The internationally renowned children’s author discusses exploring the ocean in his latest work 'The Big Book of the Blue'.
“I try to connect with my inner child: that eager curiosity about the world around us,” explains author Yuval Zommer. Having applied that winning process to bugs and beasts, his latest creation is The Big Book of the Blue – supplying readers with illustrated fun facts about everything from whales and dolphins to jellyfish and sea turtles.
The non-fiction book process is a lengthy one, notes Zommer. “It’s double or more the pages of a normal picture book, and you’re packing in lots of information. Details are very important to me, like the patterns, textures, structures and just sheer beauty. Nature is an unparalleled artist. Even the tiniest creature is amazing when you look at it closely – which is what children do.” There’s a lovely literal example of that in the book, as Zommer gets up close with krill through a magnifying glass.
“Children appreciate anatomically correct depictions,” notes Zommer. “When I draw, I try to understand the creature’s shape, movement and colour palette, then add in the detail. I always think: ‘What is its essence?’” He worked with sea life expert Barbara Taylor to ensure that “everything is factually robust, as well as asking what would be fun to discover – those quirks and surprises.”
From interacting with fans of his books on social media and at events, Zommer knows they’re adopted by a wide age range, so he takes care to include elements for everyone: from striking visuals for non-readers through to fascinating facts for those who are knowledgeable about the topic. Appropriate analogies help readers connect (such as comparing sea turtles’ sight to swimming goggles), and there’s plenty of wit to make parents smile.
One striking aspect of his work is the way that he overlays text and pictures. “My pet hate is books with one page that’s just an image and another that’s a big chunk of text. That’s a disconnect. Reading is about travelling through the story. It also works well for repeated reading, as you come back and discover something new, or can easily find your favourite page.”
Zommer’s personal favourites include the jellyfish page, which is backed by black so we can see the jellyfish glow and get a sense of their transparency, as well as the evocative night-time krill page and that depicting the duality of penguins: gangly on land and “almost balletic” in their grace underwater. But he’s delighted with the book’s overall variety, reflected too in its form: “It’s good to have a mix of portrait and landscape pages in a large format like this, so readers can twist the book or read it upside down. It adds another dimension to the experience.”
On a more serious note, there’s a section on threats to marine life – from oil spills and overfishing to global warming and plastic. “It’s something I thought about from the start. Even as a child, I was interested in ecology and wanting to protect the planet,” recalls Zommer. “It’s something kids really connect with, and they want to know how they can help.” An illustration of a whale whose belly is packed with plastic waste is a potent image for readers of any age.
Zommer is thrilled that his books have been translated into different languages and travelled everywhere from Europe to China, America and Russia. “The books travel more than I do! Once a book exists, it has its own life – you never know where it will go or who will read it. I love seeing kids getting into reading, and it really shows that children worldwide are fascinated by nature; its appeal is universal. That gives me great joy.”
Interview conducted by Marianka Swain @ The Arts Desk.
All images © Yuval Zommer taken from The Big Book of the Blue, published by Thames & Hudson, 2018.