Jenny Broom is a children’s author and senior commissioning editor at Wide Eyed Editions, a new imprint of Quarto Publishing.
Her latest book Animalium, illustrated by Katie Scott, won The Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Year. Here, she recalls the wonders of Winnie the Pooh, how inspiration struck in the Natural History Museum and rising early to write.
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne ... and other childhood favourites
“I loved books growing up. I loved the classics like A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Shirley Hughes and Edward Ardizzone, who is the grandfather of children’s illustrations in some ways. I also loved Janet and Allan Ahlberg. I remember The Jolly Christmas Postman coming out and how you could read other people’s letters and all the stories within stories. It was such an interactive way of reading.
“I remember watching my parents read and not being able to read myself at three or four, which I found incredibly frustrating. I’d draw pictures instead and then I cracked it. My absolute favourite was Winnie the Pooh. I was obsessed.
“There’s a story where Tigger falls out of a tree and the type follows him down the page until he’d fallen to the bottom. Seeing the interaction of the type and the illustration as a child and the playfulness of it really caught my attention. Tiggers don’t climb trees!
“My granny bought me a Winnie the Pooh first edition, which my mum read to me. I remember studying the end papers, which had a map of Hundred Acre Wood. I loved how you could chart where they had been in all the different stories.
“I was in my own world completely. I grew up in a very rural area in north Norfolk so I had fields and trees around me and that was what I saw in the pictures. It never occurred to me that it might be set anywhere else.
“Pooh is very lovable and I had a teddy called Eeyore. I also liked Rabbit. He was always in a bit of a stress and talked such rubbish. I still have my children’s books. I think the way the creative process works is that you put something out and then you have to replenish.
“Occasionally I still dip into Winnie the Pooh for inspiration. I also re-read Alice in Wonderland and it reminded me what a bizarre book it is. There’s such a rich visual culture around it that you remember sequences like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and croquet in the Queen’s garden so clearly. But when you actually read the book, it’s completely bonkers.”
Walk This World by Jenny Broom and Lotta Nieminen
“I used to ghostwrite and edit books. Then I wrote a book called Walk This World with the illustrator Lotta Nieminen and that was the first book I was really proud of. On every page you go to a different city round the world and you can open up the windows and see what people are doing.
“It’s a beautiful book, very simple but it did a really lovely thing, showing the world as a global village. It showed we’re all very different but underneath we’re all the same and we live in this world full of exciting things.
“It was interactive and aimed at children aged three plus. The illustrations were quite sophisticated and in a way you could read it without having to read the words. It was a poetic text to bring out some of the details.
“It was more the illustrator’s book and I wrote the text to support it, so Animalium is the first book where I’ve really been recognised as an author in my own right.”
Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott
“We said ‘OK, kids love animals and kids love books but how can we deliver this in a journey?’ I take things with a rich information base and give them an imaginative angle so you enter a world. I was in the Natural History Museum when I thought ‘that’s what we need to do, a museum in a book’.
“I worked with a natural history expert, as well as my publisher, my designer and Katie [Scott, the illustrator]. We had such support but it was terrifying – it was nail-biting every time a review came out. Reviewers don’t pull their punches if you don’t get it right. I spent more time fact-checking and going back over it than I did doing the text in the first place.
“It’s such a responsibility because when you see something in print you believe it to be true. It was The Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Year and was nominated in the National Book Awards against David Walliams, who won.
“It got a very warm reception, which is unbelievable when you think I sat writing it in my pyjamas on the sofa! I had a full-time job so I’d get up and write it at 4am or 5am before going to work or on weekends and evenings.
“I’ve set up a non-fiction imprint with my publisher called Wide Eyed Editions. I love my day job and want to keep it. That and the writing inform each other and that’s a very healthy thing."