We first had the idea of creating a non-fiction picture book about animals back in 2008. We were visiting an animal sanctuary with our three young children and spotted some animal collective nouns chalked up on a board. Patrick George instantly thought that they would be fun to illustrate. This was almost a year before we decided to quit the day job and set up our own publishing and illustration company, and seven years before we wrote Animal Rescue.
We published our first two picture books, of animal and bird collective nouns in 2009. This was our first venture into publishing. Patrick had been working as a graphic designer and I had worked in account and print management so we had the skillset to design and get the books printed. Getting people to know about them was a different story!
It was an exciting adventure into the great unknown back then. We bought a motorhome, packed a few hundred books and three children into it and drove around the country armed with a list of children’s bookshops persuading booksellers to take our books, sale or return. By November 2009, we had received our first Kate Greenaway Award nomination for ‘A Filth of Starlings’. Thinking that we must be doing something right, we decided to continue publishing.
Today, we are most well known for our books with transparent pages. When I am visiting schools or libraries, I show examples of these pages in my workshops. We like to call them ‘magic transformations’ because with the turn of each transparent page, the image underneath changes, like magic!
The concept for this series came to Patrick one day whilst doodling: he drew a candle, flame and a tap, with the candle flame resembling a drop of water to show both ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. Keen to develop this idea further, we began to look at ways to overlay imagery to produce a more interactive reading experience. Opposites was our first book with transparent pages followed by Colours, Shapes and Numbers. Two more books followed, and finally we came back to the subject closest to our hearts – animals.
Animal Rescue is aimed at the very young. Simple, colourful illustrations show an animal on the right hand side of each spread in a captive state. Flipping the acetate page to the left magically transforms the animal back to its natural habitat. For example, an elephant is alone in the circus. Turn the acetate page and the elephant magically joins its mother in the wild.
The idea behind using the acetate page to rescue – or free – animals came from two previous illustrations, one in Opposites where the owl is first ‘in’ then ‘out’ of the cage and another from our book Oh No! where the monkey releases the gorilla from captivity. Patrick began to see scope for developing this idea further. During our research, we realised there are so many animal welfare issues in the world today that children need to be made aware of. We saw the function of the acetate as a way to engage and empower the child: they could become a rescue hero and we could introduce some of these issues but maintain a positive vibe. Of course, it was very important to produce illustrations which wouldn’t alarm parents or children in any way! However, it was also important not to trivialise the subject matter. By making the book wordless, we leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. It is a book that can be read on so many different levels from simply rescuing the animals, to discussing natural habitats, to side-stepping the weighty issues and talking about good and bad, relationships, the environment. That said, I think most children simply enjoy freeing the animals and putting them back where they belong.
From every sale of Animal Rescue, 50p is donated to the Born Free Foundation. Teaming up with an animal charity and donating a percentage of our profits seemed like a logical step to promoting the book’s message and gaining worthwhile endorsement. (As a tiny publisher, we often struggle to promote our books to a wider audience.) We chose The Born Free Foundation because we feel it is the perfect dynamic, international wildlife charity whose focus is on rescuing all animals. As quoted on their website: “Born Free never forgets the individual. Every animal counts.” An email, a phone call and a meeting later, the team loved our book idea and imagine our delight when the charity’s President, Will Travers OBE, agreed to write an endorsement on the back cover!
We are particularly delighted by the success of Animal Rescue, not just in the UK, but internationally, because of the strong animal welfare message it carries. We first started out on our publishing journey with two animal-themed books and our love and respect for animals remains strong. To produce this book was a dream for us.
In March this year, we developed an app of the book to reach out to an even wider, international audience. Animal Rescue Book app reads like the book (it even has transparent pages), animates the animals and has real-life animal sounds. Like the book, it is wordless but it speaks a universal language. It is cheerful, fun and provides an intuitive user experience.
Animal Rescue was nominated for the Kate Greenaway Award in 2016. It was shortlisted for Best British Book Design Awards in 2015. Abroad, it was shortlisted for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis 2017. It has been translated into 14 different languages.
For more information on the app, please visit www.patrickgeorge.com/apps
This guest post was provided by Ann Scott, and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.