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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Alice Hemming, THE LEAF THIEF

Squirrel loves counting the leaves on his tree--red leaves, gold leaves, orange, and more. But hold on! One of his leaves is missing! On a quest to find the missing leaf, Squirrel teams up with his good friend Bird to discover who the leaf thief could be in this fun exploration of change.

Max's Boat Pick: THE LEAF THIEF

Written by Alice Hemming and illustrated by Nicola Slater

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (August 1, 2021)

What inspired you to write The Leaf Thief? AH: "I came up with the idea for The Leaf Thief on a particularly lovely autumn day in 2010, walking through piles of leaves and turning the word ‘leaf’ over in my mind. I wrote the basic story on that same day, but I just couldn’t seem to get Squirrel’s voice right and the text didn’t quite work.

Years later, I was visiting a friend and her children. Her little boy was fascinated in some building work taking place next door and kept shouting out questions to the builder, who answered wearily but patiently. This exchange helped me find the voices of Squirrel and Bird. The Leaf Thief was accepted for publication, and I was over the moon when Fiz Osborne, my lovely editor, paired my words with Nicola Slater’s amazing illustrations. She instantly ‘got’ the book and was able to convey so much emotion and humour through the characters’ expressions. This, along with her use of colour and humorous touches brought the whole book to life."

Are there other picture books you love that explore autumn or seasonal change? "An oldie, but a goodie: All the books in Nick Butterworth’s Percy the Park Keeper series are delightful, but his autumnal After the Storm is a special favourite, in which all the animals work together to help each other after their tree falls down. Likewise, the whole Hedgehugs series (from husband and wife team Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson) is great but the autumnal one, Hide and Squeak, where Horace and Hattie follow a mysterious squeak, is particularly fun. More recently, the stunning Pip and Egg by Alex Latimer and David Litchfield. It’s not exactly seasonal but is about growth and change and the circle of life. I love it!"

Do you remember what you loved reading to your children at age three? "At this age, they loved simple, repetitive books, like Zed’s Bread by Mick Manning and Granström and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury. Mr. Pusskins and Little Whiskers by Sam Lloyd was a great way to introduce the idea of a new sibling, but also a fun story in its own right."

At age five? "When they were a little older, humour became particularly important. They found it with the Dr. Seuss books and Jonny Duddle’s Pirates series, especially The Pirates next Door. You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt also provided hours of fun! Along with the funnies, they enjoyed more gentle books with lovely artwork, including Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner and the small but perfectly formed Eric by Shaun Tan."

What are your favorite classic picture books? "Classic classics that take me back to my childhood include the perfect Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg and Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It is amazing that books like these are read across the generations and never seem to grow old.

But there are many more modern classics, too, and I love I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen because it’s so funny, dark and quotable. I personally overuse the phrases 'I have seen my hat' and 'Don’t ask me any more questions.'

Also, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. I remember finding this in a bookshop just as I was getting interested in writing picture books. I found it hilarious and bought multiple copies as presents."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Two that would definitely make the list, and I haven’t mentioned above, are: Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson. Three owls sitting on a branch for the entire story shouldn’t work, but the gentle, repetitive text and the beautiful illustrations with their shifting perspective, ensure that the story is a delight.

And I Love You, Blue Kangaroo by Emma Chichester Clark. I love the rhythm, repetition, and wonderful expressions of an increasingly worried Blue Kangaroo as the book moves towards its snuggly, satisfying ending. Both are cuddly bedtime books, perfect for autumn evenings."

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