Monday 20 December 2021

Super Duper Penguin Slide - Q&A with Leonie Lord

The penguin family are off on an adventure! Travelling by bus, train, and even by cable car, the persistent pals keep on going through rain or shine, sleet or snow. Finally, they soar through the wispy clouds and – yes, there it is! – their long-awaited destination is ahead, atop a frosty, snow-capped mountain…

A playful, happy read-aloud, which features a jolly family of big and little penguins and all the noisy modes of transport that little ones love.

Q&A with Leonie Lord

What was the inspiration behind Super Duper Penguin Slide?

It was a combination of two things… wildlife documentaries in which penguins would have to overcome insurmountable geographical problems in their own charming penguin way, and a battery-powered toy in which little penguins would climb an escalator and slide down a wiggly slide. You couldn't really play with it; you'd just watch it until the batteries ran out, or someone would throw it against a wall. It was strangely compelling. I also wanted to do something fun! Wouldn't you like to be a penguin on a penguin slide?

 Can you tell more about your journey into children's books? 

I grew up in a creative household. I loved drawing; I would mainly draw cats, my teddies or Wonder Woman. I did a Graphic Design degree at Central St Martins, but children's book illustration was never on the cards. After graduating, I worked as an editorial illustrator. My first picture book commission came out of the blue (The Dirty Great Dinosaur by Martin Waddell). At that time, I had a toddler and was pregnant; I was terrified that I would fail. Oddly being a mum gave me room to rethink my career and be much more productive with my time. After my third book, I joined up with literary agents The Catchpoles, who have been hugely instrumental with my writing. As I failed my GCSE English, I still find this quite remarkable. I almost enjoy writing as much as the illustration (almost).

How did you begin writing and illustrating Super Duper Penguin Slide?

It started with a cover design and a title. The slide was going to be the final hurrah to the story, and I knew that there would be an escalator in it. I wrote a lot of different versions and made dummy books. The story needed so much chipping away at. One version was where the penguins struggled to the top of the slide only to find it was shut! I'm not sure what was going through my head at that point! Eventually, the theme that emerged was perseverance, and like the penguins, I got there in the end.  As you can see, my design for the cover hadn't changed very much from the first dummy.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your process?

I will always start with the characters. I need to know how they are going to look before anything else. It gives me a kind of friendly reassurance once they are finalised, then I can have a clear run with the rest. I draw something a lot, even if I know the first drawing I will use. I use smooth layout paper and a lightbox, and chunky clutch pencils. I work at two desks, one for drawing and one for the computer. I have my own lovely workroom overlooking the garden. I'm not a great multitasker; if a book is going well, I live on tea and biscuits and forget to pick the kids up.

 What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Super Duper Penguin Slide?

I think it was the spread where the Penguins set off up the escalator. The thought of penguins on an escalator really makes me chuckle. Getting the scale right was quite tricky; I wanted the station set to feel vast and for the penguins to look like they were going up and up. Adding tall trees helped to give a vertical feeling to the space. There are some other little animal characters, too, which are always fun to do. But visually, I love the first and final spreads on the rocks best.

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

Every Christmas, I would get unusual books from a good friend of my parents who was an author. Amongst these books was a hefty version of ETA Hoffmann's The Nutcracker, with pages on pages of awe-inspiring illustrations by Maurice Sendak. An 11-year-old me thought it was the most gorgeous book, I still do.

Another book from my childhood is The Little Train by Graham Greene and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. Ardizzone's world is one of summer mornings, men waving hats and sleepy branch lines. The illustrations are so evocative you can almost taste the air. There's an illustration of The Little Train rusting in a siding which makes my heartache. There is no face on this engine, no rolling eyes. But together, Greene and Ardizzone create an adventurous little train with a soul.

A favourite book from my boy's childhood is Emily Brown and the Thing by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton. Such a clever and funny story for reluctant bed timers. Neal Layton's artwork is so fresh and energetic; it's like the art just landed as the page turned.


A special thanks to our guest this week, Leonie Lord!
Super Duper Penguin Slide is now available from all good booksellers.