“It’s hard work that gets you to the top,” says Rebecca Elliott, a children’s book author and illustrator from Suffolk. “I had a massive tray of rejection letters and worked on cheap 99p Woolworth’s notebooks – that’s how it all started!”

Today, you’ll find the mum of three either dropping the children off to their various schools or doodling away in anticipation of her next big release. Her first book entitled Just Because documented the blossoming relationship between her son Toby and his eldest sister, Clemmie, who was born with severe cerebral palsy. And that’s what’s great about Rebecca’s work – she isn’t afraid to challenge the norms of children’s books. In fact, the main purpose of her work is to highlight topics such as disability, death, and moving schools in a light-hearted yet informative and helpful way that is accessible for younger readers. 

Her most recent book hilariously named Mr Super Poopy Pants, (Lion Hudson, £9.99), tells the story from the perspective of her eldest son Toby as he tries to get to grips with accepting his new baby brother. “The book is a way of telling your children that you love them so much, you’ve decided to have another one!” Rebecca jokes “It’s really for the girls and boys out there that have to welcome this stinky ball of loveliness into their lives. It’s a way of explaining that the new baby won’t be a fully formed best friend like some children expect.”

Rebecca’s work is so unlike the conventional picture books that were read to you as a young child. They are clever and witty in their own right and provide younger readers with a multitude of life lessons, but their main success is that they generate a bunch of questions. “Children are naturally inquisitive,” Rebecca says. “They want to know about the world. It’s funny because I give readings of my books at festivals and in schools and the parents are welling up but the children ask questions – not in the scared, awkward way that adults do. You often see the parents going ‘Shh, don’t ask that!’ but I say, bring on the questions. It’s natural. Kids are fascinated by the topics I cover.”

Even though Rebecca’s books are pioneering a new way of helping children get to grips with things such as difference and acceptance, she believes that so much more can be done in schools to show that they don’t have to be serious topics. “Sometimes children wonder why their friend has two daddies or why their classmates are different colours. Many people think it’s a bit taboo but it’s just how their families are made up,” she says.

“I’d also love for new books to have more incidental disabled characters in them,” she suggests. “It’s a great way to offer children an opportunity to ask questions about disability even if they think they are wrong.”

Rebecca’s take on sensitive topics is refreshing but her success wasn’t all plain sailing as she faced countless setbacks whilst trying to establish her work in the creative industry. She candidly reveals that more and more publishers are unwilling to publish work with a different edge. “Publishers are getting quite safe in the current climate. There are lots of books about bears and mice having a cuddle but there’s also a place, surely, for picture books that are not necessarily tackling difficult issues but that mention them and that get children talking about them. Books on adoption, loss and disability are few and far between and I would say that’s my biggest obstacle.”

                 

Despite this, Rebecca recently won critical acclaim from award winning children’s authors Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen, and admits that it took unbelievably hard work to get to where she is today. Having spent restless days, nights and snatching moments in between putting her children down for naps, she researched endlessly how to put a portfolio together. “It’s highly competitive,” she admits, “But if you’re determined enough, you can do it. I’ve always been artistic but reality set in when I was younger and I was told to do something sensible. I got a degree in philosophy because people told me I would never succeed in art. But I love it. You can only ever be successful in something if you have a deep rooted love for it.”

Amazingly, Rebecca has put together a course on her blog for people who want to get into the writing and illustrating industry and you can access the material online for free. “There’s so much information you need to know. You need to think of writing and art as a business not just a hobby.”

Rebecca’s next venture will see her branch out to older readers to try and bridge the gap between early picture books and chapter books, a transition that many children find difficult and daunting to make. “I’m also currently writing a novel for young adults,” she says. “Whether that will get published or not, I have no idea, but again, all you can do is try! I always think, sod it, I’ll just do it anyway.”

Rebecca truly is an inspiration to parents and young children all across the UK. Her next release, Missing Jack is about coming to terms with the loss of a pet but the messages derived from the book can cover the loss of family members and friends too. It’s safe to say that Rebecca is paving the way for both children and parents to see sensitive topics in a different light. No longer should we shy away from these issues, but we should face them head on with a sense of interest and bravery.  

Be sure to check out Rebecca’s blog for more information and exclusive tips on how to make it in the writing and illustrating industry. www.rebeccaelliott.com

Words: Jacqueline Kilikita

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