Rachel Morrisroe is a new voice in the world of rhyming picture books. She is working with leading picture book talents, including Steven Lenton and Ella Okstad, to bring her hilarious and humorous ideas to life. Rachel is also an abstract artist and sells her work internationally. Originally from Wales, Rachel has lived in Leeds and London and is now settled in Cheshire with her husband, two young children and a very daft dachshund.
How to Grow a Dragon (Puffin Books)
Rachel Morrisroe's How to Grow a Dragon and How to Grow a Unicorn take us to a magical gardening shop where the seeds can sprout magical creatures... But they aren't always easy to handle and, when things go wrong, the young assistant Sarah must find out how to put things right. The books are illustrated by Steven Lenton.
We asked Rachel to tell us what inspired these stories, what happens in each book, and how to encourage children to create their own 'magical seeds'! She also reads from a few pages of How to Grow a Dragon in this short video...
Q&A with Rachel Morrisroe
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing books for children?
Hello everyone! The biggest thank you for having me! I am Rachel, a children's author and I live in the country with my two young sons, my husband and a very daft dachshund called Dottie. I really like chocolate, Dominos pizza and drinking tea out of bonkers mugs - the sillier the better! Most of all, I love magic! Reading about it, thinking about it and most especially; writing about it!
I started writing for children about seven years ago. I was fed up of working in an office and really wanted to do something I loved so I started writing down all of the stories that had collected in my head. I was lucky enough to get a lovely agent who helped me to make them better, then she sent them out to publishing houses and my dream came true - Puffin Books bought How to Grow a Unicorn! And superstar illustrator Steven Lenton agreed to work with me on the series.
I now have lots of exciting stories in the pipeline with Steven, Ella Okstad and other amazing illustrators. I am one very lucky author!
2. What happens in your picture books, How to Grow a Unicorn and How to Grow a Dragon?
The How to Grow Magic books are about a magical gardening shop called Mr Pottifer's Parlour of Plants, where you can buy all kinds of very rare seeds and blooms. From grizzling tiger plants, to really-walking dogbane; from tapping catspaws to flapping bird-of-paradise plants - the shop has all of your magical gardening needs covered. The store is owned by Mr Pottifer, an enormous and very charming venus fly trap. Sarah, who has quite the talent for magical growing helps out there.
Each book is about a different magical gardening adventure - and things always seem to go a bit wrong! In the first book, Sarah grows some unicorns but she is so good at magical growing that too many blossom and lots of unicorns can cause a few problems! The second is about Dragodills - but without proper training the dragons go a bit wild!
3. What inspired the original idea of Mr Pottifer and his magical plant shop?
When we moved to our house about five years ago, it was the first time since leaving my childhood home that I'd had a garden. I got very excited about growing things and spent lots of time perfecting my pumpkins!
I started to think about what I might grow, if I could grow anything at all. The idea of growing a Unicorn came to me! I thought it would be really fun to have a plant running the magical shop - and who better to do this than a very kind venus flytrap? Mr Pottifer might look quite alarming, but carnivorous plants can be awfully charming!
4. How did Sarah become the young assistant in the shop?
In How to Grow a Unicorn Sarah is a customer, looking for the perfect birthday gift for her garden-loving Gran. But Mr Pottifer realises that Sarah has an extraordinary talent for magical growing (it's not easy!).
In How to Grow a Dragon and in future books in the series, Sarah is a helper in the shop. She always has very wise planting advice - but it is not always followed and this can lead to magical chaos!
5. Which of the dragons that they grow would you be happy to take home?
It would have to be a Skydrangea - imagine traveling to school or popping to the supermarket on the back of a flying dragon! I would just have to make sure I took my travel sickness tablets first!
6. What's next for Sarah and Mr Pottifer?
I'm so excited to share that there are going to be more books in this series. Here's a little clue for the third title - you might need your snorkel and swimsuit for this adventure!
7. What do you think of Steven Lenton's illustrations for these books? Any favourite characters?
Steven has taken this series to a whole new magical realm. He is talented beyond words and I feel so very lucky that he said 'yes' to being my partner in crime for these books. I absolutely love all of the characters and it's so hard to pick a favourite.
I love how he has breathed life into Mr Pottifer with his quirky monocle, dapper bowtie and moustache. Sarah was named for a very close friend and without knowing it, Steven has managed to make illustrated Sarah look like a child version of my friend Sarah so that always makes me smile. I just love her little red daisy wellies! I am a big fan of unicorns so Sprout, a baby unicorn who you will meet in How to Grow a Dragon, has a special place in my heart too.
8. Does anything stand out for you in the illustrations for How to Grow Dragons?
One of the central spreads (the middle pages) in the book is of a wonderful explosion of dragons, as they firework into the shop, having grown overnight. You have to spin the book to the side to get the full impact. It's so magical! Everyone I've showed it to says, ‘WOW!' That's the wonder of Steven's work!
9. Why did you want to include the 'How to grow your reading skills' suggestions at the back of this book?
I wish I could claim it was my idea but it was the brilliant folks at Puffin! Steven and I are so lucky to work with the best editors and it was their genius plan. I love the idea of growing reading skills - reading helps us to access everything in life. It's so brilliant to think that this section might help children blossom into readers. At some point I'd love to grow a library as part of the series!
10. Do you have any other ideas for activities inspired by the book for homes and schools?
If you could grow anything at all, what would it be and why? It can be anything you like - if you are a sweetie lover you could grow a gummy bear plant! Or perhaps you would have a puppy plant which sprouts the cutest dogs ever! What would the seed look like? What would you water it with? What are your planting tips? Can you draw your ideas and write a little about them? Don't forget to ask your grown-ups to tag Steven and I in your creations on our social media channels! We would love to see them.
More about Rachel...
i. Are you a keen gardener, like your characters in these books?
My house is full of plants! To the point that I have no shelf or windowsill space for any more. I love them and they bring me heaps of joy. I like to grow pumpkins for Halloween every year (Autumn is my favourite season!) and my house is actually named The Pumpkin Patch!
ii. What kinds of magical seeds would you like your postie to deliver to your home?
Maybe a magical portal plant so that I could step through a flower and visit any part of the world I fancy for a few hours and get back in time for tea. I could go and meet Santa at the North Pole for a reindeer ride with a mince pie and hot chocolate. Or pop to a tropical beach and swim with colourful fish in the turquoise water. That would be my kind of plant!
iii. How good would you be at growing and looking after them?
I don't know how good I'd be at growing magical plants - they are far trickier and more prone to being troublesome - I'd have to ask Sarah for her top tips!