The Bookish Mummy meets Harriet Muncaster
It was a couple of months before my daughter was due to start school when a book landed on the desk at work that caught my eye — Isadora Moon Goes To School by Harriet Muncaster. It was the black, white and pink cover, which has quickly become the signature of the Isadora moon series, and the beautiful illustrations that immediately captured my attention. Flicking through the book, alongside these images was the delightful tale of a young girl who is half fairy and half vampire, starting out in school and discovering where she fits in. Her mum (who is a fairy) would like her to go to Fairy School and her Dad (who is a vampire) would like her to go to Vampire School. But Isadora quickly realises that neither of these options is for her and is not afraid to say so or to put herself in new situations to discover where she should be. I took the book home and read it with my then 4 year old daughter, who immediatley fell in love with the character and the story. It was the first ‘chapter book’ that we read together which made her feel very grown up but the combination of illustrations and words meant that it wasn’t a massive leap from the picture books she was used to.
Since this first story, six more Isadora Moon books have quickly followed; Isadora Moon Has a Birthday, Isadora Moon Goes Camping, Isadora Moon Goes to the Ballet, Isadora Moon Gets in Trouble, Isadora Moon Goes on a School Trip and most recently Isadora Moon Goes to the Fair. Thanks to their eye-catching style, charming characters and relatable story lines as well as a string of events around the country, including the first ever Isadora Moon Day - I think we can firmly say Harriet Muncaster is on to a winner!
I have been fortunate enough to meet Harriet on a number of occasions as we both hail from the Hertfordshire market town of Hitchin. Also Harriet’s daughter Celestine is the same age as my youngest and so they both came round to play and talk about books!
You’ve had a very busy month with lots of events and the first ever Isadora Moon Day! How did this come about and will it be an annual thing?
Isadora Moon Day started with the idea of an Isadora Moon party. My editor told me about someone who wanted to throw an Isadora Moon party and wanted some tips. From this I began putting together a ‘Host Your Own Isadora Moon Party Guide’ (which is now available to email subscribers on my website). Oxford University Press worked with me to adapt a party guide for bookshops so they could host their own events. From here OUP decided to help a whole load of bookshops organise their own parties around one day — Isadora Moon Day! As it was so successful, they’re planning an even bigger celebration next year.
How does it feel to see your books in the shops and to meet all the people who are reading and enjoying them? Have there been any highlights?
It’s lovely to be able to create something that I’m so passionate about and then be able to share it with people. It’s always a highlight when I meet children who have really engaged with Isadora’s World. I adore it when I see children dressed up as Isadora or when they show me stories they have written themselves. One girl I met last year had an Isadora doll her mother had helped her to make!
What are the three most important traits you need to be a successful author?
Motivation — actually making the time to sit down and write without getting distracted. An interest in people — I’m a real people-watcher and very interested in the ways people interact. Thirdly a love of words and putting them together to create atmospheres.
You’ve brought out three new Isadora Moon books since your daughter was born — how do you juggle it all?
I got my husband to give up his job! It helps now he’s at home a lot and I am able to focus on writing.
Will there be any other Isadora Moon books?
Yes! I’m working on Isadora Moon 8 at the moment which is exciting — this one is going to be a bit different but that’s all I’m allowed to say at the moment — this is due out in October. I have been commissioned to do ten so there will definitely be three more.
Who were your favourite authors as a child? And what books are you looking forward to reading with your daughter?
My top favourite is Patricia Coombs who wrote the Dorrie books. I also loved The Borrowers, The Moomin stories and Roald Dahl. I’ve actually just done a blog post on my top ten magical books, I’m looking forward to reading these with Celestine. https://blog.oxfordowl.co.uk/harriet-muncasters-top-10-magical-books/.
What is the last book you read?
Moonrise by Sarah Crossan. It was really beautiful. I haven’t had a lot of time to read lately so its the one book I’ve read so far this year!
Do you read a lot of Young Adult books?
Yes, I’m actually writing a teen book at the moment. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for a while so at the moment I’m just writing it for myself. I think that’s why I’m not reading as much at the moment — when I’m writing it’s hard to read at the same time.
That’s very exciting! Will this book feature your Victoria Stitch character?
She’s not the main character but she’s definitely in it!
It was World Book Day yesterday, did you do anything exciting?
I did an event at Ickleford Primary School and visited each class from Reception right up to Year 6. With the younger ones I introduced Isadora and some of her adventures. We had lots of fun flapping our arms like the wings of the dragon from Isadora Moon Gets in Trouble, and the children loved making animal noises as the dragon caused chaos on ‘bring your pets to school day’. With the older classes we looked at how you can mix ideas that already exist to create new, interesting or funny characters. We then looked at how we could use these characters’ personalities to build a story around them. My favourite new character was a cross between an orangutan and a cracker called a ocrackertan! It turned out to be a bit of a mean bully but its secret weakness from being half-cracker was that it would crumble if it got wet.
My daughter dressed as Isadora Moon yesterday, if you were dressing up for World Book Day who would you go as?
Probably some sort of fairy, I love fairies. Maybe Isadora Moon’s mum!
Speaking of Isadora’s mum, there’s a big love of nature that comes out through that character, is that something that comes from you?
Yes, I love nature. That’s one of my favourite things; to be out in nature and photographing my miniature character Vinetta.
Do you have any favourite places locally to go for a walk and enjoy the countryside?
I live in Barton le Clay, just near the Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire border, which means the stunning Barton Hills are just on my doorstep. There’s a natural spring, wild horses and magnificent views across the valley and the village. I try to get up there at least three times a week as a good long walk helps me think about my stories.
You have grown up in the Hitchin area and last year you took part in the first ever Hitchin Children’s Book Festival, how did that come about?
It was a new festival set up by Danny Pearson and held at the British Schools’ Museum. James Mayhew was the other illustator and hopefully it’s the beginning of an annual Hitchin Childrens’ Book Festival. As it was the first year it was kept quite small, but next year we’re hoping to make it bigger! Hitchin is definitely a great place for it, it would definitely fit in well here, it’s such a family place.
Not to be left out, my daughter Phoebe wrote her own list of interview questions which Harriet has kindly answered!
Why do you like sparkles and stars?
They just give me a little zing of happiness when I see them, I’ve just always liked sparkly things. It’s the kind of stars that come out of a wand or a sparkler that I love.
How do you do neat colouring in?
Actually when I was younger I was never good at neat colouring, I’m not a neat person. I think you sort of learn it when you get older.
What lessons did you like at school?
Writing, English and Art
If you could have three wishes what would they be?
Barring the obvious ones like world peace, my personal ones would be:
1. To turn into a miniature fairy so that I could fly around and live in my castle dolls’ house!
2. Lately I’ve been pouring a lot of passion into a new book I’m writing for a teenage audience. My dream is to get it published.
3. Finally, I would wish for a perfect house overlooking a beautiful beach.
If they had an Isadora Moon ice cream at Fabio’s (famous Hitchin ice cream spot) what flavours would it be?
Easy: dark chocolate and cherry. Firstly that’s my favourite flavour combination. Secondly, those two get the nearest to the Isadora Moon colours of pink and black!
How old is Isadora Moon?
Well, she’s the age the reader identifies with the most! Personally, I assume she’s quite young when she first goes to school, so she must be around five to seven in most of the books.
Harriet’s books are available from all good bookshops. If you haven’t already, check out Harriet’s website for fun things to make and do, there are some fantastic resources.