Friday, November 5, 2010

Tomboys, jazz and the importance of imagination

This is an excerpt from an interview on the Billie B Brown series that will be published at at the end of November. I have just pulled out my favourite bits.

KL: Is Billie’s name, and the spelling of it, intentional?

Yes. In writing books for children I love to create strong girls and sensitive boys. For me, this is a very efficient way of creating a well-rounded character that doesn’t slip into stereotype.

I studied painting in China for several years as a young adult and I am still very interested in Chinese philosophy, particularly its dedication to creating balance in life. The term ‘Yin and Yang’ is bandied about a lot these days, and the symbol is used on everything from Chinese medicine to surfboards, but basically it illustrates the balance of life ie; that in all black, there must be a touch of white, and in white there is always a touch of black.

So, for me to create a well-rounded character, I like to make sure that my boys are in touch with their feminine side and my girls have a little bit of boy in them. ‘Billie’ was the perfect name for
my character because obviously it makes you think of ‘Billy’, the boy’s name, first of all, but then it also might make you think of Billie Holiday, the beautiful, strong and gorgeously feminine jazz singer from the 1940s and 50s.

KL: How does Billie differ to the accepted stereotype of girls her age?

To be honest, being a mother of three boys, I haven’t read many books for girls published recently, but I could tell you anything you want to know about Spiderman!
However, I am keenly aware of how girls are treated in the media and, I have to say, sometimes it turns my stomach. I am a strong advocate not only of desexualizing young girls but also for allowing kids to stay kids for as long as they need to be. Childhood seems to get shorter and shorter and with that also disappears the terribly important ‘doing nothing’ time where imagination is allowed to flourish.

As an author and illustrator, imagination is one of the key aspects of my job, but, if you think about it, imagination and creativity are essential to all areas of life, whatever your job or interests are. I believe that the seeds to developing a strong and healthy imagination are planted in our early life and this grows best by simply allowing children regular opportunities for unstructured play. Once kids break through the ‘I’m bored’ barrier and are left to their own devices, that’s when their imagination really starts to kick in.

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