It’s my stop on the blog tour for How To Mend a Friend by Karl Newson and Clara Anganuzzi. I am so excited to be interviewing one of our favourite picture book authors. Karl Newson’s stories have been shortlisted for numerous children’s books awards and translated into over 20 languages. But How to Mend a Friend is a particularly special picture book. It is about how we can support our friends when they are going through challenging times, which Karl wrote while he was undergoing chemotherapy.
What I love about books written by Karl, is that the messages are conveyed concisely but without feeling diluted. Karl’s books, whether funny or heartfelt (or both!) always pack a punch and How to Mend a Friend is a great example of that. Each spread has just one or two rhyming couplets, but over the course of the book, Karl and Clara have portrayed an authentic and empathetic representation of how people react to challenging times.
Understanding what a friend needs in a time of crisis is the key to supporting them. This book reminds us to be mindful of the fact that our friends may choose to deal with situations differently to us. I loved Clara’s gorgeous illustration of the little girl and her imaginary polar bear friend in this spread. It really showcases the contrast in human reactions. Some friends want to go back home. Some may want to SHOUT! Some friends want to keep it in, while others let it out!
How to Mend a Friend choked me up – it is perfectly pitched for young readers, but also speaks to each and every one of us, regardless of age. This gorgeously illustrated picture book would be a fantastic story to share with children to open discussions about how we can support our friends. I really want to stress that this book isn’t just about “the big stuff”. We all feel a little bit sad sometimes, for one reason or another, and we all have different ways of coping with what life throws at us. It is so important for children to learn to empathy. Every school and library needs a copy of How to Mend a Friend.
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Karl Newson…
Hi Karl, thank you so much for chatting with me. Could you tell us why you wrote How to Mend a Friend and how it felt to see Clara bring it to life?
I wrote How to Mend a Friend to try to encapsulate all the feelings I was feeling and all the different ways in which my family and friends were there for me during my treatment for cancer in 2019. I guess I wrote it mostly for me, but I was very careful to not be specific about why the character(s) were ill / sad / upset / etc, to keep it open for the reader to interpret it in their own way. At that time I couldn’t really do a lot – I was self-isolating for months – so I escaped into my notebook and found my comfort there. The story is my Thank You to everyone who was there for me and powered me through the treatment. Every single day I received cards, biscuits, cakes, poems, letters, and lots and lots of elephants (see a following question for more on those!) and it occurred to me that everyone had their own way of letting me know they were there and sending me a hug. I included lots of those ways in my story, mixed together with the various ways I was feeling on various different days.
I hope it lends a hug to anyone who reads it and I hope it helps others understand how someone might be feeling and what they can do for that person – lots of ideas are suggested, but in the end I wanted to make it clear that the best thing that anyone can do is just to be themselves and to do it their way.
To see Clara bring my text to life was fantastic. She brought so much to it in the scenes, the characters, the colours, the compositions! Clara makes the words work and lifts them up in ways I could never have imagined when I wrote it. Each line has so much depth to it now. Each character has so much to say and share or display. Clara illustrated the elephant at the end of the book especially for my note and I’ll be honest, it brought a happy tear to my eye. I feel very lucky to be paired with her.
Do you have a favourite spread in the book?
I love it ALL! The wolves round the campfire scene is particularly touching – Clara added so much to my words to fill it up with feels. The opening ‘hug’ is up there too. My favourite spread changes every time I see the book because Clara’s artwork is so good!
Throughout your cancer treatment, I saw lots of people tweeting you elephant illustrations. Can you tell us how that came about and maybe share a few tweets of your favourite illustrations?
That was a truly incredible time for me. It was started by the author / illustrator / poet – all round creative genius – Colin West!
(Slideshow image credits: Colin West, Magda Brol, Nathan Reed, Sharon Davey)
Colin tweeted me with an elephant and kick-started the hashtag #elephants4karl (what a thing to do for me!) and then a whole herd of elephants came my way. It was AMAZING! I got such a big boost from it and I’m so lucky in that lots and lots of people actually sent me their drawings and poems and paintings and knittings and so I’m pretty sure I have the best elephant collection in the world right now! Those elephants came to my rescue just when I needed them most and I will be forever grateful. Here are just some of the elephant-shaped tweets I received…
Often, your picture books have low word counts – you have an incredible talent of conveying powerful and/or hilarious messages in really concise language, making big themes accessible to the very youngest readers. Is this something you do intentionally?
Yes! I’m pretty tough on myself when it comes to words. Any filler words like ‘that’ or ‘just’ or forced rhymes to complete a couplet or over describing sentences, etc, get the chop! I’m often told my texts are too slight, but I’d rather they be slight than be filled with word sludge! A nice clear sentence gets the job done best, I always think.
