Sit down with a cuppa and enjoy our Q&A with former librarian Kate Milner, winner of the 2018 Klaus Flugge Prize for her debut picture book, My Name is Not Refugee.
Many congratulations on your win! My Name is Not Refugee explains refugee and migration issues for young readers by following the journey of a small boy with his mother. Where did the idea come from, and did you do a lot of research before you started the book?
Just before Christmas 2015 I was listening to the radio as I drove back from Cambridge; the Syrian refugee crisis was in the news. I felt incensed by the vicious attacks from our tabloids on people who had been driven from their homes by civil war. I asked myself if there was anything I could do and since I was driving home from studying on the MA in children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin the answer seemed obvious. Twelve days before the end of my classes I changed direction and started work on “My Name Is Not Refugee.” Later I spent time reading about refugees and listening to documentaries and podcasts on the subject but I never thought I was trying to accurately portray the life of a Syrian refugee. I wasn’t going to show the fear, the hunger and exploitation; or the dead bodies washing up on Turkish beaches. The book was always meant to provide a definition of the word “Refugee” for teachers to help explain to children in receiving countries.
Before you started writing and illustrating, you worked for a number of years as a children’s librarian. How would you say this has influenced your illustrations?
Working with children in libraries has been a tremendous help to me. I used to read aloud to children in “rhyme time” which made me think hard about the words in picture books. I always read my texts aloud to myself over and over until the words are as simple and precise as I can make them.
Who are your favourite children’s illustrators or authors, and who would you say has particularly inspired you?
I have always loved illustrators like Ronald Searle, Gerald Scarfe, David Hughes and Charles Keeping. Sublime pen and ink drawing from the second half of the twentieth century. As a child I was transfixed by Doctor Suess. Because I met these images when I was very young his images made a deep impression on my imagination, they feel incredibly dark and powerful, in fact I used to have nightmares about his characters. I still love the energy and mischief in his work. Dave McKean and Shaun Tan are also tremendous influences, such wonderful image making. I am now horribly aware that every name I have mentioned so far is male so I would like to add Pam Smy, Sara Finelli and Laura Carlin among many many others.
Earlier this year, My Name is Not Refugee was also included in the EmpathyLab book collection, a collection of books for use in schools to develop children’s empathy. Was this something you set out to do when you were working on the book?
Very much so. When I started work on the book I did not know the EmpathyLab existed but I did very much want to get children to think what it must feel to have to leave your home, grandparents, pets, school friends and set out on a long trip to a strange place. That was the reasons for the questions in the book, prodding children to wonder how it must feel to be in that situation.
Do you have a process that you follow when it comes to starting a new project? Where do you like to work?
You can’t really account for when an idea will strike, you simply have to make a mental note and then see if it develops in the back of your mind. I probably have about ten idea for different projects tucked away to be worked on if there is time. I can be working on one project while thinking about another. Then I know it’s time to give that new idea some attention and see if it can be brought into the light of day. I have a little office in our back bedroom where I draw but I often think the real work is done walking to the shops or hoovering the stairs because this can be very valuable thinking time. The problem can be that when I reach the shop I can never remember what I came for.
To find out more about the book ‘My Name is Not Refugee’ click here