Award-winning author Trish Cooke’s charming picture books SO MUCH and FULL, FULL, FULL OF LOVE are the kind of stories that have you smiling all the way through. Parents love to share them. Kids plead to hear them over and over until they know every word. Cooke lives in Britain, but her books have touched people around the world. Their celebration of family, tradition and black culture resonate in delightful ways.
Though she may be known best in the U.S. for those tales, Cooke has written more than a dozen books for kids. Her latest, LOOK BACK! (Papillote Press, illustrated by Caroline Binch), draws on a magical piece of folklore from her Caribbean heritage and is already winning praise.
We’re proud to celebrate the wonderful work of Trish Cooke on Day 24:
I have enjoyed story making for as long as I can remember. Before I even knew how to write my stories down on paper I was acting out stories on my street, to neighbours and friends, with two of my sisters. I remember writing fun stories at primary school. I had a way of making the ordinary things that happened in my life into something quite extraordinary. One of the stories that comes to mind was written after spending the night at my newly married sister and brother in law’s flat. It was about a giant rat called Samson who came to stay. When I was about nine years old I started to keep a diary and I got into the habit of writing daily logs of what was going on in my life. I used to embellish on the happenings of the day and my life became more interesting on paper than it actually was in real life. From school I went on to do a Bachelor of Arts degree in Performing Arts and afterwards I began a career as an actress. I continued writing but for some time kept my writing private. In 1987 I decided to be brave and get some of my writing work ‘out there’. I wanted to test whether I was any good or not and the only way for me to do that was to get people to read my work and offer feedback. I had been making up stories for my nephews and nieces and experimenting with stage plays so I sent my stories off to competitions and publishers and I sent my plays off to theatre companies.
I had a couple of stories about a little girl with a vivid imagination who had come to England from the Commonwealth of Dominica. I didn’t have much luck with the publishers but a competition, led by Rymans Stationery shop, put my stories in their short list. I didn’t win the competition but one of the judges on the panel, a woman called Elspeth Lindner who worked for Methuen at the time, sent me some lovely feedback and suggested that I get in touch with a literary agent called Gina Pollinger. She thought Gina might be able to place my work with a publisher. Knowing very little about the publishing world I was happy for the advice and contacted Gina immediately. I sent Gina samples of my work and she invited me to her office. Gina and her husband, Murray Pollinger, ran their own agency. Gina was fantastic and so enthusiastic about my work. She did warn me though that though she herself loved what I was doing, she knew that she would have a hard time convincing publishers to buy. Coming from a West Indian background, a lot of the characters I created spoke with the rhythms and the dialect of the Caribbean. Gina’s job was to convince publishers that there was a market out there for this type of work.
Gina brought my stories to Century Hutchinson publishers and they liked what I had done so far. They encouraged me to turn the stories I had done into chapters for my first book. In 1988 Century Hutchinson published MAMMY SUGAR FALLING DOWN. I had my first child in 1989 and I started to create stories for him. Before long I had a collection of stories for 0 to 5 year olds. Gina managed to get two of the major publishers interested – Penguin and Walker Books. Penguin wanted to publish my work as a book of poems but I had always envisaged each of the stories I had written as single picture books. Walker Books had the same vision and I signed with Walker Books. They offered me a four book contract straight away and published MR PAM PAM AND THE HULLABAZOO; WHEN I GROW BIGGER; THE GRANDAD TREE and SO MUCH. Afterwards they published: WAITING FOR BABY and FULL,FULL,FULL OF LOVE. SO MUCH went on to win lots of prizes: The Smarties Book Prize; Kurt Maschler Award; The WH Smith and She Magazine Award and the book has also been translated into numerous languages and sold all over the world. SO MUCH was also included in the 2009 National Strategy good practice publication on raising achievement of Caribbean children at foundation stage.
As well as Walker Books and Century Hutchinson, over the years other publishers of my work have included: Scholastic – ‘CATCH’; Frances Lincoln – HEY CRAZY RIDDLE; Franklin Watts: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG WEST INDIAN IMMIGRANT; NO DINNER FOR ANANSI (Hopscotch Myths); HOORAH FOR MARY SEACOLE (Hopscotch Myths); Collins: ZOOM!; Collins Educational: MRS MOLLY’S SHOPPING TROLLEY; LOOKING FOR AUNTIE NATAL; Oxford University press: HOW ANANSI GOT HIS STORIES; Papillote Press: LOOK BACK! and stories in a number of anthologies.
The Back Story:
My latest book LOOK BACK! was published in May 2013 by Papillote Press.
Papillote Press is a small publishing house based in the Commonwealth of Dominica and in London. Polly Pattullo who runs Papillote Press approached me and asked me to retell a Dominican folktale. Polly knew my background and liked my work and we had wanted to work together on something for some time so this looked like a great opportunity. We discussed a few ideas and I wrote some drafts of some stories based on characters from Dominican folklore. In the end we decided on me writing about a strange mythical character my dad had told me about when I was a child called Ti Bolom. This mysterious creature is a little man /gnome type character that many Dominicans share numerous tales about and I was intrigued by him. I decided to tell the story through the words of a Dominican grandmother to her English born grandson as she remembered how she tried to hunt down the elusive Ti Bolom in her childhood. Polly was happy with the story but we still didn’t have an illustrator. We were very excited when Caroline Binch agreed to illustrate LOOK BACK! Her illustrations are amazing. Since publishing in May we have had interest from several publishers outside of the UK including Interlink Publishing who have bought the North American rights.
