Tom Percival, Author and Illustrator

Little Legends Author/ Illustrator Tom Percival – who will headline our Leicester city-wide Readathon this Autumn- explains why he loves creating stories for children and feels so passionately about promoting reading for pleasure

I always struggle when trying to start writing a blog post for someone else. After all, it’s not my blog that the post will appear on, so there needs to be some sort of an introduction—but it’s very easy to slip in to Troy McClure from the Simpsons mode and say,

‘Hi, I’m Tom Percival! You may remember me from such books as, ‘Biscuits are Not One of Your Five a Day’ and ‘Is it Night Time, or Have I Just Got My Eyes Shut?’ (I should add that those aren’t actual books that I’ve written, I just put that down to make it sound more like the kind of thing that Troy McClure would say.)

So, ignoring all that—on with the blog post! I AM an author and illustrator, and some books that I HAVE actually written and illustrated are Perfectly Norman, Herman’s Letter, Ruby’s Worry and the Little Legends series along with a host of others. I also illustrate the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy and I write the texts for some beautiful picture books that Christine Pym illustrates. So, basically, I’m heavily involved in the world of children’s publishing in lots of different ways and I love it.

There are a number of reasons that I like what I do so much— firstly, it’s fun, but most importantly, it can actually help make the world a little bit better too. I mean, I know that authors and illustrators aren’t some heroic breed that can solve all the world’s problems with a perfectly judged phrase or a charmingly faux-naive illustration—let’s face it, if there was a huge meteor speeding towards Earth then it’s probably not going be a bunch of children’s authors who save the day. All the same, reading—specifically reading for pleasure – has been shown to have proven links with increased academic attainment and future success. Not only that, reading for pleasure is also important in improving
Breadth of vocabulary;
Greater self-confidence as a reader;
Pleasure in reading in later life;
General knowledge;
A better understanding of other cultures;
Community participation; and
A greater insight into human nature and decision-making.

Just speaking from personal experience I can definitely relate to all of these things. I grew up in a small rural community in South Shropshire where my exposure to other cultures was, well… limited, but all the books that I read as a child meant that I didn’t just grow up in Rattlinghope—I got to grow up all over the world, and in different times throughout history too.

I can vividly remember the first books that got me hooked on reading, so to hear from parents or teachers that a child who previously hadn’t chosen to read in their free time has got the reading bug from one of my books is just a fantastic feeling. I think that one of the reasons my books appeal so much to children who might have struggled with reading is that they are heavily illustrated, which makes the whole experience a lot more accessible. In picture books particularly and early chapter books the pictures ARE the story in many ways. Imagine reading Claude by Alex T. Smith without the pictures, and what about the indelible link between Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake? The words and the pictures combine to create the complete story, and sometimes just the pictures on their own really are the whole story, think about The Snowman by Raymond Briggs and the marvellous Clown by Quentin Blake, both incredibly moving stories without a single word in them. If reading can build whole worlds inside your head, then the illustrations in a book are the foundations for that world, as it’s those pictures that set the style and tone for the reader—a springboard for their imagination.

In 2017 I was asked by Read for Good to go into Gloucester hospital on a few occasions to speak to the children there about making stories and play some games designed to get them thinking about story structure and character creation. I’ve run a lot of workshops and events in schools, so assumed that it would be business as usual, but I found it to be a very different and moving experience. I was struck by the strength and bravery of these children, some of whom were seriously ill. They all fully engaged in all the activities, and came up with some outstanding ideas. The sessions were always fun, and the humour, grace and enthusiasm they showed were truly inspiring.
I was really struck by how important the work that Read for Good is doing in hospitals. Not only with the visiting authors but the incredibly talented storytellers who visit regularly and really brighten up and enliven what must be an upsetting and worrying time for the children and their parents. It’s like having the best audio book in the world played out right in front of you.

I got to meet one child, who at the age of eleven was more creative, intelligent and funny that I’ll ever be—plus he taught me how to write a Haiku, which was a bonus. So, to any authors or illustrators thinking of supporting Read for Good I’d heartily recommend it—who knows what you might learn!

Tom Percival
Author and Illustrator