Anna Wilson lives in Cornwall in the UK with her husband and dog, cat, ducks and a tortoise called Hercules. A keen wild swimmer and advocate for protecting animals and nature, Anna's passion for the natural world shines through in all her work. Twitter @acwilsonwriter
Harry Woodgate (they/them) is an award-winning illustrator. Their debut picture book Grandad's Camper won the Waterstones Children’s Book Award. When they’re not creating amazing books, they love writing music, cycling, baking, and exploring independent coffee shops and bookstores. Harry is based in St Albans, UK.
Shine Like the Stars (Andersen Press)
In Shine Like the Stars, author Anna Wilson reminds children of their connection with the Earth; she explores how they can draw on this to find peace, and their inner light. The illustrations by Harry Woodgate bring to life the changing landscapes and atmospheres of nature, and our place in it. Here, Anna and Harry tell ReadingZone about how their new picture book, Shine Like the Stars, developed.
Review: 'This is one of the most influential picture books that I have read in a long time. This is certain to be a conversation starter as well as a much loved book for story time or to relax with at bedtime.'
Q&A with Anna Wilson & Harry Woodgate
"The idea for Shine Like the Stars took hold, and I began to write again. Just a sentence here and there.
'I am in the ocean,' I wrote. 'Sit with me, breathe with me...'"
1. Hi Anna and Harry, thank you for joining us on ReadingZone. Can you begin by telling us a little about yourself as an author / illustrator, and what kinds of books you enjoy creating?
Anna: I started out as a picture book editor a hundred years ago at Macmillan Children's Books and had my first picture book published in 1999. It was called Over in the Grasslands, illustrated by Alison Bartlett. I published one more picture book before embarking on a twenty-year stretch of writing longer books - everything from chapter books to novels to non-fiction. My return to picture books came with an idea after the death of my father as I wanted to write a book that helped families talk about grief and the circle of life. That was Grandpa and the Kingfisher, illustrated by Sarah Massini. I love creating all kinds of books!
Harry: I first began working on picture books whilst studying illustration at university, but I've dreamed of writing and illustrating stories since I was a child. Since graduating, I've been fortunate to work on a lovely variety of projects with lots of talented and inspiring people. I enjoy creating books which challenge me creatively and connect with young readers in meaningful ways: whether by providing comfort, making them laugh, developing a lifelong love of reading, or inspiring them to stand up for what they believe in.
2. What inspired your new picture book, Shine Like the Stars, and how did you decide to explore this idea with the links to Earth and nature?
Anna: I wrote it after moving to Cornwall in 2019. It was a move I was excited about, and that first summer was incredible. But… then came the winter, and boy, what a winter! It didn't help that I had no heating in my house! During that time, I felt very lonely and I couldn't write.
On one particularly bad day, I called a fellow writer for a chat. She said, "Maybe think of your writing like a plant in winter - you can't see it because it is underground, waiting for spring. Your writing is like this - the words are there, but they are buried deep, growing quietly and slowly in the dark. Be patient. They will show signs of new life when the spring comes."
The idea for Shine Like the Stars took hold, and I began to write again. Just a sentence here and there. "I am in the ocean," I wrote. "Sit with me, breathe with me..."
3. Why did you want to be the illustrator for this text, Harry; what spoke to you in the story, and how did you decide to approach the illustrations?
Harry: What stood out to me about Anna's text was how gentle and evocative it was, drawing parallels between emotions and environments in a very grounding and accessible way.
Anna's writing has a lovely rhythm - it is a book to be read aloud, where syllable length and sentence structure and epistrophe all help establish a sense of calm and place. I wanted the illustrations to expand upon the story whilst leaving space for the text to shine, just as Anna's writing left space for me to approach the artwork in my own way.
"Conveying atmosphere and emotion was far more important than establishing sequential narrative
or developing specific characters."
4. Do you feel that children's connection to the Earth is important in helping to maintain positive mental health? How do you reflect this in the text and illustrations?
