It’s my stop on the blog tour for What a Wonderful World by Leisa Stewart-Sharpe and Lydia Hill. I am delighted to have a super-duper interview with Leisa to share with you all.
From oceans to mountains, deserts to grasslands, What a Wonderful World gives you the world’s best illustrated tour of our planet through the eyes of 35 Earth Shakers. Interviewed by author, Leisa, these inspirational scientists, eco-warriors and activists share their remarkable stories.
Wow – what a wonderful book What a Wonderful World is! The importance of this book is perfectly summed up by Lee Durrel MBE, of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, in the foreward:
“To make a positive change, first you must care about the planet, and then you will take care of our planet.”
Well, let me tell you, the exquisitely-illustrated stories in What a Wonderful World WILL make you care about our planet!
It isn’t just the settings of the stories that are from around the globe, the Earth Shakers themselves come from all walks of life. From the 12-year-old, South African eco-warrior, Yola Mgogwana to Australian businesswoman, Mina Guli. The message is clear: whatever our age, background and skills, we can all be Earth Shakers. My daughter’s favourite story was A Frog’s Fairy Tale about biologist Sarah-Louise Adams, who helped saved the chicken frog from extinction.
By the time you finish reading this book, all you’ll be thinking is, what can I do? The good news is that Leisa and Lydia have this part covered too. There is a brilliant spread of practical tips for how to start making positive change today. My daughter and I talked through this page and thought about what we could do to help the planet.
What a Wonderful World is a record of the incredible Earth Shakers of our day. I hope in 10-15 years’ time we’ll see a second edition, which will no doubt be full of new young scientists and eco-warriors who were inspired to become Earth Shakers by this very book! The amount of love, attention to detail and research that has gone into making What a Wonderful World will be clear to everyone that reads it. I was delighted to chat to Leisa about how the book came together…
Hi Leisa, wow, you really have shown us what a wonderful world we live in with this book. Could you start by telling us a little bit about why you wanted to write this book and the inspiration behind it?
Thanks so much for having me, Rachael!
This book began in 2018 as I stared out at the Coral Sea in my hometown of Bundaberg in Australia. A man in a small boat was pulling up a fishing line attached to a floating orange buoy. It’s called a drum line. Below the surface, a large, baited hook was dangling in the water to lure and trap sharks. When the man pulled up the line, a tiger shark had been hooked… and drowned.
I was horrified. The idea of killing sharks so we can swim at the beach seemed as ludicrous to me as shooting lions so we can picnic on Africa’s Serengeti grasslands. More and more, I became heartbroken by the terrible things happening in nature. I felt frustrated about how I could make a difference… I wasn’t a scientist, I hadn’t invented anything, and it seemed unlikely I’d meet the Prime Minister anytime soon. But there was one thing I could do – I could write. I had an idea to write a book, giving a voice to nature and the many unsung heroes tirelessly working to protect it. What A Wonderful World was born!
My whole family are in awe of What a Wonderful World and we’ve all learnt so much. How did you discover all these incredible true stories?
I trained as a journalist, so I instinctively picked up the phone to talk to the experts – the climatologists, marine biologists, zoologists, lawyers, activists, beekeepers, birders, explorers, marathon runners, tree planters, scientists and more. My phone bill is HUGE! I listened to their stories – sometimes I cried with them as I began to understand the scale of the challenges that we all face. But as overwhelming as the problems are, I also felt hope, because each Earth Shaker was a force of nature for good in the world. Every person I spoke to would give me the name of another Earth Shaker I should meet. Then another. And another. The book grew and grew.
I heard that this book took you three years to create, and you interviewed virtually everyone included in the book. Can you tell us a bit about this process and how you did your research?
I already had a good base understanding of the environmental issues from reading newspapers such as The Guardian and Washington Post; and I love nothing better than curling up with National Geographic! But before I phoned or met up with the Earth Shakers, I read their research reports and books. And then I asked a tonne of questions – I’ve filled a pile of notebooks! But I’m not a scientist, I’m a storyteller, so importantly I worked with the Earth Shakers to make sure I was accurately distilling complex science and politics for young readers – from the impact of climate change on extreme weather events (shout out to Dr Fredi Otto who was endlessly patient!) to what on earth a spectrometer is and how it’s helping to save seals (thanks Prem Gill!)
