When John Kane was younger, he liked to make up stories for his little sister. Jimmy and Bear, who appeared in them, are still remembered to this day.
John lives in Dublin, but has also lived in Australia, where he set up Australia's number one independent advertising agency.
His first book in his bestselling interactive series was I Say Ooh You say Aah, which has been followed by I Say Boo, You Say Hoo and the latest book, I Say OH and You Say NO.
I Say Boo, You Say Hoo (Templar Books)
By John Kane
JOHN KANE's first picture book, I Say Ooh, You Say Aah, has been responsible for much hilarity in homes and classrooms, and the follow-ups, I Say Boo, You Say Hoo and I Say OH, You Say NO, are guaranteed to do the same.
These picture books are highly interactive, demanding that the reader respond to certain visual commands - "When I say Boo, you say Hoo", and "Now if you see a tree, you shout ME". The story that is built through the pages brings surprises and giggles aplenty as the reader and listener(s) keep pace with the text.
5* Review: "With lots of colourful illustrations that fill the pages, which children will find very appealing, along with the clever wording and lots of interaction, this book will be a sure favourite."
In this Q&A, John Kane tells us more about his work and how he creates his picture books
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you started creating picture books for children?
I live in Dublin but I spent twelve years in Sydney and travelled the world a few times. I love new places.
I only started creating books a few years ago. I had my own children, twins called Molly and Dylan, and they got me thinking. One was an avid reader, one reluctant. I'm passionate about books being part of kids lives so I set about trying to work out a way to get the reluctant twin to embrace books.
My background is as a creative in advertising, so my job was problem solving through words and pictures.
2. And can you tell us what sparked the idea for I Say Ooh, You Say Ahh?
I realised that children had a lot of choices to engage with and most of those choices they got to take part in. iPads, gaming, phones and more. But books seemed a bit passive in comparison. So I wondered could I use the form and structure of a book and make it engaging?
I began by working out some action, see red, pat your head, turn the page, you wave etc. Then I needed a character and story to bring all these actions together. That's when Ooh was born. I've always have a thing for donkeys. They are a little bit forgotten and horses get all the attention. They are my favourite animal, along with pigs. And I happened to have won a big stuffed one in a roller disco art competition when I was younger. So it all made sense. Sort of.
3. Why did you decide to create another one, your picture book, I Say Boo, You Say Hoo, about a little ghost with a small problem?
I was delighted my first book was published. But I could never have imagined how well it went. It has been made into Spanish, Korean and Chinese and won the English Picturebook Awards Fiction 4-7 2019 and Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards 2nd Grade Book of the Year 2019 in the States.
Because it was so well liked it made sense to do another in the series. All I had to do was find new actions and a storyline that brought them all together. Ghosts, like donkeys, can also be misunderstood. And they're cute, well Boo is. I thought it was funny that he is afraid of the dark. And what that would lead to.
4. Are these difficult books to write, given that they have very few words and images, and rely on the interaction element to work?
They look simple but simple is harder to do. It takes a long time to get the arc right to hold the attention all the way through. They need to be funny, loud and include the listener. It's also important that I give the child permission to be a bit rude, without them getting into trouble. So they take time, and a lot of testing with kids. They'll always be honest. I also have the help of the brilliant Katie and Genevieve from Templar who constantly make suggestions that make them better.
5. What have children's reactions been like when you've shared the books with them?
I've had a brilliant time at festivals and schools. You can imagine the audience shouting and laughing. The bigger the group the better. I think they have also opened up some children's minds about what a book can be and maybe inspired them to have a go at creating their own. The reaction of kids is the most rewarding part.
6. Do you have any more serious intentions with these books, other than to make children laugh?
Yes, very much so. I like to think they could show children that books can be something they get to take part in. I want them to feel included in every story and as they grow it might encourage them to continue reading. If they don't start, how can they continue?
I think picture books are hugely important and finding any new way to get children to engage is really worthwhile. I get people telling me Ooh Aah is the only book their child will read. That's very satisfying because without it they may never start.
Have you ever had a 'fail' with an audience?
Creating the book is a long process. It can take a year or more. During that time it goes through lots of iterations and testing. With the professionals like Katie and Genevieve but also with kids.
I know straight away if the story and interactions are working. If they are confused or losing interest I go back and fix it. The aim is always for them to say 'read it again'. So by the time I'm on stage it's been well tested and I thankfully have never had a bad reaction.
Is there another book in the pipeline?
Yes there are more on the way. Different from the first two but still trying to achieve the same thing.
What are you writing now, and where is your favourite place to write / illustrate?
I'm writing a new book for next year. It's a bit mad but is great fun to create. When I start a book I tend to take myself away for a week to a cottage near the beach with nobody around. Total isolation so I can get into the world I'm trying to create. I have to almost revert to thinking like a child again and it's hard to do that at home. Once the main thought is down I tend to do the tweaks and changes from my little table at home.
Who are your favourite picture book creators?
I tend to like certain picture books makers. The ones that have their own unique style and take on the world. When you see their books you know it's them before you even see the name. Oliver Jeffers, Chris Haughton, Bethan Woollvin, Britta Teckentrup and Shaun Tan. They have their own voice and look. It's like great film directors or artists, their work is instantly recognisable as theirs. When they release something new there's an excitement.
What are your favourite escapes from your office?
I love the sea, so spend a lot of time on the beach with my pug, Ted.