The girls were curious. What was this book that had come in the post? It looked like any other large picture book, but when opened, spilled out halfway across the room (eight feet worth to be exact!). And it was double-sided!
The Street Beneath My Feet, by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer, is not your average sit-and-listen story — it’s a journey. Littles are transported from the pavement beneath their feet to the deepest layers of the Earth’s core, not to mention all the bits in between. Tunnels, pipes, gemstones, sewers, bones, underground lakes are all there to study and question. Know that if you read this book with your children, the phrase “What’s under our feet now?” will become very familiar.
One thread running through all the books Yuval Zommer works on is an intense curiosity about everyday surroundings, the environment, and how things work. The wonder inspired in my girls (and husband!) by The Big Book of Beasts, The Big Blue Thing on the Hill, and One Hundred Bones put Yuval on the top of my list of children’s book authors I had to find out more about. So, when offered the chance to talk to Yuval about The Street Beneath My Feet, I couldn’t wait to get digging.
YZ: I believe that art and science can and do belong together, there is so much beauty and ingenuity in both. My inspiration is obviously Mother Nature who is the greatest artist and still the best scientist. I guess, like countless others, I am fascinated by the abundance of patterns, textures, and shapes that occur in the natural world. As I am not a scientist, I usually have an expert biologist/zoologist/geologist arranged through my publishers to make sure everything is factually robust. They look at all the detail, so, for example, my bugs all have the correct number of legs!
TiaT: Ha! It makes me smile to think of someone with a magnifying glass counting bug legs to make sure your books are accurate! We expect nothing less! So, what was the process for coming up with the unusual format of TSBMF and the illustrations that go with it?
TiaT: Can you show us some of the behind the scenes sketches that led to the fabulous finished product, please?
YZ: Yes, although I do not stick to my sketches, so my sketches are really more like ‘mood boards’ where I look at harmony of palette and what goes well together. I guess for The Street Beneath My Feet I was trying to create the different environments for each of the layers. There was no point doing a conventional storyboard as the whole book needed to be this one huge panel once opened.
YZ: The one I’m working on right now! Probably because it’s a break from earth, rocks, mountains and forests… it’s going to be all about water! And the title has the word ‘BLUE’ in it which is all I’m allowed to say right now.
TiaT: Finally, what advice can you offer to budding author/illustrators?
YZ: Whether you’re a writer or an artist, try to look at the world from a child’s point of view.