Do you have a budding investigator in your midst? One of those endlessly curious children who questions everything? Aren’t they brilliant? Interested minds like that need feeding, and there’s no better way than with a book. I featured this particular choice as part of my Book Monsters Advent back in December, and was thrilled to see it since be nominated for the wonderful Blue Peter Book Awards. It is Real-Life Mysteries written by Susan Martineau. Designed and illustrated by Vicky Barker and published by B Small Publishing.
With this book, children can investigate the weird and wonderful, the strange and unbelievable. From Bigfoot and ghosts to UFOs , missing people and much more, this fascinating book introduces children to some of the mysteries that have developed over the years, and lays out all the evidence for children to pour over and decide what they believe.
This book is one of the greatest examples of how non-fiction is moving away from dry, boring topic books, into well designed, brilliantly illustrated and excitingly written books that children really want to pick up and read. Using a quirky design layout with a pin board effect, making the book look and feel like an investigator’s office, alongside all the facts broken down into easily accessible chunks of text. It’s perfect for parents and teachers to read with children, or children to read themselves. This is a great book to dip in and out of.
The joy of Real-Life Mysteries is how usable it is, this is a FUN book for children to read, first and foremost, but it also offers history lessons, geography and also teaches children how to research and investigate for themselves. Very clever stuff!
Now for the very exciting stuff, I can welcome onto the blog Susan Martineau and Vicky Barker to answer a few questions, AND over on Twitter and Instagram, I have two fantastic signed and sketched in copies of Real-Life Mysteries to give away!!
Now, over to Susan and Vicky:
Vicky Barker Q&A:
1. You were in the unique position of not only illustrating Real-Life Mysteries but designing it too. Did you enjoy this creative control? What challenges did it present?
Well, first and foremost, I am a book designer! So for me, the design and direction of a book is always where I start once we’ve had meetings about the concept and I receive the text. Being able to bring some doodling skills in to the mix is always a bonus and does allow me a little more freedom during the creative process! I’m quite versatile when it comes to my illustration ‘style’, so often tailor that to fit each project. We thought something a little stylised and fun for this would work best as we are dealing with some interesting (and sometimes gruesome) subjects! It was important to keep this suitable for the age range, but not take too much away from the ‘evidence’!Most challenging thing for me every time I work with Susan is to do her amazing writing justice! She’s ace!
2. Your illustrations are lovely and clean, with a strong graphical and stylised feel in this book. What methods and mediums do you use most in your work?
That’s exactly what we were going for with this one. I will begin everything with a good old pencil sketch though, no matter what the project entails – and then I will move it over to my Cintiq to work further digitally. I work a lot in Illustrator and Photoshop.
3. You have illustrated a broad range of popular books from baby board books, activity books, fiction AND non-fiction!! Wowsers! Which type, if any, is your particular favourite to work on?
I have worked on one or two! Working for a larger publisher, in-house for many years gave me the opportunity to work on such a broad range and to have a go at lots of different genres of books – and for that I will always be grateful. Each new book needs a different approach which is great as it always keeps it interesting. I still like to juggle various projects at the same time so I can have a break and do just that. With b small, I work on a lot of activity books which is awesome, but I also like to take on a fiction project every now and again so I get to do something completely different and do a little inky, black and white drawing. All of it is such lovely work though, so I’m very lucky!
4. What book, adult, children’s, fiction of factual, would you love to illustrate?
Ooooh, I’ve really quite enjoyed the slightly gruesome stuff in Real-Life Mysteries. Kinda like weird stuff, so maybe more of that!
5. What three things inspire you the most?
Just three?! I think inspiration can be found everywhere!
* Friends and fellow illustrators/designers for sure. So much amazing talent out there that keeps me inspired and constantly wanting to be better at what I do!
* Films/cartoons/animation and concept art for them. Can’t get enough of the backgrounds on the Samurai Jack cartoon *swoon* and I’m a huge Tim Burton fan.
* Places I visit.
To find out more about Vicky and her wonderful artwork, please take a look at her website:
Susan Martineau Q&A:
1. Real-Life Mysteries is a book packed full of information covering numerous different subjects. It must have taken an immense amount of research. Where did you start with that? How did you decide what to include, and were you forced to leave anything out? (Ready for book two maybe?)
I did a huge amount of research for the book, but I really enjoyed it. The first step was to look through all the books I have at home. (I have rather a lot of books on strange and weird themes that I’ve collected over the years.) Then I went to the library to look at yet more books. I found a wonderful book called the Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained which had some brilliantly spooky stuff in it. I kept a record of exactly where I’d found each piece of information too. Of course, I also used the internet. It was the best place to find the most up-to-date information and possible explanations for the mysteries.
I did have to leave out loads of other mysteries, but I tried to keep a good range of stories so I hope there is something to interest everyone. Where possible I’ve mentioned other cases to investigate on the case files. I’d love to write Book Two! Meanwhile here’s a link to Book Trust’s website where there is a description of another ten cases that got away! https://www.booktrust.
2. What made you want to write about real life mysteries? Do you have a particular interest yourself?
I’ve always been interested in mysterious happenings and ghostly stories. When I was very young we had a book at home called The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts. On a Sunday night when I was supposed to be doing my homework I would sit and read it and get thoroughly spooked! It had some really weird and unsettling photos in it, too, of suspected spectres and weird phenomena. I like trying to think about how, and if, these things could happen and what might really be going on. It stops you feeling too scared if you try to think calmly about them.
3 .Of the mysteries explained in this book, which is your favourite? And do you believe in any of them?
It’s very hard to choose my favourite case, but I really like the idea of friendly ghosts or presences like the Helpful Ghosts. I keep an open mind about mysteries and like to investigate all the possibilities. I think there will always be things we cannot explain and I really love that thought.
4. Your focus in writing is children’s non-fiction, with the Gruesome series of books, and your wonderful language books, which we often use in the library. What made you err towards non-fiction over fiction writing?
I’m a bookworm and have always read novels as well as non-fiction books. However, I started my career in non-fiction editing, and I love watching documentaries on screen, too, so I think I’ve always felt more comfortable writing non-fiction myself. I think I have a strong impulse to find out ‘the truth’ about things.
5. What three things inspire you the most?
That’s really hard to answer. My own children have always inspired me with their wonderful curiosity about the world. It also feels brilliant when I hear that a young person, who hasn’t always liked reading, has enjoyed one of my books. I’m also inspired by people who are brave in scary situations. I want to be like them!
To find out more about Susan, please check out her section on B Small’s website below:
Huge thanks to Vicky and Susan for taking the time to answer our Book Monster curiosities so fully.
To find out more about publisher B Small, take a trip to their corner of the internet world below:
Real-Life Mysteries is also available now from all good libraries and book shops! Thank you for reading this mysterious Book Monster review.