbles from the world of comics and his own imagination.

I get the feeling that he and I are going to get along very well.

After a bit of a catch up and discussion about our respective Mudder experiences and whether we’ve been foolish enough to sign up for another (I’m doing one in July and Luke’s probably doing one in November, so : yes we are foolish enough), we start talking about the book (or books as it turned out).

Luke works part time at a local stationer (handy for discounted pencils and art materials!) and part time producing illustrations for a company in Holland along with a bit of graphic design, in  which he has a degree, for companies wanting logos etc.

Ben : So tell us about the book.

Luke : So the first book is finished and that’s gone to print and it’s about Eric the Dragon. And the whole series of books is about kids and bite size lessons. Throughout the story [and indeed all the series as Luke showed me], none of the characters are coloured in.

The idea is to get the children to interact with it and get their colouring pencils out. The way I see it, the more interactive it is, the more likely it is they will remember the lessons.

Ben : Did you do the story as well as the illustration?

Luke : Yeah, I’ve done all of it myself. That’s why it took so long to do!

Ben : How long did it take?

Luke : I’ll be honest, the first picture of Eric the Dragon that I drew wasn’t for the book, it was for a T-shirt design.

Eric the Dragon is Luke Carr's first children's story character and appears in his first self published book "Eric the Dragon"

Ben : So how did Eric get from T-shirt design to the book?

Luke : He was going to be the spear for a load of canvases about three years ago. All about staying young in the head and try to be young and youthful. Life’s a bit too serious sometimes and [Eric] was a split second idea that kind of popped into my head.

Ben : So did [the book] start out being about manners?

Luke : When I put him in the book, I straight away went to “how can I put him in a book? What would be the theme?” It was always going to be for children, but it probably came from my Granddad : My Granddad always used to say to me “manners maketh the man” and in this day and age you’ve got so many kids out there that don’t really get taught and end up as little toe rags. I just thought if I could get the book out to just a handful of children and they learnt something, that’s good.

Ben : Where did you get the inspiration for the books?

Luke : I have a Tips4Tots book [Luke’s own brand for his children’s books which can be found at www.tips4tots.co.uk]. This is where I put everything : Brainstorming, logo ideas… If I start  talking about it and people start giving me ideas, then I start putting them in here. It’s nice to look back and see ideas.

A good bit of inspiration came from the Mr Men books. I think that’s what urged me to make them square. I know it’s like a tiny detail but I used to work at Wilkinson’s and we had a stand full of the Mr Men books and it was really cool to see all the Mr Men books lined up on this spiny turnstyle thing and there was something really cool and it made you want to collect them all.

So the idea for the book is each book is going to be colour coded. So the first one’s green and the next one, along the top, will be “Oliver the Crocodile” and the paint splat behind will be a different colour. So they’ll all be colour coded but they’ll keep the same set up. I drew that from the Mr Men books as well. For me the Mr Men books are very popular. Still! So I wanted to mimic that in a way as well.

When I got the first prints I went into Wilkinson’s and propped them up on the shelf just to see how it looked in the environment it’s going to be in and yeah… It worked. I could just imagine a series of books all different colours but all kind of had the same style. It put a big smile on my face. A big smile on my face!

Ben : What kind of research did you do?

Luke : I was very nieve about it. I just jumped in the deep end and said “let’s make a book.” And then I learnt lessons as I came to the obstacles. Like when I came to the printers to get quotes : they were like “we deal in multiples of 24” or something etc. Then I did some test prints and the bleed line wouldn’t set up properly so pages would be cut off and stuff.

I was like a kid : you give ‘em paints and they don’t stand there putting their apron on and stuff, they jump straight in and get involved! I’m still learning now.

I’ve got little nieces and they did my little trials : I’d FaceTime them and show them stuff and they’d give me a response because I branded the series “Tips4Tots”, so anything I did, I put it past those two and they were awesome they just… Ah children’s English is just different at feedback. They’re better at that, very simple : If they don’t like something they say “nah, no” or if they like something then they want it broken down.

It’s my first book and things will change, but I need to keep that child mentality. The artwork, the artwork is very simple : children look at artwork like that. They like it, they like the little details.

