The Dodo Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Catherine Emmett is an inspiring story about incredible things that can happen if you dare to give them a try! Beautifully illustrated by Claire Powell, Catherine’s latest book was only released last week.
We had the chance to interview Catherine about The Dodo Who Dreamed She Could Fly, dreams, books, and the lessons children can take away from wonderful stories like these.
Hi Catherine, how has your summer been?
It’s been busy! My Mam passed away recently so I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time up north with my family and we’ve also been away camping and to Tenerife. It’s been lovely, but I feel a bit like I need a lie down when the kids go back to school!
Sorry to hear this! You have got another exciting picture book under your belt, The Dodo Who Dreamed She Could Fly, what can you tell me about it?
The book is about a little dodo called Delilah who has always been told that dodos can’t fly. But Delilah has done a lot of research and she believes that SHE can. So, one day, when the weather is right and the sky is clear, Delilah decides to give it a try – but CRASH! Delilah lands face down in the mud as the other dodos stand around laughing. Delilah has to decide whether to pick herself up and keep following her dream or whether she’ll let her dreams drift away…
What inspired this story and other books you have written, is there a personal connection or a specific spark of creativity that led to its creation?
I get ideas from all sorts of places when I’m writing. One came from a visit to the zoo, one from chasing my kids up to bed, one from reversing the concept of another book that I had enjoyed.
This book is unusual as the idea for it just seemed to be fully formed in my head – it was just there. I’ve always loved dodos ever since I was a kid, so I think this little dodo has lived in my heart for a long time. A dodo was perfect for this story as we’ve all been taught that dodos can’t fly – the setup works as the reader’s own pre-conceptions are challenged as well as Delilah’s.
What themes or messages do you hope young readers will take away from your book?
I was really lucky to have parents who always believed in me and, more than that, who taught me how to believe in myself. I really wanted this book to give that message to little readers. To help teach them that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you – that it’s only what YOU believe that matters. In some ways, this book was inspired by a talk with Rashmi Sirdeshpande about writing your WHY. It’s the idea of drilling down into what it really is that you want to write about. After thinking about what she’d said I realised that THIS was my why. This is the sort of book that I really want to create to help empower little people to go out and chase their dreams.
Tell us about Delilah, what makes her journey and personality unique, and how can kids relate?
Delilah has a dream but has repeatedly been told she won’t be able to achieve it – so much so that she barely even talks about it in case people laugh at her. But despite this, she does her research and gives it a try.
I think picture books are great at teaching children to believe in themselves but sometimes their worlds are a bit idealised. They skirt over what happens when there’s a bigger dodo laughing down at you and telling you that you’re an idiot.
I really wanted this book to address that – it’s all well and good having a dream, but can you cling on to that dream in the cold light of day when your first attempt has ended in a dismal and very public failure? Kids need to understand that sometimes people won’t believe in them – they need to believe in themselves instead.
The Women’s England Team Made it to the Women’s World Cup Final, did our team inspire you to write Sammy Striker and the Football Cup? Were you into sports as a child?
I have never understood the lack of picture books about sports. I think there is a strange disconnect where people think that kids either like books OR sports – I think lots love both, I certainly did. There has always seemed to be such a huge gap in the market for sporty books, especially for a picture book about football and I was desperate to write one. I wrote this story a few years ago but it took a bit of persuasion to get the publisher to go with it. Once they got on board, they were great and the book was being illustrated by Joe Berger when the Lionesses won the Euros, which felt like a great omen! I think this team has done so much to inspire girls to play football – hopefully, Sammy Striker can do the same!
Your book Sammy Striker and the Football Cup and The Dodo Who Dreamed She Could Fly are two very different stories, but what connects the two?
I think both books center on a similar message which, as my friend Lucy Van Smit succinctly put it recently, ‘you are enough’. They are both books to reassure a little reader that actually it’s ok to be you – that it’s ok to believe in your dreams when no one else does and that it’s ok to do things your own way.
With a sports-orientated book and one centered around imagination and dreams, your work resonates with a wide range of readers. How do you approach writing stories that can engage such a diverse audience, from sports enthusiasts to young dreamers?
For me a story is a story – I don’t really have a different process for writing different books though I do adjust the language that I’d use in each book. I try to imagine what sort of illustrations they would have and adjust the language I use to match – so short pacy sentences for a story like Sammy Striker, and more lyrical language in a book like Dodo.
What role did books and storytelling play in your own childhood? Are there any books or authors that had a lasting impact on you?
I don’t remember having many picture books as a child, my Dad used to make up stories for me instead. I can still remember all the characters and the stories he would could come up with! As I got older, I loved so many books, Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’ books, Patricia Leith’s ‘Jinny’ books, Walter Farley’s ‘Black Stallion series, and ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ by Colin Dann. I loved the worlds they created – I would love to create a world that children love as much as that!
Books2All addresses educational inequality by providing books to schools that either do not have a library or lack access to books, what three books do you think every child should read?
I don’t actually! I think kids should be allowed to read whatever they want, as I think that’s the way to fall in love with reading. A football-mad kid isn’t going to enjoy the same books as a little kid who’s mad about horses. I think let kids read whatever they like. When I found a book I loved, I read the whole series and would have hated to be made to read something else instead – as an adult, I’ve read all kinds of books from crime thrillers to the classics, but that stamina and love of books came from freely reading books that I loved.
Final question, what advice would you give to children who dream they could fly?
There will always be people who will laugh at the things you dream of, so start to tune out what other people think as they have no idea what you’re capable of. Research the steps you need to take to get where you want to be, and then start taking those steps. Some days will be harder than others, but you can only fail if you give up.