My snowy picture book, You Make Me Smile (Oxford University Press 2013) was published in hardback last winter and came out in paperback just as this winter began. Through all this time, I’ve been patiently waiting for snow.
The book began even further back, with a Christmas card I’d made some years before. My editor, Helen Mortimer, asked if the little girl and snowman I’d depicted might somehow find their way into a picture book story. It took a while for me to see how that could work.
The thing is, Raymond Brigg’s masterful book The Snowman (Hamish Hamilton,1978) seemed to have the subject completely wrapped up. The Snowman is strictly speaking more of a wordless graphic novel than a picture book, but when it also became an animated film, (Snowman Enterprises Ltd 1982, with music by Howard Blake) its audience must have broadened to include even the youngest children – the pre-school, picture book audience.
But then, there was that one slightly troubling thing about it, which Raymond Briggs himself talked about a couple of years ago: “The famous book, which led to the animated version, was not about joy and Christmas, but about death.”
Along with probably everything about him, and certainly all of his work, I profoundly admire Raymond Briggs’ realism. Snowmen melt – it’s a fact of life. I’m not suggesting that small children have to be shown a sugar-coated world. But I wondered if I could find a different way of depicting this reality for a picture book.
Nature, it seems to me, is as much about beginnings and coming to life as it is about endings and death.
As long as the seasons continue to turn, there’ll be snow again one day, which means there’s always the chance for a snowman to come back. That was to be the message of You Make Me Smile.
My story points out the importance of letting time pass. I never imagined how long I’d have to wait! Finally though, this weekend, I’ve been able to make my own (very tiny) snowman. In our different ways, we made each other smile. I hope the book will do the same for some readers, even after the snow has melted away.
(You can click here for more about You Make Me Smile, including a trailer, links to free activities and buttons to buy the book.)