Podcast /

Nicola Davies and Jenni Desmond

One World

Children’s author, Nicola Davies is a zoologist by training.  She was one of the original presenters of the BBC children’s wildlife programme The Really Wild Show.  she is a prolific writer of nonfiction, fiction and poetry for children with a particular interest in the natural world.

Jenni Desmond graduated with a master’s degree in children’s book illustration from the Cambridge School of Art (UK), her debut picture book Red Cat Blue Cat won the Cambridgeshire Read it Again! Award in 2012.  In 2015 Jenni was named Best Emerging Talent (Illustrator) at the Junior Design Awards (UK). In 2016, she was made a Maurice Sendak Fellow and her book The Polar Bear became a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the year.

Nicola and Jenni’s first book, One World, takes the concept of taking one moment in time and looking at what is happening in nature in different parts of the world.

Interview Transcript

Nikki Gamble:

In the reading corner today, I’m very excited to talk to Nicola Davies and Jenni Desmond. Both have an incredible pedigree in terms of writing and illustrating the natural world. This is the first time that they’ve worked together. And it really is a partnership that’s made in heaven, as we’ll see.

Welcome.

Nicola Davies:

Thank you.

Jenni Desmond:

Hello.

Nikki Gamble:

Nicola, we are talking about the book One World 24 Hours on Planet Earth. A good starting point will be to explain the book’s concept to us.

Nicola Davies:

Well, if I read the note to the reader at the start, that’s probably the best way to explain the concept.

Planet Earth. Our home is always turning one whole term is what we call a day. Each day is split into segments like an orange, 24 of them. The time it takes for Earth to spin through one of those segments is what we call an hour. So, there are 24 hours in a day. The City of London sits on a line that marks where the first segment begins, a, which runs around our planet from pole to pole.

When it’s midnight in London, it’s also the start of a new hour in every other one of the segments around the world. The book you are about to read is going to take you on a journey around the world and back to see what’s happening on planet Earth. Just one moment.

 So the book starts at the stroke of midnight on the Greenwich Meridian with two children looking out at that dark sky.

And, of course, there’s enormous symbolism there because of the stroke of midnight. So, by the time the last chime of midnight has sounded, we are back. in that room in Greenwich with those two] children having visited many of the other hours around the earth.

Nikki Gamble:

Tell us a little bit about the selection process then; this, to me, seems like it must have been quite a headache.

Nicola Davies:

It was an absolute headache. The first decision that I had to make was what time of year it was going to be. So, I had to choose a time of year when interesting things were happening. Around the globe, it turned out that spring in the Northern Hemisphere was a really good time. So, I eventually decided it would be Earth Day, and I had to decide on a specific day because, for each location, I had to be able to look at sunset and sunrise times to know exactly what was going on in each habitat.

So, I made an initial selection. And then I changed it, and I changed it, and I changed it. I think I must have changed the selection of species and locations probably about five times to find the most interesting on every line of longitude.

Nikki Gamble:

I want to bring in Jenni at this point because there’s a very simple illustration next to your author’s note, but it’s an important one because we are trying to visualise something that’s quite complex.

Jenni Desmond:

So, this is a globe. We needed to make sure that the reader knew where Greenwich London was. because that’s where the girls who go through the book are based, and it’s obviously in the origin of the Mean Time.

This double spread went through quite a lot of different phases. I had ideas of having a clock or having lots of children in different time zones doing lots of different things. But in the end, we decided to keep it, really simple so that the concept of the planet Earth turning was very clear.

Nikki Gamble:

You’ve shown segments that look like the segments of an orange

Jenni Desmond:

Actually, until quite late in the process. This was an orange that I made into a globe at the same time. Anyway, it was all a little bit too complicated, I think .

Nikki Gamble:

I want to look at the beginning of the book where you set the story up.

