In my almost eight years of blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever featured a children’s book before – it was never a conscious choice, just that I don’t have children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren so it’s not a sector of the book market I know very much about. But I have featured author Gail Aldwin before: a review of Paisley Shirt, her excellent short fiction collection, in 2018; then a review of her debut novel, The String Games, last year, together with a lovely interview.
So when Gail told me about Pandemonium, the children’s picture book she’s been working on with illustrator Fiona Zechmeister, I was really intrigued – and when she shared a few of the book’s gorgeous illustrations, full of colour and movement, it was a book I really wanted to share with others. And it is nearly Christmas, you know (it’s been pretty Christmassy here since early September…!) – and this might be one you’d like to think about adding to your shopping list.
I’ll hand over to Gail to tell us more, from the initial idea through to publication – a journey through pandemonium…
I’ve been working on a children’s picture book for a very long time indeed. The idea for Pandemonium came when I was teaching a module of writing for children to undergraduates at the University of South Wales in 2015. We were looking at features of anthropomorphism, where animals have human characteristics, and I shared examples where this technique was used to explore danger vicariously and therefore safely. Students joined the discussion before going slightly off task and started chatting about cute red pandas.
I spent a long time wondering what the relationship would be like between a giant panda and a red panda living in central China. When I came to research this, it was clear that the two types of pandas are completely unrelated. So, if there are red pandas, why not write a picture book about a purple panda? And use anthropomorphism to explore tensions around looking different and not fitting in. Thus the original idea for Pandemonium began to take shape.
Peta is a cute and cuddly purple panda who lives with her parents in a department store. The whole experience of shopping with family members (at least in the pre-Covid days) is a regular occurrence for many children and would therefore make the story relatable. I decided to use some sophisticated vocabulary – the word pandemonium alone requires explanation and this is achieved through the story – but I also included other words that are fun to say, such as haberdashery. Word selection, patterned language and repetition make the story fun to read aloud. As children become more familiar with the text and pictures, they can say the repeated phrases and by doing so, they build early reading skills.
With my side of the story completed, I handed the text over to Fiona Zechmeister to work on the illustrations. She started with sketches and colour swatches, then Fiona moved onto thumbnail illustrations. That’s when our true collaboration began.
We needed to work together closely so that the words told one story and the pictures told a more nuanced version. For a cohesive children’s picture book, it’s so important for the text and the illustrations to dovetail. And we’ve done it! Ta-dah! I’m delighted to share with you the finished product.
Peta doesn’t look like other pandas in the toy department because of her purple coat. This provides camouflage and enables her to get up to mischief. When an assistant spots Peta this puts an end to her tricks. Peta must learn more about herself… but does this stop Peta’s fun? Of course not!
Praise for Pandemonium
Pandemonium is available for pre-order from Victorina Press – you’ll find their online bookshop here. The first one hundred orders will receive a free sticker set. Following release on 1 December, Pandemonium will be available from all good bookshops and online outlets.
Victorina Press Seasonal Promotion
Order Pandemonium or any other Victorina Press title (including The String Games) directly from the publisher, Victorina Press, and you’ll receive 30% discount by entering the coupon code XMAS2020 (one use per customer). Please support this small independent press in their mission to discover unheard voices and promote diversity.
Gail, thank you – and I’ll happily admit that I might have fallen in love with Peta already…
About Gail Aldwin
Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and shortlisted in the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize 2020. Gail lives with her family in a house that overlooks water meadows in Dorset. Find out more about Gail on her blog.
About Fiona Zechmeister
Fiona holds a degree in Visual Communication and a Masters in Publishing from the University of Derby. She works as an illustrator creating book covers and children’s books. Pandemonium is the third children’s picture book Fiona has illustrated. The others are I am Adila from Gaza and Songo. Find out more about Fiona on her website.