Behind the Book with Jennie Poh

Jennie Poh’s debut picture book, Herbie’s Big Adventure, publishes in the UK this week from Curious Fox and next week in the US with Capstone Young Readers on September 1, 2016. For a preview, check out her gorgeous book trailer — 

Jennie was born in England and grew up in Malaysia. Pen and paper by her side at all times she loved drawing princesses and writing stories. At the age of ten she moved back to England and trained as a ballet dancer, but her passion for drawing was taking the lead. Despite failing her art A-level, Jennie decided to prove that particular exam mark wrong, feeling that the art world was definitely for her. So she studied Fine Art at The Surrey Institute of Art & Design as well as Fashion Illustration at Central St.Martins — that showed them! In Jennie’s opinion, “A career in illustration is an extremely good reason to get washed and dressed each morning!”
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She loves drawing quirky beautiful girly stuff and works with ink, watercolour, collage, origami paper, pencils and usually ends up wanting to bash her computer. As well as illustration her other passions in life are cooking, her pink dressing gown, cats, hedgehogs, making jewellery, Kung Fu Panda, Christmas, books, Harry Potter, new sketchbooks, magical days, holidays, cafes, Diptique candles and milky tea.

Join us for a “behind the book” chat with Jennie:

Aside from your love of hedgehogs…what inspired the story?

It actually started with a piece of artwork I was doing. A winter scene with some animals, and for whatever reason it needed something/someone blowing in the wind. A hedgehog being blown in a leaf made complete sense.

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The image that inspired Jennie.

Do you think it’s important for children’s books to carry a message?

Yes and no, if you are writing a story and you want to get a certain point across so be it. On the other hand sometimes it is just nice to enjoy a story for what it is, and to be swept up in the moment.unnamed (2)

Jennie reading the book to young fans at a Lightbox Gallery event.

I thought perhaps at first that Mother Snow Bear represented mother nature – it reminded me of The Wind in the Willows – when Pan or the Piper at the gates of dawn is found by Ratty and Mole, protecting the little baby otter. After reading the story a second time I realized that actually, this is Herbie comforting himself, in using his imagination to get him through the journey. Is that right?

Yes it is! Actually he learns that with a little bit of self belief, some courage, he can do more than he thinks. It’s healthy to doubt yourself, and to be scared. Parents are here to guide us and prepare us for the world, to teach us that we are a lot more resilient than we may first believe.
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Speaking of other children’s books… Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration in illustration and/or writing for children?

Certainly growing up Enid Blyton was a big one, and Beatrix Potter. I adored being transported to another world.

How do you go about composing a piece of artwork – particularly when illustrating around the text?

I think if people saw how I worked with illustrating and writing they may find it a little confusing! I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sit and write the text first, then illustrate it. They both get mixed up together somehow. Usually I may do a little sketch, which then very naturally sparks off the words or a sentence, or I may jot down a paragraph and then illustrate it and go back and forth that way.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.27.27 AMWhat is your creative technique, both in terms of materials and the media you use to work in such as Photoshop or Illustrator?

I use Photoshop, but I also use a lot of natural textures. I may be out for a walk and see a really interesting shape in a leaf for example, so I scan it into my computer and work with it. As my children are quite young I don’t get to use as many inks/paints as I would like. It is far easier and cleaner to do most things digitally!

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“Behind the Book” illustrations showing the progression of Herbie.

You held the launch of Herbie in Hyde Park – a perfect place to fit the story! How was it, and did you enjoy it?

Everyone at Hyde Park was amazing and so passionate about conservation and involving and educating children about it.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.45.16 AMThe kids were great and very interested, their clay hedgehogs were super too!

What’s next on the horizon for you?!

I’m working on some more texts at the moment with my lovely agent Anne, and perhaps a second story for Herbie. And I’m organizing my Christmas shopping too already!

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Congrats Jennie on the beautiful book! Preorder Herbie’s Big Adventure here. And don’t miss Jennie’s illustration work on the Superfairies series!