Tuesday 12 January 2016

Welcome to our stop on the "Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat" Blog Tour and a fab guest post from Emily Mackenzie!

 A cool crochetting Kitty! A creative cat! You'll have already seen our review of "Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat" and we're delighted to be hosting a guest post on Emily Mackenzie's blog tour celebrating the release of her fab new book.

Without further ado, we'll hand over to Stanley's awesome "Mum" with a lovely article about her influences and favourite childhood books.

Over to you Emily and thanks for stopping by ReadItDaddy!


It's not too difficult to choose some of my favourite books from my childhood as lucky for me, my mum kept most of those that filled the shelves of my old bedroom so that I still have them now!

I grew up in the countryside in Northumberland next to a pine forest where I would go for a lot of walks with my family, whizz about on my BMX and use it as a gigantic set with tree stumps and squashy moss for my Sylvanian Families to play in. I loved watching the seasons change, the giant pines would of course look pretty much the same all year round but the hedgerows around the fields near our house would look different throughout the year and I enjoyed picking flowers, eating berries straight from the hedge, filling pockets with rose hips and acorns to take home and looking for hedgehogs and rabbits when exploring.

Otto the Bear by Ivan Gantschev

I love different things about all the seasons but I think with being a January baby and having the excitement of the odd day off school because it was too snowy, Winter was my favourite then. With all these factors in mind I think it's easy to single out Otto the Bear by Ivan Gantschev and The Winter Bear by Ruth Craft and Erik Blegvad as being my favourites. There were of course, plenty other books I loved as a kid and still enjoy now including Dogger by Shirley Hughes and the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem, but there was something I particularly loved about bear books! There were definitely no bears in Slaley Forest but I think I wished there were!

Otto the Bear is full of delicious blotchy inky watercolour marks that are full of texture and still inspire me now to want to experiment more with my inks to create interesting feathering and new colours by letting them naturally flow into each other. The book is about an old forester who lived on the edge of the wood and would happily let a bear named Otto pilfer the apples and pears from his orchard until a new forester replaces him who isn't quite so understanding and builds a fence to keep him out. I'll not spoil it for you by giving away too much more but I think the wooded landscapes and winter scenes really appealed to me as a child because the situation of the cottage on the edge of the woodland was so familiar to me. It's a beautiful book and it'll always be my favourite because it reminds me so much of home. I think I'll have to get the table salt out tonight and scatter it on my wet ink drawings for a bit of fun now!

The other book I mentioned that I loved as a child and still treasure just as much now is The Winter Bear. Yes, another book about a bear but this time it's a lost soft toy bear stuck in a tree! Again, I think my reasons for loving this as a kid were much the same as before – It was comforting to read something that I could relate to. I hoped that I would find a bear like that in a tree near me with my brothers one snowy day and the illustrations and activities that the kids get up to were very similar to things I liked to do. I loved my teddies as a little girl and used to give them regular baths, dress them in old baby clothes and remember sewing poor Koala's arm back on when it fell off one day. I love the way the kids look after the bear in the book and think the illustrations are so warm and comforting and there's always something magical about a book with a snowy blizzard I think!
"The Winter Bear" by Ruth Craft and Erik Blegvad

When I write and illustrate my own books I think about my 5 year old self as my audience and if I'm stuck for an idea I find it a great starting point to draw from my own childhood interests. I love referring back to these two particularly because they help get me back in that head space and I know I'll always feel like that about them. They definitely make me want to write my own bear book... maybe that's what I should do next!

Emily Mackenzie (Photo © Diana Pappas)