Jessica Spanyol is all about inclusivity and breaking down gender roles
Jessica Spanyol, author of Rosa Loves Cars, Rosa Loves Dinosaurs, Rosa Plays Ball, and Rosa Rides Her Scooter, studied at the Bath Academy of Art, Brighton Polytechnic, and the Royal College of Art. She has worked as a theater set designer, a fine artist, and a tutor of illustration, winning numerous awards for her work. She lives in England with her family. Rosa is the second series she has written for Child’s Play. They follow the well-received, 8-book Clive series. Both celebrate inclusivity, gender equality and embrace the uniqueness of every child.
Tell us about yourself and how you started as a children’s book author and illustrator?
My Mum helped me write and illustrate my first children’s books when I was 6 ½. She wanted to help me with my self-confidence, as I was struggling to learn to read and write. I’m now a mum of three children, two of which are dyslexic. Writing book ideas and making up picture book characters with children is really important to me and something I have done a lot of with my own children and in numerous school workshops. I always start with picture ideas first; being dyslexic isn’t a barrier to children’s creativity, so it’s important to make the process accessible.
The Rosa books are typeset in a font called ‘Open Dyslexic’ and I try to make the pictures clear so that whether you are a non-reader, a late reader or a beginner reader (or a parent who can’t find their glasses!), the books are really accessible.
It is great to be working with Child’s Play, as they really believe in the importance of creative fun and learning through play. Even though I have an MA in illustration with distinction from the Royal College of Art, it is the childhood books I made with my mum that were instrumental to my becoming an author/illustrator.
Why should parents and educators check out these new titles?
The Rosa books aim to promote gender equality because gender equality should start young! I grew up in the 1970s, a time when most books and education defined girls and boys into strict gender roles. Lines like “Jane helps Mummy with the tea” and “Peter helps Daddy wash the car” were common. However, the toys I played with in the 1970s were a lot less gendered than they are now.
What is the biggest lesson you hope kids will take away from these books?
I hope the Rosa books contribute to a movement that is trying to counteract the tide of marketing that has led children to say “that’s a boys’ toy!” or “this toy is only for girls.” No child should ever be made to feel stigmatized or limited by their choice of toy. Rosa came about from the desire to show a child that they are free to play with any toys they wish and be whoever they wish!
What was your inspiration for the Rosa books?
I‘m a mum of twins (a boy and a girl) who are now thirteen. Watching them play together over the years has been a great source of inspiration for the Rosa books. We live in inner-city London and have the great privilege of being part of a diverse and vibrant community. Many of the characters in the Rosa books are based on children I have met in workshops or are inspired by my children’s friends. It is essential that the books reflect the diverse reality I see around me.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
It is vital that both boys and girls can read books about spirited girl characters as well as seeing boy characters in gentle caring roles. Rosa is a feisty, fun-loving girl. I was delighted when one of the recent messages I received from a reader said, “My two-year-old and I are huge fans! Just wanted to say thank you for making such wonderful books. We went on a 4-hour plane ride last week and all he wanted to do was read the Rosa books over and over again!”
Thank you, Jessica, and Child’s Play, for the opportunity to learn more about you, what inspires you, and what you hope children will learn from your books. Be sure to check them out on our website and request a quote for 25+ copies for your classroom or group today!
Child’s Play, an independent children’s book publisher, offers a diverse range of formats and experiences through reading that both enrich and empower their young audiences. Their books are respected and loved by parents and educators alike. For more information, be sure to check out their site.
This post was written by Karlyn Hixson, Marketing Director at BookPal. She is currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.