We all get scared. We’re only human. But what about superheroes? I’m delighted to be joined on the blog by debut author, Kate Thompson, who alongside the super-talented illustrator, Clare Elsom, has created a marvellous picture book, Superheroes Don’t Get Scared.
Maisie Brown is feeling scared and wishes she was a superhero like Burpnado, Specstacular and Bogeyboy. But as her parents point out, even superheroes get scared sometimes.
This well-paced rhyming story neatly explores what it takes to be brave and reminds children that it’s okay to feel afraid sometimes. Clare’s illustrations are super and so in keeping with the superhero theme. I love the “split spread” style, particularly in this underwater scene.
Kate has found a great balance between the well-being message and storytelling. My little girl keeps coming back to this book, she calls it the “super book”. She said she likes the superheroes and that the book makes her feel happy. Packed with a colourful and diverse cast of characters, this book tackles “fear” in a relatable and engaging way, that will resonate with both girls and boys.
It is clear that Kate is a brilliant new picture book talent and I am thrilled that she is going to tell us the origin story for Superheroes Don’t Get Scared.
Hi Kate, thank you so much for joining us on the blog! Can you tell us a little bit about Superheroes Don’t Get Scared and the inspiration behind it?
Thanks so much for having me – it’s great to be here!
Superheroes Don’t Get Scared is my debut picture book, and it has been illustrated by the brilliant Clare Elsom. The story is about Maisie Brown, who dreams of being a superhero, because they never get scared…or so she thinks! But when she learns that even bold brave heroes sometimes feel afraid, and that’s perfectly ok, she realises there’s a superhero in all of us, just waiting to be found… if you can be brave enough to face your fears.
I had wanted to write a book on this theme for a while. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on children’s wards over the years because both my children have congenital heart defects. Every time we’re there, I’m amazed at how brave the children are in situations that even adults would struggle with. But more than that, I was inspired by how often children need to be brave in everyday life by trying new things, or doing things that scare them.
I actually remember the exact moment I decided to write this book. I was chatting to my (then) 4-year-old on the way to school. He was finding the transition to primary school really difficult, and whispered to me that he wished he could be brave, instead of scared. I explained to him that he was incredibly brave for going into school each day when it scared him so much, and he walked into class with his head held a little higher that day.
Every child deserves to recognise and celebrate their own inner superhero. I really hope that this book will help with that.
Could you tell us a bit about your publishing journey and Trigger Publishing? How long did it take from idea to publication day?
I wrote my first picture book manuscripts in September 2017 when my youngest son started nursery and I suddenly found myself with some free time. I, of course, thought they were fabulous and eagerly sent them off to multiple agents and publishers (I cringe at the recollection!). However, I kept writing, and paid for a manuscript review from Jericho Writers (then named The Writers’ Workshop), which was very helpful. Then, in September 2018 I entered a picture book manuscript into Writing Magazine’s Picture Book Prize and it came second! This massively boosted my confidence, and I started 2019 by joining SCBWI and enrolling on Writing Magazine’s Writing for Children Course with Amy Sparkes.
I wrote the first draft of Superheroes Don’t Get Scared in February 2019. In May I saw a tweet from Alli Brydon, the Commissioning Editor at Ups!de Down Books, asking for submissions of mental health and wellness-themed picture books. It seemed the perfect fit, so I submitted my story and kept everything crossed for good news. Then, in July I received an offer to publish the book!
Ups!de Down Books is the new children’s imprint of mental health and wellness publisher, Trigger Publishing. As Superheroes Don’t Get Scared is one of their first books to be published, there has only been just over a year between receiving the offer and publication! It’s been a bit of a whirlwind!
I feel tremendously lucky to have worked with Clare Elsom – I cannot imagine anyone else bringing these characters to life! I’ve also loved working with the team at Ups!de Down Books. It’s been a steep learning curve for me, but they’ve been very supportive throughout. It’s also great to know that proceeds from Superheroes Don’t Get Scared (as with all Trigger books) will be donated to the Shaw Mind Foundation – a global mental health charity.
