Today’s guest post is part of the Red House Children’s Book Award blog tour, and is an interview with Steve Cole who has been shortlisted in the category for younger children for his book Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard
What was the inspiration for the book? What is your experience as a parent, or as a child, or maybe even as a babysitter yourself?
The inspiration came from one of those tiring nights when the kids were playing up and not in bed when they were supposed to be, and I had a sudden urge to yell something outrageous and reprehensible like, ‘Go to sleep or I let loose the leopard!’ That sounded like a good and unusual title for a book, and I thought, ‘Well, if I can’t say it, perhaps an unconventional fantasy babysitter could in a story’. So the title came first, and the story got going in my head.
Was there a particular reason why you chose a Leopard?
Tigers and lions get quite a lot of picture book coverage, whereas servals and pumas get hardly any. So unfair! A leopard is a wild cat well enough to known to be recognised by a child but not often the star of a book – it’s less expected. Plus reading aloud it is more fun and satisfying to say ‘leopard’ than, say, ‘lion’ as it sounds more definite – it contains two plosives, p and d – one on the lips, one on the tongue blade. It’s just more fun to say!
The cover is quite ominous, in a 1950s horror movie poster kind-of-way; was this purposefully done? Do you think children like that scary side of stories?
We were careful to make the children look shocked rather than scared, as you want it to seem surprising and fun, and don’t want to make it too frightening. It’s about suspense rather than fear – a sense of ‘surely THAT won’t happen?’
The book really lends itself well to being read aloud, with the excitement building both in the text (with a great use of different fonts) and the illustrations (the use of night and day is particularly effective). Are you constantly aware of how well it is going to work as a read-aloud, when you are writing/illustrating?
I think the ideal picture book for bedtime is one which both parent and child look forward to. Too long and you’ll put off the poor parent who wants a fun, but not overlong, shared reading experience with their small one. And it’s nice if the text gives the adult scope for a bit of performance. So yes, I was very conscious of how it would be read aloud, the rhythm of it; the little ‘couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t’ refrain was one of the first bits to be written. My editor was a bit worried about the text at first because it’s quite ‘static’ – it mostly takes place in one room and there’s lots of conversation. So it was vital that the imagination of the babysitter and the children was explored visually because the words don’t do that, and that is why I love Bruce’s illustrations so much – as well as being classily quirky, they’re almost telling another story themselves – the way the babysitter builds up her threats and the children knock them down with laughter is shown so richly through the pictures.
If you could choose any creature to babysit you, what would it be?
A dinosaur. They let you stay up late – almost 65 millions years late, if you’re lucky.
** “Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard” has been shortlisted in the younger children category of the 2015 Red House Children’s Book Award. The Red House Children’s Book Award is the only national children’s book award voted for entirely by children. It is owned and co-ordinated by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, and sponsored by Red House.**