Today is World Book Day! Here, we chat to CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell about her new children's story, her love of reading with her three-year-old daughter, and how she balances work with being a single mum.
You have recently signed a book deal, congratulations! What is the story about?
It's a picture book called Snowflakes. It's about a little girl called Mia, who's sent from her home in a loud and bustling city to live with her grandma in a magical village tucked inside the woods. It's about Mia's journey really, coming to accept herself – realising she is different from the other children, but really that everyone is different and special. The idea is that every snowflake is different, every snowflake is perfect.
What inspired you to write it?
It was inspired by the work I have done with Coram, which is an amazing children's charity that helps adopted children. They do hardline social work at one end of the scale, but they also do lovely things like tea parties for the kids, which are great for parents, too – they have a chance to meet other adoptive mums and dads and have a meeting place. So, the story itself, it's not overtly about the fact that Mia is being adopted, but there is a subtle message. And I've tried totake influences from fairytales, but to make it modern.
We keep hearing it's on the decline, but how important do you think it is to read to young children?
Yes it is on the decline apparently, and technology has a lot to do with that I think, what with interactive DVDs and games and so on. There is so much for children on iPads! A lot of those things might well be educational – but, you know, I can't imagine how different my childhood would have been if I hadn't been read to. I still remember the pictures in the books I was read as I child, like Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.
Books fire children's imaginations and curiosity. There is a magic that comes from reading pictures books to children that shouldn't be lost.
You're dyslexic yourself – how did that affect you when you were little?
Well, I couldn't read until I was eight or nine years old but my mum used to spend so much time reading to me. I loved The Faraway Tree – I couldn't get to sleep for thinking what might happen next! I do think, if you have a dyslexic child, reading to them is massively important – if you can get them interested in listening to stories, it's the first step in really encouraging them to push on and learn to read themselves.
Have you read to your little girl since she was a baby? And does she have any favourites?
I started reading picture books to Amelie when she was about 10 months, as soon as she was old enough to want to get involved. Of course, she just wanted to rip the pages out at first. Her favourites change all the time. At the moment, she really loves Who Wants to be a Poodle? I Don't! by Lauren Child. It's beautiful. The illustrations are aimed at the mums I think. If Lauren Child ever designed Vogue this is what it would look like!
And do you have much time to read yourself?
I do actually, I love it.
I think it's really important to make time for yourself when you're a parent and reading is a great way to do that.
How do you balance being a single mum with your job?
Regardless of your relationship status, being a working parent is a challenge, a tricky balance. But, you know, you make the pieces fit. That's life, it's what motherhood is.
Did you learn a lot about being a parent from your own mum?
I think it all comes from your experience with your own parents, doesn't it? You remember the way they did some things, and decide to do them differently; or you remember the way they did other things and suddenly understand why they did them that way!
My mum's very creative (she was a dancer when I was little) and I had a lovely childhood, full of games and playing. And I want that for my daughter, we're always trying to find lots of activities for her to do.
Childhood is such a precious and exciting time, you don't need to have a lot of money to make it magical for them by, for example, leaving little notes written by fairies telling them to eat their breakfast – that sort of thing!
So it's less about money and more about energy and creativity?
Oh goodness, yes, energy is the biggest part of it! To be honest, when Amelie was two, I just didn't have the time or inclination to do any of that, because I was focusing on dealing with her behaviour. When you're constantly dealing with someone who's behaving like a wolf, you don't really have time to think about fairies leaving notes and so on! It has become much easier now, though.
So she really went through the terrible twos?
Mmmm. Many parents feel as if their child is the most badly behaved in the world – but it's lovely when you come through that and start being able to really enjoy things together. I think three is my favourite age so far, really rewarding and lots more time for magical notes.
Finally, I think lots of parents must wonder how you and the CBeebies gang drum up all that colourful energy when you're just talking to a camera in a studio!
Well, I guess I am lucky enough to have a job that I really love, and I think that's true for the others too. We all really enjoy it, and you can't fake that!
Cerrie will be appearing for a special reading day in association with Volunteer Reading Help (VRH) at Buxton Opera House, on March 23rd 2012. She's also working on a magical one-woman children's show called Libby and the Lost Toys, and Snowflakes will be published by Scholastic in September 2013.
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