Kate Read originally trained as a Theatre Designer at Wimbledon School of Art and says she has always loved cutting up paper and splashing paint around. She graduated from the renowned MA in Children’s Book Illustration course at Anglia Ruskin University in 2018. Her first book One Fox, A Counting Book Thriller, published by Two Hoots, Macmillan, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Klaus Flugge Prize and was awarded an Ezra Jack Keats Honour. Kate has continued to enjoy working with Two Hoots on BOO! A Fishy Mystery and now The Littlest Elephant which was published on 17 March 2022.
The Littlest Elephant is the story of an excitable young Elephant called Ellie who has just learnt to swim. She’s in a huge hurry to get to the pool and doesn’t notice the chaos she causes on her way. Ellie is typical of many little children, who don’t mean to walk their way through everything but are so excited and focused on their own pursuits that they don’t realise they might be crashing through someone else’s precious things. I like using animals as characters in books as a way to explore human emotions. The Littlest Elephant raises questions about empathy and awareness of others; Ellie certainly can’t help crashing through the jungle, she is an elephant after all, and she doesn’t mean any harm. She just needs a gentle reminder to remember to look, listen and think about what’s around her.
I like to spend time getting to know the world of my characters; as with all my work, this involves drawing first, choosing the palette, painting and printing papers to create the right textures, then hours of cutting and sticking to cut the right shapes for the setting and characters. I really enjoyed researching all the different creatures in this book and visited Colchester Zoo to see the animals first-hand. I marvelled at the bright orange of the tigers’ fur and the elephants’ incredible textured skin, which was even more wrinkled and beautiful than I had imagined. After my visit I re-made my original character studies making Ellie’s skin much more interesting using crayons, dyes and inks.
One of the trickier pages had the tiger roaring in agony ‘Argh! My tail!’ which I thought would be simple. I found it easy to sketch her with the right expression of shocked pain in my roughs but she was a lot harder to collage with the same body language and feeling. Sometimes collage can lack the subtlety of drawing as one little snip of the paper can change a character completely. My editor, designer and I agreed that a close-up of the tiger’s fur has to be really fur-like so I worked back into the collaged paper with paint to gain a really soft textured look. It is often a fine balance between showing the hard edges of the cut paper and making something look ‘real’. I love the naivety and accessibility of collage but I also aim for a rich, multi layered illustration that children will enjoy coming back to.
I know a book really works when children are asking to read it again and again. So it was an amazing feeling when my little two-year-old nephew ran around the house copying the monkeys from the book shouting ‘Watch out! Mind our mangoes!’ That, for me is the true measure of success.
Find out more about Kate on her website or on Instagram – @kateeread28.
The Littlest Elephant is published by Two Hoots, 978-1529085389, £12.99 hbk.