In this interview with Hélène Ferreira, author of The Rainbow Boat and The Storm Tree (available in bookstores nationwide) she explains why she developed The Blanket Tree Book series. Her books look at overcoming challenges and finding happiness even when there are storms.
The books are aimed at children between the ages of four and 10 and deal with some of the challenges children face, and how they can overcome them.
Q: The Storm Tree is the second stand-alone book of The Blanket Tree Book Series. How many books will there be?
A: This is a good question. I am not sure how many of the ones I have written will be published. At the moment we are working on the layout of the first (and only) Afrikaans book, which will be an honorary member of the series (Die Kombersboomboeke). This book is called Die Geel Sambreel.
Q:What is The Storm Tree about?
A: One bright sunny day, a big old tree on top of a hill is inspired by music. This ancient tree suddenly starts to sprout buds that grow into musical instruments! When a crazy storm breaks out, the village is in trouble. The elements shake the music out of those instruments and a melody starts to play. Can the tree’s symphony save a village?
Q: How do your books cater for younger readers?
A: Coloured fonts highlight words that reinforce the theme in every book. This is aimed at children who can’t read yet. The pictures of the books are very true to the story, so younger readers can almost make up the story themselves. More proficient readers can read it on their own, and the rhythm and cadence has the feel of a song – my daughter knows some of the passages by heart. There is enough text to be able to keep junior primary school readers engaged, with simple enough language so everyone can understand.
Q: How did you start writing and have you produced other books/series as well?
A: I am a physiotherapist in private practice, as well as a wife and mother of two. I am fascinated by books, words and turning ideas into reality. As a parent and myself a reader from a young age, I have read a lot of children’s books. My favourite books and probably my biggest inspiration are fairy tales, like the Hans Christian Andersen originals of my youth. There is an interesting comparison between the melancholy and bleak violence of the fairytales and lullabies that we grew up with and today’s stories.
Children’s literature tends to be much more rooted in realism now, which is great. But a fantasy element is wonderful for the imagination; also for conveying valuable life lessons.
With The Blanket Tree Books I am trying to create colourful and fun entertainment – where everyone can embrace their differences, but grow together and where anyone can be the hero; even the smallest or the unlikeliest character. The books all have strong female characters and the illustrations are inclusive. We as parents can model and show a wonderfully diverse and harmonious world to our young children.
Q: Why have you decided to release this series and how did the story for The Rainbow Boat come about?
A: The Rainbow Boat came about during a session of load shedding. The children and I were lying in bed in the almost darkness, making up stories. When it was my turn, I came up with this whole idea of kids on a boat, visiting lots of different islands and painting a stripe down the side – according to each challenge they had to overcome. Eventually they found their happy place and by then the boat looked like a rainbow!
We live in strange and challenging times. We, as parents, are our kids’ safe harbour. I wanted to send something uplifting into the world, by publishing this book.
For more from Hélène Ferreira, read her blog