A Q&A with Rod Campbell

Tell us a bit more about your work

I make books for the under 5’s, writing and illustrating the content. They have an early learning bias with a simple and often repetitive text, and perhaps a simple novelty element (if it seems appropriate), to draw the child in.

Where do you get your ideas from?

One idea seems to develop from another!

What's your top tip for sharing Dear Zoo with little ones?

Make it a fun experience! Let them open the flaps, say the animal's name and make its noise.

Which books did you love as a child?

I was brought up on Enid Blyton’s books and loved her various series!

What's your top tip for budding authors or illustrators?

You have to find your level. Do you have a talent for writing for the young, slightly older, or even teenage readers? Looking at and reading all sorts of children’s books will soon nudge you in the right direction. You should have a feeling for the age level you want to write for and simply write in the most natural way you can, in the first instance simply to please yourself. If you have talent, it will please others too, and if you have lots of ideas for stories you may well end up with a career in books! 

The illustrator’s job is to visually amplify the text and be true to it, which is not as easy as it seems so choose texts that mean something to you.

What are you currently working on?

I've just finished working on Look After Us and I'm currently working on The Boo Zoo.

Is there a picture book you wish you'd written or illustrated?

There are many books I admire but I have never had the feeling that I wished I had done them!

How do you keep going when you get stuck with a piece of work?

I am fortunate never to have suffered from it – I go through all the books and material I have accumulated over the years and there is usually something that will spark an idea.

Which piece of work are you most proud of?

I suppose Dear Zoo, but I am rather fond of a book that is out of print now called Little Bird.

Were you a keen bookworm when you were young?

 I loved reading as a child even though I came from a home without books.

I was introduced to books at school, experiencing first of all the great pleasure of being read to, and then later being able to read on my own. It really is essential that children have the chance early on to enter into a story with their imaginations and have a chance to live all kinds of different experiences through the written word.

 What inspired you to create books for very young children?

 Well, they are the only books I feel I can create. I am able to see the world in a simple child's-view way and know instinctively what is important to them and how they would view and react to certain things. It was pure chance that children's books found me (thank heavens!) and I slowly came to realise that I had a talent for communicating with the very young. I wanted to create books that enticed babies and toddlers into books, and gave them a good fun experience. Also, I wanted to help them in that magical mysterious process of learning to read. I'm fortunate to have been able to make books that seem to strike a chord with them and may have helped in those aims. Perhaps too, I have subconsciously been living my own early years through the books I never had!

 Where did you get the idea for Dear Zoo?

Dear Zoo evolved from encountering a flap book in a bookshop (very rare in the early eighties) and realising how useful the judicious use of flaps in a book could be in involving the child. Animals seemed good subject matter as children are endlessly fascinated by them, and that thought presented the problem of how to use the flaps so they made sense. Suddenly the thought of explorers sending animals to zoos years ago in crates came to mind and the structure of the book started to form. Choice of animals with different characteristics was important (also size, going from big to small), also a text with repeating elements, but of course the ending was the most important element of all and that fell into place quite naturally. The book quite honestly almost formed itself and I simply gave it life!

 What do you think is the secret behind Dear Zoo's enduring popularity?

 In Dear Zoo children are introduced to a quite simple story that makes perfect sense to them and where their physical involvement with the flaps moves it along at their own pace. There is the delight of discovery of the animals with their differences, the repetition of the text which is soon known off by heart (by both readers and pre-readers) giving a real sense of participation in the story, and finally there's an ending which is logical and satisfying to the child. Perhaps the marriage of idea, text and pictures with flaps simply works!

 Have you got any tips to help parents who would like to read to their young baby but don't know which books to choose?

 It's important to choose a book that is right for the child and not to choose something the adult likes for themselves! Books about the child's world (with children or animals) and their daily routine are always of interest as the child can relate what they hear and see to their own experiences. This is vital in the pre-reading phase. Clear unambiguous pictures are really important, as well as a simple text, preferably with some rhyming element. Babies soon pick up on the rhythms of speech and try to imitate them. And be prepared to go through the book as many times as the child wants. You may find all this boring but your infant won't! And don't forget to have lots of conversation and questions while sharing the book even if they are not at the talking stage.

 Books with textured elements on the pages are ideal for sharing with the very young as they enjoy the physical participation. Nursery rhymes are important and are sometimes overlooked as they may seem old-fashioned, but I think they are important for babies for the illustrations and speech rhythms when read aloud.