Author Q&A with Phoebe Swan of Child’s Play

Phoebe Swan

Phoebe Swan is all about DIY—and encourages others to adopt this attitude too.

Phoebe grew up in London, making things. Encouraged by the ‘make it yourself!’ attitude of her family, she helped her dad turn scrap wood into artworks and made her first illustrated book at the age of five. She has been drawing stories ever since.

Phoebe studied Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and later received a Master’s in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art.  She is the author of forthcoming book, King Leonard’s Teddy, on sale May 1, 2019!

Phoebe currently teaches Illustration and Graphics at Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts. When at home, she loves a good DIY project.


Tell us about yourself and how you started as a children’s book author?

I have always loved making pictures—especially ones that tell a story—and was lucky to have been encouraged by my parents and my teachers. My mum says she knew I’d become an artist when she would collect me from play group. All the other kids were coming out, clutching one picture each, while I staggered under a pile of paintings that I had spent the morning producing. Although I’d long had the dream of making children’s books, and received a BA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Art in London, it took many years of quietly working away on sketchbooks, holding down a teaching position, and then getting another degree (this time, an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art) before I got the confidence to approach publishers.

The year I graduated with my masters degree, I took my portfolio and a dummy book of King Leonard’s Teddy to the children’s book fair in Bologna, Italy. That’s where, happily, I met Child’s Play, and they offered to publish it! I’m excited to share my first picture book with everyone.

Why should parents and educators check out this new title?

It works on different levels. It’s a classic story of a child and his attachment to a beloved toy. But switching the main character to an adult allows children to laugh at his over-the-top behavior, like throwing things out the window, while also being able to relate to his plight (no other teddy can replace his favorite one!). My book also questions the concept of mass consumerism, which has a negative impact on our environment and communities. At the end of the book, there is a spread of tips about reducing, reusing, and recycling waste. There are plenty of group activities to try, too!

What is the biggest lesson you hope kids will take away from this new title?

That accumulating more and more material possessions doesn’t necessarily always lead to more happiness. There is value in learning to fix and make things yourself. I hope grown-ups will also take away this message since they are the ones doing most of the buying!

What was your inspiration for this book?

A few years ago, I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal on a holiday. Before I left on the trip, I came across an article about a toy hospital which had been there for a long time. After the recession, they were suddenly doing more business because more people wanted to have their toys repaired, rather than buying new ones. I thought this sounded like good material for a children’s story. I did a lot of drawing on that trip and when I wrote the story, I based Leonard’s castle on a drawing I had done of one of the castles of Sintra, which is a town in the hills just outside Lisbon. In the drawings, however, I then replaced the hill with the pile of rubbish.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

“There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere,” explains Annie Leonard in The Story of Stuff. Most of us don’t think about how much we waste; our garbage is collected regularly, so it’s easy to forget. The pile of trash surrounding Leonard’s castle helps us to visualize what the accumulation of all that stuff would look like. Small actions such as repairing an object instead of buying a new one might not seem like they will make much difference to the environmental crisis the world is facing, but if everyone made the effort, it would add up to a big impact. Governments will often not make changes to help communities lead a greener lifestyle until there is public demand. For example, in London, we used to drive to a bottle bank to recycle glass, but now curbside recycling is common in many cities around the world.


Thank you, Phoebe, and Child’s Play, for the opportunity to learn more about you, what inspires you, and what you hope children will learn from your book. Be sure to check it 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.


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This post was written by Karlyn Hixson, Marketing Director at BookPal.  She is currently reading Loonshots by Safi Bahcall.

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