As part of the blog tour for Barty Barton, I was lucky enough to hold a Q&A session with Barry’s author, Sue Wickstead, and it was the loveliest author Q&A I’ve done to date. Read on to discover Barry’s own story and that of Sue.
MR; Firstly, I’d like to say how much my daughter and I enjoyed reading Barty Barton! We just adored this well-loved bear and I really felt for the mother who didn’t want to part with him! At the back of the book there are pictures of the real life Barty, what made you go about creating the story of Barty Barton?
SW I’m really pleased to hear you and your daughter loved Barty’s story.
My son had always loved Barty too, he had slept with him and used Barty as a pillow. Barty had become flattened and floppy with all the love.
I asked if he might want him for his son, but he said no and to throw him away as he was old!
I was a little bit sad. Yes, Barty was worn and well-loved but he didn’t need to be thrown away.
My daughter agreed as she remembered all of her soft toys with affection and knew Barty too.
MR– When Thomas leaves home, Barty is left wondering if Thomas will remember him- is this a feeling that parents of older children are left with when their children fly the nest?
SW- I think you are right.
You always worry about your children when they move away, will they still come and visit you.
As a parent you are always there for your children although you might not see them as much.
Barty was not put away in the loft, like the other toys, and secretly when my son came home, he still slept with Barty.
I think the other message in Barty’s story being old doesn’t mean you should be thrown away and discarded. (People, treasures, memories too)
MR- I love how you include all the detail and leave out nothing when the mum painstakingly and lovingly washes Barty and restores him-have you given your own family’s Barty the same “freshen up” and was it as simple as it looked in the book?
SW- When my son said he did not want Barty, my daughter and I decided to sort through a lot of the old toys. We had several bags full.
My daughter selected those that had meaning and just needed a clean.
This was exactly what we did.
Into the washing machine went the white toys and then Barty.
But yes, Barty came out lumpy and bumpy, his stuffing was kapok and had lumped together. I thought he was ruined.
I wrote a tongue in cheek post on my Facebook page and several people commented on it asking if it was my new book.
Another author friend encouraged me to write it so I decided to work on it.
(The lumpy bumpy feelings and having to turn him over sort of reminded me of the Covid infection and hearing of people’s experiences in hospital.)
Repairing him was quite easy. He still needs a little more stuffing but that will happen.
P.S.I have sent a copy of Barty’s book to the teddy bear ladies at the BBC ’Repair Shop’. I hope they got it.
P.P.S My son did in fact give Barty a big cuddle when he was repaired and showed him to his son.
MR-Your previous children’s books mostly focus on transport, will there be more books focusing on toys and the relationship families build with their beloved cuddly animals?
SW-I do have quite a few ideas in the pipeline, but some, like Barty’s story, come along unplanned.
My next book is another unplanned story which is about my brother and his play adventures. While being involved with the Early Years, ‘EYFSHome’, days I was asked to tell a story. It was for my ‘mother earth day’ and was about recycling. I remembered my brother playing at being a binman and I told the story. Then I remembered I had written it a while ago so gave to another look.
Not a bus but a bin lorry.
But I do have a few other ideas for toys? Maybe? Especially my own bear ’MacMac’ who has a loose glass eye. She nearly lost it when I took her to school.
I also have a few more bus stories based on my experiences with the bus.
(When I wrote the first bus story my daughter said she would like me to write about all the fun things we did including the Carnival.)
MR- As you’re a teacher and two of your other children’s books focus on being in the education environment, have you found it easy to transition from writing from a viewpoint point of a professional to writing from a viewpoint of a parent?
SW- I’ve always focussed on children writing for imagination rather than prescriptive tasks. Speaking and listening is a key skill and I loved writing with the children and using their ideas too.
‘A Spooky Tale’, definitely was a lot of their ideas. I had kept this book and read it many times. One of my ex-pupils had drawn some lovely illustrations. It was always a favourite and I would read it to each new class so I knew it worked.
Another teacher friend had encouraged me to develop it for the younger children and I’m glad I did.
‘The Christmas Nativity Rehearsal’ was also a book I wrote with my year group; I was the person in charge of the Christmas play and I know how tricky these things can be. One year it was particularly tricky, my mum saw the production and told me although there were a lot of things that went wrong, she could see how hard the children had tried for me. I wrote the story for the children to say thank you.
In fact, I always used to write with the children and alongside them.
Poems; letters; reports etc..
I have a chapter book about a pirate adventure but who knows if I will ever finish it.
I’ve also part written a book called ‘The Weather Witch’, this is a story I have told when visiting as a teacher. The story is as long as I need it to be and can fit a gap, big or small.
MR– I’d love to hear more about your own experiences as life as a teacher-will you be releasing your own biographic book on your experiences within the classroom and writing?
SW-Teachers Diary: – I have always kept a record of my planning and wrote ‘day books’ when teaching.
As I began supply teaching, I was visiting so many different schools and age groups that I thought I should keep a record of what I did and where have I been.
I’ve used it to look back on and there have been so many surprises along the way.
I have carried this diary on into lockdown. I doubt if it willever be written but I have used it to look back and check. It certainly has been a fun journey.
Children do make you laugh.
MR-Finally, what advice do you have for those working within the education environment (such as teachers, TA’s, and students) when it comes to getting on the same level as children to promote learning, supporting emotional development and supporting families during and after the pandemic?
SW- I was trained to teach children 9-16 but did not teach much before having my own children.
During my first teaching job my dad suddenly died. A year later my son was born and I became involved in the Playbus.
I was lucky to be involved with the Playbus project and met so many different play-workers. I loved attending rallies and enjoyed learning new skills.
I learnt so many practical things and liked to implement them into my teaching.
The local school knew of my reputation and that of the Playbus and I was enlisted to join the staff team. (The Playbus was unpaid work), I could them support the bus, work with the school and the community and also loved teaching.
We had hoped to develop groups, which we did but most of all the bus captured my heart.
The break with the bus began with OFSTED. Times became difficult and as I was an ‘old’ expensive teacher I was pushed aside (Sounds like Barty?)
When I doubted myself (due to difficulties in school) my daughter said “Mum you are an inspirational teacher and that is why the children always loved being in your class.’
Aww praise indeed.
I did once ask a class when I revisited them, why they were pleased to see me? “Because you talk to us and you listen.’ I hope that is me.
I think my play-work on the Playbus did make me put children first.
My advice would be to listen to children, chat alongside and play at their level.
I always played with my own children and shared time together, as they grew up and they wanted to do their own things the Playbus kept me going. My children always said I had three children. ’A boy, a girl and a bus!’ lol
My grandson is now one and I have time with him one morning a week. I’m enjoying being creative, finding things to do, playingand sharing our moments together.
Teaching is definitely a work of the heart.
I always found that children will naturally come to me and smile. My children sometimes found this disconcerting.
P.S. During lockdown I have not enjoyed being the ‘Lockdown Nanny’ (a blog I hope to write someday), being unable to help out and support with child care. But at least now I am enjoying my Thursdays. My books are too old for Alexander but one day… and he will just have to loved buses!
P.P.S. Also. During lockdown I became involved with Early Years online learning using my books (EYFSHOME). Although my books are older than early years it seemed to take me back to my Playbus days and thinking of ideas to support the book, to play, create and sing songs… I’m having fun.