I draw all the time and with the book it’s nice to… It’s not just a picture on the computer : I have a book I can hold now. I have a book I can hand to people and like I said : if it works, it works if it doesn’t, at least I’ve tried.

Ben : So if you don’t mind me asking, how much did it cost?

Luke : For the first set of fifteen books for the [school] open day it was just over fifty pounds [about £3.50 per book] and that was a bargain ‘cause I got quotes on line from different companies and online, the cheapest quote I got for the same amount was just shy of two hundred pounds! When I got the quotes back I was like “£200 for 15 books!!?”

I start thinking in the long run like if I want to mass-produce these things… But then shopping around I found a local printers in Nottingham called John E Wright.

Ben : How did you end up promoting your book at a local school?

Luke : It was all from the stationary shop actually, where I work. A teacher kept coming in and I got talking to her and I managed to get a place on this open day. So I went down, set up my stall and promoted my book. The feedback I got was awesome. Really good.

Ben : What sort of feedback have you had so far?

Luke : I was told by one of the teachers [at the school open day] not to use the word “naughty” in my book. That’s apparently not good. I didn’t know that and to me, its… I don’t see a problem with it.

Ben : Wow that’s a classic word! What do they use to describe a naughty child now!?

Luke : She said “You’re not being sensible”. That was one of them. I can’t remember what the other was.

Ben : So what would you do differently for the next one?

Luke : Again, I’m going to wait for the feedback from the first book. The best thing about it this time is that because the layout’s all set up so it’s 7” by 7” squared, so when I do all the artwork and stuff it’s very much… it’ll be faster, which will give me more time to focus on the quality.

Every two page spread I do, I’ll take that to a group of children rather than just rely on my two little nieces just to get feedback.

At the end of the day, I’m not in it to make a load of money. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in it to make a bit of money but it would help future projects. I like the idea of… I wouldn’t say “helping children”… but giving them a product that maybe helps them in an area. Not like life changing things, just… I don’t know, if they read the book and colour it in and then parents start hearing their kids saying “please” and “thank you” more then that’s mission accomplished. That’s wicked and that’s what I’m all about. And if children brush their teeth more because they’ve read the second book…

Ben : So what’s next?

Luke : It’s getting super busy at the minute, holding a job down and doing this book and doing all the graphic design and illustration for this company in Holland it’s very hard to find time to… take a bit of time to research more. I’m not on a timeframe and I don’t have anybody saying “this book has to be done by this time”.

Maybe that would be a blessing in disguise because the other companies I work for give me deadlines to get it done and because it needs to get done; it gets done. The book and the other one is on the backburner.

Book number two is Oliver the Crocodile (Look After Your Teeth), teaching kids how to look after their teeth and the third book will be the Big Bear, remember to share. Nothing too deep and then the other ones that are big at the moment like recycling.

The thing that pushed me to really get it done is the teacher who got me a spot at this promotion day the other day. It was a couple of months ago and she said “I’ve spoken to the committee and they want you to come and promote your book.” I was like Wohaa! Right! Two months, so let’s do it! And I spent a lot of time drawing and

Ben : Thanks a lot Luke and good luck!

Luke : It’s been a pleasure and I’ll speak to you in the near future.

Luke is working on making online purchases of Eric the Dragon available, but in the mean time, if you’d like a copy, head over to www.tips4tots.co.uk and send him an email and he’ll let you know when the next batch are being printed and what it will cost you for a copy.

Apr 042012
 

Storytelling and Difficult Subjects: Divorce and Separation

With more and more families breaking up with parents separating or divorcing, there is an ever increasing need to help our children understand what is going on and why, should they find themselves in the middle of one. Even if your marriage or relationship is as solid as a rock, you can bet that your child will have friends in their class whose parents’  are (or have) separating/divorcing. Children’s stories and storytelling are great tools for broaching this stressful subject even if only to explain what your child’s best  friend at school is going through.

Divorce and Separation are tough on children. Stories can help them understand and provide you with a conversation starting point

There are many concepts and subjects that can be particularly stressful and even scary to address with our kids, and some which are just a little more difficult to know how to broach with children – which can also be communicated through storytelling techniques.

