Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking to author and children’s television presenter, Cerrie Burnell about her writing, her favourite picture books and her own picture books, Snowflakes and Mermaid.
Mermaid: Luka can’t swim and his family can’t understand why he wants to learn. One day he watches Sylvia swimming in the sea and asks her if she will teach him. By the following evening Luka can float and as he waves goodbye to Sylvia she looks like a mermaid sitting on the shore. That night Luka dreams about swimming with mermaid Sylvia and they enjoy an underwater adventure. Luka is excited when he finds that Sylvia has joined his class at school and when the other children ask why Sylvia is in a wheelchair, Luka tells them it’s because she’s a mermaid.
Cerrie, it was lovely to talk to you about writing and picture books, two of my favourite subjects! Thank you for visiting Story Snug and congratulations on the publication of your second picture book, Mermaid. As a children’s television presenter you’re a familiar face, I’d like to know how you became inspired to write for children.
I’ve always written. Before I became a Mum and a television presenter I was an actress and also worked in a special needs school. During this time I wrote a play called Winged which is a fairytale. Then as a parent I started reading picture books and although I read lots of wonderful picture books I was looking for something with more substance, something that an adult would also enjoy. For me, there was a gap as there weren’t enough diverse picture books.
How did you find a publisher for Snowflakes, your first picture book?
I sent Snowflakes to several publishers who liked my writing but as it was originally a long story it had to be edited down to 600 words. I’m delighted to be working with Scholastic who also chose Laura Ellen Anderson as the illustrator.
Where did you get your inspiration for Mermaid?
I had had the idea for a book about a mermaid in a wheelchair for a long time and I knew that I wanted to write a book about a boy who wanted to learn to swim and a girl who would teach him. The fact that Luka is Asian came from a dinner conversation that I had a couple of years ago when several Asian colleagues told me that they couldn’t swim, maybe for cultural or modesty reasons they had never learnt.
Did you discuss your vision of Mermaid with your illustrator, Laura?
Laura and I have become friends so if there’s anything she needs to know she’ll ask me. I would never specify that a character has to look a certain way but I would bring diversity and ethnicity into the conversation. Really the publisher has the final say – but working with Laura has always been a dream, we’ve now done four books together!
I especially like the illustration where Sylvia is teaching Luka how to swim, it’s such a beautiful portrayal of friendship and trust.
Do you have a favourite illustration from the book?
I have two. The picture of Luka and Sylvia swimming together, he’s wearing pyjamas and she’s a mermaid. They look so childlike and happy, the illustration reminds me of The Snowman.
I love the final illustration. The two children, Luka and Sylvia, are sitting hand in hand in the open air and there’s no sign of Sylvia’s wheelchair.
Can you tell us about any future titles or projects that you are working on?
My chapter book, Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella, will be published in October. I also have a picture book out in February called Ballet Dreams in which a single mum goes out to work and the little girl spends the day with Grandpa. Both are illustrated by Laura.
I’m always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Do you have a favourite picture book from your childhood?
When I was little I loved Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak but I also love it now, maybe more because of the nostalgia. There is so much energy in the story and it includes a clever use of words. The illustrations are really unique, I haven’t seen anything like it before or since.
Do you have a current favourite picture book?
The Fairytale Hairdresser stories by Abie Longstaff and Lauren Beard. They’re diverse picture books with gorgeous illustrations, the characters are usually saved by hairdresser Kitty Lacey (in her cowboy boots!). The stories have a soft girlyness but they also show a woman in control of her own life.
I also like books that are more unusual. When I picked up Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog in Waterstones I was flabbergasted by the darkness of the illustrations as they are quite frightening but the text is comical and funny.
The Storm Whale by Benji Davis is also nicely executed and it doesn’t have many words. It’s fun counting the cats but also shows the tenderness of Noi’s dad, a single parent.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me Cerrie. I look forward to reading Harper and the Scarlet Umbrella and Ballet Dreams.
About Cerrie Burnell
Cerrie Burnell is a well-loved CBeebies presenter who was named in the Observer’s top ten children’s presenters and also featured in The Guardian’s 2011 list of 100 most inspirational women. Cerrie lives in Kent.
Cerrie is also the author of Snowflakes which is illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson.
Cerrie on Twitter: @cerrieburnell