Wednesday 30 June 2021

Oscar's Tower of Flowers - Q&A with Lauren Tobia

Today we welcome Lauren Tobia onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Oscar's Tower of Flowers.


Oscar's mum has to go away, just for a little while. So Oscar has come to stay with his nana. Oscar likes being with Nana in her tower block, but he really misses his mum, too. So, one day, Nana has an idea. Together, they carefully sow seeds – lots and lots of seeds! And then they water them, and wait… And the seeds start to grow! And the flowers begin to burst! There are plants everywhere. But, what to do with them all?

In a timely silent narrative for the youngest readers – gorgeously illustrated with graphic panels and sweeping spreads that evoke the urban bustle of a busy high-rise – Lauren Tobia shows how each individual, each child, can bring lushness and vitality to a community.

Q&A with Lauren Tobia

How did you get into illustration and picture book writing?

I suppose everything begins and ends with drawing for me. I have always drawn, I loved drawing and crafts as a child and never stopped.  I am always happiest when totally absorbed in putting pencil or paint to paper.

I worked as a nurse for many years, but when I reached my 40th birthday, I realised it was time to change. I joined the illustration course at UWE Bristol and have never looked back.

Near the end of the degree, I entered the Macmillan Children’s Book Prize and was highly commended with a wordless book about a blue cat. I think that was a huge encouragement, topped off by being phoned after leaving uni and offered work illustrating Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke with Walker Books.

I started working on the early readers, producing black and white illustrations, and as the collection of Anna books grew, I continued to learn. As the years have gone by, I have worked for other publishers and the lovely Walker team over in the US and each time I help make a book I learn and try out more. 

What was your inspiration behind Oscar’s Tower of Flowers?

That’s easy. My grandson Oscar!

I found out I was going to be a nanna and everything came together. I combined all of my obsessions; cityscapes, my grandson, and the blue cat from my first dummy book for the Macmillan Prize - oh, and houseplants as I have a market stall and little houseplant business in Bristol.

Can you talk a little about your work process? 

My work process is pretty simple as I also have to work with my dyslexia. In my case, I have a concise attention span and get very distracted so I should keep some sort of office hours in my studio. Of course my mind wanders, but it will tumble back eventually if I am at my desk. I draw everything in pencil usually very quickly and then transfer the drawing into a digital image and build up a page using colours and textures and ideas I pull together. It works well for me as it is immediate and easily editable. 

If I am in the early stages of work, I will paint and whiz off on my bike or go and sit somewhere and people watch, but once I start properly I am back at the studio in my spare bedroom.

What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Oscar’s Tower of Flowers?

I loved drawing anything I could fill with plants, but I suppose the final endpaper is my favourite with all the plants and people waving and talking to each other and the beehive on the roof... even though I loved making all of the pictures.

I love drawing city’s with their tower blocks and houses and all the liveliness of a city.

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent? 

My favourite picture books vary so much. Some illustrators /artists I admire are Britta Teckentrup, Sydney Smith and Lucy Cousins, particularly Hooray for Fish - but I probably change my favourite every week.

There are a few illustrators that will always be special to me such as H.E. Shepherd and his beautiful drawings of Pooh Bear and friends and Gerald Rose, who illustrated The Great Jelly of London by Paul Jennings that I took out of the library almost continuously as a child.

Any list would not be complete without a shout out to Mary Blair for her fabulous colours and compositions, Edward Ardizzone and Heath Robinson, who I have always loved and makes me chuckle.


A special thanks to our guest this week, Lauren Tobia!
Oscar's Tower of Flowers is now available to buy from all good booksellers.