Using Storytelling to Start Conversations

Some of the subjects covered in contemporary children’s stories are undoubtedly the same that parents of all eras have wrestled with. Others may be unique to contemporary culture. Either way, storytelling techniques can be used as a way to touch on the more difficult lessons children have to learn. They can give you a way to easily bring up the subject with kids and can also be a means of generating additional conversations with your kids on those hard subjects.

Don’t underestimate your kids’ ability to handle these harder subjects. It’s all in how you approach topics with them. They learn from you and the methods you use in communicating about difficult topics can strongly influence how your children respond to these kinds of subjects. Putting good children’s stories to work for you is one of the best ways to broach more uncomfortable subjects with your kids. These books have been specifically designed to help you deal with difficult topics in terms that children can easily understand. Continue reading »

Feb 292012
 

Sound Effects in storytelling

Storytelling technique is all about getting your audience to connect and become involved in the story and for children, there is only one thing they love more than listening to a good tale: becoming involved in it.

Give them that opportunity by vocalising sound effects in your story and letting your child copy your sounds in the predictable place. So, for example, every time a horse is mentioned, say “Clip, Clop, Clip, Clop” and after a couple of repetitions, your child will naturally join in with you, as they become familiar with the pattern.

Using sound effects during a story is a great technique to bring it to life and engage the audience Continue reading »

Feb 132012
 

Children’s stories are good for the soul

We are all told through the media and parenting magazines that story time is very important and that (depending on which study you read) a minimum of 15-20 minutes a day or reading time is essential to helping our children develop. Other benefits that are perhaps a little less obvious or publicised :

Stories provide a “safe” environment in which to explore strong emotions and situations

The stories we share with our children provide a safe environment for them to explore the world

Your child lives in a world of unknowns where each day is filled with new learning experiences.

As they grow they are faced not only with the scary world around them, but new social situations as they encounter new friends, lose friends, attend school, learn what criticism is from their peers and learn to speak up for themselves.

It is a constant “trial by error” situation without the maturity or adult skills to deal with these pressures.

Adults get frustrated when they cannot succeed immediately, and we (try to) live by the old adage “if you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

If we adults get frustrated, imagine how your child must be feeling! Children do not have this same adult ability to cope with failure and rejection.

By being aware of this and sharing stories which mirror their experiences, you can help your kids relate to characters they can identify with. They can learn to express their emotions through these characters, and ask questions on how the characters act. Our children can in turn understand how to deal with these turbulant feelings.

Another added benefit to this type of story is that your child learns what is “normal” and that certain negative feelings are “OK” to express and needn’t be hidden.

You can also use the mirror effect in the story to discover your child’s emotions without risk of being humiliated or worse.

Ask your child about the character in the story : “And how do you think Charlie the dog feels?”  You may be surprised by the response you get!

 

Stories deal with the emotions your child is already having, but is struggling to handle or communicate

So you understand that your child is silently worried or fearful in a given situation, but you’re not sure she knows how to deal with or communicate how they’re feeling.

Stories provide children a safe place to deal with the emotions they are feeling

How do you address that?

Children often remain silent, avoiding eye contact and evading direct questions on how they feel. Other children may “play up” or constantly throw tantrums…

Why?The reason is because the child does not know if it is wrong or right to feel this way, and they are afraid they will be humiliated or disciplined for their feelings.

They also have trouble vocalising the fear itself, as this just provokes their anxious uncomfortable feelings. For younger children, they may not even know what the “feeling” is, just that it’s very strong and they don’t like it.

Stories are a great way to personify their fears and worries as “monsters” that can be overcome and even befriended, so that objects of fear or worry can be diminished with patterns of thought and behaviour trained through a character’s reactions.

Stories can be used to avoid tantrums and confrontation while getting your children to behave

As we’ve discovered through this introduction already, our children identify and learn from characters and situations in stories. You can use your story to teach your child what behaviour is acceptable and not acceptable.

It’s bath time.

Your daughter is point blank refusing to get undressed for the bath.

You’re both getting frustrated and you can feel the heat rising in your cheeks as you start to get angry.

“GET IN THE BATH” you bellow at her.

She bursts into tears and runs from the room, buying herself under the duvet on the bed.

You’re cross, she’s upset and she’s STILL not in the bath!

