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April's Garden - Isla McGuckin and Catalina Echeverri


Living in a grey and dreary room in a house that couldn't feel less like home, April dreams about how life could be. With happy, peaceful spaces. And somewhere to play. But every seed April plants refuses to take root. And her dreams start to feel hopelessly out of reach.

A beautiful picture book about hoping and dreaming, following April as she dreams of a home of her own...


I loved the message and kindness of this book, and the beautiful pictures with the contrast of the sepia tones and April's bright colourful hope drawings.


I'm thrilled to be able to share this Q and A that I had with author, Isla McGuckin, thanks to Graffeg Publishing:


1. What was the inspiration for the book and April?

The tiny seed that eventually blossomed into this book was sown many years ago.

We had a little girl, April, who died shortly after she was born. I couldn’t bear to say

‘graveyard’ to April's older sister - who was just a toddler at the time - and so I called

the cemetery where our baby was buried ‘April’s Garden’.  

Over the years that followed, heart-rending accounts of children being made

homeless - by housing crises or domestic violence or war - moved me. Several

families seeking asylum moved into an empty house near ours. And, gradually, all of

these threads became interwoven to make the book, April’s Garden. 


2. Why was the link to plants/nature such a main theme?

The process of planting seeds is a powerful metaphor for hope, I think. And, more

than anything, I wanted April’s Garden to be a hope-filled story. When you sow a

seed - either literally or metaphorically - there’s a period of time when you just have

to trust that something good will come from it. And that can be tricky for adults,

never mind kids!


3. How much input did you have to the (brilliant!) illustrations?

Catalina and I worked together, initially, to shape the creative direction for April’s

Garden. But, after those early conversations, it was over to Catalina to work her

magic.  Her gorgeous illustrations have brought my words to such vividly beautiful

life. (And, several reads in, I’m still spotting little surprises in Catalina’s richly-layered

work!) 


4. Why do you think picture books are such a powerful medium for messages

like this?

When you’re writing for children, it can be tempting to avoid tough topics. That does

a disservice, though, to the  children whose lived experiences are challenge-filled.

Because, for far too many families, times are tough. Picture books can create

prompts for conversations that help develop compassion and empathy and that feels

more important than ever. 


5. What children's books have inspired and inspire you as a writer: can you

remember any particular books that stand out from when you were a child

reader, and which present-day writers/illustrators are you a fan of?

When I was a child, I adored The Amazing Mr Blunden by Antonia Barber. The book’s

message - that miracles can happen if the need for help is great enough and the will

to help is strong enough - resonated with me as a child and has stayed with me as an

adult. (It’s a spookily atmospheric ghost story, too!) 

Shortly after April died, I ordered a copy of Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. It’s a

beautifully-crafted chronicle of Michael’s grief following the loss of his son. It’s so

tender, so human. And Quentin Blake’s illustrations are just breath-taking. 


6. What's next?!

With two more picture books completed, another in the pipeline and a middle-grade

adventure almost there, the rest of 2023 is looking hectic. Watch this space!



Author:

Isla McGuckin is a dreamer and a writer and the proud mother of daughters. Endlessly optimistic, Isla believes that words have the power to open hearts, change minds and make the world a better place. Born and raised in urban Yorkshire, Isla is now based in rural Donegal. And living in her tiny house beside the seaside - with her much-loved family of people and pets - feels like home.

Illustrator:

Catalina Echeverri was born in Botogá Colombia, and now lives in London with her Northern Irish husband and their three daughters. Before settling in the UK, Catalina spent time in Italy, studying graphic design and eating pizza and ice cream whenever she could. Once she'd eaten it all, she moved to Cambridge to study children's book illustration and has worked in children's publishing ever since. Having illustrated more than 20 books in various countries, Catalina is never without her sketchbook and loves to take inspiration from everyday life. She particularly enjoys working on projects that have a positive impact on people's lives.


Publisher: Graffeg Publishing - find out more and order a copy here:


My thanks to Bethan at Graffeg for the copy of the book to review, and to Isla for the Q and A.


Review by Richreadalot, August 2023

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