The Backstory: AMARA AND THE BATS
Author-illustrator Emma Reynolds joins The Backstory today to fill us in on her debut picture book, AMARA AND THE BATS. Keep reading to learn all about Emma's inspiration for this beautiful piece and how she is continuing the conversation about bat conservation. And illustrators you do not want to miss out on Emma's generous giveaway of a 1/2 hour Zoom call. Read until the end to learn how to enter.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind AMARA AND THE BATS.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Hello, thank you so much for having me on The Backstory to talk to you about my author-illustrator debut! ‘Amara and the Bats’ is all about a little girl called Amara who LOVES bats, but when she moves to a new town with her family, she’s really sad to find that bats no longer live there because they’re losing their habitat. So, inspired by real life youth activists like Jerome Foster II, Tokata Iron Eyes and Greta Thunberg, she rallies her new friends and her community to save the bats! It’s all about bat conservation, community action, hope and finding a place to call home. Bat facts are weaved in throughout the book and there are lots more bat facts and ways you can help bats in the backmatter too!
Emma, this is a fabulous topic and a great way to introduce young children to conservation and activism. I love that it specifically features young activists, allowing readers to be inspired just like Amara.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
It all started when I drew Amara for the first time in 2016, and I knew I had to make up a story about her. I imagined her looking up curiously at a bat, and that’s where it all started. I’ve always loved bats since I was a kid, and I wanted to create a human-centered book about bat conservation that could really make a difference. To tell a story, but also provide an accessible guide to how humans can help bats in a very real way.
It seems that merging Amara with your love of bats was the perfect combination. I can imagine so many children being inspired by Amara to learn more about bats and how to help them, but also extending this concept of conservation to other areas they are personally interested in.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now AMARA AND THE BATS? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
That’s a great question! It began with the drawing, and I started drawing other sketches of Amara and bats with words beside them, and these developed into sketched dummy book spreads. I worked with a freelance editor to develop the dummy book further, and I created some finished illustrations that I shared online. People really liked them and I was putting these out there to try and manifest my book dream, and was looking for an agent. My agent saw my Amara and the Bats dummy book and signed me off the back of it in 2018, and we worked on the book some more before pitching to publishers. In 2019 we announced the book deal with Atheneum Simon & Schuster! Amara is my dream book, and was something that began over five years ago and developed over time, and I’m so happy we were able to make it a reality.
I can feel the love, dedication, and passion you have for your book in your response. The part that strikes me the most is the idea of putting it out there to manifest your dream. It is scary to put our creative babies out there into the world, but it is that same vulnerability that provides us the opportunity to hopefully make our dreams a reality.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Time off haha! No but seriously, it’s when I am in a space to go and find and take in new things/things I enjoy that I have my best ideas. Which of course takes time out of ‘paid projects’, but it’s important to take that head space and step away, even though it might seem ‘unproductive’, but really - the best ideas come from living life, staying curious and pursuing our other passions outside of the studio. The ideas will come :)
So true! This time away is perfect for filling the creative well and letting the ideas find you.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
I adore all of Shaun Tan’s books (especially The Red Tree and Tales from Outer Suburbia) - both illustration and writing. I also love Raymond Briggs (The Snowman), and Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations (Jane, The Fox and Me that she illustrated, words Fanny Britt.)
You've named some incredible creators here. It is no wonder you have found inspiration in their work.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Peace and quiet :) Good YouTube chill mixes on my headphones, my laptop, my pencil case and paper, and my iPad and Cintiq for digital outlining and painting.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors and illustrators?
Write and draw from the heart. It’s important to know the market and what’s out there, that your work is age appropriate, and it’s important to know what key pieces commissioners want to see in your portfolio (namely - that you can draw characters and their expressions, interior scenes, exterior scenes, characters doing activities, have children and animals, etc…) but most of all it’s important that you show your unique voice and take on the world. If you try to please everyone you’ll please no-one. So look to please yourself first - truly make what you’re passionate about, and create from the heart and others will come along for the ride.
Superb advice! It is easy to lose yourself in the hunt for an agent/publisher and even from well-meaning critique partners. Maintaining your authentic voice is much easier to do when you write from the heart and that is the voice you want an agent or editor to fall in love with.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Cool news: I’m honoured that Amara is a JLG Gold Standard Selection and was a KidsIndieNext pick for July/August 2021!
New Things: I’ve started an instagram live series chatting with bat experts from around the world, called #BatChatLive on Tuesdays at 6pm UK time! https://www.instagram.com/emmaillustrate
Congratulations on all of your success with Amara! And I love that you are continuing to support bats through your Instagram series.
Where can people connect more with you?
You can find out more about Amara and the Bats on my website:
And Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @emmaillustrate
I also have a newsletter sent out 4-6 times a year: http://eepurl.com/JEDYz
Readers be sure to follow Emma on social media and sign up for her newsletter so you don't miss a thing.
Speaking of not missing a thing, pick up a copy of Emma's author-illustrator debut, AMARA AND THE BATS, out now with Atheneum - Simon & Schuster.
Emma thank you so much for taking the time to join us on, The Backstory. AMARA AND THE BATS is a beautifully illustrated story with an equally important message and I am so glad we were able to learn more about it.
Emma is generously offering a 1/2 hour Zoom call to one lucky picture book illustrator.
Ways to enter:
1. Comment on my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT EMMA REYNOLDS
Emma Reynolds is an illustrator and author based in Manchester, UK.
Her debut author-illustrator picture book ‘Amara and the Bats’ is out now with Atheneum - Simon & Schuster. Emma started the #KidLit4Climate illustrated campaign, bringing together over 4,000 children's illustrators and authors from over 50 countries in solidarity with the youth climate strikes. She is inspired by nature, animals, adventure, and seeing the magic in the everyday.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.