Anna: I feel it is essential. As I say in the text, "You are part of this earth", and in the factual pages I explain that scientists believe we are actually made of star dust! Ignoring the natural world would be like ignoring someone in our own family. As for our mental health, it is well-known now that getting outside and absorbing all that the natural world has to offer is one of the best ways to combat anxiety, sleeplessness and depression. Getting outdoors in winter is especially important for this. You never regret a walk outside, even if it is raining - as long as you have the right clothes!
Harry: Absolutely! One of the ways I tried to reflect this in the illustrations was by considering scale and composition: many scenes feature expansive natural landscapes in which the characters are calm observers. Conveying atmosphere and emotion was far more important than establishing sequential narrative or developing specific characters.
5. What would you like children to take from this story?
Anna: I hope it will encourage them to feel connected with the natural world and be reassured by the healing power of the rhythms of nature. I personally find it reassuring to know that even after the worst kind of experience, I can go to bed and "sleep on it" and when the sun rises the next day, I have the chance to start all over again! Nature is always repairing and repeating, and so can we. This is the story I wanted to tell.
Harry: I'd like the book to help children explore how they relate to the natural world: how it makes them feel; how they can connect with it in their everyday lives; and why it is so important that we protect and preserve it for the future.
"I wanted to pass on these interesting scientific facts to inspire readers to think of themselves
as part of this awe-inspiring planet."
6. You've provided some facts and advice at the back of the book. Why did you want to include these, and how would you like adults to take these themes further with children?
Anna: I am a linguist first and foremost and I have always loved exploring why we use the familiar sayings we do, such as "a ray of sunshine", "tide and time" and "silver linings". I wanted to show readers how we get our language from the world around us. I also love learning, so I wanted to pass on these interesting scientific facts to inspire readers to think of themselves as part of this awe-inspiring planet.
7. What were the main challenges in creating Shine Like the Stars?
Anna: For me it was finding a publisher who understood what it was I was trying to do! Most picture book texts are shorter than this. Also, the idea of the Earth as a narrator put some people off. I am glad Andersen understood my intentions and paired me with the incredibly talented Harry! They have brought this book to life with their illustrations in ways I could only have dreamed of.
Harry: The main challenge for me was in working out how to achieve one guiding narrative that connected all the illustrations. When creating rough artworks, I first tried focusing on one family and their immediate environment, however eventually realised that I needed to illustrate a broad range of families and characters who each connected with nature in their own way.
8. Harry, how did you create the illustrations for this text, and reflect the natural themes in the story?
Harry: The illustrations are a combination of many different handmade textures all collaged together on Photoshop. I enjoyed working with lots of materials for this book - pencil, paint, pastel, monoprint, found textures - and used layers of mark-making, light and texture to evoke different natural environments.
9. Are there any pages or illustrations that stand out for you in the book?
Anna: It is SO hard to choose as I love them all! But I suppose, if pushed, my favourite would be the last double-page spread with the aurora borealis in the sky (see above).
Harry: My favourite illustration is the same as Anna's with the mountain landscape and the aurora borealis up above. That kind of environment has always felt majestic and beautiful to me, so it felt like a lovely way of ending the story.
10. In the story, you share our connection with the stars but where do you go for inspiration - specific places, music or art, perhaps - and what adventures do you find in the everyday world
Anna: I live by the sea so I go there to sit and let my mind wander. I also love swimming in it all year round. If I can't get to the sea, I seek out water. I love swimming in rivers and lakes too. There are always plenty of adventures to be found while swimming - there is so much wildlife sharing the water with me! I once swam with dolphins, quite by chance. A seal often joins me in the water near my home. Music is also very important to me. I listen to classical music and jazz to relax, and I play the piano too. I also love drawing, though I am by no means as talented as Harry!
Harry: Day to day, I enjoy getting out into the countryside for a dog walk or a cycle ride, which almost always leaves me feeling calmer, more inspired and more motivated.