The two children who are the protagonists are under a rug like a den that they’ve made from their two beds, which is what I used to do with my siblings when I was little. And they’re reading a book in the middle of the night with a torch, and they’re looking at this globe orange thing. There are also some of the animals that are going to be in the book. They’ve lined them all up in a long line, which is what my daughter does going towards the globe. So, it’s lots of references and visual imagery that hint at what’s to come in the book. But primarily, it’s about the girls’ relationship together and the excitement of being up in the middle of the night.

Nikki Gamble:

The story is about two children going on an. It reminded me a little bit of the snowman. We can see the world in this imaginative way. So the first place that they go to is Svalbard in the Arctic Circle when it’s midnight. In Greenwich, it’s one o’clock in the morning.

 Nicola, tell us a little bit about this spread.

Nicola Davies:

Finding the location for this was really difficult because, actually, this is out on the sea ice, and locating the exact spot on the map where it would be and making sure that that was the right place for a newly emerged mother Polar bear and her cubs was really tricky.

One of the things that was important to me was this issue of the imaginative journey, and probably this spread because the children are obviously not dressed for the Arctic, and they’re flying is the most imaginative one. One of the things that I really want to get over with this book is the idea that even if none of us get to see these places, Holding the idea in your heart that they exist somewhere is very, very, very powerful.

 It’s extremely important because we need to care about places, about species, about habitats, about people who we will never meet and never see. And it’s so beautifully embodied there by Jenni’s illustration. And, you know, there are lots of other little things going on. There’s an arctic fox, there are arctic terns, and there’s a little seal out on the ice, so probably a ringed seal. And the ice there is not solid. We can see that it’s not a solid sheet of sea ice as it might have been 40 or 50 years ago. Already in April, it’s beginning to be unreliable. It’s that idea of the last stroke of midnight, and things are changing, and they’re changing fast, and we need to act.

Nikki Gamble:

This particular spread shows us how you need both the text and the illustration to make the inference about what’s going on. So the text reads.  ‘Every year, now the ice melts earlier, making hunting hard. The future of this little family is not certain.’

Without the illustration, you don’t know what is making the hunting harder. You have to look at what the bear is doing here.

Nicola Davies:

It didn’t use to be very well explained that the ice receding is a bad thing. And it’s a bad thing because polar bears need to walk on it. And the sea ice gives them access to the water, the marine environment, under the ice. It gives them access to seals, and in this illustration, we see very clearly that that sea ice is breaking up, it’s fragmented, and the seal that’s out on the little patch of ice in the distance is not going to be accessible to that polar bear and certainly not to her cubs.

Nikki Gamble

It demonstrates the importance of pausing to talk about what’s going on in the pictures rather than turning the page too quickly.

Where are we going to next? Ah, we’re going to Zambia A, young elephant is being born and one of the things that really struck me here was that you are inviting a reader to have curiosity and to question. So the text here reads, ‘The wildlife rangers will do their best to protect them all from poachers who would like to kill these elephants and sell their tusks. So I’m immediately questioning. , why would anybody want to do that?

Nicola Davies:

For years and years, I’ve been telling aspiring picture book writer you don’t need to tell the whole story. Particularly something that is episodic in its nature. Each spread is a snapshot and is the beginning of a whole other set of conversations and questions.

One of the things that I really wanted to do was to pick stories that were neither wholly positive nor wholly negative. Africa-wide, elephants are in a really dire state, but in a few places in Africa, and the Muranga Valley is currently one of them, there have been enormous strides made towards protecting elephants from ivory poaching and where that happens the Elephant population responds enormously and recovers.

Nikki Gamble

That’s such good news.

Jenni, tell us a little bit about this little creature that we’ve got at the front here.

Jenni Desmond:

That is a mongoose. So, Nicola did loads of notes for me] and I had a huge list of animals that might be on each spread. And then it was up to me to decide what would go in.

