Another fantastic book from Peter Bently! This cleverly written rhyming story is a fashionable twist on The Emperor’s New Clothes. Colourfully illustrated by Claire Powell, young readers will love this hilarious twist on a classic tale. We felt truly honoured to ask Peter some questions about his latest picture book!
This is a super stylish re-telling of The Emperor’s New Clothes- what made you choose this classic tale?
In fact it all started with another Andersen story called The Jumping Match, which my wife was rereading in her old volume of Andersen tales. She said it would make a good picture book (in verse, of course) and I agreed. While I was thinking about this story, I started to look at more famous tales and The Emperor’s New Clothes seemed an obvious choice. It has always been a personal favourite of mine.
We always admire the skill it takes to rhyme- how easy does this come to you? Do you find that your experience helps or is it a natural talent you have?
Rhyme is something I have always enjoyed doing, and I think to an extent you do need an “ear” for it, and especially for scansion or metre. (I find that more texts suffer from bad scansion than from bad rhyme.) Rhyme is also something that can be learned with practice. But even with experience it isn’t always easy finding rhymes, and when writing picture books you also have to avoid being too clever for your young audience. Tip One: if you are having a problem finding a rhyme for a word, change the word. Tip two: Find your basic rhythm/stress pattern and the words will tend to fall into place.
The illustrations are a perfect match for this story- what did you think when you first starting seeing them?
This book was quite long in being published because we couldn’t find quite the right illustrator – until Claire came along. I thought her drawing, and her sense of colour and design were so brilliant and stylish, just perfect for the story. I was pretty much blown away – and relieved that we had at last found the right illustrator. There are so many visual treats in the books. I love the fashion designers turning up at the palace (they include a couple of portraits of actual designers…) and the spread of the two tricksters pretending to weave while the courtiers etc are trying to listening at the door. And of course the “cheeky” denouement!
Are there other classic tales you are hoping to re-tell in the future?
Andersen’s The Jumping Match, – which we have titled The Royal Leap Frog – is the basis of second book in this series. After that, I am working on a version of The Princess and the Pea that I have provisionally titled A Perfect Proper Princess.
Did you have a favourite book as a child? What was it?
I seemed to love anything with a bear in it – Winnie the Pooh, Rupert, Paddington. Later I loved Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia books and Tolkien, and (dare I say it) the adventure stories of Enid Blyton. She has her faults, of course, with hindsight, but she never wrote anything a child couldn’t understand – a remarkable gift.
The child in the story states the obvious, which the adults were reluctant to do. What do you hope readers will take from this moment?
As a child I was always amazed that the adults in the story could seriously believe the Emperor was wearing clothes. Which of course is partly the point – a child sees through the adult bubble of pretence (and pretentiousness). I think that accounts for the story’s appeal down the ages – the theme of the story has roots going back to medieval times – and it connects to another widespread mythic motif, the wise child, or holy innocent, or royal Fool, who uses the privilege of youth or holiness or “foolishness” to speak truth and denounce adult foibles.
What made you want to become a children’s author?
It was really when my own children came along that I decided to take children’s writing seriously, but I have always enjoyed stories and storytelling, and making things up in rhyme. My first job was in journalism, and then I was a non-fiction editor for years – these were a useful training in how to write clearly and concisely!–