Picture Book Snob
BLOG TOUR: Violet's Tempest by Ian Eagleton & Clara Anganuzzi review + interview
Find out why we love Violet's Tempest, learn what inspired the story and discover which Shakespeare-themed books Ian Eagleton recommends for children...
Violet’s Tempest is a gorgeous story about a little girl lacking in confidence who has a part in a school play. As Violet prepares for her performance, she experiences overwhelming emotions and often feels paralysed by fear. We see how the support of her family and having a creative outlet eventually help Violet to overcome her worries. There is so much to love about this book and so much love within its pages too. Although it’s unclear whether Violet has any friends, she has amazing people in her life — her uncles, her teacher and, most importantly, her nan. The bond between grandmother and grandchild is obvious and their mutual affection is moving.
The story is incredibly diverse and inclusive. Not only are Violet and her family people of colour, Violet’s home situation is not what might be considered ‘typical’ as she lives with her nan. Her uncles are in a same-sex relationship and a mixed-race one too. There are lots of people in larger bodies. Yet none of these things are the primary focus of the narrative, which subtly reinforces how natural they all are.
It’s fantastic how Violet’s family grounds her and how this story celebrates the transformative power of the arts. As Violet rehearses and grow more confident, the clouds on her dress are slowly replaced with suns. When Violet embraces her role as Arial, we see the magic of self-belief and the magic of theatre working at the same time.
I love how patient Nan is with Violet. She never dismisses Violet’s concerns but instead reassures and empowers her. I love how disproportionally large Nan appears when holding Violet on her knee, emphasising how, to Violet, Nan is the whole world.
I love how Violet’s uncles cheer her on and how kind and understanding Violet’s teacher is too. It's possible he assigned the role of Arial specifically to help Violet overcome her confidence issues.
Violet is herself a wonderful character and a gentle soul to whom quieter children will relate. We’re not told why Violet lives with her nan. We don’t know if the circumstances that led to this are why Violet’s voice originally changed ‘from a giggle to a whisper.’ We do know that Nan smells of 'happier times' which suggests there may have been a sad event before the story takes place. The space that author Ian Eagleton leaves open to the interpretation of readers is often as powerful as what is stated in the text.
Clara Anganuzzi’s illustrations are stunning and really add to the atmosphere. Violet’s home looks so cosy, while the scenes at school use far ins which convey what an alienating location this can be. At times, the illustrations have a dreamlike quality which captures both the other-worldliness of Shakespeare’s Tempest and Violet’s rich imagination. I love the colour palette and all the starry nights, sunsets, and clouds. When Violet wishes for a faraway sanctuary at the start, the realm she envisages with its billowing blue clouds resembles the sky on the final page. This could imply that Violet finally feels secure in herself and her surroundings.
It’s brilliant how the author uses weather as a metaphor and compares Violet's anxiety to a storm. As Violet waits off-stage, 'wild waves rage in her tummy and her heart beats fast.’ As Violet walks home hand-in-hand with Nan, we’re told ‘the wind has gone.’ I love how even the book’s title can be interpreted in different ways. The tempest might refer to Violet’s play or to her emotional state. My kids enjoy watching Violet embrace her inner fairy and they are quite taken with the costume Nan makes for Violet.. There’s lots to discuss on every page and this story is ideal for starting conversations about anxiety and acknowledging how it, and self-esteem issues, can ebb and flow. Like its main character, this is a sensitive, thoughtful, inspiring and beautiful story. It’s a fantastic resource for teachers as well as parents and certain to captivate every child who encounters it too.
Five quick questions with author Ian Eageton...
What inspired you to write this story?
