Time to Move South for Winter - Review + Interview with Clare Helen Welsh and Jenny Løvlie
There is nothing I can say about this book that will adequately describe how STUNNING it is and no photos could ever do it justice either. It’s definitely one of the most magnificent and impressive books I’ve ever held in my hands. You need to get a copy (as soon as possible!) and see it for yourself. Every time you think Time to Move South for Winter can't get any more beautiful, you turn a page and are proven wrong.
This story documents the migratory journeys of terns and several other animals. The text is incredibly rich and lyrical; it feels like reading a long poem and the words have a comforting, calming effect. The phrase, 'It was time to move south for winter,' is repeated throughout and gives the story a soothing quality, almost like a lullaby.
The language is remarkably evocative and atmospheric, and yet gentle and simple enough for even the very young to enjoy. You could listen to the text of this book with your eyes closed and still see so much because of Clare Helen Welsh’s masterful writing. I don’t recommend this, however, as the illustrations are not to be missed!
Jenny Løvlie’s artwork is breathtaking – we spend ages looking at the illustrations and no matter how often we see them, we never tire of them. When gazing at the pages, readers get the sensation of witnessing panoramic views. Looking at this book feels as refreshing and energising as being out in the fresh air and taking in spectacular sights on a hike.
There are two pages of facts at the back with more information on all of the fascinating animals featured and their impressive travels. We love the illustration of planet Earth on the very last page which tracks these creatures and their journeys too. This is such a brilliant book for nature enthusiasts and anyone hoping to encourage an interest in the environment and conservation in children.
Nature is so vast and ineffable that it’s astonishing how this book manages to capture its beauty and wonder so well within its pages. Time to Move South for Winter would make a gorgeous gift for a new baby or to mark any occasion. Teachers will love this; parents will love this and most importantly – children will love this, for generations to come.
Time to Move South for Winter was published by Nosy Crow on 2nd September. Clare and Jenny kindly agreed to answer some questions about this exceptional work of art and you can read our chats below...
A few quick questions with author Clare Helen Welsh
What inspired this story and what do you hope children will take from it?
The story began life as a phrase in a poem that my nan had given to me: ‘summer on a wing.’ I began researching the fascinating world of the Arctic tern and thought it would make for an interesting character in a non-fiction narrative text, where story and facts are woven together in one book. I really hope this kind of cross-over genre inspires fiction lovers to enjoy non-fiction, inspires non-fiction lovers to enjoy fiction, and inspires all children to learn more about the wonderful world around them. Did you have to do a lot of research for this book or were you already familiar with the migration patterns of the animals featured?
I needed to do quite a lot of research for Time to Move South for Winter, but this was all part of the fun! I discovered some incredible things about migratory animals and the journeys they make - too much to fit into one story! Hopefully this sense of awe and wonder comes across in the story. (It absolutely does! - PBS)
The text is incredibly poetic and moving, with a quiet but profound beauty similar to nature itself. Was this something that required a lot of work to achieve, or did it come naturally?
I found the first draft came out quite instinctively. I like using repetition in texts to ground young readers and because I like the way it sounds when read aloud – it’s a feature I use quite a lot in my writing. If I’m writing a lyrical book such as this, I find reading poetry helps to get me in the right headspace. Having said that, the text went though some expert editing with Tegen Evans from Nosy Crow. Tegen helped to make the imagery and vocabulary choices accessible to little readers and made sure the concepts in the book, some of which are quite complex, were as clear as possible.
I love how the phrase, “It was time to move south for winter,” is repeated throughout the book. Was this intended from the beginning or did it emerge as the story developed.
I knew I wanted a repeated line to link the spreads and to emphasize the theme of the text. I began with the refrain summer on the wing and variations of such: summer in the waves, summer in the hills, summer in the trees etc. But as I wrote, I found I needed another line to draw out that all the animals featured in the book leave a cold place for a warmer one, like the Arctic tern. I struggled initially to find the perfect phrase. I spoke to my husband about it, who is often a sounding board: “I need a line that explains that everyone is moving south for winter…” And so, the line was born!
How did it feel to see Jenny’s illustrations for the first time?
Jenny is hugely talented and an incredible illustrator! I knew her work from the Kitty series (Paula Harrison), The Girls/The Boys (Lauren Ace) and also, The Wide, Wide Sea (Anna Wilson), and so it was a dream come true to be paired with her. The first illustrations I saw – the little tern in the Arctic and the humpback whale spread - didn’t disappoint. I adore the textures Jenny uses to bring the landscapes alive. I could quite happily holiday in all her pages!
How has your experience as a primary school teacher shaped the way you write?
My years as a primary school teacher mean I’m often writing with my audience in mind. In fact, I always read aloud my texts and imagine a class of children in front of me – it keeps the dog entertained! I think teaching gave me a good sense of what children like and what holds their attention… and what doesn’t. I also think of my fellow colleagues and try to write the books that I would have used in class – that have an engaging hook, lots of cross-curricular potential and can act as a springboard for further learning. It makes me very happy to think of my books being used in this way.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever gotten from a child about your work?
