Claire Alexander is one of the biggest names in children’s picture books, and there’s good reason for that!
Claire is a master in the picture book world. Having studied fine art in Canterbury, she then took a leap into illustrating full time. In 2007 Claire began writing courses for future picture book illustrators and the rest is history. Claire's new book A Little Bit of Courage is a deep and insightful piece of work, which Claire took the time to chat with us about.
So firstly I always ask for a little introduction, a somewhat glimpse into the wonderful world of Claire Alexander, could you tell everyone out there who you are and what do you do?
Hi! I’m Claire, I live in London and I write and illustrate picture books for 2-6 year-olds and I’m an educator too – I visit schools, I workshop with children and I teach courses for adults on how to write and illustrate picture books at The House of Illustration.
Looking into your previous works and catalogue of books, one thing I notice is a “deeper meaning”, some larger lesson into the world for children. Where do you get your inspiration from for these?
My book ideas come mainly from feelings and experiences I had as a child. I was an undiagnosed dyslexic and I felt different to everyone else at school. I couldn’t work out why they could all read and write so well and so much quicker than me. I felt stupid. My saving grace was that I could draw so I gained back a little respect that way! You can see the school group dynamic played out in the Ploofer series for sure.
I know that one of your earlier books “Back To Front and Upside Down” is centred around your experience with dyslexia, how has this impacted your writing and can you give any advice to young writers out there that may be facing a similar journey?
Well, if you’d told me as a child that I’d be an author, I would have laughed! I didn’t read the text in books then, I just looked at the pictures for hours! I went to art school and studied fine art and it wasn’t till years later when I did a few short illustration courses that a tutor said to me, “Why don’t you write words to accompany your illustrations?” At first, I said, “Nah, I’m not a writer,” but I eventually gave it a go and look what happened! Admittedly simplicity is the key with picture books, the images often doing most of the work. (I give my editors a bit more work to do correcting my grammar and spelling mistakes, but hey, that’s their job!). I’d say to any child that your perceived difference can be a positive thing. It may be that you see the world in a different way from everyone else or are gifted in other areas. My advice is to try your best at everything, but to focus on what you love doing and don’t be afraid of putting it out there!
Now, we’re here to talk about the Ploofers! Could you let us into the world of the Ploofers?
The Ploofers are a group of small, squidgy rounded beings, living in an aesthetically minimal world! (I wanted it to be this way so the younger reader can focus on the expressions of the characters, the main draw of the books). In the series, we follow a Little Ploofer as he grapples with emotions like sadness when he’s excluded in A Little Bit Different, fear in A Little Bit of Courage and in the next book I’m working on now, anger when a new character is disrespectful to him.
And the new book focuses on overcoming something quite difficult for one of the Ploofers, The book covers an important topic, and mental health is as important in the younger generations as it is in adults, what drove you to write about anxiety/mental health and why is it important to you?
The thing that drives me first and foremost to write books like this is a will or need to make sense of my own emotions and experiences in my own life - sadness, fear, anxiety - in words and pictures. I always think composing a children’s story is a bit like a child role-playing with small figures, I used to watch my daughters give theirs voices and conversations, they were playing out relationships, trying to understand them.
After the pandemic, I feel these types of books are more relevant for children to get their hands on than ever. Good mental health is so important and I’m glad it’s getting recognised in schools and in society in general. I hope children will identify with the main character and the books will show them it’s normal to experience a range of emotions, even though it can feel like you’re the only one going through them at the time. It’s OK to feel different from everyone else. You can overcome problems with a little help from others. Sometimes it just takes one person to believe in a child and encourage them, for them to believe in themselves. It’s the same with adults too, many of my students are brilliant but just need ‘a little bit of encouragement' to develop their ideas.
Maybe that will be the fourth title in the series, who knows!
A Little Bit of Courage is out right now and you can get signed and dedicated versions of the book here or you can grab the book on Amazon. Make sure to give this one a read, it's certainly a classic.