Two things inspired me to write Violet’s Tempest. The first was the death of my nan. We were very close and it was a shock. Once I’d gotten over the anger and disbelief, I really began thinking about ways I could celebrate and honour her legacy. She would help me learn my lines for plays when I was in a youth theatre group and we would giggle and laugh together at the kitchen table. One night, I had a very strange and clear vision of a little girl sitting in class looking out the window and I immediately thought, ‘Who are you?’ I let the image sit in my mind for a while and began writing Violet’s Tempest a few months later, while I was on holiday. I knew that it had to include a nan and that Violet’s relationship with her nan would be an integral part of the story.
The other thing that inspired me was my own experiences in the classroom. I’ve been a primary school teacher for thirteen years and have always enjoyed teaching The Tempest. There’s something about the remote, strange island, the terrifying storm at the beginning and the magic in the story that instantly captures children. I remember having wonderful conversations with an older class about who the island belonged to – was it Prospero or Caliban? So many of Shakespeare’s plays can be adapted for young people and are rich with opportunities for discussion.
How did it feel to see Clara Anganuzzi’s illustrations for the first time?
This will sound very dramatic but I actually sat and sobbed for an hour when I was sent the rough illustrations by Clara Anganuzzi. She has captured the warmth between all the characters and I loved seeing all the details, like the photographs hanging in Violet’s home. Then when the final full colour illustrations came through it was just such a magical, emotional moment again! The artwork is so rich and arresting and vivid and it definitely invites the reader to pore over the illustrations again and again. I feel very lucky that Clara illustrated this book and I’m in awe of her talent!
Do you have a favourite spread from this book and if so, which is it?
My favourite illustration in the story is one at the beginning where Violet is hugging her Nan who ‘smells of love and happier times’. It’s such an intimate, tender moment and I almost feel like Nan is hugging the reader too. What surprised me as well was the expression on Nan’s face – she almost seems worried or concerned and I began thinking about why that might be. Perhaps she is remembering the happier times or perhaps she is worried about her granddaughter. Either way, it’s a beautiful moment in the story and I love it!
Which Shakespearean character would you most like to play?
I think I’d most like to play the character of Ariel, from The Tempest, if I were acting in a Shakespearian play. I can imagine it would be a wonderful challenge to develop Ariel’s light and ethereal way of moving – at times it’s often like Ariel’s dancing around the island, causing mischief and magic. I’d also love to play Ariel because I think they have an interesting relationship with Prospero, the wizard, who has been abandoned on the island and uses Ariel to exact revenge upon his brother. I often wonder how Ariel feels about Prospero and think it would be a great role to explore!
Which other Shakespeare-themed books would you recommend for children?
There are three that spring to mind! The first is To Wee or Not to Wee! by Pamela Butchart and Thomas Flintham. It’s the perfect book for 7 to 9 year olds and it had me laughing and giggling away! I have always found What’s So Special About Shakespeare? by Michael Rosen an informative, accessible non-fiction book about Shakespeare’s life and times. Lastly, I’m really looking forward to reading Tripwrecked! by Ross Montgomery and Mark Beech, which promises to be a hilariously slapstick introduction to Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Thanks so much to Ian and Lantana for sharing this fabulous book with us, answering our questions and inviting us on the tour. Make sure you visit all the stops to learn more about this wonderful story. Next up is John Biddle of the excellent Children Reading for Pleasure blog. You can find him on Twitter as @jonnybid and you can read his blog here: http://childrenreadingforpleasure.blogspot.com/
Violet's Tempest available now from all good bookshops! You can also buy your copy from Lantana’s online shop and donate a book to children who need books the most with your purchase: www.lantanapublishing.com Ian and Clara interview each other in this brilliant blog post on the Lantana website which also includes a trailer for the book.
And if you have a minute, I'd recommend reading the mission statement of Lantana, a publisher committed to inspiring a love of reading in all children. Lantana champions diversity, inclusion and under-represented voices, celebrating every kind of child and family. Lantana runs an amazing 'A book for a book' programme; for each book purchased from their website, another is donated to charity! Lantana also promotes social-emotional learning and strives to maintain sustainable practices in their production and supply chains to minimise their carbon footprint.