I usually work from my office at home in Yorkshire. I have a nice view from my window – a lovely skyline and lots of greenery .It helps to look out of the window when I get stuck. My inspiration for my early picture book stories came from my children and my family. Often something I heard one of my children say would trigger off an idea and then I would use it as a starting point for a story and see where it led. Many of my stories start off with real life incidents but then by the time I have finished writing the story, the original trigger is no longer at the centre of the story it has turned into something else. With my most popular book, SO MUCH, the trigger was the birth of my baby. I was just totally besotted with my new born son. I sang songs to him all day long and made up little stories. My son Kieron was too little to understand much of what I was saying . The first draft of SO MUCH was more of a song than a book with lots of repetitive sounds and gestures to keep him entertained. In my original version I had short repetitive verses where family members hugged, kissed and played with the baby. All the characters in the book are real family members, I just changed their names. Eventually, after several drafts, a story emerged with Daddy’s secret surprise birthday party being the reason for the family get together.
Most times I like to let a picture book story come out spontaneously. I work on the drafts later to improve the structure but the gem of an idea has to grab the child’s attention in its first telling or it won’t work. When I told SO MUCH to baby Kieron first time round he was engrossed. I can still remember locking eyes with him as I sang out the story to him. It was magical.
Once I have worked on a couple of drafts of a story I like to try it out on an audience. I can usually see what works and what doesn’t work when I get the reactions from my target audience. I say audience rather than reader because for me a book is like a stage play and the pictures, the words and the reading of it all culminate to make a performance.
The Buzz on Look Back!:
“Listen to the story as a grandmother shares with her grandson stories of her Caribbean childhood. Is the mysterious Ti Bolom real or a figment of Grannie’s active imagination? The story interweaves the rainforest secrets with present-day curiosity and still the reader is left guessing. If you want to believe… Atmospheric illustrations by Caroline Binch capture both the rainforest with all its rich variety and the modern-day world. A thoughtful and very special story about the power of the imagination, with a loving family relationship at its heart.”
— Parents in touch – 13th May 2013
“Look Back! by Trish Cooke and Caroline Binch (Papillote Press £6.99) even has the confidence to remind children (and parents) that fear is an inevitable part of life. This is a beautiful book with painstaking, lifelike illustrations that pull you into the story from the start. Cooke tells a West Indian grandmother’s tale about a predator no one has ever clapped eyes on – Ti Bolom. We meet the grandmother as a little girl with furrowed brow and braided hair, standing in a tropical wilderness and turning to look back at… nothing. Sometimes that is the nature of fear: the predator you never see but continue to believe exists. And I love the way the exploration collides here with a celebration of the rapport between a grandmother and her grandson: family, at its best, the ultimate tonic.”
— Kate Kellaway, The Observer
“Atmospheric illustrations… A very special story about the power of the imagination.”
— Parents in Touch
“You feel as though you were there. And you could be. Maybe.”
“This small independent publisher has taken on a big book – one that is magical and one that celebrates other cultures, in this instance the Caribbean culture. In the story the reader is treated to a tale of magic adventure in the rainforest but is not quite sure whether the story is all in a grandmother’s imagination or a true adventure. Does it really matter? Probably not for the adventure takes us on a glorious journey through brightly coloured foresty jungle and into the heart of storytelling.”
— Louise Ellis-Barrett, Armadillo Magazine
“I doubt there’s a single KS1 or Nursery class that has not enjoyed So Much [by Trish Cooke] so it is a great pleasure to recommend another title by the same award-winning author. I would hazard a guess that Look Back! will be just as popular with a slightly older readership at KS1 and early KS2…Let’s not forget the illustrations, which complement the telling perfectly – and we would expect nothing less from the same hand that brought us Amazing Grace.”
— Angela Redfern, The School Librarian
“The relationship between Grannie and Christopher is beautifully portrayed by author and illustrator. It is a lovely book for sharing and reading aloud, with sound effects and repetition for teller and listener to enjoy.”
— Sue Mansfield, The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY)
“It is good to see something by Trish Cooke and it is good to see something by Caroline Binch and doubly good to see them working together in this story drawn from a Dominican folk tale…The mystery and implied danger in Cooke’s story is nicely held in check by the realism of Binch’s richly detailed portraiture: and Binch’s affectionate rendering of the relationship between both Granny and Christopher and granny as a girl and the old woman, Ma Constance, to whom she takes food, implies a beneficent universe in which even the slightly scary Ti Bolom can be a friend.”
— Clive Barnes, Books for Keeps
Find out more about Trish Cooke at http://www.trishcooke.co.uk/.