My Must-Have Mum by Maudie Smith & Jen Khatun

We’re delighted to welcome author Maudie Smith to Story Snug to talk about her new picture book, My Must-Have Mum illustrated by Jen Khatun. We love My Must-Have Mum! She’s resourceful, innovative, seizes opportunities and cares deeply about her son, Jake.

The Story: Jake proudly tells us that his mum is not like other mums. She sees pieces of junk that others have thrown out as treasure and takes them up to their flat and upcycles them. But when Jake’s neighbour tells him that Mum won’t be satisfied until she’s changed everything in the world, Jake starts to worry. What if Mum also wants to change him?

Two strong themes run through this beautifully illustrated, diverse picture book – recycling / upcycling and family relationships. Jake and Mum have a wonderfully close relationship and when Mum discovers that Jake has run away she reacts in an amazing and heartwarming way. Her words to him are beautiful, they’re words that every child should hear.

Age Range: 3+

Author: Maudie Smith / Illustrator: Jen Khatun

Thank you so much for visiting Story Snug and answering our questions, Maudie. We find it fascinating talking to writers about their writing process and the inspiration behind their story ideas. 

Thank you very much for having me!

You’re welcome! How did you become a writer?

Quite slowly! My first love was acting and when I was in my 20s I could be found on stages up and down the country, dressed up as Piglet, a reindeer, a vulture, a thorny rose, a talking fox and even the Snow Queen (not all at once I should add although there were some pretty quick costume changes). Spending so much time in Hundred Acre Wood, Narnia and sitting swinging my legs on The Little Prince’s planet made me wonder if I could create fictional worlds of my own. That’s when Opal Moonbaby and Planet Carnelia emerged. (Opal is the alien girl in my first books) While working on Opal’s adventures I did an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University and learned how to negotiate, not just my own fantasy world, but also the big bad wonderful world of publishing.

How / where did you get the inspiration for My Must-Have Mum?

I do love a bit of recycling. It’s fun putting out the cans and bottles in the hope that they will get re-used. Even better is re-using things at home. If I can turn an old container into a plant pot, I will. Whether it’s a dilapidated drain (see pic!), a broken wheelbarrow or a teapot that’s lost its spout, I‘ll stick a plant in it and call it gardening. What doesn’t come as easily to me is upcycling although I am fascinated by the way some skillful people can completely transform the objects they pick up. That’s what Mum is like in the story. If you can’t do something yourself then why not write a character who can do it? The sky’s the limit then!– 

Mum is an amazingly resourceful character! Is there a message that you want to convey to readers of the book? 

As Jake proudly says, there’s nothing Mum can’t change. And then he has a strange conversation with his neighbour, Mr Price, and gets the wrong end of the stick, fearing that Mum might want to change him too. I didn’t consciously see the message myself until I’d written the story – often the way I find – but I suppose I want children to see that although they inevitably have a lot of changing to do in life, they’ll do it by themselves, and the people who love them will go on loving them however they turn out. Hopefully it’s quite a reassuring story – one that also encourages recycling!

It’s a fabulously reassuring story and we love Mum’s words to Jake at the end.

We think that Jen Khatun’s illustrations are absolutely fabulous and we love the illustration showing Mum tinkering with all her ‘treasure’.

Do you have a favourite illustration from My Must-Have Mum?

They’re great, aren’t they? I have a new favourite each time I read the book. My current fave is the one where Mum is sailing merrily down the hill in her wheelchair, dragging a massive boat for her latest upcycling project, while in the foreground poor Jake is getting an earful from Mr Price. In Jake’s eyes his mum is simply glorious, capable of anything, and this is the first time an outsider makes a comment and sows a seed of doubt in his mind. Jake looks so worried, and even the little dog is hanging its head in sorrow. Jen’s illustrations in this one double page spread say so much.

Do you have a favourite location or environment to work in?

Bed is good! Also moving trains and buses are useful for ‘blue sky’ thinking. Weirdly, standing in the shower seems to be good for working out knobbly plot points (as well as washing my knobbly knees). Otherwise it’s down to the desktop computer to sort out the nitty gritty. (Wish it would!)

You have also written fiction for older readers. We love your middle grade novel, The Cake, the Wolf and the Witch. How does writing a picture book differ from writing a chapter book?

It’s a slightly different mindset but I think most of the rules are the same whatever you’re writing. Enticing characters, clear locations, exciting events, and very satisfying endings are a must. You might have a lot of threads to pull together in a book for older readers, whereas a picture book probably needs a single clear thread and might end in just one resoundingly good joke  – simple! (I don’t think). 

We’re always interested to know what authors enjoy reading. Do you have a favourite picture book from your childhood?

I had several although I don’t think there was nearly as much choice as there is today and the books I owned were EXTREMELY well used.

I had a book called In My Garden by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin which I loved. In it a girl is telling us what she loves in her garden in each of the seasons – the illustrations alternate between black and white and full colour. It’s a simple idea but works beautifully. I think it would be very popular now if it were in print again. Still got my old copy though, published in the year of my birth -1963.

I also loved all the rhythms and rhymes of Dr Seuss’s books and I was a fan of beginner reading books such as Robert the Rose Horse which featured a very sneezy horse with an allergy to roses. I must have had it read to me and then poured over it and read it to myself a gazillion times. KERCHOOOOOO! Bless you, Robert!

I don’t know either of these books but I love the sound of In My Garden and Robert the Rose Horse sounds funny. 

A huge thank you to Maudie for answering our questions and to Lantana Publishing for sending a review copy of My Must-Have Mum. We absolutely love the story, it would make a perfect present for Mothers Day 🙂

About Maudie Smith

Maudie Smith writes humorous and touching stories forchildren aged 2 to 12 including the picture books Milly and the Mermaids and The Dressing-Up Dad. She has an MA in Writing for Young People and lives in a village near Bath.

Maudie’s website / Twitter

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