In My Dreams by Stef Gemmill and Tanja Stephani – Blog Tour

In My Dreams front cover, published by New Frontier Publishing June 2020

I was fortunate to get an advanced glimpse at this beautiful book at a bloggers event hosted by New Frontier Publishing back in February. The glorious jewel-coloured cover, with its gold foil highlights marks it out as a book to treasure; it is crammed with happy imagination, brought to life in Tanja Stephani’s tender and joyous illustrations.

I am delighted to be able to bring you a Q&A with illustrator Tanja, conducted via email, with the help of Henry at New Frontier.

Firstly, Tanja, can I congratulate you on the beautiful illustrations you have created for In My Dreams. I was lucky enough to be invited to a bloggers event in February and everyone there was drawn to this book, almost like bees to a particularly attractive flower!

Thank you so much for that, I received the book today in the mail and I’m really totally happy with the result!

How did you collaborate with author Stef Gemmill to communicate her vision for the story and how long did it take you to illustrate this book?

I actually didn’t speak with Stef Gemmill, I was invited to collaborate with a lovely Agency called Plum Pudding, and after 3 weeks I had this wonderful opportunity to sign the contract for this lovely story.

As I read the book, I found that some of the illustrations sparked memories of books that I had read as bedtime stories to my children, was this your intention? 

I’m sure I am inspired by a lot of children’s memories! But when I was reading the text for the first time, most of the pictures came immediately to my mind.

I absolutely love the picture of the boy riding his dragon over the dancing elephants; do you have a favourite picture in the book?

Oh yes, I love the cover very much. And now with the glitter it’s amazing – the art director did a wonderful job as well. 

How did you produce the illustrations for this book, do you start on paper and transfer to digital illustration?

First I started with the marshmallow page and worked only by hand, but then my sister got very ill and I had to work in the hospital sometimes too, so I decided to create the whole book on the iPad.

Do you have a favourite medium for creating your artwork, and has it changed over your career?

I’m an art supply “junky”. I love to try new things out, but mostly I end up using pastel, water colours, colour pencils and then I finish things off with the iPad.

How did you become a children’s book illustrator and was this always your ambition?

Yes it was always a dream for sure, but I started with a graphic design career and then moved on to art stuff like creating giant dragons for playgrounds or lamps for children’s rooms, paper objects, fine art etc… finally after 30 years I became a children’s illustrator.  

Do you have a favourite artist or illustrator and was there anyone who particularly encouraged your development as an artist when you were younger?

I think I’ve always had an artist’s soul…creating small worlds and trying out every kind of material. The teachers didn’t like me very much at this time. I always changed the assignment and had a better idea as an example. They wanted us to make a little dwarf made of felt, but I decided to create a big, big dragon. I worked on it over the whole weekend. 

My favourite children’s book artists in my childhood were Tomi Ungerer, Tatjana Hauptmann, Hans Fischer, Jean de Brunhoff, Maurice Sendak and of course Alois Carigiet.

What advice would you give to a child (and I would have been in this group) who struggles to get started when they are asked to draw something at school?

Oh that’s a good question… I worked a lot with children in schools and I never asked them to start drawing with something. We always started with kind of traces on paper, backgrounds of brushes that danced over the paper and other different ways to create backgrounds, so every child was able to see something coming out from that background and the question was answered.

Thank you for answering my questions and I wish you much success with In My Dreams; I can’t wait to share this wonderful book with children in my library.

Thank you so much for asking me, it was pleasure!

And here is my review:

The story begins (and ends) in a young boy’s bedroom, stuffed with toys and shaded in muted blue tones with his bed suffused in moonlight as he sleeps with his dog snuggled up on the covers. Each fully-illustrated double page spread takes you on a fantastical journey through the boy’s dreams, with simple sentences meandering across the pages. We accompany the boy and his faithful dog across rainbow-dappled marshmallow clouds, through rain and puddles made of sweet treats,, to the ocean floor and through jungles. My favourite page shows them gathering treasure…but no, it is not the gold coins or jewels we might expect, but rather “kisses and kindness from the island of Love”

This would make a wonderful bedtime story; Stef Gemmill’s sentences are filled with assonance and gentle rhythm, lulling any child to whom you read this into a tranquil state. I can think of no higher praise than to say that as I read it aloud (to an empty room) I was transported back 23 years to reading “Goodnight Moon” to my own children. In a preschool or Reception class this book would be a wonderful prompt for a discussion about dreams, it would be interesting to find out if children find that some of the pictures are redolent of bedtime stories that they already know. Some of the pictures certainly set me wondering whether the boy’s dreams were being influenced by some well-known bedtime story books.

You can watch a trailer of Tanja Stephani creating her artwork here

I am most grateful to New Frontier Publishing for sending me a copy of In My Dreams to review.

Do check out the other stops on the blog tour this week, with reviews and interviews from an amazing list of children’s book bloggers.

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