AMAZING Blog Tour!

We're thrilled to be part of the Blog Tour for Amazing, the new picture book from Steve Antony, which puts a child who is disabled at the centre of the story, and on the front cover. Here, he tells us how Amazing came about.

Q: How have your own experiences in working with children contributed to the themes you address in Amazing?

A: My picture book debut published almost five years ago. Since then I've visited 100s of schools including several special needs schools. I've also visited charities too, including my AFK (Action for Kids) who support children with disabilities.

Even before my first book, I knew how uncommon diverse picture books were. For a while I worked part-time as a Support Worker at Swindon's School of Art. It was around then that I first wrote Amazing. So, although I wrote Amazing before engaging with very young children, the book was informed by working with teenagers with disabilities. My students didn't let their disabilities define them, in the same way that Amazing isn't defined by its main character's disability.

Q: How important was it for you to have a child in a wheelchair on the cover?

A: While researching diverse books at uni I couldn't find a wheelchair user on the cover of a picture book in which the wheelchair user is (a) the main character, and (b) the story isn't about the wheelchair. So, having the wheelchair on the cover of Amazing was non-negotiable. Fortunately, my now publisher thought so too.

In contrast, when I had shown other publishers my first draft, I was told it was "bold" but a "hard sell". Others suggested I remove the wheelchair altogether. I must add that I was unpublished then, and 2012 was a challenging and uncertain time for the book industry. Much has changed since then.

Q: How did you decide to approach the story so that it wasn't about the child 'being different'?

A: I created Zibbo! Typically, picture books with wheelchair users aren't very commercial. I set out to make Amazing as commercial as possible, first by creating an irresistibly cute dragon as my story device.

Second, I ditched my usual limited-hue approach in favour of snazzy supermarket colours, because why can't a wheelchair user sit with the likes Supertato and Zog?

Thirdly, I decided to make my story as simple and light as possible, a fun tale of friendship and imaginative play. Books with wheelchair users are commonly known as issue books, and while there's absolutely nothing wrong with issue books, my book wasn't one.

Finally, I wanted an eye-catching title, a feel-good exclamation that really captured the story's joyfulness.

Q: What would be your pet of choice, imaginary or otherwise!?

A: A pet that doesn't wee on my bed would be preferable. I speak from recent experience. I wouldn't mind a little Zibbo, but the fire-breathing could be problematic. I'm more of a cat person, although I do like the idea of owning two Shetland Sheepdogs like my friend across town does.

Q: What do you want your readers - children and adult - to take away from Amazing?

A: Recently, School Librarian Jo Clarke (who incidentally is part of this blog tour) tweeted that she was nearly deafened at story time when she got to the "ROAR!" page in Amazing. That's exactly what a want: readers to have fun with the story.

But on a slightly more serious note, I want children and adults to see themselves in my books. It's equally important that children and adults see people unlike themselves, too. Zibbo embodies that special something that makes each and every one of us unique, and amazing. At the end of the story Zibbo says something that I hope will leave readers with a good feeling about themselves.

Q: Looking ahead, how will you be supporting marginalised or disabled children in other picture books you create?

A: Amazing isn't the first book in which I've featured marginalised groups. In When I Grow Up, written by Tim Minchin, I drew four wheelchair users, same-sex parents and children of all ethnicities. But those were background characters. In some of my other books I've included wheelchair users but, again, they were extras.

More recently I illustrated a whole group of diverse children for a double-page spread in Kind, a forthcoming book about kindness by Alison Green, with art by a whole host of top Illustrators. Also, I contributed art to PROUD, a forthcoming YA anthology featuring the work of LBGTQ+ authors and Illustrators.

I'm always looking for opportunities to include minorities in my artwork and stories. Even when using animals, I'll break a few stereotypes. Ultimately, I think the main reason I do this is because as child I never saw myself in children's books. No doubt there are countless children today who've yet to find themselves, too.

But there's thankfully been a positive shift in publishing these past few years, and diverse books are gaining traction. I'm just glad that Amazing is finally out there. It's been a long time coming.

29/01/2019AMAZING Blog Tour!
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