I’M A GIRL!

KIDS / September 4, 2015

As the mother to a young daughter, I think its so important to help nurture and support her emerging sense of self. So I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to help build on her inner confidence in the hope that she grows up feeling not only secure but self-empowered and ready to take on the world! So you can only imagine my delight on discovering  I”M A GIRL! the latest book by children’s picture book author and illustrator, YASMEEN ISMAIL.

 

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Books and stories provide early learning experiences and role models for young kids and I absolutely love finding ones that feature strong female characters that are not only empowering for little girls but inclusive of boys too. I’M A GIRL! playfully explores ideas around gender role stereotypes before cleverly turning them on their head in a lively and energetic celebration of all things girl!

 

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The heroine of the story is always getting mistaken for a boy as she doesn’t fit the typical girly princess mould – for one, she’s blue, she wears shorts, she’s fast, noisy and boisterous, she likes winning and reading facts. Best of all, she’s a character that both boys and girls will likely relate to, making a wonderfully age-appropriate point that blue’s not just for boys and pink isn’t only for girls!

 

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It also makes for a great conversation starter to begin guiding discussions on gender roles and identity in general, as at age 3 my daughter has already started to gain some awareness around these differences. I’ve lately overheard her saying certain toys or clothes are too ‘boyish’ or ‘girlish’ for her so there’s never been a better moment to start challenging some of these ideas!

 

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Little ones who are in the process of forming their personalities and identities are particularly vulnerable to early outside influence as they become aware that certain activites and behaviours are often associated with gender. As a parent, I feel a big a responsibility to start openly discussing these attitudes with my daughter to prevent limited gender stereotypes forming as she grows up.

 

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Yasmeen’s Ismails original artwork and trademark inky drawings provide a colourful backdrop to this book’s central and most powerful message – to proudly be ourselves, cause theres no one better, be it boys or girls!

 

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Reading I’M A GIRL! should provide your little one with a daily dose of positive encouragement to remind them of their own unique brilliance irrespective of gender. And I can certaintly vouch for this instant boost of confidence both my daughter and myself felt after our first reading, which had us bouncing all over the place, high-fiving and shouting, ‘I’M A GIRL!’

 

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Not only did we get a chance to review the book but we also got a quick Q & A in with the author, Yasmeen herself all about her picture books, gender, creative processes and whats coming up next for her….

 

Q: As a mother to a young daughter myself, I love your latest book, I’m a Girl and would love to know what inspired you to write it?
I have a niece and a nephew. My nephew seems to think the sky is the limit when it comes to imagining his future. He would like to be a scientist, an explorer or an engineer. My niece would like to be a princess. I don’t mind that she wants to be a princess. The way it is presented sounds great; A castle, jewels, being heralded as the best thing ever. I don’t mind that she wants to wear pink, and I don’t mind that she wants sparkles on everything. The worry that I have is that the only reason she wants to be a princess and in pink might be because that is the main option that is presented to her. This might not be true, but when I walk around and see aspiring princesses everywhere, I start to wonder where it’s all come from. If I look to the book stores, I can’t move for books ‘for girls’ and books ‘for boys’. And the funny thing is, is that “boys” books proffer achievable careers in such things as construction, engineering, and medicine (but not Law, I’ve noticed). But being a princess, you can only be born or marry into that. So what is the message? Marry well? And what does that say about my niece? She can focus on dressing, acting and looking a certain way in order to meet her future prince (because, believe me, she hasn’t been born into royalty). It would seem to me that her quest started when she received her first princess book. I love my niece. I am fiercely protective of her, but I need books to help me give her more options; To tell her that she is young and that the world is her oyster, and that she can do anything she wants. I don’t want her to limit herself. I don’t want her to say “I don’t want to be an engineer because I was told that’s for boys.” I want her to be happy and I don’t want her to feel that she can’t do everything she wants to do. I have full confidence that she will be fine in the future. Her parents are wonderful and will care for her and help her to be strong and smart and ambitious. I have no doubt that she will be happy, but I can’t say the same for every little girl. If she chooses to be a princess then so be it, as long as that’s HER choice.

 

Q: Do you feel there is a need for more empowering stories for girls and / or books with strong female characters for little ones to learn from and relate to?