Nicola Davies:

You’ve got some nice spotted hyenas in the back there as well. And then there’s a little herd of zebra just peeping out, and then the two lions roaring. And that’s a very nice piece of behaviour there because there’s two male lions roaring there, not one. And it’s very often. Brothers, siblings, or cousins who then do the roaring at night to defend the boundaries of their territory.

Jenni Desmond: A

Also, visually, it’s quite nice to do more than one angle and spread of each animal because, if you’ve only got one spread to depict elephants or lions, if you only do one of each one, you only get that one angle. Whereas if you put a few different ones in, then. You can see the line roaring, and you can also see the line coming in a threatening way towards the elephants, who have their backs to their baby to defend it.

Nikki Gamble:

 That’s a lovely composition.

We are moving on to the turtles. So, this is in India, and here we see the turtles returning to the sea. One of the things that I picked up here is that you do so well, Nicola using vocabulary in context without the need to explain it to us. So, you talk about hatchlings, not baby turtles.

Nicola Davies:

You really don’t. Need to explain everything when you’ve got wonderful illustrations to rely on. The other thing to say about this spread, one of the criteria for choosing particular locations and species was so that we had a range.

Of different sorts of animals. So, we didn’t have all mammals or all birds, so there was a bit of everything. It was important to have marine things, to have fish in there, and to have flowers. And I was searching, searching, searching all the time, looking for the right time of year.

And this was one that I spent ages and ages and ages double checking that. the turtles at this location would still be hatching at this time of year. If you went to this beach in April in India you would have a good chance of seeing this mass emergence of little turtles popping up out of the sand and wriggling their way to the beach.

Nikki Gamble:

Jenni, this is just one of a number of spreads where you had to illustrate the nighttime. Did you enjoy that, or did it present any challenges for you?

Jenni Desmond:

Obviously challenges because there’s no colour at night, so it’s all about artistic license, I felt it was important not to have any colour because I wanted to emphasise the light of the moon. It’s all about the turtles going towards the light of the moon.

I made sure that it was all quite dark, this spread, and I wanted it to be quite a clear night as well, so I’ve put a little shooting star at the top.

Nikki Gamble:

The next illustration that we’re going to have a look at shows a different visual perspective.

This spread is in China. The perspective is from the ground looking up into the tree canopy, and there’s a nice space in the tree canopy where the text fits beautifully. This a nice example of sensitive design.

One of the things that’s implied but not stated is that these are nocturnal animals.  The text mentions sending the pangolins and the clouded leopards off to bed.

Nicola Davies:

And in this illustration, we see a clouded leopard going off to sleep on a branch,

Nikki Gamble:

But we don’t see a Pangolin because, from this perspective, you wouldn’t,

Nicola Davies:

Well, they’d already be tucked up with this level of light in a tree hole somewhere where you wouldn’t see them.

There, there was a real problem with this spread because books like this are incredibly expensive to produce, and publishers are very keen to get foreign editions. Now, one of the problems with this is that China has one time across the entire country, a political time is set to have the country all in the same time zone, when in fact, China geographically crosses, I think, four different time zones. So, when we came to this one, the Chinese buyer said, well, that’s wrong. It wouldn’t be 6:30 AM, so I had to send a diagram showing where the reserve was, where the line of longitude and which side of it this reserve was so that they would be convinced that we got it right.

Nikki Gamble

Next, we move on to the whales in the Philippines. And what I picked up here was what you’ve already suggested, Nicola, about the positive messages. It says, ‘Once whales were hunted until they almost disappeared, but now they’re doing well.

Nicola Davies

One of the things that was important for me with this book is to introduce readers to the idea of research into the natural world being important. So, there’s fantastic information about whale sharks. You know, they’re the biggest fish in the sea, and we know virtually nothing about them. But one of the ways of finding out about them is a lovely piece of citizen science. A lot of people want to dive with whale sharks and pay a lot of money in various parts of the world, where they turn up to go and dive with them and take photographs.

