As a parent, I love picture books that carry a positive message. They can help to gently soothe worries and reinforce all sorts of behaviours and ways of thinking. There’s definitely something appealing about remembering ‘not to chatter in class’ through the eyes of a ladybird, or feeling that ‘we’re all beautiful in our own way’ through the ugly five.
Well. You won’t want to miss this one.
‘What Wesley Wore’, written by Sam Langley-Swain and illustrated by Ryan Sonderegger is a fantastic new picture book which boldly looks at BOTH sides of bullying, with acceptance at its heart.
As soon as ‘What Wesley Wore’ popped through our letterbox and we peeped inside, I knew it was going to be a winner.
‘I’m that one!’ Little Button shouted, pointing to Wesley when she first saw the book cover. I couldn’t help but smile because clothes are super important to her, just like they are to the lead character.
Another glance at the cover and she’d quickly picked up on ‘the funny looks’ the weasels were ALL giving Wesley. She then became unsure in her choice. Be yourself and stand out, or blend in and be like everyone else? Now that’s a question! I think the clever illustrations really help to set the tone of this book, well before you turn onto the first page.
What Wesley Wore is a beautifully crafted rhyming story about Wesley, who loves to dress up and express himself through dazzling colours and wacky combinations. He feels good and is happy to let the world see him for who is is.
Little Button was very impressed by his fashioneasta style!
The trouble is, Wesley doesn’t fit in with the other weasels of Westburrow wood. He doesn’t follow their rules about fitting in, and this throws a huge spanner in the works.
Little Button connected to the storyline right from the word go, and I could see how troubled she was when the bullies start to gang up on poor Wesley, all because of the clothes he was wearing. We don’t often stop and talk until the end of a picture book. But ‘What Wesley Wore’ had her full of questions at every page. It’s a real conversation starter, and I like that.
We see Wesley’s world get turned upside down by the bullies. But, with the support of his dad and a whole heap of determination, Wesley finds the courage to stand up to them. Hooray!
I don’t want to ruin the ending, but there’s a gorgeous moment where Wesley forgives the bullies, and the bullies finally realise what they have done wrong.
Little Button adores Wesley! I don’t think I’ve seen her so emotionally invested in a character in quite a while. After reading it almost every night she still cringes when the bullies make an appearance, but she’s come to the firm conclusion that we should all ‘be ourselves and stand out!’ *Cue proud mummy moment.
From the clever storytelling to the stunning illustrations, What Wesley Wore is definitely a picture book that we’d recommend. Apart from the obvious heart warming storyline, I love how it opens up discussions about bullying on many different levels, and from different viewpoints too.
I think this is definitely one every parent should have in their little ones book collection.
Now… here’s a very special treat!
It’s not every day that you get to interview an inspiring picture book author. So, I think it’s fair to say that I was slightly (very!) giddy when Sam happily agreed to answer a few of my questions. Here’s what Sam said…. enjoy!
Quick-fire questions – because who can pick between unicorns and mermaids!
Tea or Coffee? Both!
Cake or Biscuits? I’d rather cut off a limb than choose!
Cats or Dogs? I have both, but dogs
Lefty or Righty? Righty
Early bird or Night owl? Early Bird
Pencil or Pen? Pen
Notebook or screen? Notebook
Beach hut or lake house? Lakehouse
Unicorns or Mermaids? Mermaids
How did you first get into writing and have you always wanted to be an author?
Ironically i’d never set out to be a writer. I enjoyed writing poetry as a child but that’s as far as it goes. I started to jot down a few parts of ‘What Wesley Wore’ on a business flight, five years ago when the idea crept into my wandering mind and thought nothing more about it. Then, after becoming a parent through adoption to two amazing children, my viewpoint changed and I wrote my first story ‘Santa’s Wish’ as a bit of fun in 2016, for an Amazon competition to re-write ‘The Night Before Christmas’. My kids inspired me to write a story that would encourage others to help vulnerable families at Christmas. Everyone who read the story told me to publish it, so I did in December 2017; then after selling 7500 that Christmas, people began to ask when the next book was coming out and the rest is history really.
‘What Wesley Wore’ has such a beautifully threaded message of acceptance flowing through it. We know that the prejudices you came across as a child have influenced your writing. What was the driving force that inspired this story and did you always have the theme of acceptance in mind when writing it?
Having launched 5 books into the market, I felt I knew enough to finally dig Wesley out of the archives and present him to the world. The story was originally about individuality and not listening to bullies, however I noticed there weren’t any books in the market which allowed an equal focus on the bullies, their reasons to behave in certain ways and their emotional journey. At the time when we were close to publication and the book was fully edited and illustrated, there was a lot of media attention on the No Outsiders programme and this seemed to align to exactly what was happening in the story (there are even images of the weasels protesting) so it felt right that the overarching theme should be ‘acceptance’.
Ryan Sonderegger has seamlessly brought Wesley to life through his illustrations. When you started writing, did you already have a feel for what Wesley would look like? And, how long did it take to go from manuscript to fully fledged picture book?
Well, my first title took 18 months to transform from manuscript to finished picture book, but that involved a lot of ‘learning the ropes’, now I’d say about 6-8 months really. I definitely had a mental image of Wesley and I actually briefed a few illustrators before Ryan to draw Wesley as a test see if they could take on the book. As soon as Ryan sent back his image of Wesley (which was the one you could see on the cover) that was it. He just got it from the word go.
As a parent, I prefer picture books that finish with a positive message, such as showing kindness or trying your best. -One of the reasons why I love ‘What Wesley Wore’ so much. How important do you think it is for children’s books to take on important social themes, such as acceptance?
For me it is the MOST important thing. That’s what Owlet Press stands for. Our tagline is ‘Growing Into Wisdom’ which means that every one of our books has to teach a child something whether that be in a literal, emotional or academic sense. There are so many challenging things (particularly in today’s society) that as a parent we want to talk about with our children and often a story is the best tool.
Do you have any new stories in the pipeline that you are currently working on (because we can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming out next!)?
For sure! This year we have an exciting picture book about (everyone’s favourite) Unicorns, but with a twist that helps us appreciate the amazing wildlife we can see around us. We also have a picture book for young children about adoption (have tissues ready for that one) that will be released during National Adoption Week in October and finally you’ll see ‘Mr Grit’ closer to Christmas, who has his own slightly longer (but still illustrated) story which is a bit of a ‘Black Mirror for kids’ approach, in a futuristic re-write of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin’.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a Children’s author?
Consider your decision carefully, being an author (or a publisher) is about more than just being able to write a good story! You need also to be a good editor, salesman and marketing guru regardless of whether you are trying to get signed by a publisher or self-publishing.
One of the things that I find really interesting (as a picture book publisher) is the many submissions you see or posts on social media where people have used friends or even clip-art to illustrate their book and expect publishers to be excited by this. Go into any book store and the standard of illustration is higher and more stylised then ever before! So, take the time to study your market.
Finally, keep going! The most successful authors aren’t necessarily the best, they’re just the good writers that never gave up!
Disclosure: Little Button was sent a copy of What Wesley Wore. All views are my own, and Little Buttons! #ADGifted