Rebecca Elliott, like many before her, is a mother. She lives in Suffolk with her husband, a history teacher and has three children, Clementine (affectionately called Clemmie), Toby and most recently, Benjamin. Unlike most mothers however, she writes children’s books alongside taking care of her family, with titles such as The Last Tiger and Just Because in her repertoire.
Having always wanted to write and draw as a child, drawing inspiration from the likes of CS Lewis and combining it with her love of animals, Rebecca’ books cover a diverse range of topics including disability, adoption and loneliness aimed specifically at kids, helping to guide them through charming illustrations and a poignant selection of words. She also has a degree in Philosophy and has written for both The Independent and The Telegraph.
Her new book, the beautifully and aptly titled Mr Super Poopy Pants, comes out this month on Lion Hudson and I was handed the opportunity to interview her about it. I must admit that, before the interview, I was nervous. Not just as this was something I’d never done before, but because juggling parenting and writing books simultaneously must be a taxing task for the best of us, and my questions seemed far too naïve to ask someone responsible for taking care of three children, one of whom is, as she points out, “profoundly disabled”.
My conversation with Rebecca surprised me, with its pleasantness and openness, and through her wonderful ability to welcome questions and deal with them with the utmost respect.
Just to get started, I asked her if she could use three words to describe her new book for us?
After some thought she replied, “Baby. Poop. And fun.” Succinct, no other words could be more appropriate and the ball was rolling.
“So what made you decide to write the book?”
“The title has been in my head for a while,” she says. She’d been carrying “Mister Poopy Pants” around with her everywhere she went until finally deciding to turn the sole title into a full-fledged book. “I think Leslie Nelson says it in one of the Naked Guns,” she adds, laughing. A quick scan of YouTube confirms he does!
Rebecca explains to me that we never do know where we get our inspirations from. “You hear something somewhere and it turns into something else.” She wrote it over six months while breastfeeding her son Toby, the newest addition to her family, using her iPad.
Multi-tasking at its finest, but it must be difficult to balance family life with writing?
“It is difficult,” she agrees, but she loves the challenge. “I would never use the phrase being ‘just a mother’, and I love my children, but I wouldn’t be satisfied with only being a mother.” On top of writing books children, she also had a “dull office job” but eventually left because she hated being inside an office. As she says in her website, “my ‘job’ involves sitting around in my pyjamas doodling monkeys and other furry creatures and making up stories about them – who wouldn’t want to do that?”
Mr Super Poopy Pants stars her son Toby as he deals with the arrival of a new member of the family, Benjy, who doesn’t really do or say much. He seems apprehensive of the newcomer of the first, but the power of ‘poo’, if I may be so bold as to use such a phrase, draws them together. Using a suave retro-modern style of illustration that would be endearing to toughest of us, Toby learns to see the positive in having a new friend whose different doses of stink help him to clear areas of the playground and escape boring parties.
“But it’s about more than that,” she assures me. More than ‘just poo’? Could there be such a thing?
This is where her philosophy degree might come in handy. “Has that helped in writing your books?”
“I think it has, but it’s a difficult question to answer,” she says. “Kids do want to ask the big questions” and she’s been planning to write more philosophically-based books geared towards kids which deal with issues such as different belief systems. “Because kids don’t discriminate,” and Rebecca believes it’s the adults who make the situations awkward, especially when it comes to dealing with her disabled first child, Clemmie.
Rebecca remains, again, surprisingly open about discussing the issue which had me scared of stepping on any toes, but this is exactly the kind of behaviour she is fighting against. Six-year-old Toby loves spending time with both Clemmie and Benjy, even though neither say anything. In an article for The Independent entitled “We Wouldn’t Have Her Any Other Way” she discusses her life raising a child with disability and how it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s just how it is and she, and the rest of her family, love her that way. She doesn’t make claims of it being easy, just that disabled people are awesome if you let them be.
With so much already on her plate, I had to ask if she was working on anything for the future?
Even though she’s both an illustrator and a writer, she admits to recently preferring writing to drawing and is currently working on a Young Adult novel. However, books for children haven’t been completely put to the side – her next project is Missing Jack, “which is about the death of a cat but I promise it has a happy ending!”
Mr Super Poopy Pants by Rebecca Elliott is published by Lion Children’s Books (hardback, £9.99) Available now from all good booksellers and amazon.co.uk