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Picture Book Therapy Thursday: Emma Sandford

This week on Picture Book Therapy Thursday we have a conversation with Emma Sandford of Full Media Ltd. on her Sumatran Trilogy books!

Emma! Thank you for joining us for Picture Book Therapy Thursday. Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a Liverpool-born children’s author based in Cheshire. For many years, I wanted to write a children’s book that draws on my own experiences and helps young children overcome personal issues.

My first book The Problem with Poppy was published in June 2021. The second book in the Sumatran Trilogy – What’s Troubling Tawny? – was published in January 2022.The third and final book in the Sumatran Trilogy – Hooray For Heidi!– is being illustrated by Olena Osadcha as we speak and will be published in June 2022. All three books are endorsed by Rainforest Trust UK and I give £1 per book sale to the charity.

What inspired you to write The Problem With Poppy?

In 2021, I decided I wanted to write a book for young children that could help them deal with trauma and trust issues. Unfortunately, I’ve suffered numerous avenues of trauma throughout my life, from childhood to adulthood, and as a result I can be very defensive and push people away. This can be useful when dealing with nasty people, but it’s not helpful when I meet a nice person who wants to get close to me. So I started thinking about writing a story about a character who is defensive. I pondered types of animals that act visibly defensive and the first animal I thought of was the porcupine! They stick out their quills to make themselves look bigger and fiercer, so that was my light-bulb moment, and the rest of the story flowed quite quickly from that point on: Poppy the porcupine meets a playful, well-meaning tiger cub called Rory and initially scares him off because he accidentally frightens her. She realises her mistake and then decides she needs to fix her problem once and for all, and goes off to find the friendly cub to make amends.

This is a great kid-friendly way to introduce trauma and it's effects. What was the process like from inspiration to getting published?

Well, I am very fortunate because my partner Nick runs a children’s book publisher! So when I told him the idea, he was very supportive. He told me to get it all down on paper, so I did. Then we both went over it and refined it where necessary, and soon I was ready to find myself an illustrator. I approached around 10 artists on the website and very quickly settled on Olena Osadcha in Ukraine. I just loved her style, it was perfect for my story. A few months and a successful Kickstarter campaign later, the book was illustrated and we published it through Full Media Ltd. I should also point out that when the book was still at Word doc stage, we approached Rainforest Trust UK to see if they would endorse the book, let us add their logo to the book and in return we would give them £1 per book sale. They loved the story and very quickly said yes to our proposal, and this partnership has continued for the other two books in the Sumatran Trilogy!

Tell us about the second book in your series, What’s Troubling Tawny? And the upcoming third book.

What’s Troubling Tawny? is a sweet story about a lonely Sumatran rhino who wants to make a friend but her shyness holds her back. She lacks self-confidence and doesn’t think she looks as nice as other animals in the rainforest. Then she meets Tallulah, a charming and beautiful rhinoceros hornbill who really brings her out of her shell. When they spot a male rhino nearby, Tallulah encourages her to approach him and – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out how it ends!

Hooray for Heidi is scheduled for release in the summer and is being illustrated by Olena as we speak. It’s a much funnier story than the previous two, as it features Sumatran animals taking part in their own version of the Olympics! Heidi the turtle and her new friend Jose the elephant are watching the games and feel jealous because they are not cut out for sports – or so they think!

I love the idea of the body positivity aspects to your third book. I'm sure it will be beautiful to see it come to life.

Do you have a scene or a sentence in any of your books that is your favorite?

It’s really hard to pick one, but possibly my favorite scene is when Tawny and her new friend Rusty the rhino are talking about what food they like best, and Olena has framed the two characters with their favorite food:

Why do you think these books are important for kids to have on the shelves?

I think that if a child has been affected by any of the social issues covered in the books, they will be able to relate to the books and it may encourage them to talk to a grown-up or a friend where previously they felt unable to open up. I also think that books like mine can be useful to kids who haven’t experienced the issues themselves, as it may help them understand and empathise with people who have. Finally, I’m hopeful that the environmental issues that the books also highlight, such as the threat of poaching, will interest children and encourage them to learn more about the wonderful creatures in the Sumatran rainforest.

How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

I like to think that the books’ messages are quite subtle and that the stories are entertaining, first and foremost. Therefore I believe that parents, teachers and counselors could simply read the book and enjoy it first as entertainment, and then the child can be encouraged to discuss the story in more detail. In fact, a local charity called Visyon already use The Problem with Poppy when they have therapy sessions with children, and I know of two child psychologists who have endorsed the book as an aid for therapeutic work and work around peer relationships.

Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics for kids?

My first piece advice for authors writing any book, tough topics or not, is just to write it. Don’t overthink it, don’t procrastinate, don’t worry about perfection at this early stage – just get it down on paper, in any shape or form, because you can always go back and improve it once it’s on the page.

In terms of writing about tough topics, I think it’s important to convey your messages in a subtle way – don’t ram it down the readers’ throats as nobody likes being lectured to, whatever age they are. It’s far better to concentrate on the story and let it do the talking. Show rather than tell. When I’m reading a book or watching a film myself, I find it more satisfying and rewarding when I pick up on subtle messages independently, and I think this applies to children too.

Where can we connect with you on social media to follow your upcoming projects?

My Instagram profile is emmasauthor and my Twitter handle is @esandfordauthor. I’m not on Facebook but you can always follow my publisher’s page:

Thank you Emma for taking the time to tell us more about your books and how they can be used to engage kids! Readers, be sure to check out Emma's books here.

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