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Guest Post: Sophie's Stories

Sophie's Stories is a magical picture book which celebrates bedtime stories and getting stuck in a good book. Accompanied by dreamy illustrations, it features recognisable family favourites like Alice in Wonderland and brings new meaning to the phrase 'just one more story'!


Writer and illustrator Devon Holzwarth has written this wonderful guest post for me about her inspiration for the story to give you a behind the scenes peak.


Sophie’s Stories – A love letter to bedtime stories

by Devon Holzwarth


The story was originally based on 5 children’s books/stories/poems - “Over in the Meadow”, “The Thousand and One Nights”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Jungle Book”, and “The Owl and the Pussycat”. “Over in the Meadow” is a rhyming counting book by John Langstaff (illustrated by the incredible Feodor Rojankovsky) and was something that I sang with my kids so often it would pop up spontaneously while out on walks or off in the car together. But rhyming books are difficult to translate into other languages and so we decided to replace it with a scene referencing “Peter Pan” (and my ode to Mary Blair). With the same consideration, “The Owl and the Pussycat” changed to “Thumbelina” and gave me the chance to draw swooping swallows of which I can never get enough of. It’s good to be open to the editing process as most of the time you reach a better end!


As a child, I had heard all of these stories in different versions and expressions, especially as a result of growing up in the 80’s and watching animated pieces reimagining the original stories. I wanted to take my own impressions and turn them into dream worlds for Sophie to fall into (sometimes literally!). So while I based her adventures on stories stemming from classic literature, I focused mainly on elements that I felt made them magical to begin with. Flying on the back of a swallow over a twinkling field of flowers or chasing a talking white rabbit through a mystical forest certainly met that requirement for me! I also felt like, in the end, this is a story about Sophie and her love for books. It’s also very much about the universal challenge of the bedtime routine, which on this night for Sophie, runs particularly long!


This picture book feels like a love letter to my own childhood and a sweet nod to the books I remember fondly as a kid. As I note in the book’s dedication to my parents, they made sure we had lots of books around as reading and learning were part of everyday life. We had access to all kind of books too - antique, falling apart encyclopaedias, manuals on sailing and photography and quirky instruments, stories and fables surrounding the history of Panama (where I grew up), endless art instruction books, and plenty of odd and wonderful finds from garage sales. I have to credit my parents and those books for helping inform my own imagination!


My favourite books from childhood were an assortment of Richard Scarry books like “Best Storybook Ever”, books from Janet and Allan Ahlberg like “Each Peach Pear Plum” (so many things special things hidden in the illustrations) and “The Jolly Postman”. Also pop-up books like “Robot” from Jan Pienkowski, and stories about kids from places I found fascinating, like the book “Nine Days to Christmas” written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets. I also had a healthy collection of Little Golden Books. I’m happy to say many of these titles are still on my bookshelf, but now here in my studio in Germany.


Reading at bedtime was one of the best ways I personally experienced bonding with my own kids and although they’re a bit older now and want to dig into longer and more complex stories, whenever a new picture book enters the house we all get excited. Picture books really are for all ages! And there’s nothing like cozying up with a stack to wind down the day. I would often look through the shelves and pick books based on what had been happening that day. Those stories would spark conversation and help us work through the daily struggles. Or in turn, they could capitalise on something hilarious or silly. I had a habit of grabbing “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” whenever things were going wrong and we would get a good laugh and sympathise with poor Alexander.


If you got this far, then thanks for reading all the way through! I hope you enjoyed the behind the scenes and learning more about Sophie’s Stories. I do hope you’ll pick up a copy for your own readers!


If you would like to learn more and see what else I’m up to you can visit me at www.devonholzwarth.com, at Instagram @devonholzwarth, and at our new picture book site: www.thesecrettreehouse.com


Thank you so much Devon Holzwarth for taking the time to write this post and thank you Scholastic for my review copy.

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