Books have a magical way of helping young readers understand the world around them. The Queen on our Corner is an important book that deals sensitively with homelessness. Author Lucy Christopher has written a brilliant piece for the blog today about her book.
The Queen on Our Corner is a story about a woman who doesn’t have a home, a woman who lives on the corner of a street where a little girl lives. This little girl is the only one who notices her there, and thinks she might be a Queen without a palace. However, soon the Queen ends up being noticed by everyone when she saves them all.
The story is based on me a little bit, as most of my stories are, and on some of the things that I felt and experienced. I live in Bath, England, which is quite a wealthy town, but one with a big gap between the very rich and the very poor. Over the past few years, I’d been thinking about how there seemed to be more homeless people around; a lot more people struggling. I wondered about these new people in my home town and where they had come from; I started to imagine what they had done before arriving here. Then I decided to ask them. One chilly morning, I had a long conversation with a man who used to be a saxophone player but who had sold his instrument in order to buy food. I wondered if there were other homeless people who had been musicians, athletes, librarians, readers and writers. I started to find out. Then, a friend of mine told me a story about a homeless soldier who had once been a war hero. I kept thinking about all these potential, or previous, heroes -the kings and queens – around us. Could I stop to find out more of their stories? Could I encourage others to do so too? Might there be a way to increase the empathy we feel towards the people who live differently to us? I also started to think about my own, privileged position, in Bath. How easy could it be for me to become homeless – it may only take one disappointment, one tragedy, a decision?
The first draft of the story came very quickly, as did the first draft for my picture book Shadow. But then the real work began. I forget how many different drafts I wrote of this book – it felt like millions! – but each draft was me trying to get closer to the child’s perspective and to the feelings I wanted to evoke for the reader. For me, writing a picture book is like writing a poem. Everything counts. Every single word, comma, idea, has to be heavy with meaning. It’s a lean form of writing: the leanest, perhaps. Unlike novel writing, there is no room for unnecessary description, or punctuation, or tangents. You have to leave space for the illustrator, but you also have to leave space for the child’s imagination.
I adore what Nia, the illustrator, has done with the story. She has captured the community spirit I had hoped would be such a part of it. As an adult, I think it’s enormous fun looking at all the different characters she has drawn into the story, and seeing how they develop through the pages. As a child, I would have loved to spend hours investigating these pictures, and making up stories about them. The colours she chose are also perfect for an autumn release!
I hope this book finds young readers, and encourages empathy and connection. I also hope that, ultimately, this story asks readers to think about the value, and potential, that everyone on our streets holds. I hope this book encourages us to find, and notice, the Queens.