A School Visit with Bethan Woollvin

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Since its publication last March, Little Red has received a wonderful reception from readers of all ages, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! To know that a reader has connected with and enjoyed my story is awesome.

Book events are definitely one of the perks of being an author, as you get the chance to meet your readers and to mutually express your love for books. I have to say that I hadn’t really thought about doing any events until Little Red’s publication, and it’s not hard to imagine that I was feeling a little unprepared when first asked to participate in an event! I have been involved in just a few events since March, but I have found that the more you do—the easier they get.

Photo credit: Andrew Jacobs

Photo credit: Andrew Jacobs

A while ago I was approached by William Martin Infant School and asked if I could come and hold an event based on Little Red for sixty kids in year two (first grade). With a few mini-events under my belt, I started planning my Little Red-themed event for the school, and the event finally came round this January. As it was my first school event, I was feeling quite nervous at the thought of entertaining sixty kids for an hour, so I had been practicing whenever I could in the weeks leading up to the event.

My nervousness disappeared almost immediately upon my arrival. The children were beyond excited to have a visitor, and when I pulled Little Red out of my rucksack, it commanded their immediate attention. As they sat down, I started asking them whether they knew the story of Little Red Riding Hood—which of course they did! As I read Little Red to my audience, there were lots of ooohs and aaahs as the children picked up on the visual clues throughout the book, and they were really engaged in the story and the characters, especially when the big bad wolf turned up and the children let out a gasp!

Photo credit: Andrew Jacobs

When we had finished reading the book, I asked the children what had happened to the wolf. *Spoiler alert*: Little Red doesn’t use text to express what exactly has happened to the wolf, so it is left to the reader’s interpretation. A debate sparked up, with some pupils saying that Little Red has cut off the wolf’s head with the ax, and others who preferred to think that there might be a naked wolf running around the forest. The children looked to me to see who had the right answer, and we agreed that they could all be right, because the story ends before we see the fate of the wolf.

I then asked the same question about Grandma. When we’d discussed traditional versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the children spoke about the brave woodcutter who would save Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma, but this isn’t the case in Little Red! Just like the fate of the wolf, it is down to the reader’s interpretation of the story to decide whether Grandma survives . . . though it’s worth mentioning that she doesn’t make another appearance in the book after being gobbled up by the big bad wolf! So when I asked the children, one clever little girl put it perfectly: “Grandma didn’t have a good plan like Little Red.”

As these pupils would be spending the term learning about fairy tales and writing stories of their own, the main purpose of my visit was to get them excited about writing stories and making books. After we’d had a giggle at some of my naively drawn grandmas, I wanted to show that Little Red grew from a tiny idea to the book it is today. To help demonstrate its progression, I showed some of my early sketches and thumbnails of Little Red.

I talked my audience through how a book is made. I later invited them to join me in an artsy activity, which managed to double their already-palpable excitement! With help from the staff, we rolled out large pieces of paper across the tables, on which I had drawn out a map of Little Red’s journey to Grandma’s house. I had brought some lino-cut trees that I use in my own work and distributed them among my little cohort.

During the activity, I asked all the children to draw their own animals or characters to go into the forest, each with their own stories. These backstories started to unfold in little corners of the map until the entire paper was covered in doodles. As the dust settled, the poster paint dried and the glitter was swept up, they were left to admire their own woodland scene.

Photo credit: Andrew Jacobs

For the event (with the help of UK publisher Two Hoots), I had also illustrated some Little Red and Wolf masks. I couldn’t say which the children enjoyed more, decorating their masks or subsequently acting out their own versions of Little Red Riding Hood. One pupil even told me that his wolf mask would be the perfect thing to scare his mother with that evening . . .

Photo credit: Andrew Jacobs

As the event came to an end, the children gathered round for their last opportunity to ask me any questions. The funniest being, “Do you earn a million pounds?” But I was pleasantly surprised at some of the others:

“How long did it take you to make Little Red?”

It took me a month initially to come up with the idea and to illustrate my first version of Little Red, but then it took about another twelve months of working with Two Hoots to make it into a finished book, which some of the children rolled their eyes at because that must seem like an eternity!

“What does Little Red look like without her coat on?”

I honestly have no idea!

“Does using lots of adjectives make your story really good?”

To which I replied (after seeing the teacher at the back of the room frantically nod her head at me), “Absolutely.”

My first school event was a really wonderful experience, every bit as messy and chaotic as I had hoped it would be!

All week long we’re celebrating ALL THE WONDERS of Little Red, and we have so much to share, including a look at fractured fairy tales, how author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin weaves picture book theory into her illustrations, and a school visit in Bethan’s own words.

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Purchase Little Red for your reader or readers.

about the author

Bethan Woollvin studied Illustration BA (Hons) at Cambridge School of Art and graduated with first class honours in 2015. In her second year, she won the Macmillan Children’s Book Competition 2014 with her version of “Little Red Riding Hood.”

She currently lives by the sea in Brighton, UK where she enjoys writing stories and illustrating quirky characters!

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