Is there anything you know now, about the process of writing a non-fiction book, that you wish you’d known when you started out?
I never realised how much of me could go into a non-fiction book. You expect that from fiction perhaps, but I poured my heart into making a book that I knew my kids would want to read. Non-fiction that makes them feel hopeful not helpless.
We absolutely loved reading A Frog’s Fairy Tale and hearing about the work of Sarah-Louise Adams. How did you decide what stories to include and how to present them?
Interviewing Sarah-Louise was so much fun! Her story has it all, exploding volcanoes, frog baths and hopefully a fairytale ending! But for all the stories that made the cut, there were even more that didn’t – there are only so many pages in the book! That’s something I worked closely with my editor Carly Blake on. She had great instincts for making What a Wonderful World as global as possible so that every child who picks it up can hopefully see something that speaks to where they’re from and what’s going on outside their window.
Lydia’s illustrations are fantastic, and together you have jam-packed each page with so many incredible facts and inspirational quotes. Did you have to work closely with the Design team on the layout of each spread?
The design team worked special magic on this book as it needed to do a lot – to introduce a biome, show a habitat within it, explain the environmental issues it’s facing, then share the stories of the people making a difference. Full credit goes to Olivia Cook, Ted Jennings and Nathalie Eyraud who worked with Carly to find a structure that would allow the text and the artwork to sing. And of course, Lydia’s illustrations and colour palette choices for each chapter are just beautiful. She’s a huge talent.
What is your favourite part of the book and why?
That’s a tough question! I’ve met so many extraordinary people now – brave young people and frankly, heroic older Earth Shakers who’ve dedicated their lives to doing something good. But if there’s one story I always come back to, it’s talking to polar explorer Will Steger. What an honour! Will led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole and across Antarctica so is an eyewitness to climate change and the effects it’s already had on the ends of Earth. I tried to reach Will for months, but he was always off adventuring. When I finally managed to get through on his satellite phone, Will told me about his recent kayak trip to the North Pole. Defenceless, he’d been surrounded by wolves and had to stare down the alpha. He went on to describe changes to the biome – how climate change meant grizzly bears had moved even further north, while polar bears were swimming through an ice-free sea. It was heart wrenching.
You’re also writing the fantastic series of books to accompany Sir David Attenborough’s nature documentaries. What is it about writing books on nature that really appeals to you?
I’ve always been inspired by Sir David Attenborough. He once said that “no one will protect what they don’t care about. And no one will care about what they’ve never experienced.” That’s why I write books that allow kid to go off adventuring in wild places, coming face to face with wild animals, without ever leaving their homes. And hopefully that helps to get children and their parents, grandparents and teachers excited about our planet, aware of what’s happening to it and keen to help make a difference. Because now more than ever we all need to do our bit – to stand up for nature.
What advice would you give to someone working on a non-fiction book for children?
I’d say, think outside the box – what’s the new creative approach that only you can bring to this subject. How are you the best person in the world to write this book? I’d also add that kids today are bombarded with information from all sorts of sources. It can be confusing and overwhelming – make your book a trusted source of the truth. And if you’re addressing tough subject matter, always remember that there’s a little person reading it. How do you want them to feel when they put it down, switch off the light and go to sleep? I want them to feel wonder for the world and hope for their future, and I know you will too.
Thank you so much for chatting with me!
What a Wonderful World is published by Templar, 19 August 2021
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour!
About the Author:
Leisa Stewart-Sharpe is a trained journalist turned children’s author, who writes stunning non-fiction and picture books. Originally from Australia, Leisa’s childhood inspired her love for the natural world and its strange and wonderful creatures. Her first book, Blue Planet II, is part of a major new children’s non-fiction series in collaboration with BBC Earth, with a handful of other exciting titles coming soon.
About the Illustrator:
Lydia Hill is an illustrator based in Sheffield, England. She graduated from Middlesex University in 2019 with a First Class Degree in Illustration. Her clients include Wide Eyed Editions/Quarto Publishing, SkyTv and The RAF. Lydia’s work aims to inject fun into everyday life by focusing on diverse and quirky characters in colourful natural scenes, and hopes to connect young readers to stories that inspire them to cherish the natural world.
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary review contains my honest opinion.