Author Maggie Hutchings and illustrator Cheryl Orsini, who teamed up for the much-loved Unicorn!, join forces again in Mermaid!, a magical new story about friendship and the wonders of the sea. Here, Maggie shares how her day-to-day work with children as a family counsellor feeds into her work as an author.
In a world where we (and our children) are exposed to heart-achingly cruel and difficult news on a daily basis, I aim to tell tales of kindness. I try my best to weave narratives of friendship and hope; to write stories that spark joyful thinking and to create light in the dark. I am inspired to write books that show how we, as individuals, can make a difference to our lives and to others, rather than be swamped with fear and worry.
I believe in showing kids that small acts of kindness can make big changes to the way people feel and think. I hope my books inspire young readers to see that giving friendship is entirely free and in return you never know what good things might happen. These themes run through my work like lay lines, inspired by the children I know and love as well as those I work with in a professional setting as a counsellor.
Mermaid! is all about kindness. In my previous book, Unicorn!, we saw how Lena helped her friend Luka manage illness. Now it’s Luka’s turn to be there for Lena. The power of their friendship is stellar. It’s like having a super power with strengths of trust and resilience. Lena and Luka are great examples of kids simply being at each other’s side when times are tough. Unlike a lot of world-weary adults, these two kind and caring girls look to their imaginations to find creative solutions. I think as adults we can learn a lot from kids!
Mermaid! shows how fear fueled by anxiety can make us unhappy and sad. It also shows that sometimes when we are afraid it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Working with kids, I see adults asking “why” about fear all the time. You may notice when reading the book that Lena can’t really say what it is that makes her fearful of the sea. We know it’s not whales or pirates or penguins thanks to Luka, but Lena can never really quantify her fear.
This is a core message, of course; fear is often about the unknown – and how can we put into words something we don’t understand yet? The way through this kind of fear is to keep learning and trying new things. In Lena’s case it’s literally sticking a toe in the water!
With Cheryl Orsini’s joyful illustrations bringing Mermaid! to life, I hope this book offers help and hope to anyone with a secret fear, and encourages kindness and persistence in helping someone you care about get through a difficult time.
Illustrations by Cheryl Orsini.