Mama Brown Meets is our interview series which takes you behind the brands we work with to discover the people who created them. This week award winning author Suzanne Hemming shares how her frustration with traditional fairytales inspired her to create her own positive characters to inspire her mini and yours.
Mama Brown: I believe your daughter was the inspiration for your books, as you felt frustrated at the lack of stories available featuring inspiring and empowering female characters. Was there a defining moment when the idea for your books came to you? Is Thea aware of how much she has inspired you?
MB: As a mum of two boys I feel passionately that we should be teaching both girls and boys that they are equals and love reading your books with my sons. When you wrote the books did you have a particular reader in mind and have the stories gone on to capture the hearts of a different audience?
It’s so great to hear that you read our books to your sons; books are books after all! There are no boys’ books and girls’ books! That kind of thinking pushes the stereotypes that they are different, and have to behave or think differently
Before I was a parent, and before I started writing, I must admit that I used to think that way though. I thought I was writing a book for girls, to empower them, and allow them to accept themselves as they are. It was only through reading more about feminism, toxic masculinity, and the need for greater equality, did I realise that both boys and girls need to be exposed to the same things to create equality. People still refer to the books as ‘great books for girls’ and I can’t disagree: they are great books for girls. They’re just great books for boys too!
MB: I come from a female dominated family (my dad used to complain that even the dog was a girl!) so it’s quite a shift for me to now be outnumbered by boys. Did having a daughter change your perspective?
Very much so. Before I think I felt like many people, that men and women were more or less equal now. I had access to education, had been able to make my own choices in life, didn’t really think I had been affected much by sexism. But when I had Thea, and started to think about the world she would live in, I had a bit of a lightbulb moment. It began when I bought some old fashioned fairytales at around the time of her first Christmas, and was faced with female characters whose only role was to look pretty, be kind and gentle and wait for the prince to rescue them. Often with a true love's kiss which is effectively kissing without consent! And let’s not forget Ariel who gives up her voice for a man who doesn’t even know she’s alive!
So as I’ve said, I started to look at the world a bit differently, I started to read more about equality and feminism (Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism website is a revelation, and she herself said in her recent TED Talk, that when she started it, it was because most people thought ‘men and women are more or less equal now right?”). That’s when I thought about the messages that children receive from a young age, from TV, and film and books. And if we’re going to tackle the gender gap, it starts in childhood.
MB: I love the “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign and have, in the past, felt frustrated in toy shops when the cooking utensils and pushchairs were in a pink section. Do you try to strike a balance with the toys and activities you have at home and do you find your daughter naturally gravitates towards certain games and characters?
Let Toys Be Toys is a wonderful campaign, totally run on a voluntary basis by a group of parents. We try not to push any particular toy on Thea, but equally we don’t ban anything. When she was little she adored trains and cars and diggers; it was just what she gravitated towards. Slowly those were replaced by unicorns and princess dress ups. And now she loves Lego, which I admit we did encourage as it is amazing for hand eye coordination, motor skills, and spacial awareness
MB: What has been the highlight of the journey so far with Thea Chops books?
Ooh I don’t think I could name just one highlight. The first time I held that first book in my hands was amazing.Winning an award for best new book in a parenting magazine blew me away. Andy Murray sharing She’s Not Good on Instagram and declaring it his ‘new favourite kids’ book’ was crazy! Writing and publishing a 2nd book and having a lovely launch party and then that book being as well received if not more so than the first. Going into my daughter’s school and reading the books and talking to the kids. All the school readings I’ve done. It’s all been a highlight. I’m incredibly grateful for everything.
MB: And finally, we would love to know what is your favourite book to read with Thea?
Ooh a tough question! We’ve enjoyed lots of Julia Donaldson (Monkey Puzzle was probably my favourite to read). We both love the Andrea Beaty books whose work is amazing, and is also encouraging girls to enjoy STEM subjects. The Book With No Words is hilarious - Thea belly laughs reading that. And the lovely Ivy’s Library recommended a brilliant book called Rock What Ya Got, which encourages children to love and accept themselves, just as they are. It’s done so fantastically well: an artist draws a little girl on a page, but decides that she’s not perfect and wants to change something. But the girl, Viva, comes alive and tells the artist she doesn’t want new hair, or a new body. That you’ve got to, rock what you got and rock it a lot! It’s a really great book.