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A Q&A with Hilary Robinson

By Charlotte Carus on 25th April 2019

Jasper Space Dog! is the latest novel from award-winning author Hilary Robinson, the first in a new series mixing fun and facts to introduce science to newly independent readers.

Hilary Robinson is the author of over 60 children's books, including her sequence written to mark the centenary of the First World War, for which she received multiple awards and nominations. Exquisitely illustrated by Martin Impey, Where the Poppies Now Grow, A Song for Will, The Christmas Truce and Peace Lily have given primary school age children the opportunity to bear witness to this extraordinary moment in history. On winning the prestigious Historical Association’s Young Quill’s Award for Historical Fiction, 2016 for Flo of the Somme Hilary said: "I feel privileged to be recognised by the Historical Association which does much to promote the love of history amongst children."

From WW1 to astrophysics, Hilary's latest novel celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing as Charlie Tanner and his enthusiastic dog Jasper explore planetary science and facts about space travel, all interwoven in a fun adventure, perfect for reluctant readers, 5+ 7+.

We caught up with Hilary for a Q&A:

Where did the idea for Charlie Tanner and Jasper come from? 

I had written a blog about an eco warrior, Charlie Tanner, and his dog and the Jasper stories became a natural extension of that. I have always been fascinated by space and the moon landings – and the astronauts themselves who made history, that it seemed quite natural for the first book in the series of ‘The Misadventures of Jasper’ to be about space and to combine facts with hilarious ideas about space travel. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic moon landings and the theme of his years Summer Reading Challenge is Space Chase, so it all fitted together well.

How many times do you redraft a story before you’re happy with it?

Jasper Space Dog! was redrafted at least 17 times. There are 17 pdf versions of it but there are Word documents before that. I do love the redrafting process – going over and over the text, finding and replacing words, tweaking phrases and linking the threads of the plot together in a cohesive way. I came across an author who writes chapters 1,3,5,7 and then chapters 2,4,6,8 and I can understand why. A story is a tapestry of woven threads which, when structured effectively creates a beautiful product.

Why did you decide to combine fact, fiction, science and art?

Some of us often tend to prefer fact or fiction books and some of us prefer the arts to science, and vice versa. I wanted to combine  all these areas to establish an inclusive approach and a broad readership so that everyone, whatever their reading level, could share in the fun exploits of a loveable, hilarious hound and his owner as they enthusiastically explore fascinating subjects.

The illustrations are great – Lewis James conveys expressions really well – how did you find him?

I have a friend who works for the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Scheme, a charity that helps young people. He mentioned Lewis to me. Lewis was mentored through the whole process by Mandy Stanley (creator of the Lettice Rabbit books)  – a leading illustrator, designer and branding expert.  Together they form a top team.  Lewis has a gift for driving the narrative with expressive illustrations and his style complements the story well.

Did you send Jasper Space Dog!  to experts and testers before it was published?

Yes, we had a literacy advisor, Janet Gough and an astrophysicist, Dr Suzi Imber, as well as a team which included an editor, librarians, teachers, English examiners, parents and children.  They all previewed the text and offered valuable advice.

You’ve used an unusual font - why was that?

Dyslexie font is growing in popularity. It was designed by graphic artist, Christian Boer. We evaluated, in our trials, that many children who faced reading challenges found this font easier to read than others. We also considered the colour of the paper – so that the text and the background sit comfortably together. We also thought a lot about the layout – how the illustrations and text might work together and other key considerations even down to indenting the first line of paragraphs which, for some readers, helps them follow the progression of the story.

It's a tidy little book, did you have a view on the book design?

I was keen that the book should not only be an accessible read, but portable too. I always remind children that a book is a friend and you can never be lonely with a book in your pocket, in your bag or on the table or bookshelf. The size of the book was designed to sit comfortably anywhere, and so the reader has a permanent, loyal and, in the form of Jasper and Charlie Tanner books, fun friend wherever in life they go!

Jasper and Charlie certainly are energetic and curious and we look forward to reading more about them in Jasper Viking Dog! Jasper Eco Dog! and Jasper Rock Dog!

Jasper Space Dog is one of our Books of the Month April 2019 and a Julia Eccleshare Pick. You can read Julia's review and download an extract here.

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