"Having an audience of 100 potentially bloodthirsty children means you have to avoid the worst outcome, and that’s alive in my head when I’m writing and drawing now," he says
What Ed Vere hopes to accomplish at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival
If you are accompanying your child to Ed Vere’s book reading and drawing workshop tomorrow, be prepared to do a little bit of sketching yourself, says the writer and artist.
“Everything I do is very much a family event,” says Vere, a British artist who became an award-winning children’s author and illustrator. “I get everyone involved: mother and fathers, older brothers and sisters. I’ll read from my stories and introduce them to the characters in the books, then we will all draw together.”
His drawing masterclass, ideally geared for children ages 3 to 8, is one of the activities lined up for the 10th annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, which begins today at the Expo Centre Sharjah.
What to expect at the workshop
Vere will read from two of his most popular picture books: The New York Times bestseller Max the Brave, published in 15 languages and named one of The Sunday Times’s 100 Modern Children’s Classics, and long listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal; and Banana, which features only two words and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal for children’s book illustration. “I’ll make the children read Banana to me, it’s very simple,” Vere says. “It’s all about how you interpret it, it’s about emotion and sibling rivalry and I want the kids to have a go at it.”
Vere will also read from his latest book, The Grumpy Frog, which was inspired by the Brexit campaign. It all begins with the character, he explains.
“All of my books are very character-based, so normally, it starts with the development of a character and the drawing of that character. I draw and draw and draw until I have a character who in some way has emotional resonance with me and I work out who they are, then whatever the emotional inflection is sort of suggests to me a story I might put them in.” After that, the writing and drawing go hand in hand, he says.
In the case of The Grumpy Frog, Vere dreamt up a character who was grumpy and intolerant. “There was a lot of intolerance and ugliness towards other people during the time of the Brexit campaign,” he says. “That’s very dangerous, and even more so when children hear that, and I thought it was important to show an intolerant character who isn’t very nice and to understand that, so that when children are having a tantrum, they realise the effect of that on other people, to cultivate empathy in them about the result of their actions.
“But also, when you are having a tantrum, how do you get out of it? How do you manage your emotions and think about what you have done?”
The frog has a dark place he can go to sit and consider his actions, and come to the conclusion that he wasn’t very nice. “A lot of those petulant characters in politics are not far removed from a toddler’s behaviour, and the story tries to disarm that petulant behaviour.”
When introducing The Grumpy Frog, Vere often gets children to talk to him about what has made them angry recently. “It feels like a therapy session almost, and it’s amazing the kind of stuff they volunteer. It enables them to talk about what makes them angry, and if you can do that, you’re halfway there. If this book can help talk about it, then great.”
Helping children who may not have easy access to literature
And although he is seasoned when it comes to reading in front of an audience of children, Vere says they can still be merciless. “If you cannot engage them, they become brutal. You need to find the rhythms that they’re interested in, things that excite them, provide them with anticipation, surprise, emotion. Having an audience of 100 potentially bloodthirsty children means you have to avoid the worst outcome, and that’s alive in my head when I’m writing and drawing now.”
Regardless of how daunting these types of festivals are, Vere says they are worth it for him, as they help children who might not have easy access to literature. “Not every child, no matter their background, has parents who are engaged in reading. Reading is such a simple thing, but is a passport to an incredible world of your imagination and the imagination of others, you can have conversations – Shakespeare can talk directly to you across 400 years.”
The ultimate aim of the festival, he believes, is to foster an enjoyment for reading in children, and allow them to experience what it’s like to suspend their belief and engage with a story. Drawing, he maintains, is just as important, explaining how younger children have a love of drawing and don’t even need to be taught; they innately know how to express themselves through art.
“We start teaching them right and wrong and that makes them lose confidence. I want to cultivate a love of drawing in children.”
And above all, Vere wants his young audience to see how possible it is to make their dreams come true. “There’s a thrill for young children when they meet an author and see he is a real, regular person.”
Ed Vere will host a free hour-long author and students session for children aged 4 to 8 at 9.45am Thursday, April 19. See scrf.ae for more information.