One of the great things about being invited to talk to thousands of kids each year at school visits and festivals, is that you get a front-row view of how children interact with each other. You get to know their likes and dislikes and the way they think, talk, and connect in a fast-paced, ever-changing world.
I’ve been lucky to share my stories and books with children of all ages for close to twenty years now, and there’s one thing I’ve noticed that hasn’t changed among kids: Play. That’s right, play.
From where I’m standing, I’m happy to report that play and imagination are still driving forces for our kids, especially for the little ones aged 4 to 7. The need and desire to move, dance, wiggle, make silly noises, laugh, pretend, sing to themselves – it’s all still there. What a relief, right?
I say relief, because we all know that at the core of what makes us human, of what makes us connect, love, laugh, and learn, is this very precious gift we call play. But as we age into doom-and-gloom-and-bills-to-pay-bah-humbug adults, we end up burying and suppressing that gift. I’ve actually been told by some close teacher friends that many schools nowadays actually hasten this transition. School curriculums are so driven by outcome-based results and teachers are drowning in so much paperwork and red tape that play is often ‘straight-jacketed’ or at least limited – yes, even for the junior classes.
So . . . when I was thinking of writing my new beginner series The Besties, I knew I wanted play and imagination to dominate my stories. How about two best friends – besties – who share in everyday adventures at home, in their backyards, and at school? And what if I make sure that the stories are not over-complicated and weighed down in heavy narrative, or bound by over-the-top plots and jeopardy? What if the dialogue and action was entertaining and visually engaging? Okay, so my vision and intentions were set, and my publishers were on board. The Besties were born.
I also wanted something that would enhance the reading experience and communicate this sense of playfulness in a tangible way. I wanted it to jump off the pages and into the young readers lives – and at the same time include something that would allow teachers and parents to follow-up with creative learning activities. So . . . cue music and art – play’s partners in crime.
A lot of my own childhood playing embodied my love of art and music, and that carried on well into my twenties as a young musical theatre performer in London’s West End – so combining drawing and singing with play seemed like a natural fit.
Oliver loves to draw. He records his daily adventures in his own comics, which feature in each adventure and appear as Ollie’s Comics at the back of the books (the comics were created by award-winning illustrator Tom Jellett).
Ruby loves to play her ukulele and make up songs, which are also included at the end of the stories. While I was writing the lyrics for Ruby, I sent them off to my super-talented musical mates in the UK to see what they thought. Within days they came back to me with melodies and rough recordings, and before we all knew it we were going back-and-forth with ideas for other songs. Soon after that I was headed off to Scotland to record an album in Edinburgh with my besties – three middle-aged men bringing play back into their lives.
I hope these books, and the accompanying album, will not only stir your child’s imagination but will also help kick-start a lifelong love of reading and music and art and, of course, play.
Check out the series:
Resources for teachers:
The Besties Book Trailer: