Children’s Book Blog: Ask the Author – Sarah Garland

Rebecca Davies

azzi in between 228x300 Children’s Book Blog: Ask the Author – Sarah GarlandChildren’s Book Blog: Ask the Author – Sarah Garland

Author and illustrator Sarah Garland is the first ever winner of the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award, which celebrates ‘radical fiction’ for children aged 12 and under. She has written and illustrated over 50 books for children. Her latest, Azzi In Between, is a graphic novel about a young girl forced to flee her war-torn Middle Eastern home and resettle in England.

The story empathetically captures the practical and cultural difficulties of moving to a new country and also makes for a useful learning tool to help primary school age children understand the refugee experience.

Where did the inspiration for Azzi In Between come from?

I began to write Azzi in a small city in New Zealand, where my husband and I were working for four months. Three-hundred-and fifty Burmese refugee families had recently arrived there, and I became involved in their lives, visited them in their homes, and at the local school, and at the technical college where the adults were learning English. They had been through traumatic experiences and the children were in a state of shock. I realised that I wanted to write this book more than anything else, so I jettisoned my other work and began it.

I only realised recently, when I was talking to a group of children in London about the book, that my original inspiration came from something that had happened long ago. When I was a child at school, a refugee boy arrived from Hungary. He was completely ignored by us all. He sat alone in class. He had no partner at games, walked between lessons on his own. As I grew up I thought about what he must have been through before arriving at my school, and how ignorant and unaware and unintentionally cruel we had been. I had felt guilty about that boy all my life, so I think maybe I partly wrote this book for the ignorant child that I was.

Why did you decide to tell the story in the form of a graphic novel?

First of all, it was to make the book appeal to as wide an age group as possible. Also, such a visual telling of the story means that it can be understood by both adults and children with little or no English. It also meant I could fit in far more action than in a picture book, and slow down and speed up the story by using larger or smaller frames.

What comes first: the pictures or the text?

I usually begin with the rough idea of a story coming into my head. I might make a few notes on that. But images follow soon after, especially of the characters, and then I jot down rough pictures and rough text together, often as a storyboard.

Who was your favourite author and/or illustrator when you were growing up?

I began with Babar and Beatrix Potter then had an intense but brief fling with Enid Blyton, before beginning a long involvement with Rosemary Sutcliff and other historical novelists.

Which author and/or illustrator do you think has had the biggest influence on your work?

Edward Ardizzone is an author/illustrator I have always admired. Russell Hoban’s writing is an inspiration.

What’s your top tip for any aspiring author/illustrators reading this blog?

Keep reading, keep looking, keep listening, keep practising.

Find out more about Sarah and her books here

Read more posts from our Children’s Book Blog here

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  • KayTee

    I remember ‘Polly’s Puffin’ being one of the most requested books by my kids.

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