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Q&A  •  20 September 2021

 

Q&A with Molly Oldfield

Bursting full of children’s curiosity Everything Under the Sun is a glorious celebration of life on earth.

What inspired you to start your podcast Everything Under the Sun?

A small girl called Bea. She read my book Wonders of the World’s Museums and read about Hope, the blue whale that soars above your head as you step into the museum hall. She went to see it for herself with her Mum and her Mum sent me a message from the museum saying Bea has a question, it is: “Can blue whales talk to killer whales?”. I thought that was SUCH an excellent question I called a curator at the museum and found out the answer for her. I recorded the answer and sent it to her and she loved it! She took the recording to school with her to share with her class. It went down so well I realised there could be something in the idea of doing this as a podcast. Children will always ask endless questions and there are only so many questions a parent can get around to answering so I figured I could do something about all this curiosity and try to help find answers to questions! I worked as a question writer on the BBC TV show QI for 12 years and met all kinds of wonderful experts in their fields. So I know how to research interesting information and have lots of knowledgeable people up my sleeve. So it was time to use all those years of QI experience for something new and make a show for children! Bea’s question became the first question on Everything Under The Sun and it is also the first question in Everything Under The Sun, the book. I love it!

What inspired you to turn your podcast into a book?

I was sitting on the floor of my sitting room with my toddler running about, newly pregnant with baby two. I remember I was in a lovely sunbeam reading a magazine called Flow and the idea just popped into my head! I wrote down the concept of 365 questions, one for every day of the year and how I’d love it to look, size wise and illustration wise – I just scribbled it all onto one of my son’s colouring pads! I still have it. I wrote a proposal right away and a few weeks later had a deal with Ladybird who have made my sketch of an idea come true!

 

Could you sum up the book in one sentence?

Bursting full of children’s curiosity Everything Under the Sun is a glorious celebration of life on earth.

 

What was the book writing process like and what was it like working with the illustrators?

I LOVED writing the book. I was just pregnant with my second son when I had the idea. I went to lots of meetings and then once the book deal was sorted I hunkered down in my writing shed in the garden and wrote, wrote, wrote with my toddler playing / causing chaos alongside me, with the help of an amazing babysitter and my husband and Mum and handed it all in just a day before my baby was born. By the end of the book I was glad I have a standing desk in my shed as my bump was ENORMOUS! It was lovely to grow a baby alongside writing a book and have the distraction of listening to hundreds of children’s voices asking questions to keep me from worrying about being pregnant! I learnt a huge amount from answering the questions of lovely children from all over the world – it was such a joy to write and I’m so grateful to all of the wonderful experts who answered questions as well as to the parents, teachers and children who sent in questions and listened to the podcast.

 

What was it like working with the illustrators?

I didn’t have a huge amount of input into the illustrations side of things. I met with the design team at Ladybird and we decided on the look and size of the book and talked about the kinds of illustrations that would bring it to life. Then once we had a plan Ladybird commissioned the artwork from their favourite illustrators. The design team are exceptional and made the book look perfect! They chose wonderful illustrators who brought the book lovingly to life and picked out one illustration that inspired the look of the fantastic cover, the big colourful sun! We haven’t all been able to meet yet because of lockdowns but I hope I get to meet all 12 illustrators one day soon!

 

What’s your favourite section/question in the book?

Honestly I love all of the questions - we had lots more but chose the 366 we loved the most! I really love the first question by Bea, “Can blue whales talk to killer whales”, because it’s the one that set off the whole of Everything Under the Sun and I also love the second question: “What does Incy Wincy Spider need?” Because it was asked by my son! I love every page, each one is so different and beautiful in its own way and I love the illustrations for them all. Each page is a work of art so I hope children are going to love reading it as much for the facts and information as for the visual delights. So much effort and creativity has been poured into each page.

 

What is the best question a child has ever asked you?

 I really loved it when I was asked what noise do giraffes make? I hadn’t thought about that before and guessed they don’t make noises, but it turns out they hum, but only at night! Which I totally love! The question I’m being asked right now by my son is, it’s quite a hot day so why don’t we have an ice-cream?! That’s the question I’ve been asked all summer so far!

 

Which guests have you enjoyed having on your podcast?

 Oh so many of them have been just wonderful! It was exciting to have Oliver Jeffers on talking about why humans make art because he’s such an exciting picture book artist and I love his books. The same goes for Lauren Child talking about why we day dream, we’re huge fans of Charlie and Lola in this household. I thought David Eagleman, neuroscientist gave totally wonderful answers to three questions on different episodes of the podcast, one about why we dream was fascinating and he gave such detailed answers perfectly pitched to children. The same goes for Grayson Perry, he answered Evangeline’s question about why clay goes hard with such generosity of spirit. Everyone has been wonderful. The curators at the Natural History Museum and Science Museum are endlessly giving and knowledgeable and I don’t know how I would have answered so many questions about dinosaurs, animals, space and the sun without them!

 

Why do you think it’s important for children to be curious about the world around them and ask questions?

I think children are all super curious and it’s wonderful that they’re seeing our world for the first time and wondering ALL about it. It’s totally infectious and I think adults are lucky if they have children around them reminding them of how interesting our universe is. After all, we are living on a planet floating in space but adults don’t talk about that too often, whereas children do! They want to know everything! I love that children remind us how little we know with their endless questions. My aim with the podcast and the book is that no child’s curiosity need go unanswered again – I hope that every child who finds the book and podcast and has a question feels able to send their question in and one day perhaps I can answer them all or find an expert to help! I hope Everything Under the Sun will be a useful resource for parents who are tired of being asked WHY about everything. There are 366 answers in this book, so that’s a good start at covering some of the things children want to know about – each question comes from a child so it really is driven by their curiosity (rather than by adults guessing what children might like the know about).  The book could go on and on and on as children will luckily never stop asking questions, but one for every day of the year is the beginning! I hope it encourages children to keep asking questions and know that being curious is wonderful and a gift. The more curious you are, the more adventurous and bigger your life will be. 


Everything Under the Sun Molly Oldfield

A wonderful collection of 366 curious questions asked by children from around the world, based on the award-winning podcast by Molly Oldfield.

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