So the big news, as you may have heard, is that my first children’s book will be published by Simon & Schuster Kids here in the US in early February 2019. Here is the story behind the story:
Hibernate With Me began as a song that my husband, Benjamin Scheuer, wrote for me during a pretty challenging time in my life.
After almost ten years living in London and working in the same animation studio, I moved to America and joined Benjamin on the road with the national tour of his show The Lion. Honestly? I had fallen completely in love and was still in that “he’s all I need!” phase of the romance - you know, the Disney version that tells a girl that as long as she’s with her handsome prince everything else becomes insignificant.
Of course the truth is that a girl needs…more than that: She need friends and her own hobbies, she needs time to do the things she likes to do, a job or a purpose or something to fill her time. When I moved to America I gave up my job, my flat, my social circle, my city, my independence. I joined Benjamin on tour and found myself in Milwaukee for almost two months in the dead of winter, staying in odd, short-stay apartments (“divorced dad apartments”, we called them). The work I had anticipated in America fell through, and I spent my days doing loads of laundry and grocery shopping and cooking dinner for when Ben got home. While he worked - singing on stage to a rapt audience - I spent every day alone, watching Netflix and feeling increasingly lonely, purposeless and depressed. The only people I met were fans of Benjamin’s, who would talk to me for a feverished minute after a show, clutching my hand and telling me how lucky I was, how I should make him happy and give him beautiful children (yep, they actually said this). They rarely if ever asked my name, or who I was, or really anything about me. One day I woke up and just thought, if I don’t get out of bed today, will anyone really notice?
There was no way that Ben could fully understand what I was going through - he had never experienced anything like it, and our personalities are so different that anxiety and being introverted are truly baffling to him. But he did recognise that I needed support, that acknowledging someone’s problems and giving them permission to feel sad or scared or anxious isn’t encouraging them to wallow in their darkness, but can sometimes be the flashlight that helps them find their way out again.
‘Sometimes you feel scared
Sometimes you feel shy
Sometimes you feel worried
And you might not know why
Sometimes you want nobody to see
Darling, you can hibernate with me’
So he wrote the song Hibernate With Me for me. And, about two years later we took the song and some initial sketches to some publishers here in New York City. We were overjoyed with the reception our idea received, and really excited to move forward with Justin Chanda and Lucy Ruth Cummins as our Editor and Art Director respectively, at Simon & Schuster Kids.
Other than a few minor changes the words published in our book remain exactly the same as that original song. The book introduces the reader to Big Bear and Small Bear. No genders or specific relationships are mentioned - some children assume that Big Bear is the mother, some the father, that Small Bear is a boy or a girl. Big Bear could be a teacher or a grandparent or a carer or foster-parent. We wanted to keep it as open as possible so that any child could relate.
Sometimes, Small Bear feels lost or sad. Sometimes these feels come from nowhere, for no reason - and that’s okay. Like the seasons, our emotions come and go. In this life we all will experience sadness, and there’s no shame in that. Instead, Big Bear offers Small Bear a cosy place to wait out the winter, until things looks brighter once more.
It’s a message that Benjamin and I feel really strongly about. Young boys in particular are told in many ways that crying is a sign of weakness, or is effeminate. They are taught that they must be brash and loud and bold at all times, until any uncertainty or anxiety is pushed down inside them and risks bursting out as aggression or violence later on down the road. We believe that everyone - anywhere on the age or gender spectrum - should be allowed to acknowledge and process their emotions in a healthy way. Hibernate With Me isn’t an emotional textbook or a preachy story - it’s a sweet, gentle message.
I wanted to bring the warmth and cosiness of this support into the artwork. I was hugely inspired by some of the books that I loved as a child, especially Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series. These books brought me joy and comfort then, and still do now. To set the tone of the world of Hibernate With Me, I created a warm, autumnal colour palette. In our book autumn and winter are not cold or desolate but representations of love and security. Big Bear and Small Bear are the only two characters, seen exploring their forest home together. But there is no isolation or loneliness here; rather, a withdrawing to somewhere safe, where the snow falling outside the window only serves to emphasise the warm glow of the fire, the cosy blankets of Small Bear’s bed.
Inadvertently, a lot of our dog Porthos’ expressions and demeanour have found their way into the character design of Small Bear. Of course I also hugely identify with Small Bear, but through making this book we have come to realise that everyone - even Benjamin - can feel like Small Bear sometimes. And that’s okay.
Benjamin and I have poured a lot of heart into the words and pictures in this book, and we’re so incredibly proud of the work that we’ve done and the finished product. Hibernate With Me will be published in early February 2019 - just a few weeks after our first baby is expected to arrive. So it’s going to be a busy, bursting, exciting spring in our house!
We can’t wait to share Hibernate With Me with our child, and with all the children out there.
Head to HibernateWithMe.com for info on pre-ordering the book.