illustrated by Polly Noakes
Rosy and Rory are the unlikeliest of friends – as different as the sun and rain. Rosy is a dainty, delicate bird and Rory is a big, burly bear. They love to explore together and between them they find the most wonderful things.
One day, Rosy doesn’t feel like leaving her nest and Rory can’t understand why. They stop exploring together but Rory never stops looking for wonderful things to share with his friend … until he finds the perfect thing.
A beautiful and heart-warming tale about the importance of friendship.
A Present for Rosy is the eighth picture book I’ve done with UK publisher Walker Books. The previous seven, starting with Bringing Down the Moon, were all created with the wonderful illustrator Vanessa Cabban. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in 2014; you can read a short tribute I wrote about Vanessa here.
When Walker Books encouraged me to write a new picture book for someone else to illustrate, I decided I would try to write a story that was in memory of Vanessa. Vanessa had suffered from depression, which I’ve also had some experience of, and I started writing a story called Rabbit’s Bright Spark that explored this theme. However after a year of working on various unfinished drafts I put it aside as the story felt too sombre and melancholy – which were not qualities I readily associated with the Vanessa I’d known.
When I started afresh a while later, I took a different approach and tried to write something that captured the nature of my friendship with Vanessa. The two of us came from very different backgrounds and, although we agreed on a lot, we had very different perspectives on some issues. One of the reasons I valued our friendship was that we were able to exchange our views frankly and accept each other’s differing opinions – a quality that’s become rare in recent years. So I wrote a story, initially titled Rosy and Rory, about an unlikely friendship between a burly bear and a delicate bird who explore their forest home together.
The story is not autobiographical in a literal sense; neither I or Vanessa are meant to be either Rosy or Rory, but it draws on conversations I had with Vanessa and reflects the ups and downs our friendship had over the years.
When I finally had a draft I was happy with, I sent it to Nic Knight, who had edited the last couple of books I’d done with Vanessa at Walker Books. Much to my relief, Nic loved the story, but it was a while before Walker accepted it and even longer before we found an illustrator who was a good fit for the characters and setting.
Polly Noakes has done a wonderful job of bringing Rosy and Rory and their woodland world to life. The beautiful spread above, with Rory discovering the waterfall and the fireflies is a favourite of mine and Nic’s. Polly tells me this was not intentional, but the way that Rory and the moon are both shown among the branches of a tree echoes a detail from one of Vanessa’s illustrations for our first book, Bringing Down the Moon (shown below).
A detail from one of Vanessa Cabban’s illustrations from Bringing Down the Moon.
Polly created a gorgeous illustration of a rainbow for the end of the story. When I wrote the story, four years ago, I could not have foreseen that the image of a rainbow would have the resonance it has now, as the book is published in June 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. As I write this, the windows of many of the houses in my neighbourhood and across the UK are decorated with children’s paintings of rainbows, created as signs of hope during the current lockdown when families are having to stay at home. A Present for Rosy is a story about companionship and finding beauty in the world around us, gifts that many of us have learnt not to take for granted in the last few months.