After having my daughter in June 2014 I became very aware at how Pink society was trying to colour her world. Now I have nothing against Pink in fact it is a wonderful colour, but……..It isn’t the only colour! I was also shocked when faced with other mothers telling me that their sons ‘would never be allowed to play with dolls’ and heaven forbid they would ever play with a kitchen!
Well times they are a changing buddy and thankfully there are parents/mothers around like Mel Elliott who has written the amazing Pearl Power! A book about a clever young girl named Pearl who reminds us all a thing or two about gender equality. Now there is a second book ‘Pearl Power and the Trouble with Toys’ soon to be released so what better time to chat to the author about these brilliant books.
Having been a fan of your Colour Me books for some time, I was really excited when the first Pearl Power book came out. It has since become a firm favourite with me and my daughter, so as you can imagine we’re very excited about the second instalment!
What first inspired you to write a children’s book?
I had always wanted to write a children’s book, however I had no idea what about and didn’t want to force it. As soon as I found the inspiration through my own daughter Pearl, it took shape quite effortlessly.
As you started predominantly as an illustrator did writing come easily to you?
I have always considered writing as an important part of my practise, so yes, fairly easily. I have always kept journals and spent much of my degree and MA writing. Writing for children is very different from what I had written previously but I was so inspired that it wasn’t a problem.
The books use gorgeous bold illustrations did you have a strong idea of how you wanted the graphics to look when you started?
I had NO idea and this was the difficult bit to the point where I considered commissioning another illustrator to do it! Children’s illustration is so far removed from what I do that it took a lot of working out to come up with something that (a) I had the ability to do (b) worked well with the look and feel of the book, and (c) appealed to children. Once I had figured all that out I could crack on and it was enjoyable, but getting to that stage was quite a challenge.
Have you found that your writing process has changed since the first book?
No not at all. With both the stories I had the concept and then the whole thing took me about an hour to write. It’s great when that happens as it has a good flow to it and nothing is forced. A nice natural, organic process beats a laboured one any day.
The books have a strong gender equality message did you find having your daughter highlighted the issue of gender equality in children’s literature?
It certainly did. One morning she exclaimed to me that boys became doctors and girls became nurses and I was so angry that young minds are led to think along these stereotyped ideas in 2014 (as it was then). That’s when I became inspired to write ‘Pearl Power’ and I wanted to do something to change perceptions of gender not just for Pearl but for everyone… including parents!
Were you surprised at how popular the book has been?
I am always surprised when ANYONE buys anything I have made! It’s such a compliment. When I started with the grown-up colouring books, I hit a niche market with little to no competition so selling wasn’t too difficult. The children’s book market is a completely different kettle of fish. There are so many to compete with and large book shops won’t take a risk on an unknown children’s author. So, if I am measuring Pearl Power’s popularity by sales compared with other children’s book then it’s rubbish. However, if I’m judging it on what children and parents have said about it and how they love it and can’t wait for the next one, then, yes I am surprised by that… and very proud.
What was/were your favourite children’s book when you were to younger?
I loved the range of ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ books and I plan to get some for Pearl soon. I really liked the morals in ‘Aesop’s Fables’. I also had a cassette with ‘The Tortoise and The Hare’ read by Judi Dench, I would listen to that on a loop!
Last time Pearl moved house and started a new school what is pearl up to in the new book?
Without giving TOO much away, Pearl and Sebastian set out to change how children’s toys are marketed using gender stereotypes. It sounds rather complicated for a children’s book but I have written it in such a fun way that very young kids will completely get it. I’m not telling you if Pearl and Sebastian succeed in their mission though, you’ll have to find out in October.
Do you have plans for more Pearl books?
Yes, I always intended for there to be at least 5 books. I also want to create some short animations based on real-life gender equality news stories or events from history, so Pearl will be around for a while.
‘PEARL POWER AND THE TOY PROBLEM’ Written and Illustrated by Mel Elliott out 1st October 2015 (Available to preorder now at shop.ilovemel.me)