As you know, my whole family are huge fans of your picture books. Is there one that you are particularly proud of?
Thank you! I really appreciate all your support! I am equally proud of all of my books but the newest one always carries a bit more magic with it, so I’ll say this one. I like them all for different reasons though… I’m proud of the rhyming pattern in If You See a Lion. That was a fun one to write. I challenged myself to make something that could be read like a song from a show! I think it works?!
Yes! It most definitely does work! We adore If You See a Lion. What were your favourite picture books growing up? Did you always want to be a writer?
I don’t remember many picture books from my little days… I know I enjoyed Panda and the Snow by Oda Taro when I was very small, but I do remember reading The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson when I was medium-sized. That one has stuck with me all these years. I think it’s no coincidence that my first picture book was also about an owl. Plop planted a seed in me!
What modern-day picture book do you wish you had written/illustrated?
JEREMY WORRIED ABOUT THE WIND! I really wish I had the skills to write this. It’s pure excellence from Pamela Butchart. A masterclass in storytelling! The double end is superb. And the illustrations are a dream! Kate Hindley worked her magic on our book The Same But Different Too and I was already a huge fan of hers from years before, but what she does here is something else! Three whole wordless double spreads full of Kate’s art!! Nosy Crow made a perfect book here. Even the end papers are involved. I can’t praise this book enough!
What’s next for you, in terms of writing?
I’m scribbling away at a few new ideas at the moment and making some final tweaks to the texts of some picture books in the making… They won’t be out until next year (or the year after) but I’m very excited about them! They’re packed full with monsters, crocodiles, beetles and jingle bells. Hopefully at some point I’ll write my first chapter book too!?
What advice would you give to newly published picture book authors. Is there any advice you wish you’d known when you were starting out in your writing career?
Enjoy every minute! Each book is an ENORMOUS achievement so treasure it and never forget that feeling. Also, keep writing in every spare minute. You never know when that next idea will land – don’t wait for it… go and find it! I wish I’d known just how sloooow the publishing world is. It does take forever so it’s good to try to keep the ideas coming and keep the books ‘in-the-making’ if you can to fill the gaps between signing a contract and publishing day. Also, don’t compare your journey with someone else’s. You did it your way. Ride that train and don’t be afraid to blow your own whistle every now and then. Toot!
What great advice. Thank you so much chatting with me!
Thank you very much for featuring me and this book! 🙂
How to Mend a Friend was published by Studio Press on 10 June 2021
If you like How to Mend a Friend, you might also like:
The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Asa Gilland
A beautiful book about childhood cancer and the bond between sisters pulls at the heart strings.
A Shelter for Sadness by Anne Booth and David Litchfield
A remarkable and poignant story about living with sadness.
Other books by Karl Newson we have enjoyed include:
If You See a Lion, illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier
This hilarious book about being yourself was one of our top picks for 2020.
I Really, Really Need A Wee, illustrated by Duncan Beedie
This laugh-out-loud story that everyone can relate to (particularly parents who have recently potty trained children!).
A Bear is a Bear, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz
When a drowsy bear wakes up early from his hibernation, he has forgotten who he is.
Mouse series, illustrated by Ross Collins
There are three fabulous books in this series: I am a TIGER, I am NOT an Elephant, I can ROAR like a DINOSAUR.
Don’t forget to check out the other posts on the tour!
About the author:
Karl Newson is an award-winning children’s book biscuit. He grew up in Norwich, England, and was inspired to write his first picture book story when his children were small… he’s been writing stories ever since. When Karl isn’t writing he enjoys walking in woods, listening to music and reading other biscuits. He lives in London and dreams of castles made of books and rocketing to the moon to watch the world go by.
Karl’s stories have been shortlisted for the Booktrust Storytime Prize, the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award, the Alligator’s Mouth Award and Oscar’s Book Prize, and he is a winner of the Leicester ‘Our Best Picture Book’ Award and the West Sussex Picture Book Award for ‘I Am a Tiger’ and a BookstaGrammie for ‘The Hat Full of Secrets’. His stories have been translated in 27 languages around the world.
About the illustrator:
Clara would draw on every single surface she could find (including some very unhappy tortoises) whilst growing up in the Seychelles. She always had a fond love for animals and creating characters with subtle gentle humour. Using a mixture of traditional techniques, ranging from monoprint to pencil, Clara enjoys creating narratives and images with a sense of place in limited colour palettes. After finishing her BA illustration degree at Falmouth University, she went on to complete a MA in Children’s Illustration at Anglia Ruskin, which helped her gain inspiration and motivation as well as showcase her personal voice.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of How to Mend a Friend. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.