I met a young reader and his mum at a library event in Torquay a few years ago. They’ve since come along to other events and are always supportive of my books. Shout out to Dylan and Stacey who even brought me flowers when I was unwell! Dylan says I am his favourite author, which is a real honour. Here’s a photo of us together.
You teach a 7-week picture book writing course with WriteMentor as well as providing critique and mentoring services. What’s the best advice anyone has given you in your writing career and/or what is your own advice for people who hope to write for children?
Writing for children is very difficult and much more complicated than it seems, but also hugely enjoyable and rewarding. To see you through the highs and lows, my best piece of advice would be for aspiring writers to connect with other like-minded people – be that online or face to face. Perhaps find a critique group, join a writing community, or connect with other writers through social media. These people, who will become your friends, will soften the blow of the inevitable knockbacks, but will also be there to celebrate your successes with you.
What do you love most about being an author?
Gosh, there are so many good bits – I feel very lucky to be making books that people enjoy! Book signings are always fun. I also love working with my agent, my publishers and collaborating with illustrators. If I had to pick one thing, I would say meeting little readers is something very special, be that in libraires, bookshops or schools. Making a difference to young readers lives – even in a small way - is what it’s all about.
A few quick questions with illustrator Jenny Løvlie
I can’t get over how beautiful the illustrations are. My children love all the details like the baby tern in the endpapers and the tiny red starfish on the title page. How do you decide on the colour palette and which details to include? Thank you! For non-fiction books like this the palette has to be quite naturalistic, so I do a lot of research looking at the landscapes and animals I’ll be drawing and look for recurring colours. I always pick a colour palette before I start colouring, since I work digitally this helps me not get lost in the endless colour possibilities of the digital realm.
As for the details I add, I try to imagine what I would have enjoyed when I was a kid. I loved going over the pages of picture books in minute detail finding all the little secrets hidden by the illustrators. Richard Scarry, David Roberts and Sven Nordqvist were some of my favourites!
Which is your favourite spread and why? This is a difficult one! I like them all and it’s difficult to pick one in particular, but I have to say I’m quite chuffed with how the icebergs and reflections in the water came out in the 'arriving in Antarctica' spread.
Can you remember reading the text for the first time and what your initial impression was? Where I grew up there was, and still is a large colony of Arctic Terns. I’ve always been very fond of them, so when I read Clare’s beautiful text for the first time I just knew this was the book for me! I love drawing landscapes and animals. The Arctic landscape is very familiar to me and it was a real treat to draw pages and pages of it.
I’ve read that you grew up on a tiny peninsula in Norway where you were the first child to be born in 12 years. Did living in such a remote location during your early years help you to become an artist? I grew up in a tiny village on Ekkerøy. It’s incredibly beautiful and packed with wildlife. There’s a large Kittiwake colony in addition to the Arctic Terns and the whole peninsula is a nature reserve within the Varangerhalvøya Nature reserve. Other animals are foxes, mink, weasels, reindeer, orcas, porpoises, belugas, cormorants, voles, arctic hares, sandpipers, wagtails, magnificent eagles, tiny shrews, king crabs, hermit crabs, flounders and otters. I spent a lot of time outdoors fishing, birdwatching, rockpooling, climbing and swimming. It was a paradise for a child! I definitely think living in a place of such startling beauty and raw nature forces helped develop my imagination. The light is unlike any I’ve ever seen. So bright and clear!
I love the scene showing the Northern Lights – did they feature in your own childhood? Oh yes! They never cease to amaze me. So wild and beautiful!
Is it surprising to see a finished book for the first time even though you are so familiar with the illustrations? How did it feel to see this book when it was printed? It’s always a treat to receive the finished book! I love smelling the fresh ink and poring over the finishes added by the designer. I think the silver foil on the front cover of Time to Move South for Winter is particularly effective!
A love of nature seems to radiate from each page – do you enjoy spending time in wild places like the ones in this book? I do! I love camping, hiking and swimming in the sea! Although growing up in such a remote place has made me crave big city life. I live in London but try to get out in to nature as often as I can. I’m lucky enough to live a short bus ride from Richmond park where I go as often as I can to look at the deer and the birds. What did you find most challenging about this project? To not keel over with excitement for it! It was a true joy to create this book and every spread just flowed out. This hardly ever happens for me! I’m so proud of this book and I love every last bit of it. What did you enjoy the most?
Again, very difficult to choose just one thing! The whole book? Clare’s beautiful text? I love working with Manda, designer at Nosy Crow. We have a special brain connection! She always gets what I’m trying to do - Even in the scribbliest of sketches! I also love the research element, studying all the animals to get them just right but trying to still give them a warmth and sense of character.
Thanks so much to Clare and Jenny for taking the time to answer all of our questions! Thanks also to the lovely people in Nosy Crow for sharing this extraordinary book with us - all opinions expressed are our own. See Time to Move South for Winter on the Nosy Crow website