Hilary Robinson Interview

hilary robinsonHilary Robinson is the author of over 40 books for children and is probably best known for her Mix Up series, featuring illustrations by Nick Sharratt and Liz Pichon. She’ll be appearing at Harrogate Children’s Festival this half-term, with her Mixed-Up Fairytales event for youngsters.

You’ve now written over 40 children’s books. Could you tell us about the personal experience which prompted you to write your first book Sarah the Spider?
I had written for children’s television before my daughters were born so when my eldest, Sophie, was two and developed a chronic fear of spiders writing a story for her seemed to me the best way of addressing the issue.  I thought the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffett may have contributed to her fear so I wrote the story in a verse form called doggerel so that the rhythm would be familiar to her.  After that I wrote four more Sarah the Spider books.


Mixed Up Fairy Tales (New title)Your ‘Mixed Up’ series of books – featuring jumbled up versions of fairy tales and nursery rhymes – has proved very popular with young readers. What gave you the idea for these books?
I had worked with Nick Sharratt on another idea about spooky recipes and we decided to mix them up to make crazy magic spells.  That then gave me the idea for mixing up the fairy tales.  At first I thought it would be too difficult to do but Nick suggested leaving the text on one side and pictures on the other – rather trying to write the text across two pages, one spread,  and then it became easier.  I love to encourage children to ‘think outside of the box’ as that skill helps us all throughout life whether we are scientists or artists and especially if we have problems and challenges.  This book encourages just that – where else would Goldilocks climb a beanstalk and dream of marrying a beautiful swan?!

 Could you tell us your own favourite fairy tale?
My favourite fairy tale is The Elves and The Shoemaker.  I love the way the little people combine their talents to help the poor shoemaker.  I think it has a lovely subtext of cooperation and kindness.

Your Copper Tree Class series introduces children to sensitive subjects, such as grief and ageing. The books have been very well received and we wondered if you have any plans to write more books in the series?
Yes, my illustrator, Mandy Stanley (much loved for her Lettice The Rabbit books) and I have plans for a series of Copper Tree Class books.  The third book looks at adoption, the fourth, foodbanks and we plan to cover child caregivers, travelling children, dementia, and other challenging issues that may affect children.  The key to this series is to write and illustrate the stories so that they sit comfortably alongside every other picturebook on the bookshelf.  Too many books that treat these subjects are tucked away, only to be brought out at times of a crisis.  The truth is we all have difficulties in our lives and we must all be encouraged to find ways through them.  These stories address the issues but they are fun and interesting reads too.

Help a Hamster, by Hilary Robinson with illustrations by Mandy StanleyWe understand that you are a patron of The Children’s University, which seems like a fantastic way to encourage out-of-school learning amongst children. Could you tell us a little bit more about the organisation?
The Children’s University (CU) Trust is a charity that offers 7 to 14 year olds (and 5 to 6 year olds with their families) exciting and innovative learning activities and experiences outside normal school hours.  It recognises that we all learn in different ways – and that if we are encouraged to participate and enjoy we are more likely to learn.  In short, everyone is talented at whatever they become interested in.

You’ll be visiting Harrogate Children’s Festival this summer, entertaining children with your ‘Mixed Up Fairytales’. What do you enjoy most about meeting your young readers?
Meeting children and introducing them to new worlds through books is such a privilege.  The Cat In The Hat changed my world.  I was very young and living abroad at the time and the only books we had were donated by American missionaries so I discovered Dr Seuss long before British children here and I was just the right age.  Dr Seuss showed me where the imagination could travel if it was freed – that is what I hope to achieve children to do too.

Mixed Up Nursery Rhymes by Hilary Robinson and Liz PichonDo you have any other events lined up in the coming months?
I am looking forward to being the guest at a Children’s University graduation in Lambeth in June and awarding prizes the same month at a school in Bradford.  We have the release and launch of the new Copper Tree series book in August – Help A Hamster and also the paperback of Mixed Up Nursery Rhymes so it is going to be a busy summer!

Children are renowned for their honesty; have you had any entertaining encounters with young readers at your events?!
I was signing books in a bookshop once when a five year old boy told me it was “naughty to write in books.”  Another time my agent  forwarded  a fan letter which was addressed to me.  When I opened it the letter said … Dear Jane Abbott  – I think your Sarah the Spider  illustrations are fantastic.  And one young boy also asked me if I hoped to be as good a writer as Roald Dahl one day … of course I do, don’t we all?!

For more details about Hilary’s appearance at Harrogate Children’s Festival, please click here.

To visit Hilary’s website, please click here.


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