They have a lovely spotty pattern on their backs, but that spotty pattern, is individually unique. So, divers and snorkelers who spot them in the wild and take pictures of whale sharks, can upload those photographs to a website, which automatically analyses them, identifies them, and helps researchers find out where in the oceans they go and how they move about, which is an incredibly powerful tool to protecting their future.

Nikki Gamble:

Moving on to Australia. Here you’re introducing the idea of water security – water drying up, forest fires worsening. And for you, Jenny, the chance to go somewhere very hot.

Jenni Desmond:

I find it much harder to do bright colours. My natural inkling is the muted colours with a little splash of red from the girls’ top. This was slightly out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoyed it.  I’d actually been to Australia the year before, so. I felt like I understood how hot it felt out there. The heavy air, but the blue skies and then there are all the birds flying around, so I wanted to ensure there’s still lots of movement there. And the kangaroos bouncing across the page with the girls. I had the girls pretending to be kangaroos in the spread.

Nicola Davies:

And I love the bee-eaters and the budgies in the tree. Rocks of budgies in Australia, they’re just gorgeous.

Nikki Gamble:

We’re moving on to Antarctica. What would you like to tell us about this setting, Nicola?

Nicola Davies:

Penguins in picture books are a bit of a cliche, but I had just finished a picture book about emperor penguins, and that was in the front of my head. And to have a bird that’s about the size of these two kids was irresistible,

Jenni Desmond:

I had no idea until I illustrated this, that they were as big as the children. Initially, I drew them about half the size.

Nikki Gamble:

Penguins seemed to have a real character about them. I have been to a couple of penguin colonies in Patagonia where you’re supposed to keep away from the penguins, but they won’t keep away from you!

Nicola Davies:

They’re just fascinated by anything different. When you live in that very, very white, very plain environment, anything different is interesting, and you want to find out about it. I think that’s why they approach humans.

Nikki Gamble:

Our next spread is down in Hawaii with the great migrators, the whales,

Jenni Desmond:

 I love whales and just painting; this one was really satisfying. Just all the splashing of paint, I went mad with paint splashing and it was fun.

Nikki Gamble:

You’ve shown this fantastic leap of the whale out of the water, which is breathtaking, and you’ve really captured that.

Nicola Davies:

You absolutely have. Humpbacks are one of my first loves. One of the first animals I studied in the wild. And I’ve seen them breach many times and it never gets old.

Jenni Desmond:

 I really enjoyed doing the little baby breaching as well because I think you quite often see the adult breaching, but it’s quite unusual to see a baby breach – ,but they do.

Nikki Gamble:

Next is California, and this is spread that looks very different. You mentioned wanting to include the flowers, but also, we’ve got insects in here. It’s so important to get insects into this story.

One of the things that I noticed is the figurative language.  The text reads, ‘Bees as small as sesame seeds and as big as almonds. The clever thing about this example is that we can demonstrate this easily. I immediately wanted to rush to find a sesame seed and an almond. It’s an accessible real-life comparison to show the children.

Nicola Davies:

It’s tricky. And I thought about that a lot. I wondered if kids would know about sesame seeds. I could have used things that they would know. But obviously, you don’t have seeds without pollination, and you certainly don’t have almonds. The story of almond pollination in California is a big ecological story.

But the point about this spread –  the Pinnacles National Park – is that it has the greatest diversity of bee pollinators of anywhere else on earth. It’s an extraordinary place.

Nikki Gamble:

Jenni, this looks visually very different from the other spreads that we’ve talked about. because there’s no background.

Jennie Desmond:

I fancied doing something quite graphic here. So there are loads of different types of flowers and petals because different bees like different types of flowers.[And I just liked the idea of lining them up in the front rather than lots of perspective.

There are so many ways that you can do each spread.  It’s about just. Choosing one that feels the most fun to do.

