Today, I am delighted to welcome Children’s TV wildlife presenter, conservationist and trained vet, Dr Jess French, onto the blog to talk about her fabulous debut picture book, Slow Down, Monkey! beautifully illustrated by Eefje Kuijl.
It is Monkey’s birthday and she is in a hurry to arrange the perfect birthday bash. She dashes through the jungle, enlisting jungles friends to her make the perfect cake, the perfect decorations, and the perfect music. The fast-paced story bounces along with a great rhythm. Jess’ wonderful rhyming couplets roll of the tongue whilst introducing us to different animals in the jungle.
But the more Monkey rushes around, the more things start to go wrong. Until she meets a super-chilled sloth who tells her to slow down! I absolutely love this spread which gently introduces mindfulness techniques. Can Monkey use her new-found sense of calm to figure out what she really needs to create the perfect party?
Eefje’s illustrations are so rich and playful, and the jungle animals have been carefully illustrated to reflect each species. I was delighted to find a fact page at the end of this book which told us a little bit about all the different animals as well as a final page on mindfulness.
The whole family liked reading Slow Down, Monkey! The jungle birthday theme was a hit and incorporating mindfulness really elevated this book. There is so much to enjoy and admire about this delightful jungle romp, which has found the perfect balance between fact and fiction.
And now, it’s over to Jess to tell us a bit more about what inspired the book and her writing journey.
Hello Jess, thank you so much for chatting with me! I absolutely loved Slow Down Monkey. But before we dive into talking about the book, could you share with us a little bit about you and all your amazing animal adventures?
As a vet and conservationist, I have been lucky enough to have incredible animal adventures all over the world, from following gibbons through the dense forests of Thailand to helping poorly monkeys at a sanctuary in South America. I have even worked with primates here in the UK, working as a zoo vet, treating chimps, gorillas and monkeys.
Had you always wanted to write a picture book? What made you want to tell this story in particular?
Yes! Always! I think I probably wrote my first one at the age of six and since then I have had LOTS AND LOTS of ideas for picture books, almost always about animals. This one came at a time when I was feeling very busy and stressed and I looked to the animal kingdom for advice about how I could slow down.
What’s your favourite spread from the book?
The final story spread – the party – where monkey realises that everything she had needed to have a wonderful time had been there all along.
I love the final pages of the book which tell us about the various species of animals and also some fantastic mindfulness tips for children. Was it important for you to find the right bend between fact and fiction?
Yes definitely. I wanted all of the animals to be accurately portrayed and to be animals that really lived together in the same forest in the wild. My background is in science and non-fiction writing, so I guess that shaped my picture book writing experience too.
Could you share your writing process with us?
I have a two year old and a six month old baby, so I write in the snatches of time I can scrape away from mum duty!
What were your favourite books growing up?
I loved Tosca’s Christmas – I still have my copy from when I was a baby. I also had this huge book about the toys all coming to life but I can’t remember what it was called…
What is your favourite animal?
Probably some kind of monkey or ape – too difficult to decide!
Do you have any tips for writers on how to create roll-off-the-tongue rhyme?
If you are asking me that because you feel like I achieved it, then thank you! It’s always hard to know if other people will read it in the same way that you hear it in your head whilst writing, so I try to get lots of people to read it aloud to me and see where they trip up.
What’s next for you, in terms of writing?
I have a few more non-fiction projects coming out over the next year but I would really like to do some more picture books too – so fingers crossed!
Thank you so much, Jess!
Slow Down, Monkey is out today!
Publisher: Buster Books
Publication date: 6 August 2020
Jess French is an energetic force with a wealth of adventurous travel stories and fieldwork tales, from tracking gibbon behaviour in Bolivia to writing a theses on gorilla behaviour through research at primate sanctuaries in Thailand. A qualified vet, she’s also a mum and works in an animal practice in Norfolk and as a zoo vet. Winner of the Jane Goodall Global Youth Leadership Award for setting up a programme to teach children about environmental issues, Jess has also presented CBeebies’ Minibeast Adventure with Jess, Live’n’Deadly and Deadly Mission Madagascar.
You can follow Jess on Twitter and Instagram.
Eefje Kuijl graduated from the HKU (School of the Arts Utrecht) in 2002, and has worked as a freelance illustrator ever since. She lives in Breda, Netherlands and makes bright and colourful illustrations for books, children’s magazines and much more. She has worked for a variety of publishers internationally, including Scholastic (US), Clavis (Belgium), Uitgeverji Moon and Caro for Kids (Netherlands), and many more.
You can follow Eefje on Twitter on via her website.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature and review contains my honest opinion.