Sophy Henn shares her thoughts on Imagination Library and her inspirations as an author.
With her empowering, positive storytelling and colorful illustrations, Sophy Henn has a unique talent for creating books that are both playful and inspirational. Working from her studio in Sussex, England, Sophy has found worldwide acclaim as a children’s author, winning numerous awards for her books and going on to become the official World Book Day Illustrator for 2015 and 2016.
The writer of such popular books as “Pom Pom Gets the Grumps,” “Pass It On,” and “Almost Anything,” Sophy has become an enthusiastic advocate for the Imagination Library. She gave an interactive presentation at the UK Imagination Library’s 10th Birthday Conference in 2018, and in 2019, she appeared as a featured author at Imagination Library’s biennial Homecomin’ in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Sophy’s book, “Edie Is Ever So Helpful,” was one of the new titles added to the Imagination Library lineup for 2019, and was recently sent to Group 4 (children born in 2016) in the USA and Canada. Simply titled “Edie” in the UK, this funny, tongue-in-cheek story has already become a beloved title with children internationally, and we’re thrilled to finally be sharing this popular book with children in North America.
We enjoyed interviewing author Sophy Henn as she shared her thoughts on Imagination Library, her inspirations as an author and how she got her start.
Imagination Library Interview with Sophy Henn
Q. How did you get your start as a children’s author?
A. Well, I suppose having my daughter really started me on the path to becoming a children’s author as I rediscovered the absolute joy of picture books whilst really enjoying my daughters discovery of them. Picture books are often underestimated as there can be few words and spreads. But distilling those ideas, stories and often complex messages right down, finding just the right words that are both fun and accessible, then creating an image that makes it all come alive can sometimes (always!) be rather tricky. I realized this was not too dissimilar to my old job as an art director in advertising, a few words and an image that demands to be looked at is the basis for a lot of advertising. So I went back to school part time and it turned out nothing galvanizes your ideas like having to present them to 50 of your peers! During my time at college I created Where Bear? my first book, and also finally got an agent (I had had MANY rejections!) and after that it all happened quite quickly.
Q. What did you think about the honor of having your books chosen for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? Had you ever heard of the program before being one of the selected Author/Illustrators?
A. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of the programme before I was selected, but once I was, I found out as much as I could and was blown away by the brilliance of it. I had done a little work for a couple of literacy charities in the UK, so I was aware of the statistics around child literacy and how profoundly it can affect a person’s whole life. Then, when I understood the amazing work Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is doing in this area, I was thrilled. Putting books in children’s hands results in so many, many things and all of them are good. Giving children ownership of a library of their own is so empowering, inspiring and nurturing, for them and their families. And then when you put Dolly Parton at the helm of all that, well…how could I not be anything other than over the moon. I truly love the Imagination Library and feel very privileged to be a tiny part of something so hugely wonderful.
Q. How does it feel to have your books going out to over 300,000 children (in 4 different countries) in a single month through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library?
A. Well, having heard that for the first time at the Homecomin’ in Tennessee this year, I think there are quite a few witnesses to the fact I cried. Happy tears, obviously! To know that a book you wrote with the hope of empowering, reassuring and of course, entertaining children is being put into that many little hands is the BEST feeling, goosebumps, tears, giant grins, all of it!
Q. From where did you draw your inspiration for the character of Edie?
A. Edie is an amalgamation of quite a few little girls I have witnessed at my daughter’s primary school, or children’s parties and even at book events I have done. The chatty characters with that can-do attitude, sort of gently bossing everyone about and knowing what’s what! It’s such a happy, positive way to be, while their world is all still new and anything is possible.
Q. What is your creative process like? Do you create the illustrations first, the writing, or a combination all at once?
A. Or all of the above?! I am ashamed to say I don’t have just the one process. Inspiration can come in the form of a character I have doodled, a child I have watched behaving in a certain way, a feeling I want to convey, it can happen so many different ways I never really know if the words or the images will come first! But a friend of mine recently said all my books are like letters to my daughter when she was little, so maybe my process is to create the sort of book I think she would have liked or needed, but in various haphazard ways!
Q. Do you have any new books in the works with Penguin Random House?
A. I am working on a picture book right this minute, but I can’t possibly tell you what it is about other than to say there is a bear in it, which isn’t very surprising as I do love a bear!
Q. What’s the best thing about being a published author/illustrator?
Funnily enough, one of the things I love the most about my job was a surprise, and initially terrifying, element of it – events! Most events I do are for children and now I have embraced the fact that no two events are ever the same, children will answer rhetorical questions and they are extremely honest, often brutally so! BUT when they are laughing along with you, coming up with amazing ideas, feeling proud of drawings we have done together, and listening, rapt, to your story there is no better feeling.
Q. Is there anything that you hope children will take away from reading your books?
A. Most of my books have a message, something I want children to be reassured by, or empowered by, or comforted by. But overall I think my message is…you are great!
Q. What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a children’s author?
A. My phenomenal tap dancing. Or for being kind.
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