The Start of Something Big

Written by: Annahita De La Mare

Illustrated by: Jennifer Kirkham

For ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Feminism, Adventure, Girls Outdoors, Family, Friendship, Love.

Summary: This book is so cute!  We love that the three main characters are an adventurous set of cousins, and very diverse!  These girls are an ode to those of us that prefer to splash in puddles, explore the woods, and take a hot air balloon away to a far off adventure.

Alice, Hannah, and Rosie find an old hot air balloon in the garden shed during a game of hide and seek.  Fixing it up, the courageous trio decides to fly it to their grandma’s house for dinner.  Despite a fun and harrowing journey, they land at their grandma’s house just in time for dinner! Afterwards, everyone (including Gordon the horse!) pile back into the balloon for another ride.  The girls learn a bit about flying from their grandmother, and then fly home to turn in for the night.  Knowing that this is the beginning of even more adventures, the girls have a sleepover to plan all of the places they wish to fly while falling asleep in Hannah’s room, tuckered out by their day of adventure.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

6493d270391e0a1200478445f53f5c73_originalWe were lucky enough to interview Annahita earlier this summer!  Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Hi! My name is Annahita, I was born in the UK to an Iranian mother and Welsh father. I moved to Switzerland 11 years ago to be live with my German husband, and together we have two girls (5 and 6 years old) who haven’t got a clue if they are Swiss, German or British 🙂

TTA: What are you passionate about?

A: I am passionate about naturally inclusive children’s books. I believe that fear and prejudice grow out of a lack of knowledge and exposure, and I feel that books are a wonderful way to broaden children’s minds, and introduce them to topics or people that they may not necessarily come across in their daily lives. I also believe that girls should be FAR better represented in children’s books. They need more inspiring role models in positive fictional stories that they can go to sleep dreaming about.

I am also working on re-writes of the traditional princess fairy tales, trying to keep the original magic and delight of the original stories, but just changing silly storylines being all about meeting a prince and getting married. In all of my books I ensure that the characters in the story are a mixture of skin colours, because I believe it’s important not just for children of colour to see themselves in the pages of books, but for white children to see themselves in the pages of books, alongside children of colour with equally important roles in the stories.

Here is some information from her successful Kickstarter campaign:

“My children have been given many books about great women from history over this past year. It’s wonderful to see so many stories of strong and diverse women on the bookshelves. Some publishers have even tried to make versions relevant to younger audiences by reducing the text and using more illustrations. But these stories are still filled with themes which are hard to explain to young children, such as starvation, world war, segregation and sexism.

I know I don’t have to read every word, but I find myself censoring so many of the words that the sentences and the stories no longer make sense. They will learn these themes in school, and when they do, they will have many excellent books to explore the roles played by courageous women during these important periods in history.

But for the younger audience? It’s still incredibly important that younger children are hearing stories about brave and adventurous girls; girls that take risks and work through challenges; who work together as equals and aren’t labelled “tomboys” or “different” just because they handle a screwdriver or climb a tree. But I want these stories to be positive, happy and care-free. I want them to be stories that they can go to sleep dreaming about.

I tried to find stories like these, but they were so few and far between that after reading each of them the requisite 100 times, even my young children started to ask why there weren’t more!

So I started dreaming up new stories. It began with ideas and notes scribbled on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on my computer, on my phone. Eventually the Hot Air Balloon Stories began to take shape…three cousins playing hide and seek, discovering a broken hot air balloon and dreaming of places they could go…

*All* I needed was to find someone to bring to paper the illustrations that I see when I close my eyes. She wasn’t easy to find, but find her I did. When I received that first beautiful illustration from Jennifer Kirkham, I knew she was the perfect person to take the Hot Air Balloon Adventure Stories to the next level.

The under-representation of girls and the complete lack of diversity in children’s books has been a subject of concern for decades. Yet still today, as aware and concerned as we are of gender bias in every day life, children’s books are twice as likely to feature male lead characters than female lead characters. Even today, when 32% of school aged children in the UK are Black, Asian or “other Ethnic Minority”; only 1% of children’s books published in 2017 had main characters that were anything other than white.

In the picture book market for younger children – where seeing oneself in the characters of a book is so important – the traditional publishing industry continues to focus on non-human characters. It is easy to understand why; change the language of the text in a book about a cat, monster or potato and it becomes sellable in any country. But a study of the University of Toronto last year confirmed that children do not learn behaviours or morals from stories with animal characters.

Don’t get me wrong – my children and I absolutely adore many of the wonderful animal (and vegetable!) stories out there. They deserve a place on the bookshelf because they are fun, wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated stories. But studies show that girls start to doubt the brilliance of their own gender at six years of age. We HAVE to balance the bookshelves of younger children with enjoyable stories which clearly carry the message that girls are confident, capable and brilliant. Even if they fly into the odd tree every now and again…”

Screen Shot 2019-06-22 at 12.30.31 PMJennifer Kirkham is a British freelance Illustrator and graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. She credits her love of drawing to the portion of her childhood spent in East Africa, where the local wildlife provided endless inspiration and artistic challenges. 

Now based in the North East of England, Jennifer shares a studio with her cat Heath and dog Scout. She works with a mixture of digital and traditional tools, and gets through an awful lot of podcasts. 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s