The author Moira Butterfield and illustrator Harriet Lynas are the team behind WELCOME TO OUR WORLD: A Celebration of Children Everywhere, published by Nosy Crow. They have been thinking about what it takes to create a non-fiction book for a younger age-group.
How did the book begin?
Moira: I began Welcome to Our World because I had a story to tell. I think that’s very important for non-fiction, just as it is with fiction. It means the book has a strong heart and purpose. My story was that, though children may be living in different cultures, everybody has lots in common. I wanted to give children a positive introduction to the multicultural world and give them ways to relate to children in other lands. This seemed a very important story to tell right now, what with all the confusing media material that might be filtering down to children.
I thought long and hard and planned on covering subjects – like sneezing! – that were very child-centred – vital, I think, when writing non-fiction for a younger age-group. I wanted to inspire their imagination. When Nosy Crow showed me Harriet’s work I could see it had a child-centred quality, too, and it would be a perfect match.
Harriet: When I first heard about Welcome to Our World, it really brought back fond memories from my childhood. I had an ‘It’s a small world’ themed drama day in my nursery school – all the children in my class were dressed up in various traditional costumes, we were saying hello to each other in different languages and talking about interesting cultures of other countries. I was fascinated to know that the world was such a big place! It was an extraordinary experience for a 5-year-old girl from a small town in Korea. When I went to the first meeting with Nosy Crow, the editor mentioned ‘It’s a small world’ and how my work reminded her of Mary Blair’s! It was a seriously surreal moment.
I really agreed that we were lacking non-fiction books on cultural differences for early years. I am sometimes amazed by how easily children embrace these differences without any judgment and I knew this would be a lovely book!
How did you do your research?
Moira: I have travelled quite a bit but obviously not to every country! So I spent a lot of time looking at personal blogs on the internet, to find out what actually happened in different places. Luckily there are lots of people writing about their daily lives online. I also contacted every person I knew living elsewhere in the world, plus friends of friends, and badgered them all with questions. It’s much better to talk to real people about customs and ways of living because the general sites on the internet are often wrong. Just read what some of them say about the UK – that we all morris dance and eat stargazy pie for dinner!
Harriet: My designer at Nosy Crow was a great help; she sent me ample image references. Based on these I did some further research on the Internet – I absolutely love Pinterest! – and then double checked them with more reliable sources such as experts books.
How did you work together?
Moira: I never saw Harriet during the project. We live a long way apart! But I saw her roughs as she worked with the designers and what I’d written, and I invariably thought they were great! I had gathered up a lot of visual references for everything, so I would spot if she’d done something incorrect, but she didn’t. Later I saw Harriet’s colour work, too, and knew that we were producing something amazing.
Harriet: Unfortunately we haven’t met each other! However, I can tell you that Moira’s amazing to work with! I always got impressed every time I read her texts – they are so lively and delightful. It can be quite tricky to make layouts with lots of different information, but I was a graphic designer previously, so I am used to fiddling with objects on the page. (I can spend ages doing it!)
What are your favourite facts in the book?
Moira: I like the translations of sayings from around the world. “Stop ironing my head!” is a great Armenian way to say “Stop annoying me”, and I’ve begun using the brilliant Swedish expression for ‘There’s nothing to worry about” – “There’s no cow on the ice!”
Harriet: I have so many favourites! I’m a big foodie, I really enjoyed drawing food. It’s not a secret that I’ve tried most of the dishes in the book! Also, I love the cures for hiccups in other countries. Eating a teaspoonful of peanut butter when you hiccup? I’d love to do it every day!
What have you learnt from the book?
Moira: For me, it’s reinforced my feeling that non-fiction is a vital means of telling an important story. The success of the book has given me the confidence to put forward new projects for this age group, and hopefully, my passion for it will shine through.
Harriet: Welcome to Our World was the first book I worked on after moving to the UK so personally it means a lot to me. Working on non-fiction was slightly different to working on picture books. The images I made could affect wrongly or rightly on the first impression of the information so I felt quite responsible as an illustrator.
What are your hopes for the book?
Moira: I hope that children will start saying “Guess what! Did you know that…!” and I hope that classes will have a lot of fun with the material from the book. I’m hoping to hear how children react to the information in the book and take it forward. In a way, it’s just the beginning. Oh, and I hope very much to work with Harriet again!
Harriet: I hope that this book helps children improve their awareness of the world. Learning these differences and similarities at a young age could be the first step to have a better understanding towards other cultures and their own.
I believe children’s non-fiction is like a tiny seed – it can look quite simple, but little by little, those seeds will grow into tall trees in someone’s mind! I really hope that Welcome to Our World can help children dream of the world like ‘It’s a small world’ did for. Lastly, I would love to work with Moira again as well!
Welcome to Our World is published by Nosy Crow.