Truth and tails

Children’s books are growing up thanks to a Sussex trio, as Laura Cartledge discovers.

In today’s society parents could face trickier questions than ‘where do babies come from?’
With this in mind a trio of friends have tasked themselves with creating storybook solutions.

 Alice Reeves, Ben Galley and Phoebe Kirk. Picture Ellinor Siljeström

Alice Reeves, Ben Galley and Phoebe Kirk. Picture Ellinor Siljeström

“It is about making things more accessible so it doesn’t feel as scary,” explains illustrator Phoebe Kirk. “If your child asks ‘mummy what does gay mean?’ it is hard to explain.
“One of our things is to have a library of books people can go to when the topic is not so clear cut – it is not always black and white.”
Along with Brighton based writer Alice Reeves and publishing expert Ben Galley, the result is Truth and Tails and a mission statement of using fiction to ‘eliminate prejudice, encourage acceptance and aid understanding’.
“Children’s books have became a bit stale, there are good ones out there but a lot just have a cute character and that is it,” says Phoebe. “Whereas if you think of Roald Dahl his stories always had a moral to them, even if it was a bit dark.”
Taking a more positive approach has already seen the release of Molly the Mole and Vincent the Vixen Molly the Mole (1)since they launched in September 2015 and there are ‘six or so’ more in the pipeline.
“Molly is quite a safe story, it is basically about a mole who doesn’t think she is good enough,” Phoebe reveals.
“She doesn’t have long legs like Daisy the deer, she isn’t colourful like Belinda the butterfly.”
The feel good tale goes on to see Molly realise the reason her friends love her is because she is different and kind.
“We are coming from issues that get us down day to day, not just topics for kids but adults too, like self esteem,” she explains.
“We had an Amazon review that said ‘I think I might be Molly’ which was brilliant, we want the kids to connect with it and parents.”
Vincent the Vixen (1)Phoebe also feels a personal affinity with Molly.
“I suffer from anxiety and depression,” she admits, “and it is hard, especially as a kid not knowing where you fit in.”
The theme of acceptance also runs through Vincent’s story with the added dimension of tackling the subject of gender identity.
“We had to ask advice on this as none of us three are transgender, so we got in touch with Stonewall who were brilliant,” enthuses Phoebe.
“We are very mindful that Vincent might be the most controversial yet, but I think we are ready.
“We feel we have to have it out now and grab the moment especially, if not for anything else, for people who might not really understand it,” she adds.
“Personally I don’t think we should bow to our children’s every whim, but I think the topics should be on the table – it is just about accepting your child for who they are.”
While the collection reflects the modern world it also purposefully uses more traditional storybook styles by using hand drawn illustrations and animal characters.
“I’ve never done children’s books before, I actually never thought I could,” Phoebe laughs.
Vincent the Vixen (2)“I used to do zombie posters for bands – but I have found I am better at children’s books than anything else I’ve done.
“There are very few books that are hand drawn now, these are watercolours, all done by hand on paper – it is so old fashioned,” she jests.
“And we are using animals because it strips away some of the preconceptions.”
At the moment it is ‘social topics – subjects we feel are important, they might be happening on the news’ that are providing the inspiration, but soon Truth and Tails could be venturing further afield.
“When we first started talking about it we were excited, but we didn’t know how much room there was in it,” confesses Phoebe.
“We will touch on disability and topics like that and we will introduce education as well, like science and English – quantum physics, gravity, World War One. The Horrible History books were brilliant but it would be nice to do it in a gentler way.”
If the response so far is anything to go by, Truth and Tails look set to dominate bookshelves across the world.
“The feedback has been incredible,” Phoebe admits, “the people who have got us to this stage have been amazing – people want to help us do this, because it works.”

To find out more about Truth and Tails, visit www.truthandtails.com.
Information about Stonewall, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights charity, can be found at www.stonewall.org.uk

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