Meet the Author – Elvira Ashby
The first in a series of interviews with the creative team behind the Ally Bally Bee Project. First up: our author, the wonderful Elvira Ashby!
What inspired you to become involved with the Ally Bally Bee Project?
As a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) I’ve always used children’s books to help children build on their language skills and learn things. And that has coloured me as an author too. All my previous children’s books are written in a way so that they help children take new steps in their language development, while still being (hopefully!) entertaining and fun of course (otherwise children will just stop listening). And when I saw that the Ally Bally Bee Project was looking for an author I just jumped at it!
I couldn’t see anything more worthwhile than writing something that could help children make sense of the confusing thing dementia can be.
Can you tell us a bit more about your background as a children’s author.
I’m Swedish and live in Stockholm. So far I have published nine children’s books. Some of them, for example books for toddlers about the slightly boisterous characters Pippa & Boo, have been translated into English too, thanks a lot to my English husband.
I’ve always loved writing, and my children’s books grew out of the need to help “my” children both at home (now aged 9 and 6) and at work. By making up stories that touched upon concepts and things that were difficult for them in an easy warm-hearted way, it is easier for them to engage and understand.
Before I became an author I had worked for a long time as an SLP, both with adults with neurological diseases like dementia, and with children with learning difficulties and language delays. I’ve always been very interested in how our brain works and it’s been brilliant to tap into that in writing this book for the Ally Bally Bee Project.
3) Do you have a personal connection to dementia, and did this affect the way you structured the story in the book?
Both a grandmother and a grandfather of mine had dementia, and I can remember how confusing it could be. So in this book I’ve wanted to squeeze in everything I wish I had known. Because as soon as you know a bit about something it’s not as scary or odd as if you don’t.
It was also very clear from the start that what the Ally Bally Bee Project wanted to create was not a ”text book” about dementia aimed at children, but an adventure story. And that is really great. Both because children obviously are captivated by it to a greater extent than if it was just a row of facts, but also because I believe that learning things through stories is the best. You don’t just learn it, you experience it, and that really makes difficult things easier to grasp.
“Children understand a lot more than we think.”
4) Why do you think it is important that we should explain dementia to children?
Because otherwise it can be scary. If someone you know and love suddenly behaves in odd ways and no one really tells you why – as adults we might Google it, and try to find reasons, but young children can’t do that. It is up to us to try to explain. But it is difficult of course, and that’s where a book really might help. Both because of the way the story and pictures make the abstract mechanisms of how the brain works more understandable for children, and because it offers emotional support.
I’ve read it a lot for my own children too, even though they haven’t as yet had a loved one with dementia in their life, just because they’ve really enjoyed reading about themselves in a book and were excited about the story and everything they could find out about the brain.
And that has really caused a lot of interesting discussions here at home, about how we work, and how people are basically the same as well as different, and how we sometimes do naughty things not because we’re bad people but because we didn’t get to the “stop button” in time.
The book is aimed at six year olds and over, but I read it to younger ones as well, and I’d advise anyone who wants to to try. Children understand a lot more than we think.
5) What do you think of the book now that it is finished?
I think it turned out even better than I expected. I love Daisy’s illustrations, and how we really get to tag along on an adventure into the brain! I’ve really enjoyed working so closely with Matthew on it, and to see all his dedication and hard work pay off is so lovely too. I really believe that all of us have created something special that we hope will be a help to children and families who have a loved one affected by dementia.
Read more about Elvira and her speech-boosting children’s books at www.prattlesnake.org
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