It doesn’t have to be like this!

It’s bath time.

Your daughter is point blank refusing to get undressed for the bath.

Taking a calm breath, you start telling her about little Princess Elizabeth who loved to be filthy dirty…

… A couple of minutes and a short, carefully targeted, story later…

“Quack Quack” says your daughter as she has one of the baby ducks rescuing the other from the foam as they all frolic in the bath…

That is a real-life example of one situation where I was able to swallow my natural frustration and impatience and help us both out with a short story (that she actually asked me to repeat).

A well delivered story can create real and profound behaviour changes in children if crafted and delivered in the right way.

Stories build connection and understanding between you

Children love stories and they love spending time with their parents. Combine the two and you are creating wonderful childhood memories

Children are sponges for love and affection.

They absorb as much as they can and still come back for more.

Storytelling is more than just a story for a child : It’s a physical closeness with their protector and their source of love, as you sit tight beside them on their bed at bedtime.

It is being given that all important attention.

The child is often indecisive at bedtime about which story they want read to them, and usually you will find they will try to pick the longest story they can find, or else keep requesting another and another.

It’s tempting to think that they’re just trying to delay having to go to bed and to sleep. It’s not!

Your amazing, wonderful, loving son or daughter just wants to be with you for as long as possible.

The story itself is less important than your company! So use this time, whether short or long to bond with your child.

Storytelling opens up an opportunity for you to delight all their senses and imagination and leave them with happy thoughts and a warm fuzzy feeling before they curl up to sleep.

We will explore further how to make the best advantage of all your faculties to appeal to all their senses in the next lessons.

Remember, you do this naturally in conversation with your friends, it’s just as easy, if not easier, to do this with your child.

Remember your childhood? You’re in your son or daughter’s!

Can you remember being told a story as a child? Is it something that you look back on with rosy nostalgia like mine from the start of this introduction?

Storytelling is a special type of activity that your child will love, and will become happy memories in your child’s mind that they too will carry forward into their adult life and then on into their children’s (your grandchildren!).

We all want that for our children right??

It is also a great way for you as a parent to enjoy the precious time you have with your child while they are young. Those years seem to fly by and all too soon your child will stop asking for a story, so enjoy the opportunity while you have it.

Enjoy what is to come, put some of the ideas and suggestions from this course into story time with them and I know you’ll all appreciate it.

In Summary

Children’s stories go way beyond the basics of helping develop language and understanding and sit at the core of the family way of life. They enable our kids to explore ideas and feelings, discover ways of communicating their emotions and bring you closer together both physically and emotionally.

Homework for becoming a better storyteller :

  • Look out for the deeper meanings in the story you read. Not just the “moral”, but also the environment. Is it humans or animals in the story? Are they in the real world, or a fantasy world? What mechanisms can you spot that keeps the audience safe from the events in the story?
  • Be aware of the emotional elements in the story. What are they? How are they communicated? How are they dealt with? One book I read with my daughter is “Happy Birthday, Blue Kangaroo!” which has covers several key emotions including rejection and acceptance and communicates them from two points of view and then goes on to address the feelings very well.
  • Easier said than done, next time your son or daughter is throwing a wobbly, have a think about some of the stories you know and see if you can think of one that would be a parallel for the current situation. Not the wobbly, but the emotional reason behind it.
  • Think about how your children will remember story time for the rest of their lives and in turn use it as a model for story time with their own kids. Make the most of the time and continue to make story time the best time.
  • Enjoy storytime with your children! We want you to become a better storyteller, but if it’s not fun for you, it’s never going to happen, so do what you can, when you can and forgive yourself for not getting it perfect first time.

Previous sections

Jan 102012
 

Memorizing Children’s’ Stories

The ability to tell a great story, one that captivates listeners and keeps them on the edges of their seats, is a great talent.

Thankfully, memorizing stories is a talent that any parent can learn!

Memorizing children’s’ stories is much easier than you’re probably thinking.

With this second set of tips and tricks below (checkout the first ones here), you can tell your children a bedtime story…no book included…as early as next week!

In addition to giving you some great memorization tips, we’ll clue you in to some great books filled with stories sure to capture kids’ imaginations.

Continue reading »