In an exciting Story Seekers ‘first’, not only do we have a review of this brilliant book for you but I’m very pleased to say that we have an interview with the author, Jane Hissey. Jane is also the author of the ‘Old Bear’ books, which are quite rightly beloved around the world and are also very popular with C and H (and the children at C’s pre-school, where it’s one of the most sought after story sacks).
‘Ruby, Blue and Blanket’ is Jane’s first new book for ten years and it has definitely been worth the wait. She has created (quite literally, as you’ll see when you read the answers to the questions below) three gorgeous new characters whose dressing-up game drew us in from the very first word.
One of my favourite things about the book is that neither the female (Ruby) or male (Blue and Blanket) characters restrict themselves to costumes that are gender specific. Ruby is as keen to experiment with being a pirate as she is with being a fairy:
and Blue initially chooses long hair and a flowery dress:
I’m not kidding myself that C and H will forever remain as unaware of gender stereotyping as they seem to be at the moment, but I was heartened to see that neither of them mentioned anything about ‘girls’ costumes’ or ‘boys’ costumes’ as we read the book.
In fact, they were so taken with the fun of dressing up and the silliness of the characters’ final costume choices that I doubt they were thinking about anything else other than just what a great book they were reading. The final message is absolutely spot on – any of us can be anything we choose – and the boys loved the fact that the characters showed how we can all be more than one thing anyway.
I love to think that they will grow up knowing that their personalities and choices make them into well-rounded individuals who can’t be defined simply by the fact that they, for example, like a certain colour or have a certain hobby.
This beautiful book will be great to share across a wide age range of children and will hopefully inspire a lot of creative costume making 🙂
Now, without further ado, here are the questions that the boys and I posed for Jane. She was a true superstar and got back to us really quickly and C was beside himself to think that a real, proper author had actually listened to our thoughts and responded!
Questions from me:
Q. Are Ruby, Blue and Blanket also based on ‘real life’ toys? If not, what was your inspiration for creating these gorgeous new characters?
A. I made Ruby mouse and Blue Rabbit myself and adapted a very old horse to make Blanket. I wanted all the characters to be completely unique and I knew exactly how I wanted them to look. I wanted them to be bright and colourful and as different from the characters in the Old Bear books as possible.
Q. Last year, I unearthed all my childhood books in my dad’s loft and have found it magical revisiting the stories I adored when I was young. What were your favourite books as a child?
A. I didn’t have a lot of books as a child but I visited the local library every week. I really loved the Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome adventure stories and a particular favourite picture book was by Ivy M. Wallace and was about a little flying rabbit called Pookie.
Q. One of my favourite things about the book is the way that it seems to appeal equally to girls and boys (having read it with children of both gender). I am very keen that, for as long as possible, my sons don’t feel that there should be a conscious divide between books for girls and books for boys. Do you ever feel the need to consider factors such as this when creating your books?
A. I do feel that is a real bonus when a book appeals to both boys and girls. I have always tried to blur stereotypes a little bit and allow boys do girl things and vice versa. I particularly dislike the big pink thing that is happening these days to girls’ books, toys, games, furnishings etc. In my books it is fine for male characters to cook and knit and dress up as a princess and equally ok for female characters to mend things and build things and dress up as an astronaut (and to wear other colours than pink if they want to!) Actually I don’t think my readers notice the gender of each character and that is the way I like it.
Questions from C and H:
Q. We have cuddly owls that we snuggle with every night. Do you still have a teddy to cuddle in bed?
A. When I was a child, Old Bear was my bedtime teddy bear but now I have to keep him somewhere safe because his head has gone a bit wobbly. Perhaps I should make myself a new bedtime friend!
Q. We really like dressing up as firefighters. What are your favourite things to be when you’re dressing up?
A. I used to like dressing up as Robin Hood when I was a child because I loved climbing trees and playing bows and arrows. The last time I went to a fancy dress party it was an Easter party and I went as a rabbit with a ping pong ball nose and big cardboard ears. I wish I had a photo.
Q. Our favourite part of the story is when Ruby, Blue and Blanket wear the mixed-up costumes – it made us laugh a LOT because being silly is brilliant! What is your favourite part of the story?
A. I think I rather like the mermaid bit. It was fun drawing the hair and all those fish and the bit where she says she would ‘like someone to play with who wasn’t a fish’ made me laugh when I wrote it!
I am so grateful to Jane for taking the time to answer our questions – we wish you had a photo of the rabbit costume too 😉
P.S. For more Jane Hissy joyousness, check out this article from the Guardian, where she explains how to draw her famous Little Bear character (from the ‘Old Bear’ books).