Activity books are a life saver for parents – whether on long journeys, or waiting at a restaurant table or in a doctor waiting room, they are perfect to keep little people occupied, as well as encouraging their artistic skills and dexterity. The Draw and Discover series, created by Yasmeen Ismail and published by Laurence King, takes a different approach however, and is rather quite clever. Its purpose is to allow children to learn through creativity and imaginative play. This latest book in the series Happy Sad, Feeling Glad, is particularly ingenious, as it can be difficult for young children to express their feelings, which in turn can become frustrating. Happy Sad, Feeling Glad provides an outlet for them to explore their feelings in a creative way, which we know can be particularly cathartic. This also allows the book to deal with more complex feelings such as embarrassment or nervousness. Yasmeen Ismail’s bold and comic drawings help retain a certain lightness, and there is scope for children to express themselves in a non-threatening environment. It really is a wonderful book, and I am delighted to welcome Yasmeen to Library Mice for a Q & A to celebrate its publication.
A Q & A with Yasmeen Ismail
Hello Yasmeen! Please could you introduce us to your new book Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad
Happy, Sad, Feeling, Glad is the third book in the ‘Draw and Discover’ series, which I have made for Laurence King Publishing. These books are primarily activity books that encourage kids to be really creative and have space to play… but with a twist! The books also deal with abstract ideas, things that are intangible. The first two books deal with physicality, and place, so things that are up, or down or under, on top of, inside or outside. This new book deals with the realm of emotions and feelings, like happy, excited, cranky, scared and so on.
How did the books come about?
I was asked by the publisher if I wanted to make an activity book. I had never made an activity book before, and I thought, “this will be easy! I’ll just say ‘Colour that’ or ‘Draw this’ a lot then sit back and watch the sales soar.” But I was very naïve! I started making a book called Big Activity Book (my first mistake), and I just created lots of random activities. There was very little engagement; really it was just a pile of pages with an instruction. My editor realised that there was a problem with this, and so she summoned me to New York to spend a week with her. She taught me how to make a successful activity book. And by successful I mean one that I could feel proud of. She taught me that it was far more than the book I had imagined, where I basically just gave orders to the kids from the page. Instead, It was about encouragement and creating a story. It was about play and allowing your reader to make the book their own. It was about stepping back and giving space to the audience. It was to be a collaboration, not a dictatorship!
After long discussions she told me to get to work. I sat in a room and came up with Duck, Rabbit and Bear (the characters in the first two books Inside, Outside, Upside-Down and Push, Pull, Empty, Full, and playing with them in silly situations. I also came up with the concept of exploring abstract ideas. Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad was the next step. It was an easy book to make because the structure was already there. Three characters (this time, Dog, Cat and Donkey), with their own personalities, only this time they are dealing with emotions.
How do the books differ from I’m a Girl And Time for Bed, Fred?
Aesthetically they are very different from my picture books. First of all, they are activity books rather than stories. They are also made very differently, I use brush and ink and acrylic paints instead of watercolours. They are bolder and more graphic than my picture books, and with a much more limited palette. With my picture books I have a story to tell and I want to tell it with as much energy and colour as possible. With my activity books, it’s no longer my story to tell. The reader gets to tell their own story.
The ‘Draw & Discover’ series is great for promoting creative play – how do you think this can help a child’s development?
Playing is how kids learn. Everything they do is learning. All the time, looking and reading and drawing, it’s all work really! I hope that in the books it’s fun though, I hope it feels enjoyable. I think that by allowing kids to play we are encouraging them to think for themselves and come up with their own conclusions. The more we dictate the more we hamper them. A kid could have the next great idea, but not if we are telling them what that ‘great idea’ should be. They can come up with things that are far more creative and interesting than we ever can, we just have to allow that to happen and not jump in and interfere.
There are lots of emotions in the book, including ‘Excited’, ‘in love’ and, of course, ‘Happy’, but you don’t shy away from emotions like ‘cranky’, do you think its important to help children understand all sorts of emotions?
Of course it is! These emotions are a reality. Show me a kid who is never cranky! Being in a bad mood is not taboo, and I think it is detrimental to us to be ashamed of our feelings. If we can engage and understand ourselves, then we and others will all be better off.
I don’t believe in censoring things that are a reality. Sure, children need a certain degree of protection, but there is a point where they are no longer protected, but sheltered, and that won’t do them any favours.
What’s next for you?
Right now I am working on a picture book for the USA, writing one for Bloomsbury, planning more books for other publishers, awaiting publication of my new Lift-The-Flap books (Kiki and Bobo) for Walker Books, doing workshops and publicity and looking after my son. All good things
Happy, Sad, Feeling Glad is published by Laurence King and is out now. It can be purchased here.
Source: review copy from publisher