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May 14th 2021
Q: Congratulations on your shortlisting for this year’s Kate Greenaway Medal. What did it mean to you to be shortlisted?
When I first heard I had been shortlisted for this prize I went back and googled the shortlist from last year. I could not believe what I saw. There are illustrators on that list who have been my heroes for ever. People I more than admire, I worship. I am amazed, delighted and slightly confused that my work might be seen as in the same category.
Q: Poverty and the increasing numbers of families needing to use food banks are hugely important issues in the UK at the moment, and this increase has only been exacerbated by the impacts of Covid-19. What was it that led you to write It’s a No-Money Day?
I asked myself what it must feel like to be a child in a family that has to rely on a food bank to eat. A bit of reading and a chat with the Trussell Trust revealed that this kind of poverty affects about one in three children in Britain. That’s ten in an average class of thirty so it is hardly a rare experience. If you are that child you probably see your mum and dad working really hard to pay the bills and keep some sort of a roof over your head while at the same time being demonised by the press. How does it feel to see people like your parents depicted in our media as feckless, lazy and irresponsible. Barrington Stoke and I planned this book before Covid-19 hit our economy but, unfortunately, the need for it will only increase.
Q: The book portrays life on the poverty line and the experience of visiting food banks from a child’s perspective. How do you go about representing a complex issue like this for young readers?
I can not hide the fact that I am very committed to certain political points of view, however, it is not my job to tell children what they should think. My aim is basically to explain to young readers what a food bank is; to reflect the reality of the situation. I try to get rid of everything that a child would not see as relevant; the history, the politics, the shame many adults and older children feel about using food banks, and concentrate on the concrete reality.
Q: It’s a No-Money Day has also been included in this year’s Read for Empathy collection, for its ability to help develop empathy in young readers. What are the key messages you hope children will take from the book?
If their family has to use food banks I hope they see themselves. I think it’s very important that children’s real lived experience is reflected back to them in a positive way. I hope the remaining two thirds of the children understand a little more about the lives of their school mates and, perhaps, nag their parents into putting something into the food bank bin at the supermarket.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the processes involved in writing and illustrating the book? What came first – the words or the illustrations?
I usually start by writing a few phrases somewhere; this might be a piece of dialogue, or a repeating phrase, and then I start to draw. The idea only comes to life for me through drawing. That’s when the characters and their environment become real.
Q: Are there any other authors and illustrators you’ve been particularly influenced by?
I think Shaun Tan is a bit of a genius but if I’m looking for inspiration I usually go back to the master draughtsmen from the post war period, such as Ronald Searle, Ralph Steadman and Charles Keeping. Dave McKean and Brian Wildsmith would also get an honourable mention. If I could only rescue one book from an enchroaching fire I would dither between “The Lost Thing” by Shaun Tan and The Railway Passage by Charles Keeping, (now sadly out of print). I expect I would get burnt to death before I could decide.
Q: What’s next? Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on at the moment?
Barrington Stoke and I are working on a book about homelessness for young children. I also have a book called “Sorry Mrs Cake” with Tiny Owl coming out in June. That one is pure fun.
It's A No-Money Day is out now.
See the full Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist for 2021.