- Ratha Tep
Interview with Benji Davies, THE SNOWFLAKE
High, high up in the clouds, a tiny snowflake is made. Perfectly fluffy and white, she tumbles and bounces on the clouds. But then, to her dismay, she begins to fall....
Max's Boat Pick:
By Benji Davies
Publisher: HarperCollins (September 14, 2021)
What inspired The Snowflake?
BD: "The idea came partly from my dad when one afternoon a few years ago he mentioned that I could write a picture book about a snowflake being made in the sky and about its journey as it falls to earth. I don’t think my dad ever had any storytelling aspirations and so I liked it that he had thought it might make a nice story. Then I barely thought of it for at least a year. However, ideas tend to sit I find, like a small seed waiting to flourish. In the summer of 2019, we found out that my dad had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of cancer which would respond to treatment, but was not curable. One evening not long after receiving this news, a story began to tumble, like the snowflake… I imagined being the snowflake, falling through the cold winter sky, what that would feel like, if a snowflake had thoughts, feelings and desires. I wanted to create a parable for finding your place in the world. That we are all finding our own way through life and that if we trust our instincts we will see that everything will unfold as it should.
Now that I look at it, I was in some way processing my dad’s news, maybe for him or for me, or both. I dedicated the book to him and gave the grandpa in the story his namesake - Pappie - which is the name my daughter labelled him when she first began to talk. He sadly passed away this summer but the hardback version of the book was published last winter so thankfully he got to see the book and its dedication. The Snowflake is about just that - a small snowflake falling through a winter sky, looking for a place to land and the things she sees along the way. And a little girl called Noelle who is waiting for snow. So whilst the story is not autobiographical it does explore some personal themes and ideas." I've read that you "aim to capture what childhood feels like" in your books. Are you trying to capture what Christmas feels like for a child? "Absolutely. Not just the day, but that time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere at least. These are some of my most tender memories of childhood. The atmosphere and emotions felt so rich and intoxicating - the anticipation, the excitement, the decorations, the sights, sounds and smells, and the characters who make an appearance at that time of year."
What are some other Christmas picture books you love? "This version of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Cyndy Szekeres. One of my strongest memories of the festive period and a family tradition in my childhood home was the reading of this special book on Christmas Eve. My two sisters and I relished the moment this precious, small, yellow-spined book was brought down from the high-cupboard hideaway where it had been stowed out of reach and largely out of mind, all year long. On the cover an illustration of three pyjama-clad mice, readying their stockings to hang by the chimney, a mouse child to represent each of us. The older siblings wearing red and yellow were my sisters, the smallest, wearing blue, was me - with added ears, whiskers and tail. It was the perfect primer for our yuletide expectation, read to us as it was by my mum before lights out, tucked under the duvet on that cosiest night of the year. Christmas could not formally begin without The Night Before Christmas recast with anthropomorphic mice.
A more recent and beautiful book set in winter (but not Christmas) I would recommend is Small In The City by Sydney Smith. There is a parallel between the child in his book and Noelle in The Snowflake, in that they are both alone and small in an urban setting. I read it for the first time recently and I was blown away by the power of his image making. The paintings are more like painterly sketches, they are loose and spontaneous but full of feeling, atmosphere and story. They don’t seem laboured despite the fact they must be highly considered. Every brush stroke and ink line is there for a reason, you can truly feel it. The writing is equally deft and sparse. Breathtaking work." I so love your take on family and the bonds that hold us together (I ADORE Grandad's Island). Are there other picture books you love for their unique and compelling takes on family? "Leon & Bob by Simon James"
What was your favorite picture book as a child? "The Tiger Who Came To Tea is the one that always sits on the tip of my tongue." What do you love reading to your daughter? "My daughter is four years old. She loves being read to and always at bedtime. I love reading Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis. There is no prose, only speech between the insect characters who puzzle over a small green shoot that is growing. It’s a lot of fun to make the words that the insects speak sound like a real language, which it purports to be, so much so that my daughter thinks I can speak insect. Who am I to tell her otherwise? Other books come and go as the current favourite, but we never become bored by Du Iz Tak?"
What contemporary picture books do you think will be the new classics of the future? "Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back was already a classic as it rolled off the printing press. Or anything by my good friend, Chris Haughton. I have a particular soft spot for Oh No, George! I helped Chris make the trailer for that book during my previous life as an animation director. Chris and I met while working at an animation studio in London before either of us had started making our own picture books."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "All of the above, plus, to name a handful:
Beegu by Alexis Deacon The Snowman by Raymond Briggs Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak"