I’m going on a bear hunt with Queensland author and illustrator, Emma Middleton whose adorable picture book, The Lion in our Living Room proved such a hit with kids … now her follow-up picture book, The Bear in our Backyard has recently been released.
Emma, did you always plan to have a follow-up book to The Lion in our Living Room?
With the benefit of hindsight, it does seem obvious to have a companion book to The Lion in our Living Room, which shone a light on the special role that dad’s play in their children’s lives. However, I cannot take the credit for this idea. I received a surprise call from author and editor Davina Bell from Affirm Press, who suggested the idea of a follow-up title. Originally we were going to tweak a story that I had submitted, however when they contacted Briony Stewart to see if she was available to illustrate a second book, she suggested the title of The Bear in our Backyard, to celebrate mothers. Immediately I fell in love with this concept and I wanted to find some way of honouring Briony in the story, especially considering that she was expecting her second child at that time. I mirrored this special time in the story.
Did you face any challenges in writing The Bear in our Backyard?
I felt an immediate connection to the concept, especially as my daughter often called me ‘Mummy Bear,’ when she was younger. I love the idea of the bear representing mothers, as bears are warm and cuddly, as well as strong and protective. Initially I had the bear going into hibernation, and included all sorts of timeframes that were far too complicated for a picture book, but my brilliant editors Davina Bell and Clair Hume soon got me back on track.
You mentioned there was a tight timeframe for this book?
It was quite an extraordinary experience working on The Bear in our Backyard. This time we had a tight deadline with Mother’s Day in our sights. On top of this, our illustrator Briony Stewart was expecting her second child, and no one knew exactly what or who would arrive first, the completed illustrations or the baby! With fidgeting fingers across the keyboard one morning, I was relieved to discover the illustrations were complete, just two days before Briony’s due date. The illustrations are sumptuous, with beautiful detail and dreamy colour schemes; and everyone worked tirelessly to make this book a reality.
I know children enjoy finding all the hidden lion references in The Lion in our Living Room, are there bear references in The Bear in our Backyard?
Not only are there hidden bear references, but there are also references to the lion. Children will love finding objects appearing in both books. Briony Stewart’s illustrations are full of warmth, love and humour, and of course the way she makes the bear’s shadow out of mum’s silhouette is brilliant.
The Bear in our Backyard is essentially about, families, mothers and creativity. What were your personal feelings about these topics?
I hope to celebrate the everyday ‘miracles,’ that mothers create; playful interactions, warm tea and loving hugs amongst a busy day with many jobs to be done. Of course, the ultimate miracle is the arrival of a new baby, and this is lovingly depicted on the final pages as Tom and Tilly meet their ‘baby bear,’ for the first time.
As a mother myself it was an honour to write a story that celebrates mothers and the special moments they create in the lives of their children; from swinging a skipping rope, to making a warm honey tea, to the ultimate little miracle of bringing a new ‘baby bear’ into the world.
Thanks, Emma…. I’m sure Bear is going to be just as big a hit with littlies and their mums and dads as Lion was. Have fun!