Last week I had my faith restored in the book industry by Mimi Make-Believe by Claire Freedman and Gemma Raynor. I was intrigued by Mimi’s story and asked them if they would drop me a few lines to explain how such a positive female character had come about. They are both clearly passionate about their book and were kind enough to answer some questions.
Claire Freedman is the author of more than 50 picture books, including the best-selling Aliens Love Underpants series, George’s Dragon, and The Great Snortle Hunt. You can visit her website here.
1. What was your inspiration behind Mimi Make-Believe and what, if anything, did you want to get across to your readers?
I wanted the storyline to be multi-layered. Children are powerhouses of imagination and it never fails to amaze me how creative they are in ideas and play. However it’s much more fun for two characters to share imaginative play, so I created Mimi as shy and rather lonely animal (though quite brave as she becomes Mimi the mighty Raccoon and rescues Beaver!) and used this characterisation of hers to get her a perfect friend. I am sure I was inspired by watching my friend’s children play.
2. There are far more male characters in picture books than female ones, particularly when it comes to animal characters. How important was it to you to show a female character subverting the traditional stereotypical gender roles?
The perception that girls don’t enjoy and excell at typically boy pursuits, I think is less prevelant nowadays, but there is still an unequal balance (in favour of strong main boy characters) in children’s books, which seems a shame. I do enjoy challenging the traditional sterotypes. Let’s get real!
3. The general consensus is that girls will read books with male characters but boys wont read ones with female characters. Is this something you came up against when creating Mimi and getting it published?
I’ve been told this numerous times, and predominately my books have a male character – as requested! However I have written some successful picture books where the protagonist is a girl, namely Dilly Duckling, Hushabye Lily, and Night Night Poppy (Little Tiger Press), and George’s Dragon (published by Scholastic) stars a boy character, but the mother goes out to work, whilst the father is a house-husband) The second book in the series, George’s Dragon Goes To School,out this August. I am also writing a new story where the main character is a girl and the book is aimed at both genders.
4. Is it something you would do again?
Gemma Raynor is a freelance illustrator who won two awards at the New Design Awards 2006, resulting in her first picture book commission. As well as Mimi, her titles include What’s the Time Mr Wolf, and Tom’s Tree by Gillian Shields. You can view her Facebook page here or have a mooch through her creations and prints in her Etsy shop here.
1. How did you first get involved with the Mimi book and what were your first impressions of the book/her as a character?
At the time I was doing samples for my agent Eunice Mcmullen to send to publishers, one of the samples was of a little raccoon character dressed as a pirate which was originally a boy. This sparked the interest of the publishers Gullane who had already received and loved Claire Freedman’s ‘Mimi’ text.
I remember specifically what they liked was the fact the character was a less common animal, in Claire’s original text Mimi was a mouse, they said it would be nice for Mimi to be an animal that was a bit different to make her character stand out from the market.
The first time I read the text, straight away Mimi came across as a whole mixture of different things, she was brave, adventurous, creative and curious but she was also quite timid, especially when first seeing Beaver! She is also very kind hearted which helps turn her shyness into confidence when she thinks Beaver is in danger! She has a big heart but an even bigger imagination!
2. What did you want to achieve with the book? What were you trying to get across to the readers?
I think the book really sees Mimi grow as a character. I think she’s someone to look up to and is an inspiration, the reader really gets to engage with her and join her in her adventures. From an illustrative point of view I really wanted to show the creativeness of Mimi, showing how in Mimi’s imagination that a few toys and cardboard boxes can turn you into a knight in shining armour, save the princess and fight off dragons!! Mimi’s imagination is endless and she wanted to share this magic with Beaver even if her shyness at first holds her back!
3. How did you create Mimi’s character when illustrating the book?
Because Mimi was both brave and shy I wanted to make her look sweet but not sugar coated! I do remember the very early stages I experimented with her as a skunk instead of a raccoon but she looked two girly with a flowing bushy tail and what I remember was some form of quiff!
I did want to inject a bit of girlyness into her character, I do love quirky prints and polka dots hence the strawberries on her sleeves and polka dot bows, however I knew I didnt want her in a full dress! I did try her in dungarees at first but it was almost too stereotypical tomboy which wasn’t really Mimi.
4. Did you come up against any resistance to the book and its non-stereotypical character?
Initially I had a few challenges with ‘how adventurous Mimi was’… because Mimi as a character was so adventurous and curious I drew her in a spread which publishers said were too dangerous. I.e she was too far away from the house or too high up a tree for it to be classed as safe, I had to confine the world in which Mimi was allowed to explore which was quite a challenge but other than that she was allowed to be, well… Mimi 🙂
Huge thanks to Claire and Gemma for creating a brilliant book and for taking time to answer these questions. I found it refreshing to hear that a publisher worked with the author and illustrator to make a character stand out and be a bit different. Hurrah to that!