I think it should just exist anyway. With kids most books are empowering and positive. I would just like them to be more equal. For boys and for girls. Most kids books have a good message and do educate children, it’s just the way that the education and information are being apportioned. It shouldn’t be gender-based.

 

Q: How did you get into writing and illustrating children’s picture books?
I really sort of fell into it. Illustrating was something that I wanted to do late in life. My business partner and I dissolved our animation company in 2010 and in the years between graduating and working I had learned that illustration was something one could do. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before as an option. With a little digging around I went to see an agent, and it was him who looked at my portfolio and said that my work would be suited to Children’s Illustration. So I took his advice and pursued that path. I went to classes, read up, researched, talked to people in the industry and worked on a strong portfolio. Once I had an agent and publishers were interested in Fred (from my book, “Time for Bed, Fred”), I got the chance to write. There were a number of publishers who wanted Fred and in the swing of negotiations I was offered the chance to write the book myself. And that is when I really started to learn to write for children.

 

Q: Tell me a bit about your creative process when it comes to planning and creating a new picture book? What sparks your ideas? And as an author / illustrator, what comes first? The pictures or the words?
I suppose I start by thinking, “Oh, I have a deadline and I have to write a story in the next week”. Then I find some time and a place where I can’t get to the wifi and I write a story. I think about things I have overheard, or times when I was a child or about the kids in my family and I try things out and see if I can write something that lots of children can relate to. Once I have done that I send it to my editor and we back and forth on the idea, sometimes changing it completely or just making minor adjustments to the language or structure. Once that is signed off (it will always change throughout the whole process anyway, but once the bulk of it is signed off) it will go to the designer who will lay out the text so that I can get a good idea of what is going to go where. I usually have an idea in my head already and I have page numbers written in the text. But the designer can really bring much more to it. And when I get those layouts back, that is my skeleton structure for the whole book. It can always change and is always evolving. Then I start sketching. I get the framework down for where I want everything to go. I send that off, we back and forth about the images and placement. I try hard at this point to get it all really tight. The way the story unfolds should be not only in the text, but in the mood of the pictures, and in the visual language of it all. Once that is locked off and everyone is happy I can get artwork. I use watercolours to paint my characters and ‘props’. I paint the spreads in bits, because I can’t get it right the first time. I like to have control over how I work. Then I scan the bits into Photoshop and collage it all together. It’s laborious but unfortunately the only way that I can work!

 

Q: What tools of the trade can you not live without?

Thick and rough Watercolour paper. Watercolour paints, and good synthetic paintbrushes. And a computer and scanner. AND the Pilot G-Tec -C4 pens in black. Essential!

 

Q: Can you give any advice to those aspiring to work in the industry? Or any general tips on how to make things happen for yourself as a creative?

Do your research. So many people ask me questions that they could find out themselves if they just put a little time into digging around a bit. You can’t ask other people to hand you the answers all the time. There are books and websites with all the information. Go to talks, educate yourselves. Go to galleries and take in art and photography, comedy, theatre, books, and books and books. Nourish yourselves and you will come up with the goods to create. Of course, I suppose by asking me they are doing research… You can’t win with me!

 

Q: Lastly what’s next in the pipeline for you? Any exciting new future projects or books you can tell us about? What can we be looking forward to seeing you do next?

Right now I am working on some really exciting books for Walker. I can’t really say anything else about it, but suffice to say it’s been so much fun making them. I have high hopes for them. It’s like a dream come true making these books. I am also working on my 4th book for Bloomsbury. I can’t talk about that either! I am about to write my 2nd book for Nosy Crow, the first one will be out in October, so look out for that. It’s called “Christmas for Greta and Gracie.” It was a great deal of fun to work with the National Portrait Gallery this year and I hope to do more of that sort of thing in the future. No offers yet though. I have been zooming around London, Bristol, Dublin, Cork and this weekend I’ll be in Germany. I feel a bit jet set and actually I just want to sit at my desk and do my work. There is a lot of exciting travel for events in the future, again nothing I can divulge (sorry), but I’ll be updating my instagram: yasmeeny and my Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Yasmeenmayismail and my twitter @YasmeenMay

 

I’M A GIRL is published by Bloomsbury Aug 2015

# BLOOMSBURY, BOOK REVIEW, CHILDRENS PICTURE BOOKS, I'M A GIRL!, YASMEEN ISMAIL

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