Science Book a Day Interviews Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton



Special thanks to Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton for answering 5 questions about their recently featured book – Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

Nicola Davies is an English zoologist and writer. She was one of the original presenters of the BBC children’s wildlife programme The Really Wild Show. More recently, she has made her name as a children’s author. – From Wikipedia

I graduated in 2008 with a BA in illustration from Edinburgh College of Art, having also studied at York college, and for a semester at the Rhode Island School of Design. My work incorporates a love of pattern and detail and is strongly influenced by the landscape and creatures of my surroundings in the Yorkshire countryside, as well as all kinds of weird and wonderful objects found in museums and antique shops. A visit to the museum of folk art in New York inspired an ongoing interest in folk art of all kinds, and I am also influenced by 20th century illustrators such as Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious, and the american lithographed children’s books of a similar era. – From Emily’s Homepage

Nicola’s Homepage:
Nicola’s Twitter:

Emily’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for Tiny Creatures? + #2 – How much do children know about microbes? What was your strategy in communicating the important ideas about these tiny creatures to them?

ND: The impetus for Tiny Creatures was the fact that microbiology is a subject that is thought of as being beyond the comprehension of small children. And yet, like all of us, they are surrounded by an invisible world of microbes that has an enormous effect on their lives – from the ‘germs’ that are the reason they are constantly instructed to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they sneeze, to the bacteria in their yoghurt, the yeast in their bread and the communities of microorganisms in the ocean and the soil that are responsible for maintaining the big life giving nutrient cycles of our planet. They know nothing about microbes beyond the instructions from their parents about ‘not spreading germs ‘ or ‘not touching things that are dirty’. Starting from such a low level of knowledge , anything I could import to my readers was young to be an improvement!

Although I knew trying to explain about the differences between viruses, bacterial, Archae and fungi was probably too much for little kids I wanted to give them a basic awareness of the existence and importance of the world of living things too small to see.

People often think that it’s impossible to cover difficult topics for small children, that they won’t understand it all. And that’s quite right, they won’t understand everything there is to know about microbiology – and neither do I – but what picture books can do is to give young readers a start of understanding , a seedbed into which more complex and complete knowledge can be planted later on.

One key thing I wanted to convey in tiny was the scale of the tiny-ness! Emily’s wonderful illustrations were crucial to this….I could come up with the concept an ant antenna blown up to the size of a whale….but without an illustrators interpretation that concept has little power. Another key concept was the numbers of bacteria…once again Emily’s meticulous attention to detail and sense of pattern was crucial to this.

As with all NF picture books the important first step is to decide what you really REALLY want to say and get your readers to understand, and focus on that. I always put a lot of time into research even though I know that 98 percent of it won’t contribute directly to the final text. But it’s vital for me that I have the full range of information to choose from, and to give the correct context and background to the small range of facts that I do use. I used the standard university microbiology textbook to help me and to help provide reference material for Emily – all her illustrations of microbes were drawn from life…from electron micrographs of real organisms.

#3 – How did you use your images in the book? Did they work alone? Did they compliment the text?

ES: When creating the illustrations for this book it was very important that they worked alongside Nicola’s text and acted as a visual enhancement to the factual information. As someone who doesn’t come from a scientific background it was important for me to clearly understand the concepts being explained so that I could translate them into an engaging image. Hopefully the illustration could then be both eye-catching and fun for a child to look at as well as being a second way to communicate the facts. Sometimes an image, with its colour, detail and humour, is a less daunting way in to subject matter that is quite complicated and difficult to grasp. I wanted to bring in the characters of the two children to add a human element as I felt that this too would engage the reader.

#4 – How do you draw microbes? How much did you rely on conventional textbooks? How much did you make up on your own?

ES: In the process of drawing the microbes I made use of a variety of research materials including textbooks, journals, as well as the wealth of imagery that is available online. Alongside this I also looked at non-fiction children’s books of the mid-20th century as I thought that their playful, diagrammatical approach was very appealing and well-suited to this text. I tried to make the scientific drawings as true to life as possible, and found that seeing the microbes under a powerful microscope was incredibly inspiring; the sheer variety and intricacy of them made creating the illustrations a very exciting and enjoyable experience.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

ES: I am working on illustrations for several picture books over the next year including a third in the Clara Button series for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and a second book with Walker/Candlewick, written by Nicola, following on from Tiny Creatures.

ND: I always have a number of projects on the go…a novel for 8-12 year olds for random house, theatre productions of two of my picture books but my next task is actually a book for Emily….all about biodiversity, so another big, complex important subject that I hope we can package successfully for young readers.

[Image Credit: ]
[Image Credit: From Nicola’s Homepage ]


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