Nicola Davies:

It shows off the flower shapes beautifully, and the variety of ways in which flowers are held up by stalks, so it works fantastically well.

Nikki Gamble:

Now we’re moving westward. Tell us about this spread, Nicola.

Nicola Davies:

This is Yasuni National Park in Ecuador. It’s a rainforest at night. You know, we could have included absolutely gorgeous things if it was during the day. But the douroucoulis these little owl monkeys are very interesting because they’re unique amongst the primates in being nocturnal. So that was great fun to be able to talk about that.

Nikki Gamble:

Our next spread is eight o’clock in the evening in Brazil. It evokes a sense of awe and wonder. The text reads. ‘There along the riverbank, a jaguar, it swims without disturbing the stars’ reflections creeps up to the caiman. Pounces. Bites.’Is that true?

Nicola Davies:

There are fantastic pieces of footage of jaguars catching caiman. There’s one in particular that was made by an old colleague, Alastair Fothergill, of a Jaguar just approaching this caiman so slowly, so carefully. And then the last two meters are covered at incredible speed.

Jaguars have an incredibly powerful bite, and their classic killing bite is through the back of the skull. It just grabs this caiman. It’s a big animal, and it’s dead within. I don’t know, 15 seconds.

Jenni Desmond:

Initially, I’d illustrated the Jaguar trying to go along with the stars. This is the problem when you’ve only got one spread to depict all of this information. In the end, I decided that we needed the dynamic leaping of the Jaguar onto the caiman because the words describe the swimming so beautifully.

Nikki Gamble:

Looking now at Bird Island, South Georgia, 10 o’clock at night. It’s in the far south. What really struck me here is the range of emotion and response you are really getting from the reader. In this instance, we have about an albatross chick. It huddles in the nest against the wind and storm. She’s been alone for days while her mum and dad fly over the ocean to find food. The text tells us that her parents possibly are not coming back. This evokes strong feelings of empathy because you’ve made this any child by using those words, mum and dad,.

Was that deliberate?

Nicola Davies:

Yes, absolutely deliberate.  But I mean deliberate in an intuitive way if that doesn’t sound bonkers. Looking at this illustration, this little chick alone in the Antarctic autumn, getting ready to fledge, needing to be ready to fledge before the winter comes in, and the intrinsic precariousness of that situation massively increased because of human activity. The parents could get caught on long lines. The other tragic thing is that plastic floating in the ocean emits the same smell as a chemical emitted by the plankton blooms that albatross search for to give them a cue about where to find their food. So, they will actually home in on plastic floating in the ocean and sometimes bring back a belly full of tiny plastic objects.

I can’t tell you how upsetting I find that.

Nikki Gamble

 It underlines for me that we talk a lot about empathy and fiction, but you can write nonfiction in a way that elicits empathy too. And that’s really what this picture and text do so well.

Jenni Desmond:

I wanted to reflect that, in the weather and in the sea and the land merging together in this wet, windy difficult weather for the albatross, the baby in its nest is battling heroically against this wind.

Nikki Gamble:

Coming to the end of the book, there’s so much that we’ve talked about, but I’d like to end by mentioning Earth Day which takes place every year on 22nd of April.

What kinds of things can teachers, children and parents do for Earth Day.

Nicola Davies:

Earth Day is a day for awareness and gratitude. It’s a day to look outside your window and look. Look at the sky; look at the clouds. Even if you can’t see anything green and alive the fact that you have a blue atmosphere and clouds above you is a symptom of a living planet.

If you looked at Earth from far away in space, much, much too far away to see little details like living things you could tell it was a planet that was alive because of the movement of the clouds and the air. Our weather isn’t just generated by physical forces; it’s also generated by the biology of the planet.

Nikki Gamble: Thank you Nicola Davies and Jenni Desmond for joining me In The Reading Corner.

Jennie Desmond: Thank you so much for having us.

Nicola Davies: Thanks so much, Nikki.