Clare’s illustrations and the split-spreads with Maisie and the superheroes are brilliant. Do you have a favourite spread in the book?
Ooh that’s so difficult because I love them all, but my absolute favourite spread is the ‘DARK’ spread. Its colour palette and ‘look’ is so different to the other spreads, which I think creates a real ‘Wow’ moment when you turn the page. I also adore all the little bat characters (my youngest son is obsessed with bats, so he was thrilled to see them!).
I love how you have given each superhero a different fear and also shown how they faced it. Was there something you used to find particularly scary as a child?
Thanks! I had so much fun creating each of the superheroes. As a very young child, I remember being scared of the knots in wooden panels and doors, because they looked like eyes! I clearly had an overactive imagination even then! However, I was also terrified of crabs (which I’ve since learned is called Kabourophobia). It started after we came across a huge spider crab in a rock pool during a family holiday in Wales. In my memory the crab’s legs spanned at least 2 metres, but that may be just my 6-year-old self’s perception of it! My boys love crabbing so I’ve had to face my fear on quite a few occasions over the years, but I still always wear water shoes when I’m paddling in the sea and I’d definitely make a dash for it if they caught a spider crab!
If you could have a superpower what would it be?
There never seem to be enough hours in the day, so I think time travel would be my superpower of choice! Hmm… Or maybe some kind of cookie-producing superpower… the Masked Biscuiteer has a nice ring to it…
What were your favourite books growing up?
My favourite picture book was the Paperbag Princess, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. I was the oldest of three girls, but none of us were ever into princess stories until this one. It’s full of girl-power! The princess uses her wits to vanquish a dragon and save the prince, and then (at least in our edition) she finishes the story by calling him a ‘bum’! It always made us giggle!
My father was really into fantasy books, and he got me into Tolkien from an early age. I read The Hobbit when I was around 7 years old and moved onto The Lord of the Rings shortly afterwards. I remember staying awake with a torch under my duvet so I could read just a little bit more each night. These were the first books I’d read that really transported me into a different world, and I was hooked! From then on, I was rarely seen without my nose in a book!
Did you always want to be a writer?
It sounds corny, but yes! I was always writing little stories and illustrating them when I was younger. I ‘published’ my first finger puppet picture book when I was around 6 years old – I think it was ‘heavily influenced’ by an actual book, but I was very proud of it! I remember declaring that I would grow up to be a picture book writer and illustrator, and a private detective in my spare time (I’ve always been a bit of a mystery buff!). For a while I pursued art as well – I won a national art competition when I was 10 years old, but words have always been my first love.
It was my love of language and writing that led me to train as a solicitor after university. However, I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to pursue my dream of writing for children after the birth of my second child. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to wake up each morning excited to work!
What advice would you give to someone trying to publish a picture book?
Read as many picture books as you can, particularly those published in the last few years. Pay attention to how the story is paced through the spreads, how illustrations are used to tell the story, and what makes a great page-turn moment.
Join a picture book critique group with other writers who will be objective about your writing. You will learn so much from their feedback, and from critiquing their work. Plus, it’s a great source of comradery – you need someone to vent to on those bad days.
Keep going! Rejections can be really tough, but they are normal and happen to everyone at every stage of their career. Keep writing and working on your craft, be brave enough to send your stories out into the world, and when things get hard, remember why you started writing in the first place.
What great advice! Thank you so much for sharing your publishing journey with us. Finding a publisher can feel daunting and it is incredibly inspiring to hear how you faced the challenge head on. And how apt that your debut is such an inspiring picture book about facing your fears!
Superheroes Don’t Get Scared is out 3 September 2020.
Publisher: Trigger Publishing
Publication date: 3 September 2020
Kate spent much of her childhood reading, immersed in literary adventures. After a brief stint as a solicitor, Kate rediscovered her love of picture books, and now spends her days living on the south coast, gleefully immersed in literary adventures of her own making.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary review contains my honest opinion.