Alex T Smith

What books did you read when you were a child?
I loved anything by Janet and Alan Ahlberg - Cops and Robbers is a particular favourite, because it’s very funny, and as a child there are lots of details to spot. The book grows with you as well – I always loved the granny robber with her fox fur stole… The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Winnie the Pooh, and the Moomins are still some one of my favourites today!

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
I would like to be Eloise from the Kay Thomson & Hilary Knight books, because living in an apartment in the Plaza Hotel NYC in the 1950s sounds like a dream…

What is the best thing about reading?
The best thing about reading is that there truly is a book for everyone, and you can go on all sorts of adventures all from the comfort of an armchair. (I usually have at least one dog on my lap at all times so they get to join me on the adventure too!)

What is your all time favourite book?
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. The ‘who’ premise of the story is wonderful, as well as the beautiful illustrations, but what I really love was how the little girl in the story went out for supper to a cafe in her pyjamas. That seemed so exciting and extraordinary, and I always hoped a situation like a tiger coming to tea might arise forcing ME to go out to a cafe for dinner in my pyjamas…

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Having everyday conversations with children without talking down to them is exceptionally valuable. Children are actually much more sophisticated than we as adults think and enjoy being challenged, and talked to in a thoughtful way. I don't think it's essential for children to understand everything, and if you assume they aren’t interested, then you will miss out on fascinating conversations. I love talking to my young nephews – they are COMPLETELY bonkers and have great viewpoints and opinions on the world, and frankly some adults could learn from them! As an illustrator, I think it’s worth mentioning that drawing and being creative is another way of communicating.

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
My parents really encouraged me to be creative. I remember one school holiday when I had run out of things to draw – I had drawn everything in the entire house by then - and my mum gave me a brick! It had been a very long summer…

My grandad was also huge inspiration to me growing up, as he was a writer. When I first went to school, he wrote me a story of what my toys got up to during the day. He did that every day for about four or five years, and at the end wrote up some of the best ones into book that I still have today.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
Keeping reading fun is crucial. If my nephews are reading something they don’t like, I don’t force them into finishing it. Sometimes reading can feel a bit school-y and start to become a chore, and it’s so important to head that off if possible. I think as long as you are reading something it doesn’t really matter what it is. When my brother was little he used to spend ages reading the atlas and road maps! Carry on reading together beyond picture books is often key - putting on silly voices and making a fool of yourself is a great way to keep them engaged. With my nephews, I make a real effort to be led by them – if they want to read it with me, I will enjoy it, whatever it is!
Alex graduated from Coventry University with a degree in Illustration and won second place in the Macmillan Prize for Children's Illustration. Claude won the 5-9 young fiction Sainsbury's Children's Book Award, was selected for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize, the Richard and Judy Book Club and is soon to be a TV star on Disney Junior with 52 episodes airing in 2017. Alex T. Smith is a World Book Day Illustrator.

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